Genre: Experimental / Dark Ambient / Neofolk
03 House on the Hill
05 Tweater Eater
06 Darker Globe
08 Epitaph 3
09 Untitled (bonus)
This second full-length release from New York's S.Q.E. finds prime mover J. Greco ('writer, composer, engineer, programmer, producer, and conceptual creator') in the illustrious company of many well respected guests such as Tony Wakeford (Sol Invictus), Kris Force (Amber Asylum), Ure Thrall (Asianova), and Tracy Jeffrey & Alan Trench (Orchis) to create a truly eclectic slice of experimental dark ambient electronica and neofolk. Having already released 2004's album 'The Abyss Stared Back', the well received 7'' on Drone Records 'Wahid', and further splits and numerous compilation appearances (as well as working under other various aliases such as 'The Fruitless Hand' and 'Smooth Quality Excrement'), 'Rise of the Vulcans' is his latest foray into unlimited musical territories 'From beats to drones, dub rhythms to neo-classical harmonies, and minimalism to harsh noise'. Being inspired more from the imagery and events of everyday life rather than fixed musical acts and genres, his dark introspective sonic voyages consistently break boundaries and expectations with the sheer breadth of instrumentation and styles utilised thus giving a fascinating insight into one man's surprising personal creativity and world-view.
Opening with the gentle yet ominous mesmeric filtered sweeps of 'Flood', a tabla loop combines with short percussive hits of noise and side-stick struck snare, while masterful minimalistic basslines then underpin the seductive ethereal vocals of Kris Force. Further random samples (of everything from horns to distorted percussion) leap out at the listener in confrontational stabbing regularity, with the rising and falling in the depth of the mix making for an entrancing and moody piece of urban electronica to draw us into S.Q.E.'s spooky autumnal world. 'Narcotic' then proceeds in instrumental vein with phased wind-like chimes, static sounding hi-hats and sharp side-stick hits ushering in a track of deeply reverbed dub. On this track you can especially hear Mr. Greco's love and tasteful control of the bass guitar with the descending riffs drawing us into an intoxicating drug-fueled twilight of build and release, while further layers of suitably apt sampled noise interplay throughout the remaining musical spaces in virtuoso arrangements of constructual restraint. A mention really must be made to the superb quality of the resulting mix and production, with every diverse element beautifully balanced and audible within the song, reflecting the time and professional perfectionism most obviously spent on getting this release sounding 'just so'.
As the claustrophobia of the track slowly dies out, we enter the 'House on the Hill', where an initially withdrawn breath-like loop crashes into a funk inspired electronic beat, whose treble drenched snares and insiduous bass is then joined by the instantly recognisable vocals of Tony Wakeford in a seeming tribute to the classic black and white era of haunted houses of horror. Small motifs of glockenspiel and shimmering brief samples of synth effects in combination with finger-picked minor acoustic guitar chords echo and swell to create what would make a perfect themetune for a Halloween Horror.The breakdown midway to only bass & effects really makes you want to look over your shoulder 'just in case.....', after which the threatening atmosphere is maintained by a minimalistic musical momentum forward into the evocative unknown.'S.W.A.K.' then features further haunting vocalisations from Kris Force over a foundation of gentle finger-picked acoustics and bassy fading synth textures, maintaining the ongoing mood as of a ghostly figure slowly calling through a closed window, tapping on the glass for entry into a world now departed from forever.The ongoing random samples reinforce this superbly, from sharp bass hits to fragile glassy slides and intimidating horns, and when a full acoustic drumbeat adds drive to the proceedings there is no getting off of the ride as it hypnotically caries the listener into twilight gothic worlds of resigned eternal sorrow. A more traditional dark ambient approach is then taken with 'Tweater Eater', as throbbing drones, stormy synth pads, and sampled horns interplay in combative manner, each seeking ascendance within the resulting darkness. Stately measured bass drum hits slowly but surely propel the piece along, as suspenseful strings and insectoid effects add depth musically and visually to the desolate winter impressions, holding the listener in thrall until the sudden jolt of 'Darker Globe's sharp return to gentle neoclasscal and folk territories. Tracy Jeffrey's delicate tones sing lullabies to the dark, as the gentle choir drones of Alan Trench give a maudlin transcendent feel to the imploring lines of 'come away with me, I can take you far away today' (probably to places from which one can never return). The slightly deranged feel of Dylan Willemsa's viola solos add a wonderful tinge of oncoming insanity and display a great heartfelt feel and lightness of touch to her technique perfectly matched to material of such imploring weeping loss.
Switching from viola to vocal duties, with 'PM' we see another side to Dylan Willemsa's talents in a post midnight tribute heralded by church bell strikes and other uncomfortable horror inspired samples. The slow dripping (as of water in subterranean caverns) transports us into tellurian dimensions, as harmonising singing melds with sinister industrial hits reminiscent of trapped souls in a purgatory of their own devising. Bleak and devoid of hope, a classical orchestra from Hell adds its tortured unhinged strains in a sudden appearance halfway through the song, as cymbals, flute, horns, and more create impressions of toil and spiritual retribution to the accompaniment of manaical laughter that wouldn't sound out of place in one of Roger Corman's classic Edgar Allen Poe adaptions. Ending in a swirling barrage of neoclassical avant garde and abrasive noise, 'Epitaph 3' then transports us further into the night with slices of shifting static, clockwork mechanisms, tribal horns, and multiple intertwining evil synth pads. The brief surfacing of tortured choirs above the mix combined with the deep bassy groaning of J. Greco's frequent collaborator Asianova Ure Thrall continues the purgatorial feel. Alongside the classical percussive rolls on drum and cymbal, the subtle musical progressions of the underlying synths evoke a many-levelled hell as of Dante's Inferno, with each part of the instrumentation almost indicative of a different sin being punished, and a new penace for the sinner.
The final track of 'The Rise of the Vulcans' is a 20 minute long bonus track unlisted in the release details, and which ends the album in a suitably fitting eclectic manner. It begins with 3 minutes of mournful minor piano progressions, whose sombre control paints a dread picture of finality and woe. Minor melodic variations seem to imply a weak attempt at escaping a terrible fate, but return to the main theme in resigned acceptance, head bowed, as if to find eternity waiting with bared teeth however hard one tries to escape. A long period of silence then follows, after which a short folk-tinged composition of pizzicato and bowed strings (backed by hand-shaken percussive bells) paints a picture of an ancient ethnic funeral rite, attended by the fearful black-swathed faces of the elderly awaiting their turn to meet their final destiny, and the voyage through life finds itself at the same conclusion for us all.
As an idealistic whole, 'Rise of the Vulcans' is probably as damn near to faultless as you are ever likely to find. S.Q.E. seem to stand astride multiple genres with such focus and self-assured commitment it almost becomes hard to believe that others have ever pioneered this style of music before them, and the sheer scope of elements used within only strengthens and never lessens the overall resultant impact. Like a surrealistic trip through a neoclassical horror film, intense imagery and poetic depth seem to drench every second of the music creating a truly immersive listening experience, and the skill with which every element is assembled stands as a monument to J. Greco's wide ranging skills and vision. I can certainly see many others walking the path to his door seeking collaborations, production and more. Here's to a bright and shining future for, and if you like intriguing dark ambient, sorrowful neofolk, or just have a passing interest in the visual excesses of classic horror cinema or the philosophical scope of theological literature, you cant afford to miss this beautifully realised peice of art.