Elitist is a four-piece band from Portland, Oregon, but for all intents and purposes, you may as well just think of the band members as four spiky signposts pointing the quickest road to Hell. This is nasty, incendiary stuff, a rotten brew of sludge, doom, black metal, crust, d-beat, and whatever the fuck else kind of distressing noise these crabby SOBs can find to throw in the pot. Truth be told, there is something of a glut of bands taking a similar mix-and-match approach to extreme metal in recent years, but Elitist’s debut full-length is one of the most convincingly ugly and consistently compelling albums among an increasingly crowded field. To put it bluntly, Fear in a Handful of Dust hates you and wants to taste your tears.
The band appropriately cites Eyehategod as an influence, which shines through less in the band’s sound than in the drug-spent nihilism of its aesthetic. Opener “Burning the Unspoken Gospel” takes its time working up to a full band crush, making excellent use of waves of thick guitar carrying the vocal savagery up until they can take no more, and the full band must man the ramparts and scale the walls. Still, sometimes it’s nice to just let a guitar hang around and be nasty for a while, like for the first few seconds of “Black Wool,” before a fat, stumbling bass serves as midwife to horrific vocal expulsions. Elitist calls to mind fellow luminaries of fuck-your-labels-this-is-METAL metal such as Coffinworm or a much less grindy (and much better) Clinging to the Trees of a Forest Fire, but fans of Withered, Black Breath, Gaza, or basically anyone else who is taking a fistful of recognizable genre signifiers and lining them up against a wall to face a firing squad of angry bees and mistreated tigers should quake in all the right ways from these bad vibrations.
Many of the shorter songs run through a sort of diseased, ultra-thick d-beat tar pit (“Cult Malevolence,” “A Howling Wind”), while the longer tracks make a greater use of dynamics and stylistic switch-ups, like the stuttering drums that lead a clattering blast into “Human all too Human,” which has been transformed by song’s end into an elastic Sleep-y dirge. With vocals ranging from guttural death/grind to higher-pitched rasping that doesn’t quite approach black metal shrieking, Josh Greene is a suitably feral frontman, while the remaining members of Elitist play this gritty, woozy, and ill-tempered racket like their instruments have been soldered to their hands, with a “the world’s shit, so let’s keep playing” attitude that really elevates their brand of style-fuckery to grimly satisfying heights.
The album’s true masterstroke comes early in the form of “Ivory Shavings of the Tools Unknown.” A nasty Pantera-meets-Celtic Frost beatdown eventually transitions to a lovely, black-metal-influenced midsection that strongly evokes the latest Tombs album, then finally into a feedback-drenched outro that is the closest approximation of a star imploding this side of Skullflower’s Tribulation. Fear in a Handful of Dust covers an awful lot of ground in just under 35 minutes, but never feels like the amateurish exercise in cut-and-paste that often afflicts bands trying to chew up and spit out as many extreme metal styles as possible. The wonderfully-named “Tower Of Meth” closes things out on a slightly downbeat note where I wish it would have stormed out in a, well, towering rage of shrieking and stomping, but this is a relatively minor complaint. The numerous styles that get thrown together throughout the record are balanced and well integrated, and any misgivings about the slight lack of memorable songwriting chops are quickly erased when one remembers that this is the band’s first album. If subsequent efforts see them maintaining the red-line intensity while cramming this maniacally-unhinged blend of styles into tighter songcraft, we had all better watch the hell out. This is filth-caked noise for a filth-caked world: just what the doctor ordered.