Switched On: Blanck Mass – In Ferneaux (Sacred Bones)

reviewed by Ben Hogwood

What’s the story?

There are just two tracks on In Ferneaux, the new release from Benjamin Power – the man behind Blanck Mass. They are long-form pieces of roughly equal length, drawing on Power’s substantial archive of field recordings from the last decade of travelling. It is in effect his way of continuing to travel in spite of lockdown conditions, with compositions brought about by extended time at home.

What’s the music like?

The output of Blanck Mass has never been short of substance or emotion, and Power confronts his feelings with typically direct musical honesty. In Ferneaux gives the impression of being a piece of work a long time in the making, needing extended time at home to realise its ambition.

The two tracks last just over 40 minutes and work in a single sequence on headphones or with surround sound. Their emotional impact and musical identity are strong, right from the start of Phase I, with its shimmering electronics. It is a powerful depiction (for me at any rate) of the bright, sunny days we experienced at the start of lockdown in the UK this time last year, and the burst of positive energy unleashes a flurry of rhythms. As these depart stage left the scene darkens, and an ominous drone takes over. From this a new regenerative process begins, and the musical camera pans out with big chord shifts – which in turn fade.

Power’s talent for moving between scenes comes from his experience with soundtrack work. Phase II, however, is an immediate jolt to the senses, beginning with a wall of uncompromising, metallic noise. This single blast introduces the most human of the field recordings so far, a personal conversation, on which Power reflects with slowly moving, cool sounds. The metallic blast returns, but just when it all feels too much consolation arrives in the form of big, woolly chords that the listener can dive into.

This is a prelude to the most confrontational music so far, a set of pounding rhythms and primal white noise, a party in a dungeon. Again the response is huge chords but the closing is pure and moving, a piano solo that loops round majestically. Ultimately the music fades away on the wind

Does it all work?

Yes – this is a compelling pair of sonic journeys, a travelogue of Power’s last decade on the road. The only regret is not knowing where some of the scenes were captured – but in turn that fuels the imagination when listening.

Is it recommended?

Very much so. In Ferneaux is a strong indication that Blanck Mass can work with bigger structures, reinforcing Power’s capabilities as a soundtrack composer but also emphasising the potential he has to go on to score longer, more classically-based works. His development promises to be fascinating.

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Switched On – Blanck Mass: Animated Violence Mild (Sacred Bones Records)

What’s the story?

The chances are that if you haven’t heard of Blanck Mass before, you will have heard his music. It is the solo project of Benjamin John Power, a founding member of the duo Fuck Buttons, purveyors of drone – and whose music featured heavily in Danny Boyle’s creation to mark the opening ceremony of the 2012 Olympics in London. This is Power’s fifth album under the alias.

What’s the music like?

High on adrenalin. When you first hear Animated Violence Mild the sheer force of the wall of sound could well take your breath away. There is so much white noise and percussion, with riffs thrown at the listener like blocks of concrete, that the feeling of overload early on.

Big, bold rhythms cut their way to the front of tracks like Death Drop, while House vs. House flirts with flash metal before panning out into huge textures, like the end credits on an incredibly bloody movie. There is a terrific release of energy here for sure, and tracks like Hush Money have plenty of thrills, but it soon becomes overwhelming. Power provides some very welcome respite with Creature / West Fuqua, cutting from the wall of distortion to the more exotic thrum of the harp.

This is a key moment on the album, as it keys up the brilliant and euphoric No Dice (above), another ‘end credits’ contender, before another thrash fest on the closing Wings Of Hate. To borrow a sporting adage, Power leaves nothing on the pitch in his quest for a big, big sound!

Does it all work?

Sporadically. There are many thrilling moments on this album but several of the tracks have such a massive wall of noise that they sweep through the listener like a sonic tsunami, leaving some of their best bits behind.

Is it recommended?

Yes but not to those of a nervous disposition! Nor would it be an immediate recommendation for newcomers to Power’s work. They might be better off beginning with 2015’s Dumb Flesh, and approaching this from a bit of a distance. Power makes spectacular music here, and could never be accused of being a shrinking violet, but Animated Violence Mild is the musical equivalent of too much caffeine!

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