Six tracks of instrumental dronier-than-thou guitar-based exploration pressed in limited numbers (the first 100 in lime green wax), Storm Ross‘ The Green Realm definitely requires an adventurous ear. Though the project takes its name from Michigan-based guitarist Storm Ross, also of Skeleton Birds, The Green Realm nonetheless intermittently invokes a full-band feel, as on side A closer “Through the Canopy,” which backs a post-rock solo with cyclical tom runs and a steady rhythm line of synth. Oh yeah, and trombone. Because duh.
The horn is contributed by Ryan Patrick O’Reilly (he also did the stare-at-it-for-as-long-as-you-can-and-you-still-won’t-see-it-all cover art), and the percussion by Jeremy Edwards, but in terms of the synth and guitar, effects and sundry programmed elements, it’s Ross himself driving the album. There are three tracks on each side of the LP, opener “By Lantern’s Light” and side B’s “Winterskill” mirroring each other with some abrasively high-pitched noise, but a steady drone emerges and provides a uniting theme around which the surprisingly diverse washes swirl, be it the big-guitar spaciousness and clear riffing of “By Lantern’s Light” or the manipulated-feedback-int0-synth of “Frost’s Howl,” the complexity of which is by no means limited to that transition, which is seamless, or the guitar lead that emerges in the second half, which seems to make a bed out of what was already a palpable build.
It’s interesting to note the blend of natural and electronic/computerized elements, both because Ross makes them work together well across The Green Realm and because even as they delve into noise wash and seem to move farther away from organic sounds, titles like “Frost’s Howl,” “Through the Canopy,” “The River” and “Alpenglow” offer direct references to nature. “Winterskill”‘s background drone is gorgeous and brightly toned, indeed evocative of an icy landscape. It seems to strive to portray these ideas even as it shifts later with more prominent synthesizer, less guitar, as though asking the listener to hold onto a picture even as that picture is being contorted, its proportions and perspective changed. It’s a closed-eye album, and the side split helps in processing each half — though ultimately the split itself doesn’t seem to signify any jump from one modus to another; it’s all experimental, so it’s not like Storm Ross is saving the freakout for the second part — but immersive if you’ll let it be, and by the middle of side B, “Winterskill” giving way to “The River” en route to “Alpenglow” closing out, its flow is well established and uninterrupted, even as “The River” squibbles out guitar noise and jars with avant-style cymbals and tom percussion.
“The River” seems to find its direction as it progresses toward its feedback finish, and “Alpenglow” continues along a similar vein, if with a more straightforward drum progression, and though that pairing gives a sense of solidarity to the back end of The Green Realm, the record as a whole still covers a vast amount of atmospheric territory, demanding more attention than an entirely ambient release but still coming across as the result of raw explorations. Again, it won’t be for everyone, nor is it intended to be, but Ross has developed these ideas to a point of skirting the line between “pieces” and “songs” and it’s a barrier he seems content to cross at will. As his first solo outing in five years (third overall), one wonders if it didn’t come together over a longer stretch of time, as opposed to a single writing session, but either way, Ross draws a unifying thread through the two sides with a feeling of reverence for the natural, and successfully challenges the audience to widen their perception of what that might mean.