For years, Dublin’s Hands Up Who Wants To Die have been obliterating the eardrums of audiences across the continent. Previously led by the nihilistic poeticisms of one Barry Lennon, the group’s amicable split with the formidable frontman allowed the quartet to refocus on composing their third album, with new recruit Rory O’Brien from Ten Past Seven taking over lyrical duties.
On the resulting Nil All, the band’s first release in six years since their split with B.O.B, Hands Up Who Wants To Die expand upon the beautifully brutal soundscapes of the band’s previous releases Buffalo buffalo buffalo Buffalo buffalo and Vega in the Lyre. The album sees the band dive deeper into dark, treacherous water, O’Brien’s dark character studies presiding over a constantly churning, cacophonous, greatly terrible listening experience. The band’s own description of the album as “wonky gothic noise rock”, though great, does not come close to describing just how fucked up the whole thing sounds.
Boasting relentlessly pounding rhythms, angular, interlocking dissonant guitar progressions, droning feedback, and contorted vocal performances that would make The Jesus Lizard’s David Yow blush, the moods across Nil All range from the unsettling (‘L’inconnue’, ‘0 – 0’) to the downright terrifying (‘Clothbound’, ‘Nausea’). Despite a minimalistic approach to instrumentation, it’s an overwhelming listen; owing much to the group’s continued collaboration with John ‘Spud’ Murphy (Black Midi, Lankum, Caroline) and Ian Chestnutt (Shifting, Crowhammer, Cormorant Tree Oh). Its quieter moments providing perhaps even more discomfort than those when the band is attacking all senses, be it via a jarring pause, ambient textures or a seamless change in time signature and guitar technique.
Album highlights ‘Late Comorant Fishing’ and ‘Nausea’ are especially sickening; the former, built around a riff as sharp and cutting as a broken glass bottle and a dizzying middle eight, the latter devouring the listener right at the outset with oscillating guitar noise and a crawling circular bass riff and crashing cymbals while O’Brien spits venom like a demonic preacher speaking in tongues. The track offers a brief moment of respite at its halfway point only to plunge the listener further into its murky waters before dragging them cold and scared through the woods with spiderweb-like guitar arpeggios.
A record that explores the absurd and brutal side of life, Nil All is hideous in the best possible way. Confrontational and uncompromising, even when relatively accessible, if nothing else it reminds the listener that they are alive. Danny Kilmartin