Oxbow: An Evil Heat (2002)

Oxbow: An Evil HeatThis is an older review of mine, presented here for archival purposes. The writing is undoubtedly different to the present, and the review style may differ between publications. Enjoy, if that’s the right word. 

Once in a while, a record comes along that makes you question the sanity of the people who made it — or a CD makes you feel that there’s something, at a basic level, terribly wrong. An Evil Heat is one of those recordings. Try taking the big guitar sound that was found on some Rage Against The Machine tracks, and giving it to the Birthday Party. Pour them full of crack and paranoia, and then make Nick Cave slur more, utilising a vocal technique that varies between the squalling of newborns, the ranting of mental patients released into the community, and demon wails.

Like The Jesus Lizard after a stay in prison, Oxbow‘s music is dangerous, in-your-face and utterly compelling. Their live act is described as “live cock fun”, which is pretty much what you get here: demonic cock-rockin’ riffs, corralled by someone who sounds like he’s working through some serious problems. It’s truly oceanic.

Don’t expect too much in terms of lyricism here; though the disc is excellently-produced, obfuscation (and what sounds, at one point, like an attempt to sing while eating) seems to be the norm here. Surprisingly, this isn’t a negative point; the snatches of meaning that are gleaned from attentive listening make An Evil Heat a much more mysterious listening experience. Like a book written in code or a fragment of map, the appeal of this disc is what we don’t know about it.

It’s the rare moments of calm — or what passes for it in Oxbow’s world — that make you realize exactly how fractured the rest of Oxbow’s sound is. “Stallkicker” ends with eerie guitar lines that sound as if they were lifted from Einstürzende Neubauten’s “Blume”: they’re all carnival-mirrors and ice. “S Bar X” has a low-key almost-blues feel that’s a departure into normality. “Sorry” (the last breathing space before the final, 32-minute endurance-tester that is “Shine (Glimmer)”) is perhaps the most approachable tune, sounding the most normal of the nine on offer here, but its silence is undercut with a sort of seasick feel — a rolling that effectively communicates the physicality of the group’s live performance.

The rest of the time, the best way to describe Oxbow’s sound would be to talk in terms of rupture. Imagine a rip in the side of the universe; the sound of the world draining out into nothingness — that’s what An Evil Heat sounds like. Screaming guitars battle rising waves of drums that coast relentlessly across the top of songs, while the vocals sound like a klaxon warning of the world folding in on itself. It’s not for the weak, but this is an essential album — it’s a wake-up call for the creators of all the albums that’ve been foisted on the public in the name of experimental rock. This disc just isn’t experimental — it’s been gene-spliced with something Lovecraftian.

Oxbow frighten the hell out of me. And that’s the way dirty, dark, fucked-up rock should be. Trent Reznor would kill to be this compelling. Put simply, you need this CD. Let them keep you awake nights.

First published on Splendidezine in May 2002.

I still listen to a lot of Oxbow, and this album is why. It’s still brilliant, probably moreso than that weak last par would lead you to assume. Simply put, they’re one of the best bands, doing-their-own-thing bands in the world. Fearsome and confronting. Currently recording their next album. Singer and all around dapper gent Eugene is an excellent writer, who puts the hard yards in at Ozy, as well as writing his own books. If you have the chance to see them, do not miss out. You may be choked into submission if you’re a dick, but then that should probably be a rule in Real Life, too. If you have a copy of their tourfilm Oxbow: Music For Adults then you’ll get to see a person who looks a lot like David Brent ask questions of the band. While terrified. Trailer below.

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