Amongst fans of dark, heavy music, James Plotkin is a name synonymous with work that defies categorization or genre boundaries in a slew of projects too numerous to list. Lesser known, at least perhaps in the USA, is drummer Paal Nilssen-Love, who may be working from a free jazz template but produces music that is similarly impossible to categorize. The two meet here for the first time on Death Rattle, the result of a four-hour improvisation recorded last year, and the result is as blistering and intense as expected.
The four pieces that make up the album work with only Plotkin's guitar and Nilssen-Love's drumming, but the result is anything but simplistic. The emphasis is on the guitar on "The Skin, The Color," wavering between chugging rhythm and kinetic free improvisation. All the while, Nilssen-Love's manic drumming lurks in the background; his flailing, hyperactive playing acts less as the rhythm and more of a lead instrument.
The line between hard-edged metal structures and explosive free jazz improvisation is straddled on "Cock Circus" the clearest. Right from the beginning with the more riff-oriented playing jumping in and out of grinding noise, and by the same token, the drums balance between sharp, aggressive patterns and explosive, loose improvisations. Just when it sounds like it is getting into indulgent noodling it locks back into a rigid groove to mix things up.
Less overt, but also vacillating between order and chaos is the title piece, which features inhuman sounding Plotkin squall that mimics the title of the song perfectly, as Nilssen-Love's snare rushes serve as a punctuation to the grotesque guitar. "Primateria" has the most erratic feel of the four songs on here, with tightly clipped guitars and percussive accents slowly building up and collapsing. The whole time it sounds like it is about to fall apart into an unstructured mess but it never happens. Considering this was the last material recorded in that four-hour session, this is probably less of a conceptual decision and more just physical fatigue setting in.
Death Rattle is not a surprising record by any means, and I mean that as the utmost compliment. Anything I have heard either Plotkin or Nilssen-Love involved in has defied any sort of easy description, but is always riddled with strength and innovation. Even here stripped down to two core instruments, that intensity is no less present, and makes for another high water mark in both artists' impressive discographies.