Monday, 28 October 2019

Razorhead - Distorted Ambience.

Album: Distorted Ambience
Label: Self-released
Catalogue no: N/A

     1.      Forbidden Skies
     2.      In Depths
     3.      Dense Uplifting
     4.      Interinsection
     5.      Begotten
     6.      Detached from Family
     7.      Into the Abyss
     8.      Magma
     9.      I/You Am/Are Nothing
     10.  Not at Peace

It’s not often I my first impressions are proven wrong, but this debut album of RAZORRHEAD managed to do just that, with reservations. I have to admit being fooled by the two opening tracks, which threw me completely for a loop (see below). But what followed was a series of expositions of dark moods and shadowy atmospherics, but then, the whole suite was inspired by the works of Polish artist Zdzadislav Beksinski, and so that really shouldn’t come as any surprise. For those who don’t know, Beksinski was a dystopian realist painter, his works depicting surreal landscapes, architecture, and distortions of the human body, delineating a nightmarish future that appears to have been mutated by some kind of nuclear disaster. It would be too easy to compare his oeuvre to HR Giger: whilst there are some stylistic similarities there’s a huge chasm between methods of expression – Beksinski’s work is more human and on less of a cyclopean scale.

Let’s start at the beginning with ‘Forbidden Skies’, which introduces itself with heavy masses of horn-like sounds, before a trippy beat carrying a piano figure comes in and sends it loping along. Thick black smoke belches out of gargantuan factories, whose structures appear to be made out of a conglomeration of human bones. Shadowy figures, heavily wrapped up against the effluvia of pollution swirling at ground level, furtively flit from doorway to doorway, as if to avoid being seen. ‘In Depths’ comes next, which instantly put me in mind of Muslimgauze and his eastern-inflected output – strong rhythms and Arabian-style musical phrases that are indeed reminiscent of the late Bryn Jones’ work.

But, for me at least, the real meat of the album begins with ‘Dense Uplifting’, a transitional piece that possesses a much more freeform and experimental flavour that wends its way through ambient and dark ambient territories while still retaining some connections to beat-driven sensibilities. However, the following track, ‘Interinsection’, while still  borrowing cues from rhythm-based material goes full bore into moody soundscapes evoking feelings of claustrophobia and stifling airlessness, of subterranean passages dripping with foetid water and who knows what else, of dungeons stinking of the waste of human lives and bitter recrimination. An air of miasmic, dank unhealthiness pervades every strain and every note on this, the spaces seemingly filled with shattered bones and rotting flesh. Strange unholy creatures appear to have made their homes here, but whether the remnants of human lives were created by them or at the dictate of human cruelty is open to conjecture. ‘Begotten’ strays into drone/symphonic ambient country, a place of vast cyclopean edifices defying the human scale, their towers and spires reaching up to disappear into the cloud-filled skies. These monoliths of ossified bone somehow seem sentient, their window apertures like eyeless sockets that nevertheless display awareness, a cancerous stare that cuts through flesh and bone and lays bare all the inner thoughts and workings of the individual mind. Wrap your cloak around you tighter and hurry on, lest the towers’ gazes linger on you for too long.

‘Detached from Family’ is like a slow-motion helicopter, oscillating and pulsing in an altogether unsavoury manner, the chittering of some monstrous relic from a bygone age. Its motivations are malefic and horrendous, its beady eye a cold, calculating, and inhuman orb possessed of a carnivorous intent. It is no more cognisant of you and your vaunted intelligence than you are of an ant crossing your path. ‘Into the Abyss’ is a bottomless pit from which vile sulphurous emanations pour, a dark void that contains all and nothing. It’s the breath of Hades, the stench of the dead, and the heartbeat of antilife. Its sole purpose is to strip the soul and senses of those who aren’t prepared or seasoned for the trip below its threshold – it’s the ultimate test of the aspirant to knowledge and spiritual immortality, and only those who have trained themselves to withstand its rigors (and for some, not even then) are likely to survive the ordeal.

‘Magma’ opens out with slow, pulsing drones, a ponderous outflow of hot, poisonous liquids, the blood of earth, and the devastator of everything it comes into contact with in its path, burning and scorching. It has the power to engulf and submerge, burying and erasing. Parts of this somehow reminded me of mid-period Tangerine Dream, certainly in particular parts, but that could just be a fancy of my mind.

On now to the last two pieces, beginning with ‘I/You Am/Are Nothing’ which I think is my least favourite track on here, being a tad too mainstream in tone and style for my liking. Syncopated, bouncy sequencing, samples, singing, and spoken word vocals, it really didn’t do anything for me. I think its inclusion here is misplaced, but that’s just my personal feeling – it didn’t really feel in context with the rest until its second half when harshly burbling drones took over and annihilated what had gone before. Finally, we have ‘Not at Peace’, which starts with a granular blast and overblown feedback, underwater distorted noise, a repeating piano eventually superseding all accompanied by voice wailings.

Whether the pieces on display here actually reflect Beksinski’s work is for others to decide, as although I am familiar with his work I am not au fait enough with it to the extent that I can comment with confidence. I have reviewed the music on its own merits, plus using the context of what little I know of the Polish artist’s work I’ve come across. In some ways it explores the limits of what can be described as dark ambient, elasticising and bending the boundaries of that genre to just about accommodate themselves within them. Generally speaking the experiment is a success, with the exception of one or two examples, but as a piece of abstract exploration and response to another artist’s work I can say that it has served its purpose well. For what it’s worth I enjoyed this with the one exception, but that is solely a personal thing as I mentioned. For those with a mind to explore boundaries and the bending of genre borders then I’d say go for it.

Get the download via Bandcamp from here:
Also available through Spotify, iTunes, Amazon, Deezer, and iHeartRadio

Psymon Marshall 2019. 

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