Affect and Effect: Mastery’s VALIS


In musicology, the Doctrine of the Affections is the belief and study of music’s ability to arouse different emotions in the listener. A composer, armed with a thorough knowledge of the subject, could theoretically manipulate notes, lengths, spaces, instrumentation, etc. in his or her music to create a predictable outcome for the listener. Even the most casual listener knows this to be true on some level; one can differentiate the emotional weight in Barber’s Adagio versus the shadowy terror of Mussorgsky’s Night on Bald Mountain with ease. Identifying and studying a particular affect (the ‘a’ pronounced as it is in ‘apple’), however, can zoom in on specific note and interval choices and all of the subjectivity that comes with each step. While the area of study has significantly changed over the centuries (becoming thankfully modernized and doing away with “animal spirits and vapors”), aesthetic study will inevitably involve a discussion on deconstructing music and examining what it is that communicates a given affect. 

With a handful of demos, splits, and compilations under its belt, Ephemeral Domignostika’s (let’s call him ED from now on) one-man project Mastery finally released its first full length this year. VALIS is a brilliant essay on the subject of avant-garde black metal. The 41 minutes of this album span a ridiculous number of sections (“upwards of 100 riffs per song” is no exaggeration in the promo), moments, and sound choices, but I believe the entire length can be unified under a single affect: complete, unrelenting urgency. There is never a moment in the album that lacks manic haste and razor sharp insistence. The way that urgency is communicated and used throughout the album creates the effect of a hypnotic buzz saw, unrelenting in its outcome and steadfast in delivery. While I would love to dissect each section in a true study of affections, I have neither the time nor the brainpower to do so. Instead, let’s take a look at broad points.

The album alternates between three full on metal tracks and two ambient soundscape tracks. “V.A.L.I.S.V.E.S.S.E.L.” sets the tone from the beginning with a brief, demented string outburst before charging ahead with a nearly 18-minute whirlwind of harsh, free form black metal influenced by punk, thrash, and avant-garde tonality. The instrumental and vocal tones blend together to create a jagged, sharp consistency; if there was ever a sound that could alter the laws of the universe to solidify and slash your throat, it would be the collective tones on this album. After six minutes of unrelenting energy, the air suddenly clears to a soft acoustic section. However, ED deftly retains the original affect with a muted, low-mixed blast beat that injects urgency into an otherwise relaxed atmosphere. The song kicks back into high gear a minute later, and continues for 10:30 minutes of raw fury.

The mixing of affect and effect is an interesting point after taking in the first track. Grindcore and harsh, thrashy black metal acts are no stranger to all-out urgency as discussed here, but we often see it in the form of short, high-energy songs, where digestion is manageable. So the effect of that affect being stretched out over nearly 18 minutes is unsettling to say the least, and accessibility is not even in the question here. Like the hypnotic buzz saw mentioned earlier, there is no wavering in outcome and no reasoning for a point to hold on to.

The two other metal tracks, “L.O.R.E.S.E.E.K.E.R.” and “S.T.A.R.S.E.E.K.E.R.”, are only somewhat shorter, and dedicated listening is no less a feat. Starting at 2:07 in the former, juxtaposition of range creates a broader sound, but the resulting dissonance that ED has wonderfully handled throughout the album retains the same razor sharp quality. Then at 2:35, the two guitar tracks split to another harshly broad, open chord that doesn’t change in pitch or rhythm for over a minute, a terrifyingly monotonous and effective span of time for an album that has tumbled, careened, and slashed its way through hundreds of sections thus far. “S.T.A.R.S.E.E.K.E.R.” roars to life after the ambient “I.L.K.S.E.E.K.E.R.”, featuring gliding, shape-shifting riffs that act as the sonic equivalent of a flensing knife slicing through long, curving cuts of flesh. Once again showing a serious flair for effective dissonance, the first half features riffs that slide in and out of harsh, razor sharp tonalities, backed by relentless bass glissandos. 6:18 is something of a dividing line, and while we get plenty of slide-riffs throughout the rest of the tune, ED takes a more time on certain chords to hammer his point across.

If you aren’t drained as a listener by the end of this album, I don’t want to know how intense your life is. Even the ambient tracks have an urgent buzzing beneath the surface, like a sick machine that can’t be turned off. ED demonstrates unsettling urgency throughout VALIS that goes beyond a simple mixing of genres and traits. If the idea of accessibility can be thrown away entirely and the idea of razor sharp, momentary aesthetic can be embraced, Mastery will more than prove their name for the listener. When the label themselves call it “the most extreme record The Flenser has ever released,” you better pay attention.


Listen and purchase the album here

(Photo VIA)

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  • Scrimm

    Stocky like some weird BM. This is interesting.

    • After all the music today….I will have to listen to this another day – the first 2 minutes of that track are exhausting!

      • Scrimm

        That they are. I need a nap.

      • Tyreeling In The Years

        I think you mean the whole 17 minutes of that first track are exhausting.

        • Well yeah, but I gave up at 2 mins!

          • Stockhausen

            Yes sir. It is a tough, but rewarding listen.

    • Akerskronks ov Steele

      His tastes are, unusual.

    • JJM

      i dig

      • Scrimm

        You would

  • Tyreeling In The Years

    Flenser Records has some strange bands on their roster.

    • JJM

      currently jamming Kayo Dot’s Coffins on Io… care of The Flenser!

      • The Flenser might be the only bastion of funding left for a band as aggressively difficult as the Dot. Happy they landed there. Although that Coffins thing doesn’t get me at all.

  • Tyreeling In The Years

    Stocky, do you like Wormlust at all?

  • Great review, Karl. I’ve been listening to this album on repeat for weeks, and I’m very glad you didn’t make any boneheaded comparisons to Ornette Coleman or jazz in general like every other review seems to have. U r a good man. I love u.

    • Stockhausen

      There is little to no jazz to be had in this album. Some elements of free jazz, sure, sorta, but at that point you’re better off with an avant-garde tag anyway.

  • Soundtrack for the mind visualizations of a obsessive compulsive woman that accumulate mountains of magazines while tries to study, work and re-connect to her child, because she was tagged as “don’t suitable for maternity” of the goverment.

    It’s very “urgent” like you said. It’s like an emotional outburst. With a lot of stars sparkling in hesitation.

    Good review.

    • Brouroboris

      Stars sparkling in hesitation is lyric worthy.

  • Guacamole Jim

    I like this. A lot.

    • i like yer mom

      -Mr Bjangles

      • Guacamole Jim

        MATT DAMON

        – Janitor James McScrimm


          • David Vincent’s Spandex Shirt


    • Stockhausen

      It will saw your eardrums in half and give you better, new ones. But the new ones will be covered in spikes.

  • Enemy Of The Free World

    This is an album I would enjoy.

    I am enjoying.

  • Sorry to hijack but Alex Rudinger is a beast and he must be heard!

    • Guacamole Jim

      His problem is that he is beyond belief… at one thing only: playing fast. He sounds like a drum machine, and could have probably spared himself years of work if he just learned how to program drums.

      • I love watching him play. So tasty!

        • Guacamole Jim

          Agreed. I’ve been watching this dude on YouTube for years now. He’s actually the guy (oddly enough) who got me onto Dead Letter Circus.

          • Whoa! I never could get into those guys. You ever care for Circle of Contempt? I dug them hard for awhile. I have since moved on…

          • Guacamole Jim

            Don’t think I’ve ever heard them, to be honest. Australian band? I do dig the Australian scene right now.

          • Guacamole Jim

            Hmm. Not bad, but not really my thing. The clean-ish bits are pretty cool.

    • woah, that drumming is perfect in timing.

    • Tyreeling In The Years

      I enjoy watching this motherfucker destroy the kit.

      • Guacamole Jim
        • Tyreeling In The Years

          That’s sick dude, I just find this music to be so boring. Especially the guitar work.

          • Guacamole Jim

            I can’t argue with you there. Personally, I absolutely love it, but I know exactly what you mean.

          • Tyreeling In The Years

            Drums are incredible, no denying that.

          • Scrimm

            We did that for certain parts of the recording. There’s one riff especially where I can’t not seem to hit the high strings even though I’m not supposed to.

        • this is so precise!

  • Based Tapir

    Yeees, dis sounds like something that I would dimmadig.

  • YourLogicIsFlushed

    I hate being too busy for the toilet, both this one and the physical one. I have so much listening to do tonight. Sweet review, got me interested!

    • I’m going to hazard a guess that you willn’t dig it.

      • YourLogicIsFlushed

        You are correct.

        • Stockhausen

          Haha. Bummer.

  • VVayne Brady

    This album is a marathon to listen to, but I was definitely impressed. Killer review, brainiac.

  • Pagliacci is Kvlt O)))
    • PKD>>>>>>>>>>>all

    • Leif Bearikson

      VALIS is probably THE novel I’ve spent the most time thinking about since I finished it. It’s so bizarre and incredible.

  • Killer review, Stocky. Will sit through all of this tonight.

    • Stockhausen

      Send me a cup of your ear blood.

  • Warheart

    YAY, my kind of shit.

  • CT-12

    Interesting stuff here Stocky, sounds awesome though. Sounds like a more aggressive, BM version of Humanity Falls or something.

  • zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz
    • JJM

      on. fucking. point.

    • i don’t which video was the one with the vocals. good job once again, zzzzzzz.

      • zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz

        thanks guys
        it wont let nonsigned people upvote today- but i like those real quick high pitched hammer-ons–that they use as rhythm sometimes—

        • I liked that, too! There was certain groovy parts sandwiched between the noisy ones. It’s very interesting, even when I don’t see myself listening that repeatedly.

  • Damn, Stockhausen. Every time I think about writing a review of something, I read one of yours and I get all “what’s the point.”

    • Stockhausen

      Awww, what a sweetgvrp!

  • JvRv

    This made me itchy

  • Lacertilian

    After clicking on the Massorgsky link, I have spent the last 45 minutes in a classical music YouTube recommendation perplexity scenario. Thanks @Stockhausen:disqus

  • Great review!