Like many of the recent spatter of horror soundtracks, Black to Comm's latest is a controlled environment, but one too often doesn't feel under the author's control.
Absent from the emergent “horror soundtrack” genre creeping from within the perimeters of Type and Miasmah Records is the histrionic austerity of much noise music. Counter to this, noise itself can be said to have always reviled the subtlety intrinsic to much “post-classical” work. Like cinematic horror, noise seeks to strike too often by jumping from dark sites off camera. Droney faux soundtracks motion in micromovements, sometimes turning trepidation into tedium.
Much of Marc Richter’s Dekorder label, particularly his own Black to Comm project, seeks the interspaces between the somnambulant dread of drone, which is unsettling but barely taut enough to leap out and seize you, and the incessant wail of feedback-drenched power electronics, which is all teeth and dismemberment and no Cthulhu portent or phylogeny. Yet, Richter’s latest Black to Comm release on Type, Alphabet 1968, is wont to create a new narrative both outside and within the aforementioned non-competing worlds.
There’s harsh black cacophony on the back-to-back of clatter of “Houdini Rites” and “Void”, but those are two of the least interesting artifacts of Alphabet 1968, together forming a kind of aural wallpaper rather than a monolithic mind warp. The scenery is better painted by an ominous pastorale that simultaneously examines both the darkness and beauty of its purgatorial dynamics. Opener “Jonathan” cues between gleeful field recordings and patches of static, as if to indicate a filmic cutaway to an ulterior angle, id, and superego battling for the dominant view. The ensuing “Forst”, by far the album’s longest piece, erects a porcelain labyrinth seemingly plucked from Wolfgang Voigt’s own Königsforst, kayaking along a four-on-the-floor into a space of glistening impenetrability. At its collapse, the jangle bells of “Trapez” sound downright sweet and inviting, but backwards masked melodies soon alter the view again. The subsequent askance strummed rhythmics of “Rauschen” sound like they were programmed by the sloppy and slightly melancholy mechanics of Pierre Bastien, a sadness heightened by the failure to gain any kind of traction.
After that, “Musik Für Alle", a gorgeous busted calliope of spectral slivers that’s practically begging for a Mount Kimbie remix, seems to begin the “Side 2” retreat from the light, though the “Trois Gymnopedies”-sampling “Hotel Friend” offers a brief reprise of sunshine on the horizon. The darkness brings us through the eerie texturalism of “Amateur”, the church organ dispossession of “Traum GmbH”, and the aforementioned “Houdini Rites”/”Void” climax.
Alphabet 1968 is an album that rewards close-and-repeat listening (though, what album couldn’t boast this), but there’s something to be said for the way in which the subtlety of the album fails to impress upon the listener on a cursory listen. Cabaret Voltaire’s earliest work found prescient double meaning in the word “revolting” as its revolutionary sonics literally made one’s stomach turn. The visceral namesake and pulsatile throb of Godflesh felt like edema, subcutaneously infected into the bloodstream. Black metal often presents itself as a burning cross on your front porch, the music’s rough aggression a flame whose heat you can practically feel by proximity. Black to Comm is looking to move post-noise, but he needn’t forget to bring along noise’s carnal materiality. Alphabet 1968 is, at times, quite a disturbingly lovely and hauntingly disarrayed painting, but one rarely feels like they are trapped inside the picture frame and living in the landscape.