I love it when bands build their own equipment. Imagine being so bloody amazing that no existing instruments or technology can handle the sheer scope of your imagination, or your commitment to causing severe eardrum or sphincter trauma in your audience. Like Kraftwerk, Brian May and New Order (to name but three) before them, A Place to Bury Strangers also hand-make their own gear, in the form of lead singer/guitarist Oliver Ackerman’s Death by Audio effects pedals business. Highly impressive dedication to turning everything up to 11.
APTBS first left their mark on me when I heard 2009’s absolutelyfuckingincredible Exploding Head, one of the greatest albums of the last ten years and one that still thrills me today, over five years and countless listens on. It was as if someone had analysed my listening habits, extracted all the dark, noisy yet tuneful stuff – MBV, The Cure, JAMC et al – and then pumped it full of crack and steroids and fed it straight back to me. On 2012’s Worship they cranked up the noise even further but forgot to bring the tunes – it certainly worked as a demo tape for an effects pedal business but not as a memorable album.
Thankfully Transfixiation delivers the goods on both counts. It’s loud, Ackerman’s pedals twisting the guitars into all kinds of weird shapes; and whilst it isn’t quite the all-killer-no-filler experience Exploding Head was, it still brings the tunes.
Opener ‘Supermaster’ sets the tone, with its throbbing bass riff (Transfixiation is a bass-head’s dream), squalls of guitar noise, and Ackerman drawling “What…have I…become?” on top of it all. It’s also notable for the increased space within the songs – APTBS’ sound is no longer simply a wall of noise, it’s now often a more stripped down beast with each element given room to breathe. Like the monster bass riff that kickstarts the brilliant ‘Straight’, the Robert Smith-esque lead guitar on ‘What We Don’t See’, the relentless guitar hook on ‘Fill the Void’, or the skittering Kid A rhythms of instrumental ‘Lower Zone’.
Elsewhere, APTBS’ long-evident obsession with the Jesus & Mary Chain is given freer rein than ever before. ‘Deep’, with its howling feedback and sleazy vocal is pure Psychocandy; ‘Now It’s Over’, with its dumb Eddie Cochran bassline, would sit very nicely on the underrated Automatic; and closing track ‘I Will Die’ takes the early Reid brothers’ obsession with taking a catchy tune and burying it under torrents of feedback to terrifying new levels.
Essentially Transfixiation is the musical equivalent of a red hot curry – it hurts so bad, it feels so good, and when you’ve finished it, you’re glad it’s over and you can’t wait to do it again. I, for one, am transfixed. Or transfixiated. Both, probably.