The intricacies and obscurities of goth and noise rock will carry with them certain mysteries reminiscent of those affiliated with religion, folklore, and the afterlife. Brooklyn quartet Russian Baths practically push you to the edge of life itself and confront you with these rather morbid implications on their debut EP Penance, just released on cassette via Good Eye Records. They play with the frenetic energy of the spirits of the newly dead, an agonizing and maddened discourse with an unknowable nothingness. Opener “Slenderman” plods and thunders in with tom-heavy drumming, as though feeling about blindly in the dark. The brooding grumble of bass pronounces the dissatisfaction with not finding anything, while teases of guitar fire flare up in startling tongues, illuminating alternations between choral heaven and atonal hell. Their searing instrumentation instills the anxiety of ambiguity, not knowing at which end you’ll wind up.
There comes, however, a reassuring breeze, a defined closure, in the vocal cool of Jess Rees’ iterations, perhaps most notably on “Poolhouse.” Swirling guitars try to drown you, giving way to the simplistic drum beat and beautiful airy chords, with Rees benevolently cooing, “I try to straighten it out.” It’s a much deserved reprieve, a first breath after being inundated with crippling unease. The EP ends in the same vein as its beginnings. “Black Cross” rips the comfort-cover off and exposes an unprecedented vulnerability, with Luke Coz’s guttural wails undermining and erasing any peaceful groundwork previously laid by Rees. It’s like losing your place in heaven because the paperwork got mixed up. You’re left with nothing, and the fall is even harder, having momentarily reached paradise.