The journey of Dana Schechter with Insect Ark has been defined by change and evolution. Known from her tenure with Angels of Light and Gnaw and having worked with Swans and Arabrot, it’s no surprise that Schechter’s vision is one defined by an openness to experimentation. So, Insect Ark began as a solo vehicle, dealing in the ambient and ethereal realm. A series of EPs highlighted by an abstract flow of heavy ideas led to the act’s 2015 debut record, Portal/Well.
That’s also when change arrived for Insect Ark, with Schechter enlisting drummer Ashley Spungin and releasing a very potent record in Marrow Hymns. Insect Ark gained form with the inclusion of a drummer, and Schechter’s ethereal notions became heavier. Now, the combination of a doom metal weight with the psychedelic rock backbone indeed came together. What follows is even more impressive with 2020’s The Vanishing, with Andy Patterson of Subrosa replacing Spungin, finding Insect Ark at their peak. The structures feel even more solid, while the psychedelic touch traverses further into the dream realm.
Now Insect Ark return once more as Schechter’s solo project, releasing a new EP. Future Fossils is a very different offering from what we have come to know from Insect Ark. Here, much of the instrumentation is removed, with Schechter traveling back to minimal beginnings. The signature bass guitar and lap steel guitar are absent, as is the percussion (for the most part). The focus is no longer on heavy music but instead on the dark ambient atmospherics. The call of the ethereal is potent, and these songs live up to the challenge. Yet, they are all achieved in divergent ways.
It is all about space and its exploration. This is a work of cinematic scope, one that draws sonic images through the chameleonic nature of the synthesizer. “Oral Thrush” quickly introduces this concept, as the relaxed progression is soon elevated to create a dark, alien landscape. Having mastered the concepts of progression and deconstruction, the track details a journey through a dreamlike realm. Crystalline sounds appear elegant and precious in their appearance but causing an oppressive sense. It’s not an easy listen; there is much darkness here, and Schechter is determined to explore it further.
The disorientation that follows with “Gypsum Blade” is magnificent, with the synthesizers taking on a minimal, liquid-like form. It feels like you are transported to a dark lake on a not very trusted boat at night. Darkness envelops you, and you are left at the mercy of the elements. For the most part, the trip does not take a turn for the worse, but an ominous feeling defines it. And so, we come to the end of this triptych with a quite different offering in “Anopsian Volta”. Here, there’s the added sense of sentimentality. The piano appears and unveils some soothing melodies that drive through the dark ambient core. The darkness isn’t lifted, though; neither is the noir-esque view, but the sense of melancholy and solitude shine throughout.
The second part of Future Fossils features an old improvisation between Schechter and Spungin, performed live. “Gravitrons” appears more like a deconstructed version of Insect Ark. The lap guitar is present, as are the drums, but both are sparser. Single notes echo in the distance, and only cymbals fill the space with their sharp quality. But once again, it’s the noise and synths that drive the endeavor. For an improvisation performed back in 2016, it’s stunning to see how well it fits with the previous triptych. A pulse-like noise defines the pace, as further elements appear in the hazy background. The long-form nature of the session and the duration allows for Insect Ark to fully explore this offering. It provides a further processional and ritualistic element to the fold and a terrifying descent to the abyss. The ebbs and flows feel natural, the progression is definite, and the abstract concepts perfectly tie it all.
Future Fossils is an exciting direction for Schechter, especially following such a strong record in The Vanishing. Even though elements of this approach have been present in Insect Ark’s past offerings, they have never been the project’s focal point. But here, despite the absence of their traditional instrumentation, Future Fossils still manages to contain all the elements of Schechter’s vision. The heavy manifestations, be it the oppressive crystalline synths or the noise pulse, and the dreamlike sceneries, the abstracted forms, and the attention to the atmosphere. They all make for a powerful work, which shows Insect Ark’s versatility.