Though any collaboration is a tricky prospect, whether it’s forming a band or building a Lego spaceship, the recent album Bless Them that Curse You by the combined ambient conglomeration Locrian & Mammifer almost couldn’t help but be cohesive. Its component parts – namely Chicago noise/drone trio Locrian and the Washington-based Mammifer, which features in its lineup Faith Coloccia, formerly of Everlovely Lightningheart and Aaron Turner, formerly of Isis, among others – both present clear ideas as a part of the mostly-instrumental six-track offering, and with recording by Greg Norman at Electrical Audio in Chicago, Turner himself at his own House of Low Culture, and overdubs done by Randall Dunn, who also mixed, Bless Them that Curse You, though complex, was bound to come out making sense on its own level one way or another, whether it was via the experience of the players involved or those at the helm. Certainly the total-eight-piece band have enough of a résumé between them when it comes to crafting a mood through ambient noise and drones. Locrian have amassed a considerable discography of cassettes and CDs over the last several years (when one works on improvisational soundscaping, one can be prolific), the two acts toured together, and Mammifer released the album Mare Decendrii through their own SIGE Records, who also seem to have handled some part of the Bless Them that Curse You release, along with Locrian’s label, Utech and Profound Lore. Complicated but inevitable, and it seems the same applies to the album itself, which begins with the nine-minute “In Fulminic Blaze,” one of the few songs to have either drums or vocals and arguably the closest to accessible that Bless Them that Curse You gets.
Still, that’s not all that close. Like a lot of Bless Them that Curse You, “In Fulminic Blaze” rattles and hums a kind of pagan chant, but it’s the additional melody provided by echoing acoustic guitars – whether from Locrian’s André Foisy or Turner, I don’t know – that gives the track its ground, though thunder-rumbling drums don’t hurt in that regard either. A semi-tribal rhythm ensues, subtly enacting a build that really takes hold in the final third of the track, when the drums come more forward in the mix and a more straightforward progression takes hold. Locrian’s Terence Hannum (synth, mellotron, effects and vocals) has far back wailing that are in fact lyrics, but they’re hardly discernable as such and more fade into the overall tapestry than stand out or act as a verse in the traditional sense. From the opener, a set of four circa-six-minute instrumental pieces ensues that alternates between barely-there minimalism and ringing drones. The title-track, which follows the opener, is something of a combination of both, but if the build in “In Fulminic Blaze” was subtle, that of “Bless Them that Curse You” is like a round-topped hill in the distance. The synth and samples – Coloccia and Alex Barrett contributing from Mammifer and Hannum and drummer Steven Hess from Locrian (if indeed they’re all doing so here) – reach an apex, but do so smoothly, without a crash. You’d only know you’ve reached the top of that hill because of some ringing electric guitar notes that top the soundscape – it could be Turner, but that might be me reading past Isis-isms into it – but they’re gone as quickly as they came, and the zither-sounding acoustics/tack piano of “Corpus Luteum” feel driven by a different impulse. Coloccia herself handles the honky-tonk, but the effect is minimal and the tones as grey as the artwork she put together for the album. “Second Burial” feels less organic and more noise-based, but the percussion still gives it more ground than the title cut, and bass rumble adds effectively to the sense of mechanized foreboding.
Already, Locrian & Mammifer have worked within a variety of atmospheres to convey an overall mood, but as the loops and effects of “Second Burial” lead back into the piano-fied “Lechatelierite,” the staws seem to draw together, with slow-moving loop noise behind as the crisp notes play out their organic tragedy. That balance, is essential to the record – the organic vs. the inorganic – but there isn’t really a conflict, even as 19-minute closer “Metis/Amaranthine/The Emperor” combines what probably would otherwise have just been the last three separate tracks of the album. Coloccia vocalizes over piano for “Metis,” Hannum has words for “Amaranthine” and Turner yells the percussive, feedback-soaked culmination of “The Emperor,” mirroring the post-metallic peak of “In Fulminic Blaze.” The transition between “Metis” and “The Emperor” is slow, and while one assumes that’s where “Amaranthine” is happening, if you told me the song only had two parts, I’d have no choice to believe it. Still, the track is immersive, the feedback abrasive, and the apex full of righteous despair at what sounds like the empty universe into which Turner is yelling over what are presumably Travis Rommereim’s drums. Taken out of context, “The Emperor” might be construed as avant garde death-doom, but clearly the prior 14 minutes wasn’t meant to be written off in such a manner, or else the three components would be separate tracks. That kind of purposefulness can be found all over Bless Them that Curse You, and that’s perhaps the factor most responsible for the album’s aforementioned cohesion. Though I’d be willing to believe some of these sounds just happened in the studio – it’s the nature of a studio creation built of these kinds of loops and effects that not every tone or change can be anticipated even as it’s being played – but every moment Locrian & Mammifer capture has a purpose in terms of the whole album, and their hands only prove more capable as the album continues to play out. I won’t speculate, but if I had to guess, I’d say this won’t be the last time the two outfits will come together for a joint release. Something about Bless Them that Curse You sounds much more like a beginning than an ending, however devastated the mood might be.
Tags: Chicago, Illinois, Locrian, Locrian & Mammifer, Mammifer, Profound Lore, Seattle, Washington