As we have seen time and time again, some of the most interesting musical projects occur as solitary musicians hone their craft free from the shackles of powerful record label and music executives. Unencumbered by expectations and the bottom line, these artists take the opportunity to present music that challenges the notions of music in ways that are fearless and bold. Such musicians portray the widely varying complexities of human experience and shine a gleaming light on aspects of that human experience that the broader music industry is unwilling (or unable) to explore. The ideas and concepts that such independent artists bring in their music serve as prophecy, in way: that ancient bringing forth of bold and powerful thoughts that disturb, unnerve and rattle the rest of us caught up in the status quo.
Without pinning too much expectation on them, this course of raw, prophetic, genre-defying art is the path that A Death Cinematic and Beyond the Black Ocean are taking, as evidenced by their challengingly artful limited edition split EP. Containing six tracks (3 for each band) and housed in an attractive and unique wood slip, the split EP is a testament to the freedom that independent artists enjoy. Even that beautiful keepsake of a wooden slip presents its own artistic challenges, it actually took me a good ten minutes to get it open, due to its unique design (it’s in two pieces, pull the top and bottom and you’ll see the middle open up). Nevertheless, it’s the music of both bands that set this split EP apart, and which forces the listener to divinize meaning into the folds it layers of noise.
Both bands could be categorized as “ambient/drone” acts, but represent two opposing poles in the subgenre. As their name might suggest, A Death Cinematic showcases (mostly) the harsher, denser, aggressive side of drone music. Featuring noisy squeals of feedback-drenched guitar drones, the abrasive sounds that immediately hit the first listener upon hearing the first track “slowly cave in the heart under the setting sun” might initially turn listeners off of A Death Cinematic. However, it soon becomes clear that the high-pitched drone sets the stage for a slower moving and dissonantly melodic journey found hidden within the sounds. The drones morph ominously, slowly retreating to reveal oddly comforting sounds flowing beneath the surface. “soon the storms will overtake us” also feature buzzsaw guitars battling for supremacy over one another, while the listener is overtaken by the powerful sound. The song pummels the listener for four minutes before gliding imperceptibly into “a thousand grey winters splinter the marrow in the bones of our dead”. With such a title, it comes as no surprise that the music is equally unnerving and odd, juxtaposing between gentler more melodic guitar refrains and distorted drones.
Beyond the Black Ocean, by contrast, displays a random, abstract, gentler side of drone music. On “Looking Out Over Cold Mother Russia – Launch Sequence 110393-0110”, chimes flow in and out over a subtle sheet of white noise. Keyboards float in and out, and all sorts of other sounds blend in and out between spaces of silence. “The Last Flight of Icarus” features piano and harpsichord lines, as well as a section of heavenly gentle drones, which all caress the listener’s ears and give the sense of weightlessness. Finally, “Oberon Lost” is a gentle wisp of a track that, like the songs preceding it, take the listener through a multi-stage journey of sounds. Subtlety rules on this 12 and a half minute track, as gentle light sounds pour through, soothing and lulling the listener.
Truly, this EP takes the listener on an amazing journey with its smart sequencing. The sounds used by both bands are impressive, but it’s their sensitive use of such sounds that causes the listener to reflect. With their compelling song titles and the scenes evoked in the listener’s mind by the music, these artists truly capture elements of human experience that are seldom consciously explored by people. By carving through the territory of those just-under-the-surface thoughts and longings, A Death Cinematic and Beyond the Black Ocean have created a true work of collaborative art.