Stephen O’Malley and Peter Rehberg joined together to create background music for the theatrical production “Kindertotenlieder”. One contributed guitars and the other contributed electronics. While these songs were not actually used in the production itself, they are supposedly created from those aesthetic elements.

Strangely enough, the best song is also the first: the lengthy “Estranged”. To me, the many elements within the song: the buzzing electronics (reminiscent of insects), the underlying drone and synthetic washes of sound (which could be anything from the silence of the forest to the underlying menace and mysteriousness any larger forest naturally exudes) very naturally conjure up images of a dark forest. O’Malley’s sparse guitar improvisation, by contrast, could represent the “estrangement” of the listener. Wandering through the forest aimlessly, making sudden turns and detours because there is no clear way of keeping track of where you have been. The clear guitar tone is also a welcome change, as it portrays melencholic overtones as well as sounding vaguely mournful. It is, in short, one of the best “ambient” songs I have heard in a long time, and (in my opinion) is a large part of why some will claim that this is akin to “ambient offshoot isolationism” (though I confess that I am unfamiliar with Lull or Final’s early work).

The majority of the album is taken up by the four-part “Forest Floor” suite (this is also where the “new form of black metal” is to be found).”Forestfloor 1″ opens with O’Malley’s patented low-end guitar with dischordant mid-range guitar riffing pulsing in the center of the mix. Just as quickly, however, comes Peter Rehburg’s hissing electronics, flittering back and forth throughout both speaker channels. The lo-fi guitars do not change much beyond the initial pattern played, though the low-end guitars slowly evolve as the electronic elements wax and wane in intensity, with occasional guitar feedback squealing like a dying animal (or machine) towards the end.

“Forestfloor 2” see Rehburg’s industrial machinery take on a more rhythmic nature (almost sounding like mechanical frogs or boars). Sonically similar to the first track (and the two after this one), it distinguishes itself by having a feeling of malice and menace to it (as opposed to the foreboding nature of the first track). The mid-range guitars are also pushed much further back in the mix, as opposed to being very noticeable in the first track. Less variation on the electronics, though. Thankfully, creepy organic noises are introduced ten minutes in (along with more guitar feedback), saving the song from musical stagnation (although it could be argued that by then it’s too little, too late). A break at 11:00 minutes is a nice transition from the previous homogenous cacaphony. Eventually, all that remains is broken riffing and a half-hearted buzzing, as if the song itself is dying from the inside.

The third section of the “Forestfloor” begins with an amplified version of the buzz originally heard at the end of the second song, along with drone guitars that seem to be even further detuned and low-pitch than the first two sections. This track appears to have a bit more echoing involved, and the electronics sound like animals, clouds, wind, and insects (often at the same time). But these are not pleasant elements of nature; instead, they are enraged and violent, both at each other and at any individual foolish enough to stumble into their domain.

Finally, “Forestfloor 4” features a blazing black metal riff (with actual progression) prominently towards the beginning of the song. Rehburg slowly creeps in with digitized (and slightly understated) growls which pan back and forth.

KTL lets the listener down gently with “Snow”. Opening with echoing clanking and strange whistling, along with the occasional bass hum. Insect chatter slowly crawls up after six minutes. It swiftly builds in intensity, while various guitar FX are used (while it sounds like O’Malley is physically striking the guitar). On the whole, it is peculiar, unobtrusive, and somewhat unremarkable.

Is this really black metal? Well, in my opinion I would classify this as something else altogether. Although I will give credit for O’Malley for inadvertently pointing out a painfully clear fact: that far too much self-parody exists within the black metal genre for it to be taken seriously. In a sense, black metal needs avant-garde productions like this in order to keep the more discenring listeners around for more than just a cursory listen (although it is important to note that, while black metal may need KTL, KTL in no way needs the ‘black label’ moniker). While I somewhat chafed at the lack of variation at certain points in the album, it thankfully never became more than a minor nagging point.

While at first I was somewhat unimpressed, a few more times listening to the entire album and I began to appreciate some of the subtle nuances in KTL. Peter Rehberg, in my mind, is the star of the show. While O’Malley obviously provides the meat and potatoes in most of the songs, it is Rehberg’s various electronic and industrial elements which provide that special flair to the songs. While sometimes they are more effective than others (comparing “Forestfloor 3” to “Forestfloor 2”), they always, somehow, perfectly complement the elements O’Malley is adding. Given the satisfactory nature of this album, I look forward to someday hearing “KTL 2”. Although I am not the biggest fan of (what could be argued as) Stephen O’Malley’s posturing on many of his more recent releases (such as that of the just-released Grave Temple Trio album: “Me and Greg and a few other guys played in Israel even though our families told us not to!”), it is the unavoidable truth that he (along with his collaborators) are slowly making waves within their respective subgenres, changing them radically (hopefully for the better).

Peter Rehberg (Pita, KTL, etc.)

Ideologic (SOMA)
Editions Mego (Label)
Aurora Borealis (Label)

~ by John Lithium on May 19, 2007.

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