A Dusted Review: Primeval Man Born of the Cosmic Egg by Pan Gu (March 13th, 2013)

It probably wasn’t its creators’ intention, but Primeval Man Born of the Cosmic Egg does go some way to addressing the creative cul-de-sac noise music has been heading into of late. Some artists, such as Dominick Fernow of Prurient and William Bennett of Cut Hands/Whitehouse, have looked to dance music as a way of reinvigorating their sound. Others, like Helm’s Luke Younger, have turned to avant-garde techniques and found sounds. As Pan Gu, Norwegian harsh noise veteran Lasse Marhaug has teamed up with Singaporean musician Leslie Low, bringing together their two sensitivities to result in something that transcends noise conventions as well as geographic divide. Primeval Man Born of the Cosmic Egg may be inspired by a Chinese creation myth, but what’s most fascinating is not the nods in the album’s artwork to images of the primeval man who formed the earth, sky, sun, moon and everything else (although it’s certainly an intriguing departure point), but how the two musicians interact with each other.

Approaching any album created by Marhaug tends to come with expectations of harshness, but Primeval Man Born of the Cosmic Egg is much more nuanced than, say, The Quiet North, or most of his output as Jazzkamer. Of course, it would be insulting to Marhaug to suggest he needed Low’s presence to garner a bit of sensitivity, but repeated listens to the album do suggest that this is music built on a careful balance between both artists as they improvise a series of tracks that sound more sculpted than played, as if both Marhaug and Low were carefully molding a clay statue together.

The album does open with a nice slab of throbbing gristle in “Silver Needle, Silver Dragon,” however, with gritty compressed noise crackling and surging fitfully and angrily over intricate, echoing guitar arpeggios. As the music ebbs and swells, intricate details emerge, with the more atonal elements balanced expertly against the lilting guitar. It’s a tough equilibrium to maintain, but at no point on “Silver Needle, Silver Dragon” do Marhaug or Low lose control, with each element placed appositely against the others. When you consider that the whole album was improvised and approached without any predefined ideas, it’s a remarkable achievement. On “Fleas Were the Ancestors of Mankind,” the duo ratchets up the noise, with Low’s guitar belching out cavernous riffs and baleful feedback whilst Marhaug plunges into acrid, high-frequency electro pulsations.

“Each Bay Its Own Wind” is a noticeably more nuanced piece, with Low again showing his gentle touch on guitar, the agile lines of which are surrounded, even shrouded, by gossamer ambient synth drones, before Marhaug introduces layers of percussive industrial noise, again without ever overpowering the other details of the piece. It’s probably the most evocative track on the album, bringing to mind the apocalyptic genesis story of Pan Gu in abstract, yet affecting ways, proving once and for all that noise-based music has so much more potential than merely acting as a way of bludgeoning audiences into submission. The aforementioned Helm springs to mind at times, as does Wolf Eyes’ Mike Connelly’s creepy, atmospheric Failing Lights project. Low’s guitar style is a highlight throughout the album, and his past involvement with Singapore’s avant-metal and rock scenes is apparent, lending an earthy, organic feel to tracks like “Silver Needle, Silver Dragon” and the nine-minute doom ballad “Elixir of Death,” on which his widescreen arpeggios channel Flood-era Boris, Justin Broderick’s Jesu and SUNN 0))) in equal measure. As these open-ended solos snake in and out of Marhaug’s alternately squelchy, abrasive or caustic drones and crackles, it almost feels as if they had actually witnessed Pan Gu’s birth/death and had decided to soundtrack it for us mere mortals.

Primeval Man Born of the Cosmic Egg, in that respect, achieves the ambition its creators set out to achieve. However, it’s more rewarding to approach it on a less lofty level and enjoy the experience of a wordless dialogue between two open-minded and genre-pushing artists feeding off each others inspiration

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A Liminal Review: Two Angles of a Triangle by RM74 (February 22nd, 2013)

rm74The first impression you get from Two Angles of a Triangle is one of size. After all, it’s a whopping 1 hour and 15 minutes long and stretches across two discs and fourteen tracks. If you’re thinking you could take it all in over the course of a single sitting, then I doff my cap to you. Like all albums of such ambitious duration, Two Angles of a Triangle requires patience and dedication and, more than most, rewards such endeavours.

The sense of immensity Reto Mäder – who also records as part of noise duo Ural Umbo – works with extends beyond merely racking up the tracks and slapping on some elaborate artwork, and into the nature of his music itself. The instruments are familiar: guitar, electronics, field recordings, percussion, harmonium and a wealth of others, but he rarely takes the easy course of juxtaposing them in conventional fashion to create easily-identifiable rhythms, melodies and themes, instead building up loops or repeating patterns that deconstruct the function of each instrument. Guitar notes are stretched and bent, cymbals and drums become oblique metronomes ticking away under a blanket of untethered bass drone. By honing in on the properties and nature of every sonic element and melodic snippet, and then manipulating them in ways that are subtle (this is not a loud album, even when the volume does increase), yet intense (think Eliane Radigue with a doom metal background), Mäder is able to create pieces that are more intricate and more atmospheric. On opener ‘Betwixt’, strident drones and bass notes linger and drift before Mäder gradually introduces echo-laden guitar patterns that seem to sweep and soar like plumes of smoke or the distant swooshes of cars on a far-off motorway. Again, a sense of expanse is palpable, and I’m reminded somehow of Vangelis’ Blade Runner score accompanying Ridley Scott’s memorable footage of gigantic, pyramidal buildings lost in an endless city that drifts past the windows of Harrison Ford’s floating car.

There is something fantastical about the music of RM74, but it’s hard to pin down in the way of many dark ambient artists. There are no satanic references or nods to bleak pre-Christian religions, no serial killers or pagan rites; which is perhaps why the atmospheres vary from shadowy pastorality to (in my case) subliminal images of sci-fi dystopia. Instead of accentuating a specific vibe or concept, Mäder develops each track as if it were a phantomatic episode in an obscure narrative that only he himself has full visibility of. This approach is mirrored in the music: instruments are dropped into mixes and then removed, or distorted so that they can barely be identified. Equally, whilst much of Two Angles of a Triangle is sombre, or even bleak, Mäder deftly avoids becoming maudlin or cloyingly morose. ‘A Shimmer of Bronce’ and ‘Orka’s Dream’, in particular, are beautiful to the point of being elegiac, contrasting nicely with the haunted, funereal finality of closer ‘Show Me The Shadow Of The Sun’ or the ghostly arpeggios of ‘Samsa’; and throughout the album there’s a sense of contrasting emotions, of darkness being balanced by light, despair countered by hope. For all the industrial textures or obtuse drone repetitions, Two Angles of a Triangle is a deeply melodic album.

Despite the amount of time one spends with Two Angles of a Triangle, it never loses an ounce of this intrinsic mystery. The third angle remains resolutely out of reach, if you will. It’s an excessive album, that much is clear, but it’s also beguiling, and it reveals more details the more listens it gets. I’m reminded of the title of a recent Ezekiel Honig album, Folding in on Itself. Two Angles of a Triangle feels like it’s been folded in on itself, and the delight, as long as it may take, is in peeling back the layers to try and fathom what’s hidden beneath.

Utech Records