1. I’m a sucker for concept albums (being a former hardcore proghead)
2. A dark ambient album done right will pretty much make my day…any day.
3. You know those people who would like fear straight in the eye and never flinch, I’m most definitely not one of them.
Now that we got all that out of the way, let’s crack on…
abre ojos, which translates into ‘opens eyes’ or ‘eye opener’, is the solo project of Melbourne based audio/visual artist Scott Barker and HÄXAN is his seventh release under the moniker.
Advised by the artist to be ‘played in a dark room with the volume up’, the DVD, which was inspired by the 1922 film HÄXAN:Witchcraft Through the Ages is an hour long – 66.6 minutes exactly (which goes along with the theme) – overpowering trip of electronic drones and very strong, shifting imagery (that’s where facts 1 and 2 come into play). I will be very honest here, a mere seven minutes into the album with the drones and noises getting thicker and church bells starting to sound in the background, I almost decided to call it quits on the whole dark room thing, turn on the lights and save myself the heart attack (and that’s number three for you); that’s how powerful the album’s beginning is and it leaves a lot of room for anticipating better things to come.
As the album progresses, one gets a clear idea of Barker’s influences, there are some pronounced Lustmord and Sunn O))) moments most noticeably on “Enough Evil Deeds” and of course there are hints of usual suspects such as Tim Hecker and Fennesz all over the place. What HÄXAN fails at in comparison to these artists is consistency throughout the album. The musical palette remains somewhat limited throughout and save for the introduction of some very creepy human voices in the background the sounds remain limited to low frequency synth drones, electronic noise and background crackles. This remains pretty much unchanged until “The Power of Lead” introduces some much needed high frequency stabs to the mix that help recapture the listener’s attention. That said, the visuals help carry the album through and prove rather inseparable from the music to the work’s all over success. The music alone doesn’t seem to be able to carry itself for the album’s entire length, but then again, it was designed as an audio/visual project, so it does its job to a large extent.
It really is a very different experience listening to this album with and without the visual aids and being a person who finds it rather difficult to sit through a visual demonstration of any sort for more than thirty minutes (I haven’t watched a film from start to finish in one go in years now), abre ojos’ visuals kept me fixated on the screen for hours on end and that in itself is a success in my book. The only thing one would wish for is a bit of further exploration of sounds and moods on the artist’s part and his next release could be a winner. (Mohammed Ashraf)