The musical collective led by J.R. Robinson has always been inventive when it came to the subjects of their sonic explorations. You've Always Meant So Much to Me was written to accompany a film that Robinson shot in various areas, including Detroit, the desert of Joshua Tree and the forests of Tasmania. The collaborators in this album helped greatly bring that vision into existence, with Wrest (Leviathan), Mark Solotroff (Anatomy of Habit), Jaime Fennely (Mind Over Mirrors) and Sanford Parker just some of the musicians appearing in that release. The following album, Then It All Came Down saw Robinson taking a different approach. Instead of creating an accompanying piece for a film, he chose to investigate a subject that fascinated him. The centre of this piece was Manson's known associate Bobby Beausoleil, and specifically the piece that Truman Capote written after interviewing him. That darkness spills all over the music of Wrekmeister Harmonies, in a sense creating a sonic companion to Capote's essay.
From that aspect, Robinson's newest endeavour is quite closely related to Then It All Came Down. However, Night of Your Ascension focuses on two dark entities instead of just one. The characters investigated in this album are Don Carlo Gesualdo, prince of Venosa in the 16th century, musician and murderer, and John Geoghan, a priest convicted of molesting some one-hundred-fifty children, who was in turn brutally executed by a fellow inmate while held in solitary confinement. Just a glimpse into the lives of these two figures is enough to understand the degree of darkness that is explored in Night of Your Ascension. Also, as was the case with Wrekmeister Harmonies' previous works, the ensemble here is even more impressive, including appearances by Sanford Parker, Bruce Lamont (Yakuza,) Lee Buford and Chip King (The Body,) Cooper Crain (Cave,) Alexander Hacke (Einsturzende Neubauten,) Eric Chaleff (Bloodiest,) Mark Solotroff, Solomon Lee Walker, Chris Brokaw (Come,) Dylan O'Toole and Ron DeFries (Indian,) Olivia Block, Mary Lattimore and Marissa Nadler.
The subjects of Night of Your Ascension appear to come alive as the album progresses. It is as if the album is part exploration and part re-enactment of the scenes. The title track was built around Gesualdo's madrigal “Ahi Dispietata e Cruda,” but was further modified by Robinson. It begins with a hypnotic quality, transferring you to the castle of Gesualdo in the night of the murder. The low drone in the background and Nadler's vocal lines are allowed to cover the space, with the choral voices then joining in and dragging this piece further in this mystical, melancholic domain. The bass line is aiding this element of the music further, giving a cold, dark vibe to the track with its deep, pulsing notes filling the low-end nicely. However, the appearance of the track in the first few minutes might be calm and mesmerizing but there are still hints of an underlying gruesome spirit. Dissonant parts begin to rise in the wake of the track, quite subtle in their approach, with the keys specifically gaining a bit of an edge with their discordant quality but still keeping it at a manageable level. The dissonance rises slowly from the background with its piercing quality reaching a terrifying perspective as times goes on, while when the vocals have seized it feels like the whole notion of the track has changed.
That is where the sonic textures of Wrekmeister Harmonies begin to take over. The more unconventional approach of the keys and the multiple layers of strings begin to emerge, as all these different textures interacting with each other in a stunning manner. It makes it quite easy to understand why this album has been one year in the making. The arrangements give the track a more impressive personification, and a sense of ever changing and moving background while plucked strings at the forefront lead you into further, mystical pathways. There is a great use of melodies to awaken emotions in this instance, with Robinson orchestrating this intriguing dance, giving the track at first an expansive form and then a mesmerizing effect, leading it to a towering and imposing tonality. It feels like an unearthly, twisted church hymn is unveiled preparing for a crescendo that is about to break.
Many famous figures have been inspired by Gesualdo's music and his violent acts. Werner Herzog released an excellent documentary entitled Gesualdo: Death for Five Voices exploring all aspects of the life of Gesualdo. Igor Stravinsky was also heavily influenced by Gesualdo's works, and orchestrated some of his madrigals in Monumentum Per Gesualdo. Robinson for half of the opening track is slowly setting the tone. For the second part though, he voyages into Gesualdo's most horrific act, the murder of his wife and her lover. The sudden realization in “Night of Your Ascension” comes when the towering string arrangements give their place to a more minimalistic drone exploration, with some very interesting throat-singing parts in there releasing drones of their own.
The switch to the metal domain is complete when the doom riffs come in. The heavy guitars are overwhelming, giving a glimpse into the probable state of Gesualdo's mind when he caught his wife and her lover. The combination of the heavy riffs and the sorrowful tone of the lead parts give a great contrast to the scene, as anger and sorrow seem to merge. The background is equally impressive, as sweeping effects make an appearance, making the repetitive beatdown of the guitars more interesting, and granting the track a more chaotic approach. From that point on Wrekmeister Harmonies dwell into this annihilating process. The riffs resume their distorted path, while some clean bits lay out the lead work that the track follows. The manner in which drone, doom and noise seem all to be blurring into one coherent form is horrific, while the extreme vocal lines obscured by the heavy riffs are echoing through the mazes of “Night of Your Ascension.” The real beatdown begins at that point with the energized doom driven parts taking on a gigantic personification and acquiring a sludge type of dirt. It feels as if the whole soundscapes of the track are crumbling down as the extreme vocals, pumped even further with distortion join in. The noise effects underneath the surface of the track create a vortex leading to different dimensions, while there is a certain frenzy as the effects are spiralling out of control, appearing on different parts of the panorama, with the intensity rising and putting the track to an abrupt end.
The case with “Run Priest Run” differs from “Night of Your Ascension.” While the title track featured a fiery core, the second piece of this album takes on a much colder approach. The atmosphere of the track is crafted meticulously by the effects and the noise input, but it is the metallic quality of the percussive synths that radiates with a frigid bleakness. The vocals appear as if coming from a spectre, while the manner by which the whole track is unfolded is truly awe-inspiring, with all the elements being added with a great sense of continuity and harmony (or disharmony, depends on how you see it.)
The methodology by which the effects are used in the track completely explores the space, giving the track its unforgiving perspective. Taking the form of ranging feedback and out of control delay effects, the track progresses reaching a devastating peak, before resolving into its drone stage with some soothing melodies appearing and the noise input retreating out of sight, closing the track in a bittersweet tone. Doom riffs are contained with the second piece as well, with the doom self of Wrekmeister Harmonies emerging through the noise and effects slowly, not much unlike a corpse rising from the grave. The interaction of the heavy guitars with the effects and noise elements is insane with the vocals again appearing out of control, leading into an absolute beatdown that feels continuous and never ending, an endless punishment that you need to go through.
Wrekmeister Harmonies have always been putting out interesting records, with their previous two releases, You've Always Meant So Much To Me and Then It All Came Down standing out. However, Night Of Your Ascension feels more complete, as if it has been more thoroughly worked out. The themes of this album seem to come alive, as if re-enactments of these events are taking place in front of your eyes every time you listen to this album. It feels as if the concepts of JR Robinson are more vivid this time around, more than before that is. The storytelling attribute of Wrekmeister Harmonies has been further increased, and that is a very scary thought indeed.
8.8 / 10
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