Wednesday, 4 December 2019

Embers Below Zero/Grist - Split Frequencies Vol. 1

Catalogue no: SomSon 141

     1.      Concrete Elemental – Embers Below Zero
     2.      You are at the Gate, You are the Key – Grist

As the title of this new album from UK label Sombre Soniks suggests, this is the first in a new series featuring split releases, and on this one in particular we have two long-form pieces from projects hailing from Poland and Australia. Of course, the idea isn’t new, it being something of a tradition in certain underground music circles, but nevertheless it’s a welcome move on the part of the label. In many respects I prefer this format to the anthology/compilation: the flavour of an artist’s work can be gauged more fully through longer tracks than short pieces, at least in my books.

In light of that, then, what’s the prognosis here? Embers Below Zero’s ‘Concrete Elemental’ starts off with a distant but bright figure repeated until a raw static-infused wave fades in as if some hovering behemoth is crossing the distance between the far horizon and one’s immediate viewpoint, only to be superseded by an ambient drone that takes wing and soars heavenward. Whining guitar feedback accompanies the floating ambience, seguing into an ebbing and flowing organic rasp, reminiscent of something living and breathing, a steady, perhaps ultimately malign, presence, darkening the sky and casting its baleful aura earthward. It becomes the pulse of the piece, an elemental heartbeat giving life and sustenance to whatever entity has been conjured up. Strength and energy continually pile up upon themselves, sounding an alarm, signalling its immensely overwhelming power. Whatever species of entity hangs above our heads, it isn’t benign in any way, shape, or form, and even when it gradually fades we’re still left with the noisy ghost of its presence, an afterimage of darkness left on the pale azure of the sky, as a constant reminder.

Grist’s piece (‘You are at the Gate, You are the Key’) begins with the barking of a small dog (and, for a brief moment, I really thought it was a neighbour’s animal causing havoc), which, in some peculiar manner, reminds me of a guardian dog, like one of those that stand sentinel at the gates of a Buddhist temple. The barking is relatively brief, replaced by some quietly grandiose chords and a drum, gradually swelling in strength and distortion, indicative of the powerful currents of energy swirling around the sacred structure itself, agitating and driving the very air enveloping it. One can also imagine the cloud layer above it roiling frenetically, an inverted analogue of a choppy, storm-tossed sea, animated by the energies radiating outwards and upwards. To enhance the sacred flavour of the track even further a beat sequence reminiscent of tablas emerges, perhaps an accompaniment to a ritual dance being performed to win the favour of the gods. Smoke and incense pervade the temple, demarcating the boundaries of an extra-dimensional space in which nothing profane can exist, as well as acting as a meeting place where humans and deities can gather on equal terms and communicate in mutual understanding. There’s absolutely no doubting that the distorted guitar chords and organ swells, as well as the tones themselves, speak of the sacred, as well as the harmony of the spheres, and their overall effect is to elevate and to switch on and attune one’s mind to the cosmic. Like the title implies, our entry beyond the gate and access to the temple’s grounds are entirely dependent on the realisation that we hold the keys and always have done – we cannot ask the gods outright, as we must gain their trust and favour first. Even then, the ultimate goal isn’t guaranteed.

This first entry in the series is an unqualified winner and, if subsequent entries follow the quality on display here, then the label is assured a successful venture. Both can be classified as magnificent examples of the long-form drone/ritual ambient oeuvre, but it has to be said that of the two tracks the one by Grist just has the extremely slight edge for me, wrapping itself around my brain’s pleasure centres that particularly respond to this species of sacral, cosmic music. Even so however, it has to be noted that, for a brief moment, lasting no longer than the running time of the whole album, I was swept away from this dreary reality and transported to other realms, dimensions that I can only dream about. This music is music that can be felt and experienced rather than merely being heard, providing something of an immersive environment. Personally, I ask for nothing more from music than this.

Available as a download and stream from Sombre Sonik’s Bandcamp on the link below:

Psymon Marshall 2019. 

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