Well, it took almost a month, but I’m finally back in America for a review. But, it’s kind of a bummer because, despite Raspberry Bulbs being super cool on paper (mid-paced black/punk with an aesthetic so lo-fi that it sounds like how a La Croix tastes), they rarely release anything that truly lives up to that potential. I love their black on pink color scheme to all their album covers, I love the hastily xeroxed fanzine look and feel of everything, but the songs tend to just kind of meander and don’t stick with you for very long. The demo era, back when the project was still a one-man side gig of Marco del Rio from Bone Awl, managed to capture that magic very well. But, ever since he assembled a full band and full-lengths started becoming the norm, that DIY wizardry has dissipated. Before the Age of Mirrors continues that trend.
That’s not to say it’s bad, because it’s not, but it’s not very interesting either. The black metal element of Raspberry Bulbs’s sound has been more or less entirely gone for a long time now, replaced entirely with mid-paced punk presented in a filthy, crusty veneer. This works quite well in a few spots, namely “Missing Teeth” and “Midnight Line” (and “Doggerel” to a lesser extent), but the rest of the album does absolutely nothing to hook me despite hooks clearly be the aim at times. The mega-distorted vocals never really take center stage, nor does the woefully uncreative drumming, nor the bland riffs, or anything else for that matter. Before the Age of Mirrors is pretty much a blueprint for mediocrity apart from the two aforementioned tracks. The interludes are, oddly enough, the most consistently cool stuff here, as there are four of them on this twelve track album. A full third of the record is taken up by these instrumental interludes, and despite each one being dead simple in its own way, they’re all more powerful than most of the “real” songs on display. Ranging from glitchy industrial acid trips to distorted drum solos and wonky music box jingles, they’re all very eerie and unsettling and do an excellent job of building a great atmosphere that most of the songs utterly fail to capitalize on.
There isn’t much to talk about here because, by the very nature of what Raspberry Bulbs does, there isn’t much that even happens in the first place. This is ultra primitive punk played with zero technical skill, and that’s not a problem in itself if the songwriting is memorable, but it’s really not here. It’s surprisingly long as well, clocking in at over 35 minutes, which feels like a marathon-length with how bare-bones these tracks are. “Doggerel” is a great two minute grinding (in the Swans sense) punk track stretched out to nearly triple the necessary length, and that dogs most of the tracks. As much as I like “Midnight Line,” it doesn’t need that several minute thudding-and-strumming section since it doesn’t build to anything at the end of it.
So at the end of the day, Before the Age of Mirrors is yet another entry in Raspberry Bulbs’s ever-growing catalog of “LPs that fail to excite me.” Sometimes they get the “raw and hypnotic” ideal down pat, but they don’t nail it here. There’s potential, and it’s not totally worthless, but I feel pretty confident in saying I won’t listen to it again after this is published.
Before the Age of Mirrors will be released on February 21st, 2020, via Relapse Records and can be preordered through their store.