Review & Full EP Stream: Godhunter, Codex Narco

godhunter codex narco

[Click play above to stream Godhunter’s Codex Narco EP in full. It’s out this Friday, May 19, on Battleground Records and Baby Tooth Records with sale proceeds going to Planned Parenthood.]

Tucson, Arizona’s Godhunter have always had a violent and/or aggressive edge to their approach, but most of what they’re demolishing on their latest EP, Codex Narco, are the expectations listeners might have of them. Delivered through Battleground Records and Baby Tooth Records with cover art by Bailey Illustration as the result of a few tumultuous years on the part of the once-sludge metallers, Codex Narco only tops out at about 21 minutes, and as it moves between the intro “A Dread of Some Strange Impending Doom” and outro “Distant Fading Screams of a Dying World,” rest assured, the fare is still suitably dark, but the band nonetheless hugely expand their sonic palette even from what it was two years ago on their Endsville split with Destroyer of Light (discussed here), let alone on their prior 2014 full-length, City of Dust (review here), which remains their only long-player to-date. They were a six-piece at that time and have since pared back to a core trio of guitarist/sampler David Rodgers, guitarist/keyboardist Matthew Davis and drummer Andy Kratzenberg, all of whom are spread out geographically.

The fact that Codex Narco‘s tracks were written via internet exchange between these three might ultimately be a factor in the aesthetic outcome of the EP, but that’s not to discount guest appearances from CHRCH vocalist Eva Rose on the aforementioned opening/closing pair, or Josh Thorne of Thorne on “Like Glass Under Black Fingernails” and centerpiece “Cocaine Witches and Lysergic Dreams,” or Methra‘s Nick Genitals on the penultimate Tegan and Sara cover, “Walking with a Ghost,” which here becomes a blown-out vision of doomwave with additional guitar from Clayton Bartholomew (Mountaineer) and bass from Demon Lung‘s Adam Sage. Nick Genitals contributes bass and guitar as well to the opener and closer and to the ambient “Unarmed Combat,” and Sage handles low end on “Like Glass Under Black Fingernails,” “Cocaine Witches and Lysergic Dreams” and “Walking with a Ghost” while Bartholomew also plays guitar on “Like Glass Under Black Fingernails,” “Our Blood is Poison” and “Cocaine Witches and Lysergic Dreams.”

One imagines it was quite a chain of emails by the time these songs actually started coming together, or at very least a barrage of Dropbox notifications, but however it was done, the wash that Codex Narco creates ties together this dizzying interchange of personnel, and with a headphone-ready depth of mix unlike anything Godhunter have produced before, these tracks offer atmospheric weight to coincide with their sheer tonal density. Interplay between shorter pieces like the intro and outro, the sample-topped rumble and feedback of “Our Blood is Poison” and the bass-and-drum “Unarmed Combat,” which seems to recount for 100 seconds a military experiment drugging soldiers and finding them refusing to train, the two longer tracks “Like Glass Under Black Fingernails” (5:53) and “Cocaine Witches and Lysergic Dreams” (5:45), and the unabashedly poppy “Walking with a Ghost” (2:31) ensure a steady flow from one piece to the next, and but for its runtime, Codex Narco could just as easily pass as an LP as an EP in terms of how its component pieces feed into and off of each other.

godhunter codex narco lineup

Davis‘ work on synth and keys becomes a huge factor in tying the release together as a whole, whether he’s playing to the post-punk chug and hook of “Walking with a Ghost” or adding electronica-style tension beneath the massive and blasted buzz tones of “Cocaine Witches and Lysergic Dreams.” No doubt a mastering job by the esteemed Brad Boatright had something to do with bringing the various tracks in line as well, but the handling of the synth and keys in the mix alongside the guitar and bass casts a scope behind the trades between screams and clean vocals on “Like Glass Under Black Fingernails” that proves as immersive as it is aggressive, and where in the past Godhunter have been driven to confront, to attack, Codex Narco feels more inwardly-directed as an examination, more personal, and thus more likely to draw listeners along with it on its brief but substantial path.

It’s the kind of release for which reviewers might generally fall over themselves to invent descriptors — which is an impulse that “doomwave” above notwithstanding I’m going to try to resist — but when one sees vague-eries like “post-sludge,” “sludgegaze,” “doomtronic” and so on, it’s a sign that at very least Godhunter are doing something of their own and something original, which on Codex Narco more than ever, they definitely are. RodgersDavis and Kratzenberg haven’t by any means abandoned their aggro tendencies or their underlying sense of purpose in creation — sales of the EP benefit Planned Parenthood and an anti-suicide video for “Walking with a Ghost” is reportedly in production — but they’ve successfully achieved a stylistic turn that even for those who’ve experienced their various experiments on collaborations with Secrets of the Sky (review here) and Amigo the Devil will no doubt prove a surprise. Still, even if one approaches Codex Narco anticipating the band Godhunter were on City of Dust, they’ve always warranted and encouraged a kind of open-mindedness that should make it relatively easy for listeners to get on board with the moves they have made and may or may not continue to make.

When it comes to the aftermath of this EP, that’s really the big question: whether Codex Narco, with its slew of guests and lung-collapsing soundscapes, is a sign of the future direction for Godhunter or a one-off experiment. Given the accomplishment and the fluidity of these songs, I’m inclined to hope for the former, but less than ever does it seem reasonable to predict what the band might do doing forward. Codex Narco is a quick listen, but it presents a huge shift in method and practice for Godhunter, and that’s as much palpable in the audio as it is in the context in which the EP arrives. What has remained most constant about them, however, is the boldness with which they’ve undertaken these changes, and that seems to be the thread that unites all of their work: They’re going to do what they’re going to do, on their own terms, without compromise. Whatever else might swirl around it, righteousness persists.

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