What are supergroups for? Sure, musicians can experiment with new sounds off the clock and release a record (at no small cost), and fans get to watch their favorite musicians play out a Justice League fantasy.
It’s all in good fun, of course, but a supergroup record is a dangerous proposition.
Mutation takes a risk, welding English hard-rock and metal heavies Shane Embury (Napalm Death), David “Ginger” Walls (the Wildhearts), Jon Poole (Cardiacs), and others.
Its debut, Error 500, is a mélange of grindcore, industrial noise, post-punk, and even Queen-like operatic melodies. The band is ultimately at home on Ipecac Records; alongside sludgy label-mates Melvins and Tomahawk, it’s practically a house band.
On opener “Bracken,” Mutation front-sells its charisma with a ripple of speed-metal guitar, a ferocious lead axe, and backing vocals from Givvi Flynn and Daisy Vanbergen, who provide a welcome shot of estrogen. The song ends with Ginger’s Herculean line, “This is your chance,” and the record makes a sharp detour for song two.
“Utopia Syndrome” is a tuneful pub-rock stomp that holds a steady call-and-response like a seasoned barfly after a couple rounds.
Soon enough, though, it dissolves into a metallic mosh pit. Building on the unexpected melodies in “Utopia Syndrome,” “White Leg” breaks into another operetta with a crowd of musicians singing backup. Stretching over five minutes, it’s the longest of the set. It’s also kind of a mess, with a big chorus and grinding instrumental interlude.
In contrast, “Protein” is tightly wound as a garden hose, with a little grime seeping through. But the song devolves into what sounds like a particularly contentious city council meeting. “In the city the walls are coming down,” Ginger rants, his voice rising above the fray.
With so many voices chiming in, the song is buried in its own ideas, so when Mark E. Smith and Merzbow stumble in with “Mutations,” it’s a nice breather. Crackling with Merzbow’s synth noise, “Mutations” nicely showcases Smith’s deadpan delivery. The ‘Hip Priest’ makes the spiked proclamations he’s known for, shouting, “Attention!” and, “Mutations!”
While Smith and Merzbow make only brief cameos, their avant-punk flourishes have an impact. Smith’s appearance was hyped in a pre-release video in which members of Mutation talk excitedly about what it’s like to work with the Fall mainstay. Drinking and laughing, Smith chats with the guys and picks wily mantras from a lyric sheet. They’re delivered in peak form: “Your shoelaces are bleeding!” (from“Relentless Confliction.”)
By the end, with Error 500‘s twists and turns and signals for attention, some respite is welcome. Closer “Benzo Fury” is overpowered by industrial noise. It’s a fitting cap to a madcap record—one that a metal fan can get lost in, even if he or she isn’t sporting a faded Napalm Death t-shirt.
While the band’s thrash keeps the energy up, a listen to Error 500 feels like hearing four records at once. It’s chaos, alright, but somewhere within, Mutation has found its sound.
Mutation – Error 500 tracklist:
- “Utopia Syndrome”
- “White Leg”
- “Computer, This Is Not What I…”
- “Sun Of White Leg”
- “Relentless Confliction”
- “Innocentes In Morte”
- “Benzo Fury”