After a 19 year career in which they attempted to make themselves as musically unpalatable as possible, the release of “Pain is a Warning” in 2011 seemed to suggest that Nashville, Tennessee noisecore miscreants Today is the Day were ready to embrace the mainstream. Abandoning the avant-garde noise freakouts of their early material in favour of straight-up, hard rocking numbers that wouldn’t be out of place on a Helmet record suggested that for the first time, commercial success may come hand in hand with the ever-present plaudits. The fans loved it and so did the critics.
So why has mainman Steve Austin yet again recruited a new rhythm section, got back in the producer’s chair and returned to the discordant harshness of before with “Animal Mother”, a record more in common with 1997’s “Temple of the Morningstar?” Because he’s Steve Austin that’s why, a lone-wolf fixated on firearms and mental illness who does things entirely of his own choosing. And we should be thankful of this, for “Animal Mother” is yet another feather in Austin’s cap, or in his case, a military helmet festooned with bullet holes.
The jarring intro riff and stalking bassline of the opening title track instantly raises the hackles before the sheet metal chords that pepper the chorus like tombstones raise the intensity even further. The crushing post metal riffs of the end section give the track an unexpected epic feel and you feel like you can stop gripping the armrests of your chair and allow the groove to carry you onwards. Well, you’d be a fool to think that as the weird, atonal melodies and ramshackle percussion of ‘Discipline’ begin to bite, but then the rocking, violence of ‘Sick of Your Mouth’ starts to take root and you just want to start fighting your co-workers as Austin’s wickedly unhinged high-pitched shrieks detonate over a series of deadly catchy riffs. We’re only three songs in and there’s already been more variation than most bands manage in a whole album. And the trip isn’t over yet.
Putting two versions of the same song on an album is a bold move by most standards but Today is the Day is after all, not a normal band. Hence the acoustic version of ‘Outlaw’ which serves as a post-apocalyptic murder ballad while the electronic version is a harrowing crawl through radioactive waste replete with Austin’s throaty death-growls as he intones “I want to meet my maker.” Elsewhere, the grind-flecked menace of ‘Imperfection’ and ‘Law of the Universe’ hark back to the brutality of “In the Eyes of God” while other highlights include the spacey keyboards of ‘GodCrutch’ and ‘The Last Strand’ and the closing track ‘Bloodwood’; a seven minute lounge song from hell steeped in utter misery.
With the warm production of “Pain is a Warning” stripped away, “Animal Mother” lands us right back at the mercy of Austin’s subconscious; a truly terrifying place where conventional rules don’t apply. Nothing can be predicted as riffs stop and start seemingly at random, drums roll around like teeth in a discarded tin can and shrieks and bellows rend the air. Not to mention the atmosphere which veers between sheer despair, untamed aggression and bug-eyed insanity. In a world of mediocrity where musicians are afraid to take risks, it’s up to bands like Today is the Day to push the envelope into the realms of madness. They’re more vital now than they ever were.