Thom Wasluck’s work as Planning For Burial both adheres to many genre tropes, while simultaneously shirking them by combining them and moulding them together in such a way as to avoid being pigeonholed. Press releases in the lead up to his third full length, Below The House, have variously described his sound as metal, slowcore, shoegaze and seemed to have ultimately settled on the term “gloomgaze.” No matter the accuracy of these tags or not, the suggestion is that Planning For Burial’s sound is loud and cavernous, which is true, but in listening to it you would never mistake it for the work of a band; this is unmistakably the work of a sole mind. His work has always enhanced the isolation at play for Wasluck, and Below The House takes that to an even deeper level.
While Below The House does not mark a huge step away from the sounds of his previous records, it does mark a step forward in terms of concept and cohesion. In the lead up to recording this album, Wasluck returned to his childhood home in freezing mountainous Pennsylvania and took up a menial day job. This daily drudgery, surrounded by cold and numbed by alcohol every evening, seeps out from the music into the album cover and title. The roiling, tumbling guitars at play throughout Below The House illustrate the rickety structures Wasluck’s mind inhabits – his house and his body - and we can feel the bones quaking right down to their foundations. Hints of the outside world come through the twinkling pianos that underscore many of the tracks, like lights on the horizon glinting in windowpanes, or the sounds of powertools whirring outside, as heard on ‘Somewhere In The Evening’.
Below The House features some of Planning For Burial’s loudest moments to date, most notably on opening track ‘Whiskey And Wine’, the one song in which Wasluck opens up his throaty scream, as if the very genesis of the album came from this alcohol-induced moment of catharsis. The album follows this path set out by the opener, but while the guitars remain ready to bite and snarl at a moment’s notice, Wasluck himself seems to be gradually losing faith and energy, leading to some more restrained moments. ‘Warmth Of You’ sails along with the grace of an ocean-liner battering through a choppy sea, while beneath the furor Wasluck is heard bemoaning his situation, repeating “I try and I try and I try and I try.”
Moments of utter desolation like this give way to moments of calm and absence, where Wasluck seems to have become entirely numb and sapped of willpower. This particular poignancy is most acute in the album’s central pairing of ‘Past Lives’ and ‘(something)’ (the latter title perhaps meant as a nod to Mount Eerie, with whom this album shares a certain epic, awestruck, god-fearing spirit). On this double header, the volume takes a nosedive and instead we’re delivered a period of quietness built on tape loops, ambient recordings, amorphous rumblings and gently mewling synthesizer. In these moments you can picture Wasluck staring out into the sheets of white snow, the solid white reflecting the blank cavern of his mind.
Wasluck unleashes his most ambitious achievement to date on the 2-part, 17-minute ‘Dull Knife’ suite on the latter half of the album. The first part twangs and buzzes like a shoegaze song, but one that has been sliced open and gutted by the titular ‘Dull Knife’, and had its viscera left hanging out, very slowly decomposing in the bitter air. There’s horror, but there’s no shortage of beauty if you adjust your perspective. ‘Dull Knife, pt. II’ returns to a more serene sound, but does not let up the tension as Wasluck’s barely audible vocals hint at a mind on the edge of self-destruction. Gradually his words become clearer as he repeats the phrase “call me back home,” wringing out the final word indicating the stress and pain that such a journey has caused. For the only time on the album Wasluck is joined vocally by a chorus of voices, like the souls in his hometown beckoning and gently pleading for him to return to his frozen former stomping ground, immutable despite his obvious reservations. The remainder of the song marches along heavily, like a restless and weary traveler making his final labored steps through deep and unforgiving snowdrifts, the wind clawing his face and howling in his ears.
The album ends with the title track, ‘Below The House’. This seems to go hand in hand with Wasluck’s moniker, Planning For Burial, as if he knows that he’ll never again escape the isolation and monotony of his enclosure, and is destined to end up interred beneath the very place in which he was born, lived and died. It’s like the final embers of a dying fire, where our hero knows that his end is nigh, but is desperate to maintain his burning passion to his final breath, as he repeats “my love, my love,” reaching out to someone long gone and forgotten in the wreckage that was his existence. It’s a truly haunting and desolate way to wrap up Below The House, and perfectly caps off what is a blazing and devilishly crafted album. This is a fully realised project, enshrouded in frost and fury, and all of the passion will seep into your psyche when you let it enfold you into its powerful gloom.