AMN Reviews: Doctor Nerve – LOUD (2020; Punos Music)

I was first introduced to composer and guitarist Nick Didkovsky’s Doctor Nerve in 1995 with the release of Skin. That year was seminal for expanding my musical growth, with outstanding genre-twisted releases from Mr. Bungle, Idiot Flesh, and Biota. Not to mention it was in the midst of my initial explorations of modern classical, free jazz, and dark ambient. But what made Skin stand out were the metal guitar riffs combined with horn and rhythm sections playing Didkovsky’s labyrinthine melodies. 25 years on, Nick Didkovsky and most of the lineup return for LOUD.

At first blush, LOUD seems to have much in common with what the group was doing a quarter-century ago – the horns wailing over power chords, the tightly-composed overlapping structures, as well as a general irreverence that comes across as a bunch of serious musicians just having fun with doing the unexpected.

The album consists of four main tracks, each three to six minutes in length. Nonetheless, it is not an EP. Instead, there are one, two, or three alternative mixes of each track featuring different guest musicians adding guitar solos. These individuals include Henry Kaiser, Mike Keneally, Robert Musso, Kevin Hufnagel, René Lussier, Andrew Hawkins, Matt Hollenberg, and Shawn Persinger.

As a consequence, when listening to LOUD, there is a fair amount of repetition, and the album is best thought of as a substrate for more active listening rather than background music (though anyone who uses Doctor Nerve as background music has my admiration). If You Were Me Right Now I’d Be Dead blasts off aggressively with outside blowing and dense patterns over weaponized heavy guitar. Painting with Bullets focuses on rhythmic complexity and centers around staccato piano chords. Meta 04 takes the rhythm in even more twisted and convoluted directions and couples it with guitar and horn flourishes and atmospherics. Uses Probe Form is another densely contrapuntal piece with active bass and piano work under horn and guitar solos. And that’s just the initial takes – each of the aforementioned guitarists add their own flavors in the additional cuts.

Didkovsky and company are relentless in the best possible way. LOUD is a refreshing assault and comes highly recommended whether you are an old Nerve hand like me or not.