This morning I read an article concerning some recent books about H.G. Wells, and the article used the word “vertiginous”. It’s a word that refers to something that causes vertigo — the sensation that you or the environment around you is moving or spinning. Another word for vertiginous might be “dizzying”.
I searched all of our posts at this site and was surprised to find that I had used the word a few times before, but not in a long time. Because I think it’s a great word, and it was in my head, it pulled me in the direction of briefly reviewing and streaming music from the following two albums, which are both vertiginous, albeit in very different ways.
Kaeck’s new album, Het Zwarte Dictaat (released near the end of October by Folter Records), is war music — not because its lyrical themes are devoted to historical conflict but because the music is so often violently tumultuous. The low-end is thunderous and granite-heavy, and when the music mounts a mid-paced charge it sounds like the assault of a tank battalion. At higher speed, the drums pump like heavy-caliber weaponry and the bass vibrates in the marrow.
In addition to that, the riffing (which itself is immensely heavy and leans into the low end) slashes, swarms, and clangs with an immersive, spine-tingling effect, and the cracked and crackling vocals sound fervently venomous. But it sounds like war music for other reasons too. The melodies combine sensations of heaving and harrowing frenzy, as well as barren and blasted downfall. The music also seems to channel oppressive feelings of suffocation under the effects of munitions smoke and choking gas. And everything rings as if recorded inside a giant iron bell.
What makes the music seem vertiginous, however, apart from the remorseless ferocity, the blood-congealing sense of doom and desolation, and the massive subterranean sound quality, is the sudden and unsettling appearance of eerie, haunting keyboards. The keyboard accents play a role (a surrealistic one) even when the band are creating shuddering and savage upheavals, but when the synths take center-stage they formulate a chilling atmosphere of the occult. I imagine ring wraiths or predatory ghosts sweeping above these decimating, body-strewn war zones, pleased with what they see.
The album is a relentlessly unsettling and even terrorizing experience, but have no fear, there are plentiful opportunities to headbang and to heave your body in the midst of the coldness and cruelty. As gruesome and gut-churning as “De Kabal” is, for example, that song also rocks, and it’s not the only one.
Goatcraft’s new album Sic Transit Gloria Mundi, which is set for release on November 26th by I, Voidhanger Records, is a head-spinner of a different kind. For those who may be new to the band, its sole creator (Texas-based Lonegoat) is a classically trained pianist, and he uses the instrument, along with synths, to both attack and entrance, to harrow and to haunt.
The parts of the album, and within individual songs, that are devoted to creating spells do so in unnerving ways. They create atmospheres of mystery and mysticism which are beguiling but nonetheless frightening, like stepping us through a veil into an unseen and inhuman world from which there might be no escape. The allure is beckoning; the peril is palpable.
The combination of the piano and the synths (as well as occasional organ tones, especially in the closing track) creates a multitude of gripping, mind-altering experiences, made even more gripping (and unearthly) by the sound production, which is both ethereal and abrasive. The sonic radiations have a transportive, surround-sound quality, yet create an unyielding sense of menace. The crash and tinkle of the piano always seems to be shrouded in undulating low-frequencies and a sandpaper cloak.
It might be fair to say that everything about the music is geared to creating spells, but certain movements are even more frightening than others — when the piano motifs seem discordant and deranged, or seem to emanate from a hungry and howling void, or translate feelings of utter hopelessness. To be sure, there are times of soaring glory to be found in the album as well, but even those times of celestial splendor and mad exultance sound dangerous, and sometimes even apocalyptic.
To return to where I began, it is indeed a vertiginous album, dizzying at its core, in all of its peculiar and paralyzing permutations. Best experienced in a single sitting.
P.S. The album includes a Morbid Angel cover (“Desolate Ways”). The original, as you may know, is a sublime acoustic guitar instrumental that almost sounds unearthed from medieval times. It seems bright but also wistful. Goatcraft‘s rendition of it sounds even more forlorn, more suffused by regret and loss, and of course the instrumental differences give it an even more immersive impact.