Skullflower have been around for what seems like forever, and have spent that time on the peripheries, dredging the depths in their pursuit of the creation of avant-garde noise. ‘The Spirals of Great Harm’ certainly won’t launch Matthew Bower’s long-running project into the mainstream, but will no doubt appeal to the existing converts.
A dark, sinister tumult of noise which swells and sighs and drones and groans, and which seems to emanate from the very bowels of hell, is the sound of ‘khepsh’, the first track on this monstrous, sprawling behemoth double-album. Gnarled, mangled vocalisations all but buried in distortion crackle into the swirling sonic vortex.
‘further’ pushes into a vertiginous, warping whorl, an undulating, gut-churning, warping drone forging a nauseating backdrop to a fucked-up and fractured guitar-line which sounds like ‘Metal Machine Music’ being played in a drug-induced psychosis. And it doesn’t get any more accessible or friendly as the album progresses. Grating, polyphonic drones drill and crape at the brain cavity, burrs of feedback and distortion tear against low, elongated synth oscillations which hover and hum. The sharpening of knives, the dragging of a thousand nails down a blackboard, the drilling of a million teeth, the grumble of earthworks and construction sites around the globe simultaneously; these are all sounds correspondent with the experience of this extended sonic nightmare.
The 11-minute ‘thunder dragon’ is a relentless tempest of guitar-based polyphony, with shrieking feedback and a swirling churn of undifferentiated noise turning endlessly and at high volume in the background. The sonic density of it all is utterly pulverizing. When everything stops, leaving a crackling distant shiver of music hear through a wall and a heavy mains hum, it almost feels like the world has temporarily stopped. ‘venom & nectar’ is cruel in its deceptive and relative quietness, and still pitches uncomfortable frequencies which resonate around the solar plexus. Disc one closes with the dark, clamorous swell of ‘fuck the new estate’, which bubbles and eddies in a swamp of festering, nerve-fraying noise.
Disc two offers more of the same: soft ambience rapidly gives way to grating, treble-orientated, churning noise. Gnarled, mangled noise dominates. The twelve-minute ‘And Carthage Must Be Destroyed in Stereo’ is a protracted treble-fest built around intertwining notes and knotted ropes of electronic entanglement, and is representative of the extended drone workouts – all except one of which extend beyond the ten-minute mark – which occupy the second disc.
There is no light and no levity, only the droning, tension-building swirl and grind of slowly-melting circuitry, the implosion of valves, the excruciating collapse of all mechanicals and all structures. Shrieking screeds of feedback and dolorous bass notes ring out through ‘ice nine’, like an endless scrawk of insectoid nails down a blackboard.
It’s harsh, it’s atonal and it’s noisy: exactly as it should be.