[CD – Little Plastic Tapes 09 / Headwrecker 05 -June 2011]
Printed on c.d. in a run of 500.
WRETCH FALAFEL BLOG –
Dublin is by no means exclusive in it’s ability to be a harsh environment to that which sticks around for longer than the ever decreasing attention span of it’s troglodyte and subterranean music audience, but operating here is far from favourable. It’s an undeniably difficult tunnel to crouch through, with no promise of a pinhole of light ahead, if you accept it be that way. The other way is to be that thing from some apocalyptic movie that keeps coming no matter how many rounds are pumped into it… But what do you do when you long outlive your original phytoclimate? Like fungus, like cockroaches, like feral kids and like Estel, some entities feed on this.
“A Massive, Glorious, Uphill, Shit-Fight” by name and nature, Estel’s hardball belligerence has been self-serving them equal dollops of longevity, antipathy, respect and obscurity all the way through to this, their 5th album ( excluding the recent Watt/Mackay collaboration ) in more years than most of their audience have been present to recall. Verily, they are the Anvil of the Dublin underground.
The sprawling GANG OF MEN weaves an expansive mesh of cheap practice room spillover of 2 different bands trying to out compose each other through the plasterboard. One grinds out a dissonance of cascading guitar noise and the other loops incessantly through a weird piano recital signature… this falsely relents after 9 minutes and then continues to build for a further 5, at which point it switches to a more familiar Estel mode with chiming keyboards leading a sludgy chugging riff which yields only when the every last dribble is spent. TEN TO TEN is very different territory. It drifts at a Calexico pace, although not quite rendering itself as sonically sedate, making excellent use of layers of female vocal towards the end. Not dwelling for too long in a mood that could slip towards an uncharacteristic lightness of being ( TEN TO TEN is under 5 minutes, a soundbite by Estel’s standards nowadays ), the condensed psychedelic trudge metal of THE CONSUMPTION unfolds slowly alternating between a heavy gravitational pull and a teased pulse. In a welcome return to a structure that seems very old-school Estel ( with people who can approach the idea competently ) MONKEY KNIFE FIGHT is colourful, upbeat and manic, clocking in at a mere 4.34 mins. And just like a monkey knife fight would, this piece of music ends abruptly, the defeated monkey no doubt shrieking off at great speed through the mangroves. HEAD ON A STICK leads out like the Wurlitzer soundtrack to some innocent undulating fairground ride tweaked by evil carnies to mangle it’s patrons when least expected. This track is a very finely honed and progressive Estel, teasing out the menace without resorting to heavy dynamics or a final descent into 5 minutes of noise that nobody is going to listen to. Instead we are simply left with the closing statement from Ted Bundy’s trial to contemplate.
It’s been a huge gap since the last Estel studio offering and they are rumoured to have a queued stockpile of further noise awaiting release. In their definite favour, they recently slimmed to a more compact 4 piece, the size this band need to be to allow the music breathing space rather than crowding it, something they’ve definitely done in the past. “A Massive, Glorious, Uphill, Shit-Fight” drags an ever wider spectrum ideas into the Estel mincer and holds itself as a confident representation of a band with a lot of creative ground still to tread upon. For the Wretch’s ill-gotten currency, the final two tracks are the definite highlights.
THUMPED WEBSITE –
ESTEL have always done things the hard way. Whereas their contemporaries on the Irish underground circuit were more easily aligned with prevailing movements of the day (and by definition were more marketable), the Dubliners have stubbornly ploughed their own furrow since 1999. Members have come and gone over the years – keyboardist Sarah Shiel is the only original, though drummer Andrew Bushe is almost as long-serving – but the band remains a mainstay of the scene, one that’s finally broadening its taste to appreciate those who don’t quite fit the mould.
A Massive, Glorious, Uphill, Shit-Fight (which came out almost exactly a year ago – sorry for the late review!) is their fifth album, and their first in five years, not counting 2009’s extended jam session with the legendary Mike Watt and Steve Mackay (the second volume of which is due out this year). It also presents the same four-strong line-up that produced 2006’s The Bones of Something, a record that hinted at a darker direction for the band, one much more under the influence of Goblin, the horror-prog soundtrackers of many a Dario Argento splatterfest.
That haunting record was ESTEL flipping the bird to the haters who refused to accept them on their own terms. After all, punk is whatever we make it to be, right? Five years of gigging and woodshedding since have produced a fitting follow-up, definitely with a view towards creating spaces for heads to explore rather than merely stringing together some interesting noises. And they don’t get more spacious than the epic 25-minute opener ‘Gang of Man‘, a creepy, trance-inducing monster. Your appreciation of it will no doubt depend on your tolerance for repetition, but by placing it at the front of the running order, ESTEL clearly don’t give a fuck. I like that.
The rest wear their influences on their sleeve, but wear them well. ‘Ten to Ten‘ has a warped spaghetti western vibe, like visiting the Jim Rose Circus in the Old West, while ‘The Consumption‘ goes for Melvins-style crushing doom-laden heaviness. ‘Monkey Knife Fight‘ is the perfect title for the tumbling maelstrom of noise it encapsulates. And closer ‘Head On A Stick‘, with its churning guitars, carnival keys and martial beat, conjures up some seriously deranged killer clown type shit.
It doesn’t compare to seeing and hearing this stuff live, mind you. The Night of the Living Dead samples don’t make up for the lack of Bushie’s top-notch banter. And better production would take this set to another level: the lack of resonance to the piano riffs works against the carefully crafted atmosphere, and the drumming loses its punch in spots. But as an advert for what these guys can do on stage, where they’re most at home, it’s pretty clear they’ve got a lot of shit-fighting left in ’em.
ECLIPSED MAGAZINE (GERMANY) ‘ALBUM OF THE MONTH’ , JULY 2011.
ECLIPSED MAGAZINE (GERMANY) Number 16 in the top 100 albums of 2011 poll, placing over bands including – SWANS, WILCO, VAN DER GRAFF GENERATOR etc.
Featured in Dan Hegarty’s top fifty Irish albums of 2011.