Today is the Day - Animal Mother (Cover Artwork)
Staff Pick

Today is the Day

Animal Mother (2014)

Southern Lord

Today is the Day has been toiling in relative obscurity for more than 20 years now. Steve Austin and company just keep cranking out inspired, artsy, noisy metal for those fortunate enough to hear it. Starting in the early 90's, the band released three ground-breaking albums on the influential Amphetamine Reptile label. Later in the 90's, and through most of the 2000's, TitD had an extended run on Relapse Records. Notably, Brann Dailor and Bill Kelliher, who would go on to form Mastodon, played on 1999's In the Eyes of God. The band has bounced around a bit the last couple of years before landing on Southern Lord for 2014's Animal Mother. The label seems like it could be a good fit for TitD. It's big enough to have decent distribution, but not so big that bands get lost in the shuffle.

The tendency when judging a band's new release is to compare it to their best work. While there's certainly room for healthy debate, 1997's Temple of the Morning Star is widely considered to be Today is the Day's pinnacle. It was an almost perfect combination of art, noise, hate, rage, violence and beauty in a disturbing and rewarding musical stew. Seventeen years later, Animal Mother compares favorably to that cult classic LP. It's not due to aspiring to sound the same, it's just that it contains many of the same elements that made that record so compelling.

The key to Today is the Day's sound is its constantly shifting dynamic. Austin is a master of knowing when to pummel your ear drums, and when to give them a minute to recover. A little light allows the listener to appreciate the contrast in the darkness. "Animal Mother" opens with one of Austin's recognizable twisted riffs, before settling into single distorted guitar notes over rumbling bass and drums. The verses are whispered while the refrain is in a low howl, Austin's familiar swallowed-the-microphone voice. The last passage of the song is completely different, and challenges the listener's idea of traditional song structure.

"Discipline" slowly amps up the aggression. "Sick of Your Mouth" is about the most straight-forward song you'll hear from this band. It features the high pitched screaming vocals that fans have come to know and love, and even a memorable chorus. "Imperfection" and "Law of the Universe" are short blasts of noise. "Outlaw(Acoustic)" slows things down and even adds a bit of melody, but its lyrics are as twisted as any of the heavier material. "GodCrutch" questions our concept of modern deity with its computer blips and beeps. "Masada", "Heathen" and "Mystic" are all stand out tracks on side two.

This album has very crisp production, especially when you consider the layers of distortion on the guitars, vocals and elsewhere. "Outlaw" is so distorted that it is virtually unrecognizable from the earlier version. Second to last song, "Bloodwood", is seven minutes of mellowness. It is built around keyboard, acoustic guitar, and that most metal of all instruments, the xylophone. The vocals are whispered over the pleasant melody, while the drums rage, quietly buried in the mix. Some ambient distorted guitar noise comes in toward the end, only adding to the overall strangeness. The album closes with "Zodiac", an eleven minute epic. It is four minutes of fury before reprising "Bloodwood" for the next seven. It's not what you'd expect, but that's what elevates Austin above so many of his peers.

This album begs to be listened to from start to finish. This is no small feat for 15 tracks spread out over 52 minutes, but the flow is spot on. This can be ugly music, as Austin has a knack for laying bare the depravity of the human condition. It conveys feelings of pure unadulterated rage, and bottomless despair. Today is the Day is often brilliant, but has virtually no commercial potential. It is noise for its own sake. It can be painfully brutal and hauntingly beautiful, sometimes over the course of the same song. This is a nearly flawless blend of artistic expression and skull-crushing heaviness. Animal Mother has to be considered a serious contender for metal album of the year.