Skullflower
Tribulation
2006
B



i come across a few records every week that hurt my ears, but Tribulation is the first album that’s actually hurt my eyes. Skullflower, Matthew Bower’s longest running project (ignoring a few sabbaticals), are punishment incarnate and this nine-track accumulation of blasting strobe-like guitar/pedal feedback is like being pelted with well-timed bricks. Tribulation ploughs a path through cracked granite and thundercloud sounds using a burnt throat, feedback, and punishing concussive riffage. It’s a pointless exercise listening to this in any kind of comfortable environment, as you might as well be strapped in a dentist’s chair with blades whirring in front of your pupils for all the calm you’ll find. Tribulation spends so long scorching the high-end that it’s probably capable of evaporating water.

Bower’s agenda is set out early on with the fuck-an-intro assault of “Lost in the Blackened Gardens of Some Vast Star.” Barely recognizable guitar parts are bulged and bashed into a ragged black ceremony, the sound of a lunatic asylum’s Catholic Mass at wine time. This is Skullflower’s speciality, a forced string noise smudged with Brillo and boiling marmalade till it reaches a seething mass of frantically articulated feedback. Like its predecessor Total, the Skullflower incarnation is an aggressively minded one, wordlessly expressive in its focused venom.

It’s possible to spot facets of doom metallicisms on “Void of Roses,” but you’re bound to—Bower was a pioneer of these elements. The utterly unhealthy “Dwarf Thunderbolt” has black church tolling guitar drowning in unholy looping waves. The feedback swarms the recognisable parts like bats with their sonar turned into silent deafening screams. These combinations of barely decipherable top layers and bottom end movements are the secret of Skullflower’s madness/success, the sound darkly transfixing listeners like an expanding oil slick.

There’s splendor behind the bared teeth, the title track’s guitar lines soloing under white noise or “In The Depths Of The Stagnant Pond”’s chaotic organ bound tightly to moaning prayer vocals. “Dying Venice” also shows a more human (and less abrasive) hand, revealing a similarity in styles to Bower’s more expansive, sweeter sounds with Sunroof!. There’s not really any anger here, the energy instead turned into concentration. The wind-powered feedback delivers birdcall in eddying plunges, oriental patterns forming from some depth hidden hurdy gurdy instrument. It’s comparatively gentle opposed to the rest of Tribulation, though not so unlike it as to spoil the album’s momentum. It’ll take more than a glimpse of redemption to leave Skullflower with anything less than a pulsing black heart.



Reviewed by: Scott McKeating
Reviewed on: 2006-10-04
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