There is a tradition throughout popular culture of romanticizing the car crash. David Cronenberg’s controversial 1996 film Crash (based on JG Ballard‘s novel) centered around a group of people who became sexually aroused by automobile accidents. Quentin Tarantino’s Death Proof tells the tale of a stunt man who kills women by crashing his car into them. KISS immortalized a fan who died while driving to a concert with “Detroit Rock City”. The 1960s were rife with songs detailing crash-related teenage tragedies, such as “Dead Man’s Curve” (Jan and Dean) and “Last Kiss” (Wayne Cochran, later covered by Pearl Jam). Like birth, sex and death, the auto wreck is a jarring, traumatic, life-altering/threatening event.
It is no surprise then, that after roughly fifty years floating around in our collective consciousness, this phenomenon of car crash as fetish object would find its way from the mainstream down into the depths of the metal underground. Virginia-based black metal practitioner Wrnlrd’s Death Drive is the latest, not to mention one of the more intriguing takes on the mythology surrounding shattered glass and twisted metal on the open road.
Before we get fully into Death Drive, it should be noted that Wrnlrd has provided listeners with an accompanying “operator’s guide”, which can be viewed HERE. This guide is a carefully crafted supplement to the ep, containing graphics, lyrics and various notes/anecdotes from Wrnlrd, as well as the other musicians that helped him bring Death Drive into being. Therein, Wrnlrd defines the death drive by referencing “The Freudian impulse towards self-destruction and death” and “the seminal American pop music motif of the automobile crash as a ritual of escape from impending adulthood – a tragedy that looms as the end result of the adolescent’s blossoming sex drive”, echoing the concepts of the aforementioned Crash, “Dead Man’s Curve” etc. The guide may not be essential to your enjoyment of Death Drive, but it is for the purposes of understanding the EP’s intent.
At last, we come to the music itself. Death Drive‘s sound is best described as sludge-laden black metal with a predilection for experimentation. The atmosphere is pitch-black and eerie, with the super-saturated distortion of the guitars dominating the mix, while vocals, percussion and electronics/noise churn and bubble just under the surface. The type of driving Wrnlrd evokes isn’t that of speeding down a main thoroughfare. This is music for driving down a dusty, dead-end road in the middle of the night with the headlights off, possibly with a body in the trunk.
Death Drive sounds like a home recording, but that’s no bad thing. Although it might be the product of digital equipment, it is in no way clinical. There are layers upon layers of filth such as “Grave Dowser” and the title track to be sifted through here, with the one exception being “Luster” a piano and sound effects track that serves as a respite from the suffocating mire that is the rest of the ep. It must be said that the undeniable highlight of Death Drive has to be “Midnight Ride” which features the inimitable vocals of Integrity’s Dwid Hellion. Here Hellion’s trademark hellfire ‘n’ brimstone roar is altered and obscured by the malformed sounds that surround it, shedding a very different light on one of extreme music’s most distinctive vocalists.
At only five tracks and less than twenty minutes of music, it probably goes without saying that Death Drive is best experienced as a whole, especially given the conceptual nature of the piece. There is a gripping, cinematic flow to the ep that draws you in and holds you there, leaving you mesmerized and craving more when it’s all over. Indeed, if there is any fault to be found with Death Drive, it’s that the thing is too damn short. This is a concept that begs for further exploration. Here’s to hoping that there’s a Death Drive 2 lurking in Wrnlrd’s future.