There’s been a bit of a trend recently towards metal supergroups (the heavy music community is practically salivating at the prospect of Killer Be Killed), but Mutation is one that may slip under the radar.  Well I’m gonna do my best to see that it doesn’t.

Describing themselves as a “collective”, the band is comprised of a seemingly disparate group of musicians.  Shane Embury (Napalm Death), Ginger Wildheart (The Wildhearts), Mark E. Smith (The Fall), Jon Poole (Cardiacs), Rich Jones (Amen), Chris Catalyst (Sisters of Mercy), Denzel (Young Legionnaire), random members of alt metallers Hawk Eyes and Japanese electro-terrorist Merzbow…. plus heaps more which are too numerous to mention.

With that lot cloistered together in a studio, you can bet Error 500 is not gonna be your average rock record, particularly since it’s being released on Mike Patton’s Ipecac label…

Aficionados of avant garde rock may have been through a bit of a lean patch the last couple of years.  Mr Bungle & Naked City are long gone and Fantomas & The Secret Chiefs 3 have been pretty quiet.  Japanese grind popsters Melt Banana have released an (excellent) album recently but that’s about it unless you’re wicked underground and are hoarding avant-gems to yourself.

Speaking of Melt Banana, there’s more than a little of their approach spread across this release.  It’s… umm…imagine Deerhoof jamming with Napalm Death on Beach Boys tracks and you’re somewhere around the mark… except way off.  This is an extremely hard album to pin down.  It jumps between genres no question, but unlike Naked City or Fantomas who are sometimes frustrating in that they’ll leap out of a groove just as you were beginning to dig it, the songs on Error 500 have recurring themes and cyclical song structures.  While the overall sound is fairly uncompromising there’s no frustrating musique concrete or phrases of plain noise for noise’s sake.

There are passages of furious grindcore, with blastbeats being applied liberally where necessary for sure, but some of the rhythmic and melodic progressions exhibit damned impressive musicianship; their jerky dissonance and unconventional construction is sure to catch the ear of the most discerning prog-ster.  If you’re one of those music fans who likes to count, there’s enough maths going on here to satisfy you. Conversely, if you simply enjoy crushing brutality, fear not.  There are plenty of distorted and weighty riffs for the hardened deathster to enjoy.  No doubt contributing to this heaviness is the inclusion of two bass guitar tracks: Shane Embury’s filthily distorted rumbling combined with Jon Poole’s cleaner bassier sound.

But perhaps the most surprising element is that there is also a pervading sense of melody and pop catchiness!  This record has hooks which belie its unorthodox composition.  While some of Ginger’s distorted vocals are hard to interpret (I could have done with a lyric sheet to accompany the cd), there are some truly inspired vocal harmonies floating over the underlying brutality and complexity.  This is where the Cardiacs influence is most evident, “White Leg” and its partial reprise “Sun of White Leg” are among the best tracks and are harmonically akin to what Yes might have sounded like if they were trying to play death metal!

Such is the apparent disparity between the contributing musicians, I had a horrible suspicion that this album would be a sort of patchwork quilt of their various influences glued together with Pro Tools trickery, however it’s anything but.  Perfectly executed non-linear tempo shifts and meter changes add to the overall cohesiveness and Error 500 sounds very much like the work of a band rather than a bunch of hastily assembled musicians.

The album is best consumed as a whole (and at speaker killing volumes) but the standout tracks are the stop-start ascension and chilling breakdown of the magnificently titled “Computer, This is Not What I…”, the epic yet infectious spazzcore of “Innocentes In Mortes” and  “Utopia Syndrome” and the virtually indescribable (yeah, I tried but it’s vague at best)  suite of  “White Leg” and “Sun of White Leg”… the latter in particular features a soaring harmonic crescendo of rhapsodic proportions.

Of course this record won’t be for everyone, but for those who enjoy the bands mentioned earlier in the review (and those who feel said bands would have been better if they paid more heed to metal) then this album is not just recommended… it’s essential.

A heady cocktail of visionary heavy music… with a twist o’ lemon!


Stewart Hall

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