Stephen O’Malley & z’ev – Magisterial
My thoughts regarding this album are (as they have been for many of O’Malley’s recent releases) somewhat conflicted. Though it is far from a resounding failure (as I believe neither artist capable of creating such a thing), it is also (arguably) not as polished or accomplished as his recent releases and collaborations. Initially, I was interested in discovering more information about this album when I realized that, unlike the previous Sunn O)))/Boris “Altar” album, it was receiving very little promotion outside of O’Malley’s website (whereas the former album has gone a long way in powering the rocket-fueled ascent of promotion that Southern Lord now rides, for better or for worse).
Although I had assumed that the material from both parties would be new, it turns out that z’ev’s percussive contributions to the album were recorded between 1982 and 1990. While the age of the recordings does not make itself immediately apparent, due to the nature of the production, it is somewhat disappointing when you ponder how awesome it would have been to have z’ev pair a recent performance with Stephen O’Malley’s guitar work (O’Malley’s eight minute guitar solo, which is radically altered and deconstructed during the album, was recorded December 2005). The file names themselves are also quite strange, and while I might be mistaken, I believe that the titles represent the song length, the section of the guitar solo the song manipulates, and the status of the submix z’ev altered before they were again mixed and mastered by Randall Dunn and Mell Dettmer (respectively).
“Magisterial” is a very experimental and atmospheric album, more in line with the recent releases by KTL than anything Sunn O))) has created. The tracks themselves are more or less homogeneous in nature, although there is a bit of variety within each track. Consisting of echoing industrial-esque drones, hazy washes of synths or feedback, and the underlying rumble of O’Malley’s guitar, the phrase that comes to mind when describing this album is “lost at sea”. While it may seem a strange phrase to use, it also seems the most appropriate as well. The songs do not have any sort of underlying structure to them, instead, they seem to slowly evolve as electronic tones rise and fall, like the uneasy waves of a turbulent sea. Meanwhile, z’ev virtually attacks his percussive set with seeming abandon, sometimes indulging the listener with a semi-rhythm, only to brutally cut it short a few moments later. This furthers the feeling of being assaulted by the storm.
This is far from a bad album, but the somewhat lo-fi and improvisational nature of the recordings limits it’s accessibility somewhat (this might have been intentional). For those who crave comparisons, I would venture the opinion that “Magisterial” is, sonically, somewhat similar in nature to the early experimental-percussion trio Nachtluft (although there are many differences from that band as well). If you are a fan of experimental percussive industrial and do not mind devoting some time to acclimating yourself to the record, then you will find a gem in “Magisterial”.
PS I included a recent performance by z’ev in the review to give readers a ‘general’ idea of what z’ev’s percussive performance sounds like (although, in the album, as stated earlier, it is quite a bit more improvisational in nature).