Benjamin John Power has described this album as "A snapshot of a painful period." The deaths of his father and beloved producer Andrew Weatherall cast a dark shadow over the recording. He may not have intended it as a soundtrack to the global lockdown but that's exactly what it sounds like to me.
The Koyaanisqatsi-eseque buzz of the first four minutes is followed by a celebratory blast akin to the 'Olympians' track used during the opening ceremony of the London Olympics in the Summer of 2012. Seems like a lifetime ago.
Most reviews of Blanck Mass cite Power's earlier work with Andrew Hung as one half of the Bristol-based of the Fuck Buttons duo which created the aforementioned 'Olympians' but that was then. This is now.
Whether by accident or design, the two long tracks that make up 'In Ferneaux' (inferno - geddit?) illustrate how the world as lurched into the hellish period we are now living through.
The lively opening of the 21 minute Phase I could be taken as a sonic representation of life Pre-Covid-19. It is a joyous synthy synthesis that conjures up images of busy streets, crowded places and carefree movement. Life. But the mood soon changes. The remaining quarter of an hour consists of muted voices and a slow-burning drone, If this had been conceived in a more optimistic mood, the piece might have evolved into a dramatic crescendo. Instead listeners experience the aural equivalent of a melancholic stasis; a state of drift.
Phase II (19 mins 33 seconds) begins in much the same downbeat mood. A dense bee swarm of noise morphs into a field recording of a street preacher from San Francisco which evokes strong shades of GY!BE. Five minutes in, fuzzy noise slowly descends like a coming storm. A calmer, almost pastoral two minute pause is followed by what sounds like a very frenzied street gathering. But the frantic screaming and pummeling tribal drumbeats seems more desperate than pleasurable, like an illegal rave in defiance of a state-imposed shutdown. A party to commemorate the end of times.
Drones mark a return of storm clouds but then, gradually, a melodic piano refrain offers a glimmer of hope. This begins in the background then becomes more prominent.
The silver lining is interrupted by the ugly industrial dissonance like someone trying to unblock a drain. A stressed man says "Now we're picking up sounds from the fucking truck!"
'In Fernaulx' is an record of catharsis in which brief glimmers of light serve only to highlight the overridingly ominous mood.
An album made in and for dark times.