The Lamb As Effigy or Three Hundred And Fifty XOXOXOs For A Spark Union With My Darling Divine marks a new phase in the mutation of LA quartet Sprain. Since their first self-titled release in 2018, the band have shifted dramatically from gentle, subdued slowcore in the vein of genre titans Codeine or Bedhead to a much more rabid sound. 2020’s As Lost Through Collision already saw the band having reared a noisier, more disfigured head, accompanying the low-key sway they proved a mastery over on their debut with discordant noise rock outbursts. On The Lamb As Effigy, Sprain take another bold stride out from the shadow of genre colossi.

Opener ‘Man Proposes, God Disposes’, their previous lulling calm is only felt in the wake of a violent onslaught. Crawling strings set the tone before the band pull the instrumental from the abyss. Alex Kent’s vocals are sermon-esque and becoming increasingly maddened as guitars tear away at the instrumental core. As erratic, noisy and theatrical as Black Midi’s debut album Schlagenheim, the band thrust the momentum effortlessly into ‘Reiterations’, which opens with a vocal performance even more feral than the last. A clear loud and quiet dynamic of the track provides balance between their tender roots and unhinged new ground. Sprain seem to be casting a wide net in terms of influence, as while the easy comparisons to Slint and bands in their ilk are there, there is also a strong undercurrent of more varied influence from no-wave to post rock and noise.

Sequencing is one of this album’s most prominent strengths. The way Sprain have allowed each track to crash or decay into one another turns an hour and a half album into one long interwoven tapestry that never feels taxing to follow through to its conclusion. Even when individual tracks reach gargantuan lengths, such as ‘Margin For Error’s near half hour run time (in which it is only equalled by the albums closing song) they never feel bloated or stretched beyond their means. The minimal, organ-centric instrumental evokes the neoclassical spine of artists such as Lingua Ignota and considering this, the occasionally preacher-adjacent vocal delivery and the title The Lamb As Effigy, the album has a darkly spiritual, pseudo-religious feel to it that is borderline apocalyptic. Spiralling plumes of noise pollute the track, coughing up a thick smog that is only broken by a melody that shifts between triumph, doom and uncertainty as the song descends further into a chasm. Combining the scale and cinematic quality of post-rock, the atmospheric melancholia of black metal and disorientating, encircling percussion – the band here, more than anywhere else, transcend their labyrinth of influence by evoking all their musical ancestry whilst manifesting it into a brew that is uniquely theirs.

‘The Commercial Nude’ and ‘The Reclining Nude’ explore how joy and guilt often come bound together – how the closest earthly means to feeling heavenly are shamed and often come with religious or social damnation. The religious feel to the album makes clear sense by this point – the album conveys a sense of a judgement for the things in life that bring you happiness or release. As a result, The Lamb As Effigy comes across as part confession and part rejection of this guilt. The album closer, ‘God, or Whatever You Call It’ takes the themes that have been hanging over the album to their extreme, an emotional breakdown that is equal parts despondent and defiant, buckling under the weight exerted in pushing back against the guilt. Its titanic length is earned as the album drags itself to a resonant close.

The sheer size of this album may turn people off from listening, and while every song works individually, listening to the album as a whole gives a larger context that adds something really special. The strong thematic linking and brilliant song sequencing makes it one of the more rewarding listening experiences I’ve ever had. The only other criticism I can throw at this album that might stick is in charting their sound, the band sometimes wander dangerously close to the brand of post-punk that is quickly becoming tiresome. You know the type, described in write ups as having ‘sprechgesang vocals and angular guitars.’ Having been diluted by the number of bands doing that sound, I was worried that Sprain would fall into that same trap. Thankfully, they manage to steer clear and mark themselves as one of the most compelling bands around, with The Lamb As Effigy as their most definitive statement yet.

Sprain: The Lamb As Effigy or Three Hundred And Fifty XOXOXOS For A Spark Union With My Darling Divine – Out 1st September 2023 (The Flenser)

– We Think So Ill of You (Official Audio) – YouTube