Blackest Ever Black has gained a reputation for exploring the nocturnal underbelly of dancefloor-oriented music. Acts like Raime, Regis, Tropic of Cancer and the current incarnation of Dominick Fernow’s Prurient have taken the archetypal elements of dubstep, techno, ambient dub and even pop and layered them with murky drones, shadowy synth sub-melodies and piercing industrial noises, deconstructing our expectations of how these genres operate. Witnessing people shaking their butts and bobbing their heads to Raime’s ghostly post-dubstep, and then bouncing up and down to shattering noise techno being spat out by Regis is a live experience I won’t forget anytime soon. Cabaret Voltaire were right: you can dance to this stuff, albeit in odd ways.
Shampoo Boy marks something of a new direction for the label if one were, perhaps mistakenly, to only focus on the above context. But BEB has always been more about vibe than sonics, so while Licht may not share much of the musical genetics of a Regis or a Young Hunting, its grim atmosphere is right up there with the darkest of BEB releases. It may even be the most oppressive, bleak (a word that may crop up again in this review) release on the label so far, which is saying something.
Shampoo Boy is made up of Editions Mego head, Fenn O’Berg and Pita member Peter Rehberg on electronics, guitarist Robert Schachinger (of schlager band Der Scheitel!) and experimentalist Christina Nemec on bass, and there is consequently a feel of ‘rock’ or ‘metal’ , albeit at their most atonal, deconstructed and experimental (rest assured, this is not rock music by any stretch). ‘Loch’ bubbles ominously from the get-go, with juddering bass drones skittering about over sliding guitar lines and a snarling tapestry of caustic electronic wall noise, while echoing voices intone threateningly in the background. The track has the subterranean feel of recent drone metal at its most self-consciously ritualistic, evoking the likes of Sachiko and Rinji Fukuoka’s άTOMO∑ and Emme Ya’s Chthonic Transmission. Indeed, it wouldn’t have been a surprise overall if Licht had come out on a label such as Cold Spring, at least on the evidence of ‘Loch’.
There is, however, more to Shampoo Boy than doom and gloom, as evidenced by the playful name the trio have chosen for themselves, and the moments of pristine clarity regularly break through the shadows and gloom. ‘Loch’ and its follow-up ‘Fall’ represent the height of the album’s bleakness (there you go!), the latter reaching into similar territory as Rehberg’s duo with Stephen O’Malley from Sunn O))), KTL. Schachinger unleashes great waves of saturated sub-riffs from his guitar as Rehberg suffuses the atmosphere with omnipresent industrial gristle, every tone as downcast as the track’s title might suggest. When Nemec intervenes, its to whack out the kind of earth-shuddering noise you might find on, well, a Sunn O))) record, with each note drawn-out as much as possible. But even here, there are warmer textures, with Rehberg dropping in warm, shimmering chords to blur the lines of the track’s momentum, shifting it from pure terror to something more nuanced. Meanwhile, on ‘Gift’, Shampoo Boy touch vaguely on a form of morose psychedelia, with Schachinger’s guitar sounding like a lost, lonely horn call emerging from a dark well of distortion and noise, buttressed by plaintive, almost wistful, piano notes. The trio descend as deep as, say, KTL or To Blacken the Pages, but they seem to cast eyes towards the light, making Licht a lot less easy to lazily label ‘dark’ music. Closer ‘Still’, while hardly cheerful, relaxes the claustrophobic drone into near-silence, allowing Nemec’s low bass underbelly and Schachinger’s drifting guitar arpeggios to generate an oblique form of sonic warmth.