Sumac & Keiji Haino - Into This Juvenile Apocalypse Our Golden Blood to Pour Let Us Never (Thrill Jockey)

The lack of attention shown to Sumac and Keiji Haino's newest collaborative album, Into This Juvenile Apocalypse Our Golden Blood to Pour Let Us Never, is as telling as it is disappointing. In their respective worlds of heavy and experimental music, these names have about as much pedigree as you could ask for, from Aaron Turner’s work in Isis to Haino’s miles-long list of solo releases, bands and collaborations. Unfortunately, metal critics seem to be too enamoured of the newest ‘genre x plus saxophone’ band to take note of genuinely new and experimental developments in extreme metal. But fear not: we at Mutant Breakfast have our heads screwed on straight, and if no other metalheads want to talk about this record, then we will gladly take up the task!

Of course, we can’t approach Juvenile Apocalypse the same way we might a typical sludge or noise rock album. Free improvisation (i.e. improvised music with no regard for genre convention) has been a defining feature of Sumac’s work since American Dollar Bill, and Haino’s music derives its thrill from decades of experience on the knife’s edge of spontaneity. Juvenile Apocalypse is another unplanned and unrehearsed release, and thus shares aesthetic hallmarks with prior records from the Sumac-Haino collaboration—with a few key distinctions. Most obviously, the music feels less restrained and far wilder than anything on American Dollar Bill or Even for just the briefest moment, as Sumac jettison their trademark grinding riffs in favour of brutalist slabs of screaming guitar noise. The result is reminiscent of Haino’s recent liaisons with Merzbow and Balázs Pándi, at the expense of the sludge craftsmanship Sumac typically bring to the table. Thankfully, this absence doesn’t stop Juvenile Apocalypse from being incredibly gripping music. Richard Barrett is fond of saying that the best improvised music produces something that couldn’t have been created any other way, and always harkening back to its live performance on Haino’s 2019 North American tour, this record never gives off the impression of having come from any thought-out songwriting process. Where American Dollar Bill and Even for just the briefest moment were molten and smothering, Juvenile Apocalypse is a Tesla coil on overload, spewing out a constant stream of electricity capable of vapourising anything that stands in its way. Juxtaposed against the lurching stop-and-start drums, the shuddering walls of feedback on “A shredded coil cable…” offer the strongest manifestation of this approach. You can hear the exhaustion in the final guitar chords, as the quartet’s prolonged physicality brings the track to its knees. Immediately afterwards, the title track drags us into an 11-minute ritualistic crescendo, creeping along through the wash of ringing chords and crashing cymbals before suddenly arriving at its suffocating and terrifying climax. And just to prove the quartet's versatility, “Because the evidence of a fact…” turns down the distortion for long cascading slow-builds that feel almost post-rock in an off-kilter, Slint-ian sense (not least due to Haino’s agitated and unnerving vocal performance).

None of this is to say that Juvenile Apocalypse is without shortcomings. The wholesale commitment to sonic saturation means that Brian Cook's bass gets lost in the chaos, and that Nick Yacyshyn's drumming has little space to let loose alongside Haino and Turner's guitar work. Without Sumac’s usual sludge-rooted contributions, this crowdedness also has them acting more as a backing band rather than as equal collaborators. Maybe this implicit hierarchy owes the fact that this is a live album, wherein such competing forces are presumably harder to balance than in a controlled studio setting. Maybe, it’s a testament to the cohesion these two acts share after years of collaboration, that their sharp genre disparities have become less defined. Either way, it’s the combination of these short- and long-term contexts that also ensures the success of this record, bringing both a stand-out immediacy and collective attitude not heard on prior Sumac-Haino collaborations. I’d still recommend American Dollar Bill as a starting point for metalheads looking to dip their toes in the world of free improvisation, but if you’re already a fan, you’ll find a lot to love in Sumac and Haino’s third shared success.