Is it possible to have too much ambition? In all honesty, the answer is probably no – nothing ventured, nothing gained, and all that jazz. That being said, Abstruse come dangerously close with the Space Twofold Series, two releases – Inner Space-Outer Void and Outer Space-Inner Void – that act as two halves of a single manifestation of psychoacoustic experimentation, delivered with precision and enveloping the listener in strange, alien machine language. This latter aspect is boosted by the use of binaural recording techniques, making headphones a necessity for its appreciation and eventual immersion. Is this a lofty goal? Well, obviously – but a better question would perhaps be, “Is it worth all that effort?” That probably depends on the listener’s own willingness to sink deep into what’s on offer here and, if they do go all-in, then they’ll know the answer soon enough (spoiler: it’s “yes”).
Space Twofold can conceivably be approached from either direction, both options offering their own levels of allure and defiance, varying heavily in composition, structure and tone yet possessing an ear for detailed melody in either case, though Inner Space-Outer Void gives a marginally smoother point of entry, even if that only really works in relative terms. Outer Void steps in as a clanking, unsettling dark ambient scene-setter before firing rapid bursts of fractured black metal and elegant orchestral flourishes, as though someone had decided to host an episode of ‘Will It Blend’ with Celtic Frost and Maeror Tri as the test subjects. Substant (a.k.a. Vincent Van Der Bosch)’s moans and shrieks add a touch of performance art to proceedings, high-theatre narration for high-concept gymnastics, beginning a journey that parallels Dante’s in terms of scale and bewilderment.
There’s a peculiarly subterranean feel to Abstruse’s music, the instrumentation jarring and unpredictably yet seemingly remote; sparse in the way that chamber music can seem to fill a room yet exist without it. It toys with concepts of timing, structure and orchestration, with free-form noise and jazz and metal and something that’s never truly identifiable, some vestigial perception of sound seemingly lost to all but one man, all vying to share the same frequency bands. Universal Waves throws even more curveballs into the mix with skittering rattles of hi-hat coupled with breakbeat-thrash guitars and a few industrial and techno flourishes, recognisable remnants within Substant’s maniacal theme park universe, and as the drumming escalates in skill and sheer wildness, the binaural effect comes into play, trapping the listener as toms and snares spin and dance in front, behind and everywhere, the nearest thing to sitting in the middle of the 77 Boadrum performance and being completely enclosed by sound.
No matter what is summoned, though, it never loses sight of being, in the greatest sense, musical. Substant can craft melodies of seemingly every length, shape and tone, and perform them across a wide variety of instrumentation, although it does bear some similarity to the likes of Sunn O))), dabbling in something akin to the structure of no structure. – Inner Space-Outer Void therefore exists within the framework of music, albeit operating strictly at the fringes. Outer Space-Inner Void is cut from the same cloth, though its harshness and melody are more defined; the searing chaos of Inner Void’s glitching drums, rapid flurries of acoustic guitar and clattering ambiance are a disconcerting experience that does little to affect the same easy access as its companion album did.
And yet, it’s this second work which contains the bulk of the melodies, spun in a fairy tale world of crashing stars and forgotten forests. The Golden Cage is less a song than a musical suite, a steady march through guttural prog-metal, tense orchestral splashes and dark soliloquies, Substant crooning and growling along to these obtuse progressions in a manner that’s positively Mike Patton-worthy. Coincidentally, there is a definite touch of Fantômas to these songs, particularly in the occasionally cinematic sweeps of drama and pathos, but also in his distinctive blend of old world and new world styles. The stronger electronic elements are underpinned by slight jazz twitches and skiffles; the cacophonic thrash of Machina Eminor is locked in a violent struggle with fiery, almost dub-like techno; elegant classicism butts horns with black metal and goes spinning into the wilderness.
These two albums complement each other in a myriad of ways, opening doors for the listener in the form of the occasional hook or moment of recognition before erecting walls of dizzying sound to shut them out again seemingly at the behest of some perverse whim, and yet they aren’t uninviting. Much like Substant’s recent work with Echoes/Shades/Fragments, there is a playful aspect at work that welcomes exploration, allowing the listener to choose how deep he wishes to venture at any point while never downplaying the tremendous effort which obviously exists on Substant’s side of the speakers. The construction of these pieces are truly impressive and colossally varied, the binaural recording technique tightly interwoven with the structures to provide a full sensory experience, and though ambition certainly can get the better of some, this operates right on the cusp of what can be done and still remain accessible. It’s no mean venture, but it is an adventure worth travelling at least once.
Scribed by: Dave Bowes