End of Level Boss - Inside the Difference Engine Review
by Mark Hensch
Exile on Mainstream Records is becoming increasingly famous for its knack of finding unique twists on the stoner/doom/sludge metal genres, and this release is no exception. Formed as recently as 2003, End of Level Boss is one of those odd bands who combine many seemingly disparate parts into a newly conceived whole. Fresh in scope plus highly unusual to boot, Inside the Difference Engine revels in its glorious strangeness and makes for one wild ride through paths less traveled.
The reasons for this are many. Though obviously weaned on classic stoner/doom bands like Cathedral, St. Vitus, and Pentagram, the blissfully warm fuzz surrounding the End of Level Boss sound is not all there is on offer here. Using traditional stoner conventions as a familiar template, End of Level Boss next adds Voivod's dissonance and Meshuggah's hypnotic, uber-technical chug to the equation, topping it off with the surreal pop sensibilities of none other than Primus. If that description doesn't already have you interested, you should probably stop reading as the quirkiness of this band is definitely its best attribute.
A song like "Selfishnegativevibemerchant" not only proudly showcases each and every one of EOLB's influences; it also presents the band's remarkable song-writing ability. Even as early as this, the first song, it is readily apparent that End of Level Boss are experts at crafting heavy but catchy songs, the likes of which linger in your consciousness like a Trojan virus on a hard drive. "Selfishnegativevibemerchant" first plods in with pummeling, fuzzy stomp; this post-thrash approach to doom sounds futuristic and psychedelic all at the same time. Weird, glacial melodies of ethereal sound drift past, while vocalist/guitarist Heck Armstrong caterwauls alienated hymns about our disenfranchising, modern existence.
"Mr. Dinosaur is Lost" explores these vibes further, being inherently catchy while maintaining an apathetic atmosphere. There is something grunge about Armstrong's bored sing-songs on this track, backed by slow and grimy riffs that flow with all the velocity of molasses. Melodic breakdowns recalling various 1990s alternative rock bands peek out of the mix, further making the band sound simultaneously retro and forward-thinking in sound. Hell, the song's prolonged jam session ending even recalls a weird parallel time line where members of Meshuggah and Alice in Chains formed a supergroup of frighteningly intellectual proportions.
"Reticence" swaggers and swerves through vistas of funky, half-step fuzz thrash, the whole thing sounding like a mental breakdown taking place in Tony Iommi's skull. Buzzing, dissonant squalls of pleasant noise float seamlessly in the void alongside some spaced-out gang vocals, making for a head-rush of epic proportions.
Emerging out of this chaotic whirlwind is the interstellar stomp of "Corners," one of the most original and promising cuts on the entire album. "Corners" is a robotic monster of angular, mechanical guitars and garish, neon-colored melodies. Chock full of surprising tempo-shifts, the song eventually descends into disorienting static waves of rolling thunder.
"Words have no Meaning" dances within its own slow, technical fiesta, adding subtle flourishes of melody all while keeping things moving at a patient, fun pace. The off-kilter guitar progressions on offer here strongly recall Voivod doing downers and meditating somewhere to obscure Buddhist texts. Virtually instrumental, this geometric tapestry of sounds says much without ever uttering a single word aloud.
"Instinkivitus" stretches hollow, mathematically-precise riffs towards their breaking point, breaking down into trance-inducing hums. At first eerily quiet, the song eventually works itself up into a drugged-out frenzy of alien tones and harmonies. It all sounds like a doom ballad from the year 3030, and it works wonders.
"End of the Line" is perhaps the album's centerpiece, and a sprawling piece of hypnotic post-doom. Slowly but surely the barely-moving riffs coalesce into a chugging rhythm of squealing harmonics, not unlike a guitar solo snake ball being uncoiled. It ends with a vague, hissing menace, the likes of which deftly sets up Inside the Difference Engine's final blow.
Said strike comes in the form of "Connortations," a song which barrels through the mind's eye with the futuristic chaos of Voivod, the technicality of Meshuggah, and the progressive mindset of Cynic. The song attacks with the speed, fury, and precision of a surgical air strike, leaving devastation in its short but memorable wake.
Inside the Difference Engine is an unusual album which thus combines technicality, inhuman tones, and gripping emotion. This odd dichotomy between man and machine makes for compelling conflict, and it is thus my opinion than anyone brave enough to check out something this innovative will find End of Level Boss very powerful music indeed.
End of Level Boss' Inside the Difference Engine
2. Mr. Dinosaur is Lost
5. Words have no Meaning
7. End of the Line
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