Sikth – The Trees are Dead and Dried Out Wait for something Wild (2003)

What a week of contrast this is turning out to be… I’ve come to SikTh today, and I just want to say, right off the bat, that this will probably be the single most aggressive, savage band I ever review. This is the very limit of my metal appreciating abilities. Yes, I occasionally listen to Immortal and a few other “extreme metal” bands, but in my opinion those guys have absolutely nothing on SikTh when it comes to sheer brutality and alien thought patterns. This band comes with saber teeth, so don’t say I didn’t warn you.

So, what’s going on here and how can you distinguish it from traffic noise, you might ask? Frothing at the mouth chaos or outstanding counting skills? A bit of both, I’d say. This band exemplifies a form of creativity I’m very conflicted about, in the sense that I’ve always had trouble being able to relate to it. Positive, mending message, through apparently destructive means, appeals for understanding and constructive attitude through some of the most dissonant and furious structures I’ve ever come across. At the clash of hardcore and math-rock, this music gleams with a savage glow, like a cybernetic organism, half emotion and half algorithm.

I heard about an experiment which has people place their hands on a sort-of grill made of alternately hot and cold rods of metal. The effect is interesting, because apparently the receptors in the skin get so confused they transmit pain instead of warmth or cold. This record is, in my opinion, the musical equivalent of this experiment, except instead of pain, it’s an odd sort of tension, a nexus of energy which I’m having a hard time defining, both dark and uplifting, something like an enraged force of nature, simultaneously horrific and majestic. Definitely not for everyone though, since the energy is so overwhelmingly uncompromising it can actually become painful. I don’t listen to SikTh on any day – this is music which purges anger via massive displays of violence, it’s kinetic music, demanding movement, be it dancing or more concentrated pounding of the feet or of the fingers to the rhythms.

About the rhythms, they’re so break-neck complex it’s one of the main reasons I enjoy SikTh – I’ve started listening to them a few years ago, and I still don’t feel like I can keep up with the ridiculous complexity of their song structures. Honestly, given the fact that there are also vocals involved, I believe they put most other bands I’ve heard who flirt with math-rock to shame, including Animals As Leaders. I might be a music theory dilettante, but these things speak to muscle memory as much as they do to the mind, and my muscle memory is always challenged when trying to tap along with the drummer and bassist in this band, whereas I can pretty safely say I’ve figured out most A.A.L. patterns by now, even though I discovered them much later. In any case, if contrast isn’t your thing and you have a soft spot for technical proficiency, then I see no reason not to be enthralled by SikTh. For me, this is just the icing on the cake, while the main seduction this band has to offer is the overwhelmingly intense pacing of different passages in one song and the dialogue between bitter-sweet stretches of harmony and the berserker rage the vocalists can muster up, impeccably backed by the instruments.

Speaking of the vocals, there are two singers in this band out of which one is more easily classifiable, reminding me a bit of Cedric Bixler-Zavala in his At the Drive-In stage. The other one, though, travels paths I’ve never heard anyone even approach. He sounds like some sort of supernatural presence, a mischievous, demonic little cyclone of anger, pulling off something I’ve never though possible – screaming in falsetto. Falsetto is a voice register separate from the normal range a voice can reach, sort-of like when you’re a teenager and your vocal chords are playing tricks on you. People who can retain the ability to switch registers and perform falsetto singing aren’t necessarily rare, but screaming in that register is something I’ve never heard anyone else do. This adds a very distinctive, exotic, slightly humorous element to the music, and is far less jarring after a while, even though I’d say it’s definitely an acquired taste.

It seems I had quite a bit to say about this record, and yet I feel I haven’t even scratched the surface. Believe it or not, this music puts me in a very focused, relaxed mood, as if my mind can take on any issue without too much trouble. Explaining all this contrast and technical fluff hasn’t brought my closer to understanding why. I guess the cadence, the implicit effort in trying to separate that which makes sense and that which sounds like noise in this music takes over a part of my brain which would otherwise interfere with the task at hand. I’m not trying to say SikTh is good background music, because that would be a blatant lie. I’m just coming back to that conclusion I tried to illustrate when talking about ISIS. Disinfectant in sound form. Give it a shot, if you’re not too faint of heart.

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