Quietness has been an important trope in avant-garde music since the days of Minimalism I guess, but it has been articulated in many ways, within a diversity of musical practices. The near inactivity to which some free improvisors have gravitated, or John Cage’s invitation to listen to the contextual ambience for four minutes and thirty-three seconds, or the work of many ambient composers, all exploit the signifying power of low amplitudes. Place is also an important theme in many musics; in Cage’s famous piece, the performance space itself becomes composer, performer and material, whereas ambient music usually aims either to colour a place, or to invoke one.
In recent years the avant-garde fringes of metal have become one of the most fertile sites of musical creativity and invention; while my central musical inclinations might be towards other areas, such as jazz or folk, and while those areas certainly harbour some radically creative minds globally, the majority of music produced and performed locally to me is pretty conservative. Earthmass is one of several bands I have the opportunity to engage with directly (attending gigs, meeting the members, building an ongoing relationship as a music writer, etc.) that pursue a radical formal agenda, and really keep their eye on the ball creatively. There is no uncritical regurgitation of the tropes of heavy music here, no taking the language as given …
What a lineup. Any casual punter could readily be forgiven for being carried out in a box. Not that the sounds on offer were remotely toxic; on the contrary, they were entirely wholesome nut cutlets of crunchthudriffery, but seriously, heavy things can crush you, and things as heavy as this can crush you flat. Perhaps that’s why Colchester Arts Centre is ‘never knowingly understood’: stand under this sort of malarkey and you can wave goodbye to three-dimensionality.
It’s very nearly a year since I last wrote a live review, mainly because I find them disproportionately time consuming, but I’ve decided to lighten up a bit, and start doing them again, with a less obsessive approach to the whole thing. Also Paul Rhodes keeps smiling sweetly and asking me politely, so I felt bad and stuff. This particular occasion was marred only by the last minute cancellation of Mouse Drawn Cart, some of whose recordings I reviewed a while back, and who I was looking forward to seeing in action. Stepping into the breach, however, was the enigmatic and dynamic Cornflake Box Head, who bore more than a passing resemblance to Hobopope And The Goldfish Cathedral.
Too moderately paced to really signify as dance music, the opening track of this EP is, nevertheless, hella heavy. Building on accumulating layers of atmosphere, when its brutalist bass hook and simple kick pattern enter, it hits with an ominous compulsion as dark and deep as doom metal. It’s not all darkness though: the track shifts into funkier uplands, still slow, admirably so, but with the kind of rhythm that hooks you bodily and pulls you with it. Similar strategies are in evidence throughout the Rauthaz EP: it’s not a matter of slowness and darkness, but of the creative exploitation and framing of potentially limitless digital resources …
It’s a hard lesson to learn, when you realise you’re not likely to hit the big time with your art, and you’ve already invested so much, with so little to show for it in material terms… it certainly can make you feel like an underachiever. Ben Black seems to conflate his focus on his work (rather than work) with a persistent immaturity, and looks wistfully around him at the homes, wives and cars of his friends. ‘How can I look my children in the eye/ and tell them Daddy didn’t make it because Daddy didn’t try?’ he asks, though, which more or less answers his own questions.
Meadows play some pretty extreme music. You could make all sorts of comparisons: The Melvins are an obvious point of reference; they also put me in mind of Bongzilla, although they have some fast thrashy passages to go with the slow stoner doom, and a turgidly saturated bass distortion that makes everything as thick as treacle. Although this is full of riff and incident, there’s something about it that almost crosses over into ambient