Although better known for his collaborative efforts with Southern Lord’s Greg Anderson as the co-founder of prolific doom drone outfit Sunn O))), Stephen O’Malley has been forging his own version of ‘metal‘ for nearly 20 years; anyone who gives more than a casual glance at his extensive résumé can appreciate the inherent unconventionality of his artistic approach. His incorporation of graphic media and other forms of visual art as an essential component of his music has given his projects a distinct ‘avant-garde‘ quality, and it’s no surprise that similar minded innovators would gravitate towards his (arguable) genius. ‘Shade Themes From Kairos’ sees O’Malley joined by Australian multi-instrumentalist Oren Ambarchi (who appeared on both Sunn O)))’s ‘Black One’ and ‘Monoliths And Dimensions’ full lengths, plus contributing to a slew of other live performances) and producer/engineer Randall Dunn to provide a peculiar (musical) take on Alexis Destoop’s 2012 science fiction film ‘Kairos’.
Filmed as a modern apocalyptic “pseudo-documentary”, ‘Kairos’ plots the cataclysmic aftermath of ‘The Great Temporal Catastrophe’ (an event that ended linear time); the fictional company ‘CTF’ (Collective Time Flow) develops a technology for raw time extraction and processing into a quantifiable, tangible commodity. The story considers the impact of traditional supply/demand relationships on the survival (or destruction) of human civilization. Naturally, this kind of intellectual esoterica was a damn near magnet for O’Malley and Co’s ambient noodling; the score is at the bare minimum engrossing, and guitar enthusiasts in particular will be at attention for the album’s near 70 minutes of noise-drone jazz experimentation.
The Australian Arid Zone is the backdrop for the film and serves as the on location fictional “repository for raw time reserves” (in essence, where extracted, crude time is stored for future use, sale and/or distribution). The textural landscape could be considered a 3D/topographic representation of (non-linear) time; complex and obscure, yes, but fertile ground for the listless shuffle of soundtrack opener ‘That Space Between’. Ambarchi and O’Malley thrive on dreamy, ambient discord, with a rhythmic percussive loop that propels the track further and further from this reality to the next. The arrangements are loosely structured, notes and sounds seem to wander in and out of focus, and this symbolic ‘union of the senses‘ (visual/auditory) makes this film and its score indispensable components of a multimedia artistic “experience“.
The ‘Shade Themes From Kairos’ sessions sees the trio roaming wild with no apparent boundaries or restraints; Destoop opted to cut the film to the music and not the other way around which gave O’Malley and Ambarchi a great deal of freedom for improvisation and freak-out post rock strutting; the amped up dissonance of ‘Temporal Eponymous’ sees that swank front and center, with a wild, tumbling momentum that threatens to crash or be consumed by its own chaos. The group finds a point where order and disorder intersect; on the surface, tracks like the ominous ‘Circumstances Of Faith’ feel aimless with its random waves of analog synth and snowballing, post-noise mayhem. But it’s all about perspective and context; looking at the bigger picture, the song makes sense as a counter piece to Destoop’s qualitative notion of time. Non sequential and immeasurable, time just is, like a circle whose center is everywhere and circumference nowhere. The group’s compositions work by this template, with a near infinite ground for sonic exploration.
This ‘exploration’ is turned inward on the melancholic ‘Sometimes’; minimalist arrangements predominate as brushed percussion and delicately plucked acoustics provide a framework for Japanese singer/songwriter Ai Aso’s (featured vocalist) languid crooning. With no discernible (traditional) beginning or end, the song exists in motion, as if the listener is given an 8 minute glimpse of a much longer evolution of depression. It’s indeed an emotional journey as seen through the eyes of its creators and tracks like the 21 minute closer ‘Ebony Pagoda’ reflect the darker side of that journey. O’Malley and Ambarchi return to the familiar drone dirge template, relying on power chords and sub sonic frequencies as the ultimate “wall of sound”. The song remains an essential part of the whole, as the ‘Shade Themes From Kairos’ sessions conclude.
The group allows a peek into an intimate world of self reflection and through mood and sound, the vulnerability of fear and emotional fragility is embraced unabashedly. It becomes very obvious that this album is way more than an exercise in free form musical gravitas. The trio shares a singular vision with the confidence to let their musical intuition guide the way. Ambarchi/O’Malley devotees are sure to enjoy a record of this density while other more open minded listeners are encouraged to seek it out…no doubt, it’s certainly worth your time. Highly Recommended.
Label: Drag City
Band Links: N/A
Scribed by: Jeremy Moore