Strange Keys to Untune God’s Firmament is the latest offering from cult noise band Skullflower – one of several ongoing projects of Matthew Bower. Skullflower’s work has been compared to other pioneering noise outfits such as Whitehouse, Hunting Lodge, and Coil’s harsher output.
Rather than angry-sounding post-industrial electronics, loops or drones, Strange Keys finds Bower and his associates working with a palette of metallic shrieks, anguished howls, and layers of guitar distortion and drones across two packed discs. It is incredibly terrifying, raw, dense, and at times, sounds like a black metal band blasting away in an immensely large underground chamber. All raw, blackened buzz reverbed out to the extreme and resonating in the bowels of the earth.
It’s music that is best listened to on headphones in the dark. Unless, of course, you have a sensory deprivation chamber (or a ping pong ball and a radio). It’s something that challenges and dares the listener, to find something within the chaos – a trace of melody, a suggestion of rhythm. If you can let this chaotic soup wash over your senses, it will give you a thorough mindfucking and you’ll discover even more intriguing tones and textures beneath the jagged surface. I don’t see myself reaching for this often, but without a doubt, it provides an unsettling and invigorating listen.
Japan’s Sigh first gained notoriety when they became the sole non-Scandinavian act on the infamous “Deathlike Silence Productions” label run by Øystein Aarseth, a.k.a. Euronymous. Their debut album, Scorn Defeat, was a murky-sounding mire of clanging guitars and thrashing drums, but it also featured some very atmospheric and spooky piano and harpsichord. Jump ahead to 2010, and Sigh’s eighth full-length Scenes From Hell features a full symphonic orchestra – a host of infernal horns, sinister strings, and a hellish accordion – not to mention the lovely Dr. Mikannibal on vocals and saxophone.
The whole thing is one of the most grandiose albums I have ever heard. While the core unit thrashes away, a strange and chaotic soundtrack grows and swells around them. “The Soul Grave” sounds like a boatload of demonic gypsy pirates swinging into a swashbuckling horror film, while “Musica In Tempora Belli” features a goddamn theremin, along with some creepy chanting. If that wasn’t enough, David Tibet shows up later in the album to push the creepy factor with a spoken interlude.
At times, Scenes from Hell is breathtaking in its execution and dynamics. At other times it’s disjointed and distracting, but still the whole thing just kicks you in the back of the head and demands your attention. Call me a fan. Sigh have long shed the trappings of “metal” and dragged us toward their own dizzying view of the abyss.