The Vienna-based trio’s second LP to date, following 2013’s crushing BEB debut Licht, Crack finds Peter Rehberg (Editions Mego), Christina Nemec (comfortzone) and Christian Schachinger leaving behind the post-everything in search of their very own neo-something: a powerful alloy of extreme electroacoustic music, luminous ambience and the mineral fundaments of rock and black metal. As before, they’re staring down the void, but this time they’re looking beyond it, too, for the fissures and faultlines that might let some light in.
Opener ‘Spalt’ immediately signals a departure from the monolithic doom of Licht, conveying instead a sense of adrenalised movement, of acceleration towards an ever-receding horizon. There is no percussion, yet Nemec’s chasmic bass and Rehberg’s protean electronics insistently eddy and modulate and give rise to an unstoppable momentum. ‘Spalt’ becomes a peculiarly wracked Autobahn chase, one where you’re uncertain if you’re the pursuer or the pursued. There seems to be some promise of escape in Schachinger’s highly lyrical, spiralling guitar improvisations, which nod to Fripp and Goettsching, but Shampoo Boy’s vision of the cosmos is more hard-boiled and unforgiving than that of their forefathers. There are some furies that can’t be outrun.
If ‘Spalt’ dramatises a failed getaway then ‘Riss’ considers what happens if you do get away, only to find your hiding-place isn’t quite as safe or secure as you had presumed it would be. A trap? Certainly you’re being watched. Slow, ceremonial downstrokes suggest a return to the vast and uncanny woodland landscape in which the events of Licht unfolded. This time, though, the city impinges and intrudes upon the scene of pastoral unease: Rehberg seems to be scanning the airwaves, picking up unintelligible snatches of conversation and machine noise. These mingle with nameless natural currents to create pernicious hybrid forms, which curl and ricochet about the stereo field. Subterranean bass tones, meanwhile, seem to reverberate from an ancient and appalling source. The accumulation of noise and energy across 12 minutes becomes unbearably suspenseful; a reckoning seems inevitable. It is typical of Crack’s unorthodox Weltanschauung, however, that just when we think the game is up, we are faced not with oblivion but with potential absolution: ‘Riss’’s closing section is a gravely serene tone-painting that clearly suggests the possibility, if not certainty, of rebirth and renewal. Perhaps you can start again after all.
But of course the game isn’t up, and all roads lead to Side B: given in its entirety to the three-part ‘Bruch’, the most potent and pugilistic manifestation of Shampoo Boy’s brute psychedelia to date. Part 1 is a near-gothic assemblage of tortured computer processing, abyssal drones and stray industrial noise. This gives way to the calm but agonised concrète of Part 2; sparse, minimalist and dub-damaged, it’s the sound of Part 1’s traumas remembered through a fog of painkillers. Before long, however, the medication falters and those traumas come back in to focus: so much so, that the broiling digital synthesis and annihilating slow-motion riffage of Part 3 come as a relief. For a while the thuggish monochord attack here feels almost Stooge-ian – grungy, swaggering, sewer-savvy – but it doubles back into abstraction, subsuming itself into the Shampoo Boy’s larger, gravity-defying architectures of feedback. By this point it has become impossible to distinguish individual instruments, processes or contributions; the group mind has taken over, the third eye is on fire, and the album climaxes in a black flash of negative ecstasy.
Epic in scale, complex in mood and dazzling in technique, Crack is a momentous achievement from three improvising musicians at the height of their powers. A lived-in and emotionally-charged work, harrowing but energising, it digs deep, deep into the underworld to open up new lines of space-time enquiry. It is also a sustained achievement of arrangement and post-production remarkable even in light of its makers’ pedigree: the harshest and heaviest passages are rendered with a sense of space and richness of detail that is truly otherworldly. Russell Haswell’s astute mastering recognises and amplifies this, and the result is one of the most exhilarating and rewarding entries in the Blackest Ever Black catalogue.
3. Bruch I-III