Because this particular scribe is a big frickin' nerd, I recently listened to an episode of Criminal detailing Sgt. David Mascarenas' treacherous dive into the La Brea tar pits. In searching for evidence, the LAPD Dive Supervisor volunteered to lower himself into the crushing bituminous mass, led through the impenetrable murk by sonar and his own gloved hands, grasping and clawing his way through the dark. This stuff is famously thick enough (and hungry enough) to consume mastodons and other beasts of significant size. Not for the faint of heart, in other words. Nor for mortals.
This is all a long way of stating that Compelled to Repeat, the debut LP from Beggar, is the closest thing I can imagine to swimming through that tar, methane bubbles bursting, languidly, in the sludge in my miserable wake. The difference--besides the obvious fact that Sgt. Mascarenas actually did that shit--is that, in the case of Beggar, we aren't exactly guided by sonar. This, friends, is unknown territory.
You know how Eyehategod and Crowbar possess that compelling "make you want to sweat blood" quality? Or...maybe that's just me? In any case, Beggar operates in the same mindset of slow motion rage, championed by the progenitors extraordinaire of southern groove-ridden sludge. But rest assured, it ain't all abrasive swagger and churning riffage. While undeniably tied to sludge's aesthetic, Beggar leans into the hardcore and extreme metal side, respectively utilizing a varied platter of expulsions, blackened howls, and death growls, as well as a progressive and multifaceted approach to delivering and withholding aggression. While sonically very different from, say, Immortal Bird, the general vibe I get from this band is similar: equal parts savagely raw and technically calculated. A dangerous combo, if e'er there was.
Within the span of the two-chord intro to opener “Blood Moon,” I’m effectively pancaked. Utterly crushed. This track, like all those that follow, clambers from the quagmirous stew of genre mutation and mutilation. Sabbathian riffage attempts to wrestle a bulldozer, fails, and is left smeared into the pavement as blasts and a bestial vocal performance march above. Every track herein seethes with a vicious energy, but, amidst the chaos, there is always a crunchy-ass riff to catch and ride with a torso-heaving headbang and a tight-eyed grimace. With the occasional pause for the lead to take the reins, this ploddingly sasquatchian riffage is near-omnipresent, and, along with the thunderous percussion, serves as a shockproof foundation for the release of tightly coiled angst, and anger, and frustration, and undistilled rage. Regarding the unique vox, the aforementioned “Blood Moon” serves as a prime example of what Charlie Davis has to offer in the vocal department. Blackened roars turn to death roars which then, in turn, rise back through the registers to hit that delightfully pained yelp--a barbed hardcore vox wrapped around a baseball bat. Like unto said implement, this performance takes no prisoners and shows no mercy. Indeed, the sheer dynamism in the vocal delivery is one of Beggar’s best tools when establishing that emotive connection and catharsis we crave. Imagine Axe To Fall era Converge trying to write an homage to Crowbar and you'll be, if not at the exact address, wandering nonchalantly somewhere in the general neighborhood.
Construction-wise, Compelled to Repeat flows quite nicely. The (admittedly ill-defined) Side A feels like it delivers most effectively in the single department, with "Custody of the Eyes" showing up to offer helpful moment of reprieve--the proverbial eye of the storm. The back end of the album takes things in a slightly more expansive direction, leaning less into the hefty riffs and more into increasingly intricate percussive and vocal performances. While I love earlier tracks such as "Anaesthete" and followup "The Cadaver Speaks" for making multiple points across their runtime while simultaneously feeling concise and self-contained, perhaps my favorite moments across the span of this album are those that subvert expectations. Take the pleasantly light-footed intro to "Trepanned Head Stares At The Sun," which lingers vaguely under the blackened howls we've come to expect. These gentler melodic leads aren't new--across surprisingly ample solos and various instrumental passages, they remain a significant contribution over Compelled to Repeat's expanse. Here, however, is the first place that they truly feel like the star of the show. Later, "Matryoshka Brain" employs some of the rawest vocals of the batch--less "blackened," more "seared and bloody, thrown on fire for five seconds a side." This track is a vile affair, and, if you're interested in pure chaotic energy--which we assume at this point you are, by the way--it takes the cake.
The only moment herein I found to be a bit of a stumbling block, if it can be called that, was the title track, which serves as the closer. While the established hallmarks are there, and I appreciate the Neurosis-ian post-metal direction it swings, it ultimately doesn't stick in my brain after the fact. Unlike, to the band’s credit, literally every other track on this behemothian effort. Whether this is due to its length or to some personal shortcoming on my end is entirely up for discussion. In any case, barely a criticism worth leveling. All told, this is a pretty damn masterful album--particularly for a debut outing. In the past, Beggar cut their teeth in the compositional department by releasing a string of singles and EPs, but building an album that intrinsically works is a major challenge beyond mastery of songcraft.
I could go on for quite some time, but rather than bore you any further, I’ll leave you with this: Compelled to Repeat is worth wholeheartedly diving into. Even as it inevitably seeps through your mask, clogs your lungs and eyes and ears, and leaves you wallowing in the tar. Needless to say, this album comes highly recommended. I'm very excited to see Beggar catapulted into recognition on the back of this monster.
Beggar - Compelled to Repeat will be released April 3rd from APF Records.
Providing thoughtful reviews of music that is heavy, gloomy, and loud enough to wake us from slumber. Written by a groggy-eyed, highfalutin peasantry.