Well, that didn’t last long, did it? Twelve days before the release date of their debut album, Wet Nuns announced that they were splitting up and that their forthcoming tour will be their last. Why? Apparently because “There’s personal things going on in and out of the band that has rendered it an increasingly stressful and negative entity to be a part of”. Standard rock and roll stuff then. But that doesn’t make it any less of a surprise.
As their farewell message reminds us, the self-styled ‘death blues’ two-piece have been around since 2009, and over the past four years they’ve built up a loyal following of fans despite putting out only a few singles and an EP. Their hectic live performances no doubt had something to do with that, and this spring they even put on Detestival, their own festival in Sheffield, whose bill included the likes of Bo Ningen, Hookworms, Wolf People and TOY. It looked like 2013 might be the year in which Wet Nuns really started to become something resembling a big deal. But instead we’re left to muse about might have been and pick through the band’s remains like vultures hungry for riffage.
And chief among those remains is the small matter of this debut album. It’s short and to the point: nine tracks spanning a little less than 33 minutes. Maybe the duo started to get sick of each other during the recording process and couldn’t stand to record any more songs together, or perhaps the brevity stems from the punk spirit that seems to lurk behind their heavy blues, particularly in tracks like No Death.
It’s stoner rock that comes through most strongly from the off, though, with the crunch and crash of 7 Year Itch, and this is a curious state of affairs, since that’s a notably bass heavy style of music and Wet Nuns don’t have a bassist. But between the two of them they mash together some grinding guitar riffs and weighty drum beats and prove to be a ferocious two-headed beast. The bassless format suits them – while the basslines are conspicuous by their absence, you can hear the gaps between the beats and riffs and that spaciousness works well.
There are times when they come across as a more straightforward heavy blues rock band. Closing track No Money Blues addresses a classic topic over neatly curtailed licks, and Don’t Wanna See Your Face No More also picks up that style – though there is a thrilling moment towards the end when it suddenly goes into double time as though plummeting towards a cliff edge.
Only Sometimes serves as an interlude from the thick sludginess. It starts with the sounds of rain and thunderclaps, then a guitar line comes in that wouldn’t be out of place on a post punk or maybe even a folk rock album. As the song develops it becomes more steady than stoner; in a way it’s the most interesting track here. Still, it’s nice to have the big noisy stuff back immediately afterwards: it’s followed by Broken Teeth, whose raucous introduction gives way to the killer opening line “I live my life with the taste of blood in my mouth”.
Pain, death and violence seem to be on the minds of Wet Nuns rather often. There’s a morbidity to some of their lyrics, but there’s also a light-heartedness and it’s this that makes them compelling. At times their sound is reminiscent of another Sheffield-ish two-piece, Drenge – though it’s somewhat heavier – but where Drenge create a feeling of urban noir, Wet Nuns go for Hammer Horror and really find their niche with that camp but nonetheless scary mood. It was perhaps a self-fulfilling prophecy that a band so concerned with death would meet their demise early on in their career, but it’s still a shame they’re over so soon. All that remains to be said is RIP Wet Nuns.