Click here to [close]

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Ballister - Low Level Stink (Dropa Disc, 2017) ****

By Martin Schray

Ballister’s albums remind me of the first time I saw Henry Rollins and his band in 1986. I knew Rollins had a reputation as a live performer, and before the gig he seemed to be in a light-hearted mood, chatting cheerfuly. When he appeared on stage however, and the band launched into the first notes, Rollins exploded, the embodiment of aggression and energy. My jaw dropped, and I’ve rarely seen anything like it since – but Ballister’s live performances are of the same intensity.

Low Level Stink is the sister release of Slag (Aerophonics Records, 2017) recorded in Antwerp on the same tour, one day earlier. When Ballister (Dave Rempis on saxes, Fred Lonberg-Holm, cello and electronics, and Paal Nilssen-Love, drums and percussion) started their set, the audience was taken off-guard. A maelstrom of sound blew them away, and it felt like being dragged along by a speed-boat.

As usual, the band’s music takes in Rock’n’Roll thrash and punk rock. Yet never before have Ballister sounded so much like The Thing, Nilssen-Love's other free rock project with Mats Gustafsson and Ingebrigt Håker Flaten. But The Thing are more soulmates of The White Stripes and Nick Cave’s Bad Seeds, while Ballister feel allied to Motörhead or Mudhoney. Their live sound is filthier, rawer and more screechy, with Rempis’s full vibrato, Nilssen-Love’s persistent boom and Lonberg-Holm’s nasty, barely bearable, feedback. The first eight minutes epitomize this: unadulterated improvisation fronted by an unapologetic saxophonist, howling at his audience.

Yet there‘s more to it than volume and ecstacy. Low Level Stink contains quieter and more nuanced moments, crackling and nervous soundscapes leading the listener into a labyrinth of sound. At the 11-minute mark on the A-side, Rempis‘ solo seems to guide us through his full arsenal, loosened up and less bellicose, as if he wants to say: “These are the ingredients of my sound, naked and exposed.“ The track on the flipside concentrates on these elements. It’s still dirty, but with more transparent textures, and Lonberg-Holm sounding like he’s tearing silk. Rempis provides a dreamy solo in the middle, and only at the end does the boisterous Ballister return.

Watch parts of the performance here:

Low Level Stink is available as LP/DVD edition of 300. You better be quick, and can buy it from the label.

Post Scriptum: Since I’m not a native speaker, I try to make sure that my reviews are in reasonable English, which is why I sometimes send them to Colin, who’s kind enough to revise them. I did that with my previous Ballister review. In his reply he wondered why, when writing about such music, it often sounded like the reviewer (not just me) had pulled on a pair of tight leather pants, using images of and analogies with speed, sex, violence, Satanism and death – straight out of Kerrang magazine – and that it would be good if someone tried approaching it from a different angle. I guess I‘ve failed again. Sorry, Colin. I’ll try to do better next time.

Post Post Scriptum: Actually, I think you’ve managed quite well. (Colin)