Neon Crosses is ugly. As slow as a collapsing glacial, as inevitable as the end of the world, the new album from Leechfeast moves with a singularly terrible purpose – slowly, but unrelentingly, it creeps forwards, spreading decay and desolation as it goes. Each riff is the sound of destruction in slow motion, each drum hit an impact upon an already dying world. It is harsh; it is uncomfortable; it is, in its own hideously twisted way, utterly glorious.
The Slovenian quartet have been together since 2010, and all their experience is present on Neon Crosses. Riffs and movements are carefully teased, held back just long enough to create proper anticipation, so that when they do hit, they are accompanied by fleeting bursts of release. And yet, even as the promise of catharsis is dangled so tantalizingly close, it’s never fully realised – there’s always the sense that more is to come, or that the weight of the world will once again descend upon you as soon as the next riff begins. This cycle of emotional capture-and-release plays out across the album, and it’s deeply effective – and exhausting, in the best possible way.
As that phrasing might imply, there’s something about Neon Crosses that brings Khanate to mind. Not that Leechfeast really sound like Khanate – they are firmly in the sludge/doom category, rather than drone-doom – but there is a similar sense of disturbance about them, of music being made from a position of inherent wrongness, as if writing these songs was not so much an act of creation, but one of exorcism. This feeling is only strengthened when the band ease back, as around the 3:15 mark of ‘Halogen’, with relatively spacious moments and hints of clean vocals only serving to make the record feel even more uncomfortable and emotionally charged.
To say that Neon Crosses is crushing would be an understatement. This is an album that can be difficult to listen to in a single sitting; it is so fraught with anxiety and corrosion that it can become overbearing. And yet there’s also something undeniable about the album, a sense of purpose that makes it almost addictive; and like most addictions, it hardly feels healthy. Yet, though it will never be an album that deals in shades of colours other than black, Neon Crosses does posses something about it that makes it rewarding – a sense of obstacles overcome, of hardships endured, and of catharsis obtained.
It is not the kind of album you will come to for easy or relaxing listening. And yet when the need strikes for something harsh and ugly, yet still with a core of humanity buried within it, Neon Crosses will do very nicely. Is is a bleak album for bleak times; the sound of emotional bloodletting and merciless soul-searching. And yet it also offers vast rewards for those who can brave its depths, even if it may take several attempts to make it to the other side.