Collaborations can be a weird thing because sometimes you get exactly what you expect, and sometimes the results are totally unpredictable. There is good and bad in both types of results, and really what matters is how the music sounds and how it affects you.
I had some grandiose ideas of what Ensemble Pearl might sound like before encountering their self-titled debut album, being that important members of Sunn 0))), Boris, and Ghost (the Japanese version … not the Swedes in the robes) comprise the lineup, and they all have very similar and very different approaches to doom, drone, and other realms of dark noise. Would this be a battle of wills, where all the things these artists do so well battle against each other for supremacy? Would one style rule out, with the rest following? Would they do something entirely unexpected and come up with a sound no one could have expected from this band? The answer to all of these is no.
The sum of all these parts actually kind of blend together on this album. No one comes out as an undisputed leader, and while you can hear parts of every artist’s work coming alive here, these traits act as teammates, helping make the entire picture into something coherent and exhilarating. Despite no curveballs being tossed and no crazy weird bends and jerks present, the album is enjoyable for its flow, its sound, and its personality. It just sounds like a perfect mix of all of these artists, and devotees of any of these bands whose members are involved should find plenty to like.
Now, about those players. You have the mighty Stephen O’Malley of Sunn 0))), whose fog and doom leadership is here to lend a hand through the murk. You also have Atsuo, drummer, leader, and sometimes singer for Boris, and Michio Kurihara, who plays with Boris but is better known for his work with Ghost. Finally there is Bill Herzog, who plays with acts such as Jesse Sykes and the Sweet Hereafter, who fits in nobly and frighteningly, adding more black chaos to the storm. Together they enter the fog a formidable unit, and they come out the other side mightier yet charred.
“Ghost Parade” is your murky, shadowy opener, a track that unfurls slowly and with a certain purpose, and in the midst of this slithering chaos are powerful gong strikes, abrasive guitar work, and noise squalls that cut through any sense of calm. “Painting on a Corpse” you may have heard online already, and it opens with simmering keys that lead into deliberately paced drumming, a deathrock feel behind the wall of sound, and trippy, psychedelic pockets that sound like Kurihara exercising his demonic will. “Wray” is dreary and dreamy, with more quiet than you might expect and a tone that will make you want to stare at the sky and slip away.
Then the epics slip into the hallway and begin to envelop you. “Island Epiphany” is 12:45 long of smoking, sweltering drone and doom heaviness, sometimes boiling over and threatening your well-being, other times giving way to spiritual weirdness and dusty melodies similar to those we get from modern-day Earth. “Giant” is 10:16, and its main trait is a noise rush that sounds like an airplane engine ramping into gear and winding down, giving you the sense that you’re soaring one minute, getting ready to fall face first into the crust of the Earth from 20,000 feet in the air the next. There is plenty of psychedelic drone and mystical transmissions throughout the song, and it really gets into your head and makes you explore your surroundings, both mentally and physically. Closer “Sexy Angle” is 19:50 and really doesn’t feel half that long. Drums begin a ricochet and stay in pace through the whole song, forming a spine the other sounds are allowed to wrap around. Bent notes, surfy guitars, noise whines, and feedback interference makes up the rest of the picture and color in the spaces. It’s a rock-solid, steadily paced piece that’s a perfect ending to a thoroughly satisfying record.
I’m not sure if this band will stick around for the long haul or if this ends up being a short collaboration, but whatever the case, this self-titled debut is worth the time and money. It’s mesmerizing, chilling, dark, and monstrous, and it’s possible it’ll relax you and soothe you at the same time. This sounded like a promising project from the time it was announced, and the record delivers on every bit of that excitement. Here’s hoping there is more to come.
For more on the band, go here: http://www.dragcity.com/artists/ensemble-pearl
To buy the album, go here: http://www.dragcity.com/products/ensemble-pearl
For more on the label, go here: http://www.dragcity.com/