#22: Locrian – Return to Annihilation

(Relapse, 2013)

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(Image from relapse.com)

My mental journey from hearing about to sitting down and listening to this album was a tumultuous one, and one that starts me thinking about both the rampant, unchecked categorization of today’s music, and the passing of that categorization as commodity among fans of any particular genre.

Discovering the existence of the album came, as it often does, from browsing my favourite music review sites to see a) which bands/albums had cool names/artwork and b) were highly rated. Locrian hit me immediately as being a shorthand for “complex musical writing” as it is the last and weirdest of the modes and Return to Annihilation, while seeming a little on the blatantly dark side, combined with the whitewashed, foggy, desolate looking cover of an empty parking lot, which suggested an abandoned world. I was in.

I sampled myself a track, and found it fit the exact mood I had expected based on seeing the album – scratching, growling, drawling stretches of noise and feedback (but not irritating or ear-stabbing), punctuated with drums; meandering, melancholy guitar and various short loops. The instruments would flit in and out, leaving the message of noise strongly with me, which perfectly matched the atmosphere created by the cover – an atmosphere I wanted to experience in full. Definitely a priority purchase.

The album being lesser-known by most brick-and-mortar music store standards, I waited until I had the opportunity to go to the big HMV in Toronto.  casually looked through Pop/Rock, laughing and knowingly shaking my head at not finding it there. Scratching my brain, I next tried Electronic, thinking maybe I didn’t catch the all electronic elements that could have been there. No dice. I was just about to resign myself  to the fact that this store might not even have it, checking Punk out of desperation. Nothin’. I flipped open my phone and decided to look up the band on Wikipedia, hoping it would provide a clue as to where I should look. It did. Past the other categorizations, the words Black Metal lasered themselves into my brain as I numbly trundled over to the Metal section and swiftly found the album.

Black metal, are you KIDDING ME!? Double bass drums going a thousand miles per hour? A dude with death mask make-up screaming unintelligibly!? Black metal is, unfortunately, nowhere near my bag. My face fell. A blurb on the CD used the words again and I found myself wondering if this was going to be worth it. What if the track I heard was a one-off? Looking again at the title of the album in that light made me nervous. I steeled my resolve, however, and trusted my ears over my brain.

And I was right to do so.

From that noise, that instrumental yawp, the whole album is created. Some turn into sweeping, grand performances piece by piece (“Return to Annihilation”), and some begin with quiet picking and descend into a maddening din (“Two Moons”). The album very much sounds, both literally and figuratively like “Obsolete Elegies”, the title of the final, 15-minute-long track. These are songs pieced together in the underground, trying to be heard above the roar of the machines keeping everything in place. Low, scraping, drawn bows across basses and fuzzed out synths provide the crawling sense of doom which pervades the album, and the few vocals that do occur ARE screamed metal vocals, but the context has been completely changed. They are buried under layers of noise, and sound quite distant – a last gasp of raw humanity trying to survive.

This is a very assured album – not trying to prove anything, just presenting it. Nothing is overblown, nor is anything typical. Beyond just being ‘noisy’, it rewards close listening, as the songs never find themselves in the same place for very long – they move, they build and they collapse again. Glad to see that a) my fears were for naught and b) categorization only works in so far as people can hear a thing they find familiar from somewhere else, as a shorthand – it does not boxpress the music itself.

9/10

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