Uranium - An Exacting Punishment (Sentient Ruin)

I feel like extreme metal, for some reason, is obsessed with the past. Buzzwords like "prehistoric" and "caveman" are commonly used to tout modern permutations of death metal (DM). Black metal (BM) artists proudly hawk their wares as "ancient" or "primitive." War metal greedily co-opts all these tags, seemingly compelled by an atavistic hunger to revert to a more bestial form. There's even dinosaur-themed dungeon synth.  It's tough to pinpoint exactly why, but regression is en vogue—and if you'll pardon the pun, it does get old.   

Thankfully there are other, more future-leaning trends surging through the underground.  Sci-fi metal has persisted since the early nineties, only recently shapeshifting into the nihilistic "cosmic" varieties that worship at the altar of the Void. Grind is slowly being assimilated by the Borg. Much of Brooklyn BM sounds distinctly postmodern, racked with a nervy urban ennui. Perhaps more obviously, there is a subset of metalheads gaining fluency in the industrial, noise, and experimental electronica ricocheting from the warehouse club scenes. Forward-thinking labels like Sentient Ruin and Profound Lore have wisely padded their rosters with bands equipped to navigate this gloomy skein, relaying transmissions from the likes of Vessel of Iniquity, Hold Me Down, Aeviterne, Lingua Ignota, and Lykotonon. And it's a two-way street—electronic artists have found success "going metal," too.  Techno taste-makers Pariah and Blawan made waves with their Persher project in 2022, pivoting away from their usual boom-tick shtick to foray into schizoid electro-sludge. Duma’s eponymous debut on Nyege Nyege Tapes treaded similar ground, transmuting tribal-dub afrofuturism into epileptic cybergrind.              

The solo artist behind Uranium is relatively new to this hi-fi arena, but his hellish amalgam of noise-gargling ambient, power electronics, and industrialized DM demonstrates more than a cursory knowledge of its influences. His debut album Wormboiler lowered a clutch of microphones into a housefire, excavating charred noise-bient dirges akin not only to the brown-acid dread of experimental acts like Wolf Eyes or Hair Police but also the mechanized, proto-techno clangor of Throbbing Gristle and Cabaret Voltaire. The real allure, however, was how these electronic elements were subjugated and weaponized by the DM behemoth shackled to its core. Noise music is almost always abrasive and violent, but rarely does it loom this large or rumble with this kind of monstrous heft.       

In keeping with the humorless font and grisly photo that graces its cover, An Exacting Punishment continues Uranium's war on sanity, this time with even more roided-out dynamics and battery-acid intensity. The album opens with "Trinity," a radioactive, Godflesh-worshipping death-stomp that drowns the spiraling guitar lead in layers of mangled fuzz and billowing feedback. Like much of the material here, there's a brutish urgency to the chuggery and drum work that would please even the most simple-minded headbangers, with high-octane production that transforms the result into something more heady and Kafkaesque. "Prison of Flesh" follows suit, renewing the sensory assault with strobe-like panning and a macabre synth line that creaks and twirls like a demon-possessed carousel. The bellowing vocals are able to cut through the noise at first, but eventually lose a war of attrition against the pestilent buzzes and needle-prick susurrations that swarm them.  A feral shriek ends the anguish in the final minute, but it's muffled and rasped, as if torn from a throat rustling with locust wings.     

"Gnawing at the Bones" provides a brief respite from the hysteria, spewing out carcinogenic drones that hang in the air like clouds of tear gas. It's the only song here without drums or vocals, but it still manages to ratchet up the tension with garbled shortwave radio detritus and gut-rumbling hydraulics. It winds its way to the penultimate title track, a veritable gasmask-rattler that seethes with dark, irradiated  power. Unleashing synths so flogged and overdriven that they grind and sputter, it cleaves everything in its path with scythe-like beams of ragged energy.  By the time grainy klaxons in "No Light" fade into silence, there's nothing left but scorched earth. As with all of An Exacting Punishment, Uranium lords over the chaos, defiling every millimeter of the frequency spectrum with his venom. It's this dogged attention to detail, and the sheer violence with which it is executed, that make it a new and much-needed benchmark in the growing industrial-metal scene.