Despite specializing in harsh, rhythmic, and vicious noise since its inception nearly 20 years ago, 2018’s That Beast began a shift within ESA, in which Jamie Blacker harnessed his sound with more focus, refinement, and purpose, as well as inviting collaborators to the project and infusing it with fair share of dance floor energy. Designer Carnage takes everything that ESA has done previously and adds even more layers to complete a record dripping with crushing noise, deep textures, unconventional sounds, and a heaping dose of rage.
“Laudanum Dance” immediately makes it clear what you are in for as the sound of an electronic buzz and defibrillator seems to kickstart the listener to life, subsequently pounding into fast drum & bass programming and piano and harpsichord arrangements that set the tone. The manic energy perfectly leads into the hostility that is “One Missed Call,” a more straightforward yet pulse-pounding masterclass of percussive arrangements and aggressive vocals, with a gated scream sample midway that personifies the track’s destructive energy. Released as a single in 2021, “I Detach” fits perfectly as a bridge between “One Missed Call” and the following less aggressive titular track and “Disruption Only,” both of which act as a break in the fury of the opening songs while still heavily featuring the ESA staples of slowly evolving song structures, glitched sounds, and complex arrangements. One cannot discuss Designer Carnage without addressing the unconventional instrumentation and sounds, for ESA has frequently explored these spaces in the past, but never to this effect. For example, “Come and Find Me” begins with ragtime-era jazz samples and evolves over seven minutes into a full-on dance floor assault, and “Vast Accept” begins with a creeping menace that continues to add layers until it resembles a soundtrack piece strongly evoking the imagery of a final battle. The presence of hip-hop vocalist Pee Wee Pimpin on “Whom Them Shall I Fear?” creates a noisy hybrid that somehow manages to sound like ESA, and yet, nothing like ESA has ever done. The closing track, “Saturnalia” is the most masterful example of this evolution, beginning with a blast-beat, shredding guitars, and ferocious vocals that call back to Blacker’s early roots in the U.K. black and death metal scenes; after three minutes, it strips almost all of its layers down to melodic guitar notes, saxophones, chants, and subtle textures before picking up steam again in the final act with a glitched breakdown and the return to metal to bring the record to an epic close over a nine-minute runtime. The tracks on Designer Carnage are, on average, nearly seven minutes long, but are given the space to breathe and evolve as the artist intended; when consuming anything this deeply engaging, time becomes far inferior to content.
Jamie Blacker has a gift to formulate and place seemingly incompatible sounds within his aggressive arrangements… and vice versa, associating brutality and chaos to sounds that have no connection or association with either. Such a dichotomy is an art form. and ESA has painted a masterpiece with Designer Carnage. As the title suggests, this is an expertly produced, beautifully engineered, well crafted, intense, unforgiving, and extremely enjoyable experience. At 70 minutes, the journey is both exhausting and rewarding, and possibly ESA’s finest and most ambitious work to date.