Rangda is still playing on its established order-chaos dichotomy. But it brings those seemingly distant poles closer together than they've ever been on this record.
On their own, musicians Sir Richard Bishop, Ben Chasny, and Chris Corsano aren't ones to sit still. All three seem to always have some project or another going -- hell, Chasny has a record from another project, Coypu, out the same day as the record we're about to talk about -- so it's somewhat amazing that they have managed to make three records together. But here we are with their latest and best album, The Heretic's Bargain.
The album doesn't necessarily deviate from the map laid out by False Flag and Formerly Extinct. Lots of huge, tumbling hooks traded between Bishop and Chasny. The unpredictability of Corsano's drumming leading to an inevitably groove. Sound structures collapse into improvised shards of sound. But even as the elements feel similar, the effect on The Heretic's Bargain feels wholly different from its predecessors. The rougher edges of False Flag have been shined and sharpened. The weight of Formerly Extinct has been traded for an astral plane kind of romping.
Opener "To Melt the Moon" grits its teeth at first, blasting to life on rolling snares and a buzzing low hook, but the song opens up quickly, sprinting along on rundown hooks that hint at some Eastern influences but also erupt into some sort of gonzo surf rock. It's a song that's far more wide-open than it first seems. It never quite holds its shape, wandering off into solos and scraped out spaces before returning, again and again, to that opening blast. It's perhaps the best meshing of the band's tight rock aesthetic with its improvisational impulses.
The first half of the record builds on that song's approach, with the churning immediacy of "The Sin Eaters" and low rumble of "Spiro Agnew". On earlier records, the latter track may have dug its claws into the earth, or gone scuffing around in its own dark corners. Here, though, Bishop and Chasny help Corsano build a sinister rhythm, and then start launching off of it into big, searing tangles of notes. The song always has a riff in mind, but Bishop and Chasny twist and distort those riffs from hooks into rusted yet shining barbs. As on "To Melt the Moon", the song threatens to fall apart but the center, beautifully, always holds.
The second half of the record is where Rangda finally unleashes its full arsenal of improvised sound. As the song titles stretch out ("Hard Times Befall the Door-to-Door Glass Shard Salesman"), so do the songs themselves. The relative order of "Spiro Agnew" gives way to chaotic howling of guitars and Chris Corsano whipping up fills and crashing cymbals, shifting from rock traditions to call to mind the likes of Tony Williams and Billy Cobham, if for a moment. The miraculous thing here is how the tracks finds its patience. The storm of sound threatens to upend the album's careful balance, but the song's quieter, more pensive second half rights the ship. It also makes space for the 19-minute closer, "Monday's Are Free at the Hermetic Museum". This final, epic track is maybe Rangda's best moment to date. It starts slow, with the slow blooming glow of feedback, the distant hum of a scraped string or two, the carefully, barely struck note. The song eventually comes to life on a beautiful, twin-attack hook that Corsano doesn't add rhythm to so much as plays right along with it. On the song, the guitars and drums seem to work side by side, each a part somehow of both melody and rhythm. The middle of the song opens up for some off-kilter guitar vamps and crashing drums, before hollowing out to let the hook back in.
There's a circular nature to the song and, in fact, to all of The Heretic's Bargain. Rangda has been, to this point, about extremes, and this album still plays on the band's order-chaos dichotomy. But it brings those seemingly distant poles closer together than they've ever been. Rangda, whether within or outside of fixed structures, have always worked best when some sort of restraint was the main tension. The loudest bits of noise here excite, but they aren't quite as affecting as the space they leave behind. It's in that space that the album does most of its great work, which is how this trio has managed to follow two fascinating record with another big step forward.