Triangular Ascension – Leviathan Device

01/09/2011 § Leave a comment

At university I had an unfortunately-named tutor called Professor Pink. A small, awkward, rattish pariah whose manner was tedious and whose lessons even more so. Pink specialised in the philosophy of politics and, since it was a required element of my pseudo-degree, I and a couple of hundred others had the mispleasure of three hours a week in his company. I can’t remember much about those experiences save Pink’s hideous taste in shirtwear and his fascination with Thomas Hobbes’ book Leviathan. In fact, he spouted on about Leviathan so regularly that you’d be forgiven for thinking it’s all he’d actually read, managing to coax his slimy way through exam after exam until teaching placement, filling his study with second and third-hand unread philosophy books and passing the baton of his obsession on to indifferent 19 year olds who majoritively dropped it in favour of Sainbury’s soave and sexual encounters with loose, elephantine girls from the North.

Somewhere in the 21st century the worlds of Professor Pink and dark ambient music have collided. Leviathan Device, the first full album from Triangular Ascension, takes Hobbes’ Leviathan as an inspiration and weaves a tale out of it in aural form. It’s more of a process than a story, recounting the idea of a world strewn with social and political upheaval which ends up being cured, cleansed and terraformed by an unexplained device with releases gargantuan quantities of water to literally soak the problems away. In a sense, such a drastic decimation through aquatic means would eradicate but also reinvent. Water is our life-giver after all and Federico Ágreda recognises its power to heal, improve and renew, and this is more of an important theme of the album than the device itself which we know nothing of.

Leviathan Device has no location as such, it’s all about movement: fluidity, change and reinvention. It has a very transient feel which permeates every quarter of its edifice. It’s a highly polished and deep-reaching piece of work, utilising many sounds, efforts, effects and movements: there’s nothing static in its themes, it’s always shifting, trapezing and volleying between one moment to the next. Ágreda uses highly lush, daunting drones and sirens to signal impending catastrophe, machined whirrs and hornetlike buzzings and soft, serene chimes as the album calms into a blissful aftermath towards the end, all underpinned by waterlike bubbling, soft rainfall or crest upon crest of tumbling waves. Yes, it’s yet another ambient work by a black metal artist, but Ágreda’s heart is clearly in the subject matter since the entire work is professionally and convincingly transmitted ensuring plenty of different climates and feelings.

It’s really the activity that plays the biggest anti-hero of the album though. Leviathan Device seems to know exactly what it wants to do, but it does it with a little too much force, too much enthusiasm and gusto so that the album is almost entirely robbed of any finesse or elan it could have had. Ágreda understands the power of water – in cleansing, in purification and as a force of destruction but there’s too much going on for us to concentrate on any of these traits. Ironically the water sounds end up playing something of a background role, a stock part, with a myriad other effects glibly jutting their way into the foreground so that a lot of the time it becomes highly confusing to work out where we’re going next. Leviathan Device is too busy, too desperate to tell us something drastic is going on rather than letting us watch and take in the majesty of its events, so it force-feeds them to us counter-productively at the expense of immediate interest or innovation, giving us no time to digest each segment effectively.

A dark ambient album inspired by Hobbes and dedicated to the grandeur and richness of water certainly sounds like a promising concept, especially when it’s as well-produced as this one. Ágreda takes us through a wild variety of darker aquatic shades, all signalling and signifying instances of warning, pain, fear, serenity and calm through the catalyst of the leviathan device itself. Unfortunately I can’t help feeling that it’s all a little too hung up on its own story rather than just letting itself be what it wants to be. Triangular Ascension certainly succeeds in driving us round a dark and rich aural spectrum, but its one with too many twists, too many contortions, and it becomes tiresome and wearying before long. It’s a tapestry with too many colours; an overseasoned mouthful with underplayed flavours, with more sensation being lost than produced. Instead of trickling sensually over us, Leviathan Device overflows and overloads us with its presence, in spite of being a mostly quenching experience.

Rating: 3.5/5

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Locrian – Dort Ist Der Weg b/w Frozen In Ash

01/09/2011 § Leave a comment

Locrian are one of the few remaining ambassadors of the actual. Ever since their earlier, experimental days when they were releasing two-track splits and demos over cassette, they’ve never given the impression that they were in a formative stage, that they were finding their feet. Locrian hit the ground running from day one. And now, several albums down the line, the intensity of their sound and the genuineness of their essence haven’t been lost at all. If anything, Locrian are still on a road of expansion. It’s as if with every bar of their output the band are drip-feeding us piecemeal quantities from a dark colossus of emotion, one which never seems to be depleted: an ever-engorged, ever-strong and self-supporting axiom of personal distress. Their catalogue remains unstatic, a crusade which has been thoroughly mapped out with no fissure of uncertainty or overindulgence to crack their lacquer of self-knowledge, but it’s one which we’ll only ever travel at their pace. There are still surprises in store.

11th September will see the release of their first 7″ single through Flingco Sound System, consisting of a cover of Popul Vuh’s excellent Dort Ist Der Weg, and the original Frozen in Ash. Locrian take the canorous, waterlike fluidity of Popul Vuh’s original and give it a barbed tinge. However, this is no mere reworking or interpretation. Locrian’s vision enables them to coax hidden realities out of third-party sounds, to reignite dormant fires; they are able to extract and bring to the pulpit the quietened voice within another’s work. As such, this new exhalation hard-blown into the belly of 70′s Krautrock doesn’t feel forced or unnatural, but that it was always existent, it only took newer, fresher eyes to see it. The rising, spectre-like female vocals are still present as in the original but combined with the pinched, taut guitar tone, the experience is all the more electrifying. There’s a new, more meaningful undercurrent espied in this piece, and its realisation creates a tension for release. As the track builds, the instruments overlap till the guitar takes on a howling, droning scream which serves as a climax until it whithers and calms into a still ether.

Frozen in Ash is one of the finest moments of the band’s catalogue. Opening with a snipped, fuzzed and trebly post-rock feel, mixed with Steven’s pained screams, the band mix, fuse and bastardise elements of drone, doom and rock, all thrown in with the darkness and depth of black metal. Shortly, an acoustic guitar melody repeats percussively over the top while a faster drum rhythm appears and ebbs into the foreground. As the drumming intensifies, Frozen in Ash becomes alive with its own pulse, its own weight, gravity and being until finally everything drops and ceases as we are left hanging in the tipped scales of Locrian’s aural might, left with an immense afterglow of liberation. Locrian know the power of silence as much as the power of noise.

Being 12 minutes in length, you’d be forgiven for being skeptical as to the full effectiveness of this 7″. But Locrian don’t just create music, they create sentience. Every track of theirs carries its own life-force, its own pain and its own benevolence. Within each chord and note pounds the ice-blue nucleus of unrealised and misunderstood pain, folded with layer upon layer of sound and feeling. There is nothing casual to these messages, it’s possible to get lost in their tiers, their labyrinthine halls of devastation. Music of this sort lives and breathes its own being far beyond the gridded confines of genre lists. ‘Less is more’ would hardly be the tenet to suffice here – with Locrian, more is more.

Rating: 4.5/5

Sabi/Kiyo – 71:36

01/09/2011 § Leave a comment

This split release between Japanese ambient artists Sabi and IDM/glitch master Kiyo actually comes in at exactly 71:31, meaning you have an extra five phantom seconds all to yourself before, after or somewhere during this album to fill with what you choose. It’s most likely that you’ll want to use the space for some mode of contemplation which is, after all, what the sounds here are set to inspire. Sabi, known for his living, breathing ambient works, takes the first half of the album, filling it with a hollow, translucent, glistening feel of pure fluid ambience, utilising minimal piano and string samples to perfect effect, whereas Kiyo almost offsets the second half with a more upbeat, energised assortment of IDM and glitch. It’s a union which work on paper, but aurally it feels a little jarring.

71:36 is a re-release by Force Intel of the original 2008 album through Phaseworks, and sees newer and much improved artwork stamping its theme on the music. Force Intel describe the album as “a work of intricate natural beauty” which, for once, is a pretty accurate synopsis. There is something highly organic about this music, highly vibrant, Sabi’s work in particular carrying a unique cold purity, shimmering and pulsating with the life-breath of the natural realm. Kabi’s work in glitch has a slightly more convulsive feel, a rekindling of the agitation of the manufactured modern world from which Sabi has let us escape. In a way, Sabi exploits and explores the bare ethereal consciousness of nature, whereas Kabi forces us into the confused, hexing complexity of more contemporary pacing. It’s a shocking reminder, and an abrasive concept to gel with after the airy, cleansing sensations of Sabi’s work.

If anything, this is music concerning space. The space to move around, the space to move into, the space to exist, the space between events and the space that creates freedom, the mother of form. There is as much concentration on the effectiveness and importance of the microcosma between passages, between notes and between feelings as those feelings themselves, and how we can experience so much when doing so little. Space creates stillness after all, and most of the time in 71:36 the feeling of stillness is very much prevalent, whether it be transmitted by the repetitive but beautiful piano discords in “Howling Out With Tight Neons” and “Om” or the flowing, meandering orchestral minimalism of “Sleepy Emerald Vs. He Ostrich”. Sabi’s music does away with the fake humanism of the majority of modern ambience and replaces and regresses it with the song within nature, brought to the fore rightfully once again.

The transference into Kiyo’s second half of the album is subtly done. Kiyo mimics and respects the ambience of Sabi in “Tones on Tail” and gradually, playfully contorts them into his own. From here we see a quickening and a dividing of processes and ingredients and what was once a pure, linear musical trajectory becomes more outward, more scattered and disordered, running away with itself but not really knowing what it’s running to. It feels like controlled chaos, a pulled punch, a frustration, a half-truth. Kabi’s glitchwork is subtle at first, and as the album seasons we have lost all sense of the natural and are deeply lost in the synthetic. “Bear In. Warm-Noiz” is the best example of this, being a piecemeal pastiche of low-grade machine noise, seemingly random melodies and confused cadence. “Noor” refuses to pull us back, burying us deeply into a wayward, blustery electronic static before cutting itself dead.

In spite of the dual aspects of 71:36, it still feels like a whole entity. Sabi’s and Kiyo’s musical styles flow into one another but they do not represent each other or even consolidate. Maybe this is not so much about space but the loss of space and the realisation that we can only see what we have wasted after it’s gone. It’s for this reason that Kiyo refuses to pull us back into the dreamlike trance of ambience through we we started: once some things are lost they are lost forever, not everything can be returned. Sabi’s and Kiyo’s endeavours aren’t a natural pairing so much as an arranged marriage, highlighting the need for true partnerships and disowning the import of force. 71:36′s message is more important than its execution – the beauty of living and the beauty of sound and space are naturally existent, not created. We can’t always improve things by manipulation.

Rating: 3.5/5

Falloch – We Are Gathering Dust

01/09/2011 § Leave a comment

Even though we’re at the warmest time of the year, the dying of the evening light signals the slow downturn from late Summer into Autumn, as we approach the movement into contemplation that the equinox creates. The essence of the calmer months is something that should be all too familiar to Scottish introspectors Falloch, who draw a lot of their inspiration from colder climes and the powerful forces of nature. “Where Distant Spirits Remain”, their début album released through the metal behemoth Candlelight Records, is a more placid offering from the label, foraging in various corners of post-rock, folk and progressive metal, drawing inspiration from bands such as Agalloch, Alcest and Les Discretes. Even though I initially thought the band name was a shameless sidling up to Agalloch, in turns out that Falloch Falls near Glasgow is the root of the band’s namesake, but you can still look at it and instantly know what you’re letting yourself in for by giving them airspace.

The band is currently only two members deep: Scott McClean taking care of vocals, guitar and drums and Andy Marshall on vocals, guitar and bass duties. The music has a very personal tinge to it, possibly something aided by the paucity of band members, seen clambering over tundra, tangia and snowy hills in the promo pictures, of which there must be all too many in Scotland towards the latter half of the year. Everything about the band, from the music to their image, is white – the white of cold, the white of pure emotion, the white of simplicity and the white of canvas, beckoning creativity, change, challenge and emotional control. It’s the scrap between these constantly fluxing states which Falloch attempt to wrestle with and this début is the cathartic product of that endeavour.

Where Distant Spirits Remain is very much a work of homage. A homage to nature, to sorrow, to solace and to those other bands whose sound is so close to Falloch’s own. This is not music created just to preach of personal torment and loneliness but to share that solace, understand it and interpret it through various paths. Falloch are heavy on their atmospheric metal but they also care to indulge in the territory of post-rock, at times shoving it to the prow of their musical movements and using it as a tool to elevate the listener above the all too desolate essence of ethereal loss that assails their music. Where Distant Spirits Remain is not so much about presenting emotion as exploring it, empathising with it as a vast ranging territory which can never be fully mapped out or moderated, and which always hides its own idiosyncrasies, myths and enigmas.

The musical territory is a little too vast even for Falloch, though. At seven tracks and 52 minutes, you can be sure to expect some long numbers here. It’s so vast, in fact, that Falloch have a tendency to get lost in it themselves. A lot of the songs contain a great quota of musical variety, summoning clean acoustic passages, glimmering post-rock and faster, energetic elements reminiscent of those black metal/shoegaze bands who swirl around the atmospheric metal scene. The songs have direction, certainly, but it’s too much of a scenic route than a direct path, the kind of country drive that goes on a little too long, and what once felt like a good idea before you set out starts to feel tiresome and dull, and returning can’t come quick enough. This is possibly not helped by the long instrumental sections which, most of the time, are just too simplistic to be interesting and though Andy’s voice, for its part, is pure and fluid as the music itself, I can’t help feeling that it’s a little too weak even for metal of this kind, the real pain and pallor behind the words getting stuck suppressed in his throat.

Falloch clearly have ghosts to reckon with, whether they be personal demons or the ghosts of personal want and chance which desire to make Where Distant Spirits Remain so much more than it is. This album wants to be greater but it lacks a certain conviction, a certain true soul which at times makes the music feel as blank as the white hills which Falloch walk. What causes bands like Agalloch or Alcest to be so effective for some is the true heart and atmosphere of nature converted to musical form, and though this heart also may reside within McLean and Marshall themselves, the transmission is lacking. Where Distant Spirits Remain, though occasionally successful, doesn’t inspire as much as its inspirations and lot of the time it wanders, drifts and strays into a miasma of washed-out indifference. A little more of that biting cold would do wonders for this music.

Rating: 3/5

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