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Thursday, December 26, 2013

James Plotkin & Paal Nilssen-Love: Death Rattle (Rune Grammofon, 2013) ***½

By Martin Schray

When I saw The Thing recently Paal Nilssen-Love told me after the show that he loves working with larger ensembles because you can see where notation or arrangements agreed beforehand are going, But that he also loves duos like the ones with Peter Brötzmann and Joe McPhee, free jazz heroes and legends for him and others. And sometimes he transgresses genre limits and teams up with Massimo Pupillo and Lasse Marhaug on “Your Next” or with James Plotkin, who is better known as a pioneer guitarist in new metal, dark ambient, industrial, noise, grindcore and drone rock – he’s worked with bands  like OLD, Scorn, Khanate, Phantomsmasher, Khlyst and his latest project Jodis.

Grindcore guitar can also be subsumed under “noise” (see this week’s reviews) so that Nilssen-Love’s decision to work with Plotkin is no great surprise. More interesting is Plotkin’s approach to Nilssen-Love’s ferocious off-the-wall style: solid beats and sound textures instead of trying to compete with drums gone wild. A reversal of the classic role of drums and guitar. Even the melodies Plotkin throws in belong to that strategy. Both musicians seem to profit from this approach, all the tracks are very intense, aggressive and challenging.

The album starts in a spectacular way: The first track, “The Skin, the Colour” opens with Plotkin’s
open chords reminiscent of classic American post rock bands like Tortoise and Trans Am. It’s the best track on the album, a constant clash of musical ideas, in which the musicians frequently change sides. Plotkin uses a lot of synthesizer sounds instead of normal guitar, and almost demolishes the track – which Nilssen-Love does nothing to prevent – resulting in some brilliantly eccentric moments. Unfortunately, the album cannot maintain this level. Although the other tracks are good they do not have the same focus as “The Skin, the Colour”, the sounds and structure are mostly variants of the opening track.

Nevertheless, this is an interesting album, especially in the context of the recent collaborations with Lasse Marhaug. Again, it shows another side of Paal Nilssen-Love, such as when he
excels on cymbals in “Primateria”, a pure prog rock fantasy that sounds like a manic acid trip.

Listen to an excerpt here: 

The album can be bought at