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Black to Comm, "Before After"

cover imageI definitely did not expect any more Black to Comm releases this year (or even next year), as composing and mixing the massive and wildly ambitious Seven Horses for Seven Kings likely kept Marc Richter very busy for a very long time. I woefully underestimated the volume of material birthed from that transcendent bout of inspiration though, as another album is already here and it is another great one. While the two albums originate from the same sessions, Before After is billed as a deliberately composed companion album rather than a collection of orphaned tracks. To my ears, however, it actually sounds like both (in a good way): given the exacting sequencing and arc of Seven Horses, it would make sense if a lot of great songs did not quite fit that particular vision. Most of these eclectic, stand-alone pieces are certainly strong enough to have made the cut for Seven Horses, but I am glad they ultimately wound up on Before After instead, as this album is closer to my preferred aesthetic of playfully experimental and hallucinatory collage.

Thrill Jockey

If I had any doubts about whether Richter had enough legitimately great material left over from the Seven Horses sessions for yet another strong album, they were completely erased within the first minute of the truly infernal "États-Unis."The core of the piece is a nightmarish, sickly swirl of choral voices that phantasmagorically reverberate and smear together into ugly harmonies.Richter eventually grounds that floating horror with some brooding chords, but I am not sure he needed to, as he had already achieved a wonderfully disturbing "ruined cathedral of the damned" feel.I particularly enjoyed the crunching industrial noises, the strangled feedback, and the wonderful interplay of the various textures quite a lot, which illustrates the defining character of Before After: these eight pieces feel like a freeform playground for fitfully brilliant and compelling inspirations rather than a suite of meticulously crafted compositions.The blurting, screaming chaos of the following "His Bristling Irascibility (Mirror Blues)" is the most extreme example of that tendency, resembling a hyper-caffeinated Nurse With Wound in exotica mode having a complete psychotic breakdown.Such chaos and cacophony is the exception rather than the rule though, as Richter soon returns to warped beauty with "They Said Sleep," inventively transforming an early medieval folk song into a grinding, howling, and mind-obliterating maelstrom of ravaged angelic derangement.The first side of the album then unexpectedly winds to a close with a lovely and subdued piano piece that has an endearingly lurching and tumbling rhythm that resembles out-of-phase loops rubbing up against one another.

The album's second half opens with "Eden-Olympia," a wonderfully roiling sea of rapidly hammered piano tones that slowly accumulates hallucinatory layers as it builds towards a reverberating percussion crescendo.In keeping with Before After's unpredictably phantasmagoric trajectory, the following "Othering" takes a deep plunge into pagan/ritualistic-sounding heavy psych that sounds like a sinister hurdy-gurdy ensemble (it calls to mind Cyclobe's amazing Derek Jarman soundtracks as well)."The Seven of Horses" follows suit in a very similar vein, but the strangled bagpipe-like drones are strafed by blurting, splattering electronic noise and whines that evoke a sky full of fireworks (or, less desirable: falling bombs).Both pieces are absolutely wonderful and among my favorites on the album, as Richter does a stellar job of blurring the illusion of an ancient and exotic imagined past with gleefully gnarled mindfuckery.The album ends on a more subdued and sublime note, however, as "Perfume Sample" repurposes material from Seven Horses into a weirdly mass-like outro of half-ghostly/half-anthemic chords.It is the least substantial piece on the album, but it is an interesting and effective closer sequencing-wise: it feels like a well-earned glimpse of transcendence at the end of a series of bizarre and deeply unsettling nightmares.

Amusingly, I feel a vague, low-level sense of guilt for liking this album as much as I do, as Richter's last few albums as Black to Comm have been very ambitious, focused, and sharply realized artistic statements.Before After does not quite fall into that category, as it seems like Richter simply had a bunch of cool ideas and just let them unfold organically without much concern for their role in the larger whole.Even the individual pieces do not feel particularly "composed," as each one is generally devoted to a single theme that just kind of starts and stops at whatever point feels natural.Given the strength and imagination of Richter's visions, that casual, unpolished brilliance works quite well and this album never feels indulgent or half-formed (nor does it feel overwrought, obviously).It favorably reminds me of LPD's "Chemical Playschool" series, but if they were mercilessly edited until only the best parts remained.It is clear that Richter devote quite a bit of time into shaping these fascinating soundscapes into a coherent album with a thoughtful arc, even if that arc feels like an elusively shapeshifting series of darkly hallucinatory fever dreams.It might not be a sweeping and panoramic epic like its predecessor or 2014's Black to Comm, but the more modest pleasures of Before After are definitely inspired enough to belong in that company (and they occasionally surpass it).

Samples can be found here.