Reviews

Wet Specimens x Cartridge, Dawn of the Ice Age (Split EP) (Brain Slash, 2020)

Carlos first tipped the No Echo world to Albany’s Wet Specimens last summer.

Off the back of their Haunted Flesh EP, the band has returned with the bludgeoning Boston D-beat crew Cartridge in tow.

Handled by Brain Slash Records, Dawn of the Ice Age is a hurried rush of battering hardcore punk, allowing both bands to shoulder the blame.

Albany’s finest is the perfect mate for the misanthropic bad vibes peddled by this brood of Bostonites. Matching the masterful ear of Will Killingsworth of Dead Air is Jason Tucker’s production, both of whom lend the recording a boisterous yet raw clarity. Let’s get into it. 

Though the Petri dish that birthed the glorious ooze of Wet Specimens may be fetid, they’ve tapped an endlessly renewable resource with their singular brand of dark and adventurous hardcore.

Opener “Mephitic Prose” wastes no time reintroducing us to their warped take on subgenre sonics, putting as much an emphasis on a fondness for UK82 as they do death-rock and post punk. After the straightforward buzzsaw attack of the beginning mines early punk, it’s ultimately the back end that stuns.

They let loose with a wildly unhinged torrent of bleak and colorless post punk guitar, as clattering as it is focused.

Wet Specimens have always managed to hide hypermelodic and catchy weirdo shit just beneath their frenzied and raw hardcore punk, but here it’s far more subtle and even more expertly employed. I hear bits of Rudimentary Peni in the sound, but perhaps more so in the sound of a band liberated from any one scene’s expectation. 

For headwear that’s unlikely to keep COVID away but will sure as shit keep people distant, try “Carved Bone Mask.” The rotten lunchmeat of their 3-track meal here is an absolute ripper of pure punk fury (I don’t know Clutch but there’s a reference nonetheless).

At barely north of a minute, it still manages the woozy back and forth of being endlessly battered in a back alley for little more than pocket change. Again, they manage to sneak in a rad post-punk guitar run that, as an added texture, gives this blur of brevity a earworm sensibility. 

Wet Specimens (Photo: Al Quint)

The band plays as something that could only be born of its unique and disparate parts. Somewhere in the practice space, there must be some well worn Skeletal Family or Specimen LPs partially obscured by a tattered pressing of an English Dogs album. They wear well their myriad influences and, unsurprisingly, their varied resumes would likely back this claim. 

Don’t “gun to your head” quote me on this, but I think this wild bunch had, of all things, a fucking theremin on their last EP. The reason I bring it up is because, to my untrained ear, there’s some equally wild freak flag flying taking place “Locked in a Basement.”

The vocals here are particularly throat shredding and distant. The abrupt detour at the midway point is enthralling and wildly noisy. Honestly, I have next to no idea what’s producing the absolute bonkers and manic sound of what feels like a melting and unraveling cassette tape run through a flanger.

Wet Specimens (Photo: Al Quint)

Littering the minute mark with a raw and panicked energy is but another show of strength for the band, bookending clever adventure with driving and nihilistic raw punk. It’s gonna be a cold winter for us all. The celebratory repugnance of the Wet Specimens side sure as shit won’t keep you warm, but it’ll at least cover you in a layer of filth, if not a tattered surplus store army jacket. 

The flip side is locked and loaded from the get, “Hysteria” is exactly how I take my D-beat… blindingly fast, blown out and bellicose. Still playing with impactful brevity of last year’s “Överleva," Cartridge again baits the apocalypse, beckoning the end with the same ferocity of Anti Cimex, Totalitär, or Framtid.

Though unquestionably on display is the black and white, wartorn cover art approach of first wave crust, the band’s secret weapon is undoubtedly their chops. The opening track leads with a quick drum warmup that fluidly sprints into an absolute stampede of “all go no slow.”

The vocals are vomited forth so rapidly and breathlessly that they’re swallowed almost instantly by the greed of the next couplet. Shit is ripping. 

Cartridge (Photo: Al Quint)

“Caged” also antes up with a quick passage of isolated drums before it absolutely pummels. Cartridge's attention to detail is noted, as they tack on the slightest of echoes to punctuate the end of vocal lines, none so deftly as the first one. sneaky tiny echo punctuate the end of vocal lines. The band’s one setting is seemingly set to “bulldoze.” It’s straight ahead and blazing. 

Elsewhere, the one-two of “Ruin” and “G.O.D.” pursue the scorched earth policy of total sonic annihilation, skipping the drum intros entirely. With songs so destructive, the lone mercy is that they’re blindingly fast. Clearly, the goal is neither the atmosphere or epic scope of crust’s more epic deviations.

Cartridge (Photo: Al Quint)

Both of these tunes careen towards literal destruction. The former boasts a  filthy bass sound, scuzzy and impossibly low tone, that’s at last overwhelmed by the sounds of literal destruction.

Fans of Future Terror and Exploatör take note, Beantown has entered the chat. 

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Tagged: cartridge, wet specimens

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