A ritual of world-building

A rich, deep evocation of… Well, it’s something of a cliché to say ‘the movement of the earth’, or ‘geology’, since the founding act of drone metal is called Earth, but the slow, heavy movements of Asva’s Futurists Against The Ocean produce an affect which is reminiscent of little else. Perhaps the clue is in the band name, a Sanskrit word meaning ‘workhorse’—the patient, dogged, and ultimately irresistible application of physical force. The band is a supergroup of avant-metal with a floating line-up, which on this release included Trey Spruance of Mr. Bungle, and the album is as carefully crafted as its stellar line-up might lead one to expect.

It’s not just a mush of hyper-saturated guitar ambience, but a structured composition in several movements, which makes texture a principal field of play. The expert manipulation of bleeding amplifiers is certainly an important part of the sound, but organ and tubular bells also play a major role, producing a sound which is more nuanced and more dramatic than a purist wall of distortion could hope to be. Huge peals of sound ring out, describing mountain valleys in their reverberant magnitude, immersing the listener like a buoyant, supportive ocean. Jessika Kenney’s pure, keening vocals cut across the rumbling, chiming soundscape, invoking diverse cultural milieux and a devotional approach to the ritual of sound-making. A subdued percussive thunder subtends the sound.

Futurists Against The Ocean does resemble ambient music, in that it asks its listeners to abandon themselves to its ponderous flow, and to suspend many of their learned responses to music—such as tapping feet and singing along. It demands a kind of detached absorption, a state of calm acceptance—one which can be hard to achieve unless the circumstances are right. It’s an album then which sets the mood: although it has scant incident and few narrative surprises, it will serve as a background to little other than itself. I’ve listened to it a lot over the past several months, and I think it’s fair to say that I’ve heard enough—it’s not that I’m bored with it, but I have absorbed it. I’ve celebrated its ritual, and invoked the spirits that live among the album’s colours and textures. This is a recording of rare power, of operatic ambition, and of immersive world-building. The space it constructs is not unprecedented in music, or in avant-garde music at any rate, but it is entirely unique to Asva, and to this collection of recordings.

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