It’s easy to forget how awesome compilations can be. Most of them that any of us bought would be more useful as coasters, but for every 10 hastily-assembled, all-album-tracks wastes of space, there’s one thoughtful, well-curated collection that features the right balance between exclusive tracks from well-known bands and pleasant surprises from lesser-known acts and manages to further our experience as fans of the featured genres.
This compilation, put together by Panos Agoros from Dephosphorus/Blastbeat Mailmurder and created as a split 7” collection of compilation-exclusive songs that total a minute each per band, (spoiler alert) sits comfortably in the latter category.
Opening side A is the always-excellent Cloud Rat, who delivers a scorcher called “Finger Print v1.” A perfect way to begin the festivities, the song spends most of its runtime in destructive, hateful blasting mode, leaving around 20 seconds near its end for a sludgy, deliberate and equally destructive finale.
Next finds thedowngoing in a typically off-kilter mood, with three blistering noise-grinders that together clock in under a minute. The relatively mid-tempo “Littered” is the first of their contributions, and serves as a nice transition from the sludginess of Cloud Rat’s track by waiting until its second half to gear up into full-on grinding. Following that is an alternate version of ATHOUSANDYEARSOFDARKNESS track “Floorboards” that is only 1/3 as long as the original but every bit as intense with its shifting, technical aural abuse. Closing out thedowngoing’s contribution is “Hibakusha (Reprsise),” a brief, distorted number that shifts from death metal vocals and heavy, metallic riffing to piercing shrieks and a circular, Discordance Axis-style riff that ends the song.
Detroit’s angry powerviolence comes next, with a track by the deceptively-cheery name of “Birthday Party.” This is the kind of song that destroys live. After a tension-building opening riff, a tom-centric roll around the drum set transitions into the song’s main riff, which is shortly buoyed by blasting drums and then the band’s pushed-to-the-limit shouted vocals to create a circle pit perfect storm. After a few seconds, that gives way to a minimal combination of blasts and shouts, punctuated by the occasional stab of guitar, and a brief punk section rounds the whole thing out. It’s all over in a little over 30 seconds, but this brief taste is a pretty good indicator of what you can expect from the band’s other material.
The Noisiest Track of the Comp award goes to Sete Star Sept for their typically blown-out, screeching noisegrind as featured on “Why Not Intersect.” The track is a seething, rolling wave of abrasive noise out of which traditional instrumentation occasionally floats, and if you told me that Kae’s bass was a noise synth I wouldn’t think twice about believing you. Kae’s vocals are the track’s most distinct feature, and the growls and shrieks exhibited here poke their heads highest above the noise. This brief, abrasive track puts Sete Star Sept more in line with Japan’s legendary guitar-less (and bass-less) noisegrind act World than I’ve ever heard them, and this track should cause interest in both their more noisy material (such as the recently-released-on-Fuck Yoga Vinyl Collection 2010-2012) and their more formalistic grind-noise (last year's LP Revision of Noise).
Ryan Page’s Body Hammer project makes its triumphant return here with “Dog Star Man,” a track that exhibits that project’s dual focuses, namely brief pulses of intense grindcore and moody, atmospheric patches of doomy ambience. This track manages to blend the two better than 2009’s Jigoku, and it leaves me itching to hear that album’s followup, which Page is reportedly working on.
The last track on the A side, “The Weapons of the Proletariat,” comes from the heavily death metal-influenced (if not entirely death metal) Greek grindcore band Head Cleaner. Vocals are predominately a commanding growl which is occasionally punctuated by harsh screams, and are the most forward element of the track. While starting on a brisk death lope, the track locks into a groove built around a circling riff and headbangs its way to near-conclusion until the bpms pick up slightly for a layered-vocal finale. Though I would consider it the least successful addition to a stellar compilation, this is a track that is engineered to fit right in the sweet spot of certain groove-oriented extreme music fans.
Diocletian’s blackened death metal opens side B with “Traitor’s Gallow,” a dirty piece of extreme music which, with a shortened runtime to fit with the Monomaniac series’ theme, comes off like blackened Repulsion. The compact format suits the band surprisingly well, and means that a Horrified-esque slab of cemetery deathgrind could be quite a good look for the band’s next LP.
The Howling Wind lives up to its name with “Bewilderment,” an echoey, occult gust of US black metal with vocals so low in the mix that it’s not 100% clear whether they’re there at all or just a trick of the aesthetic. While one guitar shreds along with the drums, another solos for practically the whole track, which makes this black metal duo in line with the genre’s classic tradition of creating a soundscape independent from the sum of its parts. The atmosphere they conjure on this track is enticing enough to make me curious about what their material is like in longer form.
Newcomers Sempiternal Dusk, whose only other output is a just-released cassette that boasts 2 tracks over 24 minutes, serve up a tidy minute of fast, aggressive death metal that boasts technical riffage and is lithe enough not to get bogged down in structural woes while changing up its game several times to keep things interesting.
Despite the length constraint, diversity is Monomaniac Volume One’s greatest asset. This is Past close out the compilation with “Catatonia,” a ritualistic sub-minute chunk of what is ostensibly black metal but consists of Liturgy-esque chant-singing, buzzing picked electric guitar and some ominous cymbal work. Though certainly an unusual submission on the surface, it’s a perfect way to round out the collection.
Agoros’ Monomaniac Volume One fulfills its promise, with a slew of short, exciting tracks that will cement old loyalties and most likely forge new ones. It delivers a jolt of adrenaline to the dying art of the compilation, and we can only hope the already-announced Volume Two lives up to the successes of this first installment.
Monomaniac Volume One is out now on Blastbeat Mailmurder, and available digitally through Bandcamp as a pay-what-you-want download.