Perhaps I’m being a bit vain or focused on myself here, but I feel as though Black Metal & Brews and New York power electronics artist Swallowing Bile have shared a similar trajectory over the past couple years. Both projects began around the same time and seem to continually run in the same circles with similar increases in visibility and success. This kinship alone has enhanced my experience of Swallowing Bile’s music, although this wouldn’t be enough were it not for the constant evolution and expansion of the sound crafted by sole member Ethan Ebeling, who also fronts the fantastic blackened sludge outfit Black Houses.
As the most current release in a short career that seems to be filled with an album, EP, or split every couple of months, Secluded is unique as Swallowing Bile’s first dedicated 12″ LP. I’ll admit I only have four or five of the approximately thirty Swallowing Bile releases, but I’d like to think I have a general idea of Ebeling’s musical voyages. From the bleak wall of my personal favorite, Wojtek to the irreverent “Pissing in the Fountain of Youth” from his recent split with Scant, I’ve seen this project visit many different sonic territories in a relatively short time. With Secluded, the one thing that stands out to me is the harrowing sense of focus. Not just the focus of an artist with a clear goal in mind, but the focus of a predatory machine. Like the vicious protagonist of the album’s story, Ebeling uses these six tracks to stake his territory, understand his prey, and stand victorious in filth by the album’s end.
I’m not fond of play-by-play reviews, but I feel that without visiting some of the album’s highlights, the nature of progress and change is lost. The manipulated field recordings Ebeling compiled to document this true tale of cruelty and abuse were all sourced in the locations that are referenced on the album. The sense of place may not alter the final sound and outcome, but with context, the dread that might only be hinted at otherwise becomes almost tangible. It’s also interesting that the narrative is often given not from Ebeling’s mouth but from the titles of instrumental tracks that force their way into parts of the brain that are more animal in nature, places beyond critical thought where fight or flight reigns supreme.
Early on, the antagonistic chants on “Never Again” (which can be heard over at Heathen Harvest) cue the listener in to the imminent danger, surrounding and confusing while making violent promises of harm. Painful, precise follow-through is delivered on instrumentals “Lurking the Trails” and “Dumped into the Creek,” which rumble and pierce with frustration and ferocity, leaving a sense of abandonment or emptiness. The album’s closer “By Her Tongue” attempts to carve out one last monument of harm and violence, although some of Ebeling’s mocking sing-song delivery comes across a bit less frightening than originally intended. Regardless, it’s an interesting new direction and the ending declaration “it’s not a threat, it’s a fucking promise” chills me to the core as static fades beneath the breathless, exhausted voice of depravity and hatred. In all, the album as a whole is a believable window into isolation, mental illness, and the pent-up desires that lead to the kind of crimes most normal humans could never understand.
Readers eager to hear more will be delighted to know that this will soon be available for purchase from new label Die Song in a highly limited run of 100, with 15 special test pressing editions featuring alternate artwork. Watch some of Swallowing Bile’s recent set at Summer Scum III below, which includes a violent, tense performance of “By Her Tongue.”