Despite formally existing for fewer than eighteen months and only releasing twelve tracks into the public domain, Slow Warm Death are one of the most ferocious and fiercely unrecognised bands of the past few years. Although frontman, John Galm, cut his teeth playing whiny (but still fantastic) punk in the genre-defining emo band, Snowing, his work with Slow Warm Death marked a complete departure for his career; this project was characterised by its exploration of myriad genres through the window of messy lo-fi garage rock.
The band’s only full-length, released in March 2013, was my favourite album of that year. When I reflect on it, and recall their theatrically gloomy name, I can’t recall why I found it so appealing. Is it really better than Modern Vampires Of The City? Like Clockwork? Random Access Memories? I adore all three of those albums, and they are arguably career bests for their artists. But I prefer the twenty-four minutes of boisterous garage rock messily recorded by four unheard-ofs in a series of basements across Pennsylvania and New Jersey.
After 53 seconds of tender and distant acoustic guitar and vocals, opener, Sleep, explodes with thickly cacophonous guitar and drums. From then on, the noise does not abate until closer, Sunburn, winds down twenty-three minutes later. The album is mostly composed of songs around the 120 second mark that furiously rip their way into life and back out of it so quickly that they inevitably leave you craving more.
Slow Warm Death’s highlights are remarkably divergent, despite all drawing from the same sound palette. Holy Ghost is a feverish piece of homage to Stooges-style proto-punk, complete with an Iggy Pop-flavoured yelp and scraggly guitar lines. On the other hand, Kill You (the longest song on the album at almost four minutes) is heavy brooding sludge metal. Its thick bass emanates around your skull and Galm’s lyrics paint a vivid picture of paranoia: “Hey John I’m outside your house / I’m down by your car / I want to kill you.” The brilliance of Slow Warm Death is that these songs toy with the same tones and timbres but manage to utilise them for starkly different styles.
Two song suite, Blood and Blood 2, feel like the spiritual centrepiece of the album, although they lie towards the end. The first track is a slow-burner with driving rhythm that teases towards an instrumental explosion that never quite materialises. Blood 2 drudges in and feels epic from the get-go, with Galm painting a gory scene: “Blood on the tracks / Blood on my hands / Blood on your blouse.” Blood 2’s undeniably huge feeling draws from the growing feeling of its predecessor even though, sonically speaking, the songs are vastly different. When it explodes with all the pent-up tension of the whole suite, it is the most satisfying pay-off of the entire album.
Closer, Sunburn, is infectiously hummable surf rock and rounds off the album on a relatively light-hearted note. For an album ingrained with dark subject matters and moody timbres by a band with death in their name, the end result is surprisingly fun. Despite its focus on music as an expression of unravelling emotions, the tracks here are catchy and memorable, retaining their brilliance with relentless plays. Beyond this, the truly mesmerising fact is that Slow Warm Death do this while exploring diverse genres of music through the window of raucous garage rock.