Norway’s Yodok have swiftly followed up The Sky Flashes, The Great Sea Yearns, which made one of our year-end genre lists of 2015’s stand-out releases, with another leviathan of an LP. The band has since evolved (or devolved), however, dispensing with the guitar (as well as the capital letters) that formed part of its YODOK III incarnation and so reverting to their primordial, enigmatic combination of drums plus effects-laden tuba and flugabone.
IIII in fact emerged in the dusk of 2015, meaning the band released two LPs each surpassing 60 minutes as a trio and a duo in the same year. We’d normally look askance at such a rate of productivity, but it’s perhaps enabled by the musical direction of Kristoffer Lo and Tomas Järmyr, who seek to unify the frontiers of drone, noise, post-rock and darkjazz within the spirit of improvisation. Bereft of guitar, IIII sees the duo retreat even further into shadowy enclaves. Again, it’s composed of tracks each sprawling across 20 minutes or so, but this time the balance of dynamics is far more weighted to the loud, whose peaks are reached far more quickly. The first of the three nameless tracks starts with a lone horn, wandering sedately through only a handful of notes while sporadic drumming flutters away in the background. The percussion grows more prominent in the fifth minute to quickly become a full-on drumming assault, by which time the forlorn flugabone is being swallowed by a hurricane of brass. It is a storm without relent – and one that engulfs every track.
Best appreciated at a loud volume, these cacophonous passages of calamity are the heart of IIII. They are formed of layers of brass, processed to the point of sounding more like feedback or distorted guitar lines in places, and free-form/improvised drumming more feral than rhythmic. From the swirling winds of the horns emerge simple melodies of three of four notes, either droning away like ritualised chanting or shrieking through the landscape at piercing frequency, as in the sixteenth minute of the second track. The tumultuous drumming creates a perennial state of tension, and its fleeting, teasing blast beats or rhythms only enhance this. One wonders at the sense of payoff that would have resulted from exploring these suggestions further – although perhaps the accompanying sense of order would have been too jarring. Even the relative calm of the final track’s opening minutes is disrupted by the splatter of drum fill and cymbal.
The jagged terrain hewn across these three pieces is tenebrous and tenacious – singular of vision and unrelenting in execution. As well as drone and noise aficionados, fans of the thicker timbres of post-rock may find wonder in the disorientation. But the greatest reward is the plane of otherworldliness that can be chiselled out in the constant fracturing of the land. Lacking the more drawn-out dynamic diversity of its predecessor, IIII instead relies on its listeners acclimatising to its chaos, then transcending it – like finding peace on a packed train within book or headphone. These are embattled searches for, not so much quiet, but a sense of your own space – and if you find it, it feels almost spiritual. (Chris Redfearn)