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Wrekmeister Harmonies - You’ve Always Meant So Much To Me

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Artist: Wrekmeister Harmonies

Album: You’ve Always Meant So Much To Me

Label: Thrill Jockey

Review date: Aug. 14, 2013

Wrekmeister Harmonies – “You’ve Always Meant So Much To Me (excerpt)”

This one-track colossus includes big names of the jazz (Fred Lonberg-Holm) and black metal (members of Nachtmystium, Leviathan and Yakuza, among others) undergrounds under the baleful guidance of composer JR Robinson. But Robinson’s collaborators’ backgrounds only offer the vaguest hint as to the nature of the music that unfolds across the 38 minutes of You’ve Always Meant So Much To Me, as Robinson builds up incrementally, layer upon layer of fresh texture combining to create a singular, single-minded work of intense beauty.

The brutal misanthropic metal pedigree of most of the musicians on You’ve Always Meant So Much To Me seems indeed an absolute red herring in the opening stages, as melancholic drones weave out a minimalist tapestry of interlocking sounds, buffeted by echoing vocal fragments and indistinct sonic textures. Robinson moves his piece at glacial pace, as paralleled by the album’s starkly arresting cover art, ratcheting up the emotional potency whilst downplaying any musical immediacy. The track’s alternately wispy and solemn drone foundations envelop the senses like cotton wool at times, often softened by mournful bleats on a couple of horn instruments. Soon, a sub-sonic groan turns the atmosphere on its head and lends the entire work a dark, foreboding vibe, like staring out over the choppy black waters of an Arctic lake. A moody chorus of disembodied voices fades into the mix about a third of the way in, sounding like Attila Csihar’s favorite backing band as the vocalist(s) intone moodily and abstractly behind the increasingly dense curtain of haze. The first half of You’ve Always Meant So Much To Me is built around subtle contrasts — plucked acoustic guitar arpeggios and sighing chants are juxtaposed with crackling electronic gristle, guttural murmurs and see-sawing string patterns beamed straight out of Mohammad’s recent Som Sakrifis record.

At 22 minutes, the dam finally ruptures, and Wrekmeister Harmonies’ metal backbone is allowed to flood the sense in a rush of saturated guitar riffs, drum crashes and agonized vocals. There are hints of the blackened strains of metal one associates with the likes of Leviathan and Nachtmystium, but Robinson displays a subtler hand as he guides his charges, the hard-rocking segment ending up closer to the sweeping drone doom of Feedbacker-era Boris than Mayhem’s blast beats. After five minutes, the sturm und drang recedes back into the pool of drone from which it erupted, as if drawn back under water by a deceptively docile-seeming current. As the piece dwindles into blissful quietude, it’s hard not to feel exhilarated and even a bit drained, although it’s never quite clear why, an experience not too unlike watching Bela Tarr’s masterpiece of oblique cinema Werckmeister Harmonies, and which surely inspired Robinson’s choice of name and cinematic style.

By Joseph Burnett

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