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Wrekmeister Harmonies - Light Falls (2016) - Review

Band: Wrekmeister Harmonies
Album title: Light Falls
Release date: 16 September 2016
Label: Thrill Jockey Records

01. Light Falls I - The Mantra
02. Light Falls II - The Light Burns Us All
03. Light Falls III - Light Sick
04. The Gathering
05. Where Have You Been My Lovely Son?
06. Some Were Saved Some Drowned
07. My Lovely Son Reprise

Light Falls is the latest album from the ever-changing collaborative effort that is Wrekmeister Harmonies. Composer and master collaborator JR Robinson with trusty sidekick Esther Shaw, form the nucleus of the latest embodiment of Wrekmeister which breaks from tradition with a smaller collective of musicians from Godspeed You! Black Emperor and a more typical album structure of seven shorter tracks rather than one or two long compositions. Despite this drastic change in approach; the familiar sounds, themes and textures of Wrekmeister Harmonies remain fully intact while expressing new realms of atmosphere and emotion. This is a testament to the unique and personal approach applied to JR Robinson's compositions and his versatility as an artist.

Wrekmeister Harmonies is known for compelling live shows at unorthodox and fascinating venues such as museums, mausoleums, cemeteries and many other interesting places such as; the Andy Warhol Museum, the Golden Gate Bridge and Chicago's Bohemian National Cemetery which add to the aura and ambience of the music. Along with the unusual locations are the exceptional musicians that have joined Wrekmeister throughout its many transformations including artists such as; Wrest (Jef Whitehead) of Leviathan, Alexander Hacke of Einstürzende Neubauten, David Yow of The Jesus Lizard, Chip King and Lee Buford of The Body, Marissa Nadler, Sanford Parker of Minsk, the cellist Fred Lonberg-Holm, Chris Brokaw of Codeine, jazz composer Ken Vandermark and many more.

It is clear that JR Robinson has a certain way with people. He manages to seek out and uncover the vast talents found in the musical underworld and shed light on dark places that others would only dream of. I think people can sense that this guy is for real; he means what he does and he is an artist with a vision that needs to be fully realised with the assistance of others. A perfect example of this rapport with other artists can be found within the VICE Media documentary One Man Metal in which JR is the host and correspondent. The film uncovers the hidden misanthropic lives and gives us glimpses into the fascinating, obfuscated existences of three elusive black metal figures; Wrest (Jef Whitehead) of Leviathan, Malefic (Scott Connor) of Xasthur and Sin Nanna (Russell Menzies) of Striborg. Few people (if any) would have been able to gain access to these artists in the way that JR did. To show how far he was willing to go to prove sincerity and gain trust with Jef Whitehead (who is a tattoo artist by day), there is a scene in which JR books a spot at the tattoo parlour where Whitehead works. He requests a tattoo of the symbols displayed on the album cover of the Leviathan album; Howl Mockery At The Cross (2005). Following this, Whithead agreed to feature in the documentary. He even managed to convince a reluctant Malefic to show his face and drop some vocals for the first time on camera.

In a short bio it states; "JR perceives life as a long, gradual process of decay. Lightness fades into darkness, while innocence succumbs to the evils of modern society. His music reflects not only this worldview but his emotional response to it." Certainly this concept seems to be embodied in all of his works to date. Light Falls is no exception to this theme, though this time it is more personal. The fall into darkness is more abrupt and much harsher. This album is very much an expression of 'inner darkness' mostly characterised by PAIN. The listener is forced to endure the pain that we all share from time to time and the experience of this album is quite unsettling and very dark indeed. This is pain in its raw, naked form; relentless and unforgiving; the type of pain that destroys one's faith in God and leaves one confronting absolute nihilism while feebly screaming; "there is no God" like a frightened dog barking and howling at an unnerving formless void. This is likely due to certain difficulties in JR's own life of which I feel it is not my place to elaborate on like some soulless Hollywood reporter with a shit stream audience that only cares about who is fucking who and who is addicted to heroin and what not. Let's just say that it is the inquisitive and not the idle who find answers to questions. This album is full of pain. The type of pain that only a human can experience, and it is not expressed in some abstract way, it is clear as day like a punch in the guts that drops one to the knees, dizzy and gasping for air while seeing black spots come and go with a total loss of time and space.

One of the most notable contrasts of this album compared to previous works is the sudden plunge into darkness from light airy keys and violin into thumping drums and thick, heavy doomy guitars. This relates to something like a sunset in which one is lulled into a slow transition from light, slowly slowly; then all of a sudden, you look up and it's completely dark. Also like a deep love that lulls one to sleep with the setting sun, slowly slowly seeming like it will last forever; then BAM! You wake up... and it's gone, forever, just as quick as it came in the beginning. Panic, loneliness, self-loathing and utter despair! Darkness ensues covering everything in morbid black death. Paint it black!

The cover artwork of Light Falls, designed by Nick Blinko (of British band Rudimentary Peni) seems more cryptic than I can fully understand, but it does seem to represent the fall of light into darkness. An elder type character that is fully white is within a cave with only darkness outside. Below the figure in the depths of the cave is a skull and a scythe; most likely a symbol of death. A black moon-like sphere looms above half in the cave, half outside of it.

The album is dark and ugly at times; but there is much beauty to be found within the darkness, just as there is much beauty to be found in sorrow. Light leads to darkness and darkness to light. Light textures are explored through floating violin sections with piano and synths. Spoken word parts also add to the shining light creating emotional layers of love and mourning of love lost. Repetition and slowly building riffs lead the listener up and up towards the eventual plunge into crushing guitars with excellently executed drums. Violins shriek and wail using aggressive tremolo bowing techniques in the background behind the guitars creating a massive sound of sorrowful mantras and epic soundscapes. The music constantly builds throughout each track always coming from an emotional place that is honest and pure. The overall album sound is nicely produced with a perfect grasp of the changing dynamics. The guitars are very rich and large without getting in the way of the background string sections and the drums sound perfect with a massive snare sound and flashy cymbals. The guitar tones are EPIC and well matched to the feel and mood of each track. Instrumental and vocal performances are equally great from all parties concerned, no complaints there. JR's compositions move and evolve in an organic way that mimic the inherent effortless changes of both human emotions and the natural world.

I see this album not only as a personal expression of the inner world of darkness, but also of the outer world of darkness that we find ourselves experiencing in modern times. The legend of the Kali Yuga seems to be in full swing in modern times; total destruction seems imminent. Modern man has completely lost touch with what is REAL. Man has been encouraged to mainly focus on vacuous shit for so long that most people can no longer tell the difference between the FAKE world of TV, advertisements, marketing campaigns, pop stars and sports stars, the pro-wrestling match that is world politics and the REAL world. It has now gotten to the point where people cannot even handle what is real, so they queue up in droves around the world to be anaesthetised with mind numbing drugs and state sponsored programs. It seems they would rather destroy the self and others around them rather than deal with reality. People are living in a dreamworld of someone else's creation... The problem with this is that eventually they will be forced to wake up - oh the horrors that await the slumbering masses and the inevitable guilt that will follow.

"Those who refuse to look at the darkness will only be blinded by the light."

Pretending that death is not coming for you changes nothing; attempting to avoid pain and suffering only destroys the self till eventually there is no self. Then we will truly be living in the "Brave New World" as so eerily written of by Aldous Huxley. A world of sub-human slaves with no sense of self and no sense of REALITY.

This album has been composed by a man who has stared death in the face; not because he wanted to, but because he was forced to as all of us must if we want to remain in reality. The question is; will you look away like a little bitch when death stares at you or will you meet his cold gaze, staring right back? One day Adam learned the harsh truth that Eve was not created as his companion; she was created for betrayal, to destroy worlds and have man banished from paradise for all eternity. People don't want to hear that pain is real, they want to run from it. People don't want to hear that others are in pain, they want to block it out, barricade the windows and avoid reality. The truth cannot be avoided and the catastrophes of the future will be a direct result of this era's avoidance an unacceptance of reality.

The wolf is at the door, and putting on headphones to block out his blood-curdling howls will not stop him from huffing and puffing, blowing your house down and devouring you alive.

Light Falls is a confronting emotional experience with multi-layered compositions and mixed melancholy atmospheres.  A different approach from Wrekmeister Harmonies while maintaining the aesthetic of old. Both soft and sombre, doomy and destructive. Out now at Thrill Jockey Records.

Review written by: Evceles
Rating: 8,5/10