Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Kowloon Walled City--Gambling on the Richter Scale

In 7th grade, I broke my knee in a relatively lame and extremely unimpressive skateboarding accident.  I was left on crutches for (what I remember to be) months, waiting for the swelling to go down enough for me to use it for walking and finally let my armpit calluses heal.  All the while, there were several girls that I was interested in (since this was 7th grade, I'll just go ahead and say EVERY GIRL) that would give me attention for being on crutches, alternately calling me cute, a cripple, and "poor you!"  Talk about cognitive dissonance; I wanted to stay on crutches forever but somehow be mobile enough to get in and out of the shower without incident and comfortably abuse my body (which happened....a lot).

These last few days, my old gimpy knee has been feverishly trying to go akimbo on me again; I am in a constant battle with my beleaguered joint to make sure I don't tempt it enough to go flying back out of place.  It makes work more difficult, because while my coworkers are trying to surprise each other with the smelliest fart they can conjure or find a newer, more hilarious way of calling me a homosexual, I'm stuck trying to coerce my knee into behaving itself.  It is not acceptable.

Finding a new sludge/doom metal band that I can really get into really only happens once in a blue moon, just like when my old "sports" injury flares up.  Enter Kowloon Walled City to remind me that sludge doesn't have to suck; sludge can groove and wail, punish and pound, without having to tickle someone's nostalgia bone to gain fans (like some bands I recently wrote about).  Kowloon Walled City do, however, fall into the genre's standard trappings of 1) mostly playing the same tempos with little variation and 2) having a vocalist that doesn't sound the way you would expect given the music.  Let's now examine their newest fare, Gambling on the Richter Scale, with our musicians' hats on, shall we?

Gambling is, by and large, well written.  The riffs are highly infectious and supremely heavy without being horribly muddy from too much downtuning or relying on Sunn amps to make them sound good.  This heaviness is refreshing, not because I haven't heard it in a while, but because I haven't heard it mixed so that the riffs will turn my bones into a fine powder even through my terrible computer speakers.  Kowloon Walled City also have a way of writing a song without just tossing in some really slow, painfully crappy riff that just gets played ad nauseum, which is a genre staple for "epic tracks" (read: tracks longer than 4 minutes).  They also keep their songwriting refreshingly concise; all of the songs clock in between 3 and 6 minutes long, which is commonly referred to as the "not obnoxious" range for song length.  Realistically, a band has to have written a killer song if I'm going to put up with it being longer than 6 to 7 minutes pretty much no matter how you cut it.  Opeth can usually do it.  YOB cannot.  But that's neither here nor there.

The most striking thing about Kowloon Walled City is the vocal style that pervades the record.  It's the familiar "I-can't-believe-it's-not-mongo-vocals" hardcore style that is prevalent in bands like D.I.S., and would sound more at home in an Agnostic Front/Sick of it All cover band.  In fact, the vocalist actually sounds like he's physically shouting, barking the lyrics at what could be a misbehaving dog or a wayward child who got caught inexplicably urinating in the dirty clothes hamper right across from the toilet (I still remember the look on my dad's face).  This disparity is the most unsettling aspect of the music, but if you can't get past the sound of a vocalist, you're probably reading this because you're my mom and you want to see what it is I'm spending all my time doing these days.

Kowloon Walled City take their name from a walled city called Kowloon Walled City, and the name is surprisingly apropos.  If I were asked to give a visual representation of what Kowloon Walled City sound like, I would say this:


because I would be hard-pressed to find something else that gives an adequate approximation.  The sound is dingy, heavy, and caked in filth, like a middle-school boy's spooge rag of choice.  Or the city pictured above.  Whatever.

Kowloon Walled City also maintains what I like to call the "Isis shimmer" in their riffs, which is to say that they don't only play the bottom three strings on their guitars, but they incorporate full chord voicings and even suspended 2nds and other chord extensions into the music.  I respond very strongly to this kind of open, thick sound for some reason; it's probably because my mom used to beat me with a D sus2 chord when I was a child (and that's a concert D sus2 for all you fancy-pantses out there who want to be lame and ask if that was on a series of A clarinets and bari saxes or something).

If you want to check out Kowloon Walled City, you should go buy some of their totally sweet music or merch (no link provided), or you can just follow your nose to the dank recesses of the walled city itself.

1 comment:

  1. This was an album I didn't give much of a chance when I heard it last year, but it might be time to give it another spin