Music Review - Blood Meridian by Numb
Updated: Aug 1, 2018
Great road-trip music…if said road-trip is a deranged one-way hustle into Hell!
Allow me a minute, if you will, to set the stage: In the mid-90’s, industrial music was undergoing a surprising renaissance. While bands like Nitzer Ebb, Front 242, Front Line Assembly, and Skinny Puppy had been on the scene for a while, subverting 80’s synthpop into a darker substance, it was acts like Nine Inch Nails and KMFDM which helped propel this heavier electronic music to, if not complete widespread popularity, then at least a much more solid form of acceptance. Sadly, this also gave rise to quick-to-fame acts like Gravity Kills and Stabbing Westward, who were content to ride on the coattails of giants while not really providing any sort of innovation themselves. But between the good and the bad, industrial music was now found on radio stations nationwide. Suddenly, and without warning, industrial was a thing.
Since I was generally very disinterested in the popular music of the time (country and gangsta rap were HUGE at my school, much to my dismay), I had already found myself immediately drawn to the bands that were building upon the electronic foundations set by Alphaville, Depeche Mode, and Erasure, while adding a heavier, gloomier, and more brooding spin to the synth sound. Industrial was taking off, and I was a very willing passenger.
No sense of taste, in requiem, one wild kiss.
But industrial was a wide-ranging genre, and while NIN (and the cheap knockoffs) were grabbing all the attention, there were many acts that slipped by under the musical radar. Foreign bands were especially obscure; Haujobb, :wumpscut:, and LeÆther Strip were popular in Europe (and making wonderfully dark electronic music), but were virtually unknown in America. Thankfully my local store stocked these hidden gems, and I eagerly spent oodles of money to make them mine (yes, I was THAT weird kid). I could only spend so much money on music, however, so I still managed to miss quite a few industrial artists. One of those overlooked bands was Numb. Hailing from Canada (eh!), they weren’t exactly an overseas export, but I still had never heard about them until I moved from California to Virginia. It was there on the East Coast that I discovered Metropolis Records, a little known but successful record company based out of Philadelphia. They had signed all sorts of bands that I had never heard of before, including Numb, and I was in seventh heaven.
I’ll start right out of the gate by saying that Numb isn’t for everyone. They are VERY much a less mainstream version of industrial music, with heavily distorted samples & loops, treated synthesizers & vocals, just as many instrumentals as songs with singing (and I use that term loosely), and lyrics that aren’t necessarily relatable or trying to tell a story. Numb were like Skinny Puppy, but without the organic feel and the batshit crazy shenanigans of Nivek Ogre. Also, their earlier works were very weird forays into somewhat experimental electro-industrial music (with less complex arrangements, noticeably absent higher frequency notes, and an overall stripped-down sound), and were somewhat hard to listen to, even by my own admittedly forgiving standards at the time. But for their 1997 release Blood Meridian, they had added a full-time vocalist and tinkered & tightened in the studio, releasing their most coherent and well-produced album to date. Was it the best industrial album I’d yet heard? Not by a long shot. There were, however, a few truly amazing songs on Blood Meridian, and it showed a lot of promise. It also set the groundwork for the superior album Language of Silence (to be reviewed at a later date), which was released the following year (unfortunately it was also Numb’s last album). And while I can’t say that Numb was a band that definitively stood out in the slew of industrial artists during that timeframe, I do still listen to some of their albums 20 years later, so they definitely left some kind of impact.
All that said, let’s get on to the review, shall we?
Like I stated above, Numb isn’t for everyone. But, if you can appreciate some seriously heavy & murky electronic music, then Blood Meridian (with a runtime of 61 minutes overall) starts out in a way that just might satisfy you. Album opener Blind is the quintessential intro for industrial albums during the late 90’s and early 2000’s: nearly two minutes of grinding and angry loops & synths and arpeggiated samples setting the stage before the heavily distorted vocals even kick in. Rarely letting up, and clocking in at almost eight minutes long, Blind is Numb at their finest. A heavy bassline fades in and out of the main musical assault, providing serious groove to this juggernaut of noise, while vocalist David Collings gives us a full taste of fury, before the track finally fades out with a high-pitched whine.
Dirty god, coming down.
While Blind is unbridled anger, Dirt is a mix of seething ire and barely contained rage. Chugging loops, stuttering synths, and the occasional downtempo switch make Dirt seem a little less aggressive than the opening track. But don’t be deceived; the chorus is pure vitriol, and the semi-analog sequencing gives the track a solid flow. An out of tune piano kicks in around the halfway mark, just to add a bit of the bizarre to the whole affair, before the song resumes its determined march and then ends with an extended plodding outro.
Sadly, after the brutal one-two punch of Blind and Dirt, the remaining offerings don’t fare quite as well. It’s almost as if the album starts out TOO strong, giving away all the secrets far too soon, and then struggling to keep the magic alive for the rest of the runtime. Blood Meridian, as the title track, doesn’t do much to stand out. For me, Numb’s instrumental tracks are always hit or miss, and this falls more on the “miss” side of the fence. Deep bass drums count out the time, while spacey synths and a faint sample of a woman in both pleasure and distress add an ominous and oppressive darkwave vibe. This mostly serves as an extended intro to Stalker, which is the exception to the “losing magic” statement above. Stalker is a slightly more straightforward industrial track for Numb, delivering a little less on the uber-distorted synthesizers while slightly upping the creep factor. There are some new variations on the vocal treatments, which work well in mixing up David Collings’ snarling voice, and add texture to the song. Though it’s not as "in your face" as Blind or Dirt, this killer mid-album track definitely gets the job done, and absolutely kicks on a good sound system (yes, yes it does).
Just one step behind, shadow breathing down your neck.
Unfortunately, the only other standout track of note from Blood Meridian is Alien Hand. The song title is very indicative of what to expect, and the track firmly delivers on that promise. Eerie samples over eerie synths set the eerie tone, with occasional hints of tribal percussion a la the Predator soundtrack. There’s also what sounds like a squeaky gate and an excitable extraterrestrial monkey? Though I generally don’t enjoy Numb’s low-key offerings, Alien Hand is just creepy enough to satisfy. It’s more noise than music, and would be very much at home on a sci-fi/horror film soundtrack, or in the console horror game Dead Space. Definitely listen to this one with the lights off!
The rest of the album songs are a decidedly mixed bag, and your mileage with them may vary. Feeling very much like an older Front Line Assembly track, Desire drops much of the aggression for a more middle-ground approach. With subtle sequencing in the background, and stuttering synths and loops adding an ominous soundscape, it starts out with such great low-key (for Numb) promise. Sadly, a repetitious and unengaging chorus coupled with simple accompaniment robs the track of much needed vitality.
Critical Mass is another instrumental track that doesn’t really distinguish itself. It is very low-key, with minimal percussion and synths and assorted noises peaking and fading across the left & right channels. It is followed by No Time, which is a slightly less punchy version of Stalker, with subtle choral samples, and an accelerated standard drum beat. Very clubby and straightforward, without the oomph that Numb is capable of. An erratic synth line plays when the vocals lapse, while sequencers provide background noise and texture. A vocal laced breakdown in the middle robs the track of some of its momentum, and ain't nobody got time for that.
From there we have Deserted, which is a more subdued Numb offering, starting out slow & steady, and never really picking up the pace. Sequencers, loops, and a repetitive bass line mostly carry the tune, with occasional beeps and blips punctuating the soundscape. The chorus kicks up the pace a bit, but not by much. Deserted is more about atmosphere than aggression and struggles to stand out because of it.
The final track of the album is Spasm. Minor channel swapping of synths and sounds, with echoes of the Deserted chorus popping up, does nothing to help this instrumental outro track solidify, resulting in a rather underwhelming album closer. Mostly just distorted noise and random samples, Spasm really brings nothing to the album, and could have been left off entirely.
Crushing weight of flesh and stone.
Bonus Review: Static from the Metropolis compilation album Electropolis, Vol. 2, which was released in 2000. Sadly, this non-album track doesn’t bring much to the table, and would really only appeal to hardcore Numb fans. Which is interesting, since I always thought the idea for compilation albums (especially back in 2k, years before you could hear every single song ever on YouTube) was to introduce artists to potential new fans. Strictly instrumental, with repetitive sequencing and the usual suspects of creepy samples and driving synths, Static is about as standard as they come, and would hardly be my choice to capture the interest of new listeners. A poor choice by Metropolis, especially since they had such a kickass Numb song on Vol. 1. I think The Handmaid’s Tale said it best: Shame! Shame!
So yeah, if you feel like revisiting the glory days of industrial or are just looking for a decent soundtrack for your various and sundry evil misdeeds, Blood Meridian might just fit the bill. It’s not the most solid of 90’s industrial albums, and the follow-up album Language of Silence has it beat, but there are a handful of standout tracks that really get the blood pumping and the inner voices babbling. Check it out!
3 out of 5 distorted and pissed-off stars!