No super-glossy emo-faux goth photo spreads of a band trying to look “edgy”, or “depressed”, or “mysterious”. No whiny falsetto or minor-key guitar parts to cause reviewers to gush that it’s “dark”. No black lipstick imprints or bloody knives. No, Tocsin is the real deal…the definition of the most harrowing, dark, seething music one can come across. Created by UK ambient artist Dual (aka Colin Bradley), Tocsin clutches at the last remnants of industrial civilization metallic drones and morphs them into a terrifying, breathing entity. While the theme of industrial waste and cold machines are admittedly a divinized construction of this listener’s imagination, one can’t help but wonder that Dual’s music acts more as a foreboding caution with its slow-moving rumbling sounds often resembling the approach of a distant and violent storm (a “tocsin” is, after all, another name for a warning signal or an alarm bell). Whatever the specific intent of Bradley, the final result in Tocsin is a mesmerizing unfolding of carefully constructed sound that takes on a life of its own.
Cursory listens to Tocsin are simple not possible…from the opening moments of “Tocsin I” in which swells of drones overtake the listener, the music on the 6 track full-length CD is instantly suffocating. It’s as if Dual conspires to lure his listeners into a trap of hazy drones, sparse and heavily processed electronics, and melody fragments, never releasing his hold through the 50 minutes of music flowing from one track to another, until the final strains of “Tocsin VI” fade from the listener’s conscience. It is also often impossible to distinguish one track to the next on Tocsin, as Dual seamlessly welds his tracks together through tentative transitions. Distant rumbles sublimely distend and recede throughout Tocsin, while Dual periodically allows high-pitched squeals to pierce through the mix. The hypnotic (though extremely subtle) repetitive samples, along with the heavy low-end guitar drones, convey a the picture of a fog-drenched nighttime Northern Sea coast, with iron-machine factories spewing yellow smoke into the air and green waves ebbing on the shore. Some tracks (“Tocsin III”, for instance) almost beg to tell a story, as Bradley speeds up his transitions and uses a variety of drones and sounds to convey a sense of restlessness and movement in the piece. However the tracks differ, from the almost melodic “Tocsin IV” to the disturbingly chilling “Tocsin VI”, it’s clear that the CD is meant to be listened to in one setting, most preferably with high quality headphones and zero distraction. Dual fits in so many almost-there sounds into the mix, while masterfully directing and guiding the overall mood of the music that it takes multiple listens by wide eyed and nervous listeners to begin to comprehend the majesty of the recordings.
(The overall mood of Tocsin reminds the listener not coincidentally of the darkest and most seething moments of Bark Psychosis’ Codename: Dustsucker, which shouldn’t surprise any discriminating listener due to Dual’s role as the co-architect on that disc. As a point of reference for those familiar with the Bark Psychosis release: take “INQB8TR”’s opening moments of hazy darkness, and elongate those sounds…allow them to overpower the listener again and again…and you approach the sonic explorations of Tocsin.
Perhaps this isn’t a conventional review, but in the end Tocsin is not a conventional disc. Dual doesn’t try to engage his listener with some myth of image. Rather, he relies solely on his well-honed craft, and pulverizes his listener with incredibly well-constructed multi-layered force of sound that is ultimately, though terrifying and dark, transcendent and beautiful. Fans of dark drone-ambient music (as well as pretenders who think they are listening to truly dark and haunting music): meet your new master in Dual.