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There is a certain futility in viewing most drone and/or avant doom -- often there is little to no separation -- as a closed piece. Typically wrapped up tight in the cloak of their own self created atmosphere, bands of this ilk have a tendency to either neglect musical progression or reject it outright on philosophical grounds, a calcified nod to program music and its dictated sequencing of prescribed imagery. Either way, from a listener's perspective the result is a sort of pleasing interchangeability more often not -- if one album sounds much like the last by a certain artist, it's not so much that the band is repeating itself as that our recollection of their last work lacks any sense of -closure-... we feel that we're merely picking up from where we last took leave (certain releases, such as Sunn O)))'s White / Black series and the various _Thing That Solomon Overlooked_ sequels by Boris seem to encourage this view).
Stuart Dahlquist has put in his time in whatever constitutes this "scene", a grim, often ambient take on long form electric fatalism, through bands as diverse as the genre-less microcosm they circumscribe: Burning Witch -> Goatsnake -> Sunn O))). Asva is the logical convergence of a brilliant career, a poisoned marriage of the slow burn rage of Burning Witch subsumed in the frothy wake of Sunn's oceanic churn. The title track is a funereal meditation on mortality, specifically the prematurely snuffed life of Dahlquist's brother, Michael. Epic and profound, the work never exhibits any choked up petulance or knee jerk lashing out; indeed, the degree of patient introspection is astonishing. This is cerebral music -- head music -- of the highest order, insistent on pontification and demanding intellectually, as in fact the rest of the album shall turn out to be.
"Christopher Columbus" could have been aptly titled after this impelling urge at interior exploration and left at that, but Dahlquist is not nearly that one dimensional. Over a simmering baritone that sublimates the rolling, tossed about experience of seafaring, a cavernous sprinkling of suspended reverb seems to echo out into the crepuscular haze. Eventually, inevitably, the lolling rhythms brandish a more menacing intent, the echoing tribal roll of the drums accelerate in delivery, and a ceremonial chord progression arises out of the depths in confliction at some imponderable ideal.
Without doubt the emotional high water mark of an album virtually limitless in its bruising fatalism, "A Game in Hell, Hard Work in Heaven" rounds up the most substantial bank of talent amongst the eight album participants listed in the liner notes (including the record's only vocals, courtesy of Holly Johnston, and Randall Dunn, responsible for something called "electric wind"). The most songlike of _WYDKIF_'s four tracks, the vocals nonetheless consist of lyric-less chanting, and the guitar refrain is as weighted and obtuse as before, but in repetition becomes a motif one can seize and follow hand over hand to its logical conclusion. Especially effective is the often blunted character of the final note in the chord progression, which one would expect to ring out openly based on the ascending notes preceding it... in taking a turn downward instead, coupled with the use of palm muting on the guitar strings, it instead evokes a less assured, questioning character redolent of the album's central themes.
It's the consistency and vigilance over these themes that strike a nerve in the listener who sticks with it for the long haul. Every minute of every song seems to follow logically from what came before it, which in itself is a fairly groundbreaking feat in an experimental field known for creating atmosphere and then milking the hell out of it like a spent cow. "A Trap for Judges" retains the dark, ceremonial guise of the other three tracks, but it is the most blatantly doom influenced, which would seem to indicate a more traditional interest in instrumental song development than many of Dahlquist's freewheeling peers. Though hazy and refracted, _WYDKIF_ is concentrated and just... no smoke, no mirrors, only patient catharsis and the humane brilliance of Stuart Dahlquist and his hand picked confederates.
A year ago, if someone had told me that I was going to be blown away by a Drone-recording in 2008, I’d probably have shrugged at the insinuator, with disregard or mockery. While I can find the vibrations and pure force interesting, the genre seldom offers more to captivate me or keep the mind from wandering, so naturally I would not call myself an aficionado. However, considering the resumes of the members of ASVA, including BURNING WITCH, SUNN O))), MR. BUNGLE, FAITH NO MORE, and GOATSNAKE, they had to have something unique to offer.
It’s been three years since the release of the eight-piece’s debut album "Futurists Against The Ocean" (which I will make sure to check out in the near future), and since then their driving creative force, G.Stuart Dahlquist, had to endure the torment of losing his brother. The impact of this has naturally become a part of the songwriting-process, but even though the feeling of despair and desolation lies in thick layers on "What You Don’t Know Is Frontier", the album is not without a shimmer of hope. Hhaving eight members in the band makes the title-track a lumbering behemoth of sound, roaming the feedback-encrusted plains with sluggish thundering steps. Then the equally awe-inspiring “Christopher Columbus” washes over you like a tidal wave, accompanied by a very unsettling death-rattle. Like a serpent bellowing from deep within the ocean, it’s a quite frightening beast, slowly building up towards a gruesome release. Then there is total silence.
When everything has been torn down it’s time for rebirth and redemption. “A Game In Hell, Hard Work In Heaven” offers just that, taking the brilliance of minimalism to its natural conclusion. A simple guitar strums quietly, and is soon joined by a lamenting organ that takes hold of the listener instantly. What follows is one of the most astounding emotional pieces of music I’ve heard in a long time, with eastern vocals completing the sorrowful trinity. As always, after rain there will be sun, and in the final minutes of the song the pace picks up as the clouds break, and light illuminates the battered ground.
“A Trap For Judges” is the longest journey on the album, clocking in at a meaty 24 minutes, and is truly monumental in its enormity. The magnitude of each riff feels like a thousand bricks slowly hitting you in the stomach, but instead of simply being mindless amplifier punishment this is a multilayered composition, full of nuances and subtleties to keep you pinned to the seat. It all ends with a somber church-like organ, like a final eulogy which lets the music come to definitive peace with itself.
After experiencing "What You Don’t Know Is Frontier", your ears will be ringing for days, but with every subsequent exposure it will grow bigger and better, uncovering deeply emotional and personal aspects as you go along. And remember, if it aches it’ll be a cathartic kind of pain, so let yourself be washed away by the cleansing wall of sound.
(Online October 1, 2008)
Written for the Metal Observer