Austerity Program – Black Madonna

Austerity Program
Black Madonna

The two men that make up Austerity Program have a bit of a geography problem. It seems that they don’t realize they shouldn’t be from New York City. Utilizing a bass/guitar/drum machine line up they fit into the mid to late 80’s “pig fuck” genre quite nicely, and where NYC had their share to contribute to that, Chicago is really more where these boys belong. Their debut full length Black Madonna belongs on Touch & Go circa 1989, instead of Hydra Head, home of Isis and Pelican. But of all the horrendously title genres due for a comeback, this is one of them.

Bands such as Big Black and on their first EP, the Jesus Lizard, took heavy guitar and intricate bass lines, and pitted them against a brutal drum machine pulse to create a dense and pounding new music, straddling the lines between metal and industrial. Austerity Program have since picked up that long dormant torch and added a touch of more precise metal riffage to create a sound like no other. One could even throw in a touch of prog rock, only in the sense that within one song the changes are numerous.

The opening track “Song 12” (the boys are so no-nonsense there are no actual titles to their songs, only numbers), at only 5 and a half minutes long, changes directions so much if it were in the hands of any other band, they would have milked it for 3 more songs and 3 times more the length. With the exception of a few well placed minute long palette cleansers, “Song 12” is the shortest track on the album which is not to say they don’t know when to stop. Each song pushes past the 6 minute mark and never does it feel like a burden. After an extended, but never slow, introduction, “Song 19” actually has glimmers of uplifting moments and then a calm resolve before the rest of the song pounds you back down and finally ends on a triumphant melody.

Before a second can pass however, the next track begins at break neck speed. Possibly the best song on the album, “Song 18” starts off quick and is one of only 3 songs to feature vocals. Guitarist and vocalist Justin Foley begins his sprechgesang singing by screaming his head off an this all takes place in a quick moment, just before the guitar goes shooting off, sounding like metal wires, close to the more industrial sounds from Fugazi‘s In On The Kill Taker. Not only does the distorted guitar sound and all too realistic drums spring forth from the Big Black era, the lyrics and delivery style is more than an homage to Steve Albini. What is decipherable are lyrics about poison and killing and well, that’s about all you can make out before some well placed and well controlled squeals of feedback take over.

Sadly the album does not end on a high note. The final track doesn’t hold the same excitement as the rest of the album and plods along for 16 minutes; providing nothing nearly as exciting as the previous 8 tracks. However, placing the song last was the smart move. If stuck in the middle it would drag the album down and if set as the intro one wouldn’t want to soldier on to see what powerful music is to come.