Review: The Austerity Program – “Bible Songs 1”

I’m not sure which version of the King James Bible Thad Calabrese and Justin Foley are thumbing through, but I don’t remember the incantation “You motherfuckers!” appearing in the Book of Isaiah.

The Biblical interpretations might shoot from the hip a bit (God bless ‘em) but that’s the only thing that’s loose about Bible Songs 1, a rather explosive, new record from The Austerity Program out now on Controlled Burn. The six, too-short songs on the EP screech and scratch and roar, with Foley’s siren-shaking guitar leads and plain-spoken vocals marking the way as Calabrese and a drum machine pound out the sharply cut jackhammer rhythms.

Songs like the excellent “Ezekiel 29: 17-20,” which contains a slash-and-burn opening where Calabrese’s dexterous fingers pound their refrains into your temples, owe a fair deal to Steve Albini – but not in the way you’d think. Yes, the aforementioned track or “2 Kings 25: 1-7” hint at Big Black’s violent industrial assault on the senses – the drum machine, after all, is used to full, clinical-level effect here. But Foley, in particular, borrows more from something Albini referenced in the liner notes to on Shellac’s At Action Park: drums are the time, bass is the mass, guitar is the velocity.

On a track like “Numbers 31: 13-18,” Foley’s guitar is all velocity, a sustained shrill buzz almost droning as the drum machine clicks out beats. When Calabrese enters, it’s with a 1-2 punch and nothing more, a reminder that he lays the rails in this relationship. (The song closes with a 4/4 punch to the gut, alongside samples of pig squeals and Foley roaring – again, accurate to the text – “Moses?! What the fuck?!”) On some songs, his guitar is so focused on soaring, it hardly seems like it rings out a pattern of notes.

I’ve read that Austerity Program sounds like the sonic equivalent of The Jesus Lizard and The Melvins hate-fucking and I’ll buy that – think David Wm. Sims’ bottom-end agility against Crover’s hearty backbone. But, the group is best on Bible Songs 1 when they tamper with listeners’ expectations and don’t give in to them, stopping the song for a millisecond for a slice of silence, say, or launching into a cacophony when a chorus is more appropriate. All in all, though, the Bible seems to have inspired these guys to tap into some venomous, scornful God themes that serve their music well. A little austerity never sounded so pissed off at the world. – Justin Vellucci, MusicTAP, June 26, 2019

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