Posted on Jan 25th 2011 01:38 am
En Form For Blå
VHF Records 2011
07 Tracks. 54mins29secs
Æthenor is a variable geometry supergroup centred around the nucleus of guitarist Stephen O’Malley (SunnO))), Burning Witch, KTL) and multi-instrumentist Daniel O’Sullivan (Guapo, Monolith, Ulver). Over the years, various musicians have either contributed occasionally or been fairly permanent fixtures, the most regular of these being Vincent De Roguin, who contributed to all three of the band’s studio recordings. He is however absent on En Form For Blå, but O’Malley and O’Sullivan are here joined by drummer Steve Noble (Rip Rig & Panic) and Ulver front man Kristoffer Rygg.
Unlike the formation’s three previous records, which were all the result of studio improvisations, collected in just a handful of compositions, often spanning the best part of ten minutes, this latest offering documents three live performances recorded at Oslo’s seminal jazz and experimental venue Blå in April and June last year, yet the band follow here a similar improv-based concept, but add a level of tension which had remained until now fairly guarded. Despite the combined pedigrees of the various contributors, there is very little of the doom-laden drone metal of SunnO))) or the dark experimentalism of Ulver to be found in Æthenor, at least in concrete term. Instead, Æthenor have always favoured a much more atmospheric approach to dark and visceral soundscapes, and this is very much the case here.
The album opens on a peaceful drone which becomes rapidly disturbed by a lone cymbal at first, then by increasingly potent disjointed drum patterns around which circle fragments of guitars, bass and noise. Clocking at over fourteen minutes, Jocasta is built from segments which rarely appear to be connected to one another, yet somehow develop into a consistent whole. Æthenor never go as far as taking a theme to its logical conclusion. Instead, they draw vague outlines, place sounds with extreme parsimony, even in denser passages, and hint at formations which remain forever untouched. Each one of the seven tracks presented here follows the same principals. Built from fragments of sound, melody or textures placed in relation to others, it is difficult not to get lost in the intricate constructions which result of this intense process. Noble’s drums are omnipresent, more often than not placed slightly to the fore, and appear to regulate the level of tension created by the other. Guitars are, for the most part, treated beyond recognition or saturated to the point of becoming primitive noise accumulations, and smeared with electronics and distortions.
At times, Æthenor play nicely, reigning in most inclines of discordance, as demonstrated on the somewhat restrained and temperate One Number Of Destiny In Ninety Nine or Dream Tassels, but there are at others sombre shadows lurking beneath the surface which push the level of tension. This is perhaps most apparent on Laudanum Tusk, with its heavy slabs of distorted organ, sliced through by equally distorted guitars, but the pernicious toxicity of Vivarium, especially in its later part, or Vyomagami Plume, which sounds like a volcano on a verge of a massive eruption which never quite happen, is in many way much more disturbing. Closing piece Something To Sleep In Still goes in yet another direction. Oddly cinematic and aquatic, it reveals the delicate nature which has filtered through the band’s previous records and reaches an almost angelic state in its dying minutes.
There are very few formations who operate on such a complex and otherworldly level. Æthenor’s music defies classification. Neither dark nor ambient, yet haunting and atmospheric, this album is as unique as this ensemble, and shouldn’t be missed. Essential!
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