Ferocious Spells, Winding Sigils

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  • In the mid-aughts, it seemed like Made Out of Babies was a part of almost every show around New York City. From public park clamshells to bakery basement dives through sticky-floored theaters, front-woman Julie Christmas led ritualistic mayhem by shifting from her full-throated yowls to intimate incantations without betraying a single stitch. Like a haunted Bjork fronting the Jesus Lizard, Made Out of Babies was an opener that cranked the heat on every following band, leaving them with a sweat-soaked stage and an audience thirsty for more.

    That kind of black magic exacts a heavy toll. A band can’t continually surge with raw energy without wearing down the insulation, and after three albums Made Out of Babies was finished. The entire band’s dynamic was singular, visionary, and unsustainable. Christmas parted way with the others, who continued on as Bad Powers with a new singer for a while, with Christmas continuing with the more atmospheric but still pummeling Battle of Mice. And just a couple of years ago she joined up with Swedish art-metal group Cult of Luna to deliver the cosmic concept album Mariner.

    Despite this indomitable catalog, Made Out of Babies isn’t much heralded for their wider influence. Perhaps they didn’t get out of New York as much as they should have, caught up in deluge of a billion other Brooklyn bands, but bands like this tend to find their audience and make their influence felt. As more women come up through hardcore and metal, a wave led by Christmas’s furious vulnerability is beginning to crest, particularly with Elizabeth Colour Wheel and their recent album Nocebo.

    Building off similar grunge and noise-rock vibes as Made Out of Babies, Elizabeth Colour Wheel builds out from that frame. There’s plenty of heavy strumming and impassioned shouts, a slip of that same vein of ethereal energy that courses through Christmas. Nocebo isn’t afraid to widen out the compositions even further though, drawing even more directly from Bjork’s later druidic chants as well as the further evolution of post-metal lycanthropy. Quiet and loud without merely fetishizing either, Elizabeth Colour Wheel is maximizing the hues available from a deceptively limited sonic pallet, reveling in softly strummed overdrive in equal measure with cacophonous gallops.

    I can’t say if Made Out of Babies had a direct influence on Elizabeth Colour Wheel but I hear the threads between them so clearly, like crystalline down-tuned strings stretching across time. Both trade in ferocious spells, winding sigils that summon furious energies—not chaotic but still swirling, in patterns that defy simplistic explanation. Metal but not meatheaded, jazzy with plenty to grip onto, Elizabeth Colour Wheel elaborates on and augments the lightning-filigree rage that Julie Christmas has explicitly cast, and the energy continues to cascade exquisitely.

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