Title: The End
Artist: Black Boned Angel
Label: Handmade Birds
This first appeared at the Liminal.
Campbell Kneale has been exploring the potential of the drone for more than 15 years now (in terms of releases, at least – before that, in the wilds of New Zealand and the wilds of interiority, who knows?). In high flung terms, his explorations call for a re-scaling of the word epic, a re-calibration of what’s possible in terms of sheer endurance, not to mention our very understanding of the phenomenological potential of the extended note and its psychedelic implications; more crassly put, his work is monstrous and alluring and repulsive in equal measure – and no more so than with his doom project, Black Boned Angel.
Kneale started Black Boned Angel 10 years ago as a duo along with James Kirk (more recently the band has incorporated Jules Desmond and Anthony Milton), the act creating blackened doom music, a kind of purist metal drone built around those early Earth recordings and the more unadorned Sunn O))) releases. There has always been something of a grand gothic edge to them, too – in the stage imagery, the backgrounded ranks of choral voices, and the themes of their records: Supereclipse, The Witch Must Be Killed, Verdun. Now the band have decided to call it a day, and The End is to be their last album, their epitaph. And it’s as if this has freed them up, somehow, given them an impetus to throw everything skyward, because that aforementioned grandeur is very much apparent, making The End an emotional masterpiece as well as one concerned with exploring the crushing sonic possibilities of all out heaviness.
The End is in three-parts, which add up to over an hour of music. It’s gruelling, yes, but that’s part of the point. A good chunk of Kneale’s aesthetic has always been invested in making you experience his time, so the listening experience is something akin to surrender. ‘Part 1’ is a magmatic, elephantine thing, guitar noise ripped to bursting point hoisted on blackened shrieks and Nadja-style programmed drums. This gives way, in ‘Part 2’, to something more unsettling, with swirling metallic drones and churning disembodied voices, like a choir buried hundreds of miles deep in the ground. The grinding riff, when it comes, is almost a relief. And it’s here that the emotional heft becomes really apparent, with the guitars buoyed by a vast organ patter that eventually decays into a simple fugue state lit by a simple piano figure. The closest comparison I can think of in recent times, in tone if not always in content, is another swansong – that of Corrupted, whose Garten der Unbewusstheit from 2011 had a similar soaring trajectory.
‘Part 3’ is built around another sludgy chord pattern that’s more lava flow than riff, above which flits a choral line treated until it becomes an almost theremin-like warble. Similar to ‘Part 2’ the track devolves into rubble and decay, as if the sonic fabric were unable to bear up under the strain. Which kind of adds up in terms of an elegy for Black Boned Angel; and there’s an admirable restraint in realising an idea has been pushed as far as it can go. The End stands (and crumbles) as a definitive final statement.
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Entries tagged as drone
Label: Self released
This first appeared at The Liminal.
Ore are Sam Underwood and Stuart Estell. They are based in Birmingham. They make intricately composed and cavernously deep doom music. With tubas (a York front-action EEb and a Besson BE983 front-action compensating EEb tuba, respectively). Granolthic is their debut album and it’s quite a thing. The title is pretty instructive in that the accumulated effect of the sounds they produce is crushing and granitic – like being slowly compressed by a throbbing slab of warm stone. And that warmth is key here, because for all of the sheer density and low-end weight of their sound, it always remains human and absorbing – not least because of the presence of so much breath, both implied and actual. This is especially apparent on the opening track ‘Sospan Ddu’ (seemingly named after a Dutch dredger) on which the sharp intakes of breath act like a doubling mechanism of the slow percussive moment of the military drums. ‘Ustvolskaya’ (named for the elusive Russian composer?) is nominally the ‘brightest’ thing here, with both tuba players using higher registers. That said, the track still feels very like an elegy. Closing epic ‘St Michael’ – the longest track at 17mins 22 – is gruelling in its way, and close in places to the doom ethic of Sunn O))). The track suddenly mutates into a harsh bellow around the 14 minute mark, sounding for all the world like someone playing an enraged bull. Which is meant as a total compliment and absolutely left me wanting more. Where the duo goes with this sound is anyone’s guess, but on this evidence it’ll be worth keeping up with.
Marconi, pioneer of radio once hypothesized that soundwaves, once generated, never die, that they fade, but continue to resonate indefinitely through the universe. From the age of radio onwards, we have been cast adrift in a sea of technology, waves of information crashing against our hull. Technology has the ability to connect people, it conversely can also lead to intense feelings of isolation, lack of human contact and disconnection. And so, I find myself scuttled, clinging to the wreckage I drift, trying to make sense of these new horizons which I inhabit. Find out more/purchase.
These first appeared at the Liminal.
Artist: High Aura'd
Title: Sanguine Futures
It’s becomingly increasingly difficult to write in any meaningful way about ambient releases, such is both the proliferation of music and by extension, the sheer amount of expended digital text. It’s not an exaggeration to say that some releases have as many purple reviews as there are physical copies available. All of which means, when a record of exceptional quality does arrive you find yourself reaching for higher superlatives or more abstruse adjectives to ecstatically describe the sonic phenomena as they unfold. What this situation does do is force you back to essentials: what, precisely, makes for a good ambient recording? And the answers are fairly simple: appreciation of atmosphere, tone, duration and architecture. And safe to say, High Aura’d (the recording alias of John Kolodij) has absolute mastery of all of these facets. Broadly put Sanguine Futures is elemental ambient music. Yet there is something more than just pretty evocation at work here: Kolodij has a granular approach to his compositions meaning each strata, each seam is carefully crafted, to the point where you can almost feel the bedrock and grasp at the clouds of vapour – these are compositions that invite a kind of habitation. On a track such as ‘Sleep Like the Dead’ there is a geological heft to the outer layers of the drone, and the heartbeat, when it comes, is bulbous and warm. ‘La Chasse-galerie’, is suitably wild, like its subject matter: a wild hunt, roaring high above the trees, peaking in a glorious crescendo, redolent of Yellow Swans at their most ecstatic. Thinking of other antecdents, I keep coming back to the Eno of On Land especially on the long eerie swamp-song of ‘Mercy Brown’ which has, at its heart, the story of an exhumation of a 2-month old corpse, a corpse whose heart still contained blood… Sanguine Futures is full of these kinds of layered readings, readings that double and intensify the already dense sonic material. Stunning stuff.
Artist: Isnaj Dui
Title: Abstracts on Solitude
Isnaj Dui is the latest recording project of Kate English who has been releasing music under one guise or another since 1995. Abstracts on Solitude is her first release for Hibernate. It’s an eerie, sensual album, full of the blooming low cadences of the bass flute, a seldom-recorded member of the flute family, often overlooked for the fact that in an orchestral situation it is easily drowned out. English uses the flute to create a kind of tremulous biosphere, inside which the subtly-effected electronics, treated dulcimers and thumb pianos creak and flit. The cover of the record acts as a kind of map for the overall sound of the album. At first glance, I saw both a landscape and an abstracted view of a female chest – the fact that it is neither of these, but a blurred close-up of a circuit board is instructive. For these are intimate creations that act like body maps: the breath of the flute, the strange synaptic clicks and whirs of the electronics, the drum-hollows of the dulcimer, the percussive thumb piano. That said, the composer always maintains a sense of that which lies beyond, particularly on the beautiful closing track ‘The Last Will Become A Darker Grey’ which has an almost Delius-like pastoral melancholy.
Artist: Padang Food Tigers
Title: Ready Country Nimbus
Another strong release from Bathetic in what is proving to be quite a year for the North Carolina based label. Padang Food Tigers are Stephen Lewis and Spencer Grady, two members of Rameses III, who have released several gently beautiful long-form drone albums since their inception in the early ’00s. With Padang Food Tigers, the duo have boiled down their explorations to a spare essence, creating humid fragile miniatures from acoustic instruments and field recordings. The tracks, most no more than 2 or 2.30 mins long, are like captured moments or brief sketches of nature: a simple guitar pattern or lambent piano figure laid over distant church bells or stuttering chaffinch song. It brings to mind Bruce Langhorne’s mournful score for The Hired Hand and Scott Tuma’s rusty, elegiac folk explorations, and at times it does feel like a study in smuggled American primitivism. Should one care about spurious ‘authenticity’ when something sounds this natural and right?
Label: Handmade Birds
This isn’t nearly enough space to do justice to a record with such scope and heart, but there we are. Kentucky is ostensibly a black metal album, but it takes what are becoming tired tropes and gives them life, utilising the bursting drive of the blast beat and the icy nihilistic barrage for humanistic purposes, to give voice to the long dead. Austin Lunn (the sole member of Panopticon) has always dealt with difficult subjects (the last album, Social Disservices was about the appalling state of the youth care system in the States) but with Kentucky it’s like he’s found his perfect platform. It tells, via 3 long, more metal-based tracks and 5 shorter Appalachian folk and bluegrass workouts, the story of a state and its people’s relationship with the coal mining industry: the effect on the landscape, the horror of the daily work, the vile treatment of workers by the industry, the pitch battles between unions and the big corporations. It features, alongside the naked roar and violence of Lunn’s at times all out war approach to black metal, spoken word passages, field recordings (one particular heart-stopping moment has a 91 year old woman on a picket line declaring “I’m prepared to die, are you?”) and the simple uncanny presence of the volk in songs such as ‘Which Side Are You On’ written by Kentuckian Florence Reece in the wake of harrassment of her union founding husband by police and mining companies. If that sounds like the record might be a mess, then that’s not an unfair assessment – it’s a new juxtaposition of sounds and one that often jars. But it’s so strong on power and emotion that it builds its own deliberate structure around itself. By the 4th or 5th listen it makes perfect sense. A colossal achievement.
Alone I work
All around me darkness swirls
Of sinking stone
I will not stop ‘til all these walls
Have found their cause
Haeligewielle is Oliver Barrett’s (also of Bleeding Heart Narrative) first solo album as Petrels. It is a song of water, a song of stone. These two elements form the album’s thematic core, entwined in the story of the central figure of William Walker, the Winchester diver; but they also inform the album’s sonic makeup – onrushing, buoyant, coursing and at times dense and abrasive. It’s a record that excavates, and extrapolates outwards from, a particular and resonant historical undertaking and in its jubilant expansiveness grants it mythic, numinous life.
Unless you’ve been to Winchester Cathedral, (and unless you’ve been to a particular corner of Winchester Cathedral), you probably won’t have heard of William Walker. In 1905 it was discovered that the retrochoir, added to the original structure in 13th century and built as a shrine for St. Swithun, was gradually sinking into the earth. (And yes, that saint: ‘St Swithun’s day if thou dost rain/ For forty days it will remain’ – water is truly inescapable in all this). The truth of it is that the whole structure, built on a bed of peat and gravel, is sinking, but for now it remains relatively stable; the retrochoir, however, was on a comparatively uncompressed layer of peat and was sinking faster than the rest. Architects and archaeologists were called in to assess the situation and came up with an ingenious solution.
Essentially, trenches, or drifts, 18-20ft in depth, were cut alongside and beneath the sinking walls and foundations, with the idea that the layer of compressing peat – some four feet thick, and generally encountered at around 16ft – could be pierced, removed and new foundations built upwards from the solid bed of gravel. The main problem was that when the peat was pierced the drift would almost completely fill with water – laying concrete in these conditions was impossible. Enter one William Walker, an already renowned diver and part of the famous Siebe Gorman Ltd group. His task was to enter the drift in his 200-pound diving suit and working in absolute darkness scrape away the remnants of the layer of peat which was hoisted to the surface in buckets, then lay huge bags of concrete on the gravel floor which could be slashed open and left to harden for a 24 hour period. These would seal the hole, the drift could be pumped free of excess water, and more traditional brickies could then enter the hole and complete the laying of new foundations beneath the cathedral.
If that sounds like a huge undertaking, consider that it took Walker, diving almost single-handedly, the best part of five years to complete. Five years of 8-hour days in the darkness, bumping into half revealed coffins (for these were old burial grounds) and wearing a massive encumbrance, the boots alone of which weighed 20 pounds each. If the project was considered a total success, it is of course only a temporary reprieve – the cathedral, built on shifting ground and with an unpredictable water table, will eventually be pulled apart.
Taken as a totality Haeligewielle is partly a celebration of William Walker’s valiant efforts, partly a mythic recreation, but also a meditiation on precisely this last point – the heroic futility of such a small gesture against the sublime gravity of nature. Inside the thematic whole the separate tracks reference various other historic figures and events, indeed the album begins with a nod to Francis Danby’s The Deluge, an epic painting detailing God’s sending of the floodwaters to literally wipe away his failed project. The track’s deliberate build of synth washes is ominous and foreboding, but doesn’t peak as expected with a thunderous climax, instead it devolves into treated church bells and the slow beat of a single drop of water. There is also a huge vaulting track named for King Canute who bowed to the superiority of the waves and allegedly refused to wear his crown and robes again in the face of such obvious greater external power. The fact that this is supposed to have taken place a few miles from Winchester in Southampton only adds to the potential of cross-fertilisation in Barrett’s mythic framework. ‘Canute’s crescendo is the greatest on the album and might be erroneously seen as a monument to folly, but strikes me instead as a monument to piety and dissolution within a greater force.
The final four tracks are all given over to Walker’s story, and given what has gone before, the 5-year long task is transformed and can be seen as existing outside our own time-frame and elevated into another realm. What Barrett has done in shaping the album in this way is to allow the earlier tracks, with their references to earlier mythic figures and events, to act as a kind of platform – they do the mythic work if you like, creating the space into which the Walker story can expand, even allowing a simple bike journey to become coded as something greater than it perhaps might have been (it’s believed that Walker often cycled home to Croydon after a week of shifts under the cathedral, a distance of some 70 miles.) And in truth, the sonic nature of these tracks also act as a kind of crucible – at times, listening to, for instance, the epic ‘William Walker Strengthens the Foundations’ with its warm vibrating centre (think a fuller Richard Skelton, or some of the high trembling spaces of early Godspeed), or the massed voices of ‘Concrete’, the fabric of the music acts like a kind of amniotic fluid in which the mind’s eye sees Walker suspended in the darkness in his iconic, galumphing suit.
And to end at the beginning: that title: Haeligewielle. It’s an Anglo-Saxon word meaning holy well or holy spring, and obvious water references aside, it’s a particularly apposite title given that Barrett’s album is both something of a pilgrim’s shrine for Walker and a warm, bountiful offering.