Locrian's "The Crystal World" starts out deep inside of the earth in an endless cave that seems like an abyss. Stalagmites twinkle just enough to create a partial circle of light, but beyond the radius of visibility, things slither and crawl on the walls and floor. Then you hear it. Somewhere deeper down in the cave is a monster, something that speaks, screams and wails in desperation and anger, something that you know will kill you if it finds you. It sounds closer and closer as the earth around you hums with increasing intensity. It's as if death is coming to meet you instead of waiting for you to stumble upon it. This is what it is to enter Locrian's "The Crystal World."
The Chicago trio of André Foisy, Terence Hannum and Steven Hess craft their nightmarish sound world out of remnants of krautrock, drone, post-rock and black metal creating their own unique brand of experimental terror. The album was inspired by J.G. Ballard's novel "The Crystal World," wherein the earth's vegetation succumbs to an apocalyptic crystallization. The world that Ballard creates sparkles even as it devastates, and Locrian have captured perfectly that quality of glimmering beauty amidst inevitable destruction.
The record follows a narrative arch with one song bleeding into the next to make for an audial journey into the heart of darkness. The impending doom that informs opener "Triumph of Elimination" quietly pervades "At Night's End," which follows. The track eventually explodes with pounding percussion, epic guitar squalls and a voice that has turned from hateful to haunted. One can imagine anguished flight from the terror in the darkness as the song plays out. The band ups the ante on the phenomenal title track which mixes minimalist repeating guitar patterns against varying drones of ascending madness and doom while Hess' drums stumble around the piece like a battered and exhausted victim of unfathomable horrors.
"Pathogens" begins the record's second half with drones that resemble distant emergency sirens, rising and falling in intensity. Inevitably the horror creeps back into the immediate as squelching electronics and guitar approach closer and closer to the foreground until they eventually overtake it along with with Hess' rattling tom beats.
With "Obsidian Facades" that desperate hate-filled voice returns, screaming out from the depths. A steady dark guitar drone underlies the piece, while haunted atmospherics swirl over the surface calling to mind Paysage d'Hiver's "Kerker," Sunn 0)))'s "Black One" and Nortt to some degree. The track ends with a shimmering guitar refrain reminiscent of Labradford that offers a tiny fragment of hope. "Elevations and Depths" brings the album to a close in a manner that is powerful, beautiful and deeply moving, even as it snuffs out that tiny fragment of hope. Acoustic guitars and harmoniums mix with all of the elements the band have mined thus far to make for an intense swelling finale that is tragic in tone. The horror wins at the end of "The Crystal World," but not without a good fight, making the denouement that much more heartbreaking.
The effect of "Elevations" belies the grimness of "The Crystal World," and exposes a deeper humanity that runs throughout the record. There is warm beating heart at the center of the album that elevates it far beyond simple atmospheric dark ambient or doom, and makes for a deeply effecting musical experience. As I shape up my "best of" list for 2010, Locrian's "The Crystal World" looks to be a shoe-in for both its unique musical vision, and it's gut-wrenching emotionality. Highly recommended.