If your music has been played to 900 million people, you don’t really need to deal in subtlety. At least, that’s the primary logic driving the third album by Blanck Mass, the alias of Benjamin John Power, who comprises one half of rave-noise experimentalists Fuck Buttons and has had his music played during the opening ceremony of the 2012 Olympics. Blanck Mass has traditionally been the home of Power’s more ambient and subdued output, but Dumb Flesh eschews that delicacy for something much visceral.
His background in Fuck Buttons is plain to hear – this album works with the same palette as the duo’s previous material. The drums are crunchy and pummeling, the synths noisy and distorted, the bass drills deep, and everything has been turned up to eleven. Even the album’s more restrained moments are harsh and imposing – the drums on ‘Lung’ cut like bloodied razors, while the slow-motion grooves of ‘Atrophies’ stutter and stumble over themselves.
But those moments are scarce on Dumb Flesh: it’s an album that aims to be opulent in the scale of its sheer epicness. Take ‘Dead Format’, which takes a disco strut, trance chords, an abstract manipulated vocal, EBM drums and warping distorted bass, and pushes them all together over six minutes of industrial grind. The dry ice practically pumps itself from the speakers. There’s a sense of decadence and pomp over tracks like ‘Double Cross’, which sounds like Depeche Mode or Nine Inch Nails at their most strident and urgent. Closing track ‘Detritus’ sounds like chopped, broken glass folded into a beat, lining against an off-kilter yet bombastic riff that recalls Underworld at their most hands-aloft.
Fuck Buttons’ best album, Tarot Sport, was produced by Andrew Weatherall (known for his psychedelic approach to dance music and work behind the boards for bands such as Primal Scream) and there’s echoes of his presence all over Dumb Flesh. The mid-tempo grooves and pseudo-Eastern melodies of ‘No Lite’ and ‘Dead Format’ wouldn’t have sounded out of step with his remixes from the 1990s. The influence of dance music is obvious, but it’s a particular strain of electronica – the basslines might punch but there’s no dubstep wobbles, with contemporary sounds coming from the Justice-style glitch cut-ups, such as on ‘Loom’ – if it’s reminiscent of anything it’s the gothic hedonism of Death In Vegas. It’s easy to imagine producers like Erol Alkan or Daniel Avery, who owe as much to rock as they do rave, having fun remixing the material here.
If this all sounds a bit intense – well, it is. At over fifty minutes with a relative lack in dynamics, it’s a tiring listen. Dumb Flesh is brash, over-the-top and saturated with sound blaring from its every pore, and in the wrong setting it can feel draining. There are moments of indulgence and it’s easy to pick out in tracks like ‘Cruel Sport’ where a minute or so could be trimmed. Coupled with the dominance of punishing rhythms and over-compressed productions, it can feel exhausting.
But, Dumb Flesh isn’t designed to be anything other than striking and powerful. If it’s designed for anything, it is festivals – its gargantuan textures would be perfect for huge armies of sun-drenched crowds. It’s a perfectly-titled edifice – not concerned with sophistication or grace or profundity, but designed solely at making bodies writhe and sweat through its almost-simplistic melodies and cataclysmic bass. Dumb Flesh is ideal for those times when restraint isn’t called for.