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Since emerging as one of the most uncompromising groups from their native Sweden, the Skull Defekts have released a variety of recordings on several different labels, exploring the limits of drone based noise rock. In 2011 they changed direction a little, joined forces with the former Lungfish vocalist Daniel Higgis, and emerged from the underground with the acclaimed album Peer Amid.
The tongue-twistingly titled Dances in Dreams of the Known Unknown is the follow-up to that album and sees them distance themselves a bit more from the bleak no-wave of their early recordings. Higgis returns as a guest vocalist and, according to the band themselves, he also acts as a "spiritual ringleader". The music is mostly handled by the group's core guitarists Joachim Nordwall and Daniel Fagerstroem. Nordwall's background seems to paint him as a Swedish Thurston Moore or Stephen O'Malley - someone who is constantly collaborating and experimenting with tons of side projects and one-off releases on the go.
The "spiritual ringleader" tag might sound a bit odd for someone who is best known for leading a Dischord hardcore band like Lungfish , but after a few listens to the album it starts to make sense. Higgis's words have been improvised over the group's ideas and come across as a stream of consciousness. It is unusual that he tends to adopt a European accent at times, perhaps a deliberate move to emphasise that they recorded this album together in Stockholm, rather than just collaborating via file transfer, an ocean apart.
The first really striking thing about this album is the power of the guitar riffs. The skill of writing a good riff is something that is lacking from a lot of new guitar based music at the moment, but here the huge riffs are the core of it all. At their best these riffs work so well that they create a kind of trance-like effect, in a similar way to something like 'Dead Mantra' by Dead Skeletons.
Songs such as 'Venom' rely on the heavy repeated riff, with both guitars bouncing off each other, whilst the centrepiece of the album, 'The Known Unknown', is quite brilliant in how it manages to combine the infectiousness of the guitar lines and mantra-like power of the refrain.
That trance-like effect is there from the outset of the album, as opening track 'Pattern of Thoughts' begins with a powerful tribal drumbeat overlaid by clashing discordant guitars, before the central riff kicks in and the lyrics elaborate about a dance which is "prehistorical... for sex magic rituals, or maybe controlling animals. Or just having a good time."
'The Fable' comes from a similar place, building on a riff or two minutes, before the band really start to pound it into submission. The lyrics are authentically psychedelic, detailing various "trips". The early influences of drone and no-wave are still present as well, as the brooding dirges of 'Little Treasure' and 'King of Misinformation' show, the latter ending up in a battle between the tribal beats and great noisy guitars spewing feedback.
'Awaking Dream' brings the pace down, and comes across as a distant relative of Joy Division's 'Atmosphere' as it hangs in the air in an eerie way. Closing track 'Cyborganisation' evolves out of a chant, splitting the syllables of the title into a rhythm, as the drums pound out a pattern and the guitars klang over the top.
The album is a thrill from start to finish and is perhaps surprisingly accessible, particularly if you are aware of their previous work. There is great tension between the riffs and the melodies and the way the guitars are just seconds away from dipping into something truly edgy and discordant. The Skull Defekts are a lot more interesting and original than those bands simply retreading garage rock in the name of psychedelia. They understand the power of repetition when used correctly - think of the Fall, Can, Sonic Youth - and Higgis's presence completes the band and makes it possible to deliver an album as trippy, yet somehow coherent, as this one.
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