Thursday, 25 September 2014

Review: Wold, Postsocial (Profound Lore)

Despite the deliberately obscure nature of their (relatively few) press releases, the origins of Sean Campbell’s Wold project can be traced to the Saskatchewan plains, and the industrial city of Moose Jaw, Canada. Lying nearly a thousand miles from the coast, this remote spot was where Campbell (or Fortress Crookedjaw, as he is usually credited) released his first self-titled CDr back in 2001. Over the course of four subsequent full-lengths, culminating in the appropriately-titled Working Together For Our Privacy, Campbell developed a hybrid form of tape music and black metal as forbidding (and seemingly hermetic) as the pre-live catalogue of Jandek’s Corwood Industries. The fifth Wold album, Freermasonry, received considerably more attention in Europe than its predecessors, as Stephen O’Malley oversaw a pressing on his Ideologic Organ label, the cacophonous slab of vinyl having been cut in Berlin by Rashad Becker.

At the midpoint of its central track, through a thick fog of third-generation cassette noise, Postsocial (momentarily) presents the listener with the rudiments of an electric guitar solo. That this comes as such a surprise demonstrates the gulf that Sean Campbell has put between his Wold project and the forms of metal practised by his professed heroes, British bands such as Judas Priest or Venom. It was a 1982 release from the latter, of course, that gave the name to the entire genre, but Campbell seems determined to take nothing from subsequent black metal but its sheer volume, along with a devoted fascination for the sound of some seriously degraded media. While William Basinski’s work with deteriorating loops of tape can be profoundly elegiac, Wold’s fifth album resembles a Darkthrone or Mayhem cassette that has been bootlegged without mercy, smudging riffs and lyrics into a cacophonous and indistinguishable whole.

It is worth asking whether Postsocial ought to be classed as metal at all. Lacking the verse patterning (and discernable instrumentation) of Southern Lord’s formidable grindcore acts (such as Nails), the album also stands apart from more ‘civilised’ avant-metal LPs (such as Monoliths & Dimensions, with its clear nods to Alice Coltrane and Miles Davis). Indeed, last year’s Gravetemple residency at Oto saw even Attila Csihar himself nudged into a kosmiche jazz mould, with O’Malley and Ambarchi deploying drones and cymbal brushes rather than feedback and nosebleeds. By combining his own structural innovations with such extremes of sonic violence, Campbell has thus sketched out a hybrid form of tape music and experimental metal quite unlike the work of his southern contemporaries.

And yet there remains that glorious (and rather goofy) guitar solo, looming into place halfway through “Five Points.” This idiosyncratic moment, placed at the dead centre of the album, gladly reminds the listener that they are not listening to a lost study by Pierre Schaeffer, or even Merzbow. Postsocial is not a lesson in tape music; it is also a concept album to rival Judas Priest, constructed around an aural pentagram and hosted by Campbell’s alter-ego, Fortress Crookedjaw. It may seem paradoxical for a record so defined by excess – both conceptual and acoustic – but Wold’s latest ultimately works best as an exercise in radical subtraction. Over the course of 45 cacophonous minutes, the album erases almost everything that has come to define the subgenre, from solos and screeches to blast beats and amplifiers, until we are left with nothing but the monstrous rumbling of tape itself.


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