Locrian -- THE CRYSTAL WORLD [Utech Records]
Chicago's favorite audio-terror duo are back with an extra partner in sonic crime (Steven Hess of On, Pan American, and Ural Umbo, handling percussion and electronics) and a wildly ambitious double-album inspired by the 1964 J. G. Ballard classic of the same name. This time around their dense, dark, apocalyptic sound is informed as much by prog rock as black metal and noise, and their increasingly exacting approach to songwriting and the meticulous layering of sounds makes this album a significant step forward. The opening track, "Triumph of Elimination," is essentially a link back to their previous album, opening with an ominous synth drone and creeped-out electronic whining that spirals upwards in frequency until the hellish vocals arrive -- but there's a lot more happening in the background, including tinking bells and primitive rumbling sounds. along with nearly subliminal bursts of screechy electronics and more audible sounds of sonic distress before the track ends in a brief flurry of percussion. The considerably more spare "At Night's End" is dominated by spooky synth drones and wailing peals of feedback that rise and fall; as the track progresses, the synth drone grows even darker as processed sounds warble and bleat in cryptic fashion. Then slow-motion drums kick in and eerie, disembodied vocals take the track in another direction, one that's as hypnotic and strangely beautiful as it is ominous. Things take a turn for the unexpected in the title track, where a percolating synth line rises from the noise fog and is eventually joined by some extremely devolved percussion and gothic keyboard washes. The evil bass hum of "Pathogens" -- along with some extremely spaced-out cyclotron moves -- moves the sound back into more familiar territory, especially when the wind-tunnel noises appear, along with muted percussion akin to someone trying to break his way out of a buried coffin. Eventually the percussion turns into actual drumming, accompanied by morbid drone and noise, in which Hess plays one convoluted pattern with minimal changes for quite a while, in a cruel act of minimalist torture, one that continues long after the background sounds have faded out of existence. The next track, "Obsidian Facades," wastes no time getting underway, opening with bone-chilling shrieking and dissonant, crashing chords from a distorted keyboard before settling into a cold and frigid soundscape heavy on the reverb and swaddled in layers of fuzz and drone. As the track goes on, a gorgeous piano melody enters the equation; by the time the track finishes, it is the sole sound. It is followed immediately by baroque acoustic strumming as "Elevations and Depths" kicks off, a song also enriched by Gretchen Koehler's violin when the percussion and synth drones eventually arrive.
The second disc is one track, "Extinction," that lasts nearly an hour and encompasses a wide variety of sounds. Structurally speaking, it unfolds in movements dominated by different uses of sound and texture, and varying levels of intensity in both dynamics and the number of layered sounds. At times it's sparse and bleak, with just one drone or electronic sound happening; at other times it's a thick, soupy fog of harsh sounds and paralyzing drones. The movements flow from one to the next in seamless fashion, and while it definitely takes a certain level of patience to sit through a track this long, the steadily shifting dynamics and textures keep things moving in a brisk fashion. At times they revert back to thunderous walls of black, shrieking noise, with passages far harsher than anything on the first disc. There are also proggy moments, as with the first disc, but the vast bulk of what's here is more focused on grim electronic frippery, cold wailing feedback, and drones of the darkest kind. The sound itself is consistently dark and chilling, regardless of what's going on at any given moment; this is the sound of urban decay in a concrete jungle where the skyscrapers blot out the sun and the wretched refuse of humanity squats in abandoned buildings. How bleak is it? None more bleak, my friend. Bonus points for the packaging (a gatefold digipak resembling a miniature LP sleeve) and the grotesque artwork by Vberkvlt. Essential listening. Note that a vinyl edition is forthcoming sometime next year.