Release Date: Apr 8, 2014
Record label: Thrill Jockey
Genre(s): Pop/Rock, Alternative/Indie Rock, Alternative Pop/Rock, Post-Punk, No Wave
When Daniel Higgs joined the fray of Swedish noise outfit The Skull Defekts on 2011’s Peer Amid album, he brought with him a great beard and perfekt post-punk intensity, without making them sound like Lungfish. It was a perfect marriage, and that record ended up being their best to date. The good news is Higgs is back for The Skull Defekts’ latest full-length, Dances In the Dreams of the Known Unknown, a record that’s about as loose and unwieldy as its title.
Head here to submit your own review of this album. Since emerging as one of the most uncompromising groups from their native Sweden, the Skull Defekts have released a variety of recordings on several different labels, exploring the limits of drone based noise rock. In 2011 they changed direction a little, joined forces with the former Lungfish vocalist Daniel Higgis, and emerged from the underground with the acclaimed album Peer Amid.
For those who value their un-defective craniums, be warned that Swedish psych-metallers The Skull Defekts seem singularly intent on pounding said craniums into oblivion. The music on this explosive new album is as tightly coiled as early Sabbath, but their terrifyingly detuned guitars, brickbat rhythmic chaos and contributions from Lungfish’s Daniel Higgs imbue the proceedings with an overwhelming air of apocalyptic doom. Imagine Killing Joke without all that righteous fist-shaking, and you’re almost there.
Swedish post-punk collective Skull Defekts have accomplished the rare feat of crafting a sound that melds jagged, abrasive guitar noise with spiritual undertones. It's possible that the band's astral projections are heightened greatly with the inclusion of Lungfish-pedigreed vocalist Daniel Higgs, whose shamanistic presence has made itself known in some way on most of Skull Defekts' albums following their earliest releases. Dances in Dreams of the Known Unknown, the band's fourth album and third with Higgs, is a hypnotic, churning collection of droning grooves augmented by scratchy guitar squall and spacy percussion, Higgs dropping in on a few songs to cast vocal spells in a frenzied growl.
Organise! Get tribal! That seems to be the central tenet at the heart of Dances In Dreams Of The Known Unknown, the new album from The Skull Defekts. Fashioned apparently from little more than a loose pile of riffs, this is an album that circles around the daunting poetry and presence of one-time Lungfish man Daniel Higgs. It is his gravitational pull that forces these songs into shape, dragging the riffs towards him and then, sending them back out into the world coated in metaphor and barely concealed threats.
Daniel Higgs has served as post-hardcore’s devotional core in secret and for so long that many don’t even realize it. His tenure as the shamanic, enigmatic frontman of Lungfish—Dischord's most arcane band, and one that appears to be as unofficially defunct as close contemporaries Fugazi—saw the bearded, glowering, knuckle-tattooed enigma evolve from a growling poet into a mantra-chanting ritualist before finally falling off the face of reality and into the realm of outsider solo albums (some made exclusively with improvised Jew’s harp). Lately, Higgs has returned to more rocking territory as a frequent guest vocalist for the Swedish group the Skull Defekts, and Dances in the Dreams of the Known Unknown is Higgs’ third album with the band.
It’s always been tempting to regard the sneering austerity of post-punk as an attempt to rescue the world’s harsh economic foundations from the ornate bullshit that, momentarily at least, hides them from our desperate eyes. The angularity and incisions of the genre’s trademark guitars, the intractable monotony of its rhythms, and the Spartan aridity of its vocals are all clever devices for shaving us back down to the obstinate materialistic base that society tries to sweep under the fluffy carpet of its cultural and ideological superstructure. But while this invocation of Marxist terminology is arguably relevant to certain archetypal bands of the late 70s/early 80s era when left-wing politics still had some purchase to the Public Image Ltds, Wires, and This Heats, it doesn’t seem particularly appropriate to The Skull Defekts.
Snappy title, eh? Why have the Skull Defekts, Sweden's premier avant guitar manglers, taken Donald Rumsfeld's famously cryptic observations on the nature of reality as a starting point for their own plunge into the sonic abyss? Maybe it's because, just as the gnomic, apparently facile, statements that Rumsfeld made regarding Iraq's alleged stockpile of WMDs actually did make some kind of twisted sense upon closer inspection, so too does the subterranean, ritualistic noise rock that the Skull Defekts make follow its own compellingly murky logic. What is rather curious though is why Dances In Dreams Of The Known Unknown sounds like a precursor to the band's last album, the excellent Peer Amid, rather than its follow-up. Peer Amid certainly shares this album's Cro-Magnon thump and primitive ardour, but it sounded like it had been made by a tribe that had discovered the secret of fire, skittering flashes of brilliance illuminating the darkness, rather than one still worshipping the moon from the inside of some gloomy cave.
Thrill Jockey refers to The Skull Defekts as ‘the backbone the Swedish experimental underground’. Never have truer words been spoken: this is their sixth album in seven years, and this is the second of those to have found its way out into the world via that esteemed label. A year after they first entered the studio to start recording, Dances in Dreams of the Known and Unknown has finally dropped – and boy, was the wait worth it.
The Skull Defekts — Dances in Dreams of the Known Unknown (Thrill Jockey)Sweden’s Skull Defekts fall on the propulsive/rhythmic side of the post-punk spectrum. The Ex aren’t a bad point of comparison. Both groups have a tendency to focus on particular passages, to zero in on them and embrace repetition; you could get lost in some of these sections — though thankfully, Skull Defekts’ skill doesn’t lead to moments of indulgence.