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Natural Snow Buildings, "Night Coercion into the Company of Witches"

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cover imageAs far as Natural Snow Buildings-related albums go, this sprawling reissue ranks as a pretty monumental and eagerly anticipated event.  Originally released in a crazily limited edition of only 22, this 2008 triple-album is one of the band's most ambitious, yet rarely heard, statements.  Given Mehdi and Solange's tireless evolution over the years, Night Coercion understandably lacks the sophistication and song-craft of their current work, but mostly compensates for those shortcomings with a potent mixture of primal power and sheer massiveness.

Ba Da Bing

Looking back on Natural Snow Buildings' early career is pretty fascinating, as they released several epic, ambitious, and significantly different albums in a relatively short span for essentially no audience, all of which have since become much sought-after classics.  Night Coercion followed the heavily post-rock-influenced double-album The Winter Ray (2004) and the more "eerie folk" double-album The Dance of the Moon and the Sun (2006) and managed to somehow avoid sounding much like either.  While their dalliance in post-rock turned out to be short-lived, the rest of NSB's career has essentially been devoted to the blending and perfecting of the aesthetics pioneered on The Dance and this album, which leans quite heavily upon drone and quasi-pagan/medieval themes.  Curiously, however, the impact of those stylistic innovations is dwarfed by the sheer staggering scope of this effort: three hours of music divided into just 6 songs.  To put that in perspective, many fine bands do not record three hours of music over the course of their entire career.

Naturally, an album of such dauntingly epic length faces some inherent perils  The most obvious one is that it is an absolutely exhausting listening experience.  Then, of course, there is the second most obvious one: it is nearly impossible to record that much consistently compelling music at once (even if you are La Monte Young).  Most of these songs are built upon just one or two musical ideas stretched out and embellished for 20 or 30 minutes.  As a result, some stretches of Night Coercion definitely tend to overstay their welcome, like the 7-minute flute outro in "Kadja Bosou" or some of the prolonged bouts of roiling guitar squall that pepper the album.  I suspect Mehdi and Solange were completely aware of that though and were probably pleasantly surprised to find that there were actually 22 people who wanted to hear something so nakedly indulgent and experimental (I imagine asking "hey- do you want to hear my new 3-hour-long witch-themed drone opus?" is an excellent way to find out who your real friends and fans are).

Fortunately, such extreme length also offers great benefits.  For one, some ideas lend themselves beautifully to extended repetition, such as the weird, locked-groove-sounding "parade of the damned" opening to the aforementioned "Kadja Bosou."  Also, the more slow-burning, drone-based pieces tend to build up quite a bit of intensity when allowed such a long time to unfold.  It is also worth noting that one of Night Coercion's finest pieces ("The Great Bull God") is also its longest (by a lot), clocking in at an hour.  In fact, "Bull God" could easily have been the entire album, as it manages to cover all of the album's various stylistic facets over the course of its running time (uneasily discordant droning, ugly guitar noise, slightly off-key flutes, and subtly menacingly tribal/pagan percussion).

Night Coercion is not just notable for its length and stylistic innovations though–it is actually quite raw, scary, and lo-fi by Natural Snow Buildings standards.  Even the somewhat pastoral passages manage to have an uneasy shrillness and slightly wrong-sounding feel to them.  Also, some of the more dissonant pieces (such as "Brooms, Trapdoors, Keyholes") build up to crescendos that are pretty much full-on noise.  Nor are Mehdi and Solange particularly stingy with unleashing dense oceans of feedback.  The album's (lack of) production also plays a crucial role in setting the mood, as the murky "home-made black metal cassette" sound turns the already disturbing "howls of the undead" section of "Gorgons" into something truly nightmarish.

As a listening experience, however, Night Coercion is ultimately only a mixed success–I would describe it as more of an important and ambitious album than a great one (though "pretty good" seems fair).  There is definitely some music that sounds like absolutely no one else and there are a couple of truly memorable complete songs (particularly "Gorgons"), but there is no denying that there is quite a bit of bloat as well.  Also, the album's lengthy stretches of chaos and feedback are not quite as distinctive as the other facets of the duo's sound (even if they are quite visceral).  That said, I still probably would have been floored if I had heard this when it came out, as its weirder, more adventurous aspects necessarily seem perfectly normal to me after hearing all of the superior albums that followed in its wake.  Even now, it is far from a disappointment: I may prefer some of their other work, but this is the only logical choice if I want to block out the world and plunge myself into a black hole of prolonged Natural Snow Buildings immersion (which I will inevitably want to do with some regularity).

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Last Updated on Monday, 15 October 2012 05:13  


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