Gazing Too Long Into The Abyss: Halfway to Madness
In the last segment, we looked at three ambient/noise artists who wielded their unique sound as a haunting, primal tool of dread and fear. This time, we’ll take a look at three more artists who have successfully mastered a common, but never unwelcome, method for injecting a bit of unease and atmosphere into their compositions: the mid-album instrumental.
There’s a lot of room for interpretation with what defines this kind of track, i.e., whether it includes the full band, whether it’s just a slower song, etc., so for this article I’ll be sticking with tracks that are overwhelmingly aimed at creating a complementary groundwork for the intensity of the rest of the album to build upon — a quick breather between song assaults, but a reminder that just because the music’s stopped, you’re not out of the woods yet…
The Amenta‘s 2008 album N0N is a masterwork of precisely-executed rhythms, unsettling melodic dissonance and scathing vocal attacks, intended as an affirming statement that, yes, this world is exactly as ugly as it seems. The first of the album’s two instrumental “break” points, Entropy is a brief but utterly punishing kick to the head of the listener (and a startling one if you’re not prepared for it).
The track begins with a faint radio static that pervades the entire album, and here functions as a post-song cooldown before it jumps to the forefront as an echoed sneering and those menacing low electronic bursts begin thumping and grinding away in increasing tempo. First as an off-tempo foot-tapper, then as a faster rumble, then as a pounding bass machine gun, and finally as a sequence of explosive, distorted detonations and fragmented vocal blips that perfectly recreate the sound of the end of the world trying to force its way through your speakers. The listener’s now-shattered skull and nerves are then carried straight into the album’s blistering flagship track. The Amenta are particularly adept at these types of ambient/noise tracks, and this is one where the intensity is turned up to
eleven one hundred a thousand eleven thousand.
Both a continuation of Celtic Frost’s final album and a throwback to the most essential elements of classic thrash and/or black metal (i.e., darkness uber alles), Triptykon‘s Eparistera Daimones is an album carved from black stone, drenched in a thick coating of black paint and smeared with greasy black ashes: black all over and bleak as hell. Its shortest track, Shrine, could easily have been left off the final tracklist in anticipation of short attention span-addled listeners skipping right past it, but was included for a reason.
The reverberating metallic wind, hints of guitar feedback and overdriven vocal aches would fit right in at a typical haunted house, and is likely less a product of studio wankery and more akin to what you’d hear at Tom Gabriel Fischer’s house on the coldest of Swiss winter nights as he writes new Triptykon material, works on death mask sculptures and muses long and hard about how to creep people out via his blog; plus, like The Amenta’s track above, it immediately sets up the listener for the loudest & heaviest track on the album.
Hailing from the Ukraine, Semargl‘s 2007 album Manifest paints a grim audio picture of living in Eastern Europe with the ever-present spectre of battles long gone. Stretches of white noise with faint melodic assists, grumbling impacts and vintage recordings of marching infantry recall razed cities and blackened war detritus scattered among charred trees that seem permanently rooted in winter.
A Lesson ‘S’ doesn’t maintain the relative calm that Shrine does, nor does it hit the same intensity as Entropy, but it finds a suitable middle ground for the black/death/groove mix of the album. Right away it kicks into a sequence of pale electronic punches atop smooth bed tracks of chilly synth, faint white noise and old radio transmissions to create an ugly and expansive industrial intermission that fits right into the warfare fever dream of the rest of the tracks. Shortly after this album’s follow-up, Semargl embarked on a rapid descent into a glittery Eurotrash hell and emerged with their current “satanic pop metal” form; a living joke blending sugary club-thumping beats and shells of human beings in industrial rock outfits (I highly suggest NOT clicking that link if you want to keep your lunch down… you already clicked it, didn’t you?).
What are your favorite mid-album instrumental/atmosphere tracks? Share & discuss in the comments below.