Never underestimate the power of a great cover. That’s what drew us to imprint A Giant Fern in the first place, as øjeRum’s art graced a quartet of releases that made our Best Album Covers feature late last year. The best of the quartet, Hidden Persuaders‘ The Bone Forest, was a dark ambient set that experimented with sound effects and sudden shifts. Elegies and Curses is a very different beast, bordering on sludge and black metal. It’s rare to encounter an artist who can move between genres, but Andreas Brandal has been doing it for years. The only constant is the tone; he’s been called “the Norwegian master of the macabre,” and we don’t expect to hear a happy album from him anytime soon.
Last time out, we mentioned the ceremonial drums, but failed to credit drummer Børre Myklebust; he serves an expanded role here. The bursts of bass, guitar, drums and synthesizer call to mind the work of The Kilimanjaro Darkjazz Ensemble, but with one major difference; while the latter band tempers its work with strings, Hidden Persuaders adds breaking glass, rattling chains and other sonic effects. Elegies and Curses is too melodic to be a haunted house album, but the underpinning is there; it’s dark in a cinematic way, reminiscent of the nightclub rather than the cellar. And through it all, the drums, the drums, as if some ritualistic sacrifice is about to take place.
“A Baptism of Shadows” establishes the pace with a plodding tempo offset by sonic explosions. “The Privilege of Madness” adds distortion, knocking percussion and riffs to (literally) die for. Yes, if you answer this door, you’ll die. The best part of the track is the barrage of static and drone that attacks midway and keeps coming back. It’s not subtle, but horror seldom is, and it has a way of attracting prospective victims. This pulverizing music is more hammer than knife; one can hear the killer’s footsteps, but can’t help but peek. The film dialogue at the center of “Contradicting the Future” kidnaps the cassette to a more sinister place; at this point, the evil seems palpable.
Brandal is a prolific artist, having participated in over a dozen groups in the last two decades. This being said, Elegies and Curses is one of his more powerful releases. The closing track is as black as black gets, so dark that one can barely intuit shade. We wouldn’t have it any other way. (Richard Allen)