A beer garden in Preston on a sunny Sunday afternoon is perhaps an unlikely entry point into the bleak and visceral world of CORRUPT MORAL ALTAR, but you’ve got to start somewhere, right? The Southport-based quartet – John Cooke (Guitar), Chris Reese (Vocals), Tom Dring (Drums) and Adam Clarkson (Bass) – have accumulated many tags of late (grindcore, doom, sludge), ones that are usually attributed to metal and heavy music. Their debut album, Mechanical Tides, escorts you through the ruins of a broken, post-industrial city, promising a new land of eternal pain and atrophy. It was released through cult metal label Season Of Mist in July, and features special guest appearances from Carcass and Menace, grindcore heavyweights whose presence feels like an endorsement from the highest levels of the occult. Yet there’s also a hardcore punk element in this most interesting of maelstroms, which comes through in the pessimism of their lyrics and performance.
The back room of Preston’s Adelphi is the setting for my first experience of Corrupt Moral Altar’s live onslaught and it’s a strange experience – a short sharp shock delivered with sincerity and honesty. Their music stinks of burning sweat and fear. As a band, they’re tight as hell, despite a deliberately dirty sound, and they intersperse metal structures with punk anger, pounding tempos and slick time changes. Anger is the overall attitude, torturous and unrelenting in its battery. Sections of intensity resemble bouts of bare-knuckle boxing where invisible opponent are pummelled, leaving witnesses who come to the altar battered but hungry for more. As a bystander, I am left exhausted by waves of brutality, treading water in a whirlpool of mayhem.
A few weeks later and safely back on dry land, I re-encounter the band over a few IPAs and I’m surprised at how open and approachable they are; we quickly bond over a mutual appreciation of Breaking Bad, and a mutual disgust for David Cameron and George Osborne. A wasp enters through the window and irritates us, and I ask the band about their writing process and why they are so angry.
“We write from personal experience, from what we see going on around us. We are particularly pissed off with blind consumerism and the malpractice of governments and authorities. For us anger at authority is always there and will never go away, giving us plenty as a band to write about. We see stabbings and blood and loads of urban decay all around us, and this inspires us to be continuously sick, in a psychological sense, and we hope this comes through in the music.”
In a material sense, Corrupt Moral Altar’s music and performances correspond to their name, suggesting an offering or sacrifice – a contribution of corrupt flesh and blood in a futile attempt to cleanse impure souls. There are themes of redemption, purging and catharsis present in their conceptual armour. Metallic and monstrous, the Corrupt Moral Altar set shifts through a series of violent scenarios, screams and heavy drones. Primitive mantras and dirges are occasionally whipped into down-tuned frenzies as the band enact razor-blade rituals.
“We don’t really write about mythical stuff. For us the writing has to be real and extreme, both musically and lyrically. We work together, fusing little poems into patterns that begin to fit sequentially. We can’t really say what comes first and sometimes we discover things accidentally, such as the dual vocal stuff on the album. Each track remains a work in progress right up to its recording.”
Within the album there are a number of surprises, always taking the listener off guard. The artwork is of particular interest, depicting a matrix of entwined souls, exposed and vulnerable to the violence and aggression of a corporate spectacle. I’m reminded of paintings and engravings illustrating The Divine Comedy and Dante’s depictions of Hell: the perceived sins of Christianity – greed, indulgence and malice – processed by the band and subsequently ravaged.
“We loved the artwork of bands such as Entombed and Morbid Angel. When we were younger we always appreciated great covers, sometimes at our peril. But naturally we wanted to spend a lot of time on the artwork. We were staring into the Mersey, watching tides and waves, like chains or synapses in the brain, and imagining bodies in there, churned up and unable to escape. Immediately we were reminded of the crushing immorality of modern life… we wanted to reflect this in the title as well. We commissioned an artist, Lucas Ruggieri, to do the cover because we loved his work and we wanted it to have that material depth. It took him five months to finish it but we wanted that specific depiction of futility and resistance.”
Corrupt Moral Altar urge themselves to push against the prescribed agendas of capitalism; to organise and redefine a subculture that refuses to budge. The opening track of the album, Father Tongue, blasts structures of patriarchy, depicting domestic disdain in an abandoned, tinned-up ruin. Slabs of dark metal grind and tangle with intense blasts of beats, the doomier aspects revealing dark deeds as spirals of black blood spread over floorboards. Heavy riffs ooze an intense atrophy of pleasure mixed with disgust and bewilderment. Echoes add haunting textures and malevolence to a range of bloody harmonies and distorted frequencies. And they’re not through with us yet.
“We hate the idea of categorisation, and it plays into the politics of control and classification. We want to develop our own personality as a band. We aren’t afraid of revisiting genres that have inspired us. We even appreciate prog-rock and psychedelic music for its textures and use of structures that resist the typical construction of music. We try to constantly think outside the box.”
Rather than batter away at the fantastic or satanic, the band are eager to explore more esoteric myths such as Die Glocke – a secret scientific weapon associated with Nazi Occultism and anti-gravity research. The band utilise this object symbolically, describing in an abstract sense the weapons utilised in oppressing modern societies, such as surveillance and technology. Arteries of fury throb throughout Mechanical Tides. However, there is no pretence or illusion as the listener is invited to envisage the monotony of a northern city and its outskirts, pushed away from the spectacle of corporations that pander to aggressive consumerism and macho culture, while ignoring the dirt, grime and puke stains that accumulate within dreams of cosmopolitanism, celebrity culture and hip bakeries.
Banal tropes of homogenous culture are spat back with vitriol in the face of bland consumerism, negating economies of reproduction and distribution. I first encountered hardcore/death metal and thrash back in the early 1980s, quickly becoming obsessed with bands such as Napalm Death, Celtic Frost, Energetic Crusher and Hellbastard, their recordings disseminated via C90 tapes and carrier pigeons. These days, the internet allows free and instant sharing of underground metal and the days of tape trading are gone: however, touring and consistency are things that emphasise the importance of bands like Corrupt Moral Altar, who appear unwilling to take their foot off the gas. Though not afraid to experiment, they stick to their guns, maintaining a sense of integrity that embraces immediacy and exchange. Collaboration and networks are key to these bands and, despite an aggressive individualism, there is, paradoxically, a great deal of generosity and support for other bands.
“We met in Southport by accident really. We were hanging out together and regularly getting smashed and we just decided to start making music. We started two years ago and we’ve been gaining momentum ever since. We do see ourselves as isolated from the Liverpool scene, but at the same time we’ve had loads of collaborations with bands such as Iron Witch, We Came Out Like Tigers and Coltsblood. We always try to help each other out with recording and touring.”
It’s refreshing that this generation is following a template set by early punk bands. There can be many comparisons made between contemporary metal/hardcore bands and their 20th Century predecessors, lads and lasses still keen to abandon mundane factory work or careers in the service industry in favour of their own creative practices. Loyalty and pride are visibly recognisable at metal gigs across the North West, evidenced in the audiences that support such events. Bodies are inscribed with tattoos and strange symbols, hair is overgrown, and battle vests are emblazoned with an array of bands spanning decades, so that VoiVod and Possessed now share the same denim space as EyeHateGod and Nails.
The prestige of signing for a label like Season Of Mist means that Corrupt Moral Altar can focus more on the music and less on the complicated labours of arranging gigs and putting out material. In a short time they have come a long way, and are enjoying the acclaim they deserve. Like so many metal/doom/hardcore bands in the North West, they’re savouring success which is not necessarily measured in financial accumulation. Instead, they are able to sustain their activities of making records and touring without losing their souls to the more corporate tendencies of the music industry.
After wrapping up the conversation, I continue back to the Liverpool suburbs. Mechanical Tides is my music of choice, blasting out of my diminutive car speakers, which can barely handle the intensities of sound that the band evoke. My knuckles are white as I drive and I resist the temptation to put my foot down and crash into any innocent bystanders who get in my way. In many ways, this is the litmus test for the bands I encounter and Corrupt Moral Altar have passed with flying colours. Long may they continue to prosper.
Mechanical Tides is out now on Season Of Mist.