IRM – Virgin Mind
Five years is a long time between album releases. Many changes can occur, and many did for the power electronic’s duo IRM. Consisting of Martin Bladh and Erik Jarl, they created the highly regarded (at least, within the underground noise scene) album “Oedipus Dethroned”, noted for it’s quasi-religious overtones, unique vocals, and intense noise structures. Erik Jarl would later go on to release several solo albums under various names, while Martin Bladh would venture into performance art, solo albums, collaborations with various musicians, and films. This album, their latest, was released in 2005 in a limited edition of 1000, marked an extreme shift from their previous efforts.
Virgin Mind is a massive two-LP set, with five of the songs over ten minutes long (although they are far from overstretched). Whereas their previous albums briefly entertained various concepts beyond their established formula (pulsing bass, squeaks/hiss, and distorted/watery vocals), this album vastly enhances the sense of exploration. The album itself, far from being merely a “power electronics” album, incorporates many different elements of industrial, power electronics, dark ambient, noise, and even several spoken word segments, merging into a fascinating sort of avant-garde. This is further reinforced by the fact that the “movements” (as it were) flow from song ending to the next song’s beginning. An emphasis is placed on performance and musicianship over their previous albums emphasis on mood, atmosphere, and ambience. Yet these are also highly evocative works: the music is multi-dimensional when listening to it. Even the more minimal of the tracks have several details that unveil themselves with repeated listens, and the more “upfront” songs (such as the awesome “Aktion Anthem”) have many, many intricate elements to them.
It is difficult to write a concise summary on the vast quantity of different sounds present within the two albums. In short, it can be said that “Virgin Mind” is a reflection on the accumulated musical experiences and maturation of Martin Bladh and Erik Jarl, while leaving behind all but the most fundamental aspects of earlier IRM work. The “noise” elements, once highly synthetic, now acquire a ringing, metallic overtone to the majority of them (perhaps reflecting on the nature of their previous live performances). Yet the “noise” and “industrial clamor” is almost secondary to the many other sounds found within. The previously stated “Aktion Anthem” contains not only noise elements, but what sound like distorted violin passages writhing against synthesizer ambience. “Love Chamber I” contains a sombre synth drone with oscillating/panning stereo effects and a consistent (non-distorted) bass drum hit. “My Mother” resumes with a stuttering noise assault, which introduces clanging metal percussion (ala Einsturzende Neubauten, to a limited degree). This continues onward with “Silver Bells”, which has a shimmering layer of feedback as rumbling echoes uneasily in the back of the mix. This continues for five minutes until arriving at the album stand out track: The Actor. A solitary drone of some sort (unfortunately it is not easy to describe other than the fact that it fits the song perfectly) repeats itself as a voice whispers cryptic assertions regarding his perceptions “upon the stage”. Thankfully, there is no processing here, so it can be understood perfectly:
Behind the mirror that is me
Waits an audience to be entertained.
Red light right, red light left.
I’m not a bleak charade, sucking to breath
For my admirers.
First, oxygen. Second, hydrien (?).
Third…final, breathe in.
It takes multiple efforts to reach the concrete in front of me.
The floor in front of my mirror is a stage.
I’m an actor: Pathetic, drunk.
Doing cheap tricks to get your attention.
All around me lies the corpses of birds,
The skeletal insects.
Did they come from inside of me?
I think they did.
Killed themselves in the kamikaze of light.
Against me, the filthy glass.
I’m always dressed-up in a stage costume.
I made it myself.
Bird-skin sewn shirt (?) covered with blisters.
I’m crawling like an insect, burned by the stage light.
Wings useless, spastic.
Underneath my skin sheets, the surrounding room becomes a blur.
Spaces reek…closing in.
Outside, the audience, they laugh (?).
Raptured by my stage presence.
Feeding themself through my impotence.
They know who’s the greatest…desirable…original…huge.
I know I’m good…I must be good.
My audience loves me.
No one can do them like I do.
(lyrics transcribed by ChandlerN, so there may be one or two mistakes)
In my opinion, it is no exaggeration to confidently state that this album is valuable by this track in itself. It is that awesome, compelling, and fascinating. Yet there is still more to uncover. “Birth’s Mark Of Cruelty” and “The Nervescales” are two ten-minute compositions, the first consisting of static bursts, strange wailing feedback and screams, along with violent industrial clanging, loud synthetic drones, and a fevered ranting towards the end of the song (which seems like a different voice from the one which is usually featured) while the second is more of a nod towards their earlier albums (especially their “Four Studies…” EP) with lonely trumpets, bells, dark ambient pulses, and screamed vocals, with a crashing crescendo of guitar effects noise as an effective closer to the first disc.
Incredibly, I have only written about the first disc. The second disc continues onward with various permutations of the concepts established on the first disc. Stand-out tracks include the highly abrasive “Umbic Burns”, the subdued and contemplative “Revelation: Pure”, and the thundering last track “Sebastian”, featuring highly distorted and amplified piano (I am assuming that it is some sort of piano, anyway).
The hype that can be found about the album is true. This album represents an astonishing leap forward for IRM and the musicians involved. Needless to say, this album is an excellent mix of industrial avant-garde, mainly focused in industrial noise, but effectively venturing out into several other genres. Not much else can be said except that I give it my highest recommendations.
Get this album. Do whatever it takes. It’s that good.