Sunday, May 22, 2011

Foxy Digitalis on "The Crystal World"

A very kind review of Locrian "The Crystal World": here.


Locrian, “The Crystal World”
May 19, 2011
By Dave Miller

Once or twice a year an instant classic is released of epic proportions. No question, Locrian’s The Crystal World was pretty much a lone challenger for 2010. It ranked highly on many year-end lists last year. Unfortunately, I was slow to catch on. The calendar would tick on to 2011 before I discovered this triumph of avant metal. Locrian has been catching a lot of attention with its last two studio albums, and the momentum has just picked up with this third behemoth. This is by far their most complex work to date. This is probably due to the addition of Steven Hess (Ural Umbo) on electronics and percussion to the usual duo of Terrence Hannum and Andre Foisy. Released as both vinyl and double CD—I got the disc version. The nearly hourlong track, “Extinction” on the second disc is only available on the CD version. This is worth getting the disc version alone. It is more in step with what we have heard from Locrian before. In my opinion, “Extinction” is more apocalyptic wasteland and less personal struggle than The Crystal World is to me.

This album gets its name from a 1964 novel of the same title by JG Ballard. That novel explored the life of a physician whose specialty was leprosy who went to a remote African outpost. The album draws out audibly the common themes of the book of mystery, despair, alienation, and the unknown. The exotic and completely foreign motif of the novel isn’t a perfect translation of the album. Rather, it’s just point of reference to begin to describe what permeates this music. What is heard is even more odd, despondent, and otherworldly than one could imagine. The impressive fusion of drone, ambient, and metal (specifically black and doom) create quite the experience. One can’t help but feel The Crystal World. It’s inevitable that you’ll encounter emotional contact with this world projected through sound. The at once mystically dark and languishingly beautiful world painted via this album is all-engaging and sensuously-stimulating. You’d have to be dead in order to not feel something.

On the first disc there are six tracks, with the first one, “Triumph of Elimination” being a very creepy mood-setter through minimalistic dronage that’s barely there, ascending guitar picks that twinkle like bells, and background shrieks of torment. Total less is more philosophy that really works! The second track, “At Nights Ends” keeps up the eerie ambiance until midway when it can no longer hold back but explodes with cinematic climax. Here, it gets way more metal with a ear-tugging display of percussion and instrumentation. Glistening reverb, monastic om-like chants, and a steady beat. Then, the third track, “The Crystal World” is progressive metal fused with jazz, doom, and post-rock. It begins with some sweet introspective blissful chords that flit like the sun on the ocean and a partner guitar that keeps things grounded all pulled together by off beat drumming.

The fourth track, “Pathogens” changes things up a bit. It is the most psych that I’ve heard Locrian get. It’s got plenty to keep you mesmerized. I can see how folks who don’t get this kinda music anyway would have the toughest time with this track, but anyone who is reading this webzine would probably find this one pretty rad. It reminds me of a mellowed out air raid siren with various low end rumbles. It’s later joined by some tribalism and some electric riffage that does its own thing. Fifth, “Obsidian Facades” is much more haunting and dreary than the previous track, but Geez Louise do I love it! It starts off with some more of those tortured shrieks mentioned in the first track that are mixed and manipulated to echo and spin about, along with a two-note looped descent into suicidal abyss and some rising amped crunch. It ends up with an interesting guitar line that reminds me somewhat of the piano at the end of Faith No More’s “Epic.” The percussion also steps in to back it up and help to whine this track down.

The final track, “Elevations and Depths,” is what I think this album has been leading up to. It entrances with some nice acoustic style strums and builds up into a mid-afternoon downpour of dour gloom thanks to guitar drone that makes everything go from translucent to grey and some hidden voiced despairing and anguished shouts. It’s probably my favorite thanks to its morph into an almost orchestral piece with what sounds like violin, classical guitar, a light organ, and an accordion. There’s a good chance that my ear might not have gotten all the instrumentation right but it is so dismally beautiful. A perfect way to end the “The Crystal World.” I would listen to this album the whole way through again just to hear this part again. It’s only in its element after everything all the other tracks were building up to. It makes me think of a rainy day, after it’s been pouring all day it lets up a bit. Things aren’t perfect, but there’s a little hope to be had. This is a perfect moment that Locrian has created, perfect.

Utech continues to impress me. They’ve done it again as far as putting together another fine release. This is like a gatefold LP-style package with a disc in either end. The art is printed all over and is from the hand of Vberkvlt. It is visually stimulating as it always draws me in to take a closer look. The CDs each have a matching design that is reflective of the crystal theme. Each one is pocketed in a durable vellum-like sleeve. Simply gorgeous art that matches the complexity of the music. This should be on everyone’s shelf. One of the best of 2010.

Utech Records