SING THE BODY electric? Oh no. To borrow from Made Remade Readymade, “Sing ‘oh jailer oh liberator’.”
There are points at and between comfort and discomfort, between appealing and disturbing, where this album (released late last year but ever so appropriate in the week we mark three years since the January 6 insurrection, three months since the carnage began in Israel/Gaza, and a month til the second anniversary of the invasion of Ukraine) regularly lands. Where on that spectrum you judge those landings at any time very much depends on your level of attraction to a deep-voiced narrator amongst chaos, your tolerance for aural assault done with moments of tenderness, your willingness to embrace the spiked and protruding as you do the soothing and familiar.
Indeed, your acceptance that neither comfort nor discomfort are goals worth worrying about. Not in the fracturing and teetering – you might even say diseased – society described in the songs, not for Tom Kazas, and not for us. We are existing in, as the first song explains, The Normal. “The normal you want/And the normal you get/The normal you ignore/And the normal you invent.”, and it’s not what we think it is.
Even before you hear the music, Kazas – who some of us first encountered decades back in the paisley shirt psych pop of The Moffs, and others have found since via dozens of solo albums, collaborations and film/stage work that plays in art music, rock, jazz, and the edge of contemporary classical – makes some of that clear in the liner notes, with a series of contextualising quotes.
There is Hippocrates (“Extreme remedies are very appropriate for extreme diseases.”) and César A. Cruz (" Art should comfort the disturbed and disturb the comfortable."), Slavoj Zizek (“What if culture itself is nothing but a halt, a respite, in the pursuit of barbarity?”), and, amusingly given the nature of this paragraph, Guy Debord (“Quotations are useful in periods of ignorance and obscurantist beliefs.”).
Extreme diseases? In Carnival Of Spinning Razors, where distorted raucousness – synthesisers/guitars, computerised drums, pounded piano – once or twice fall away to leave that piano exposed in shocked rumination, Kazas describes a venal virtuous circle jerk collapsing under the weight of “Joyous vivisection advertised inside the projector”, a mess of “Ideological electroshock/Laced with narcotics/Fired from the sclerotic corporate state”.
You don’t need to be lining up for a Young Socialists meeting to recognise the elements of truth in that, even if the histrionic edge invites mockery in equal measure to its respect.
With Kazas offering his lines in a mannered croon mixed with an end-times preacher’s stentorian delivery that makes portentousness a given, the clash and clang of instruments both natural and contrived, and the never settled rhythms that shift the ground within and between tracks (Figure Still, for example, is Weimar cabaret descending rickety stairs to a dank basement) Metastatic consistently challenges listeners to adjust themselves to the songs and find connections – or ledges to cling to – not the other way around.
Even Dreams Of Vintage Violence, whose flowing piano and low-impact drums could pass for a blend of Antony/Anohni & The Johnsons with Depeche Mode, and Waves, One To Seven, which suggests Edgar Allan Poe as reset by Kate Bush, come sideways. You work for you money here and satisfaction might be measured in grasping the nettle more than celebration.
If you are reading this and thinking post-1980s Scott Walker, in particular his 2006 masterwork of disturbance, The Drift, you are definitely in the right territory. Although Kazas does not reach the extremes that Walker clambered on to and past – he is more conventionally listenable for a start – he can see those extremes from his vantage point and clearly is looking in that direction.
Oh jailor, oh liberator, oh lordy.
SPOTIFY: Listen to Tom Kazas – Metastatic
APPLE MUSIC: Listen to Tom Kazas - Metastatic