Album review: Pupil Slicer – Blossom

Black metal, grind, indie-rock, synths, joyous choruses and egg-shakers: Pupil Slicer violently bloom on perfect, out-of-this-world second album…

Album review: Pupil Slicer – Blossom
Nick Ruskell

The more you learn about Blossom, the more improbable it seems. When Pupil Slicer entered The Ranch studio last year to spend a month recording it with Lewis Johns (Employed To Serve, Svalbard), not one of its constituent songs had actually been played as a band, together, all the way through. This wasn’t a problem, they told Kerrang! last year, unveiling the album for the first time, because they’d done it that way before and just learned to play the songs together on the fly.

In the same conversation, there was talk that their second album was made up of “purposefully obvious Auto-Tuned vocals”, indie-rock, post-black-metal, 909-trap beats, 20 layers of synths, harder breakdowns. With almost perfect comic timing, singer/guitarist Kate Davies added as an afterthought: “Oh, and a tambourine and egg shakers.”

What’s come out the other end is a record that does, indeed, have these parts all firmly visible, alongside no end of metal extremity, a constant sense of things shifting the second time they’re played, and the sort of refusal to acknowledge limitations or boundaries that historically sent men in ships sailing off to find the edge of the world. Often, it is a strobe light for the ears, all disorientation and dizziness, a hose without a firefighter.

Except, not quite. What makes Blossom the metal album of 2023 so far, and Pupil Slicer one of the finest new(ish) metal outfits in Britain, is that they serve what would otherwise be a migraine in such a delicious, alluring form, while losing none of its rollercoaster exhilaration. So much so, in fact, that over the past couple of months there have been periods of K! banning itself from playing it, for fear of rinsing it too hard and spoiling it.

It’s a point writ large in its first proper song Momentary Actuality, when its vicious opening black metal attack first breaks down into a rhythmic staccato stab, before a whacking great chorus arrives like a train suddenly ploughing in. Or Departure In Solitude’s sci-fi Mastodon-isms, in which computerised vocals lock horns with a huge groove, before the scene shifts into a more murderous tangent. Then there’s a proper evil death metal riff.

Creating The Devil In Our Image is math-metal with swagger, The Song At Creation’s End an eight-minute voyage through post-rock and the darkest bits of Converge. Dim Morning Light has a frail, shimmering glassiness to its moments of heaviness, while Terminal Lucidity wraps its mania in a dark, minor-key melancholy. Zoom in at any point, and beneath it all you’ll hear bizarre keys just out of normal earshot, or grating noises deliberately designed to make your eyes itch. Slap bass? That too.

It’s this depth of richness, and the mixture of grace and deadly precision with which Pupil Slicer twirl and skip around it all, that make Blossom such a ride. Where their Mirrors debut was an (excellent) assault of noise and aggression, here that core has grown tendrils that grab you and pull you under in oh so many thrilling ways. Their scope is perhaps best summed up by the almost Prodigy-ish electronics of No Temple, and the surprisingly indie-metal (think Biffy Clyro jamming with Employed To Serve) with which the title-track brings things to a halt. In between, they’ve created something that manages to process a universe of heavy, extreme sounds, and return them as perfectly-formed songs that only do exciting and evocative things.

Talking to Kerrang! ahead of the album’s release Kate described what they’d done as “more confident” than what had gone before. That is, knowing themselves, knowing what Pupil Slicer actually is, and knowing how to turn whatever they grasp into something uniquely theirs. Indeed, they have truly blossomed into something very special indeed. Get sucked into their mad, mad, mad, mad world. You won't be able to resist...

Verdict: 5/5

For fans of: Svalbard, Employed To Serve, Converge

Blossom is released on June 2 via Prosthetic

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