When we last checked in with Portland’s harsh EBM project [product], they had just released a very different single in the form of the Awaken the Alchemist. While that release’s move towards dramatic atmospherics and orchestration isn’t wholly reflected in the tracks on Shallow Graves, enough of those elements are present to suggest that project mastermind Michael Kurt is looking to expand beyond the palette of sounds normally associated with Terror EBM.
The aggrotech formula isn’t one generally noted for its subtlety or nuance; in the ten-plus years since its codification on Suicide Commando’s Mindstrip, advancements in the genre can be measured in inches rather than yards. With that understanding, the twists [product] has added to Shallow Graves allude to some larger ideas on how to interpret the style’s signature arps, pads and pounding drums. Witness opener “So Lost”, where the traditional verse/chorus structure is abandoned in favor of a large and evolving arrangement that allows pauses for the listener’s ear to rest and readjust before jumping back to the distorted bass and clanging percussion. Its effect is amplified by follow-up instrumental “The Blind”, where a buzzing synth lays the foundation for some foreboding strings and choral sounds. Either song could have been hammered into a serviceable banger, but it’s far more interesting to hear them stretched out and played with structurally.
Upon multiple listens I think the most definitive moment on the LP is “Carrion (To the Stars)” where a speedy 4/4 intro gives way to a half-speed breakdown and tinkling pianos, never actually returning to its original form. It’s a daring switch-up that feels all the more rewarding for it’s willingness to buck your expectations of how a song will play out. If anything it’s a tendency I wish Kurt would indulge even more, while songs like “Amaranth” and “Voluntary Extinction” are functional examples of ‘straight’ Terror EBM, they feel somewhat anemic next to the textural shifts and unexpected use of guitar on “Call to the Moon” and the power noise-esque “We All Live”. I can understand wanting to have songs designed for the club (after all, the kind of distinctions [product] is dealing in can get lost on the dancefloor), but I’d still far rather listen to the emotive and chilling title track than prosaic Detroit Diesel collaboration “A Symbol for Water”.
There’s something something intrinsically satisfying in hearing an act draw something different from a well worn (and somewhat abused) template, and [product] are scratching that itch for me in the same way that Distorted Memory did on Swallowing the Sun. There’s no doubt that this is a different sort of aggrotech record, informed by genre tropes but not wholly beholden to them. I’m not 100% behind every song on Shallow Graves, but I hear more than a few things that interest me spread across it, and that’s as much as I can ask from any artist.