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.

Stream

Buy

On Record: John Carpenter: Lost Themes III: Alive After Death (Sacred Bones Records)

reviewed by Ben Hogwood

What’s the story?

The further he moves into his seventies, the more John Carpenter blossoms as an artist of many creative disciplines. His work as a composer has built up an impressive momentum which nobody could have foreseen ten years ago, with two sets of Lost Themes in 2015 and 2016, along with the soundtrack to his own reboot of Halloween in 2018.

Lost Themes III: Alive After Death sees him working once again with son Cody on synthesizers and godson Daniel Davies on guitar, the three showing their musical acumen on another ten choice cuts.

What’s the music like?

Deliciously dark. Carpenter instinctively knows how to evoke a scene with instant effect, and many of the themes here have the unmistakable scent of Gothic horror. The music is hugely enjoyable, not afraid of a musical cliché or two when the trio rock out, but there is show a sensitive underbelly to Carpenter’s writing, an emotional depth underpinning each of the selections here.

That side is most evident in Dripping Blood, but the more typical Carpenter sound is the majestic, immediate presence of the title track, or the fabulously dark Cemetery, with a low piano line glinting in the moonlight. The beatless Dead Eyes is a mysterious interlude, its harmonies drifting restlessly, while in contrast The Dead Walk has a hollow beat driving it forward.

Daniel Davies’ guitar work is instrumental to the success of Weeping Ghost, a futuristic rocker with a throbbing beat, and also Vampire’s Touch, where the guitars growl as the groove gets into its stride. Yet Carpenter’s music is at its best when the keyboards dominate. Skeleton shows this best of all, a shapeshifting rock chorale that dazzles with its changing harmonies.

Does it all work?

Yes. These are brilliantly scored and wonderfully evocative instrumentals, each with a different shade of darkness. The only criticism would be that some of the themes – Dead Eyes for instance – pull up short and could be longer than they are. It’s a small point that actually emphasises how good this music is!

Is it recommended?

It is. Carpenter knows how these things work, but is never complacent in his music, which has the ideal blend of suspense, terror, humour and a sense of occasion. If you have the previous two volumes, no need to hesitate – and if you don’t, then what are you waiting for?! Prepare to be scared…

Stream

Buy

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!

Stream

Buy