I have to admit, I was a bit apprehensive about checking out Wreck and Reference when I first heard about them. As deep an appreciation as I have for forward-thinking heavy music, I still have at least one foot (or maybe just a toe?) stuck in the old school, which means a metal band that doesn’t wield a single guitar of any kind throws up a huge red flag. I know, I know, it seems silly and more than a tad close minded, but hey, we all have our hang-ups; at the end of the day, I’m a guitar guy, a fucking RIFF guy, so I’m bound to approach a band like Wreck and Reference, who lack the one instrument that is in my opinion the foundation of heavy metal as the Gods (Iommi, Mustaine, Warrior, Quorthon, etc) intended it, with extreme caution.
Turns out my apprehension was even more misguided than I thought; though Wreck and Reference aren’t down with the whole six-string thing, it has in no way prohibited the duo from making one of 2012’s heaviest and most harrowing albums with
Youth. I’d be more inclined to call this music industrial metal, with gothic rock, psych, electronic and noise/ambient influences more so than I would the doom/drone tag that seems to follow these guys around, but at the end of the day it doesn’t fucking matter, because Wreck and Reference have crafted true outsider music here, music that can’t be conveniently crammed into tidy little genre boxes, as asshole bloggers and critics like myself are often determined to do.
Wreck and Reference rely on samplers, vocals and live drums to bring their sound into being; it’s a bleak and corrosive soundscape shrouded in permanent midnight. The sampler creates an ever-shifting miasma of distortion that at times sounds like a guitar being played by a horribly malfunctioning android ala Ash in Alien. The drums propel the songs ever further towards total oblivion and along with the vocals lend a crucial human element to the album. The music found on
Youth is thick with the atmosphere of urban decay; shattered hopes and dreams set against crumbling buildings and broken-down machinery. Tracks like “The Solstitial” “I am a Sieve” and “Edifice of Silt” creep out of the speakers like black cancer, enveloping the listener in Wreck and Reference’s malignant world.
When it comes to songwriting, Wreck and Reference are all about economy and diversity. Most of the tracks on
Youth occupy that perfect space between three and four minutes, never overstaying their welcome and always leaving you wanting more. The variety of tones and textures generated by the band’s electronic element is stunning; dulcet notes morph into smeared locust swarms and back again, revealing new sounds to latch onto upon each and every listen. This is aided and abetted by the use of several different vocal styles that range from reverbed clean croons to blood vessel bursting screams and several points in-between. Wreck and Reference’s attention to detail makes each song on Youth a distinctive yet concise musical journey unto itself while still retaining a feeling of wholeness.
Adherents to metal’s old school values had best be warned; Wreck and Reference are onto something with
Youth, an album that remorselessly buries the conventions of heavy music under an avalanche of synthesized noise. This is one of the most ambitious albums you’re likely to hear all year; the scary thing is that this duo has the talent and songwriting chops to back up their ambition, unlike so many other bands diving headlong into such heavy experimentation. I’m beyond impressed with what Wreck and Reference have achieved here and I’m looking forward to seeing where they take this seemingly limitless potential next.