If you?ve been paying attention to our music features lately (and if you haven?t, you?ve got an appointment with the spanking machine), you may have noticed a reference or two to the legendary Brian ?Lustmord? Williams. You may not know his name, but if you?re hot for horror or dark fantasy, you?ve probably heard his work.
As composer and producer, Lustmord has lent his skills in sound design to movies like The Crow and Underworld, promos for PS3 and Xbox, and ads for Universal Studios? Halloween attractions. As producer, he?s darkened the sonic palettes of artists like Tool, Jarboe, Coil, Mortiis and The Melvins. As a solo artist, he is considered one of the Old Guard of the so-called Dark Ambient genre ? a musical style often stripped of conventions like melody, dynamics, time signatures or traditional song structures in favor of creating an overwhelming feeling of dread. In short, this dude knows how to creep your ass out.
You?ve probably heard me recommend an album or three as being perfect for listening alone in a darkened room? but where that rule definitely applies to Lustmord?s work, that recommendation also comes with a warning: if you have a very active imagination, you might not emerge from the darkness unscathed. If you?re not into ambient stuff, you?ll probably just fall asleep? until jolted awake by a sudden, bone-scraping, electronically-distorted, demonic screech. So consider that two warnings for the price of one. You?re welcome.
Lustmord?s releases are currently being distributed on the mostly-metal label Hydra Head records, and as producer he?s most often associated with avant-garde hard rock and metal artists. However, anyone who purchases this album (or any of Lustmord?s solo work, for that matter) expecting something similar to Tool?s 10,000 Days (to which Lustmord contributed the title track) will be profoundly confused. Tool founder & guitarist Adam Jones does in fact contribute to several cuts on this album (he also supplied the nightmarish artwork), but not in the way Tool fans might expect ? or hope.
But more on that later. Just remember my cautionary statement above: if you?re not familiar with dark ambient music, bear in mind it?s not for everyone. The fact that Lustmord?s single live performance over a career spanning more than a quarter-century took place on 6/6/06 as part of a high mass for the Church of Satan (as documented on the excellent album Rising) should be warning enough for those of a more tender sensibility. Not being one of those kinds of people, I hungrily snarfed up this latest release ? then it was headphones on, lights down, and off we go.
There are track titles on this album ? eight to be exact ? but titles or index markers really don?t mean much when you?re listening to Dark Ambient stuff; what you?ve got here is pretty much one 70-minute track that shambles along like a Lovecraftian Elder God stomping out of the temples of R?lyeh in search of a really big bag of chips. If that concept sounds like your cup of whatever, then you?re in for a seriously creepy experience.
From the first rumbling, subterranean bass tones of opening track ?Testament? (Lustmord has been known to use poop-inducing subsonic frequencies otherwise employed by French riot police), you?ll get the immediate sense of a gooey black portal to the unknown being opened in your listening space. The emotional vibe is one of suspense and tension, like the strains that would, if in a horror movie, climax at the inevitable moment of terror. The main difference here is that the payoff never arrives; left to its own devices, the buildup is all you get. There?s a question-mark feeling to all this, because you?re always waiting for the attack; the fact that it never comes might be disappointing to those expecting a phantasmagoric thrill-ride. Because of this, many consider Lustmord?s work to be best suited as background to visuals, or in music projects used as a bed for a more dynamic narrative line. I totally get that argument, but since I like to sit back and let my mind craft images to accompany the sounds that surround me, I like leaving that option open. I?m nutty like that.
Given the homogenous ?sameness? that marks this style of composition, instead of analyzing each so-called track, I?d rather point out the sonic elements that stand out as unique, or which otherwise grab your attention, because there are a lot more of them here than you might think.
The addition of guitar sets [OTHER] apart from most of Lustmord?s previous solo work ? Adam Jones?s participation is most prominent, particularly on the mammoth 22-plus-minute track ?Godeater? ? but we also get contributions from Roger ?King Buzzo? Osborne of The Melvins and Aaron Turner of Isis ? but as I mentioned before, don?t expect sudden bursts of chunky riffage or screeching solos sailing over the sonic doomscape. Instead, sludge-style chords and single-string staccato notes chug along in the center of the mix, with very few additional effects applied beyond distortion, delay and cavernous reverb.
The artist?s trademark manipulation of live sounds ? including human voices, tribal instruments, nature elements and found objects ? is still a strong component this time around, including whispered incantations, aboriginal instruments, howling winds, rain and thunder, snake rattles and temple bells to name just a few. Repeat listening will reveal woven layers of these elements, especially if you?re brave enough to try with a good set of headphones, because the most impressive strength of [OTHER] is the amazingly clean production ? with most of the sonic elements very distinct in the mix, even as they constantly swirl, blend, overlap and disassemble one another. It?s a testament to Williams? strength and experience as a producer as well as composer, and elevates the material above sludgy noise, revealing a hundred subtle shades of darkness.
Armed with this oh-so-useful information, you should now have a pretty good idea if this is the kind of musical experience you want to dunk yourself in. You can?t dance or bang your head to it, that?s pretty much a no-brainer. But it definitely makes for scary listening, especially if you like to lose yourself in a hellish landscape and let your mind wander down paths known only to your darkest imaginings. On the practical side, it also makes for prime Halloween party material, provided your tastes run a bit more evil than dressing your cat in a felt pumpkin costume.