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Black to Comm, "Earth"

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cover imageI can't remember the last time that I was this wrong-footed and bewildered by an album.  Ostensibly, this is a soundtrack for a silent Ho Tzu Nyen film, but it is difficult to imagine music this jarring accompanying anything.  It's also quite difficult to process that this is even a Black to Comm album, as it sounds mostly like being terrorized in a nightmare by Scott Walker or an undead Jamie Stewart.  I am not sure that is necessarily a good thing (a bit nerve-jangling, actually), but Marc Richter has definitely convinced me that he is capable of making some very bold, unique, and uncompromising music.

De Stijl

There are probably a lot of factors that resulted in Earth being as bizarre and otherworldly as it is, but tellingly, it seems like the least significant of them is that Marc Richter wrote most of the music while on heavy painkillers due to a broken leg.  It is hard to gauge how much that altered state impacted his creativity, aesthetic, or judgment, as it sounds like there is probably still something resembling a Black to Comm album lurking here.  It's often quite hard to notice that though, as Earth prominently features David Aird of Vindicatrix and his haunted, quavering, and theatrical vocals invariably become the focus of attention every time they appear (which is quite often).  Also, it should be noted that film itself is pretty goddamn bizarre: De Stijl describes it as "a post-apocalyptic collage based on paintings by classical European painters (Caravaggio, Delacroix, Rembrandt, Géricault)" and that is probably as dead-on a description as possible.

Rather than delivering coloration, subtle background, and atmosphere like a typical composer, Richter (perhaps emboldened by his painkillers) opted to engage Ho Tzu Nyen's visuals in an apocalyptic, avant-garde game of chicken.  I'm not sure who won, but I am certain that seeing the film with this accompaniment is certain to be cathartic, exhausting, and alienating sensory overload in the best possible way—it's very easy to imagine a flood of people stumbling out of the theater in a state of semi-shock afterward.  Most of Earth's disturbing and haunting power is due to Aird, of course, as he invariably sounds quite creepy, intense, and possessed.  Richter also adds some unexpectedly dark and unsettling touches of his own though, like the Lynchian chorus of backwards children's voices in "Stickstoff II" or the broken-sounding, discordant acoustic guitar in "Water."  There are also many more subtle bits of uneasiness scattered about: Marc explicitly set out to convey decay and accomplishes that by using creaking, crackling static, and strangled strings to make it sound like the very fabric of the songs is unraveling.  "Thrones," in particular, pulls off the extremely neat trick of making some of Aird's vocals sound like they are emanating from a malfunctioning Victrola.

Still, there are several moments of Richter's characteristic warm, dream-like beauty amidst all the ruin and portentousness, such as the fragile, shimmering piano in "Thrones."  Also, the closing "Mirror" sounds suspiciously (and pleasantly) like a carved-up loop of John Cale's "Hanky Panky Nohow."  However, it is very hard to fully appreciate Rutger Zuydervelt's singing bowls or Christopher Kline's singing saw when it sounds like a corpse has just clawed its way out of the earth to gurgle, croak, moan, and caterwaul cryptic dystopian pronouncements.  Aird is simultaneously the best and worst thing about this album, as the sheer otherness and force of his contribution make Earth seem like something very different than a Black to Comm album (though it doesn't exactly sound like a Vindicatrix album either).  That, coupled with the intensely uncomfortable mood, ensure that this is likely to be the absolute last album I will reach for when I need a Black to Comm fix.  Nevertheless, I still respect Earth enormously as a remarkably ego-less and perversely brilliant accomplishment for Richter and his collaborators: repeat listenability could not help but be collateral damage with such a daring, expectation-defying plunge into strikingly original sound art.

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Last Updated on Sunday, 18 March 2012 22:36  


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