London-based industrial act Ventenner’s third release Distorture promises an hour packed with both subtle atmospherics and intense noise, but while it definitely has those I can’t help but feel a little underwhelmed by the final product. The sinister rumbles during introductory track Rise and the dark staccato hook that opens up lead single Six Blood both contribute to a fairly foreboding atmosphere before the introduction of some harsh guitar parts. Frontman Charlie Wade demonstrates some competent if overly familiar vocal skills as he alternates between muted whispers and abrasive howling, inviting comparisons to Nirvana’s Heart-Shaped Box in the process. Wave follows the same formula with slightly less impressive results.
Unaffected mixes things up a bit by starting off with another combination of angry guitars and pounding drums, but scales the music back around the two-minute mark and begins a gradual, disconcerting crescendo that effectively changes the song’s mood from anger to anguish and back again. The title track is a brief instrumental interlude that features some impressive distorted bass but is otherwise not particularly notable.
Skin Ritual is another slow number with an air of subdued dread hovering over it, distinguished slightly by the inclusion of female backup vocals. The band maintains this uneasy atmosphere for the entire song, refusing to resolve it with another aggressive climax as they did on previous tracks. Begin Again starts off with a shrill guitar and introduces some more distinctive drums. The spoken-word vocals are buried in the mix, rendering this track more or less instrumental and making me question their relevance.
Metacell starts with a very distinctive drum fill and quickly erupts into a powerful, fast-paced rocker that definitely stands out from the other tracks that are ostensibly designed to rock. Fallout marks a shift back to the slow numbers that paradoxically build atmosphere out of cacophonous yet emotional combinations of multiple instruments and Wade’s alternating rasp-and-yell vocal styles, but is merely okay compared to the previous track.
By this point in the album, it does feel like Ventenner have used up all their best music-making techniques and are now repeating them to the point of tedium. The result is Cast, a song that might have been good if it didn’t sound identical to half the tracks that preceded it. As if sensing how repetitive the album has become, the band follow it up with Undone, a moody but effective number with minimal vocals that swaps out much of Ventenner’s established musical attributes for mournful piano and strings. The sudden change in sound and its placement near the end of the album feels like the eye of a storm.
Shade marks a return to the band’s regular sound but they still follow up Undone with an appropriately sombre song that only slightly touches on the industrial quality of previous tracks. Even Wade’s normally harsh and emotional vocals fit perfectly into the context of this relatively lightweight song. Closing number House of Ten is a good track for the album to close with, using the group’s capacity for sludgy atmospherics to great effect on a heartfelt anthem.
Distorture is a decent album for the most part, but at its best it’s still just decent. While there are some good moments here (especially towards the end), they are spread rather thinly across this album. Low points such as Cast or Wave don’t feel especially awful, but they do seem to drag things out unnecessarily. Likewise, highlights such as House of Ten or Undone don’t feel especially great as standalone tracks but rather just for distinguishing themselves from the more homogeneous tracks that make up the rest of the album. Brooding atmosphere and abrasive guitar work only go so far towards making a great album – in the case of Distorture, they don’t go far enough.