The black metal collective known as Smother are writing a musical saga in chapters, eventually to be joined by a book that is connected to the lyrics and audio experiences of those sonic chapters. The members of the collective have shifted, but are still anchored by drummer SD (Black Vice, Ravnblod), whose percussion tracks and conceptions are the foundation for what the other collaborators contribute.
Four musical chapters have been recorded so far (out of a planned 10 releases), and in each one the sounds have changed. The latest installment, Chapter IV – Tying Thy Noose of Rusted Chain – is the one we’re presenting in full today. For this newest work SD was joined by MW (Crown of Asteria) as principal vocalist and keyboardist, and by guitarist JV (Grst, Uruk), both of whom also participated in Chapter III.
What you now have the opportunity to experience is a single 41-minute track that’s being released by Red River Family Records. At a very high level (and potentially a misleading one), it could be considered atmospheric black metal, but it’s an experience that makes significant use of harsh and mentally destabilizing electronics and of ingredients from catastrophic doom metal. It’s capable of creating trance states, but more often is a manifestation of terrors, most of which don’t seem bound to an earthly plane of existence.
The album clearly demands a significant investment of time and attention from listeners, not only because it isn’t broken into easily digestible tracks but also because it’s the furthest thing you could imagine from “background music”. It’s constantly challenging, frequently disturbing, and almost perpetually alien. No sane person would claim that it will have mass appeal, but its creepy, corrosive, and cataclysmic fascinations are manifold — and they prove to be transportive. Best listened to in pitch-black darkness, without the distraction of light or any other diversions.
That might be a sufficient introduction (and warning), but I can’t resist the impulse to share my own experience of moving through this consuming (and devouring) album.
At the beginning a string is being plucked and scraped, sending eerie reverberations out over a mysterious backdrop of windy, warbling, and screeching sounds. That collage of strange sonic sensations grows increasingly disturbing, rumbling and thundering, flickering and screaming in frenetic waves that sound futuristic (and mutated). The volume slowly fades. Ghosts may be wailing, wolves may be howling. Radio transmissions from space may be detected.
Big chords clang and crush in a lumbering rhythm, and a serrated-edge voice howls, roars, and screams through the ether, like a monster in the distance. Drums come in, pounding and firing in bursts, and the surrounding sound begins to soar and sear, putting a kick in the listener’s pulse but also creating a sensation of cruelty and encroaching calamity. The drums hurtle head-long, the riffing maniacally writhes, shrill frenzies spear through a morass of dense sandstorm assaults. The drums beat like a frenetic metronome over low-end turbulence and high-end mania, catching up the listener in a cataclysm.
The assault peaks and then drops, the cadence becoming a beleaguered march, the guitar generating abysmal reverberations, the vocals screaming in terrifying torment. Sounds of doom and decay blanket the mind — but only briefly, until spasms of desperation and fury resume, torquing the tension like a mental winding spring that’s about to burst.
Back and forth the music goes, slowing into crushing stomps, plodding along through shimmering hallucinatory mists as mystical arpeggios ring, and convulsing like subterranean earthquakes. Eerie transmissions begin again over big ritualized beats, perhaps a summoning that brings about intrusions from a demonic dimension, or the response of something inhuman that dwells way out in the trans-galactic void.
The vocalist screams again, the drums race, the riffing maniacally boils in misery, and in the low end something enormous is undulating. Your leg might begin to bounce, but your mind might feel under the influence of disturbing psychoactive substances.
Heavy chords clang and reverberate again, interrupted by convulsive percussive flurries surrounded by an abrasive wash. Weird wailing notes pierce through the choking morass and the hammering beats — they are the sounds of sorrow, snuffed out by the expanding maw of the void. The sounds become glittering and celestial, but it’s more the wail of alien sirens than a revelation of splendor.
The drum patters in a steady rhythm, something like symphonic horns moan in tragic grandeur, lonesome notes twang out in the desert while stars circle overhead. The music creates a spell, and finally it does create an aura of vast and humbling splendor.
That experience might have lasted through to the end, but Smother decide instead to unnerve us again, deploying electronics that burn the ears and spin the brain, accompanied by ghostly exhalations, leviathan-sized drones, the wash of static, and maybe faraway gunshots. It feels like we might be in space again, bodies penetrated by radiation. Our shields are failing….
Chapter IV – Tying Thy Noose of Rusted Chain was mixed and mastered by Bradley Tiffin (Haunter). It features cover photography by Katie Metcalfe, who is also part of a music project with MW called Cave Mouth. The album is available on cassette tape and digital formats.