Local shapeshifting post-everything collective Anatomy of Habit debuts a new roster  

August 3, 2018

By Luca Cimarusti

Chicago experimental-rock collective Anatomy of Habit have been conjuring up crushing gloom and doom throughout their ten years of existence, and they’ve recently moved into their next phase. Fronted by sole constant member Mark Solotroff, Anatomy of Habit’s shapeshifting lineup has seen a who’s who of heavy and weird music pass through its ranks, including John McEntire of Tortoise, Will Lindsay of Indian, Noah Leger of Facs, Greg Ratajczak of Plague Bringer, and Dylan Posa of Cheer-Accident. Tonight’s show is the first performance of a totally reconstructed lineup, which features relative newcomer Alex Latus on guitar, dexterous Mute Duo and Rash drummer Skyler Rowe, heady pedal-steel master Sam Wagster on bass, and Solotroff’s Bloodyminded bandmate Isidro Reyes on the signature Anatomy of Habit scrap-metal percussion rig. Solotroff is eager to show the world the band’s new members, and is especially excited for the new musical steps the group is making. He notes that there will be a few directional shifts, including writing “short” songs that fit into the eight- to ten-minute range (brief compared to the two 20-minute tracks that make up the band’s flawless 2014 effort, Ciphers + Axioms). Anatomy of Habit has always been an explosive, uncompromising band to watch perform no matter who Solotroff has backing him onstage, so it goes without saying that the debut of their current incarnation won’t be one to miss.  

Pitchfork review of Ciphers + Axioms

Grayson Haver Currin

December 11, 2014

Noise mastermind and Bloodyminded head Mark Solotroff's Chicago supergroup Anatomy of Habit features members of Indian, Tortoise, and Joan of Arc. On their intriguing second album, they negotiate their way through domains of post-rock and doom, math rock and post punk.

For the noise musician Mark Solotroff, Ciphers + Axioms ends in very familiar territory. For eight minutes, amplifiers and instruments scream the sort of feedback, static, and clipped tones that are endemic both to his caterwauling power-electronics band Bloodyminded and his long-running extreme experimental imprint, Bloodlust! The sounds grow evermore dense, ultimately forming a thicket of prevailing hiss. But beneath and around the din, a repetitive guitar riff—just a few notes, really, folding into each other via delay and reverb—illuminate the abrasion, flickering like the light of a warm cabin spotted through a snowstorm. It’s not an accessibility concession that the wonderfully barbaric Bloodyminded would dare make.

Ciphers + Axioms is, instead, the intriguing second album from Solotroff’s Chicago supergroup Anatomy of Habit. The album's dual tracks each clock in around 20 minutes, as did the paired cuts from their self-titled 2011 debut; a subsequent EP split those times into a still not-quite-concise half. Despite the lengths, though, Anatomy of Habit is Solotroff’s relative pop band. He speaks and sings instead of screams, and he moves in lockstep time to guitars, drums and bass, all sharing intentions beyond aural obliteration. Each of these songs has at least one hook you’ll be able to hum, as Solotroff’s strange and droll monotone echoes in your head. During Within the Walls, Bloodyminded’s most recent LP, Solotroff yelled lines like, "mounds of bodies lying unburied" and "air so fouled by the pungent stench of millions of dead children." If you encounter temporary cognitive dissonance while singing along to songs about science and seasons with his Mark Mothersbaugh-meets-They Might Be Giants intonation, just trust that you’re not the only one.

Solotroff has long been a very busy and involved collaborator, but in recent years, his partnership has added unexpected elements to pre-existing projects. He supplied, for instance, essential blasts of abrasion to From All Purity, the latest and best record from Chicago metal act Indian. And there’s Wrekmeister Harmonies, the slow-moving and cinematic collective that works between poles of orchestral splendor and doom furor. Aside from founder J.R. Robinson, Solotroff is one of the project’s sole stable and necessary elements. Such integration is key to Ciphers + Axioms. Only Solotroff and Kenny Rasmussen return from Anatomy of Habit’s earlier iteration, but the new members are copacetic by any standard: Will Lindsay, whose brawny riffs lead the aforementioned Indian, commandeers guitar, while indispensable Tortoise and session drummer John McEntire takes the kit. Joan of Arc’s Theo Katsaounis accents the beats with auxiliary percussion. Chicago metal stalwart Sanford Parker engineered the sessions in McEntire’s Soma Electronic Music Studios. This is an enviable cast of contributors.

Brainwashed on Ciphers + Axioms

Creaig Dunton

Following up their debut LP and EP, Chicago’s post-everything supergroup Anatomy of Habit (featuring members of Bloodyminded, Tortoise, and Indian, amongst many other projects) continue their penchant for dramatic, expansive rock-tinged music. For their Relapse debut, they provide two lengthy, side-long pieces that distill everything that was great about their early releases into a cohesive, rich album that stays faithful to their previous work, while adding an extra layer of polish.

From the opening moments of "Radiate then Recede", AoH's influences are not hard to place. The pounding drums, subterranean bass and caustic, drilling guitar bear a clear early Swans influence, but with a bit more restraint and less overt violence. The production adds a lot to this differentiation, with the use of reverb and processing bringing a hint of The Cure and Joy Division to their sound. Influences, yes, but they do so without directly aping any of those projects directly, retaining their own distinct style.

At over 20 minutes "Radiate And Recede" works more like a suite than a single song, with the band working through various configurations of the aforementioned sounds. Sometimes sludgy and shambling, other times leaning into chugging metal riffs, it never stops moving nor becomes stagnant. Vocalist Mark Solotroff, the de facto leader of this ensemble, delivers vocals that are the polar opposite of what he is known for from Intrinsic Action or Bloodyminded. Rather than manic screams or shouts, he is detached, calm and clinical. Amongst the dirge and darkness constructed from distorted bass and guitar melodies, he clearly reads off scientific terms with an uncomfortable detachment.

On the other half of the record, "Then Window," the group retains the mood but changes the template a bit. Early on, guitar noise dissolves into militant drumming and wobbling bass rattles. The piece transitions from a looser opening into a more tautly structured passage of almost 1970s classic heavy metal, juxtaposing the differing styles. It is depressive and muddy, with an almost shuffling drum groove driving it.

By the middle it becomes a massive ambient expansive, with Solotroff hypnotically repeating the title of the album like some sinister documentary narrator, with the band throwing out expansive, fuzzy noise paired with the guitar melody present since the beginning of the piece. Compared to “Radiate then Recede” it is clearly a more static, frozen piece, but one that captivates all the same.

There are not gigantic strides made stylistically between the first two AoH releases and Ciphers + Axioms, but instead there is a greater cementing of their identity, as well as a more fully realized sound. Unlike most supergroups where each artist is pushing their "thing" harder than the rest, everyone here fits perfectly with one another. They might sound nothing like each other, but parallels are there between AoH and Kevin Martin's God in that respect. A gathering of musicians who mesh seamlessly together, each acting like a force multiplier to the other to result in a dense, heavy, yet thoroughly enthralling album.

Metal Hammer on Ciphers + Axioms

Avant-doomsters perform multi-dimensional soul-surgery

A bastion of experimentalism for some of the metal avant- garde’s heaviest hitters, Anatomy Of Habit’s Relapse debut throws out the rulebook and stretches ambitious fingers towards the threshold of perception.

An alchemical mix of doom, noise and goth-tinged post-punk, renowned vocalist Mark Solotroff intones mantras that may make little sense within the bewilderingly powerful moment, but when delivered with his solemnly intoned baritone nevertheless feel revelatory in magnitude, as the music flourishes to collapse around them. Tumultuous crescendos of Neurosis-like riffing melt into dreamlike ethereality, the two 20-minutes-plus tracks avoiding the pitfalls of waning attention span by constantly evolving. Much akin to the experience – and that really is the word for music like this – of listening to Swans for the first time, it can be overwhelming in its cinematic scope. Not like listening to music in the traditional sense, it is about surrendering yourself to a sonic mystery, a dimension of enigmatic potential, never knowing what is around the corner and emerging 40 minutes later feeling altered on a subconscious level.

The Sludgelord on Ciphers + Axioms

Hunter Young

This album is a masterpiece of huge noise. Anatomy of Habit has produced a musical titan composed of two halves: the rolling ‘Radiate and Recede’ & the intense ‘Then Window’. Anatomy of Habit simply roll with unrestrained mass in their sound, using what sounds like a stadium to push wave after wave of fuzz and bass over the listener. The songs aren't short jaunts through ideas either, but winding 20+ minute paths that wind through poetic ideas. The band is basically a super group, using members from other notable acts: Mark Solotroff (Bloodyminded), John McEntire (Tortoise, The Sea and Cake, Gastr Del Sol), Will Lindsay (Indians, Wolves in the Throne Room), Theo Katsaounis (Joan of Arc), and Kenny Rasmussen (ex Radar Eyes). These talented individuals have brought you an album that is closer to art, than just simply heavy music. I have minced words too long, let’s dive in!

The first epic, ‘Radiate and Recede’, is pretty spot on. The entire song is basically following a tidal pattern of having the guitars and, I think, string accompaniment roll in at measured times, to flow over everything. It's like God slowly rolling up the volume of universal life to just drown out petty humanity. It's somewhat akin to white noise, the repeating chords and notes just seem to blank out whatever is inside your head, while Solotroff simply gives an odd beauty with his nearly chant-like vocals. It’s a weird combination, but one that sticks in the listeners head pretty nicely. He doesn't alter his cadence, using a monotone baritone to deliver his simple lines, but it winds well with the building wall of noise and doom rolling around you. The vocals do change in a couple of spots, where he gets some scream time in, but nothing as terrible as screamo or other style so terrible. It arrives in time with a huge change in tempo and attitude with the band, and peaks to break into the lulls it so commands. The song, when at its simplest, uses percussion and minimal guitar to just leave a resounding space for Solotroff's voice to echo into infinity, which has to just knock angels out of their clouds. The ending of ‘Radiate and Recede’ is really heady, as it becomes more plodding doom, with a subtle transition from the earlier parts. It gets all kinds of heavy.

‘Then Window’ is quite different from ‘Radiate and Recede’, it starts with some heavy feedback, which then just morphs into differing textures and patterns. After about a minute of that, they go right into a heavy marching pattern, with the stringed half playing quite percussively with the drums. It has a purpose, and it's not stopping for anything. The vocals are in the same vein as ‘Radiate and Recede’, following a specific pattern and still that odd chant singing. This is by far my favorite song, as it has a bit more energy than the first song, and also because of the change in the last 7+ minutes of the song. The first 13 are more traditional doom and rock styled, as you have intense grooves with extremely hard delivery. It almost sounds like they had to get this last one out of their strings, so they went for broke on some sections. It goes immediately from groove city to light sections with minimal playing and more vocals. The lighter sections aren't to leave you hanging, as they slowly ramp up from behind to deliver right back into heaviness. The change happens at the 9 minute mark, where the song just starts fading out from the vocals, like they were all just sneaking out to leave Solotroff alone with himself, but then he stops on the repeated line of "Ciphers, and Axioms", and the song takes a rolling, ambient feel. It's like watching the baby float through 2001: A Space Odyssey, it’s just epic. It’s rolling noise with an underlying riff right below it, probably best on certain chemicals. 

Overall, ‘Ciphers + Axioms’ by Anatomy of Habit is one of the best albums from last year, perfect for the heavy aficionado who likes to mix it up with their collection.

The New Noise on Ciphers + Axioms

 Eric May

Before you sit down to read this review, you’d better get yourself something to eat and maybe an iced cold beverage. I’ll give you a few minutes. Alright, are you ready now? Comfortable? Good. Because Ciphers + Axioms is unlike anything that you’ve probably ever heard before. First of all it is a very thick album, completely filled to the brim with heavy moments of doom and drone and elements of avant-garde that make the experience something of a sort of ritualistic event, perhaps more along the lines of a science experiment. Out of the five band members, there is only who has actually been in other metal acts and that is Will Lindsay (Abigail Williams, Indian, ex-Nachtmystium) who as you can see has a fairly strong repertoire behind him. But Lindsay isn’t lighting up the sky or being forced to call upon the ancient spirits of the Norwegian frost; rather he’s serving as a mere thump for what really seems to collaborate into its own atmosphere. Perhaps there are little tinkerings here and there throughout the two full-bodied tracks, but it’s arguably much different than anything we’ve heard from him before before. Adding to that, Mark Solotroff’s vocal approach also stands out quite heavily on the record, making me think of a cross between Dead Can Dance’s Brendan Perry and possibly your college science professor. And just in the fashion of Dead Can Dance, there’s a great deal of dark atmosphere on the album that takes place whilst Solotroff rattles on about a slew of subjects with an oddly monotone, yet hypnotic tone. I’ve listened to the record about four times already and can’t really tell you what it is exactly that Mr. Solotroff happens to be singing about, but I can assure you that it most certainly has everything to do with “cyphers… and axioms” as he repeats this phrase several thousand times during the disc’s latter cut “Then Window.” Both of the tracks weigh in at about twenty minutes, but that seems to suffice in lieu of the massive onslaught of warm and silent atmospheres that appear in each. Unlike other albums, Cyphers + Axioms isn’t really about the words that emanate from it; rather it’s the feeling that you get from listening to the piece as a whole. It’s about John McEntire’s drumming and Theo Katsaounis’s percussion elements, it’s about Kenny Rasmussen’s bass licks and it’s definitely most about Will Lindsay’s guitar soundscapes and Mark Solotroff’s vocal instruments. Yes, Anatomy Of Habit would have been just as effective as an instrumental act, but Solotroff really brings a unique way of thinking to the band and I think that’s what’s going to stand out on your first listen. There are a lot of bands that mix doom and drone together, but never like this. It sounds like science, to be honest – which never really had a sound until now I suppose; so one could even dub it “science metal” if they wanted to even though the scientific community would probably frown upon it. It’s warm and rustic, with a sound all its own, that I just don’t think could be easily replicated to the same effect. Every once in a while a band comes around that you can’t really classify and Anatomy Of Habit are just that kind of act. When I first heard the record, I said in the most unprofessional of manners, “this sounds pretty cool” and have been trying to figure out how to formulate that opinion in the most professional way possible. Which obviously isn’t this. But all joking aside, Ciphers + Axioms is the kind of metal album that you get for the metalhead who has everything. It’s not something they’ll expect and I think that fans of drone, post, doom and avant-garde among other non-metal related genres will also find something to like here. So yeah, it does sound pretty cool. 

CVLT Nation on Ciphers + Axioms

JJ Anselmi

November 7, 2014

When I hear ‘super group,’ I expect half-assed songwriting and a generic compromise between each member’s other bands. It’s because of this connotation that the phrase doesn’t fit Chicago’s Anatomy of Habit. Each member is an underground legend, but Anatomy’s Relapse debut, Ciphers + Axioms, is a brilliantly composed journey through the industry-plagued psyche. The drums, guitar, bass, vocals and percussion all work together to form a whole, but they also push against each other, creating an overarching negative tension.

Ciphers + Axioms consists of two twenty-minute songs, each of which could work as an album in itself. The first track, “Radiate and Recede,” begins with sparse drumming and discordant guitar and piano notes. Percussionist Theo Katsaounis of Joan of Arc places dry cymbal hits that sound like someone smashing sheet-metal with a hammer in the sonic gaps, creating a sense of mechanical churning that continues throughout the rest of the song.

Mark Solotroff’s imposing vocals loom over this chanting instrumentation. He exhibits a range of approaches on the album, but he mostly relies on a pseudo-spoken word style that evokes Filth-era Swans. Imagine an animatronic Nick Cave who, instead of intricately crafted stories, works almost entirely through abstract concepts and statements, and you might have something close to Solotroff’s unique style.

Good industrial often attains nastiness through repetition, but Anatomy of Habit also jumps from bleak monotony into chaotic, Unsane-style sections. They devolve from this Am-Rep punishment into depressive sludge, which is fitting considering that Will Lindsay of Indian plays guitar in the band. “Radiate and Recede” eventually returns to the quiet-but-still-abrasive beginning section, though in a way that feels completely natural.

The second track, “Then Window,” begins as a kind of death march, pushed forward by drummer Jon McEntire’s robotic shuffle. Just when everything starts to pick up energy — mathy guitar and bass surrounded by Katsaounis’s bath salts percussion — Anatomy pulls the rug from under your feet, leaving you with haunting ether and Solotroff’s professor-from-a-pulpit vocals. The song eventually gains momentum again, but only to dissolve into scratching noise.

In a lot of ways, Anatomy of Habit is a progressive industrial band. They know exactly how to fuck with you through repetition, wearing the influence of Godflesh, Swans, and Throbbing Gristle on their sleeve, but they also know that they can intensify this effect through contrast and movement.