The Body’s Chip King has described his band’s latest offering as “the grossest pop record of all time”. It’s a description that, if not accurate (and it’s an album that’s certainly in the running), might at least inspire a new hour-and-a-half talking-head show on Channel 4 where the likes of Stuart Maconie discuss the utter filth of Mr Blobby, The Carpenters and Throbbing Gristle’s Hamburger Lady (the go-to song for anyone who wants a particularly gross-out composition).
King’s comment does however highlight The Body’s disregard for genre definition. In the past, they’ve been loosely described as metal, but perhaps more than any other genre, metal has the blurriest of boundaries. No One Deserves Happiness does contain any number of Metal signifiers, most notably in their crushing sludge based riffs, relentless pounding drums and the tolling Black Sabbath-esque bell buried in the fuzz of Starving Deserter, but with this album the palette is expanded, the boundaries smashed, and a horrific crosspollination of sorts has been attempted.
Trapped in the grimy atmospheres of this album are elements of soul, folk, pop, drone, gospel, power electronics, metal and much else besides. Such is the oppressive nature of the album, it’s as if each of the elements has been chained to the wall as a part of some kind of weird musical atrocity exhibition. Whilst it could hardly be described as what is generally understood to be “pop”, The Body are on their fourth album, have a multitude of collaborations to their name and a sizable fan base; what they do is popular.
And this latest effort is perhaps their most accessible to date, as might be expected from the band’s recent statement of intent, and much of this is down to the vocal contributions of Maralie Armstrong and Chrissy Wolpert. Wolpert and the Assembly Of Light (she’s the conductor of the choir) have been long time associates of The Body, and her role as a part of the band is now more pronounced. Along with Armstrong, they provide vocals for 80% of the songs on the album. Chip King’s hysterical screams are buried deep in the mix, offering an unhinged sense of threat to Wolpert’s elegant and but forceful lines. On Shelter Is Illusory the effect is not unlike an exorcism being carried out in a church. Beautiful vocal lines float over devilish shrieks, and drums pound in a tribal fashion as the electronics swirl and the guitars rumble ominously.
While The Body do ominous well, they’re also pretty good at claustrophobic, and both are in effect on the magnificent but harrowing scree of Hallow/Hollow. King’s screeched vocals are crushed beneath a rush of drums and guitar that achieve an almost Wagnerian level of grandeur. Even when everything is stripped back to a single guitar line there’s a palpable sense of dread left hanging. Nobody quite does atmosphere like The Body, and it’s easy to see why they collaborated with The Haxan Cloak; Bobby Krlic is no stranger to exploring the darker corners of existence, after all.
Despite these colossal music monuments, there are some “lighter” moments to be found too. Two Snakes could almost be an actual pop hit, were the electro drums and bass not smeared with King’s howls. Adamah meanwhile possesses an undeniable soul influence thanks to Maralie Armstrong’s quite extraordinary vocals. So strong is her presence, that the band’s customary attempt to crush all in its path fails to materialise. Similarly The Fall and The Guilt is a more restrained affair, with ambient noise and piano allowing Chrissy Wolpert to flit elegantly over a backwash of static and chaos, like Joni Mitchell vaulting a stack of detuned televisions.
The closing drones of Prescience and The Myth Arc return to more unsettling territory, but even here amongst the crushing chords and electronic pounding waves Wolpert sounds vulnerable but determined and utterly beautiful. As gross as The Body set out to make No One Deserves Happiness, it is Wolpert’s presence that actually provides it with an element of hope. She’s like a flower in a bomb crater, and in a weird way, The Body might just have made one of the most hopeful pop albums ever.