Time is a funny thing, it seems like only yesterday that I was enthusing wildly about Locrian’s second album, ‘Territories’, and now I’m clutching a copy of ‘The Crystal World’, their third full-length release, in my grubby paws and about to enthuse wildly again.
One would think that with being so prolific Locrian would fall into the trap that so many of their peers and contemporaries fell into long-ago, that of putting out what seems like every single cough, bloop, throb and splutter that they happen to have recorded, regardless of quality (Aidan Baker, I’m looking at YOU here) on split after tape after Cdr, but no sir, not Locrian – they just seem to use the space between releases to consolidate their sound and further crystallise their dark intentions.
With a JG Ballard text providing the inspiration, ‘The Crystal World’ represents the distilled essence of the heart of mournful darkness that Locrian have been moving closer toward since their very first release. The vast sprawl of ‘Territories’ has been streamlined into a more intimate and less sonically overwhelming realm, and the multiple contributors of that record are nowhere to be heard, replaced instead by a new addition to the Locrian core of Terence Hannum and André Foisy – Steven Hess, also of Pan American and Ural Umbro. In some ways, ‘Territories’ could be viewed as a slight deviation from the path set out upon with ‘Drenched Lands’, with ‘The Crystal World’ being a more logical progression from that first full-length – not to detract from ‘Territories’, of course.
From the outset, Locrian create an all-enveloping sound-world of their own and draw the listener in, holding them like a fly in amber. ‘Triumph Of Elimination’ immerses the listener in a night-time ocean of echoed clicks, ominous humming drones and ghostly chiming. A rising hum on the edge of hearing alerts us that some…thing is drawing near, which announces itself with a metallic bathyscapthic shrieking. The entirety of all that came before cycles around upon itself and creates a tangible aura of dread that gradually dies away whilst still leaving the feeling of being unsettled.
Those ghostly chimes carry over into ‘At Night’s End’, to be joined by a distant vocal not unlike a slurred throat-singer, amping up that feeling of oncoming dread. A plethora of tiny sounds pool together over the minutes, building to a gliding, throbbing percussive stomp that winds its way through a primordial soup of humming drone and metallic chime. The vocal drone is brought further to the fore, adding a baroque feel to the track. By this point, escape is impossible, as one is so immersed in the dark hypnotic shimmer that thoughts of anything else seem futile.
‘The Crystal World’ itself insinuates into the ears like a burrowing worm of black, buzzing thrum garlanded with delicate filigrees of delayed fluttering, like some ghostly undersea insect. Punctuated by bursts of kit percussion and a somewhat Fripp-esque sustained guitar, the tone is at once alien and elegiac.
‘Pathogens’ is a low-key hum that sets the hairs on end and a processed, distant howl, underscored by subsonics and pulsing drums. The sound of a radio playing Andrew Cyrille being detuned and hurled into the Marianis Trench.
That luminous sea-bottom darkness becomes fully tangible with ‘Obsidian Facades’, as the tortured and torturous howling of the damned is picked up by that radio and broadcast into the void. The crushing depths make their effects felt on the track as coruscating static is wrung from the deeply compressed sounds on display. It seems that no light can escape from these depths, this darkness, until an otherworldly melody begins as the other sounds unravel, degrade and break apart under pressure. The core of this melodic figure snakes into ‘Elevators And Depths’, the final track on Disc One, strummed on an acoustic guitar and wreathed in otherworldly female vocal echoes before being opened out WIDE into a vast expanse of sonic landscape that still manages to remain claustrophobic despite its huge topography. An insistently slothful drumbeat drives the listener across this sonic territory, through the glassy drone of violins, the humming of accordions and the ever-twining electronics, until a wall is reached and we can go no further.
As it happens, ‘The Crystal World’ is in actuality a double-album, but alas my review copy only contained the first disc….however….because I’m SO good to you, I managed to obtain a copy of the full package and will now also discuss that second disc.
BUT, before I do so, mention absolutely MUST be made of the sterling work done by the ever-reliable Utech Records in releasing this monster into the unsuspecting world at large, and of the stunning job done by the ever-astounding Justin Bartlett for clothing it’s rude form in such a beautiful fashion. ‘The Crystal World’ cover is one of his absolute best pieces of work, and perfectly in fitting with the music contained therein, all crystallised skulls and jewel-headed stags. Simply wonderful.
Now, back to the music. The second disc is made up of one track, ‘Extinction’, spanning almost an hour. Describing ‘Extinction’ as ‘haunting’ would be to do a vast disservice to it – ‘haunted’ would an infinitely more fitting descriptive term. This is bleak, pitch-black ambience at its finest. Shiver inducing and colder than those previously-mentioned sea-depths, the track crawls and winds its way slowly up the spine of the listener and never outstays its welcome. Built of ghostly drawn-out shards of guitar skree and bowel-churning bass throbbing, it seizes, mutates and ejects sonic debris as it progresses. Burnt-out radio signals, dying signal processors and shuddering, shimmering drone join the fray and die away over its inexorable course, a course that climaxes in a sheer wall of harsh, biting static churn and choking inhuman shrieking in the void. This psychedelic brick monolith phases through different tones, all of which are equally painful, before dying away, leaving only a percussive heartbeat, droning synths and skirling electronic beeps, radiating out into nothingness. In the end, only a kaleidoscopic, processed guitar cascade and the ghost of a pulsating throb are left.
Locrian take us, across the course of two discs, from the deepest depths of the unexplored ocean, to the deepest, blackest depths of unexplored space. THIS is truly Dark Ambience, of the pitch-blackest hue, and I love it. The hairs on the back of my neck are erect, I’m drenched in the sweat that only true terror can produce and I dare not look over my shoulder as I write this….but, Cthulhu help me, I want to hear it again.
Scribed by: Paul Robertson