The members of trans-Atlantic punk foursome Split Cranium must have had Cheshire Cat grins on their faces as they bashed the shit out of their instruments and larynxes recording this, their eponymous debut. It’s easily the most straightforward, least introverted record that vocalist Aaron Turner has recorded since Isis disbanded, if not ever. Guitarist Jussi Lehtisalo, who’s also the “ring” leader of the mercurial Finnish rock outfit Circle, its offshoot Pharaoh Overlord and about three gajillion other mind-bending projects, is more often heard playing 15-minute free improv jams than the two-minute punk ditties here. And while bassist Samae Koskinen and drummer Jukka Kröger don’t exactly revel in abstractions with their other band Steel Mammoth, that band’s music is leagues more complex than these unrepentant blasts of d-beatery.

And you know what? Good for them for exploring the different poles of their creativity. As it turns out, these guys can rage just as hard as they can bliss out. Snappy numbers like “Little Brother” and “The Crevice Within” pound ‘em out Disfear-style; “Tiny Me” adds gang vox and a bit of Motörhead biker punk. For his part, Turner hasn’t howled with this much abandon since the last Old Man Gloom album. It’s a hoot to hear what happens when four boundary-averse musicians funnel their abilities through narrower strictures than usual.

Perhaps Skitsystem would never break into meditative chanting, as Turner does in the middle of ‘Blossoms from Boils.” And the hypnotic riff cycles in “Retrace the Circle” would be total anathema to Discharge, even if they’re wrought with the immediacy of classic crust. All the bizarro echo effects and feedback intros give the album its quirky personality though. Let’s be clear: Split Cranium is a really good crust punk album, first and foremost. But it’s a crust punk album that couldn’t have been made by anyone else.

(3 1/2 horns up out of 5)


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