Tuesday, April 26, 2022

Steamboat Switzerland – Terrifying Sunset (Trost, 2021)

By Nick Ostrum

I remember seeing Caspar Brötzmann , Michael Wertmüller and Marino Pliakas at the A’larme Festival in 2012. If my memory is accurate, they were the final act of the night and had a rocky start, as the equipment was not set to their desired volume. Once they got started and pummeled out their first notes, I was grinning, or gritting my teeth in excruciating ecstasy, or just staring dumbly ahead until I regained my composure. By the end of their set, they had cleaned the room like I had never seen before. I exaggerate slightly, as I was not the only person who attended that night to see them and a previous set by Peter Brötzmann, Caspar’s father and bandmate of Wertmüller and Pliakas in Full Blast, and Keiji Haino and I was not the only one who persevered. Still, they had cut attendance by about half by the end.

Since then, I have picked up much of what Pliakas produced with the Brötzmänner but have rarely heard him in other settings. In Steamboat Switzerland, Pliakas (on e-bass) is joined by the Swiss rhythm section of Lucas Niggli on drums and Dominik Blum on Hammond organ and voice.

The result is Terrifying Sunset. It was recorded live at Photobastei Club Zurich/Switzerland in September 2020. It is loud and it is raw. It is metal. (Just listen to the opening shriek at the beginning of the second and final track Tiger=East=Face.) Or, maybe it is metallic-tinged racket. Or cosmic doom fusion. Whatever it is, it veers into heavy noise landscaping that Pliakas has spent years cultivating. Niggli is a perfect companion, splitting the air with crashes and matching in intensity Pliakas’ heavy thrums when necessary and playing sparsely when they wander into the tempestuous eye. Blum is wildman on Hammond, with a penchant for the spacier realm of Krautrock as well as its heavy Neubauten manifestations. I cannot say I am still so dumbfounded by this most intense and grating corner of the free music world as I was a decade ago. And, for what it is worth, Steamboat Switzerland dip in and out of its ear-bleed extremities, focusing on swells and layered nuances in some spaces and massive prog blasts in others. Still, every once in a while, someone from this corner hits the right notes and the right dynamics and rides the resulting wave until it crumbles dramatically on shore. Someone balances that shock value with a surprising musicality and vision that creates a perfect storm. Excuse the mixed meteorological metaphor, but Terrifying Sunset is that storm.

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