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Monday, July 9, 2012

Fire! feat. Oren Ambarchi: In the Mouth a Hand (Rune Grammofon, 2012) *****

By Martin Schray

Mats Gustafsson is to me what Wadada Leo Smith is to Stef. I thought of not giving him a five star rating here because I already gave him two in the last few months but then I have listened to his new collaboration with Fire! again and again and I could not find a fly in the ointment – the album is simply marvelous as to creating unique sounds and atmospheres.

As usual Fire! are Mats Gustafsson (saxes, Fender Rhodes organ, live electronics), Johan Berthling (electric bass), Andreas Werliin (drums) and again they have a guest: Australian guitarist Oren Ambarchi, who is known for his collaborations with drone metal bands Sunn 0))) and Boris. What already sounds promising is actually a match made in heaven, the result reminding of a seminal band like Can or Norwegian progrock gods Motorpsycho.

The first track of the album, “A Man Who Might Have Been Screaming”, starts with Berthling and Werliin playing a rather simple and tough rhythm and Gustafsson howling over it in its typical manner, but after four minutes you hear and feel something else. First you hardly recognize it, but the track gets more complex, even somehow uncomfortable – it is Ambarchi crawling in with which turns out to be an enormous feedback. Then Gustafsson drops out and Ambarchi completely takes over and all of a sudden there is only sound, you can hardly hear single notes. This would have been a great soundtrack for the end of Stanley Kubrick’s "2001 – A Space Odyssee", when a frightened Bowman finds himself speeding across vast distances of space, viewing strange alien landscapes of unusual colors. Here Ambarchi displays his influences from Jimi Hendrix’ anarchic moments to Morton Feldman. You can hear  a huge drone, a very physical approach to music, but in this whirlwind you can also find beautiful details and a great harmony among the three players. And when the whole thing seems to fall apart Gustafsson takes over, the band members pull themselves together to land their spaceship smoothly.

The second track, “And The Stories Will Flood Your Satisfaction (With Terror)”, even raises the tension. The first half is a real Krautrock monster with a massive drum beat and a menacing bass line. Gustafsson’s sax is blaring and wailing like a mad dog on an evil drug and Ambarchi is supporting him playing psychedelic rock riffs that sound like 1980s space rockers Spacemen 3 before you find yourself in a huge psych metal/ free rock/outer space jazz orgy again. At last here the music has seized you and you have no chance to escape.

He Wants To Sleep In A Dream (He Keeps In His Head)” begins with a brutally solid techno riff played on the bass while Ambarchi and Gustafsson are interspersing guitar and electronic sounds and specially Ambarchi’s  guitar sounds like buzz saw or like kamikaze planes. This is the most abrasive and brutal, even torturing, but also challenging part of the album. It is music as a raw power, an existential fight, but you feel good after listening to it, as if you completed some exhausting  piece of labor.

I’m Sucking For A Bruise” is the last track on the CD version of the album. It is by far the shortest one and it is actually a reconciliation mainly consisting of bass drones and heavenly guitar feedbacks. Like listening to distant thunder and watching distant lightning you know that the storm is over.

The LP version offers an alternative ending called “Possibly She Was One, Or Had Been One Before (Brew Dog)”. Especially at the beginning the band reveals its free jazz roots. The bass remains in a rather monotonous drone again but Andreas Werliin especially leaves behind his rock approach to play freer, more subtle and versatile rhythms. Above this rhythmic carpet Gustafsson soars to unknown beautiful and melancholic heights showing that he knows his Coltrane, too. After seven minutes the band almost stops, leaving behind a uniform electronic pattern. Then the drums re-enter just to support a typical psychedelic Sixties organ which sounds much like Pink Floyd’s "Live at Pompeii", a last psychedelic reminiscence. This part fades out again and what is left is electronic static, white noise, interrupted by very distant drum and bass sounds now and then. The whole epic lasts 23 minutes.

When I reviewed The Cherry Thing one of the comments said that Mats Gustafsson was the musician of the year for him (or her) although there are another 5 months to go. I totally agree. He deserves it for his musical openness, for his creativity, for his diverse musical projects and his ability to integrate various musicians in his musical cosmos.

In the Mouth a Hand is available on double LP and CD, rune grammophon offers a limited edition of 100 in white vinyl (for the hunters and collectors out there).  Make sure you get one.

If you want to get an idea what it sounds like, you can watch this (although the album is even better):

© stef


Dan said...

Man, you nailed it when you talk about that first track--the way Ambarchi comes out of nowhere to suddenly overtake everything is amazing. You don't even realize it's happening until he's dominating your awareness.

Martin Schray said...

Thanks, Dan. I keep listening to the record again and again and sometimes I can't believe what these guys are doing here. The more you listen to it the more you discover.

Richard said...

I just listened to this one for the first time. I'm still blown away. The first track especially is just as you described. I like this even more than Unreleased.