Click here to [close]

Friday, January 20, 2017

Where darkness, doom and despair reign ...

By Stef

Music is about mood. And some music is designed by its composers/improvisers to create dark atmospheres or to reflect emotions of deep sadness and agony. This may be soothing at times, to know that others share the same sentiments and are even able to express it in a way that you never thought possible. It can also create the mood and drive the listener into deeper despair than before. We go a little beyond our usual "jazz" influenced genres in our review, illustrating some strong likeness in other areas of avant-garde music.

If today, for one reason or another, you might feel depressed, this is the best music to emphasise your sense of total desolation and despair. But it's comforting to know that there is beauty to accompany you.

Totenbaum Träger - Ouverture Du Cadavre De Sade (Tour De Bras, 2016) ****½

To be honest, I had never heard of either Dominic Marion (guitars & effects) or Philippe Battikha (trumpets & effects), both from Canada, but what I hear is really strong. The music is hard to qualify. They themselves call it post-rock, noir ambient melancholia, noise art, with lots of drone elements. The atmosphere is darker than dark, with a band's name that means as much as "the coffin carriers", and the music is inspired by a work by the French Marquis de Sade, the man who gave his name to the word sadism, and then especially his book "Cent vingt journées de Sodome" (The 120 Days Of Sodom).

The music accompanies a book with illustrations by Mivil Deschênes, and I can recommend the over 18-year-old among our readers to visit his website to see the illustrations.

As you might expect, the music is not very uplifting, yet it is carefully crafted with arpeggiated guitar chords, sad trumpet and eery effects, and it must be said, the overall result is quite a listening experience. Especially the longer pieces "Dies Irae" and "Agnus Dei" are hair-raising and terrifying.

Can be purchased from Bandcamp.

Im Wald - Orion (Wide Ear Records, 2016) ****½

One of my favorite albums of last year is short, only 35 minutes worth of music, but what kind of music! The liner notes guide us to music history, through concepts of beauty and form and boundaries. This Swiss quintet brings their vision of music, and it is a compelling one.

The band are Tobias Meier on alto, Matthias Spillmann on trumpet, Frantz Loriot on viola, Nicola Romano on cello and Raffaele Bossard on bass. Their approach to music is quiet, deliberate and organic, it flows out of the initial few sounds and spreads out with precision as each musician adds tones and withdraws, creating an eery tension that stays for the entire album, a tension that seems to be living from the paradox of the minimal and the universal, the tiny and the grand, the single note and the total experience. Why is it dark? Because the sound is mysterious. It could be the soundtrack for space travel as much as it is for dark woods in a horror movie. You cannot grasp what's happening, no quite the opposite, the music grabs you and does not let go. It's easy to be hooked on this one.

Listen and buy from the label.

Jeremiah Cymerman's Bloodmist - Sheen (5049 Records, 2016) ****½

I know the album has already been reviewed before. As Dan wrote "abstract ... suggesting an ominous narrative—it has a cinematic quality that’s easy to imagine driving a moody storyline". Bloodmist are Jeremiah Cymeran on clarinet and electronics, Toby Driver on bass, and Mario Diaz de Leon on guitar. They call their genre "dark experimental" music, working with effects and electronics to create total listening experiences that go beyond genre, or that is a genre by itself. The sound is slow, relentless, with single voices of agony multiplied in various layers, with electronics and bass adding arrhythmic counterpoint. 

Almost exactly three years ago, I gave "Pale Horse" a 5-star rating for the total devastating and destabilising listening experience. Here we have the same sense of desolation, a whole musical universe created by three musicians who share a common vision and maintain the same high quality throughout the album. This is not uplifting music, it's terrifying. And that's why you should listen to it. 

Listen and buy from the label

Alex Zethson - Pole Of Inaccessibility (Thanatosis Produktion, 2016) ****

The only reference I have for Swedish pianist Alex Zethson is his participation in Martin Küchen's "Angles 8" and "Angles 9" bands, but that is possibly the most misleading reference possible from a musical perspective: this music is as slow and as dark as the music of Angles is dynamic and infectious.

On this album, Zethson creates gloomy piano soundscapes, exclusively played in the lower registers and with a slow, insistent repetitiveness. It is full of drama and the resulting effect is somber and strange at the same time ... and you get almost two hours worth of this, on two lengthy improvisations. This will not cheer you up, yet it's aesthetic power is unmistakable.

Zethson describes his art as "generated by the conventional connections fingers-keys-hammers-strings. however, the piano of pole of inaccessibility appears as a multifaceted sound source, rather than as a distinct, exterior instrument, easily identified. the synthesizer, piano and the listeners are moving within the same cloud of sound, within which they reshape and expand the sounds in the specific (sound)rooms. which also means that their boundaries seems flexible. the pianoness of the piano appears and disappears".

Listen and buy from the label

Torstein Lavik Larsen & Fredrik Rasten - Pip (Creative Sources, 2016) ****

On "Pip", we get another fabulous performance, now by Norwegians Fredrik Rasten on guitar and Torstein Lavik Larsen on trumpet. Their acoustic music is minimal, repetitive, slow and with an eery intensity.  It is less dark than some of the other albums, with Lavik Larsen's trumpet once in a while, as on "Park", even giving joyful phrases somewhat reminiscent of Rob Mazurek, yet these are more contrasts that do not change the overall tone of inevitability, doom and agony that permeates the music. Dissonance is searched for at other times, as in the weird "Habitat", sounding like animals screeching in the bush, more in distress than enjoying nature.

It isn't cheerful music, but the simple quality of the compositions/improvisations and the control in the delivery are absolutely excellent. It's amazing what you can do with two acoustic instruments. That by itself is part of the listening experience.

Listen and buy from Bandcamp.

Nate Wooley - Polychoral (Mnóad, 2016) ****½

In April 2015, Nate Wooley created an 8 channel installation, and invited fellow trumpeter Peter Evans to join him. They made their improvisation loop and return and amplify in almost endless layers of sound, for one piece of fourty-five minutes, once in a while recognisable as originating from a trumpet, but mostly not, as if one tone was split to deliver several polyphonic voices gliding in different timbres along each other. Things start shifting after ten minutes when additional sounds converge, the strange and powerful deep rumbling, over which a beautiful, and almost jubilant trumpet solo sings in the distance, like a ray of light piercing through the complete darkness, accentuating it, until indescribable noises dissipate the beauty, but some feeling remains, a feeling of brightness, high-pitched but turned into a haunting and apocalyptic sonic wave, accompanied by weird electronic oscillations and industrial noise. The trumpets resonate in the distance.

It is fascinating, bewildering, extraordinary. Even if Nate Wooley and Peter Evans are "jazz musicians", there is no jazz to be heard here. This is ambient music, dark and horrifying, solemn, majestic and overpowering. And uncompromising.

Ernesto Rodrigues, Abdul Moimême & Antez - Basalto (Creative Sources, 2016) ****

Aptly called "Basalto", the black rocks resulting from lava, the music is hard, organic, ungiving, harsh and structured around a tonal center without much variation except for the timbral shifts grinding like tectonic plates under severe pressure, yet without any hope to get release from the relentless tension. Ernesto Rodrigues plays octave viola and baritone viola, Abdul Moimême is on electric guitar and Antez plays percussion, although it is hard to identify what sounds come from which instrument on the two long tracks. The music creates a sonic universe that is broad and deep, giving something fundamental and strange, like the status of our planet even before life came to be, when only rocks and water and air and fire were fighting slowly and majestically and unavoidably for their own space.

Rodrigues has become a real advocate for his kind of music, creating exceptional listening experiences to open-eared audiences, working to give other musicians the chance to release like-minded electroacoustic and avant-garde music on his Creative Sources label.

Lustmord ‎– Dark Matter (Touch, 2016) ***½

Dear jazz friends, bear with me for a moment. This is not your genre. This is music from the master of "dark ambient", British sound sculptor Brian Williams, who later changed his name into Lustmord (almost Dutch for "lust murder"). He has been working on this project for decades, collecting material from the audio library of cosmological activity collected between 1993 and 2003. It was gathered from various sources including NASA (Cape Canaveral, Ames, The Jet Propulsion Laboratory and Arecibo), The Very Large Array, The National Radio Astronomy Observatory and various educational institutions and private contributors throughout the USA. Yes, I thought there were no sounds in outer space because sound doesn't travel in a vacuum, but that does not appear to be true. 

Anyway, Lustmord brought all these sounds together into one flowing movement of multilayered noise, without any other instruments or voice. The effect is perplexing. It is foreboding, immense, bounderless, and it's easy to imagine that you're travelling alone through endless dark eternity, for ever. 

MMMD - Pekisyon Funebri (Antifrost, 2016) ***

Formerly known as Mohammad, the Greek chamber doom trio, consisting of Nikos Veliotis on cello, Coti on bass and Ilios on oscillators, has reduced its name after the departure of Coti. The hearse on the cover already sets the tone, as does the title. The two musicians create deep endless sonic laments with deep reverberations and resonance. The low-toned dark sounds shift quietly and ominously, without apparent change and chance of relief or redemption, and it is especially that heavily concentrated approach, without compromise that gives the album its strong unity and listening experience, as the press texts says, "unfolding earthly murmurs and ghostly chants over their distinctive seismic diapasons". 

Listen and download from Bandcamp.

Orthodox - Supreme (Utech, 2017) ***

'Orthodox' are Marco Serrato on bass and Borja Díaz on drums, two Spanish musicians whom we know from their duo album "Arconte", and from the Hidden Forces Trio with their albums "Topus" and "Crows Are Council". Already on these albums, doom and despair are the key ingredients, and now they are joined by Achilleas Polychronidis from the band Skullfuck (yes, Skullfuck) on sax, who adds some further rage into the madness. They categorise their own music as 'doom jazz' and this is very correct. 'Supreme' consists of one 37-minute track that starts from the deepest abysses of this earth, with eroded rumbling and unidentified growls, gradually shifting in the soundtrack for armaggeddon, or the accompanying track for a guided tour of hell, or any other place where compromise and silken sentiments are unheard of. I am not familiar with all the various subgenres in death metal ('death doom', 'death core', 'core grind', ...) but it will certainly appeal to fans of the genre.  

And even if you're no fan, which can be excused, you can only admire the single-minded vision of the three musicians to go that far and to really shy away from any concept of compromise. 

Listen and download from Bandcamp.

Ben Zucker - Confluere (No Art Records, 2016) ***½

The Ben Zucker's album 'Confluere' is a light desert in this series. Zucker is a multi-instrumentalist, playing trumpet, piano, vibraphone, percussion and several other instruments, and he describes himself as "sound designer", active in many genres, from classical over songwriting to acapella groups and jazz. With "Confluere", he actually brought several improvisations on his various instruments together on one album, without editing them, which results in quite some unexpected changes in the build-up, although it is obvious that there is a common vision behind all. The album clocks at a little over half an hour. Its slowness, the eery interaction and the shifting focus between foreground and background sounds give the feeling of foreboding and dread.


Colin Green said...

Of course, if you don't believe that music is only about mood, much of this music might actually be about something else.