In 2019, Seattle trio TERMINATor stood out as one of the city's most distinctive rock bands. They were gaining momentum in the city's underground, culminating in a riveting set at that year's Capitol Hill Block Party in the copacetic setting of the Cha Cha Lounge.
Shortly thereafter, drummer/flautist Veronica Dye moved to New York and in March 2020, Covid-19 put all artistic endeavors on pause. Nevertheless, despite these obstacles and the daily traumas of living in the Divided States of America, TERMINATor have persevered. Last year they opened for Murder City Devils at the Crocodile and this year for the burgeoning powerhouse J.R.C.G. (aka Dreamdecay) at Barboza, and held their own. TERMINATor now deliver their long-gestating 10-song debut album, Placate Boring Flesh. It's available on Bandcamp this Friday and not on a label, though it should be.
Though two of their members have ties to 2010s Sub Pop bright hopes Rose Windows and their main songwriter, Chris Cheveyo, TERMINATor have taken a decidedly stranger path to sonic enlightenment. Dye played flute for Rose Windows; bassist/guitarist/vocalist Lauren Rodriguez—primarily a photographer and videographer before entering the music world—played keyboards for Cheveyo's post-RW group Research; guitarist Albie is a tattoo artist who's relatively new to her instrument, yet she has forged a fresh sound that leaves a lasting, haunting impression. (Percussionist/saxophonist Mara Appel Des Lauriers sometimes augments the lineup in live performances.)
Everyone's equal in TERMINATor's creative process; there is no leader. An instinctual curiosity guides their songs into unusual and interesting places, as is evident on Placate Boring Flesh. TERMINATor affectionately sucker-punch your expectations about how young modern women rock. Their band name and the heavy-metal-ish font gracing their new album's cover further upset preconceptions about this iconoclastic unit.
Conventional wisdom says you should start your album with a bang, but “Papaya” lumbers out of the gate as if waking from a wicked hangover. Albie's guitar warps and decays while Rodriguez's orotund bass pulse throbs like a vein in the owner of said hangover's forehead. A mood of foreboding spreads and then the song shifts into a slow-motion noise-rock trance march as Rodriguez intones oblique poetry with an unpredictable delivery. The thick bass stabs and caustic guitar counterpoint of “Dais for Moral Performance” create a compelling foundation for Rodriguez to rue the remnants of a ruined relationship. “Forgetting the things you did/Saccharine dreams/Sashaying the line between/Compassion and insincerity.”
“Rat (Hopefully the Boy)”—which I reviewed on Slog in 2019—is Placate Boring Flesh's peak. A sludgy tempest, the song begins with a Dye flute solo of placid eeriness that's streaked with eldritch electronic FX. Then the drums tumble in, the bass see-saws toward the dungeon, and the guitar turns the rusted screws ever tighter. It's an intensifying nightmare of a track, spiraling into vortical madness that would unnerve Teenage Jesus and the Jerks. If you want to scare trick-or-treating kids this Halloween, blast “Rat.”
“In Your Beak” is a majestic and morose trudge with dejectedly chiming guitar and Rodriguez's forbidding, Kim Gordon-esque deadpan. Imagine the inexorable downward spiral of Joy Division's “A Means to an End” slowed to a luxurious dawdle. A doomy post-punk white-knuckler, “Data” is the album's hardest-rocking song. Albie ponders “Is this art or an advertisement/Watching you/Watching me,” a seeming critique of social media's alluring and repulsive aspects. Full of surprising dynamics and evoking the sense of swirling into a whirlpool of decaying guitar timbres, “Reckoner” moves with a psilocybin dream logic.
The album closes with “Trout,” which sounds like an early Siouxsie and the Banshees joint playing at 16 rpm. As heavy as a pet's death, it's a thrashing, smothering ordeal that's scarier than anything your favorite nü-göth band's doing. Placate Boring Flesh is a brash, inventive first full-length that promises more wonderful and weird subversions on the blighted horizon.