In March, Meat Wave barreled through a pandemic-era dissection of the American labor market with the sardonic, sawtoothed “Honest Living,” laying bare the corrosive effects of depending for your survival on a morally bankrupt system that treats you like a disposable nobody. It’s an apt first single from their fourth full-length, October’s Malign Hex (Swami), and mines that misery for a tense, bristling downhill run that foregrounds the Chicago postpunk trio’s skill at weaponizing melody. But on much of Malign Hex, Meat Wave marinate in the ugliness of the world rather than stampeding through it, setting the mood slowly and needling you with every note. These songs rumble forward with the inexorable power of a tank. Joe Gac’s bass lines, as heavy as steel-plate treads, obliterate the earth as they lay down their own tracks, and he leaves plenty of space for drummer Ryan Wizniak to crank up the foreboding with thunderclap accents or fervent propulsion. Front man Chris Sutter unloads tight guitar stabs with the precision and force of a stamping press, and his controlled shouts pop like bacon grease on a hot pan. While “Honest Living” makes being an office drone sound as shitty as it is, the lumbering “Merchandise Mart”—as formidable as its massive namesake building, which once had its own zip code—makes those soul-destroying “always on” work structures feel inescapable. More bands should aspire to play songs that big.
Meat Wave Stuck and Stress Positions open. Sat 11/12, 8:30 PM, Empty Bottle, 1035 N. Western, sold out, 21+