Wolf Eyes is charged with a perverse curiosity. If you have experienced even a fraction of the band's hundreds of albums, EPs, collaborations and splits across every format imaginable over the last 25 years, you know the Toxic Avenger that emerges from the gurgling detritus: hideous, heroic and beloved by weirdos. You can divide the group's career into several eras with different lineups, from the crypt-keeping dub of Dread (2001) and blackened metallic clang of Burned Mind (2004) to the warped jazz skronk of No Answer: Lower Floors (2013) and so, so much between, below and beyond. Across all of it is the pursuit of noise, not just for its own sake, but hypnagogic blocks of sound that mirror the absurdity of existence and possibly — hopefully? — mutate reality further.
A quarter of a century in, Wolf Eyes has trimmed down to the core duo of Nate Young and Johnny Olson. In doing so, they've expanded and contracted the idea of Wolf Eyes: first, as a series of diverse collaborations made over the pandemic, collected as Difficult Messages earlier this year; now on Dreams in Splattered Lines, out May 26. The omnivorous spirit of the former informs the latter, a duo record that still challenges, but also titillates with shrieking delight.
On Dreams in Splattered Lines, the tracks are shorter and marked by mangled melodies, disjointed beats and bloated blues; where previous Wolf Eyes might have sprawled or burst from the chest, these mostly simmer on a surreal, grease-streaked mood. "Plus Warning," with synths dredged from the Silver Apples basement, sounds like ceremonial space music, complete with apocalyptic proselytization. Steam hisses and throbbing bass backs Olson's descending sax on "Engaged Withdrawal," as if to dub Scott Walker's "Fat Mama Kick" into an industrial locked groove. "In Society" conjures a county fair where John Carpenter loops the Joker's laugh into a terrifying tilt-a-whirl. Young's spoken word takes on a dead-eyed, Kim Gordon cadence when "My Whole Life" intones a shadowy obsession: "The other day I thought was through / But now I can't stop loving you."
Wolf Eyes has played with conventional forms before, offering stabs of memorable — if squelching and squealing — hooks made for pounding tables and tallboys. What Dreams in Splattered Lines does, however, is refine Wolf Eyes' approach to cinematic horror: still gross and grueling, but painted in thicker strokes of neon gloom.