Heavy music polyglots Oozing Wound have made their name as thrash metal jokesters, the trio’s penchant for titles ranging from the humorously prosaic (“Everyone I Hate Should Be Killed”) to the downright goofy (“Colonel’s Kernel”), setting them apart from some of their more straight-faced DIY peers — they even covered Blink-182’s 1997 crossover hit “Dammit,” albeit contemptuously. On We Cater to Cowards, the Chicago band looks to underground history and comes through with a batch of ten songs that would’ve made them a neat fit for the rosters of Touch and Go or Amphetamine Reptile. The album’s unfussy, dry production stands in stark contrast to the hyper-compressed heaviness of acts like Jesus Piece or fellow noise devotees Whores. In that stead, the group opts for Steve Albini-esque post-hardcore production values that veer closer to The Jesus Lizard than most contemporary hardcore punk/metal outfits.
We Cater to Cowards is Oozing Wound at their most straightforward yet. The band wraps their winking despair in song structures that feel like they were produced by three musicians mainly preoccupied with entertaining themselves in their dingy practice space. Unconcerned with whatever the outside world might make of their fifth album, singer-guitarist Zack Weil clarifies their MO, saying, “We don’t care about propriety or the sanctity of TRVE METAL or any of that bullshit.” Accordingly, their rip-roaring punk/sludge/metal hybrid feels untethered from genre constraints or audience expectations — perhaps to a fault. Although the trio’s latest still contains lots of excitement, many of the somewhat shapeless songs don’t match the intensity of their previous work, nor that of the extraordinarily crushing music recently put out by some of their peers.
“Bank Account Anxiety” opens the LP with a single-note guitar riff, not dissimilar to the one that introduced Exhalants’ 2020 single “Bang.” The song settles into a grungy half-time drum beat — more Bleach than Nevermind, or perhaps just more TAD than Nirvana — as Weil bluntly rails against economic pressures amidst longer work hours, stagnating wages, and rising costs of living. “Once I had dreams / Where now it’s dollar signs / I’m fucked, I’m fucked,” he yells, venom dripping from every syllable. The frontman works in a crude guitar solo before the song fizzles into a barrage of feedback — so far, so familiar. Then there’s the single-note tremolo picking of “Total Existence Failure,” which whizzes over Kyle Reynolds’ lumbering drums and Kevin Cribbin’s thick, distorted bass chords. The dirge-y number mostly saunters along while sporadically erupting into wild noise freakouts.
Two songs in, and We Cater to Cowards has delivered a perfectly fine, if not great, listening experience. But track number three, “The Good Times (I Don’t Miss ‘Em),” exemplifies the inconsistency that will come to plague the record throughout. Stubbornly devoting 90 seconds of its four-and-a-half-minute length to a rather unremarkable meandering non-groove, the track suddenly breaks into an odd time signature, giving the half-asleep rhythm a violent shove as the band slithers its way through the barbed arrangement, recalling the angular noise rock of P I N K O. Once things get going, its blood boils with infectious rage, but it’s unfortunate that the album’s thrills are so often hidden away between its passages of relative boredom.
This back-and-forth between limp and electric continues with “Crypto Fash,” a repetitive sludge metal tune, elevated by majestic horns. Indeed, the band regularly makes use of those horns — but to varying degrees of success. The humdrum alt-metal of “Chudly” isn’t really helped by the occasional brass bursts, while the wild saxophone cacophony of “Old Sludge” gives the Unsane-esque song a much-needed shot in the arm. Oozing Wound isn’t the only band of this particular sonic character to have infused its guitar-driven sound with saxophones and trumpets in recent years. Full of Hell, Blacklisters, and Imperial Triumphant have all expanded their pummeling sonic assault with exhilarating jazz weirdness, although their deployment feels more spontaneous than considered, which is sometimes a feature and sometimes a bug.
Later in the track listing, the hilariously named “Midlife Crisis Actor” falls victim to the same fate, its one-note, feedback-laden rumble failing to generate genuine excitement. The song does, however, open up into a towering middle section, which sees Weil yelling about trying to keep the negative thoughts at bay: “Signs, in the back of my mind… Just trying to make a dime.” Thankfully, album closer “Face Without Eyes” ends things on a stronger note, not only referencing Georges Franju’s 1960 horror classic — and not, as feared, Billy Idol’s 1984 single — but also taking their central musical idea in more interesting directions, seemingly for the first time on this record. By the time the song’s thrash metal riffage falls apart into a pulverizing staccato breakdown, listeners will likely be wondering where this energy was for the preceding 40 minutes. And for good reason: On paper, the idea of a stripped-down Oozing Wound noise rock album, complete with throwback production values and comparatively unembellished songwriting should, by all accounts, work. But while the band is still good for the odd thunderous part, their schtick has, unfortunately, never felt more exhausted.
Published as part of InRO Weekly — Volume 1, Issue 6.