Drear/Great American Desert Split Album - Warring Against the Sun/Solipsis Review
by Mark Hensch
Way back in the dismal autumn of 2004, I was just finding my stride as a columnist at antiMusic and had only recently launched the long-running series that is still Hensch's Hometown Heroes today. Two of my earliest features were England's blackened doom outfit Drear and the enigmatic Jeremy "Xner" Christner, otherwise known as Great American Desert. The former was a band embodying the loss of humanity in modern, industrial culture with every soul-crushing note they played, while the latter was a series of Luciferian/Occultic ideals turned into militant, blackened folk with undercurrents of acidic psychedelia. Despite being such early entries into my column, I stand by the four star ratings I gave each act as both EPs have withstood the test of time and continue to enthrall me to this very day.
Flash forward to the very start of 2007. In late 2006 the two bands (who are friends, penpals, and labelmates on Autumn Wind Productions) recorded and released a split album. Their label debut for AWP, the two united less out of a common musical thread and more out of a common philosophical one. Both Drear and Great American Desert help make up a collective (alongside Vrolok, Steam Noire, and the 4th Floor) known as Lux Ferous, or "the Bringers of Light." Loosely based on Luciferian Gnosticism, occultic lore, ancient symbology, and esotericism in general, Lux Ferous is such a unifying factor between the bands taking part in it that it is a bit of a surprise that Drear and GAD haven't directly collaborated together like this before. The label searching that mired both bands for most of 2005 on up is partly to blame for this, and fans of authentic, darkly spiritual music can rejoice that this split made its way into the underground with proper distribution.
Having finally gotten around to purchasing my copy of the split, I find myself scratching my head at the final product of the two bands' collaborations. Like the majority of artists in any field, both acts have shown a clear desire to evolve and this divided disc marks relatively altered states of expression for each band. Though artistic growth is always welcome in my book, that doesn't always mean that I desire or appreciate it properly. The end result is a split I had some difficulty properly enjoying on the same level as I had earlier works from each band, and one that in my humble opinion does not truly showcase the merits of either band in full.
Warring Against the Sun in particular let me down. I was a slow-burning convert to Drear with 2004's Hope is the Opiate of the Masses, and on that surprisingly gripping disc, the band had churned out clinical, iron-casket cold blackened doom that was plodding, filthy, and nihilistic. Industrial, drone, and even outright noise elements were not uncommon, and the disc had a feel of overall urban decay. Flashing forward to the three mini-epics they churn out here, the band has inexplicably stripped itself of all these souless, mechanical touches and gone for a by-the-numbers funeral doom sound. This presents an interesting conundrum for me as a funeral doom fan---it isn't that these tracks are bad per se, but merely that they lack definition. In short, there is little to seperate Drear from the countless other crypt-worshipping doom bands out there, and with acts like Catacombs tapping Lovecraft or Ahab injecting bursts of animalistic speed into their trudge, Drear simply look rote in comparison. "Let the Sun Collapse" embodies these faults perfectly, its mix of barely-audible piano keys lacking in atmosphere as guitars lifelessly plod by for twelve minutes. The only saving grace to this composition is vocalist Glen, who shrieks in acidic howls until even the music can't keep up with him. After this, Drear hit their stride with the exquisite "Such Contempt for Humanity," which begins off a skeletal, blackened riff all before exploding into a filthy burst of eerie noise. These little flourishes of originality really give Drear their identity back and actually establish some smothering atmosphere which chokes you until the actual DOOM passages kick in and caves some chest cavities. "Ancient Bridge" closes the Drear portion with a harsh whisper, as dank puffs of futid guitar drift by in a murky haze and mournful chants rise from untapped depths. This song is a cool funeral doom construct, with a passage of pianos leading you delicately off a cliff into the great void of oblivion. Epic and crushing, it isn't what I've come to expect from Drear in the past and is definitely a bit jarring. Hopefully the band nails down a definite sound on their next full-length, as I feel doom in general is best when most focused musically, and these songs are a little muddled. I also noticed that at times the guitars sound very weak, so a bit more weight in that department might up the ante.
In stark contrast to the above changes stands Great American Desert. Whereas Drear has changed their sound, GAD has focused his own into a point so fine it nearly drills a hole clean through your skull. On 2002's Land of Tears (also reissued in 2004) Great American Desert excelled at mixing hypnotic, blackened doom with shimmering psychedelia fit for a nightime stroll through a vast desert. With a whole four years to further evolve, Xner has taken his persona and morphed it into a level of trippy mysticism that is almost frightening. While Land of Tears may have featured plenty of sparse, wispy evil, Solipsis is every bit as intangible but much more choking. To paraphrase, if Land of Tears were the trails of sulphur wafting from the depths of Hell, then Solipsis is clearly the full noxious cloud hovering in the depths below. The minimalism inherent in these songs is so utterly all-consuming it sounds much more massive than what it really is, and one can be forgiven for being tricked by the gaseous distortion again and again. "Dervish Shaitan" loops hollow percussion ala bleak trip-hop and eventually forces them to coalesce with ringing sludge chords and hypnotic tones. As the song marches deep into the heart of wastelands, Xner slavers and howls with a demented authenticity few singluar artists can claim to possess.
"The Still Lake" is up next and first suffers from some minor structural hiccups. As much as I dig the song's initial wave-like clean guitar passages, it doesn't really go anywhere and has nothing to do with the eventual body of the song. However, once things actually kick into gear with a swinging rattle-and-hum of distorted riffs all is forgiven, and this is probably one of my favorite GAD tracks overall. The guitars hover like unexplained paranormal entities and much like later Burzum the percussion is mechanical, chilling, and militant.
Following these heavier tracks, Great American Desert strips itself bare and enters a realm of such barren misanthropy I can scare conceive it. "Death Shall Be My Name" is naught but soft, delicate rays of clean guitar that flicker like dying embers and almost-invisible percussion. Xner whispers with an intense sense of variation as his voice rises and falls in the space of minimal sound. At times he allows himself to leave these vocal stylings behind for a sort of dull, monotonous sing-song that is equally compelling and creepy, but eventually the whisper comes back. Surreal and powerful, the song is less a ballad and more an ancient curse outside of time. I know that most will probably skip this as being far too strange for normal tastes, but love it or hate it this song is an experience unto itself.
Equally memorable is the disc's closing punch, with both "Shining Like Dusk Over the Sea" and "Untitled" being memorable experiences on their own. "Shining" is a glimmering dirge to the sun as it slowly drops out of the sky; Xner shifts between deep and guttural orations to biting rasps alongside equally dynamic guitars which seesaw between dazzling clarity and suffocating distortion. "Untitled" meanwhile explodes like said collapsing sun with an outburst of spastic, blackened noise/drone that would do Merzbow or Sunn-O))) proud. By now Xner has started to become a master of suicidal, blackened howls right up there with people like Wrest, Malefic, etc. The difference is that Xner is much more experimental and fully dedicated to craft than any other singular musician I've met, and I can personally attest that the man practices every word he preaches to a letter. This track definitely ends the Great American Desert portion with a bang.
In closing, both Warring Against the Sun and Solipsis feature new ideas from already innovative acts. Out of the two sides I think that the Drear section is marginally weaker on account that to me personally the band's message of misanthropy was better conveyed with their earlier noisy blackened doom rather than the simple evil funeral doom here. In comparison, Great American Desert haven't really changed anything, but merely taken it farther. Already original as is, the weird fusion genre that Xner has birthed for himself still shifts and morphs like the cosmic entities he frequently references, and the future for this unique artist appears exceedingly bright. To sum it up, this split is a great descent into realms of fresh doom and comes highly recommended.
Drear's Section (Warring Against the Sun)
1. Let the Sun Collapse
2. Such Contempt for Humanity
3. Ancient Bridge
Final Rating: 7.0
(hear more for yourself at drear.luxferous.com)
Great American Desert's Section (Solipsis)
4. Dervish Shaitan
5. The Still Lake
6. Death Shall Be My Name
7. Shining Like Dusk Over the Sea
Final Rating: 9.0
(hear more for yourself at gad.luxferous.com)
purchase the split at www.autumnwp.com!
CD Info and Links
Drear/Great American Desert Split Album - Warring Against the Sun/Solipsis
Label:Autumn Wind Productions
Rating:see ratings above
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