There's soundtracks to the apocalypse and then there's soundtracks to everything afterward. Ensemble Pearl provides the latter. The din and drone as your mind takes in the ruins of its surroundings, the dissonant fear of realization and finally the despair of acceptance.
Stephen O'Malley has provided many a piss shiver in his work with Sunn O))) - a deliberate, almost predatory aural assault designed to beat the willing into submission, occasionally enhanced/haunted by the presence of vocalist Attila Csihar. And if Sunn O))) is an assault, then Ensemble Pearl is the parasite that burrows under the skin - crawling, itching, creating an inescapable anxiety that never stops building.
The album begins with "Ghost Parade", a foreboding, visual track that could just as easily score The Testament Of Dr. Mabuse than appear on an album of dark ambience. The track is closely followed by "Painting On A Corpse", another highly suggestive and visual track that could almost be a re-imagining of Morricone through the mind of H.H. Holmes. The album as a whole casts a long, dark shadow across the listener with the only hint of light appearing briefly in "Wray", the album's shortest number in a sea of black epics.
This is everything and nothing you would expect from Boris' Atsuo, Kurihara and Stephen O'Malley. Their collaborative efforts are well designed and deftly executed - showing admirable restraint and respect for the nature of each singular piece of this unholy puzzle.
It's genuinely hard for me to get excited about supergroups in general--they're almost never as good as the sum of their parts. And unfortunately, despite the calibre of the musicians involved, that seems to be exactly what has happened to post-everything supergroup Ensemble Pearl on their eponymous 2013 debut.
Anchoring this band of notably crazy musicians is Stephen O'Malley, known best for his work with Sunn O))) and a metric fuckton of other bands. Lending their talents as well are Atsuo of Boris, Bill Herzog, and Michio Kurihara of Ghost (the Japanese experimental rock band, not the anonymous Swedish gothic/heavy metal one). Most of you have already picked up on how incestuous a group this is--Atsuo's and O'Malley's main bands have a long history of collaboration, Herzog was one of the many guest musciains on Sunn O)))'s most recent album Monoliths & Dimensions as well as their collaboration with Boris Altar, and Kurihara has been playing live with Boris for a long time now. I suppose a collaboration on this scale was only inevitable.
As you can probably imagine, the album draws heavily from drone, post-, and stoner metals, all fusing together to create a sound that is huge and expansive. Slow builds and repetitious composition are the order of the day; nothing on this album comes quickly. In addition, despite what you'd think, the band actually shy away from loud, unrestrained wailing, instead keeping themselves disciplined and their dynamics meted. This is actually much to their benefit, as it gives the pieces much more depth and subtlety.
However, for all that they have going for them, Ensemble Pearl really don't want to do much with that talent. Most glaringly, there isn't a lot of development to each piece. While that's acceptable for the shorter songs on the first half of the album, it can make listening to some of the longer ones very difficult. There also isn't much in the way of uplifting tones to be found on this album--even "Wray", which flaunts its deceptively agreeable motif, Ensemble Pearl manages to rend beyond recognition by the time it's finished. While that's a valid stylistic choice, it does make the band seem shallow and one-note, so to speak.
I gotta say, despite everything it had going for it, Ensemble Pearl left just a bad taste in my mouth. I think it was an interesting idea that didn't quite pan out as expected or was somehow led astray. It honestly felt like, with the musicians involved, there probably should've been a lot more here than a cursory selection of drone-like tracks. If you're a diehard fan of these musicians, you'll probably still enjoy this album, but it certainly doesn't display them at their best.
7.6 / 10
Posted March 10, 2013, 8:35 p.m.
A sneak preview has been leaked via The Quietus from the upcoming Ensemble Pearl record on Drag City. The band is comprised of Stephen O'Malley ( Sunn O)))), Atsuo (Boris ...
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