Following up their debut LP and EP, Chicago’s post-everything supergroup Anatomy of Habit (featuring members of Bloodyminded, Tortoise, and Indian, amongst many other projects) continue their penchant for dramatic, expansive rock-tinged music. For their Relapse debut, they provide two lengthy, side-long pieces that distill everything that was great about their early releases into a cohesive, rich album that stays faithful to their previous work, while adding an extra layer of polish.
From the opening moments of "Radiate then Recede", AoH's influences are not hard to place. The pounding drums, subterranean bass and caustic, drilling guitar bear a clear early Swans influence, but with a bit more restraint and less overt violence. The production adds a lot to this differentiation, with the use of reverb and processing bringing a hint of The Cure and Joy Division to their sound. Influences, yes, but they do so without directly aping any of those projects directly, retaining their own distinct style.
At over 20 minutes "Radiate And Recede" works more like a suite than a single song, with the band working through various configurations of the aforementioned sounds. Sometimes sludgy and shambling, other times leaning into chugging metal riffs, it never stops moving nor becomes stagnant. Vocalist Mark Solotroff, the de facto leader of this ensemble, delivers vocals that are the polar opposite of what he is known for from Intrinsic Action or Bloodyminded. Rather than manic screams or shouts, he is detached, calm and clinical. Amongst the dirge and darkness constructed from distorted bass and guitar melodies, he clearly reads off scientific terms with an uncomfortable detachment.
On the other half of the record, "Then Window," the group retains the mood but changes the template a bit. Early on, guitar noise dissolves into militant drumming and wobbling bass rattles. The piece transitions from a looser opening into a more tautly structured passage of almost 1970s classic heavy metal, juxtaposing the differing styles. It is depressive and muddy, with an almost shuffling drum groove driving it.
By the middle it becomes a massive ambient expansive, with Solotroff hypnotically repeating the title of the album like some sinister documentary narrator, with the band throwing out expansive, fuzzy noise paired with the guitar melody present since the beginning of the piece. Compared to “Radiate then Recede” it is clearly a more static, frozen piece, but one that captivates all the same.
There are not gigantic strides made stylistically between the first two AoH releases and Ciphers + Axioms, but instead there is a greater cementing of their identity, as well as a more fully realized sound. Unlike most supergroups where each artist is pushing their "thing" harder than the rest, everyone here fits perfectly with one another. They might sound nothing like each other, but parallels are there between AoH and Kevin Martin's God in that respect. A gathering of musicians who mesh seamlessly together, each acting like a force multiplier to the other to result in a dense, heavy, yet thoroughly enthralling album.