This is why I set a deadline of posting every week. A week has gone by, and I still haven’t gotten around to it yet. I can’t pass up trying to review this album, because it is quite a strange beast. Thantifaxath are a band based out of Toronto, and Sacred White Noise is their first full-length album. Dark Descent advertise them as an ambient black metal trio, but I know I’ll get in trouble on this blog for using that label.
The first track on this album is the highlight for me. It starts with a really dense cacophony of sounds. I know it sounds like I try to relate everything to Ligeti, but I don’t think I’ve made that comparison for a year. Here it really applies. This starting point is a textbook example of micropolyphony. You have a ton of really rapid motion from a lot of different voices that blend into a sound mass that feels static despite the motion.
The whole song is based around the opening riff. I can’t quite tell if it is “12 tone” in the sense of using every note of the chromatic scale, but it has that feel. They actually use a technique that I used to play around with a lot. The strong beats of the measure don’t contain most of the chromatic or non-chordal tones. This gives the illusion that the chromaticism is pure embellishment and allows you to build a more traditional sounding song around it (purists will get mad at you for this because it “defeats the point of twelve-tone music” to write it in this way).
I wouldn’t quite call this song a theme and variations because the riff basically loops rather than varies. The coolest part of the song is near the end when it does change up into a slower section. The riff gets slowed down and pitch bends are introduced to replace the clean chromaticism from earlier. It is extremely different in feel, but the riff is so closely tied to the earlier part that you don’t lose the feel that it is the same idea still.
I don’t hate the second song as much as I used to. That sounds terrible, but the first few times I heard it I was shocked by how different it was to the opener. This song is basically based around a descending scale. To me it is far less interesting and creative than the first one. It turns out there’s a lot of interesting things going on more on the rhythm and time side. Still, this is my least favorite track, so I’ll leave it there.
The third track starts with a neat a capella vocal section straight out of Penderecki’s book. I’ve tried to place it in context of the songs around it, but it feels really out of place. I like the individual sections of the third song well enough on their own, but it is hard for me to understand how they coherently fit together. There are two main ideas. The first is a slow idea which consists of 6 three beat patterns followed by 2 two beat patterns (so I guess you could call it 12/8 + 10/8 or something?). This idea closes the track and builds into a nice climax.
The fast section of the third track could maybe be thought of as an inversion of the first idea. The 3 and 2 beat patterns are all ascending in the slow section. In the fast section the main pattern is a descending pattern. By ear it doesn’t sound strictly inverted or anything though. The other parts of the song are basically bridges between these two main ideas.
The fourth track is really great. It essentially consists of a simple guitar accompaniment consisting of ominous sounding chords with some electronic whooshing sounds and a creepy electric violin duet. The song evolves from a sparse and creepy sound to a much fuller sound at the end with arpeggiated guitar and drums. It ends pretty abruptly. I think it probably could have gone on quite a bit longer, since it was just starting to pick up momentum (especially since the title is “Eternally Falling”).
Rather than continuing like this for every track, I’ll shift to a more macro-level review. As you can hopefully tell, this album consists of a ton of variety. From what I’ve written you might think it is really technical or heady, but it isn’t at all. I was enjoying this album before I started thinking about any of the stuff I just wrote. This band can get really dark and heavy at times (especially in the last two tracks which I didn’t talk about) as they pull you into a mesmerizing loop that keeps building and building.
Even though some of the individual songs feel a little disjointed and there are a ton of different styles between songs, I think the overall feel and mood of the album is quite solid and coherent. There is a healthy dose of experimentation, and it doesn’t seem to be merely for the sake of standing out. The strange sounds or tonalities are always serving the purpose of leaving the listener a bit unsettled. This unsettled feeling is part of the tone that ties the album together.
The overall production quality is quite high. I imagine this is probably a sticking point for the black metal label. The guitar sounds are pretty clean and clear throughout. In fact, all pieces of the songs are pretty easy to distinguish and are carefully mixed. The playing is really tight. I’ll leave the label to whomever wants to make a guess.
Overall, I’ve been really liking this one. I give it a 9/10. Here’s a sample: