This reissue from Translation Loss brings one of the more interesting collaborations, which I feel it was a bit forgotten in time. Byla, the ambient/noise project of Kevin Hufnagel and Colin Marston, both of Dysrhythmia and Gorguts, might not have released a plethora of material but made their presence felt with an excellent self-titled debut album and this collaboration. On the other hand, we also have Jarboe, the legendary vocalist of no-wave icons Swans, who really needs no introduction. In Viscera this trio explores a world filled with noise, as Byla use their impressive guitar work to produce the imposing soundscapes while Jarboe’s vocals stand at the center of this magnificent storm.
What I found so interesting about Byla was the manner in which Marston and Hufnagel used guitars to create this noise/ambient sound. It is something that one does not encounter so often in noise records, with some obvious exceptions like Yellow Swans. That is not surprising, however, as both guitarists possess an uncanny knowledge of their main instrument and understand its intricacies to an impressive depth. The result from this process is an impressive wall of sound approach, which becomes the main force of Viscera.
Even though these soundscapes do offer a prolonged repetition, there is the illusion of a strange evolution taking place over time. The static manifestation is altered through breaks of black metal-esque guitar work that switch the overall motif. Harmonizing melodies are also introduced within this dark background and offer a brighter, dissonant drop from the wall of sound mode. But, the one element that remains unchanged is the intensity with which this sonic vision is structured, and through the record Byla and Jarboe keep pushing the sound and the listener beyond their breaking points, creating moments filled with a singular energy and intensity.
On the other hand, Jarboe produces some stunning vocal deliveries, making Viscera an even darker offering. From simple notions, as the breathing that kicks off the record, the various manifestations that her voice takes in this album is something simply astounding. At times her vocals appear buried under the heavy guitars, adding a more claustrophobic element to the already asphyxiating ambiance of this record. Coming from the bottom of some unearthly well, Jarboe sounds like a tormented spirit, echoing through the dark corridors of Viscera. In a different way, the more extreme tone that she takes on the third track is a force to be reckoned with, creating a hellish mantra that perfectly combines with the heavy wall of sound. It becomes one of the most extreme rides of the record, with the track remaining almost unchanging from start to finish. It makes the result sound like an infinitely long string is being pushed beyond its breaking point, but it never actually breaks. There is no catharsis here, just constant agony.
But, despite the overall aggressive tone and overwhelming quality of this work, Viscera is not a record without a mellower side. Byla and Jarboe offer a few moments of respite in the form of a few short breaks to smooth out the ride. In a more folky, atmospheric tone, Hufnagel and Marston unleash some soothing guitar lines, which arrive with an almost romantic undertone. The fourth track sees a similar approach, and when the guitars combine with Jarboe’s clean delivery, they create a mesmerizing effect with an underlying folksy quality.
Considering the current experimental scene it feels as if Viscera was released a bit too early. Back in 2007 the metal scene, with which Hufnagel, Marston, and Jarboe have strong ties, found an allure in the post-metal and drone approaches rather than the noise and ambient investigations. That could have made Viscera fly a bit under the radar at that time, but a re-listen today exposes the depth and quality of the original release.