Puckish punk foursome Wet Brain's newly released 12-inch "Not Sorry" and existential thrash-metal five-piece Noisem's "Blossoming Decay," from April (and named City Paper's Best Album in this year's Best of Baltimore issue), contain terse, terrorizing songs packed with an arch sort of sincerity that smooshes the personal into political in such a way as to make the two intractable.
Wet Brain offer hints of surf rock by way of the Cramps' "psychobilly" or Suicide's pounding synth-as-guitar snarl and the hefty blues-free meat-headedness of early Metallica and Slayer's in there too, but its heroic guitar riffs curl into each other, offering up a kind of snotty din, answered only by the unforgiving rhythm section which threatens to uglify things further. It's mean, bemused punk rock. Lyrically, the songs take on the plain and simple punk songwriting tenet of "choose a topic that pisses you off and then rage out about it for two or so minutes." The first three tracks are scathing and plain spoken: 'Wife Life' offers a nightmare vision of domesticity; 'Waitress' is a pop-Marxist rejection of working all the time for ultimately not all that much dough; and 'Plan B' dares to admit that having a child sounds like a huge time suck and questions why child-rearing automatically falls on women anyway.
Fight the tendency to consider some of the other songs on "Not Sorry" "personal" rather than "political" (read: less important), though. 'Bummer' (about regretting not being more sexual promiscuous and, it would seem, about wanting to be wanted and how being wanted can make you feel even more dead inside at the same time), 'The Fear' (a loosely Cronenberg-ian song about anxiety), or 'Backhand' (a sort of breakup song that also questions the fetishization of people of color in relationships) are also political, arguably more so because they aren't "issue" songs but something more sprawling. In that sense, "Not Sorry" recalls Hole's "Live Through This": It is unafraid to lay uneasy truths bare ("I moan, I cum/ You tell me 'Babe, I gotta get away'/ I'm forced to face the fact that you're never meant to stay") but then it buries them under catchy-as-hell punk-pop. Meanwhile, its title echoes Rihanna's similarly scowling-yet-playful "Unapologetic" from 2012, another record in the canon of feminist punk that celebrates being infelicitous.
Noisem crafts creepily precise, retro-maniacal metal that is almost uncannily exact. Often, when the band is blasting through a song on "Blossoming Decay," it sounds more like a CD skipping than music proper, they're so in concert with one another's noisemaking. Inexplicably, cello appears a couple of times on "Blossoming Decay," though it is not a grab for respectability, but a signifier of how intense and intensely sad some of these songs are—it's as if Penderecki or Shostakovich sneaked into the studio for a moment to add some additional heavy-heartedness. And there's a case to be made that those classical guys are pretty damn metal themselves (and Wagner was the original heavy-metal artist, if you really think about it).
Some of metal's Grub Street lyricism dogs "Blossoming Decay," though it has more of an earned self-seriousness here because these are songs about depression and a rough upbringing that also reach out and try and bear witness to urban suffering reflected in the band's lives and the lives of other people worse off, too. Vocalist Tyler Carnes was a frequent marcher during the Freddie Gray protests and he is navigating ways to dole out empathy while dealing with his own shit—the brothers Carnes (Tyler sings, Billy plays bass) are coy about the autobiographical elements of the record, though it is clear from interviews that their mother left early and things were rough for these Dundalk boys.
See, when you're depressed, it's really easy to hate the world and everybody occupying it, but it's more magnanimous to imagine everybody as being as down in it as you, at least. And that's what "Blossoming Decay" attempts. 'Hostile End/Hollow Life' is in the tradition of hundreds of "yo, I'm gonna kill myself" metal, but it's more knowing with its lyrical melodrama: "Tension wraps itself around my neck/ Asphyxiated by the truth/ Emptiness consumes/ Hostile end to this hollow life." And 'Another Night Left Sleeping In The Cold,' about homelessness, is sympathetic but never condescending and casually invokes Oscar Wilde's "The Ballad Of Reading Gaoul": "I only love what I cannot have/ I only kill the ones I love."
These terse punk and metal albums, for their duration at least, make it feel as though we're all in it together. They locate scrappy transcendence by making music about losing out, which is just fine because 99 percent of this country are the losers and the winners are, apparently, people like bajillionaire world-fucker Donald Trump or that shitlord who charged 800 bucks for AIDS medicine, so who wants to be a winner? There's poetry hiding inside of these super-fast, half-short, twice-strong songs.