Review: Massimo Pupillo ‘The Black Iron Prison’

A strange and unsettling thing, this. An ambient/drone record drawing on ideas from Gnosticism, alchemy, and the writing of Philip K. Dick. Massimo Pupillo is in the mystic mode for his first solo record. Pupillo is of course known for his work on bass with Zu, and I have fond memories of sweaty skronkfests (Roadburn, the Exchange) that had me hoping for a crunchy kinetic rush, like that of 2009s Carboniferous. An important point to be made about The Black Iron Prison is that there is zero skronk here. But then given the context of Zu’s album Jhator (2017), and Pupillo’s prolific collaborative experimental work that should perhaps, not be a surprise.

Massimo Pupillo 'The Black Iron Prison'

The record takes its name from Philip K. Dick’s intimation of a trans-temporal all-pervasive system of control, both internal and external, although in the context, those terms become somewhat fluid. As such this is very much uneasy listening and I found it difficult to commit myself properly to the album – activation syndrome left me fidgety and looking for hooks, anticipating resolution.

We hear a beautiful unearthly song, maybe some sort of grounding chant and shifting ice-cold sheen. There is calm in the sense of little motion, but I am far from calm. Maybe on headphones I will be able to settle into it? The thought of being fully immersed in this space raises my anxiety further. Maybe I could draw or something, to occupy my hands and eyes. Why am I looking for distractions? There is a rising. Respite. Return. My cats are also sat alert, as pranged-out as I am. There is a problem of volume – am I missing detail that would emerge if I just turned it up a bit, or is it already too loud? 

The Judgement is remorseless, the Throne radiant.

Pistis Sophia opens clear and dispels the dread. Both text and entity Sophia is learning the structure of the universe and how to traverse it. Ambiguous instrumentation sets us in a Classical mode, but irruptions of vibration set the space wobbling, everything plastic. The tension is opening the divine realms of light, acid dissolution bliss state.

all those approaching this record with a neophilus set will find something of interest…

We are still fallen however, and must pass through The Great Tribulation. Something is dripping? The information beam is activated, but the use of voice (or at least what my ears really want to hear as voice) dispels some of the alienation to bring me through.

Only to find myself in The Black Iron Prison itself. Murky, somewhere an alarm seems to be sounding, almost pulling into a rhythm. Is there going to be the structure, even the joy of a beat and release?  Eerie ambience buries this thought as the mud of the world squelches, bubbles of creation pop. It’s in the room, a tangible thing. Or I am in it. And then it goes, ending somehow in media res.

Is there to be no final Illumination? Have we been judged and condemned? Reading the journey of the album from the song titles is perplexing: First is the ‘Inaugural Address’ at the final judgement of those without the faith, then we learn about access to the Mysteries from Sophia, followed by the time of Great Tribulation which surely comes before judgement, and we end in The Black Iron Prison. But of course this is the limitation of a linear concept of time, while as Philip K. Dick tells us: ‘the Empire never ended’.

Pupillo has attempted to construct a metaprogramming tool that reminds us of the bewildering transfer of information that so damages many of Dick’s self-others. The ambiguously enlightening external power that poisons their earthly forms. To a neophyte, there is much mystery here in Chapel Perilous. Perhaps those more learned and adept will find correspond-dances and esoteric truths that pass me by, but all those approaching this record with a neophilus set will find something of interest.

Label: Subsound Records
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Scribed by: Harry Holmes