On October 23rd Hummus Records released a record by Convulsif, an avantgarde quartet that’s been together since 2014 and that has already released four full-lengths (simply named I to IV) and a few singles. To describe the sound of the Swiss extremists is not to difficult but it might be hard to fathom: Throw equal amounts of Godflesh, Agoraphobic Nosebleed and Oxbow into your mixer and blend well. Add a huge amount of Sumac, blend again with a strong harsh impulse and then pour it through a filter so that no vocals and no guitars are kept in the mix. Now you have: Convulsif and its lineup consisting of bass, drums, bass clarinet and violin playing some of the fiercest and mind-bursting avantgarde jazz you might hear this side of 2010. It is cold and beaten, seductive and hunting, haunted and feisty.
This fifth full-length by the new Hummus roster acquisition has all the trademarks necessary to make you fall in love with it. Or hate it. Or both. The riffing bass that is used like a guitar (by the way, I wonder if Loic Grobéty plays a five-string bass) and Maxime Hänsenberger’s mis-used drum kit which both produce a hellishly deep foundation for Christian Muller’s bass clarinet and Jamasp Jhabvala’s violin. The latter two also add electronic to make the sound even more distorted and unbelievable. The snippets of clear constructed melodies are attacked after mere seconds by one instrument or the other as it seems as if the listener should not be able to come to a finite thought.
Sounds strange? Okay, let’s have a closer look at the second track “Five Days of Open Bones” (also the second-longest on this hell hound of an album): it opens with wide, sterile clarinet base and doomy, low-tuned bass punctures before the drums set in and the violin slowly rise to the foreground of it all. After roughly three minutes the drums indicate to the rest of the band that now it’s time to notch it up a bit and Maxime throws in some in-between kicks and fills. After every turn of the meter you have the thought “okay, now it will set in!” but it doesn’t fulfill your wish, it remains on its slow ascent into madness. At near-exact five minutes the bass becomes more distorted and the electronic noise parts become not only more apparent but also dominant, the clarinet is nearly inaudible. And then it starts, the hurricane has arrived and is ready to blow us all to bits and pieces – and the clarinet and violin indicate this change as they fight their way to the front again – of course having to overturn all the other “fighting” instruments on its way. We do not witness how we got into the eye of the storm but after a second of calm it all starts collapsing over our heads at 8.30 minutes and everyone tumbles over the over. We have arrived at Grindcore Level 1 where the beasts of hell welcome us into the abyss. The storm breaks down after two minutes and the madness slowly fades with the Godflesh-like clarinet being our guiding buoy out. But we cannot exit without one last quick drum’n’bass attack – no escape is for free.
The level of EXTINCTion and execution on this record is simply awesome because the four musicians are true master of their craft. Even without any vocals it has a lot to say. Even the track titles do – as they are chopped up parts from Charles Darwin’s Beagle Diary. The only question remaining here is – who will be extinct after this record? Our brain? Or is it a sarcastic analogy to the year 2020 when mankind faces extinction and doesn’t know how to get through (just like in a hurricane?). If it is, then let’s hope that Convulsif’s next record is not about the second law of Darwin – the survival of the fittest (or the one most-adapt at adapting).
One day later after the chat with my friends, my head is free again and I immediately have to tell them about this record. I am sure it should check with quite a lot of them. It is (as hard as it is for me to say this) the record we were expecting from Sumac. Maybe it’s even better.