Berlin’s Schwarzarbeit label launched this January with a pair of digital EPs from Black Mental vs. Left Hand Path, two like-minded artists alternating tracks on each release. Now the label and artists have stepped up with their first physical offering, Moon Disk, which is on a CD printed with the moon, accompanied by an illustration of Metatron’s Cube. As the label’s name translates to “moonlighting,” this should come as no surprise. This dark fascination continues in the music, which wavers gently between dark ambient and light industrial, and in the inspiration: Thoth, the Egyptian moon god, the inventor of language, music and magic.
The music is dark and plodding, haunted by untamed electronic gurgles and unidentified field recordings. Voices frequently surface, slowed or distorted; their sharpest use is in the disjointed diatribe of “Der Wert Der Arbeit” (“The Value of the Work”). After a pensive beginning from Black Mental (the mysterious “They Travel With the Wind”), Left Hand Path takes the reins for a 22-minute excursion. “Stagnum Niger” (“Black Lake”) sounds just like its title: a non-opaque pool whose dangers and depths cannot be gleaned. The mood is sinister rather than scary; nothing leaps from the lake, but something definitely lurks. While the track could have used some editing, it succeeds in establishing and maintaining a mood of menace. The shorter, thicker “Formation of Stone Blocks” is much better at internal development, adding sound sources every couple minutes, including the album’s first use of drums.
“They Travel With the Wind” is probably Black Mental’s best track here, but for the artist’s overall highlight, one should return to the pulsating “Altar” from the prior EP. An industrial heart beats in this piece, which would not seem out of place in a Carpenter score or an Alfa Matrix set. The song seems to end with a distorted church bell (5:10), balanced by two cassettes, one sped and one slowed. More movement in this direction would be welcome. The spiritual angle finds fruition in Left Hand Path’s “Triskele” (a Celtic triple spiral), which includes bell sounds from the dedication of a Tibetan monastery. These pieces suggest that the artists are more interested in spiritual illumination (in all of its guises) than mere dark magic; this expansion of themes will help them to avoid pigeonholing.
Two additional bonuses are the inclusion of a 43-minute bonus track (not the best of these works, but a kind addition – like many of the tracks, it needs editing) and the ability for customers to choose the number of the release, subject to availability. While this will not make a difference to many, it will make a large difference to some ~ especially those versed in numerology or who (despite their best intentions to avoid superstition) still have a favorite or lucky number. This attention to detail bodes well for the future of the label. Next up: the label stretches its wings with an album from an artist outside its inner circle. Expect a new work from Bruno Abdala in the near future. (Richard Allen)