It takes a peculiar balance of speed and proper sun exposure — enough to sear the gray matter, but not melt it — to mix together the caustic sounds the unfortunately named HavocNdeeD are playing with. And it takes a twisted ability to refine and control such disparate pieces and be able to administer them in the sway-inducing tempo currently in vogue due to dubstep. The ingredients include alt-rock and nu metal vocal stylings lifted straight from the genre’s late ’90s, early ’00s heyday — eerily similar to early co-signers Linkin Park — over organically patterned drums and glitchy hiccups and an industrial grind timbre, all of which, minus the vocals, gets torqued in the trademark, syncopated wobble of dubstup to become something else entirely; all electronic music is designer drugs, really, and Distoria is crank: pure, strange methamphetamine. What is even more surprising than the composition is that the sound actually works on a somewhat regular basis.
Like any monstrous formula, Distoria falls flat only when it relies too little, or too much, on any particular aspect of the sound, as striking the delicate balance is key in such slippery circumstances. If any one of HavocNdeeD’s volatile sounds is out of synch, pedestrianism or a mess are the only outcomes. Such is the fate that befalls “Where Do We Go,” a perfectly competent piece in the melodic, Nero-esque vein, whose only crime is that it is just that: perfectly competent. The same goes for “Headspin,” although listening to the entire piece transform into its snaking, wriggling hook is intriguing, particularly with the nu metal “chk-chk” signaling the coming storm, a delightful little musical wink in an otherwise full-speed-ahead piece that writhes with the power and subtlety of a reticulated python. Poor “Waiting Game” finds itself suffering from overindulgence and neglect all at once, as the vocals tear off into screaming extremes whilst the tribal, predictable drums juxtapose with the windswept shuffle above them, sounding like Durban in a hurricane, and the piece finds itself stuck in a strange no man’s land between startlingly original and loudly banal.
When the mixture is just right, the results are songs that seemingly could not have sprung from any other band. “Breathing in Seconds” takes those vocals — a crucial constituent, equal parts campy and perfect, not to mention fulfilling the all-important task of being a human anchor point on what can be some rather rough seas — and has them ride along ragged, parabolic waves, the whole cut seemingly heaving with the slow rhythm of a depressant overdose. The end result is something that could find itself spinning in the six-disc changer of a backwards minded alt-rock junkie or an electronic freak’s MacBook, an ability to cut both ways that is downright bizarre, and is admittedly somewhat of an acquired taste.
The finest song is one that veers far afield from all the others. “At Last” opens starkly, and the hollow space between sounds becomes crucial to the piece’s structure, arguably more important than the notes themselves. “At Last” operates perfectly in that barren desert, with vocals soaring and dipping like large-winged vultures finding thermoclines and the warm metal sounds of guitars and piano wires contributing to a bizarre, Bat Country ghost train electronica that ends, fittingly, in roughly 14 seconds of silence. It is unsettling, mesmerizing and evocative, a piece that exists visually as much as aurally, and is an album highlight.
An overall sense of conquest permeates the EP. So many, many things could have gone wrong with Distoria, or with HavocNdeeD in general. Nothing about the group should work: the musical elements, the name, the Linkin Park connection, the already fading — in America — dubstep picture …but work it does, sometimes mundanely, sometimes admirably, and who could ask more from an unstable concoction?
(119 Sound, no address provided)
B. David Zarley is a freelance writer based in Chicago. You can find him on Twitter,@BDavidZarley, or check the bars around Wrigleyville on any given night.