It’s interesting that My Chemical Romance will be viewed historically as the anomaly in Frank Iero’s musical lineage. Their shiny, arena-conquering anthems may be what the guitarist is best known for, but his myriad of other projects venture down the route of grimy, ramshackle basement fodder, like the vicious post-hardcore of Leathermøuth and, more recently, his attempt at unpolished punk with Frnkiero Andthe Cellebration. And then there’s Death Spells, Iero’s collaborative project with The Get Up Kids’ James Deewees, taking the form of seething, twisted electro-noise. The project was supposed to release their debut in 2013, but was ultimately shelved due to other commitments. But now, a whole three years later, both Death Spells and their debut Nothing Above, Nothing Below are being properly unleashed onto the world.
And this will be, without question, Iero’s most divisive project to date. On a musical level, this is worlds away from anything either of the two collaborators have done before – punishing, occasionally structure-free digital hardcore that takes any sort of sonic boundaries and mangles them into an indiscernible knot. And given the fact that not a single guitar is used on this album, Nothing Above, Nothing Below is more abrasive and warped than a lot of what is considered ‘heavy’ music nowadays. And while it will undoubtedly divide Iero’s fanbase, there’s a divide in the album itself, namely between what’s actually workable and what isn’t, and how the duo sometimes fail to distinguish between the two. Because, even for an album designed to be as abrasive as possible, it feels as though Death Spells don’t know what direction to take their sound in.
That’s mainly thanks to Nothing Above, Nothing Below being split into two distinct sounds, the darkwave floorfillers and the floods of noise that are the musical equivalent of being shot in the face with an Uzi. As individuals, the songs aren’t bad – Choke On One Another and Hell All-American are fantastically propulsive with their grinding beats, while Why Is Love So Disastrous? is so brash in its nihilism that it’s easy to like. But any sort of transition between the two styles is virtually nonexistent, meaning that the difficulty curve when trying to get through this album is hugely unforgiving. And in its extremities, this is exacerbated even further – Where Are My Fucking Pills? is already borderline unlistenable with its tinny, shredded assault, but next to the gentle, atmospheric piano of Quaainterlude, it’s hugely disorienting.
It’s a shame as well because, to the right ears, some of these songs aren’t bad. Obviously some duds slip through the net like the accurately titled but annoyingly jittery Hypnotic Spells, but on the whole, these songs are perfectly fine. It’s just that, as an actual album, there are very few instances where they mesh together seamlessly, and the whole thing seems hugely disjointed. The only consistent factor is Iero’s screeches drenched in electronic filters, but that’s the only clue that most of these songs are by the same band. Otherwise, this could easily be a compilation of underground noise or electroclash artists, such is immensely messy nature of presentation.
And that’s ultimately Nothing Above, Nothing Below‘s damning fault. If both sides of Death Spells’ incredibly dissonant oeuvre were split into separate releases, the whole thing would be a much more attractive prospect. But as it is, while this collection of tracks does have its moments of quality, it’s so jarring and haphazardly thrown together that any impact is dulled severely, not helpful for a band’s who’s primary function is actually to be as jarring as possible. It all results in a rare case where Death Spells stumble for doing what they do too well.
For fans of: Death Grips, Ho99o9, Atari Teenage Riot
Words by Luke Nuttall
‘Nothing Above, Nothing Below’ by Death Spells is out now on Hassle Records.