The self-titled debut for the trans-Atlantic project Split Cranium was a ferocious homage to Nordic d-beat masters like Terveet Kädet and Anti Cimex. The album’s no-frills barrage of charged hardcore might have been a little orthodox in its blitzkrieg riffage, stampeding pace, and gravel-throated ire, but its straightforward approach was an unexpected departure for bandmasters Aaron Turner and Jussi Lehtisalo. While Turner has hinted at an affinity for crust classics in the base misanthropy of Old Man Gloom and Lehtisalo toyed with peace punk aesthetics on Circle albums like Panic, neither musician has ever done such a faithful approximation of a pre-existing sound. But for two artists with extensive catalogs of challenging and groundbreaking music to take a stab at working within an established framework was, in its own way, an exhilarating middle finger.
Six years later, Split Cranium returns with their sophomore album I’m The Devil and I’m Okay. Turner and Lehtisalo waste no time establishing their new mission statement, opening the album with Popol Vuh-inspired keyboards by Faith Coloccia (Mamiffer, Mara) that saturate the ruthless reinterpretation of the Discharge template on “Evil Hands”. The contrasting breaths of sublime ambience serve to highlight the savagery abetted by bassist Nate Newton (Converge, Doomriders, Old Man Gloom) and Tomi Leppänen (Circle, K-X-P), making I’m The Devil and I’m Okay simultaneously more sonically rounded and more visceral and vicious. “We wanted to make a record that was less straightforward than the first one,” Turner says of their method. “Jussi loves melody and I love dissonance and noise, so that is probably the healthy creative contrast that made this record what it is.”
While Split Cranium continues to be driven by the blazing guitar malaise of Lehtisalo and the harrowing bellows of Turner, the melodic counterpoint provided by Newton on “Wet Shadow”, the ethereal vocals summoned by Coloccia on “Ingurgitated Liquids” and “Death Bed – The Yellow Room”, and the squalls of white noise on “Whirling Dusk” are a but a few of the components that knock I’m The Devil and I’m Okay off the axis of traditional d-beat hardcore. The strongest records in the anarcho-punk canon have figured out ways to inject melody or push extremes without diffusing their punch or diminishing their hooks. Split Cranium retains the principal components of speed and vitriol while expanding their frequency spectrum into realms of both beauty and sheer ugliness, making I’m The Devil and I’m Okay a white-knuckle headfuck in a realm of sterile imitations.