Album Review: Body Punishment — ‘Body Punishment Presents: Oyster World’

Body Punishment surfaced on Oct. 27 with an EP — Body Punishment Presents: Oyster World –released on Bandcamp, which features Siren Song I-IV. The “about” section says, “Millennia old sea sirens surface with a vengeance and a taste for human blood.”

Shortly thereafter, the group performed at Yacht Club — a costumed duo who resembled Vero Rose Smith and Gabi Vanek, notables in the Iowa City experimental music scene. Playing “experimental doom drone,” the two provided a set that disappointed only in terms of its truncated length.

The setup works because Body Punishment is not a joke: Taking it seriously liberates the musicians to compose quality music. This much is clear on the four-track EP. Incorporating the maternal imagery of the sea into the genre of doom metal works well, recasting the ambient tones as the sorts of distortions one might suspect occur within the depths of the sea. The murmuring merperson, wailing in the waves, creates the kind of unnerving sensation one might experience when feeling suddenly at home when you’ve always been alienated.

This sensation was augmented in Body Punishment’s live performance. The percussionist, clad in a shaggy brown suit, was wholly obscured from the audience in a way that allowed the performer an intimacy with the song, not the crowd. Rather than watching a performer, the audience could focus on the performance as a whole otherworldly presence unto itself.

The creature aspect helped to anchor the guitarist/vocalist within a similar space: although more visible, in this context, the performer disappeared within the performance. The effect of it was less “spectacle,” an effect that exhausts itself when noticed. Instead, the costuming allowed the band to preserve its autonomy from its surroundings and thus produce a sound more wholly at one with itself than anything else. This worked particularly well given the depths from which Body Punishment stretches forth to produce its music.

The occasional percussive pulses provide a contrast to the repeated guitar riffs and amplified tones that ground the distorted vocals. Simultaneously sparse and dense, befitting the genre, Body Punishment offers audiences a set of catchy songs that somehow both unmoor and anchor you.

One of the most impressive parts of this debut is the set of discrete pleasures that the songs afford, akin to being lost in the individuality of waves crashing onto the shore. By stripping away the clutter that sometimes gloms onto glam metal, Body Punishment treats listeners to songs whose shifts of pitch and tone are all gems. Each layer of the four tracks shift in a gauzy dance that rewards repeat listens. Unhurried, Body Punishment allows the ideas incorporated in its tunes to slowly unfold, one at a time.

Happily, the band has surfaced again, posting an online invitation for fans to find themes for future shows. One hopes that more recordings also loom in the band’s future, for our ears.

This article was originally published in Little Village issue 276.

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