Axebreaker, "They Wear the Mask and Their Face Grows to Fit It"
With obviously no dearth of source material or motivation, Locrian and The Holy Circle‚Äôs Terence Hannum has released a third album this year as his solo anti-fascist power electronics guise Axebreaker. Dense with rage, frustration, and noise, They Wear the Mask and Their Face Grows to Fit It does not stray drastically far from his previous albums, but continues his growing legacy of anger and nuanced aggressive electronic arrangements. A combination of catharsis and complexity, Hannum's work is as conceptually narrative as it is purely visceral.
Hannum's description of Axebreaker as a power electronics project makes sense, but I do think that sells it somewhat short.I completely respect the motive behind it:as a genre I can appreciate a lot of artists who fall under that umbrella, but there are many more that either flirt with fascist imagery without clearly endorsing or decrying it, or at worst wearing it like some sort of badge of honor.However, regardless of the political affiliation it tends to be a one-note genre:distorted analog synths, shouted/screamed vocals buried under layers of flanger and delay, and murky lo-fi production.
Like his previous works, They Wear The Mask differs from that framework in a multitude of ways.Sure, there is a lot of distortion, noise, and screaming, but the sounds are rich and the arrangements nuanced, and the album is structurally varied and carefully considered.The five pieces included blend not just these elements, but also field recordings (likely from in person recordings as well as televised protests) and hints of lush melody that add an additional layer to the proceedings.
The opening "A Strategy of Tension" is titled perfectly, emerging from what sounds like sustained car horns and field recordings that slowly grow denser and denser.Under this, Hannum constructs a foundation of expansive synthesizers that, when combined, results in a growing sense of unease and aggression simmering just below the surface.Besides the fact that this makes sense given the underlying concepts behind the project, it also works exceptionally well as an album device building tension, although it never fully releases.
This tension erupts on the following "Receptive to Extremist Ideologies" via echoed, yelled vocals atop a hollow warehouse like ambience.The vocals eventually succumb to a heavier burst of subsonic bass and noise that capture anger and frustration perfectly.However, the combination of a constantly evolving dynamic, and some melodic synthesizers distant in the mix make for a standout work in depth and nuance.
With the brief rattling noise and creaking metal of "Patriot Prayer (Retribution)" bridging the two, the title piece makes for the other major work here.Building from slow, menacing electronics, Hannum keeps a synth soundtrack passage beneath the mix as he throws in outbursts of noise and distant screams.Though there are significant amounts of distortion and overdriven noise, again he keeps the entire thing active and dynamic, never falling into a simplistic or repetitive rut.With the closer "Defeat Forever" increasing in harshness from a motor-like drone into an ending of rioting and breaking glass there is no real sense of relief, however.
They Wear the Mask and Their Face Grows to Fit It is not a radical departure from Hannum‚Äôs previous Axebreaker works over the past three years, but it does not need to be.It is again an excellent encapsulation of present day rage and frustration that thankfully is anything but focusing on peace and tolerance.While Hannum‚Äôs project was likely motivated by Trump taking the US presidency beginning in 2017, I do not see the change coming in 2021 leading to any decrease of inspiration given how things are post-election and pre-inauguration.Next year could be a four album Axebreaker year, and I have no doubt all of them will be of the utmost quality.