As familiar as we now are with James Joys and his grain of skewed, world-weary electronic music, as expectant of the oil-laden nature of his craft, Devil, Repent! still manages to gut and plunder the senses til you’re naught but a husk fit only for the inhabitation of dark thoughts and weevils. His previous works have stitched together a slew of field recordings, veiled native noises with purrs of synths as a mattress, to form these varied and intrinsic melds of the man-made and the mechanical. Prior to the chilling industrial caverns of the Alexythemia EP, Glyphic Bloom celebrated the vagaries of urban sprawl with an almost archaic viewpoint of the world to come.
Peter Devlin, co-architect of Devil, Repent!, reared his head on that record to fill the gaps in the concrete with his slick, bass voice – there’s a melody to it, carried by the crest of a wave, soothing in its candour. It stands as the antithesis to Joys’ forge. But here, with the glaze of awed eyes reduced to dry apathy, Devlin’s voice takes a more macabre form, snared by the same shackle as Joys rather than acting as the perfect foil. Buckled and duotone, not too dissimilar to the vocal contortion of Fever Ray, they coat the proceedings in an indelible tar with lyrical, warbled incisions the like of “hurl us into the void”.
Rather punitively, Devil, Repent! comprises of these long, agonizing passages that take you into their clutch by your ankles and slowly drag you down a stark, gritty road. It seeks to punish you for your wrongdoings without being explicit as to what those are. There’s even a certain bounce to ‘Catacombed’, but it isn’t one that comes from satisfaction; more the excruciating insistence of Chinese water torture.
The throbbing beat of ‘Split Booth’ is less akin to dancefloor hubris than it is to ricocheting with snagged limbs off the walls of a pit, and that much seems to be in direct response to the society that raised Joys and Devlin. Ireland is at least somewhat known for being particularly god-fearing, housing those theists that spread gloom and mucus in lieu of peace and tolerance, and if the scrap “The power is in the promise, the promise is in the word, the word is the lord, so cut out my tongue” is anything to go by, these two aren’t playing ball.
Elsewhere, continuing on the theme of torture, ‘Doubled Visions’ employs crunching sound effects that feel like gravel being unceremoniously funnelled into your ear canal, muffling Devlin’s cynical growl of “I am the wood, I am the nails, I am the saddle for your wrested debt”. It all amounts to an overwhelming punishment – the dirt is piled on top of you, the whip cracked, the equilibrium forcibly kept. The sense of powerlessness and impelled guilt is lathered on thick, the lengths and the drab amounting to something inescapable. Devil, Repent! is at its most ruthless, however, with ‘Ascension’s Clap’; hammering home the extraction of colour from everyday life with a digitally altered fire crackle. The distortion and upheaval is perpetuated by ominous, repeated ringing bells – the din of repeated denial (“standing in line, none of them mind standing in line”) gathering mass and forging a cacophony like a smith with a black heart.
What’s particularly telling of the contempt that this record exemplifies is the way in which, even by reaching a close, listeners are not granted any form of release. The flickering eyelids of closer ‘The Ark of My Carriage’ and the haggard, eked out “I’ve to go somewhere for a while” are chopped off at the knees, a sighed admittance that these pains aren’t about to go anywhere. We fade out having not achieved a lick of deliverance. All we’re left with is a lingering, muggy dread.