Given the pedigree of the musicians involved; Mike Williams of Eyehategod, Sandford Parker of Minsk and Nachtmystium, Scott Kelly of Neurosis and Bruce Lamont of Yakuza, it’s fair to say that there was no way that the debut album from Corrections House was going to be anything other than diverse, challenging and utterly compelling. Coming out of the blue at the end of 2013, “Last City Zero” was high on many critics’ end-of-year lists and has resonated with many, and not just fans of the members’ parent bands. Rooted in themes of urban decay and full of harsh mechanical sounds, Corrections House is a punishing lesson in industrial misery.
The mournful chords and languid tones of Scott Kelly on opening track ‘Serve or Survive’ will be familiar to any passing Neurosis fan but instead of being enveloped in their customary rural atmospherics we are pitched into a dystopian nightmare of factory noises, pulsing power electronics and feral howls courtesy of Mike Williams. Imagine if Neurosis gave birth to a crack baby in some back alley New Orleans industrial slum and you’re somewhere close to comprehending what’s going on. After this tortuous sprawl, the punked-up brutality of ‘Bullets and Graves’ is a disconcerting kick in the guts as Parker’s aggressive and jittery synths do their best to make you feel uneasy.
The apocalyptic post-metal of ‘Party Leg and Three Fingers’ may be one of the more conventional sounding tracks on “Last City Zero” but is still totally nightmarish as its claustrophobic and hopeless arrangements wash over you like poisonous fumes from an abandoned nuclear power plant. Then once the terror passes we are greeted with the barren neofolk of ‘Run Through the Night’ as Lamont’s lazy saxophone proclaims the arrival of the end times and our futility in avoiding the inevitable end.
The industrial grind of before returns with a vengeance on ‘Dirt Poor and Mentally Ill’ which is armed with a riff that sounds like it’s been filtered through the machine that crushed the T800 at the end of The Terminator. The repetitive, merciless percussion, disorientating ambient swells and Williams fulfilling the role of demented preacher all conspire to make the track a horrifying endurance test, dominance by machines in a way that Fear Factory could never dare imagine. Williams is clearly revelling in the freedom Corrections House allows him as demonstrated by his bereft and shattering spoken word poem on the title track with wrist-slashing lines such as “Downed on the dim roads. Misbegotten and forgotten.”
Despite its portrayal of squalor, misery and failure, “Last City Zero” succeeds on so many levels. While there are few actual riffs on the album, the ones that are present are devastating and combined with the harrowing industrial that makes up the core, means we are dealing with one of the heaviest records in a long while. There is a feeling of unshackled freedom running throughout, a genuine sense of danger that anything could happen, yet whatever could emerge from the mire would be right at home. Plus while this is without doubt a side project, the fact that something so powerful could be created by musicians in their downtime is an emphatic reminder of just how talented they are. We may have been waiting 14 years for a new Eyehategod record but if the delay means we get records as good as “Last City Zero”, it’s a wait that can go on and on.