Exercises in futility don't get much more futile than this one. I'm not talking about "Sis Masis", obviously, because it's a monster of an album with a high rating. But it almost seems silly to write a review for a disc so obscure I had to hunt it down and special order it for $35 from Germany, apparently the only country on earth where it's been released. Their back catalog remains even scarcer, save for "Sanguine", the 2003 flop released in the US by SPV to absolutely no acclaim. Am I the only one on earth who likes this band?In a nutshell, this trio gets a lot of comparisons (somewhere, at least) to UNSANE and HELMET. Their earlier works (at least what I've been able to track down) borrow liberally from the D.C. and Chicago schools of post-punk, as well — big, slashing, angular riffs and fast-picking guitar squalls swirling around jagged rhythms, with the droning, yet urgent, voice of mainman Aren Emirze atop the whole thing. It's an abrasive, brooding, minor-key ride through betrayal, urban decay and disillusion, a lot of rainy German nights and no-hope club gigs distilled into some seriously haunting songs. Imagine my surprise when I got "Sis Masis" in the mail, only to find hints of (gasp) commercial accessibility! Lead single "Art of Rebellion" has a little hooky sample in the chorus and a head-bobbing, ear-friendly groove. But man, what a single – you dismiss the song as a piece of three-minute fluff, and halfway through the next week, it's still stuck in your head. The glower and spark of old HARMFUL is still here, though — "Chance" may find Emirze's voice a little smoother, but it's still got those insistent rhythms, dark chords and the glum outlook that makes this band so compelling. "Tempted to Complete" could be a lost JAWBOX track, with a plaintive, almost conversational vocal line and propulsive drumming moving a noisy, jazzy song along its own swinging path (the guitar work starting at the 3:30 mark definitely owes a nod to that underrated D.C. band). And "The Dredge" is a furious cascade, a riff avalanche, with pummeling drums and a vocal line that's hanging on for dear life. If anything, "Sis Masis" may be HARMFUL's most produced album, arguably the first time their music has gotten the sonic treatment it deserves (though the ragged fuzz of early gem "Wromantic" is perfect for its songs). There's a lot more finesse here, a pretty bold move from a band that could have gotten a lot more mileage out of brute force noise and cranky guitar squalls. And once you get used to it, the change is a good thing, a necessary evolution, and it makes for the band's most satisfying, under-your-skin album. Of course, I could tell you they were six Japanese schoolgirls playing Hank Williams, Sr. songs on tubas, and you wouldn't know if I was making it up. Check these guys out, will you? If you do, let me know. "Sis Masis" is an amazing record from what may be the most underrated active band on the friggin' planet.
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