First, take the frazzled sprawl of ‘Red’-era King Crimson and season with The Ramones’ frazzled velocity. Bake in the oven for …. ooh about 12 years, a handful of albums and a good few live dates and you get Dead Days Beyond Help, a warty, impatient bruiser of guitar and drums duo whose penchant for skin flaying riffs is equalled only by their refusal to ever play the same four bars in a row.
This pair – free music polymaths Alex Ward and Jem Doulton – would probably describe Dead Days Beyond Help as their take on noise rock, although given the restless magpie outlook of the personalities involved, the outcome is a little more skewed than you might expect. Catch them playing live and you’ll hear them barrelling through dank Sabbath stomp, detuned no-wave scuzz, free improvised nail scratchers and even a slice of bluesy grind mouldy enough to have been brewing in an oily puddle in Eel Pie Island since 1976.
On record, things are a little – a little – more coherent. Shards of fuzzed picking get battered into space by frantic snare clatters. Hectic buzz-saw chords swoop over shuddering tom peals. Quieter moments see other instruments break through the fuzzed carapace. Ace viola player Benedict Taylor appears on 2014’s feisty ‘Severance Pay’, and the brilliant cellist Hannah Marshall has cropped up on more than one occasion.
‘IV’ is actually the group’s fifth studio outing (I dunno, your guess is as good as mine). As usual, Ward and Doulton zone into their trademark restless jaunt, somewhere between an exquisitely choreographed dance and an animalistic sparring match. But their lack of complacency is energising and the muddy textures conceal a range of diverting musical strategies.
IVPT0+1 is sparky enough, following a bizarro Wurlitzer jam that serves as an oddball palette cleanser – the duo gadding about like a couple of giraffes on a frozen lake. Doulton and Ward’s improv-laden sensibilities mean they conduct themselves with verve and brio, although I can’t help feeling partial to the slower bits. An ooze into a Slint-style crawl at around 10 minutes offers great, glowering respite. But it ain’t long until some proper evil riffing kicks in, which is just fine.
Throughout all this the duo play a cortex-massaging game of cat and mouse in which they’re both simultaneously hunter and hunted. Just when you think Doulton’s rumbling toms and snazzy snare cracks are keeping Ward’s more outré tendencies in line there’s a moment of switcheroo and Ward’s punk-ass grit is holding Doulton from going the full Carl Palmer.
On IVPT2, the Ward and Doulton raise their game further. Marshall and Taylor show up, their glassy layers of strings seeming to hold the duo’s rubble-strewn attack in stasis. Things get weird, with hummable New Wave licks chucked out the window and replaced by sepulchral prog-horror machinations, all retro-fuzz twangs and organ dramas. A chilly, sweeping waltz shrugs off all pretensions to moodiness and breaks out into a cheesy swagger, like a James Bond romp remade by Dario Agento. After that, not even a squeaking, hissing comedown can dampen the exuberance. Shaken? Not so much. Stirred? Aye.