The cello flirts lovingly with you, then roars and lunges forward, bearing its teeth.
The composition in question is “A Seat Amongst God and His Children,” the second song and most transfixing moment on Montreal artist Alder & Ash’s sophomore release, the appropriately titled Clutched in the Maw of the World, out July 28 on Lost Tribe Sound.
It starts with a gently thrummed but somehow ominous rhythmic pattern, a wispy line of melody, and then lashes out – a slashing lead cello line that sounds like the amplified edge of a razor scraping over metal, with a distorted loop of grungy notes keeping time. There, it wails like a beast after triumphantly pouncing on its prey. After a moment of calm, briefly sated, the cello starts to stab at your ears again and the aural animal goes back in to finish the bloody feast.
The images this blend of ambient/experimental and post-classical music brings to mind are appropriate. On its Bandcamp page, Alder & Ash frames itself as “a counterpoint of two extremes,” with the music divided between “stillness, introversion and penitence” and “violence, cacophony and angst.” You can’t say the performer doesn’t deliver on his promises. This is brutal listening, indebted as much to acts like ambient duo High Plains as it is to black metal and post-rock. And it is beautifully accomplished in its missions.
On “All His Own, The Lord of Naught,” the loops have a slithering quality to them as the cello waxes vaguely Middle Eastern, a hint of scales giving way to the throaty aftermath of a scream. Then, there are the melancholy moments – the somber title track, which feels, at times, as if it is too depressed to even muster the strength to lament, or the beautiful, album-closing “The Glisten, The Glow,” which displays an eerie, somewhat tragic resolve over the spare, lulling plod of its looped “percussion.”
Alder & Ash does a hell of a lot with a cello and a loop pedal alone and, for further evidence, Lost Tribe also is reissuing its first LP, the previously digital-only Psalms for the Sunder from 2016. Both records make for riveting, if occasionally uneasy listening, the Romantic giving way to the Neurotic, the beauty dramatically drawn black by the stain. Here’s the pull-quote: if you’re a student of storm clouds, you owe it to yourself to find this stuff.