In the 90s the standard dark music club format gave rise to the idea of “goth-industrial” as a musical genre. Though never clearly defined beyond a few half-hearted compilations (and undoubtedly more than a few mixtapes) the loose idea was that music that drew from both traditions could satisfy the fans of each. No label embodied the idea more than Cleopatra, who for their numerous flaws put out some very good records by Razed in Black and Switchblade Symphony amongst others. Appropriate then that in 2016 Cleo put out a record like Bestial Mouths’ Heartless; an LP that thrives in that tricky middle ground that also includes minimal synth and lurching post-punk.
Heartless is more than just a “great tastes that taste great together” mashing up of ideas, instead finding stylistic commonalities to build songs around. Opener “Greyed” has a rumbling drum loop at its heart, and the interaction between it and a sharp-edged synth arpeggio and some cobwebby pads make it feel mechanical and primal in equal measures. “Small Prey” is deliberately mechanical at its outset, building an enormous crashing rhythm that works equally as a launching pad for blood-curdling vocal shrieks and barrages of drum hits that blur the line between its synthetic and human components.
Of course the most striking thing about Bestial Mouths remains the voice of Lynette Cerezo. Her delivery shifts easily between punky yelps on “Ceased” and monotone chanting on the strained synthpop of “Down to the Bones”. It’s tempting to call the way she changes up her delivery between songs (and in some cases like the jerky title track, on the same song) effortless, but in fact everything Cerezo does sounds like its taking a lot of work. There’s a physicality to her moans and croaked syllables that renders them palpable, like she’s dredging them up from deep within herself and pushing them out with every ounce of strength. That speaks a lot to how fraught Bestial Mouths sounds. Even on a relatively frothy cover of The Human League’s “Being Boiled” the group manages to sound severe.
All that pressure and live wire tension stands in stark contrast to just how easy and fun Heartless can be to listen to. While the album’s pace is brisk and the content charged the result plays as invigorating rather than ponderous. As the album burns itself out on the galloping closer “White Eyes” there’s still enough energy crackling through each sequence and howl to suggest another listen. And more often than not this reviewer has found himself taking the band up on it. Recommended.