Granite City

On Distant Curving Horizon. The Primal Broken Passage. Beneath The Scorching Sun (MIDIRA RECORDS MIDIRA 049) we have the team-up of two European art-rock guitar players with one drummer to produce a single 55-minute piece, an improvised work done in one take, and on their first encounter as a trio. Belgian composer and player Dirk Serries is probably best known as Vidna Obmana and Fear Falls Burning; he’s been doing the Vidna thing since 1985. More recently, he teamed up with the Swedish drummer Tomas Järmyr (also present here) to form The Void Of Expansion, a kind of free-jazz noisy thing which since 2014 has already made two records for Tonefloat. Never heard them, but I bet they’re nothing like Stefan Jaworzyn’s Ascension. Actually the intention in The Void Of Expansion was to cross boundaries and push genres aside, drawing freely at the wells of post-rock ambient shoegaze minimalism and the like, and it’s possible we already have the inklings of Distant Curving Horizon…beginning to gestate in that particular melting tub.

As to Norwegian Eirik Havnes, the second guitarist here, can’t find much evidence of his former work but it seems he has also strummed and fretted alongside drummer Järmyr as a duo called Saw, who made the album No Way Black in 2014. Today’s release has a foreboding black-charred tri-fold cover, which when opened up reveals a frosty mountain range shrouded in fog, confirming the all-or-nothing mindset of this record. I certainly don’t feel we’re being invited to contemplate the beauty of that mountain, rather it’s far more likely we’re about to have our faces smashed against the hard granite rock, or else led for miles over inhospitable terrain while dragged by stout ropes. Playing the album gives this impression; it’s an exhausting chore, at one level. The droning shapeless guitars just go on and on, barely forming a root chord and yet still emerging as monotonous grind. Although the players contrive many climactic moments – very gradually, as if pushing their way to the top of a steep incline perched on an ancient penny-farthing bike – there is never any sense of release for the listener, and the abiding sense of tension and dread won’t go away. Tomas Järmyr acts with considerable restraint and never once erupts into any form of conventional rockist drum-solo moments, but he does sometimes punch home an event with his snares with the resolve of a mechanical engineer tugging at an iron chain.

Most of the time the “floating” qualities of this music are due to the drummer; he has learned the lessons of Sonny Murray well. I suppose I also have to admire the “burnished” sound of the guitars; years of European art-rock culture have led us to this perfected point, by way of Klaus Schulze’s layered synth tones and the plangent guitars of Popol Vuh. I seem to recall that kind of sustained unending guitar surface was one of the Vidna hallmarks; a drone strong enough to line the keel of a tugboat. It made me wish for a bit of amplifier feedback or garage-band fuzz just to roughen things up, but no such luck; which indicates how far away we are now from Sonic Youth or Sunn O))), who would have approached a project like this quite differently. From 19th February 2018.

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