Released: 2017, Relapse Records
Reviewer: Peter Atkinson
Yet another “supergroup” emerges from the metal fringes – this one perhaps bit “fringier” than others, but nevertheless with some recognizable names, or at least hailing from familiar acts.
John Frum borrows its name from a still-celebrated legend that grew out of the World War II-era South Pacific when local natives thought supplies air-dropped to U.S. service members (and apparently one who identified himself as “John from America,” which became truncated to John Frum) were gifts from heaven. The band includes Derek Rydquist (ex- a couple of times of The Faceless) on vocals, Dillinger Escape Plan bassist Liam Wilson and guitarist Matt Hollenberg, who has played with jazz provocateur John Zorn and Cleric, along with drummer Eli Litwin. It's a strange lineage to be sure, and it yields some predictably unconventional results.
The band describe their sound as “darkly psychedelic and meticulously crafted death metal.” And that turns out to be a rather accurate summation. A Stirring In The Noos mixes math-metal dexterity, Voivod-like progressive flair and the eccentric recklessness of Mr. Bungle or Dillinger, with the feral growl/squeal/screech vocals of Rydquist ensuring there is plenty of “death” to go around.
The opening tracks “Presage of Emptiness” and “Pining Light” find Hollenberg's shrill, shimmering guitaring riding rough-shod over Litwin and Wilson's limber, turbulent rhythms before the mammoth “Memory Place” brings a doomy hammer down for most of its nine minutes. “Through Sand and Spirit” kicks the tempo up to full boil again and channels a bit of Morbid Angel along the way in the menacing sweep of its riffs, albeit it with an avant twist.
The bottom-heavy instrumental “He Come,” where Wilson's bass becomes more prominent and ominous, builds into the sprawling tumult of the eight-plus-minute “Assumption of Form,” and provides some the album's heaviest moments toward its back end. Noos finishes in a flurry with “Wasting Subtle Body,” perhaps the most straight-up death metal track here, save for its Fantomas-like freakout midway through.
Given the backgrounds of the musicians involved, it might seem tempting to dismiss John Frum from the outset as some sort of hipster vanity project – and we have seen more than a few of those of late. But A Stirring In The Noos is the real deal, and actually gives death metal the sort of shock to the system it could certainly use. Its technicality, muscle and eclecticism are brought together with a focus and aplomb that ensures things rarely get too wanky or weird, and almost always hit pretty damn hard.