Like a hazy puff of cigarette smoke, Slow Corpse keeps coming back. The Ashland, OR band has been notorious for their laid-back, almost cheerful, macabre aesthetic, juxtaposing normally dour subjects with camaraderie and uplifting tones in their work. After they teased their music video for their signature track, “Holi,” at the beginning of 2016, it never saw light until over a year later, and it was well worth the wait.
Slow Corpse’s videos have majorly been crafted by filmmaker Kyle Simpson, aside from their “Matches” video produced by Piers Dennis; “Holi” continues Simpson’s tradition of collage-type structuring, but South Korean director Woojin Choi brings something quite different to the table. Choi’s style contrasts vastly from Slow Corpse’s standard home-video aesthetic, introducing more color variation and tableau shots. Choi and Simpson’s techniques come into beautiful conversation with each other for a video that explores the band’s themes more intensely and deeply than ever before.
Choi’s art-house-type approach is fundamentally experimental, presenting seemingly unclear and disconnected imagery, though that’s only what one might see on the surface. There is an overwhelming sense of symbolism in nearly every shot, raising questions about how each scene is interwoven, not as a storyline necessarily, but a collection of ideas and metaphors.
With a shattering of glass, lighting of fire, and shooting down of balloons, the early scenes open the video with a weight of death and physical destruction. This sets the stage for an immediate feeling of chaos, of mad violence. However, it is paired with regular shifts into a bathroom scene, with a woman removing her clothing and stepping into a pastel-colored bath. This is the most accurate capturing of Slow Corpse’s music in visual form that I’ve seen; it holds emphasis in juxtaposition at the core. The music mixes dark content with softer or lighter sounds, while the video flips back and forth between violent chaos and a vulnerable fragility. There is constant fluctuation between vivid colors and dulled melancholia, occasionally mixing the two, such as the blending of dark pigments in with the pastel-toned water of the bathtub in a sensuous engaging of hands.
Fragility appears to recur throughout the video, with balloons possibly used as a metaphorical representation for the human body. Bodies are the most prevalent pieces of imagery, whether covered in all black, all white, or void of any clothing whatsoever. While sexuality is present, bodies are treated more as symbols for intimacy and delicateness rather than traditional ideas of sexuality. There is a purity to this representation, one with a positive attitude toward the human body as a spiritual vessel with no reason for shame. The bursting balloons illustrate the mortality of bodies effectively, of course extending to the life contained within bodies. An early connection between balloons and bodies is made as frontman Mitchell Winters dons a torn smiley-face balloon as a mask. The video walks the fine line between life and death, highlighting violence and anger as threats to the softer side of humanity. This split grounds the entire project, rooting it in the real world, the conflict between the gentle and harsh, or even good and evil.
Winters’ performance is critical to the video’s flow from beginning to end. He is portrayed as the bringer of chaos, lighting fires and shooting down bunches of balloons with a rifle. It’s quite jarring, but such scenes are balanced out by tableaus of Winters dressed all in white with looks ranging from slight smiles to sheer desolation. It’s a strange series of images, and one can’t help noticing Winters’ likeness to Christ throughout, (though he has since cut his hair following the filming). The all-white, cigarette-smoking likeness of a religious figure embodied by Winters molds what could only be described as a “dark holiness”. Winters ascending into the heavens with a balloon reinforces this concept of twisted scripture, one that remains effective in its reinterpreting and humanizing classic narratives and icons. Other instances include submerging in bathwater, which could be interpreted as a sort of modern, more secular baptism, and the use of a Ouija board, carrying typical connotations of sinfulness and demonic worship. Holiness is an obvious aspect of the video too, being that “Holi” is the very title itself.
“Holi” however has other meanings, which Choi seems to have have caught on to and fleshed out. Holi happens to be a Hindu religious festival; with celebrations beginning the night before the actual date, people gather to perform rituals in front of a bonfire and pray for their internal evils to be destroyed. The morning, known as Rangwali Holi, is a day of activity and festivities, with dancing, music, and parties, particularly including the smearing of colors on one another and soaking people with water-filled-balloons. This video contains many of those same pieces, contrasting the evilness with joyousness, using colored water, paints, and balloons to build further links to Holi while simultaneously standing alone as separate symbols. The result is clever and inventive, translating and integrating traditions of different cultures into a hybridized collection of visuals. The melding of Western and Eastern themes gives this video properties that can be understood––and understood differently––by multiple groups of people on a more global scale. It doesn’t seem to appropriate; it successfully builds something new out of divergencies.
I cannot give Choi and Simpson enough praise for this. The video is well-done, experimental, concept-heavy, and seriously provocative. I hope to see Slow Corpse bring on other guest directors in the future, as it has ceaselessly brought the band substantial aesthetic and abstractive evolution. “Holi” is a masterpiece, and I hope their next project will rise to meet this one.