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Wolf and man tight in the spotlight. Do we care? - 60%

UCTYKAH, April 18th, 2013

We get more of the same with Smolken and his ritualistic neo-primitivism. It is a bit amusing how there are three bass players listed in the liner notes, as if to imply more complexity than appears on the surface, and maybe it is so... As a normal occurrence with Smolken, they all sound like cellos run through some self-tweaked amps, or, in all probability, like bowed stand up basses run through some regular cheap amps. While three of these instruments may indeed be simultaneously fiddling somewhere down there in the aural pit, the set stage they work off of is so purposefully shrouded and minimalistic, one has to pay close attention in order to pick up on these separate lines working off of one another and not fall asleep or begin to mildly hallucinate.

You can forget metal. One can refer to this stuff as "doom" only in the most abstract, introverted sense and can safely regard the tracks' lengthy running times as pertaining closer to expressionist psyched and droned-out acid-folk instead. Visible presence of a flute on "Dirge for a Viking Asshole" and "Words" does bring out echoes of neo-folk, albeit in a considerably perverted form. Other listed guest instruments like trombone and bassoon are there and make allotted appearances on "The Death of Geryon" and "Rise Up, Warriors" respectively but really end up boiling and melting in the depths of this monochrome morass, not exactly making themselves stand vividly apart or bring out any new colors (a flute manages to do so slightly by virtue of its higher sound pitch).

I have no idea whether every played note was actually premeditated and pre-composed or improvised in the spur of the moment, though I am obviously inclined towards the latter speculation. I do like the intentional anti-musical aesthetic at work here that attempts to equate its heathen exploration to something like Neanderthal level of primordial spirituality, punctuated by primeval percussive pounding and a thin whiff of resonating feedback, which renders this recording as something very particular, perhaps something that would fully open up for a listener under more specified circumstances. Circumstances might vary from person to person, but the recurring (tried and true - specifically in the experimental music circles) idea is to offer up a literally bare-bones skeleton frames, which a listener's mind and its hibernating archetypes then endow with actual meat.

As a rather typically predictable assumption, I will speculate that if you happen to be listening to this while alone in the middle of a forest, for example, your mind could very well erect images, disturbing or otherwise, that are a bit more tangible than you may like, and probably more so than an average black metal recording might conjure under similar circumstances. Comparatively, black metal implies more visible traces of civilization via its electric guitar base alone. Here, with Smolken's trademark lifeless, wholly inanimate sound and morbidly lethargic, lazily crawling, scant lines of notes (needless to say, do not expect chords, riffs or even properly resonating drones), the feeling is more ambiguous, to say the least, and more mimetic, to say the most, and, thus, has the potential to blend with the natural surroundings more effortlessly than the most detached and necro electric guitar tone. "The less human the better" ideal has possibly found a formidable incarnation right here.

I personally like how the vocals are so conspicuously separated from everything else, as if Smolken just stood outside an imaginable cabin where the rest of the band was recording and alternately muttered, grumbled and whispered (like a drugged, hoarse-throated David Tibet) some dastard incantations or, even more strangely, sometimes seemed to be inexplicably coerced into an irritated exercise in declamations (as on "First Elegy"), while stuck in a solitary speaker's corner, compelled by his own visions and inner struggles rather than by what was going on inside at the moment - again, something that is less of an artistic form and more of a psycho-emotional impulse.

Look, truthfully, I do not know if I want to entirely believe Smolken either. Between Wolfmangler and Dead Raven Choir's numerous releases, he did, after all, establish a formula, which this recording is also a part of. This formula has several variables to it, such as the above noted minimalist anti-musicality, tied to, in all likelihood, improv compositional techniques, borrowed texts from selected literary figures and, of course, to a specified sound texture - an imperative coating that serves as a foundational glue to keep these frail, indefinite constructions from falling down under their own imagined weight, yet knowing fully well that the disintegration process is about to enter its final stage.

Smolken eventually put a lid on both of his most prominent, but basically interchangeable, projects and for a good reason - they pretty much ran their course already half way though their respective discographies. Still, I do think it is a good thing that something like this did/does exist (there will never be a scene around this type of musical direction), even if Smolken sometimes strikes you as some kind of hipster-sociopath. The purpose of this disc, and this is what Smolken might have hoped for, is pure, albeit very niche, atmosphere that could potentially be, I'll dare say, therapeutic under the right conditions, the sort of: the more difficult to crack, the deeper the cleansing. Otherwise, there is little reason in giving this stuff casual listens and flagellating thyself, when you have plenty of infinitely more coherent and interesting pieces of dark music to turn to.