Their name may make you do a bit of a sick in your mouth and their music is utterly fucking terrifying, but Pupil Slicer have gone and created the most exciting debut album in living memory. The London-based trio only formed three years ago, and almost by accident, as vocalist/guitarist Kate Davies explains.
“At first, it was all just a bit of fun. I just wrote some horrible death metal riffs that didn’t fit with the band we were in at the time,” she explains. “We really weren’t spending a whole lot of time writing stuff, but then the original vocalist quit, and me and Josh [Andrews, drums] thought, ‘Now we have this project with a funny name and we’re getting offered loads of gigs for it, so what do we do now?’ We thought about the music we like, and with us it’s Dillinger Escape Plan, Converge and Rolo Tomassi, those kinds of bands. We figured we can basically write whatever we like and give it a shot.”
The result of that pragmatic forward step can be heard smashing everything in sight on Pupil Slicer’s debut, Mirrors. A ferocious trio, completed by bassist/vocalist Luke Fabian, they sound like everything all at once and nothing you’ve ever heard before. Mercilessly extreme, with an obvious debt to grindcore, death metal and the pitch-black hardcore of Converge, songs like recent singles L’Appel Du Vide and Wounds Upon My Skin also touch upon glitchy noise, syrupy ambience and occasional moments of spine-tingling melancholy. At times, Pupil Slicer are ruthlessly tight and destructive. At others, their skull-threatening racket sounds spontaneous and genuinely dangerous.
“I guess it’s half and half,” says Kate. “There are songs, like Wounds Upon My Skin, that were entirely jammed out. It was me and Josh, playing in a shed in his back garden, and he was doing those drum fills at the beginning and I was just riffing over it. Then I’d go back up to the computer and hopefully make a song out of it. With things like Stabbing Spiders or Save The Dream, Kill Your Friends, those are a lot more premeditated and technical. I’ll write the whole thing myself and then give it to the others and they say, ‘This is ridiculous!’ But they learn it anyway! Ha ha ha!”
In contrast with their knowingly ridiculous moniker, Pupil Slicer have plenty of intelligence and substance that backs up the face-flaying intensity of their music. Kate is a thoughtful, softly spoken soul who freely admits to ongoing battles with depression and anxiety. Although primarily poetic and metaphorical, the lyrics on Mirrors clearly come from a sincere, heartfelt place. Meanwhile, the sheer brutality underpinning them sounds like a euphoric act of catharsis.
“It’s a very personal album and there is a lot of catharsis involved,” Kate states. “I don’t want to directly write about my own experiences because that can be a bit too exposing, so I’ve written in such a way that’s it’s more vague, but I can directly connect things in the lyrics. At the same time, I’ve tried to make it so the lyrics have a more general meaning, about society at large or problems going on in the world. In a way, it’s about anxiety in general, so the songs can be about my specific experience, but someone with anxiety or depression can find some other way to connect to it.”
As a result, when the band are finally able to take their show on the road, the size of their crowds looks likely to have multiplied tenfold at the very least. Like everyone else, Pupil Slicer’s plans for 2021 and the launch of their debut have been thrown into disarray by that pesky pandemic, but the release of Mirrors has generated a deafening buzz in underground circles.
“It’ll be interesting to see what the next gigs will be like, because we haven’t played a show since before we got signed,” says Kate. “The last gig was only 50 people and that was sick! But we’re looking at festivals for next year and tours, potentially. It doesn’t look like there’ll be anything at the end of this year. If there are shows available, we’ll be playing them! As soon as we can we’ll be out there and playing as much as we can. We’ve really missed it.”
Unless you have a dangerously lax attitude towards your finances, you probably wouldn’t place a bet on a band with a name like Pupil Slicer becoming a huge success. But as recent times have taught us, anything is possible and the unexpected is often lurking around the corner. Kate and her bandmates have produced one of the most viscerally thrilling records any of us will hear this year. Sometimes, the daftest ideas are the best ideas.
“We used to have people saying, ‘That’s such a horrible name for a band! Why would they do that?’” chuckles Kate. “But now we’re getting people reading so much further into it. There was one guy the other day who said, ‘They’re trying so hard to be the most brutal thing possible!’ Someone else said, ‘Oh it must be a reference to Un Chien Andalou, the surreal Salvador Dalí film…’ We did notice that when we came up with the name, but after we’d thought, ‘That’s a really funny name for a band!’ It’s a name that gets people talking either way!”
Pupil Slicer’s debut album, Mirrors, is out now