Posted on Jul 1st 2010 10:01 pm
Pitch Black Star Spangled
Rune Grammofon 2010
09 Tracks. 46mins56secs
Pitch Black Star Spangled is a darker, lonelier experience than its bastard sibling, Puma’s Half Nelson Courtship and it’s all the more impressive for it. Where Half Nelson Courtship‘s group context locates the music in a slightly more familiar dynamic, Westerhus solo tiptoes out on a long, narrow outcrop and leans over the edge, peering intently into the abyss.
The album begins with Don’t Tell Me This Is Home, a hushed prologue whose titular alienation hints at what’s to come. Thy Gospel ups the ante. It’s clearly addressed to Lucifer rather than the bearded, cloud-girt one. (Westerhus does, after all, hark from Norway, the home of Black Metal).
The sun seems to go in as the music progresses. In fact it appears to set altogether, but no moon rises in its place. There’s a mournfulness here that plays out in scrapes, over-driven chords and the threat of imminent screaming. The music appears to be in the process of delineating an amorphous darkness. It puts this listener obliquely in mind of Miles Davis’ He Loved Him Madly, the trumpeter’s extended threnody for Duke Ellington. Westerhus’ playing shares the same sense of loss and the suggestion of power reined-in, the better to pay respect to its subject.
Towards the end of The Antagonist, as it morphs seamlessly into the 12 minute tour-de-force Pitch Black Star Spangled, the music gets frightening. It’s as if the Krell race from Forbidden Planet had been revived from extinction. Perhaps Westerhus was possessed by Louis and Bebe Barron, creators of the film’s alien soundtrack. Then silence falls, dust settles on a monorail and the third moon sets. This time there’s no Robbie the Robot to rescue us.
Music For Leaving is a fight between Mika Vainio and the spirit of Derek Bailey with no certainty of the outcome. Energy wins. There’s a memorable passage in The Naked Lunch where William Burroughs describes a landscape in which twitching corpses hang from electric cables that disappear into the distance. Music For Leaving is its accompaniment. Empty Hands Mirrored Softly is as beautiful as it sounds and the record concludes with Heart Of Lead, music that melds Edward Artemyev, Eleni Karaindrou with delicious, dubstep bass vibrations.
As guitarist for Nils Petter Molvaer’s recent Hamada tour, Westerhus cut an angular, bird-like figure lit by dramatic pools of red light. Pitch Black Star Spangled is a darkly beautiful experience, a nightmare whose catharsis comes only with the album’s conclusion.
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