Album Review: SCALPING – Flood EP

[Houndstooth; 2021]

Within the opening moments of Flood, the debut EP from Bristol foursome (fivesome if you include their visuals guy) SCALPING, there seem to be a melange of different styles happening at once, and it’s not clear which one they might follow – be it the techno synth pulse, the acidic drums or the harshly wining guitar. Truthfully, they never really opt for one or the other across the EP – in fact they throw more spices into the mix as they thumb their nose to genre and powerfully display the foolishness of anyone who tries to compartmentalise music (or the world in general) in such rigid boxes.

If you’ve heard any of SCALPING’s early singles or seen them live, then Flood will come as no great surprise; it doesn’t offer any reinventions of their sound, but this early in their career they don’t need to – their breathless combination has not yet worn out its welcome by any means. The title Flood is appropriate, as it feels like they’re throwing open the gates and letting all their molten synth tones, curdling guitars and boiling beats come rushing out heedlessly in one epic deluge. There are no pauses for breath here.

Really, there are no words to describe the sounds, other than trying to pluck the amorphous images that they provoke in your imagination – which are wild and gone in an instant, swept along with SCALPING’s ceaselessly moving songs. The lack of a lead vocalist helps ignite the imagination, and also means that SCALPING can alternate between which instrument takes the ‘lead’ at any given moment. The opening “Monolithium” does exactly what the title suggests; takes something monolithic and then adds to it, until it sounds like a stampede of elephants getting swept away in a wave of lava. “The Perimeter” focuses on the guitar, which drifts across the sky like cobwebs of lightning, the drums, bass and synth plodding below like a mechanical army trudging through the muddy terrain – then, they pivot, putting the synth bass to the fore and shifting into a techno-forward track. 

“Cloudburst” picks up this baton and surges dead ahead on billowing black synths as tactile sounds rattle around the outskirts. From their time spent workshopping these songs live, they are already masters of tension-and-release, able to toy with their listeners in the same way as a master DJ ruling a dancefloor – but with a much deadlier clang when they do drop the hammer. Flood finishes with “Empty Cascade”, a relatively stately track as they drop the BPMs a smidge, but still keep the song burning like acid rain as they continue to drop excoriating guitar on top of tinkling adornment on top of rapid-fire drums in a never ending torrent, adding momentum until they conclude the EP as a scorched husk of spent energy.

These songs were born out of improvisation, which seems obvious as they push right up against the boundaries set down by the rigid beats, throwing in as much as each song can carry until they are practically overflowing with ideas – and it’s thrilling to witness. That they manage to keep it all contained and on track is mightily impressive – but could be one area where SCALPING look to evolve; what would happen if they let the beat go haywire just devolved into utter chaos? They’re certainly going to have to figure out more ways to ensure their sound remains gripping without overwhelming by the time they attempt a full-length, but for Flood’s four tracks and 20 minutes, full-steam-ahead carnage works perfectly.