Corrupted are a fascinating, mysterious band. They never grant interviews or allow themselves to be photographed in an official “promo photo” capacity, though they perform live and photos and video of their shows can be found online. They’re Japanese, yet for the majority of their career, their album titles and lyrics were entirely in Spanish, with early EPs using images of graphic violence clipped from Mexican tabloids as cover art. Only in recent years have they begun to give songs titles in Japanese, and this, their latest CD and seemingly the beginning of a new phase for the group due to membership turnover, bears a German title which translates to “garden of unconsciousness.”

Corrupted’s style has evolved greatly over time. Their earliest releases were sludgy, primitively recorded doom metal; their debut release, the four-track Anciano EP from 1995, sounded very much in the spirit of Eyehategod and similar acts, churning out Black Sabbath-esque guitar riffs at half speed as the drummer and bandleader, Chew (formerly of Boredoms), crashed his cymbals relentlessly and occasionally set up a slow, thunderous beat. But even on the follow-up, El Dios Queja, recorded the same year, the band’s sound was already evolving. The EP’s third and final track, “Sisto,” was nearly 15 minutes long, prefiguring ever more epic works to come.

When Corrupted began releasing full-length CDs, they didn’t play around. Their first album, 1997’s Paso Inferior, was a single 42-minute track, a feedback-drenched marathon of pain with guttural, anguished vocals surrounded by a storm of guitars that sounded more struck than strummed, and drumming that seemed fueled by fatalism and despair. Doom metal bands frequently seem intent on subverting any attempt at catharsis, preferring to oppress the listener, and Corrupted quickly proved themselves masters of the form.

Consequently, they moved on. Their second full-length, 1999’s Llenándose de Gusanos, was a two-CD, two-track opus that radically expanded their sonic territory. Disc One, “Sangre/Humanos,” was a 50-minute track that began with delicate piano and murmured vocals; the guitar didn’t arrive until the 20-minute mark. Meanwhile, Disc Two, “El Mundo,” was a 74-minute ambient composition, nearly inaudible in parts and reminiscent of pieces by Bernhard Günter or Francisco López. They waited five years to put another album out, and when Se Hace Por Los Sueños Asesinos appeared in 2004, it was another stylistic left turn. With three tracks in only 35 minutes, it was practically a single, and the first piece, “Gekkou no Daichi,” was not only their first Japanese title but also a 17-minute marathon of growled vocals and slightly detuned acoustic guitar, closer in spirit to Jandek than to doom, or to any previous Corrupted effort. The disc’s other two tracks, “Rata Triste” and “Sus Futuros,” were more like old-school Corrupted, with the latter coming shockingly close to actually rocking, driven by a powerful drum performance by Chew and built around an actual riff—one that could have started listeners moshing, rather than standing around, arms dangling at their sides, morosely shaking their heads.

Se Hace was a brief detour, though; the following year, Corrupted released El Mundo Frío, a single 71-minute track that incorporated harp into its early, quiet passages. In the track’s final third, the guitars ceased to be as doomy and distorted as they’d been, and shifted into almost post-rock territory, as vocalist Hevi began to recite the lyrics in a hoarse, earnest whisper rather than his usual bestial roar. It was a sign of things to come.

It took a while for Corrupted’s new direction to become clear, though—the group released only two 7″ singles, “Vasana” and “An Island Insane,” between 2005 and 2011. But a new album is finally here, and it may be the group’s most fascinating effort to date.

Garten der Unbewusstheit is another three-track effort, running just over an hour. The first piece, “Garten,” is almost 29 minutes long; it’s followed by a four-minute acoustic guitar interlude, “Against the Darkest Days,” and the album concludes with a reworking of “Gekkou no Daichi,” from Se Hace, that’s over 30 minutes long—nearly double the length of the original.

“Garten” begins with an extended passage of acoustic guitar, with the merest hint of drums behind. Six or seven minutes in, electric guitar and bass join in, but they’re quiet, almost jazzy or post-rock in tone. It’s not until the 10-minute mark that the first element of doom appears, and the guitars don’t suddenly come roaring in—they build slowly, getting louder and louder until almost before we know it, we’re being crushed by riffs the size of buildings. And then, the loud guitars are gone again, disappearing at minute 12 and not returning until minute 20. They’re being used as punctuation, a device to divide this composition into thirds. “Garten” grows quieter and quieter in its final minutes, until eventually it fades down into gently echoing distortion which leads seamlessly into the four minutes of acoustic finger-picking that is “Against the Darkest Days.”

This track, too, flows directly into the next one—the reworking of “Gekkou no Daichi.” This new version of the Se Hace track is electric and ultra-heavy, with the familiar riff transformed through distortion and volume into something just as despairing as the original, yet much more overpowering. As the piece crashes onward like a lumbering prehistoric beast through a fog-shrouded forest, knocking down trees and tearing up the earth, it begins to feel like something that’s been built up to not just over the course of the album, but over the course of Corrupted’s entire career. This is the thing, the sound, they’ve been chasing and setting the stage for. And eventually, of course, it dissolves in a wash of noise, leaving behind a minute or so of softly plucked acoustic guitar to end the album.

This is the final gesture for this version of Corrupted. Hevi has left the band, as has guitarist Talbot. New members have been recruited (and there have been many lineup changes in the past), but this is the end for Corrupted Phase 1. It’s a hell of a way to go out, making what’s easily one of the best albums of the year—crushingly heavy at times, delicate at others, and always beautiful in a way that’s unique to them.

Phil Freeman

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