Bruxa Maria & MoE, Skinwalker, Norway, Conrad Sound, CnRd332 CD (2022)
Recorded back in 2019, in Newcastle upon Tyne, “Skinwalker” is a collaboration between noisy British punk band Bruxa Maria and Norwegian jazz trio MoE. Between these two acts, fireworks might be expected to fly constantly but “Skinwalker” turns out more restrained and controlled than you’d expect. Four tracks, of which three exceed ten minutes, are on offer here, all of them brimming with caged fury and aggression which, if unleashed, could turn this recording into a tapestry of burning monstrous chaos. Fortunately these two acts, each with plenty of experience in the studio and live setting on their own and in collaboration with others, know when to let slip the dogs of jazz noise war and when to bring them back to heel, even if only temporarily.
Opening track “Shapeshift Skylight” is an exercise in building up audience anticipation for that burst of chaos, with a steady if minimalist rise in the uneasy music, starting with solo saxophone and building a dronescape background around it, until about halfway through when the vocals fade away and the stuttery saxophone goes completely bonkers. Gritty bass drones keep the music stern and harsh, and the hard-hitting percussion gives hint of subterranean power. The whole track becomes increasingly monstrous and demented, and in its derangement it exercises a hypnotic power over listeners with its continuously looping rhythms, motorcycle engine drones and grinding sheet-metal guitars.
“Weavers of Evil” presents as a suffocating performance of insistent looping guitar riffs against a backdrop of darkness in which tones, fragments of melody and effects pass in and out. The whole track has an unhealthy psychedelic edge, complete with a lead surf-guitar melody coming in the fifth minutes and dominating the music from then on. Cartoon voices and whistles lead the way into a hysteria of howling cacophonic instruments. By contrast, “The Wolf, the Owl, the Ritual” starts as a noisy space-ambient piece and more or less stays like that. Even though this a relatively short track at just over six minutes, it does seem much longer than it really is.
Last track “The Spirit is Out” is a genuinely creepy and malevolent piece of distorted doom-jazz drones and tones, more tough guitar grit, distortions of stringed instruments and some amazing moments of dronescape sounds that just seem to go forever and ever. This last piece is easily the most outstanding (if also suffocatingly crushing) work of sonic torture on the album: each crash of noise features massive reverb effects that pulse and shimmer outwards without end, piling effects upon effects until your entire brain is ringing with reverberating noise. Just when you think it couldn’t be any more intense and deranged, the music goes up several notches with rapid-fire throb, high-pressure water-hose noise drone and other layers of noise chaos.
This certainly is most uneasy-listening music and one of those recordings that should come with warnings that, after hearing this album all the way through, the stuffing between your ears will be permanently rearranged.