Even before I opened the liner notes, I knew two things about Guiltless, the fourth full-length from Chicago misanthropic doomers Indian, just from listening, and those two things were: Sanford Parker recorded and that the guitars were running through Emperor cabinets. Tonally, the Chicago doom/dirge style (typified in several cases by those two elements) has become so distinct, so singularly its own, that one knows right away what one is dealing with. Of course, it helps that Indian already have a foundation of three strong outings behind them, but this, their much-anticipated Relapse Records debut, would seem to be a coming of age for the five-piece. Their frightful crashes, haunting atmospherics – in this I’ll liken them to Pig Destroyer, despite the obvious tempo disparity – and generally unsettling approach feels more solidified across Guiltless than it did on either Slights and Abuse or The Sycophant (or the CD compilation of the two) or their 2005 Seventh Rule debut, The Unquiet Sky. As a serial killer matures in a modus operandi and ritualizes his violence, so too does Indian seem to have developed into the beastly form that presents itself on Guiltless’ seven tracks.
And if you think the serial killer analogy might be a little strong, I humbly ask that you take another listen to Guiltless’ frantic and disturbing nature. Tonally and atmospherically consistent, the album nonetheless seethes with an underlying energy and tension that comes out on nearly every song – the only notable exception being the late acoustic interlude “Supplicants,” which is creepy, but not necessarily the same kind of unhinged feel. For the rest of its vinyl-ready 41-minute duration finds Indian – guitarist/vocalists Dylan O’Toole and Will Lindsay (the latter ex-Middian and Wolves in the Throne Room, bassist Ron DeFries, drummer Bill Bumgardner (also of Lord Mantis) and noisemaker Sean Patton – reveling in their dense tonality, cutting through it only with hard-hit snares and vicious, throat-wrenching screams. As Guiltless opener “No Grace” breaks into just the guitar to introduce the movement that will encompass its last two minutes or so, one feels in listening that the album has already been on for much longer than it has. The songs are pillow-over-the-face oppressive, and the performances blisteringly tight.
“The Fate Before Fate” finds Indian underscoring black metal riffs with doomed groove, Bumgardner landing heavy on his cymbals in a noisy wash complemented by Patton’s underlying layers. The vocals are far back beneath O’Toole’s and Lindsay’s guitars, and some of Guiltless’ most scathing, working in the song’s faster pace to set up the lumbering feel of the ensuing title-track, which closes side A in madman fashion. It’s on “Guiltless” that Indian perhaps most uses the single-note thudding crashes that seem to pop up on several cuts, and to the greatest effect. The song is unflinchingly heavy and downright terrifying, DeFries’ bass working well with the drums to keep some movement happening under the raucous noise of the surface. O’Toole and Lindsay are in synch ringing out notes over the hits, and it’s almost as though the song grows more insistent over the course of its eight minutes, until finally it leads directly into “Guilty” on the CD (the LP requires a flip, so I imagine some of the effect is lost), which renews the pacing of “The Fate Before Fate” but keeps some of the same laborious feel as “Guiltless.” You won’t be surprised to find out it’s really fucking heavy, really fucking abrasive, and really fucking dark.
In its final moments, “Guilty” provides one of the most memorable passages of Guiltless, with the screamed repetition of the title, and as the noisy fullness of sound of “The End of Truth” plays out, I find I’m more still thinking about “Guilty” than what’s happening now. Perhaps in that way, the aforementioned acoustic “Supplicants” should have been placed before “The End of Truth” rather than after it, but I don’t know if moving it would be worth sacrificing the lead-in to closer “Banality,” which at nine-minutes is the longest song on Guiltless and Indian’s crowning moment of plod. The chugging guitars from O’Toole and Lindsay echo the crashes of the title cut, and Bumgardner is definitely in his element with the crisp, sharp hits, but it’s Patton’s noise that really fills out the ambience of the song and gives it as complete a feel as it has. The album rides those hits and waves of screams and noise to its conclusion, building gradually the volume of the latter to a devouring swirl that – predictably but still satisfyingly – cuts out abruptly, making the silence that follows that much more powerful. Again, no less effective for being telegraphed.
Some of that could be applied to the rest of Guiltless as well, I suppose. Certainly a track like “The End of Truth” comes on with prior warning, and Indian have long warned that this kind of aural malevolence is what they’ve wanted to bring out of their sound, but the album retains its potency nonetheless and is both excruciating and cathartic. Indian have become one of few bands whose ability to set a mood and maintain it over the course of a record is strong enough to really count as sonically textural. The harsh, domineering feel of Guiltless is perhaps more prevalent in the outcome of listening than the songs themselves, which is something to consider over the course of multiple listens, but these songs nonetheless stand as an achievement in terms of stability where there simply sounds like there isn’t any. Guiltless’ abrasion won’t be for everyone, but if you’re up for it, there’s plenty of satisfaction to be had in repeat visits to the murky basements of the mind in which it dwells.
Tags: Chicago, Illinois, Indian, Relapse