The Dead C's legacy stretches behind them like a South Island highway with numerous records, cassettes, ear-shattering and mind-blowing live shows over the course of twenty years. The back story: they blazed a trial of punk-rock-meets-high-minded-avantgarde-noise long before terms like “shitgaze” were bandied about on blogs, back when “lo-fi” referred to production values as opposed to being a genre. The 'C were criminally underrated for the most part in NZ throughout the 80's and 90's - except by the more clued-up members of NZ's music scene - yet were praised overseas for bold and unique albums like Eusa Kills and Harsh 70's Reality.
You get the feeling while listening to their latest album Patience (their sixth album of new material since 2000) that the Dead C are always gonna do what they do best - improvised freeform rock. The caveat, of course, is which side of “free/form” they go for. On 2007's Future Artists, this meant a thorough and detailed exploration of tone, drone and feedback. Their last effort Secret Earth highlighted Michael Morley's vocals and more focused performances (i.e. songs!). Patience strikes something of a middle ground between these two records - the vocals have disappeared, the focus has abated somewhat, but it's still firmly entrenched in the rock milieu.
The album is built around two lengthy improvisations, with two shorter pieces acting as a bridge between them. The first cut “Empire” is anchored by Robbie Yeats' solid and idiosyncratic drumwork, with Morley and Bruce Russell's guitars building to a blasting roar as the track goes on. Then they suddenly shift into a section of chugging riffage - you know, like a metal band! However, there's no chance of Sabbath-style lead breaks here, and as soon as it appeared, the metal riff dissolves into the ether. This is a prime Dead C piece - hypnotic in it's rhythmic repetition, yet ever-shifting through different cadences and feels, a slow-burning tension between Morley's riffing and Russell's chaotic drones. At just over a minute long, “Federation” seems more a transitional interlude, segueing into the comparatively brief yet no less simmering krautrock of “Shaft”. The second long track of the album, “South”, is restrained where “Empire” is full of bluster, Morley underpinning Russell's factory of effects with a spare strum, reminiscent of Bardo Pond. This builds up into more forceful guitar from Morley, creating a wall of sound that builds up in layers until the record ends. It sounds like lying on a couch in a warehouse while listening to the band play, with steel walls reflecting the feedback at you from different angles, and muted drum beats ricocheting around the room.
If anything, each successive Dead C album feels like a document of a time when the band reconvened and busted out some tracks, laid 'em to tape, did a bit of editing, chucked an album cover on it (courtesy of Morley), and released it to the wider world. Of course, this is not to imply that care and love aren't an intrinsic part of this process, but perhaps does say something about a certain, and very New Zealand, DIY attitude the band possesses. As the fantastic career-spanning 2006 compilation Vain, Erudite and Stupid reminds us, there is something to be said for maintaining such a remarkable consistency in exploring and deconstructing the psychedelic possibilities of where two guitars and drums can go.