A Place to Bury Strangers frontman Oliver Ackermann builds effect pedals, a fact that precedes nearly everything written about the band, and with good reason: Their brand of revival post-punk comes outfitted in all manner of unruly guitar noise. But the band’s ambitions exceed just showing off Ackermann’s wares. There’s plenty of cacophony on their fourth album, Transfixiation, but it also boasts the band’s most layered and infectious songs to date, delivering on the album’s corny portmanteau: It’ll gain your rapt attention even as it smothers you.
Led by a hypnotic Peter Hook-like high bassline, the cleanly mixed opener “Supermaster” suggests the return of their previous albums’ slightly sparer sound. But the leanness is a red herring: Transfixiation commits to maxing out any and all frequencies as soon as the idling engine hum of the ensuing “Straight” rises to a racecar scream in its first seconds, with ear-splitting modulation careening overhead. “Deeper” and “Fill the Void” take cues from the noise-metal polymaths of Boris, one a doom-drone epic, the other a proto-punk sprint, both surrounded by volcanic feedback soundscapes. Closer “I Will Die” is so scorched the song underneath is just barely discernible.
Bassist Deon Lunadon and drummer Robi Gonzalez provided a firm backbone on 2012’s Worship, but their chemistry crackles on Transfixiation, whether they’re jackhammering on “What We Don’t See,” driving the sinister new-wave of “Now It’s Over,” or locking into a jagged groove with Faust-ian playfulness on “Straight.” Where the rhythm section had once been subordinate to Ackermann’s noise, it now takes near-equal footing, working with it, against it, around it, sometimes in front of it. Vocally, Ackermann follows suit: If the band’s previous albums found him affecting Alan Vega’s unflappable cool, the monotone finally breaks here, especially during the megaphone caterwauls of “I Will Die,” Transfixiation’s “Frankie Teardrop.”
A Place to Bury Strangers is known to be a behemoth on stage, and Transfixiation is as loud as the group’s reputation merits. Yet there’s also quite a bit of dynamic nuance to these songs. Consider how the guitar squalls gradually expand over the course of “We’ve Come So Far” into orchestral grandeur. Or how an alto counterpart to Ackermann’s baritone fleshes out that track’s psychobilly swagger and the smoldering warnings of “Deeper”: “If you ride with me, you’re gonna burn/If you talk to me, you’re gonna burn/If you fuck with me, you’re gonna burn.” The band’s veins still run thick with the Jesus and Mary Chain and Kevin Shields’s daisy-chained alchemy, but Ackermann and company move away from those artists’ melodic minimalism and toward the hard-rock side of shoegaze with tremors of Dirty-era Sonic Youth. A Place to Bury Strangers is, all tinnitus-courting aside, a rock-n’-roll band through and through. And for a band so obsessed with death, and its erotic possibilities, they sound utterly alive on Transfixiation.