by Todd Manning
Anyone nerdy enough to read band promo materials on a regular basis quickly realizes that about 75 percent of them refer to the group in question as “experimental.” Rarely is this actually accurate, but in the case of the recently reformed Thoughts of Ionesco, it hits the nail on the head.
This trio formed in Detroit in 1996 and led a short but prolific life. Although two-thirds of the group were in high school at the time, Thoughts of Ionesco managed to write startlingly complex and well-crafted hardcore songs that drew on a number of disparate influences, including jazz, noise and straight-up rock.
And now, out of nowhere, after nearly two decades in the rearview mirror, they have reappeared with a new EP, Skar Cymbals, out this week on Corpse Flower Records. In interviews, the group members seem as surprised as anyone else by the reunion and assert, at least in part, the need to express their anger at the current U.S. political climate as a motivating factor.
The frustrations on Skar Cymbals are indeed palpable. Thoughts of Ionesco have returned with some of their most visceral material to date, eschewing some of the slow-burn of their last full-length For Detroit, From Addiction, an epic and underrated masterpiece in its own right. This EP opens with “The Alt. Light,” a barnburner of a track. Drummer Derek Grant and bassist Nathan Miller lock into a tricky yet rock-solid groove, providing guitarist/vocalist Sean Hoen the perfect foundation upon which to lay down his trademark six-string skree. There is something inherently organic about the twists and turns of the song’s composition, yet they are completely unpredictable as well. Whiplash may have never felt so good.
The second track, “Culture of the Eternal Snake,” continues the focused assault, yet even more of Thoughts of Ionesco’s control over dynamics and experimental edges start to peek through. Brief moments of softly strummed chords alternate with instances of improvised cacophony, often just seconds apart from one another. It’s a high tension tightrope walk at which they succeed on every turn. “Salutations” seems to hint at a significant Dazzling Killmen influence, perhaps filtered through a heavy dose of Botch. These comparisons might be grasping at straws though, as Thoughts of Ionesco are singular in their commitment to combining ’90s metallic hardcore with jazz-damaged sturm und drang.
The final track, “Scar Symbols,” is where Thoughts of Ionesco really double down on their most experimental ideas. Clocking in at almost thirteen minutes, “Scar Symbols” starts off at a restless crawl. The noise rock here is subdued, almost dub-like in its approach; slight electronic manipulations press in from the edges, and at one point the vocals take on a robotic tone. The menace is still present, but spends a considerable amount of time bubbling beneath the surface before erupting. After a moment where the song descends into an almost found sound/cut-up approach, the trio presses back towards its more aggressive side. Even then, the music retains its unpredictability. The track cycles back through more weirdness, an almost free drum solo and more dub methodologies, before concluding with a quick burst of angular hardcore.
It boggles the mind to consider how progressive Thoughts of Ionesco were during their initial late ’90s run, especially given their relative youth at the time. The world certainly wasn’t ready for them back then, and even now, they are far ahead of the curve compared to the vast majority of their peers. It is by no means clear that they plan to do much beyond this release, but we can certainly hope for more. There is a niche only they seem able to completely fill, and if they choose not to continue, they will certainly be missed.