Wrekmeister Harmonies – Night of Your Ascension (Thrill Jockey, 13 November 2015)
Well… here we are at the end of a dull, dreary Monday — looks like we’ve survived another one. And it’s a good thing, too, because I’ve got something pretty extraordinary to share with you this afternoon. It’s not often that you come across something that seems immediately transcendent — so otherworldly that it fully envelops the listener and transports you away from the surface level of consciousness — but that’s the case with Night of Your Ascension, the third album released by the American “pastoral doom” conglomerate known as Wrekmeister Harmonies. A late-year discovery for me (it just came out at the end of November), this LP nevertheless had such an instantaneous impact that I just had to include it among my list of 2015’s top releases.
This isn’t necessarily the type of material that really benefits from being written about, being described in words, so I’ll keep that part as brief as possible. Further down, you’ll have the opportunity to listen for yourself and get the full experience, and then you’ll understand. And even further down (in the comments section), I’ll be including the details of the group’s current North American tour with Bell Witch, so stay tuned for that!
This vast ensemble (indirectly named for a baroque-era music theorist) that encompasses such disparate influences as drone and doom metal, ambient noise, new age and classical chamber music, is the creation of Chicago’s JR Robinson, with a large rotating cast of supporting players — which on this album include such luminaries as Sanford Parker, Bruce Lamont, members of Indian, Anatomy of Habit, and literally dozens of others throughout the Chicago area and all over the world. On the Night of Your Ascension record there are just two compositions, the title track which stretches to thirty-two minutes, and “Run Priest Run” which is roughly half as long.
The first of these consists of a number of overlapping movements: starting with long sustained organ notes and angelic female choir vocals, eventually adding a touch of bass and a bit more movement in the organ parts; later the vocals drop out but so gradually that you barely notice the change — the same when they return later, accompanying a section of harp and other orchestral strings; later sections introduce a bit of distorted guitars and deeper male vocals, with the first hint of percussion kicking things up a barely-perceptible notch nearly halfway into the piece. All of these changes happen over such a long period of time that it sometimes takes a while to realize after a certain part has been added or subtracted. But once we hit the twenty-four minute mark, things take a turn into decidedly more “metal” territory, a little faster with a driving beat, and especially in the vocals, which by this point have turned into blackened rasps and snarls — which is basically where we remain for the final eight minutes, give or take.
The second work also builds very slowly, starting with mostly ambient sounds and little bits of static, although faint hints of singing and snippets of musical sounds appear to be hidden within the noise; much later (by about the sixth minute or so), actual drums, guitars, and ghostly vocals, all have begun to emerge a bit more clearly from the background noise, growing in intensity and heaviness over the next several minutes, continually getting more ugly and uncomfortable, until finally — for about the last minute, it unexpectedly turns sweet and melodic, reaching perhaps a peaceful resolution.
Both of these compositions are based on true stories of historic people — very dark, unpleasant stories — which you may feel free to read more about at the Wrekmeister Harmonies website, but this information is not necessary for enjoying what you hear — over the course of this album you can simply allow yourself to be immersed in the sound, and you can just drift away with the ebbs and flows of the stories told by the music itself.
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