There's nothing quite like the bone-rattling immediacy of a Lightning Bolt show: the audience literally face-to-face with the duo, set up on the floor of a venue and pushing the sonic possibility of a drum kit and massive bass rig far beyond the limits of sensible volume levels. On disc, Lightning Bolt have approximated that intensity with a crusty, lo-fi approach to recording, where the wash of bass distortion and hyperactive beats blur into a crackling surge of pure energy that sound best when cranked way up.
On their seventh full-length, Fantasy Empire, Brians Gibson and Chippendale have dared to capture their audio airstrike in high(er) definition, recording at Machines With Magnets. Not only has the sonic clarity illuminated the brilliance of the duo's musicianship — Chippendale's frenetic precision particularly, but also the range of textures Gibson gets out of his effects rig — it's enhanced their evolving sense of songcraft. It's almost as if all the flailing insanity of Hella was filtered through the spartan gut-punch of Albini-era Jesus Lizard. Indeed, Fantasy Empire harks back to and expands on the more structured tunes from 2009's Earthy Delights (rather than the tangential weirdness of 2012's Oblivion Hunter), from the push-pull groove of "Mythmaster" to the sustained forward pulse of "Dream Genie" to the riff-rich thrash of opener "The Metal East," the latter of which features genuine melodic hooks.
But it's the lengthy album closer, "Snow White (& the 7 Dwarves Fans)," that boasts the most effective arrangement, building layer upon layer of controlled chaos before unleashing a devastating low-end assault that encapsulates the perfect unison of this duo. Auditory annihilation never sounded so good. (Thrill Jockey)