When I last spent time with the Providence, RI-based mathcore maniacs in Daughters, the year was 2003 and the album was Canada Songs. Canada Songs was eleven minutes of face-tearing goodness, and I enjoyed it verily. It did make me wonder, though, what they were going to do next. Certainly, the band could have released variations on Canada Songs every couple of years, albums that were fast, intense and nightmarishly loud. There's plenty of bands that make a good living that way; I admit that I expected Daughters to follow that path, and I was okay with that. (I like fast, intense and nightmarishly loud.)
With these expectations in mind, I couldn't help but be broadsided by "Daughters Spelled Wrong," the first track off their new album Hell Songs. It's sludgy instead of speedy, a teeth-baring doom-rock dirge garnished with vocalist Alexis Marshall's cataloguing of all the insulting terms with which he's been tagged. ('Sinner' and 'transgressor' are two of the milder oaths.) It's an offbeat yet appropriate kickoff to an album that seems single-minded in its dedication to exhibiting Daughters' expanded sonic palette.
The most significant and unexpected change is in the timbre of Marshall's vocals. Where Canada Songs had Marshall affecting the kind of high-pitched shriek that's familiar to most fans of heavy music, he's downshifted for Hell Songs into the registers of the intelligible. Pitched somewhere between a warble and a strangled holler, Marshall's newly-indulged vocal abilities nestle snugly into the band's more meticulous, less immediate attack while making his ugly, oft-disturbing lyrics that much easier to parse.
He can still bring the screech if he wants to (i.e. the jump in octave he performs during "X-Ray"), but for the most part he chooses to make himself understood. The change actually makes Hell Songs more unsettling than its horror-movie-score predecessor - Daughters now sounds like they're fronted by a deranged, dangerous and possibly homeless lunatic, the kind of guy you see on the street corner ranting about alien probes and demonic cow udders.
Too, the musicians behind Marshall have unwound and allowed themselves room to explore the places they can infect with their extreme-noise-terror ethos. Much of Daughters' explorations involve deliberate incongruities woven into the blistering framework of their genre noodlings, which explains why "Recorded Inside a Pyramid" fades out with a menacing string suite in the style of the Kronos Quartet or why "Feisty Snake-Woman" sounds like a cross between an air-raid siren and the kind of strangely funky ear damage that might be heard in Satan's disco. The unusual curlicues and detours from the norm that populate Hell Songs lend it an air of the off-kilter, which only makes it that much more fascinating and compulsively listenable.