The transient giant Men in Search of the Perfect Weapon was a group from Leipzig, Germany that in its short existence constructed a remarkable edifice, illustrating well how to accomplish colossal, raw, and exciting heavy sounds.
Their only permanent mark in the genre is a self-titled piece of atmospheric sludge metal. An album that struck me deeply. Its march is generous, often callous; a doom with fuming punk aggression capable of haunting despondence and soaring relief.
In all, it forms a heavy natural beauty. A record whose pensive nature is expressed lushly in each aspect of its execution, packaging, concept, and in the decision to let rest what was wrought in its course once completed and performed.
This is a posthumous review of a hidden treasure that was swallowed in the swamp long ago. The first of hopefully many ‘retro’ reviews on The Plow Behind You.
Formed in 2003, Men in Search of the Perfect Weapon released a demo in 2004 which included early versions of two tracks that appear on this LP. According to internet sources it was in January the following year when they began to record the monolith that would be their self-titled and final opus.
They committed their talents in the Die Tonmeisterei studios in Oldenburg, and in May of 2005 the record was released via the esteemed Vendetta Records and Modus Operandi. It was Vendetta #12 if I’m not mistaken.
In November the next year, 2006, they called it quits for reasons I’m not sure were made public and left in their wake a fascinating, engrossing artifact. This reminds me very much of the Canadian sludge anomaly Mare — but the extreme heaviness and artistic lifespan are where the similarities begin and end.
The might of this record is driven by raw simplicity. The attritional demolition of the listener and the seance afterwards are not ‘lavish’ up front and none of it needs to be. Vigilant, practiced engineering housed in an imposing atmosphere blows much of the extravagance witnessed elsewhere in the genre now and then out of the swamp cave.
Men in Search of the Perfect Weapon hide their luster in a somber coating of assured German sludge/hardcore history. This mixes with very subtle stains of southern ‘stoner’ USA sludge and post-metal influences (the latter extrapolated best later in Omega Massif’s Geisterstadt), which informs the enormous grooves and dire quiet cleans carefully. A stranger, tragic beauty emerges genuinely from this dynamic.
On the outside it feels simple, stripped and very coarse. The structure of each of the seven songs proves that the formula is rigid to a point. But within that, the creative impulse and surprising influences lead to striking instances of melody and atmosphere. Men in Search of the Perfect Weapon achieve this without meandering or awkwardness, without derivative ambient wankery, wizard worship, and without hollow funerary nods. And the slight nuanced shine that lightly contaminates does not overstep — in fact it tweaks the blunt doom to a perfect degree.
Not much information on the members outside of the first letters of each name of this four piece (five if you count the live visuals and sampling) and their contribution to other bands like Perth Express. The two guitarists chisel monumental rhythms and grooves that build immense friction and climaxes, broken only by sparse but crucial clean recesses; amplified to rock slide status by the thundering bass.
Both guitarists mold two different vocal styles sometimes simultaneously: a dusty, rumbling death rasp and a more sickened, feral snarl; both vaguely interpret the erratic lyrics, sloshing powerfully with each word. The drums are just as significant. Even at the height of intensity they rarely breach a unheard of down-tempo aggression, and define perfect, hard-hitting beats for the aforementioned wall of shuddering sludge.
All the leaden rituals are in the end consistently rewarding for the listener. Soul and catharsis permeates: the oceanic turbulence of songs like “The Last Nail”, “Hatred” and “Downward Spiral”, the withering, departed sadness of “Saguaro”, the absolute disgust and despair in human ruin laced into “Spirit Disease” and “Fall For Your Creation”, and the ceremonial “Atacama Rain”.
Before getting into it I have to say the name first drew me in, confident and sleek, and the art truly grabs me. The colors and use of space overall. The logo which fits so intimately with the name of the group and sticks out. Its design is stunning I think. It’s smooth industrial style contrast with the woman shrouded in smoke and flora, the smoke melting off the parallel lines piercing the name.
The woman on the cover reminds me of Thou’s imagery a little, obscurely on the cover but specifically the center press image of the woman carrying the fruit in the shallows. Maybe a cruder John Baizley or Stevie Floyd style.
In person the impact is authentic when taken in with the music.
From the first firm drum strikes “Hatred” shows how powerful and confident their style is. The release of pent-up misery crashes down with the first enormous grooves, dropping out once on the left to build feedback and allow more gentle percussion, returning with double the force and bass. A slow bridge buffers things where on the up swing a trembling whine and then bracing down once more to crush.
All the while the vocals drip down the frame of this dirge with each spatter, vaguely assaulting with anguish lies and a deadly spiral. The third riff strips the first down, altering the pace slightly on each step ascending towards a brilliant low/high harmonization on the last repeat. This one gets strewn between repeats of the previous riffs until an open patch, cymbals bouncing, the distortion dropping down a notch and losing the bass once mor, and a slower build renews for a final collapse once the distortion punches through. And it’s big.
You’ll begin to feel in the slow tumble of this track the emphasis on harmonizing two very complimentary variations on one another’s groove, without a need to get proggy. The writing continues to please in this sense as one thick and one with slight bend and twang dance together.
It also displays their subtle ambient sampling right at the end, and their penchant for clear structure in the five or so swaths that make the song, though in execution the parts feel naturally placed.
“Spirit Disease” shows how slow of a raze Men in Search of the Perfect Weapon can bring things too, an ache of brutality strung within the melancholic furrows. This lunging rhythm greets us, grinding slowly to a pulp any skulls within ear shot with a final bendy wail. The left channel drops out for the right to conjure a new, barreling riff in the fade —it revs up under the feedback and crashes down, steamrolling everything.
Breaking back down to a lumber the meat of this beast is displayed. Two tragic riffs that encircle each other: left takes a slab approach and the right twangy and lighter, injecting the melody. It’s flattening and completely captivating. Then a clean interlude (dropping vocals) feeds in watery tones and slight wobble. One of multiple interludes in this record where not only the build is spellbinding, martial drumming and delicate approach, the pay-off doubles down on it.
Like a chunk of glacier plunging into the sea the peak is hit and deeply satisfies. A harmonized dive saturated in bass and thundering drum strikes, barely escaping the gravity of their permanent down-tempo orbit, the core riff comes back to degrade slowly falling back into a crawl. Again this subtle fade into light ambient chimes occurs.
“Downward Spiral” is one of the more ambiguous lyrically. It brings about a slight more up-beat tone from the instruments in a hulking, eventually victorious stampede. The vocals don’t kick in until a good two minutes in, and before that it’s a lurching climb to a grungy churn, the cloudy water of corrupted doom.
Then a short moment to get footing before another barrelling, rumbling rhythm, cymbals clattering. The circle back t the intro melody/riff is signaled and the dive is thunderous once more, only this time shorter. The latter half of this song brings a sad melody that transforms into a thicker passage that soars by the end. A plummet into chunky slams interrupts, and again that steamrolling section cuts in and ramps up right to the end.
A flattening beast of a track. Their unshakable style at this point very potent and about to get more intriguing. A surprise awaits in the final song for side one of the LP.
“Saguaro” is a fragile semi-acoustic aberration (no bass or drums) in the fissure they’ve carved so far; a reflective and distinctly ‘death valley’ or wild west aura washes over their style. It’s so sad, desolate, fitting the landscape the monstrous cactus that this song’s title is derived from.
It’s atmosphere breeds vivid expression of clouds rolling in overhead as the sun sets, bright orange in the distance on this a great plain, pock-marked with towering, eerie cacti, casting long shadows on the dry floor. The night soon to envelope a tired day.
Touching indeed. A glimpse into the sincere grief of Men in Search of the Perfect Weapon heavy craft but in an entirely divergent sense. The slow build from the opening acoustic strums behind the clean reverb lead, that upon a few rotation gains distortion and blooms into a soaring tremolo lead that drifts hauntingly into feedback. Full circle back to those distant plucks.
This song is far better than it has a right to be. Somehow they turned what could have easily been a major trope tune into a superb interlude. It should sound out of place among the soil churning rituals that buttress it, grimy and flecked with metal and dirt, but it’s distinct gothic Americana tone is coherent in the overall theme of this record.
“Fall For Your Creation” might be my favorite next to “Atacama Rain”. It was inspired by Alison MacLean’s 1989 short movie Kitchen Sink. I suggest you watch it since it’s not only relevant but damn creepy as well.
The instrumental formula remains simple and strong as it expands on “Spirit Disease”‘s territory (the exact same play time as well). How gentle it begins though. A hanging, dulled melody is glimpsed in clean phases and a calm percussion, stirring visions of dying sunlight then bursting into down-tuned distortion, making this leading riff larger than believed possible. Each repeat brings another leveling shout, measured and hoarse.
One more time the spell harmonizes from dark to light as this riff expands, cloudy and mounting, then crumbling again repeatedly. This brings things to a fade, again a clear pool emerges and the echoes, growls and moaning distortion drift. It’s reflective and ominous. The bass tugs lightly, crunching — a wafting second series of notes drones intermittently across the sound stage.
It is then that this mammoth rhythm slumps into a menacing gait, cycling over and over. An enormous forging is taking place here and it injects glimpses of harmony to sadden the trudge.
The tension increases once a booming tremolo segment takes off. The screams more strained, the plowing and clattering snowballs with a lead that accelerates further. And as quickly as it starts the tension lessens, uncoiling slowly into a slump. Decreasing in speed incrementally, a segment at the six minute mark bringing a beautiful downcast melody over top to drive home the pain.
That slow lead is epic. After the rusted halt they end on another snippet of ambience, reversing notes in a loop.
“The Last Nail” is a brief, spirited sludge brawl. It’s circling rhythm in the center has a serious bounce to it. Only on the one channel at first and then it expands with the other rhythm, the diving and peaking riff pausing on each side on each go around.
In front the roars agonizingly detail the last straw in a persons existence. There’s a brief solo wailing right before the end that harkens back to the stoner sludge mentality: bends galore to great effect. It ends shortly after. The group shows quite well their ability to pack considerable heft into this one and in a different manner than their previous songs.
This brings us to the finale “Atacama Rain”. If there was any way to end a record this heavy, indeed a whole band, this song is it. An instrumental behemoth of beautiful, ceremonial melancholy and triumph.
Further down from where the Saguaro is found, the Atacama desert stretches the west coast of South America for 1000 kilometers; the driest and hottest desert plateau on Earth. A unique and otherworldly biosphere which rarely sees precipitation, is comparable to Mars in some regions, but holds distinct flora, fauna, and weather. This is the setting for Men in Search of the Perfect Weapon’s final song.
What you find once beginning this eleven minute piece is a picturesque progression that, in my mind, conveys the soundscape of a massive rainstorm moving into and eventually drenching this scalding basin. The slow crawl of the clouds, the brief moment of calm before a torrential downfall ensues changing the nature of the land.
It starts with a steady, lumbering one-track assault: feedback and sampling first — bass, than one guitar, then two, then a third, layering this massive line of open notes getting louder with the incensed muttering and ranting heard in the samples underneath. Coherence is gained suddenly with the strike of the tom, cymbal and snare, each round increasing traction. This riff begin and it’s so good. The darkening sky closes up quickly as this one riff balloons to a climax, one of the best on the album.
The melodic aspect of this eruption is striking. The two guitars playing off each others’ sustained notes to build a peak that juts grandly. It’s skipped on the fifth rotation only allowing more room for the bass to shake foundations deeper.
The drop to clean is gradual. It’s an alienating, intoxicating section flanked by vibrato effects and reverb in the initial two guitars. Stark at first, blooming subtly. Once the third guitar emerges the beat changes and the new tones cry softly for a time, the beat changing twice more after. Each change palpable. It becomes more anxious after several cycles with the right channels’ cleans eventually strumming faster and faster under the softer notes; until a gap.
A second crest bursts forward, like a huge wave as it curls in on itself after the slow motion ascent. Yearning permeates the now stormy and crackling skies as the rhythms steadily ascend on different levels, drumming lighter than expected at first. The atmosphere here is suffocating once the solo rips into the forefront binging out that “Saguaro” texture for a moment.
It’s an amazing moment of this song. The groove that follows at this point begins to take steps down and folds back onto itself multiples times before a series of flattening slams on all fronts signals the rainfall.
Its in this last gasp of reverberation that a touching series of notes mingles with sampled rainfall and noise, and rich bass tones to craft a moving, memorable close to a monolithic journey.
On the CD version this moment following the instruments is looped for a further dizzying fifteen minutes, where upon at the end a quick fade-in of feedback can be heard.
The only footage of Men in Search of the Perfect Weapon playing happens to be of this particular song. I can’t imagine what actually attending a show of theirs would be like (definitely a dream) but luckily there’s a glimpse of the sludge majesty you can view below (the source has never accurately credited):
This song encompasses exactly what Men in Search of the Perfect Weapon set out to convey I think. They do it in each of the seven songs but its in Atacama Rain where the technique flows into something intrinsically cathartic and recognizable.
As you can see above the packaging is tremendous. It is very obvious Men in Search of the Perfect Weapon put energy and thought into all aspects of their band. The one thing I never could get an answer on is who did the artwork and logo design? Again I must say together they’re brilliant and really capture the atmosphere within while the name itself instantly fits within this too.
If you ever stumble upon a copy of this pressed piece of sludge history do not be a fool and pass on it. It was long sold out half a decade ago from the two German record labels Modus Operandi and Vendetta Records in several different pressings: the original pressing was the hand screened and assembled dark grey on heavy black cardboard fold-out enclosure, pressed to 12″ translucent grey vinyl in 525 copies.
They also had a limited forty-three tour copies, black on black instead of the dark grey ink and hand numbered. I’ve never seen one, it probably looks eerie as fuck.
The repress was a CD, black gatefold cardboard with silver screen printed details inside and out, the CD itself enclosed in a black cardboard slip. I managed to grab one of the last copies of this when it was available from the Vendetta webstore back in 2009. Earlier the same year I was lucky enough to find a vinyl copy without paying out the ass.
The main difference between the two pressings other than the packaging and fidelity quibbles? On the LP the extended loop of ambient rain following “Atacama Rain” is cut short, while the CD contains the full twenty-seven minute version.
A critical record and one of my favorites in terms of the material and packaging, it moved me from the initial listen and still does now. In 2012 I contacted Stefan who handles things at Vendetta and after a short chat he was kind enough to allow me to upload the whole record in good quality to youtube. I remember he told me they had trouble moving the record which in retrospect to me sounds unbelievable.
A great thanks to him and the band for the effort and leaving a beautiful sludge gravestone standing for latecomers like me to discover.
UPDATE 28/12/2014: It looks as though Vendetta has a bandcamp page now and this record is now up for sale for a couple dollars in digital form. So those who’ve been looking for a good quality copy but have no hope for the physical thing look no further.