I know I’ve bitched plenty of times about reviewing compilations and other “various artists” releases. The complaints are always the same: There’s never enough space to get into any real discussion of the comp’s aesthetic value or what it might be trying to accomplish, so you either end up being like “this sucks” flat out without backing up your position or basically writing an advertisement for what it contains, or there are jumps in the flow of the tracklist, or production differences, or it’s just a pain in the ass to try and weed through however many bands might be involved to find the artists you’re either (A:) already interested in when you start out or (B:) interested in hearing more of but can’t because it’s one song apiece and then onto the next thing. Not that comps don’t do any good. They’ve provided me with much collector’s joy over the years, and they’re always a cool way to encounter a new band for the first time – “Oh, where’d you hear those guys?” “They were on this comp I got,” and so forth. The third and latest installment in the France-based Falling Down series of compilations is Falling Down IIV, and what it lacks in Roman numerological prowess, it more than makes up in sheer volume. And that’s volume both of loudness and scope, for the record. Falling Down IIV furthers the mission statement of delivering previously unreleased material (exclusively) from killer heavy bands across the world, and it does so for an astounding amount of time. On the two discs of the standard version of the release – give me a minute and we’ll get to the “Endless Edition” – there are 20 bands with 10 tracks on each disc, and each disc is over 70 minutes long. So, sure, you get Ethereal Riffian clocking in at over 11 minutes on “Rise of Spiritu (March of Sheol)” while Aiden Baker of Nadja’s “Instrumental B” doesn’t hit four, but however it’s broken up, it’s overwhelming. Not only that, but if you were fortunate enough to get a copy of the limited, aforementioned and reportedly long gone “Endless Edition” of Falling Down IIV, which comes in a metal tin, the 140 minutes-plus of the standard version arrives complemented by a bonus disc (mostly but not all unreleased tracks) that’s another 74 minutes of material and a DVD that features videos by present comp participants Julie Christmas, Year of No Light, Ethereal Riffian, Ocoai and more, as well as veterans like Ufomammut and Jucifer. Pretty much, if you’ve got a night to kill, the “Endless Edition” is more than happy to live up to its name.
One aspect Falling Down IIV has working in its favor over its predecessor (review here) is diversity. Falling Down IIV starts its first disc – pressing play is like taking a deep breath before you dive underwater – with the surprisingly funky “This is This” by Hopewell. The New York psych rockers give initial impression some bounce, but things soon space out in a marquee collaboration between Mars Red Sky and Year of No Light for the track “Green Rune White Totem,” rife with contemplative drones and periodic bursts of wah-drench psychedelia. Highlights are manifold and varied. Ocoai throw in a live track, but The Flying Eyes’ “Apollo Creed” is one of Falling Down IIV’s most hypnotic inclusions. Some of the cuts are less memorable than others – Vanessa Van Basten starts “Got to Say” rough before fully revealing the breadth of the song’s post-rock influence, while Dyskinesia and the black metal of Planning for Burial’s “Friendship” are overwhelmed by what’s surrounding. That’s particularly true in the case of Planning for Burial, who have the unfortunate task of leading into a one-two punch of Aiden Baker’s droning and the characteristic arthouse fodder of Julie Christmas, whose “little girl” voice has gotten no less grating since the last Made Out of Babies album, The Ruiner, dropped in 2008, but who still arrives at a chorus with a mastery that is undeniable and which was writ large across her 2010 solo outing, The Bad Wife, from the sessions of which her “Scalps” presumably comes. For her recognizability, she’s a standout, but the song works as well, and as The Winchester Club give and extended outro to the first half of the compilation with “Burn it all Down (Pt. 1),” disc two enters the picture with a lot to live up to. It does so by shifting the stylistic base somewhat to more blackened territory. Black Sun – fitting they’d actually be the least black metal of the three – stumble with the aptly-named semi-screamo “Syntax Error,” but Rorcal and Terra Tenebrosa and Monarch! each emit a different kind of malevolent darkness, whether it’s the slowed down molasses metal of the latter (one of several excellent showings by a native French band) or Terra Tenebrosa’s cerebral-but-still dirty tonality. By the time Monarch! are finished, the transition into the minimalist atmospherics of Syndrome is relatively smooth, and the darkness present gets a new but no less fitting form.
And the only reason I break the paragraph there is because I want to highlight how effectively the ambience Syndrome put together comes across. A melodic hum underscores multiple vocals, and compared to so much of the heaviness around it, “Now and Forever” is a moment of Ulverian peace that seems well earned, building in melody but never bombast. Ayahuasca Dark Trip follow and push even further into the psychedelic with “Manantial,” which moves away from the darkness in a decent setup for Ethereal Riffian, who start “March of Spiritu (Rise of Sheol)” with a guitar rumble that has me each time waiting for YOB’s “Burning the Altar” to kick in. It never does, but Ethereal Riffian satisfy nonetheless, offering an aesthetic worthy of their name across the song’s 11:50. It’s the longest single inclusion on Falling Down IIV, but engaging nonetheless, while the jamming of Sendelica’s “Ingrid Cold (Edited Remix)” feels stunted (I’d like to hear the full version, if this is the edit), and Vespero’s instrumental space-prog “Flight of the Lieutenant” has me reaching for the bass knob as I often am, wanting more low end. Like Dyskinesia on the first disc, they’re a band I’d rather encounter in another context, where I could more properly concentrate on what they’re doing without putting it in immediate comparison with the 19 other acts here, but the flip side of that is that without Falling Down IIV, I might never have heard them at all. Hard to figure this stuff out sometimes. Ohioan post-sludgers Mouth of the Architect lumber the second disc to its finish with their Isis-istic crunch. The 9:48 “How This Will End” seems fitting for its role in closing out the standard edition, capping with a pummel worthy of the more than two hours preceding it. And for most compilations, the end would be the end, but Falling Down IIV still has mostly-unreleased tracks from Pelican, Ahkmed, Across Tundras, Hotel Wrecking City Traders, Zatokrev, Stoned Jesus and more to offer on the bonus disc, which are easily worth digging into should you be or have been fortunate enough to get a copy while the getting was good. The DVD has no shortage of material either, so the investment is even more justified, and not just in quantity. Still, it’s the quantity that makes Falling Down IIV so staggering to behold in its entirety, because there’s just so much of it and one can’t help but think of the work that goes into making something like this happen, especially since it hasn’t been that long since the previous installment. Even if it had turned out awful – and it didn’t – one would still have to appreciate the efforts of those behind the scenes in coordinating what’s clearly a labor of love and arguably the most accomplished physical-release compilation series currently going. Whatever version you can get ahold of, the Mars Red Sky/Year of No Light collaboration alone warrants doing so, and there’s much more to Falling Down IIV than just that. They may not have the numbering down, but they’re certainly doing the rest right. I may still bitch about reviewing compilations, but I’ll be damned if it isn’t worth it sometimes.
Tags: Falling Down