Something ominous this way comes, oozing sludge nearing your doorstep in the form of the Drag City released debut album from Ensemble Pearl. Featuring present and former members of Sunn O))) and Boris, the Ensemble’s self-titled LP overwhelms with massive creep factor rather than the pummeling guitar noise that Stephen O’Malley and Atsuo’s better established acts are known for. That said, we’re just talking about the soundtrack to a different type of horror flick, a slow-building anxiety attack that makes the skin crawl, wondering what might pop out of the mist.
Opener “Ghost Parade” sets the table a bit disingenuously at first, airy spaces left between noir-tinged chords. A few minutes later the feel of the album comes together, a distorted guitar moan escaping into the ether. Later, “Painting on a Corpse” juxtaposes an off-kilter tribal beat with a few layers of watery fuzz and pinprick bass, each washing over you at different intervals. Building to a climax of scraped cymbals and Eyvind Kang’s wailing violin, the air between the chords cramped and stale all at once. Bill Herzog and Michio Kurihara layer guitar edges like tectonic plates, pushing and pulling ad-infinitum with earthquakes and volcanoes abounding.
Atsuo’s slow-ridden tom and cymbals keep “Island Epiphany” from pulling its own seams apart, the near-13 minute track settling into a comfortable groove despite its definite ill will, a polluted river full of mutant sawtoothed fish. Twenty-minute closer “Sexy Angle” rumbles like a metallic storm front, O’Malley’s spectral angst recalling cinematic touchstones like David Lynch and a demented take on Neil Young’s Dead Man soundtrack.
Though all of this buildup of expressionist anxiety demands a steam release, Ensemble Pearl leave the pot boiling and the lid closed tight. Ensemble Pearl shifts and melds in mystery, but with an undeniable dark cast.
Essential Tracks: “Painting on a Corpse”, “Island Epiphany”, and “Sexy Angle”