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.