Review Summary: Demdike Stare continue to play the role of graverobbers with this latest collection of midnight vigils and spiritual serenades
By proxy were Demdike Stare lumped into the same category with the spooky and malignant techno that lit up the internet at the beginning of the decade with references to covens, black cats, pointy hats and all other mannerisms of mythical playthings. But where there was a gimmick, a focal point designed specifically to heighten the ambiguity, here was the real thing: music born out of mist and drone, from the absence of light and all that dwell in the darkness. If the entire realm of the “found footage” genre of film works because of its humble premise, its documentation of something that could be, conceivably
realistic, then this is surely the aural equivalent: the sounds of a blood-soaked history dug up centuries later – “found sound” if you will. Over the course of four LPs (three of which were re-packaged into the really rather excellent Tryptich
compilation), Demdike Stare have slowly evolved from ambient field recording, through ill-at-ease techno and throbbing, sinister dub, and have arrived at a point somewhere between proto-industrial, dark ambient and tribal ritual. As an ensemble of four recent EPs, Elemental
shares many commonalities with Tryptich
: both are sprawling, massive paragons of mystery, fear and dark arts. This is not the soundtrack to the things that go bump in the night; perhaps more frightening is the realization that this is the work of the things that instead, bump back.
As a comparison Elemental
is the lesser of the two compilations; whereas Tryptich
acted as a document, a re-telling of Demdike’s subtle yet revelatory evolution, Elemental
is less a thematic piece and more a scattershot look at the various roles the English duo has habitually filled throughout the last couple of years. There’s no strings of narrative flux to wind this nearly-two hour nightmare together, instead it’s a seemingly random yet equally haunting series of blurry images and walks down twisting, turning, creaking tunnels that bind the album in some sort of nightmarish continuity. While comparisons are easily attainable, Demdike approach their craft in a much more despicable fashion, obtaining a much more frenzied, more insistent uneasiness than most. They treat their sound in the same auspicious and frightening way that night turns the most familiar and basic of items into dark shapes of unrecognizable malevolence. The catch here is that while Tryptich
found the duo somewhat adhering to something bordering on convention, here they abandon any and all sense of familiarity, plunging headfirst into the gravely unsettling void of the unknown.
In the past Demdike have found themselves drawing comparisons to labelmate Andy Stott, and while Stott’s more recent “knackered house” output has been filled with the same apocalyptic air of destruction and echo-laden reverb as Stare’s more drone-laden output, the relation is more an act of compromise, of circumspect interpretation created as a way of uninitiated exploration. In terms of navigation, Demdike certainly utilize the same tropes as their more frantic counterparts, but here it’s drawn down into a netherworld, slowed down to the point of liquefaction, of oozing malignance. Throbbing dub-laden bass and scratchy kick drums are now re-envisioned as the sounds of a mythical behemoth slowly traversing a frozen tundra of unimaginable bleakness, its belly scraping the frosted wasteland. As a result of this more threatening take on something so normally inviting they transform the acceptable into something truly electrifying and suitably dangerous: ‘Unction’ is the sound of that rhythmic beast, determinedly churning on and on, while ‘Erosion of Mediocrity’ turns that lumbering death march into a stampede, a reverie for the end of the world. ‘Shade’ for all intents and purposes is a reprieve of sorts, those few moments after the end where nothing exists except for the ringing in your ears and a few fragments of vision that may or may not burn with the frightening realization of clarity.
At the same time though do Demdike also treat Elemental
as a vehicle for perhaps their most effective genre-baiting yet: ‘Mnemosyne’ is the closest the duo have come to treating rhythm as an out and out weapon, latching onto the tribal anarchistic density that Shackleton made famous all those years ago when Skull Disco still operated as a kind of ‘Carry On…’ for bass worship. ‘Metamorphosis’ is the kind of haunted ambient field recording that could effectively work as a Burial piece were it transmuted through his typical hero worship, and even though Elemental
saves its best for last, both ‘We Have Already Died’ and ‘Ishmael’s Intent’ are only a step or two shy of rubbing shoulders with Exit Records at their most hypnotic, and Sandwell District at their most urgent. It’s in those moments where the rampant comparisons begin to make the most sense, and the strange thing is it’s a color that somewhat suits the outfit, even if in those final moments the ties are treated as nothing more than a rejuvenation, a cleansing of the mind, body and soul after the harrowing journey that led to them.
isn’t quite on par with their earlier material (more than a few tracks here are simply nothing more than feedback loops, as if the group were deliberately trying to sound scary instead of just simply being scary), as a whole package it’s still a genuinely disturbing yet fascinating experience from two men truly caught up in a dialogue that only they seem to be able to hear. While at just under two hours does the inspiration and the imagination begin to run just a little ragged and thin, Demdike Stare are still leagues above anyone else attempting the same kind of sweat-inducing dread terror they seem to carry around with them.