The Body’s tortured album titles usually force a laugh or two. There’s hardly another way to cope with their mixture of progressive doom and power electronics. At this point, it’s obvious that the Portlanders have been doing something right. Their discography wouldn’t flourish without at least a handful of people giving albums like You, Whom I Have Always Hated and All the Waters of the Earth Turn to Blood a try. Thankfully for 2016 inductees, No One Deserves Happiness is the most digestible of the band’s work, but is hardly the least pulverizing.
The placement of The Body in the casual listener queue comes with a few changes. These songs are shorter than those on 2014’s disaster playground I Shall Die Here, an album that forced heads into black water and only let up after they’d taken a good hard look at what lies beneath. Singer/guitarist Chip King has said as much, hailing Happiness as the “grossest pop record of all time.” It’s a fitting description amidst the inclusion of collaborators Chrissy Wolpert and Maralie Armstrong singing leads on all but two songs. They soften the blows of Lee Buford’s analog/digital drum attack, often acting as sole representatives of the upper half of the frequency range.
Past albums have placed King’s shrieks, comparable to those of women and children, in the center of a well-established void. Now, his vocals are even more background. On “Starving Deserter,” gongs ring out in Black Sabbath glory during a meditative section that could go on forever, but instead clears for a soulful vocal. Although it’s definitely The Body we’re hearing, Happiness resolves to pop structure and concision as King’s appraisal suggests. “For You” is the finest bottling of the old and new. First half grimy growl, second half hardcore punk blitzkrieg, it never fails to clean the palette after single “Shelter Is Illusory” curses the world with a fury comparable to early nineties Trent Reznor.
Many songs retain the sprawl of doom metal’s core. “Hallow/Hollow” gives many a patient crash and snare before horns and King’s vocals herald a fitting, yet redundant announcement of “the night has no dawn.” “Shelter” is the total package of electronic metal, and “Two Snakes” follows suit with a vocal cap that impressively transcends even more genres. Closer “The Myth Arc” pushes the trudging instrumental aside to reveal a gorgeous chant bereft of King’s squeal, paving the way for Wolpert’s hopeful pronunciation of “I will find you” until the album comes to a peaceful ending.
The Body are the abyss perpetually staring back at their listeners. Unlocking these elements takes considerable work, whereas other releases have ironically made this process easier with layers of low end fog that enter the mix at a more balanced pace. The existential exhaustion of an album called No One Deserves Happiness is easier to trudge through in its tightly wrapped presentation, although it suffers from a lack of contentment at its end despite the efforts of “The Myth Arc.” Conversely, I Shall Die Here was an empowering release that reinvigorated listeners who managed to crawl their way to the light at the end of its tunnel. However, Happiness is not “hard” and I Shall Die Here is certainly not “easy.” The Body gracefully don’t try to solve the zeitgeist of human suffering one way or the other, but they surely have retained their expert status at describing its pitfalls.