I'm not sure when exactly a release falls into the 'long-awaited follow-up' category, but it has been nearly three years since A Place To Bury Strangers released Exploding Head - an album which made people take them seriously as a band who could push the boundaries of ear-splitting indie rock.
Well, after a fine EP Onwards to the Wall – none of which is replicated here by the way - the follow-up album Worship has arrived. One of the reasons for the gap may be due to the fact that the band recorded and produced everything themselves, and according to their press release they used “tools.. purposefully built for this project.” Of course, it probably helped that guitarist/ vocalist Oliver Ackerman is a founding member of Death By Audio who happen to make pedals and effects for the likes of Lightning Bolt and Wilco, as well as U2 and Nine Inch Nails.
Despite this change in production Worship isn't exactly a reinvention, but it is a progression of sorts. Live, they are one of the loudest bands I have ever seen, and their heavy wall of distortion and feedback often distracts from their actual songs. This album has tried to bring the songs out a bit more, and they have also attempted to broaden their sound. It definitely sounds less of a whole than 'Exploding Head' for instance, but they have introduced a few new elements along the way.
Worship opens with 'Alone' which features the best pounding drum machine this side of Big Black, and turns into a giddy rush with the sheets of guitar noise disorienting the listener already. The album cover makes sense here, as those diving guitars are attempting to soundtrack that feeling of looking down from a great height.
'You Are the One' is a menacing tune, with an appropriately violent video if you feel like searching for it. The song is driven by an insistent bass line, before those guitars squall into action again. 'Mind Control' is similar in mood, although the pulse at the heart of the song is quicker.
'Worship' is one of the highlights and works from an updated '80s goth blueprint, coming across like a more sonically sophisticated Jesus and Mary Chain or Sisters of Mercy.
'Fear' features synths and a broader palate of guitar effects; it's more sparse and less overloaded than some of the noisier pieces.
'Dissolved' is much quieter and downbeat and could almost be a different band, yet halfway through it speeds up and comes across as a slightly delicate version of what they have done earlier. It almost sounds like two separate songs squeezed into five minutes, and underlines the slightly quixotic nature of this material.
This is immediately followed by some glacial, almost painful guitar noise at the beginning of 'Why I Can't Cry Anymore' and you remember how brutal this band can be, especially as the intensity is ramped up even more for 'Revenge'.
'And I'm Up' is a little bit lighter, almost indie-rock in fact, and 'Slide' is another attempt at dark synth pop, and the guitars twang rather than squeal.
A Place to Bury Strangers no longer seems like a flat-out noise assault, and although I have referenced some other bands in the course of this review, ultimately Worship sounds more like themselves than a homage to anyone. It actually sounds great too, and I really like the band's own production work. It is clinical and cold rather than warm and fuzzy but that suits the material. This isn't woozy shoegaze to lose yourself in, it's much more edgy and abrasive than that, and I reckon it works.