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Kowloon Walled City’s Container Ships Doesn’t Contain Nearly Enough As It Should

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The last three years have been filled with moments where I want to walk into the rehearsal spaces of various post-ambient sludge/doom bands, grab one of them—undoubtedly named something like Sam or Cody or Preston or Aaron or Bennett—and shout, “JESUS FUCKING CHRIST, LISTEN TO SOME VENOM! PLAY A BLASTBEAT! WRITE A SONG ABOUT DRINKING OR FIST FIGHTS! SMOKE LESS WEED! WORK WITH A LABEL OWNED BY A GUY NOT WEARING FLANNEL! FOR THE LOVE OF GOD, YOU’RE RUINING IT FOR EVERYONE!!!” And it would pain me to say it, as I looooved post-metal (the umbrella term for… well, you know the kinds of bands I’m talking about): it’s one of those things where, when I first heard it, it felt like it was music made specifically for me. But now, slow, sludgy, and abstract is more played out than your yellow 180-gram Year of No Light vinyl. The problem with Smart Metal after a while is that it leaves you wanting the big, primal shit that it came into existence to counteract.

Granted, this isn’t Kowloon Walled City’s fault: even at their worst, they’re a very competent band in the genre in which they exist. And at their best, they’re pretty solid. But in the wake of the Hydra Head era, being pretty solid doesn’t do as much as it used to. And Container Ships suffers from the age in which it’s been released, one where a fashionably unshowered bunch of Grizzly Bear fans muckled onto the only metal they could without feeling all icky. And once again, that’s not Kowloon Walled City’s fault: they’re just being the band they are. But there’s something tangible missing. There are lumbering, rotted-oak riffs and tight, thunderous drums, but beyond a few notable moments, not a whole lot splashes above the high water mark their contemporaries put in place.

The second half of Container Ships is a little stronger than the first: “Wrong Side of History” and “Cornerstone” are easily the record’s best tracks, and closer “You Don’t Have Cancer” is a suitably epic finale. But ultimately, it feels like it’s skimming over rocks it should be overturning and examining the insects underneath. It’s not a bad record in the slightest, and if this kind of music hasn’t been your thing but you’re curious, check it out. But if you’re like me and have heard quite a bit of slow-and-low tempos in the last 5-7 years, there’s not a whole lot to dig into. If you’d told me in 2007 that I wouldn’t be that impressed by an album that sounds like Isis’ Celestial and Fugazi’s In on the Kill Taker mashed together, I would have hurled something to the ground and stormed away. And yet… here we are.

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