Tagged: dark

Any Colour You Like

Ab Intra is the Polish musician Radosław Kamiński, who’s been releasing his brand of dark ambient electronica since 2006. His previous three albums came out on Zoharum, one of them a split with 1000schoen. His alter-ego is a Latin phrase which roughly translates into English as “from the inside”, which may indicate something of the introverted nature of this self-absorbed music; like so many releases in this genre, it doesn’t have much of a life outside itself. Today’s release has a Greek title rather than a Latin one however, and Henosis I-V (ZOHARUM ZOHAR 132-2) uses the Greek word for “unity”. Kamiński’s earliest influence was the French synth big-wig populist Jean-Michel Jarre, and this does show on parts of this album; the second track ‘Henosis 2’ exhibits much of the pomposity and self-importance of the French player, as if announcing to the massed audience some mysterious post-millennial event whose significance has to be bolstered with flashing lights and laser shows. But there’s no real payoff; as with most of the music here, it seems to be all build-up without any actual event, idea or statement at the end of it. Even so, Kamiński’s music does have a well-crafted production surface, and he manages to avoid over-familiar synth settings and sounds, arriving at his own style of dark ambient brooding. A six-panel digipak is required for the artwork, allowing for slight visual variations on the arrangement of equilateral triangles on a black field; it invokes the cover of Pink Floyd’s best-selling album, and some of Ab Intra’s synth drones would have felt right at home, if not on that album then certainly on Wish You Were Here. From 27th October 2016.

Have His Carcase

Danny Hyde is a producer and remix genius known to many as the man behind the console for numerous releases by Nine Inch Nails, and also the Spanish pop-electro combo Fangoria; he’s also been associated with Psychic TV and Depeche Mode. But true cognoscenti of this dark mistico-sex-disco genre know him for his work with Coil, particularly his production work on milestone releases such as Horse Rotorvator and Love’s Secret Domain, the latter being an item that was recommended to me many years ago if I wanted to try and get “into” Coil. It didn’t quite work, and neither their music nor their themes have ever completely clicked for this listener, but I recognise it would be churlish to ignore the depth of the cultish feelings that Coil inspire in their acolytes, pilgrims and followers.

Hyde is also known as Electric Sewer Age, a project which sometimes featured Peter Christopherson from Coil, and the album Bad White Corpuscle (HG1607) has recently been released on vinyl by Hallow Ground. It originally came out in 2014 on the Italian label Old Europa Cafe, in a limited digipak, but this new issue has a bonus track called ‘Redocine (Death Of The Corpuscle)’. Given that all the tracks have the word “Corpuscle” somewhere in the title, one is tempted to read the album as a story of some sort, a day in the life (and death) of one of these micro-organisms that are associated with red and white blood cells. However, given the overall theme and the largely sinister caste of this electronic music, clearly things are going wrong in the body politic, and it might be more realistic to view this as a grim musical interpretation of slow death by cancer, AIDS, leukaemia, or sickle cell disease.

The press notes advise us to listen out for “dark, futuristic environments” and “glacial synth suspensions” on this record. Today’s spin has been underwhelming, though. I kept waiting for something to happen, some musical event or concrete moment to pass before us, then realised I was nearly at the end of side one already. What I mostly hear is rather samey and thin electronic tones, repeated in sloppy and ill-fitting patterns; there isn’t enough backbone in this “soupy” music for me. However, it’s clear that Danny Hyde has spent a good deal of time figuring out how to arrange his various layers and elements into these subtle, shape-shifting globs of sound, and he’s a producer who pays close attention to timbral shifts and tones, working out how he can match them together, along with foreign elements such as voice samples. What he lacks is a sense of shape or structure, meaning that no track ever really develops in a meaningful way, nor reaches a satisfactory conclusion. Call it modernistic mood music for the lonely and disaffected ones…a soundtrack to a rather maudlin bout of self-pity and overwrought sentiment. From 11th October 2016.

Casting The Runes

A true labour of love – some might call it a labour of obsession – is the album Runaljod – Ragnarok (BY NORSE MUSIC BNM002CD), by the Norwegian music group Wardruna. It’s the third part in a lengthy project which began in 2003, where the aim is to create a musical expression of old Nordic runes; previous instalments of the grand plan were released in 2009 and 2013. The work is mostly driven by the ideas of Einar Selvik, who composes the music and plays most of the instruments, but he’s joined here by Eilif Gundersen, a trio of vocalists and two additional guest singers, plus the Skarvebarna Children’s Choir on one track.

In pursuit of authenticity and historical accuracy, Selvik plays antiquated and archaic instruments, such as the taglharpe, the kraviklyra, the goat horn, the tongue horn, the bronze lure and the birchbark lure; these are combined with lots of percussion – depressing martial drumming, mostly – and electronic music. Further, all the lyrics are written in Norwegian, Norse, and proto-Norse, there’s a Nordic rune printed on the front cover, and the record label is called By Norse Music. I’m intrigued to learn that they also managed to recruit the Icelandic composer Hilmar Örn Hilmarsson for their second album Yggdrasil, and the singer Steindór Andersen who sings in the “rimur” epic poem style.

As well as the studio projects, Wardruna have managed to create a performance band out of all this effort, and it’s probably safe to say they created quite a stir when they performed before the 1100-year-old Gokstad ship which you can see at the Viking Ship Museum in Norway. It’s good to see this determined effort taking place to preserve ancient Nordic culture, but while I’m certainly no expert in the field it’s also evident that Einar Selvik has a very personal, somewhat mystical, take on the subject. “In my songs it is not necessarily a goal for me to approach the respective rune from every conceivable angle, nor to cover or unravel all of the different aspects of it,” he writes in the enclosed booklet, alluding to the many scholarly views of this area where, I gather, the meaning, context and origins of the surviving runic evidence are much disputed. “My approach is both of runologic and mystic nature and my focus is on the core of each rune and the qualities that serve the whole concept and purpose of Wardruna best”, continues Selvik, affirming that his “vision” of the band-project always comes first, side-lining most academic interpretations.

While the whole genre of neofolk / pagan music (a milieu in which it might be convenient to situate this music, though the creators might not agree) is a closed shop to me, at least it’s clear that Wardruna are not dabbling in Viking history for some ill-informed white supremacy purpose, and the depth of Einar Selvok’s conviction and commitment to his task is self-evident. I just wish it wasn’t such a wearisome listen; pompous, solemn, relentless hammering drums, unvarying grim drones a-plenty, and shrill hymns sung in an ancient unknown tongue. From 12th October 2016.

Interstellar Low Ways

The record Low (OPA LOKA RECORDS OL16008) by Gintas K is supposed to complete a trilogy, of which the earlier parts were Lovely Banalities and Slow, both of which have been noted in these pages. I have previously enjoyed what I regard as the intuitive approach of this Lithuanian solo electronicist, but today the experiments on Low simply feel unfinished and unsatisfying. Despite care and attention being given to the sounds he makes, there’s a troubling lack of ideas in each tune, such that they fail to engage the listener for very long. There’s also the samey tone and pace to Low, meaning we are never lifted out of this rather gloomy and grey zone which might be a dismal European village on a rainy Sunday morning. Still, the very introverted nature and muffled sound of this album may give it a certain appeal if you fancy a day at home as a lonely shut-in. From 3rd October 2016.

Reinier Van Houdt is a Dutch pianist who has “done” some 20th century composers such as Shostakovitch and Valentin Silvestrov as part of his classical repertoire, and also played works from the New York school including Robert Ashley and Charlemagne Palestine. Paths Of The Errant Gaze (HALLOWGROUND HG1606) however is a more unconventional and experimental record; he concocts studio assemblages of ghostly, spectral sounds, somewhat in the vein of a Nurse With Wound collage, and with similar aspirations to a “surreal” state of mind. Unsurprisingly, Van Houdt plays in recent Current 93 line-ups; I sense he has just the right balance of fragility and occluded, precious details stored in his brain to please David Tibet. The mysterious drifty sounds on Paths Of The Errant Gaze can’t help but evoke a ghostly sailing ship like the Flying Dutchman or H.P. Lovecraft’s The White Ship, and the cover art confirms this “lost at sea” theme. Van Houdt uses these unsettling, nightmarish washes of sound, textures, and found fragments as a platform for his minimal, melancholy piano fugues. I found the mannered style and solemn tone a little off-putting, but there’s a lot of variety here across two sides of the LP, and the listener can’t help but feel the sensations of being taken on a strange voyage to a lost Edgar Allen Poe island in the middle of nowhere. From 11 October 2016.

Dark Carnival (DYIN’ GHOST RECORDS) is the latest release from the team-up of French guitarist Michel Henritzi with the Japanese player Fukuoka Rinji. On this occasion Rinji bows his violin to Michel’s lapsteel guitar. They’ve made a lot of records together and while we always enjoy them, I can’t see much significant advance here on any of their previous outings, for instance the relatively recent Descent To The Sun LP. Once they get going the pair just can’t stop, and what characterises their sound is a relentless, aching rain-sodden screech that wears away the listener by sheer persistence. Full saturation is another one of their specialities; barely a space left for anything else in this teeming atmosphere of full-on droning, sawing, strumming, and howling. These recordings were made in Tokyo in 2013-2014 and feature various medieval woodcuts on the ancient theme of mortality and the Dance Of Death, while the title comes from Ray Bradbury. Gather ye rosebuds while ye may…as you are now so once was I…and other such memento mori spring to mind while scoping these images and drowning in this intense music, which really rubs the heart full sore. From 13 October 2016.

The Swiss jazz trio Day & Taxi has been active since 1988 and Way (PERCASO 34) is their 8th studio release. Christoph Gallio, the saxophonist, is their driving force and he also happens to run the record label that has released most of the trio’s records. Way appears to be slightly unusual in their repertoire as it includes three very short songs, sung in German by their bass player Silvan Jeger, and their inclusion may give you a clue as to Day & Taxi’s open-minded musical aspirations – they would like to broaden out jazz forms, include composition as well as improvisation as a strong element, and are not afraid of including “sentimentalities” in their bright, rather melodic music. The flipside to all this user-friendliness is the abstruse sleeve note penned by Berni Doessegger, which attempts to deconstruct the meanings of the word “way”, through speculations on paths through a labyrinth. I found the actual music competent enough in its execution, and Gallio is an extremely fluent player with an exceptionally clean tone, but it’s just too tidy and correct to be mistaken for real jazz; the attempts at swing feeling are laboured and plodding, and even the saxophone screams feel as though they’ve been carefully studied from annotated Coltrane solos. From 2nd November 2016.

Banished from Time: an intense immersion into a particular hell

Black Cilice, Banished from Time, Iron Bonehead Productions, Germany, CD / cassette IBP321 (2017)

“Banished from Time” is a very intense and thundering work, often repetitive, and always frenzied and feverish. The album is the fourth by black metal act Black Cilice, whose home country is Portugal, and about whom little else is known, not even whether the band is just a lone-wolf solo act or a group. The project does boast a huge discography of cassettes, split releases and albums.

From start to finish, the music is constant assault on your senses and consciousness, with a lot of cacophony and howling, but within the noise and non-stop shrieking there are definite melodies and riffing. The sound, flooded with reverb, is noisy and cavernous, all-enveloping until you feel that your head is completely filled up with even more music pushing its way in with all that non-stop intense percussion thudding and you’re in danger of drowning in such overwhelming noise and mental torment. The first track “Timeless Spectre” is a good example of what to expect: high-speed pounding drums, steaming fuzzy vibrato guitars, banshee vocals howling trapped within the depths of the noise reverb, with melodies and actual riffs and rhythms passing in and out. The following track “On the Verge of Madness” has more of the same except that the music seems more streamlined and focused with one constant rhythm banging out its heart and growing more intense and urgent. The third track has a good galloping groove that goes into a hysterical frenzy as the song progresses amid the noise and anguish.

On and on it goes … yes, the music sounds like the proverbial flood that, once set free, never stops pouring and overflowing the levees and plains. Yet there’s actual structure carved out of the sound and noise that gives the album some direction and brings out its message of absolute despair and total alienation. The last couple of songs on the album bring something new to the usual screeching: the fourth song “Channeling Forgotten Energies” has an additional layer of sharp-ish drone and the final track “Boiling Corpses” has as much fury and aggressive, destructive drama as it does desperation and inner torment. For the first time, the anger seems to turn outward away from attacking its owner and towards the source of torment with single-minded obsession. Some signal of hope, of a light shining into the darkness, now becomes apparent and there’s the possibility of inner peace and healing.

This album is more of an immersion into a particular kind of hell than it is a collection of songs or a soundtrack – its intensity will put off most people and only those who may have had similar depressive experiences will appreciate it for what it is and represents. Beneath the layers of noise, confusion and agony can be found music of overwhelming emotion that in its own way possesses unearthly beauty.

Back Beat

Richard Van Kruysdijk produces long, layered, and intricate digital drones on Lumbar Fist (OPA LOKA RECORDS OL160096), performing under his soubriquet Cut Worms. I see that Dutch player Van Kruysdijk is a member of Daisy Bell, a Netherlandish trio who made an album based on the poetry of William Blake, but he’s also been much in demand as a drummer and electronics player with some of the big mamous of the avant-noise domain – members of Coil, Legendary Pink Dots, Swans, Bauhaus, Tuxedomoon and Wire all speak highly of Van Kruysdijk’s instrumental prowess, and he’s trod the stage and studio floor as an in-demand session man for these maestros of the dark noise-drone. This isn’t to mention Richard’s other high-profile band projects which I’ve never heard, such as Strange Attractor, Phallus Dei, Music For Speakers, and Sonar Lodge; he’s evidently capable of working in many contemporary genres, be it latter-day industrial pounding or downtempo trip-hop fusion.

Lumbar Fist contains seven examples of his studio craft, and he built them up in the studio by overdubbing himself several times, using an ARP synth, bass guitars, percussion, tapes, effects pedals, and the “circuit-bent Suzuki Omnichord”, whose name alone is enough to get most instrumental and pedal collectors frothing at the knees. While this album has a rather “samey” surface, there’s much to recommend about the care and attention with which this hard-working creator has built each piece, and there’s a very burnished quality to the sound – a sort of calm inner glow illuminating and suffusing each moment. This calmness however might be quite at odds with the busy and fragmentary technique which he used to construct Lumbar Fist – the press notes refer to “sounds…reversed, mangled, chopped and regenerated”, which strikes one as a rather invasive editing studio style.

His track titles are witty too, adding a human and imagistic dimension to what would otherwise be extremely abstract – ‘Seance Drop’ suggests the trance states these sounds induce, ‘Drum Sloth’ is a very apt description of his studio method and tape-retardation approach, and ‘Halo Ginseng’ is tinged with notions of bodily health and inner spirituality which might well pass on to the listener. However, my favourite title is ‘Crabby Plasma’, a title which could be taken as the subtext for John Carpenter’s The Thing with its horrifying themes of genetic mutation and cell structures going out of control. From 3rd October 2016.

Kutin Edge

Ambitious piece of modern sound art by Peter Kutin (last noted in these pages for a split record with Asfast) and Florian Kindlinger in the shape of Decomposition I-III (VENTIL V0001)…this particular item emerged as a double LP on Ventil in May or June 2015, but for some reason we did not receive a promo copy until 3 October 2016. In one sense this might not matter, as the complete suite of Decomposition has been growing and evolving for a few years now, its separate parts presented at various European festivals and art centres since 2014. This double LP is the best way to get the narrative of the piece though, as it leads the listener through a three-part travelogue of internalisation, self-examination, and alienation, probably leading to some profound form of metaphysical despair by the end of it.

The story is told over four sides with the titles ‘Absence’, ‘Introspection’ and ‘Illusion’, and the plan is to subject the listener to some pretty harsh and bleak environments which they must endure, forging their soul on the anvil of endurance. “Territories antagonistic to human life”, is how they would describe their choice of surroundings. It’s kind of like field recordings, because the basic sounds were captured in places like a desert, a snowy waste, a glacier, and an abandoned mining village with wind blowing a howling blast…in these extreme zones, they find the existential misery they are seeking to capture. But they also argue that “field recording” is a “moribund” genre in any case, and they’re out to change all that with their radical new approach to pushing recording gear and microphones into places they’re not supposed to go. We’ve got to admire rough-tough artistes who are prepared to throw down the gauntlet with this kind of reckless thinking, and Decomposition I-III has a lot going for it in terms of the vivid and stark nature of its sound surface. I also like the very contrasting clashes between nature and civilisation that are reduced here to extremely simplistic arguments, the better to bring home the intended messages about estrangement and the searching questions about mankind’s place in the world today.

Christina Kubisch is credited here too, though she worked only on side four, the 18-minute ‘Illusion’. For this she was commissioned to record “electromagnetic signals” from the city of Las Vegas, later to be reprocessed by Kutin in the studio using just edits and splices. The plan was to use Las Vegas as a gigantic form of synthesizer, the entire city unwittingly participating in a bizarre sound art experiment. The artists speculate on the fact that Las Vegas used to be a desert not so long ago, and presumably this makes it fair game for inclusion on the set, conceptually linked to their other recordings of hostile terrains. That den of gambling and vice certainly sounds bleak and remote here, reduced to a series of clinical robotic pulses and whirrs. Bizarrely, in places, the piece turns into something resembling 1990s glitch or avant-garde techno with its mechanical rhythms, but this may simply be a by-product of the process. ‘Illusion’ won the Karl Sczuka prize for best radiophonic composition of 2016, and well-deserved too.

Fyodor’s Wild Years

A real one-of-a-kind record is Russian Canon (FROZEN LIGHT FZL 037), a record credited to Fake Cats Project, a trio featuring Kirill Makushin, Igor Levshin, and Alexei Borisov, which they only started in 2015 yet they’re already produced four records, of which this is one. Can’t find out much about the project or the band, although Alexei Borisov is well known and respected on these pages, and is probably my favourite avant-garde Russian musician (along with Kurt Liedwart and Ilia Belorukov).

Russian Canon is a bizarre suite of songs and instrumentals which may amount to an opera, a song cycle, a parodic comment on modern urban society, or simply a series of surreal poems set to music. All is sung (and lyrics printed) in Russian, so I’m at a bit of a loss, but at least the titles are printed in English. You might be able to piece together a scenario from titles like ‘Falcon Theme’, ‘Clouds Of My Memory’, and ‘A Kitten Looks At Soldier’s Eyes’, but it’d be a pretty wild and hairy screenplay that you’d be submitting to your editor. The music is kind of all over the place too. I can discern tunes and ditties that might be Russian folk songs (a wild guess though; the accordion backing is my one and only clue here) and likewise songs that more resemble the sort of proletariat anthems that appear in my worst nightmares when I’m inventing newsreel footage from the days of Kruschev and Sputnik and screening these imaginary movies in my brain. Particularly the opening blast, ‘Everything Is Fine’, a fractured every-which-way composition whose waywardness makes it perfectly clear that whatever else is going on, everything is not fine. But that’s just my warped imagination.

The trio also play electronic synth drone tunes; a very distorted form of easy-listening jazz with the help of guest trumpeter Konstantin Sukhan, acting as the reverse Herb Alpert in this context; broken, minimal post-punk songs; and even on one track a song built on a famous Erik Satie tune, so that’s their classical music credentials also checking in for duty. Fake Cats Project perform in all these styles effortlessly, and are not attempting a mannered pastiche…and they play with utter conviction, maintaining a serious and slightly gloomy mood throughout the whole off-beat performance. Street singers and “baggers” – hopefully that’s the local slang for bag-men – are also sampled and their voices join in the rollicking fun in places.

It’s a remarkable tour de force, packed with much drama and musical invention. Now that I think of it, the nearest Western equivalent to this might be Tom Waits, but even he would probably hand over his last bottle of brown-bagged bourbon if he could produce something as cinematic, noirish, and unhinged as Russian Canon. Wish I could decode more of this, so I may just have to send a message to the band through their Bandcamp page. Very high recommendation for this lavish, layered, musical oddity. From 7th September 2016.

Frozen Warnings

Several items from the Russian Frozen Light label to follow. All are limited editions of 300 copies and arrived here 7th September 2016.

Exit In Grey used to be a duo, now it’s just one fellow, the Russian artiste Sergey Suhovik. Exit In Grey seem to have been creating and releasing their drone music since 2004, much of it released on the Daphnia Records label. I can’t find out much about the artistic intentions of Suhovik, although album titles such as Twilight Waters, Dim Lines, Storms, Nowadays Warm, and Environment Despair might give us some clues; a certain interest in the weather and other aspects of our natural surroundings, combined with a vague sense of inevitability about an approaching disaster. One Lumen In The Past (FZL 039) offers three long tracks of very foggy ambient drone; and on today’s spin, I’m afraid I can’t find much going on here to distinguish Exit In Grey from many other practitioners in the genre. Even the methods used are commonplace: a combination of guitars, keyboards, effects, radio signals and field recordings, layered into a gently shifting sea of mistiness. I do however like the time-travel theme of this release. The titles ‘Old Letters and Visions’ and ‘Whispers Time’ do much to evoke a curious nostalgia for the past. The same goes for the cover images, which apparently repurpose old photographs of Russian landscapes and train stations, some of them maybe even going back to the 19th century; they have been tinted in those chromalith colours that appealed to our Edwardian ancestors. These images do more to stimulate and inspire our collective fading memories than the rather ordinary music on the disc.

Ion & Sophus is also Sergey Suhovik, performing here under his alias [s]. Ion & Sophus have five releases that we know of, of which Love Of One (FZL 050) is their latest. Two long ambient drone pieces on this album, which are noticeably different from those executed in the Exit In Grey style. The Ion & Sophus approach is much cleaner; simple tones, almost like a slowed-down electric piano tune, backed by calming seashore effects apparently captured by the Black Sea. Where Exit In Grey’s music is extremely layered and shifting in three or four slightly different directions, this Love Of One record heads down a single path with a gentle but firm determination. As track one progresses – and it does indeed progress, more so than the stodgy One Lumen In The Past – the sounds of the Black Sea become more prominent, and the pleasant droning music undergoes a shift which might be taken to represent an epiphany, a realisation slowly dawning in the mind of the one who contemplates their “love of one”. This highly romantic interpretation is, I like to think, not inappropriate when faced with this rather tasteful background music. Let’s just hope the lover in question is not moving towards the cliff edge depicted on the front cover with a view to throwing themselves into the ocean below.

Karmiciel Wszy’s Torre Bert (FZL 034) is a much more cold and troubling offering than the two proceeding items, which at least admit the possibility of human emotions (love) and operations of the human brain (memory) into their world view. We’ve heard this Polish dark-ambient fellow before when we received his very limited Isdalskvinnen CDR in 2015. Wszy sometimes like to give out his name as KW, and prints these initials in a gothic font on his covers, such as on the cassette Murder Of Shanda Sharer. Torre Bert has no such Black Metal-ish leanings however, and simply proposes a series of bleak, emptied-out, and non-associative lengthy drones. Where Sergey Suhovik allows field recordings into the mix, the music of Karmiciel Wszy comes across as almost entirely processed-based and untouched by human hands, each chilling tone arriving as an unchangeable statement of fact. This stern tone is something that evidently has a certain attraction to Polish musicians, a sweeping generalisation which I propose to you based on releases from Monotype Records and Zoharum. But Zoharum artistes tend to cling to a sense of ritual and ceremony, whereas Wszy is beyond any of that humanistic nonsense, and clearly resigned to his unbelieving fate; he treads the world as a weary figure, despairing at the possibility of making emotional contact with anyone or anything. If this hermetic, sealed-off view appeals, by all means bend an ear to Torre Bert.

The record Hiding Place (FZL 036) is by Emerge. This is the work of Sascha Stadlmeier, a German sound artist who also happens to run the Attenuation Circuit label, whose unusual releases of electric noise have brought us much pleasure in recent years. I enjoyed this one as it seems to offer a slightly different approach to the idea of textured drones and processed sounds than the above. It also features more human elements – the voice work in particular, provided by Eljara from Prinzip Nemesis, and as a project it is open to the idea of collaboration (the Russian act Re-Drum appears on another track). The opening track ‘Flight 1’ is especially effective, a goodly dose of coarse, crackly rumbling suggestive of a frantic scramble across a pebble beach. Thereafter the record becomes more conventionally ambient and dark in its progress, although the general mood of claustrophobia and inescapable menace is well presented and well sustained. Emerge achieves this partially through a merciless use of repetition; when he finds an effect or sound he likes, he won’t hesitate to repeat it as needed, looping and repurposing as much as the market will bear. I can’t help reading the “hiding place” theme as a dark cave, as indicated by the vague stony images on the covers, the echoing sounds, the sense of confinement, and the tentative efforts to explore an imaginary space, such as on ‘Tension’ – a very successful acoustic sounding of the walls of the cave. The epic ‘Flight II’ at the end of the album is a thrilling episode using noise dynamics to its advantage. May not be as great as I’m making it sound, but an enjoyable mystery ride.

Planet Echo

Rara
W//\TR
POLAND ZOHARUM ZOHAR 125-2 CD (2016)

Formerly known as Przed Państwem Rara, Poland’s now-truncated Rara are a trio who purvey (apologies in advance) a kind of ambient folktronica (sorry again) that weaves acoustic guitar, percussion and low-key electronic textures into moody dreamscapes – both oneiric and nightmarish – which are well-suited to the gothic whims of the Zoharum label. While their new album, W//\TR, is generally warmer and more emotive than the black metal ambience hinted at by the cover, the 10-minute opener ‘Echo Planety’ leaves us little the wiser. This, the longest of the otherwise intermezzo instrumentals, is a runway taxi of echo pedal-drenched shoegaze guitar with all the glory of the first yawning in millennia of dawn light across a distant moon. It’s a fine scene-setter for the epic theatrics that subsequently emerge from subterranean strata of crisp, ornate finger-picking, bubbling synths and deep, droney undercurrents that add drama to ambivalent chord progressions.

While much of this is to seemingly simple pastoral effect, Rara also know how to throw a ‘country’ shape or two, whether it’s affecting the slow southern drawl and wild west mise en scene of Angels of Light’s no country for old men (‘Gen Planety’) or the more rustic charms of a fair-voiced maiden (one Kuba Ziolek) singing to the night (‘Przynieś To Z Nocy’). All nice enough, though there are unsettling anomalies like the risible electro-goth segue halfway through ‘Pasaźerowie Wiatru’ or the moist male whispers that follow a plangent guitar into the ear canal in ‘Szepty W Głowie Elly Brand’. Mood killers both.

There is ear-balm aplenty however: ambient interludes that provide recovery time, and the more soothing female voice that dovetails with itchy guitar lines, recalling some of Stine Grytøyr’s plaintive contributions to Ulver’s Marriage of Heaven & Hell. In fact, W//\TR shares a good deal of that album’s mannered and musically omnivorous gothicism: primal undercurrents of tethered frustration beneath ornamented structures (and the odd power-chord pyramid), suggestive of a reservoir of archetypal power that gives form to all physical appearances. Some might find W//\TR‘s stylistic shifting a tough swallow, but Rara’s musical blending is an accomplished one, lending W//\TR a sense of fractured identity well-suited to their recent change of name.