Critics and reviews have an irritating tendency to describe artwork as ‘transcendental.’ If a book encourages the reader to think about the big questions, then it is ‘transcendent.’ If an album combines more than one genre, even if those genres are pretty similar, then it ‘transcends’ genre itself. The word is everywhere, and not just in the scrawlings of critics. Bands often apply the term to themselves (a classic recent example being the in-famous ‘transcendental black metal’ manifesto penned by Liturgy’s head honcho Hunter Hendrix) – for better or worse, the ‘transcendental’ tag is frequently applied to art.
Why am I talking about this, and what has it got to do with Wrekmeister Harmonies‘ latest release, Night Of Your Ascension? The incessant use of transcendence has robbed the word of its power, particularly when it comes to albums that really do transport the listener into realms of fancy and thought. Night Of Your Ascension can transport you from your living room, car, or wherever you are to another, darker place. It is transcendent in the same way that the best church hymns are transcendent; they can be haunting, they can be melancholic, and they can elevate. This is pretty unsettling, given Night of Your Ascension‘s mission statement as an exploration of human obsession with bloodlust and destruction.
Naturally, as evidenced by the album’s self-titled first track (which clocks in at 32 minutes), this album is a bit of a slow burner. It travels through a number of different styles and themes, and it does so without any sense of urgency. The song meanders through passages of solemn strings, powerful choral harmonies which are heavily influenced by the 16th century composer and serial killer Carlo Gesualdo, and of course (this is The Sleeping Shaman) heavy, heavy doom. Everything goes at a slow and steady pace, and it is entirely honest about its intentions. From the opening notes of Night Of Your Ascension, which consist of Marissa Nadler’s soft, rhythmic tones dripping with echo, the album wants to lure you into a trance. The title reads like a mission statement, but the question that remains unanswered is ‘to where does the listener ascend?’
The album may be uplifting, but it is by no means a joyful celebration of life. There are rich choral sections that reach piercing crescendos, but they don’t put me in mind of Sunday mornings at the local parish communion. As Night Of Your Ascension lumbers on unrelenting, serialist strings give way to dirty and rumbling guitars. The screams that tear across the track are powerful, menacing. The track has a sense of release, but there is no accompanying catharsis: it just feels like crying into a void.
Continuing that mantra and trace-inducing serialist doom even further, Run Priest Run introduces thick drones that repeat for what seems like the entire length of the track. As the title indicates, the lurching guitars and mechanical clattering and crashes represent the sins and beating heart of a man attacked by forces both internal and external. Sparsity gives way to Chip King’s (of The Body) chaotic screams and the crashes of symbols. To me it is a psychological piece, an exploration of the corrupted mind of dishonoured clergyman Father John Geoghan. It could be something very different to another listener, and that is an aspect of Night Of Your Ascension that I find thoroughly enjoyable – the whole album is a story, but the plot of that story remains a mystery.
As a probe into the essentially flawed human condition and our morbid fascination with the darkest and most despicable acts of which we are capable, Wreckmeister Harmonies‘ third album is a captivating experience. Despite its very particular reference points (Carlo Gesualdo and Father John Geoghan) it remains abstract enough for the listener to impart his or her own interpretation. It is a hauntingly beautiful album, even at its most abrasive and industrial moments, perhaps because it plays with those familiar madrigals of our religious heritage and blends them with doom more typically associated with acts like Church of Misery, who depend upon deranged killers for inspiration. The album is transcending, but in a troubling way. It can take the listener to another realm, a realm at once lofty and bathed in darkness.
Scribed by: Will Beattie