Review Summary: a nightmarish desert of a release that somehow overtakes the invasion of Iraq in terms of its chilling atmosphere and malevolence in the midst of its minimalism
At first glance, it wouldn’t be difficult to mistake Blackest Ever Black for a label that is charmingly tongue-in-cheek or poking fun at themselves with an overly-serious demeanor. But “fun” and “charming” aren’t words in BEB’s dictionary. How could they be, when label-starter Todd Burns offers this
explanation behind the label’s inception? “[Why?], for the same reasons that anyone ever started something of personal significance: guilt, envy, revenge,” he says (assumably with a stolid, icy stare). Though the recent UK startup has grown to represent more than a few artists and records, Vatican Shadow’s release Iraqi Praetorian Guard
is the most paradigmatic of the bunch that I’ve heard. The industrial synth project is enigmatic and sure to induce anxiety, leaving listeners equal parts impressed and disturbed. Influenced heavily by older industrial and created through a modern techno lens, Praetorian Guard
is a feat made all the more impressive with its minimal tonal and sonic palette.
Dominick Fernow may have been wholly inspired by America’s invasion of the Middle East; but that seems far too specific for the fluid borders of the minimalist sonic landscapes crafted herein. Either way, the sound of Iraqi Praetorian Guard
is decidedly evil-- a more perfect term does not apply. From track to track Fernow crafts textural deserts, like the middle bulk of “Gunmen With Silencer,” that haunt listeners with moody, fading synth and a drudging, percussive background. The artist has mentioned that, alongside the obvious influence of 80’s industrial, he’s been very influenced by doom. It shows. Still, the true deftness of Iraqi Praetorian Guard
is in its potency.
For instance, “Church Of All Images,” the B-Side and remix by Regis is the absolute epitome of the record; beginning with overlapping tribal percussion and bizarre gurgling. The concoction slowly builds to an anxious crescendo and sizzles away in every direction when the synths boil over the top. Sinister and riveting, Praetorian Guard
achieves an impressive amount of weight and persona through minimal textures and shades; though it’s only an EP’s worth of material, it makes its mark in my mind as one of 2012’s most complete and finished listens, leaving no room for question or doubt.