Embittered Darkness/Isles Des Mortes
When I think of Tasmania, I think of ...well, the Tasmanian Devil from Bugs Bunny and that's about it. Thanks to the ardent archeologists at Southern Lord, we now know there is but another devil in the perhaps the remotest civilized outpost on the map, and its name is Striborg. The boys from Sunn O))) are such fans that they even named the intro to "Black One" after Striborg's man behind the curtain Sin-Nanna. Where it may lack the sonic density of a Sunn O))) record, Sin-Nanna's brand of hyper minimal deep doom is definitely the hook O'Malley and crew proudly hang their cloaks on at night. The guitar work is profoundly lo-fi, sounding like a belt-sander played over a lost shortwave frequency, and the drums are as tinny as it gets, and when one says Sin-Nanna's name three times, he appears in a cloud of stinkbomb smoke. None of this is a dig, mind you. I think the cardboard cut out nature of the sets here belies the brilliance. It's akin to how the old Star Trek and Dr. Who are better than their shinier CGi-enhanced forebearers.
A scan of the lyrics also belies a depth to this act that you don't get in most Black metal acts. Instead of random meditation on sodomy, hated of Jesus and decapitations (all perfectly valid things on which to muse) Sin-Nanna's rage is pointed at the talking monkeys destroying the earth with their logging trucks and desire to pave our one viable rock in the cosmos. Also it should be noted that this instrument known as an acoustic guitar makes an appearance with some rather splendid detuned fingerwork throughout "Race of Apathy" as does some deliriously off-the-rack synth on the intro and "the Eerie Pre-Dawn Silence of the Cold" but like that of fellow lone bayers at the icy unfeeling moon like Xasthur, the grandest effect comes not from the virtuosity of their instruments, but from the loneliness that they undeniably and masterfully express.
The CD comes packed with the "Isle Des Mortes" demo from 1997 which is even more improbably low in its fidelity, is just as intriguing, starting at the onset with its churchbells-and-buzzer intro. The rest is a mesh of 60-cycle hum guitar fuzz haze, garbage pale-lid and paint-shaker drums and Sin-Nanna's bare, lonely growl. Its one of the few releases I know of in this weird little genre where the vocals are so upfront, not hidden behind a mask of processing, and so honest and arresting. Sin-Nanna's bleak vision comes off as singular and truly lonely, especially on "Descending from the Black Sky" which sounds like he was in a straight jacket, consumed by the black ink of madness. If you are looking for a clean Scandinavian snow blower of a record, one to operate like a well oiled machine, this may not be your record, but if you are looking for a Black Metal tome that digs deeper than a thin layer of clown makeup, and opts for a psychic punch to the gut rather than a nattering of trigger drums, this is your record.
Alex V. Cook listens to everything and writes about most of it. His latest book, the snappily titled Louisiana Saturday Night: Looking for a Good Time in South Louisiana's Juke Joints, Honky-Tonks, and Dance Halls is an odyssey from the backwoods bars and small-town dives to the swampside dance halls and converted clapboard barns of a Louisiana Saturday Night. Don't leave Heathrow without it. His first book Darkness Racket and Twang is available from SideCartel. The full effect can be had at alex v cook.com
March sees a greatly expanded reissue of Elliott Smith's most critically acclaimed album Either/Or