Tuesday, 1 October 2019

Caulbearer - Diseased Imaginings

Album: Diseased Imaginings
Artist: Caulbearer + others
Catalogue no: LW112

     1.      Colorless World – Caulbearer + Black Mountain Transmitter
     2.      Alien Murmuration – Caulbearer + Gruntsplatter
     3.      Chthonic Echoes – Caulbearer + Wilt + Gnaw Their Tongues
     4.      Skull Shining – Caulbearer +Steel Hook Prostheses
     5.      Melting Towers – Caulbearer + The Vomit Arsonist
     6.      The Last City – Caulbearer + Fire In The Head
     7.      Colorless World – Original non-collaborative version
     8.      Alien Murmuration - Original non-collaborative version  
     9.      Chthonic Echoes - Original non-collaborative version
    10.  Skull Shining - Original non-collaborative version
    11.  Melting Towers Original non-collaborative version
    12.  The Last City - Original non-collaborative version

Sometimes, project names just inspire intrigue, and the name Caulbearer did exactly that for me. A caul is a very rare but harmless event that happens at birth, when a membrane covers a newborn’s head. A suitably apt name then for the noise ambient project of New Yorker Cody Drasser and Ben Roe, Jr, and as far as I am aware this is theirthird full-length release as Caulbearer: the first self-released Haunts was issued in 2012 with a live EP Melted Summer following in 2013 (also self-released), and in the same year Canticle of the Three, on Peacock Window Recordings like the present one. A number of releases have been issued under his own name as well. This one, however, is very much their magnum opus and, after listening to a few snippets from the Haunts album to get a crash course in Caulbearer, the music between the earlier and later examples share some similarities but the present Diseased Imaginings is overall a much darker and more aggressive collection. Of course, some people who buy this will be attracted by the absolutely stellar line-up of collaborators who share the spotlight with him on this one, but that shouldn’t distract from the fact that Drasser is more than capable musically of standing on his own two feet.

As this is a tale of two halves, I shall begin by diving into the ‘original’ source materials, the pieces composed and recorded by Drasser without assistance. A feedback howl starts ‘Colorless World’ only to be quickly replaced by a steamroller crush of grainy oppressive noise, a behemoth flattening and depriving everything of shape and colour. ‘Alien Murmuration’ sounds like exactly that, a scratchy granular alien language composed not of words but of coarse inflections of ugly sound. It roars and breathes fire, a vociferous mélange of aggression and confrontation. ‘Chthonic Echoes’ buries itself deep underground, reverberating bells and machine noise, a steampunk contrivance burrowing through earth and rock on some unknowable mission, hoovering up the detritus it removes and then excreting the same out its rear to fill the void it’s left behind. Following on we have ‘Skull Shining’, an exercise in mesmerising noise and voice loop, an ever-rolling and coiling collapse of concrete-mixer grinding noise and machine whine. This is like a scene from a disaster movie played on endless repeat.

More loops precede a gargantuan rattle as of a massive tracked vehicle, intent on pulverising civilisation into dust, reducing the history of the ages of man into nothing but rubble, and erasing the universe’s memory of us. Lastly, we get to ‘The Last City’, a low rumble, plucked strings, and a softly whining drone gradually building in strength and volume, a dusty memorial to a once-thriving city upon which death has now settled like a deadly blanket. Winds howl through empty streets, barrelling past buildings with smashed windows like gaping wounds, and half-demolished skyscrapers jutting up like broken teeth. Even so, the walls can tell stories, ghostly voices echoing endlessly to the air but no one will ever hear them.

Now, let’s wind back to the very start and take a look at the collaborative versions, beginning with ‘Colorless World’ again, but this time with the input of Black Mountain Transmitter aka JR Moore. It starts with a glitchy recording of broadcast music, before more glitchiness in the form of a subtle beat launches that crushing steamroller noise. This time it appears even heavier and blacker, heavy enough to take the earth out of its orbit around the sun. Scott E. Candey’s Gruntsplatter help out next on ‘Alien Murmuration’, and he makes those extraterrestrial scratchings of communication on the original sound like a buzzing hivemind, each member connected by a subtle ringing drone, and in the process imparting to it another level of separation from the human scale. Again gravity appears much stronger on this one, and the atmosphere incredibly dark and inimical to flesh.

Two projects make their appearances on ‘Chthonic Echoes’, James Keeler's dark ambient/noise project Wilt and Dutch outfit Gnaw Their Tongues, a couple of heavyweights indeed. Quiet subterranean murmurings greet our ears first, slowly getting louder, reminding one of vast chasms and caverns far below ground, where tiny blind creatures skitter and scrape. It’s a chilling atmosphere, far colder than it should be down there, but the winds are indeed frigid. There comes a point where the crunch and crash of bass frequencies collide and that’s when screamed vocals emerge forcefully out of the darkness. Perhaps this is the pain of the world being let out, a long anguished cry for the damage done. Steel Hook Prostheses are a firm favourite of mine, and they add their unique flavours to ‘Shining Skull’, an industrial machine/torture shop of begrimed sharp blades and circular saws, rusty axle grinders the size of a Caterpillar 797 mining truck’s wheel (including tyre), and 10,000 ton steam presses. Metal squeals against metal, chains rattle, compressors sound like jet engines, and flames fly in huge gouts. Flesh is scraped from bone, trampled bloodily into the concrete flooring, and organs are flung carelessly every which way.

‘Melting Towers’ sees Caulbearer teaming up with the death industrial artist The Vomit Arsonist (Andrew Grant), beginning with some powerful sub-bass pulsing rumbles that gradually morph into longer pulses, until it all evolves into a monolithic engine, a machine with no other purpose than to create death, to slice and dice, to bring pain and suffering, and to exsanguinate. It travels on wheels of iron, its roads paved with the bones of its previous victims, and its attendants revenants sewn together from chunks of raw flesh animated through galvanic electricity. It belches black smoke to the heavens, the plumes merging with the grey pall hanging overhead. For a finale, Caulbearer drafted Michael Page’s Fire In The Head, and it starts off elegantly, with those gentle plucked notes echoing off a low rumble and accompanied by a sustained bowed string-like note. It isn’t long though before a rhythm, as of heavy breathing, becomes apparent, and from there it builds up into a tsunami of unstoppable cacophony, a sheer wall of unbreakable noise, poised ready to overwhelm and deluge the city that has the misfortune to stand in its way. The waters will wash away everything not built to withstand its impetus, leaving behind twisted buildings, shattered streets, and only the ghosts of humanity.

Make no mistake, this is a BEAST of an album, and not just because of its special guest stars – the source materials had to exist before these acts could add their own touches, and they had to be of sufficient quality to stand up by themselves. And there is no doubt in my mind that they do: sketches they may be, the originals, in comparison to the ones added to, but strong enough in their own way to be able to tell stories and inspire imagery. This is an album with broad appeal, full of aesthetic nuance and well-drawn atmospheres, and covering a lot of ground. As an intro to Caulbearer it rewards the listener plentifully, and old fans will appreciate the extra dimensions added to it. Thoroughly recommended and highly enjoyable.

Available from here:

Psymon Marshall 2019. 

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