Deth Rok, from Ministry collaborator Aaron Havill, falls into a broad category of music that I would describe as come-down music. Or, more accurately, music that you should avoid – at all costs – listening to when on an actual come-down unless dark, paranoia-drenched, claustrophobic, windowless rooms are your thing. Havill worked with the death-defying substance abuser Al Jourgensen on the next, and apparently last, Ministry album From Beer To Eternity as engineer and keyboard programmer. Samples and twiddling are Havill’s stock and trade and, while Ministry engages in blistering hook-laden industrial rock, Deth Rok relies more on caustic rhythms and repetitive samples and a spoken, or more like deeply breathed, stream of consciousness.
More stripped down Front Line Assembly in its mellower moments than Ministry and combined with the darker moments of Massive Attack’s Mezzanine – on darker tracks like Inertia Creeps rather than Teardrop, perhaps it goes without saying. In fact anyone who engaged with Bristol’s vibrant but depressive trip hop scene of the early to mid-1990s will appreciate what is going on here. The likes of Portishead and Tricky who at times were so gloomy it was impressive to see a more mainstream audience plugging in to it all. Havill prefers to wear his dark thoughts on his sleeve in this one-man project just in case you thought it was just you that was suffering the outrageous fortunes of this planet’s madness. Out come all those thoughts that people in pretty dresses and suits probably manage to keep locked up inside right up until they jump in front of the 7.52am train to Waterloo as it passes through Wimbledon station at high speed.
Deth Rok plunges to levels of frank, boxed-in consciousness that would even put the old Bristol scene to shame, however. Us & Them rarely strays beyond the margins nihilistic and defeated. Clearly not aimed at a commercial market in any way, Havill instead targets those who have suffered the same anger at being trapped in a society whose boundaries and rules bear no relation to his own perspectives and feelings – disconsolation, anxiety and anger. The music itself relies on what sounds like lo-fi (although I’m sure in reality incredibly complicated and expensive) keyboard sounds that provide the perfect backdrop to the gloomy reflections. One of the things that always strikes me when listening to reflections on US society, and one of the things the album illustrates admirably, is how screwed up things are. Of course, things are far far from perfect this side of the Atlantic, but just be glad you don’t live in small town USA. The ramblings of the Mormons on Good Question and shocking adverts from the cable channels on May Cause Deth – drug adverts that warn in hurried, spoken small-print of the many side-effects of the medication (‘fatal infections’ or ‘lymphomas’ anyone?). Let’s hope we can continue to resist the inevitable creep of all that and more unwanted nonsense vomited out of North America.
Havill smears his perspective across your hi-fi in between his discordant and dark poetry. The name Deth Rok apparently comes from an episode of Beavis and Butt Head but the humour pretty much starts and ends there. Us & Them doesn’t really so much as invite you in as shrug and scowl from within a dark, uninviting room and you know you’re not welcome unless you are feeling the same dark waves and disconsolation. It’s not really a sign post to depression as it is a frank admission that such thoughts exist but it’s still all pretty dark and impenetrable and there is no real attempt to open the black-out curtains to let light in so the rest of us might bear to scrutinise what is going on. As much as I appreciate there are good things going on here and there are some albums that just need to be made, this is an experimental step in a direction that even the darker minded among us won’t easily be able to follow.
(6.5/10 Reverend Darkstanley)