The California duo Wreck and Reference—Ignat Frege on drums and vocals, and Felix Skinner on computers and vocals—have recently been making inroads in the experimental metal scene. Their new album, Want, is hard to classify. (Buy it from Amazon.) Although they seem to be most welcomed by the same corners of the metal community attracted to homemade-instrument maniac Author & Punisher, they (like him) eschew a full-time guitar player and instead seem to draw on classic industrial, if not in sound, at least in spirit.
The progression of the duo’s sound from their debut, 2012’s Youth (aka No Youth), to Want is evident. The new record is far more dynamic, and not necessarily only in the traditional sense. While they do effectively switch back and forth between louder and softer sections, Wreck and Reference are also adept at juxtaposing loud and soft elements against each other simultaneously. Take, for example, the album’s second track, “Apollo Beneath the Whip.” Here, screaming vocals and ever-present drums intertwine with an orchestral backdrop and softer, almost gothic vocals.
This same effect can be heard quite powerfully on the track “Bankrupt.” Once again, drums and harsh vocals dominate the forefront of the mix, but the middle of the sonic field is more reminiscent of the sort of heavy yet calm melancholia of Justin Broadrick‘s Jesu.
And about those drums: Any band that eschews guitars altogether yet swims in the metallic ocean had better have a few tricks up their sleeve. On Want, Frege’s drums play a central role in creating the identity of each track. On the aforementioned debut, each song seemed to be constructed around a varied palette of sounds, while on the new album, it’s easy to imagine the drums being the compositional foundation of each track. Each beat is unique, detailed down to every last accent. The rhythms seem to be written around guitar riffs that have been removed before the listener has had a chance to hear them. This compositional approach is successful in stressing the character of each track, while keeping the band’s experimental identity firmly intact.
Wreck and Reference seem determined to carve out their own niche in the realm of forward-thinking metal, comfortable to replace the sacrosanct guitar with newer technology. There is no true precedent for their sound. One might hear a little Godflesh or Skinny Puppy, maybe a sprinkle of Man Is the Bastard and even Joy Division, but ultimately, their vision is unique. Want only adds to the curiosity as to where both Wreck and Reference and metal in general will venture in the future.
Allen Griffin is the pseudonym of a member of Coffinworm. Their album IV.I.VIII is out now.