Sky Burial, The Forcing Season: Further Acts of Severance, Opa Loka Records, OL1904 CD (2019)
Sky Burial is the solo dark ambient / industrial / noise project of Michael Page and the album under review is his sixteenth release since 2013 under the project name. Taking inspiration from experimental music acts of the late 1970s / early 1980s, working in genres such as early industrial (think Throbbing Gristle, Nurse With Wound and SPK) and ambient, this album has much of the playful spirit and energy of past musical experimentation of works from the 1950s to the 1980s typically championed by Keith Fullerton Whitman’s archival label Creelpone. A strong emphasis on melody, layering with found sound recordings and effects, and drone tone and sound wash to help develop mood and create particular atmospheres is evident. Who says the techniques and methods of the past used to manipulate mood and emotion aren’t still relevant in this day and age where shock tactics and propaganda to unnerve and panic populations, and push them into accepting particular political agendas without questioning them, are the current fashion? Perhaps this is the lesson we can take away from “The Forcing Season …”, that beneath the apparent tranquillity, prosperity and stability of Western society, there are forces leading to chaos and turmoil at work, and they are much closer to us – and by implication our stability is much more fragile than it appears – than we realise.
Tracks are simply numbered from I to X and with the exception of X, are short and appear to have no relation to one another, giving the impression of being self-sufficient static pieces leading nowhere in particular. While this may appear unsatisfying to listeners, who might treat the album as entertaining but with nothing to say other than be repetitive (most tracks start off bright and then become dark in mood), the very arrangement of these tracks and their recording might be the message itself. We do live in fragmented societies, where it is impossible now for most people to understand more about the world than their immediate work, education, relationships and environments require, and moreover the information channels and networks they depend on can no longer be trusted to be accurate and truthful. Perhaps there is much more being said or hinted at in this album than even Page himself realises.
On most tracks the music proceeds at a leisurely pace even with layers of factory-ambience rhythms and tones, with a couple including Tibetan Buddhist influences and throat-singing recordings. As mentioned before, each track is a self-sufficient world unto itself. The only thing that really unites them all is a clear airy production that (unintentionally perhaps) renders them all a bit one-dimensional in depth. As the album continues, the music steadily becomes less “industrial” and more “ambient” (in terms of how they sound and how the sounds themselves conform to conventional notions of industrial and ambient music) and at the same time less familiar and structured, and more abstract in sound and structure, as if the whole time you’re listening to the music it’s taking you further down a rabbit hole that turns out to be a wormhole from one universe into another. The final track X turns out to be a journey in a dark and uncertain cosmos where at any minute chaos could erupt.
I believe this is intended to be unsettling music and yet I do have the feeling of being an interstellar tourist viewing my home planet on fire, remote from the instability and the violence taking place there, and feeling helpless and frustrated that I’m not in the thick of the action trying to do my best to stop it all.