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Prurient – Frozen Niagara Falls

Frozen Niagara Falls

Frozen Niagara Falls

Like so many others, I have always had a kind of conflicted relationship with Prurient’s work. Some of his records do nothing for me, while others I rank as easily being among my favourites in the genre, and quite a few others I just completely hate. I’ll even go so far as to say that Dominick Fernow’s noisiest output has been somewhat influential for my own music, especially because of his masterful abuse of microphone feedback.

Fernow is also one of the very few people that have tried and somehow successfully managed to crawl out of the underground noise gutter to cater to a wider—albeit still fairly niche—audience. I might be in the minority here by saying this, but I’m always quite happy when my favourite kind of music gets a bit of exposure outside of the usual channels, even if most of the time it’s misunderstood and poorly represented by its newfound fanbase.

In Prurient’s case, I used to follow his constant flow of releases with zeal, but I stopped around the time that the tragic ‘A Meal Can Be Made’ track leaked off the Bermuda Drain album. That track in particular left me with the impression that Prurient had reached a sort of turning point in its career that left a solid dent in Fernow’s fan base; the ‘old guard’ pretty much unanimously hated it and found it ridiculous (myself included) while many others simultaneously found it brilliant.

The opulent, massive magnum opus, Frozen Niagara Falls, which clocks in at an impressive ninety minutes, seems to be the perfect chance to catch up on what I’ve missed in the time since Bermuda Drain.

Unsurprisingly, Frozen Niagara Falls begins with restrained, grainy feedback and murky static noise in classic Prurient style, but then a couple of weird lines of crystal-clear space-era synth kick in, straight out of the Mass Effect video game series (seriously, try to listen to the games’ soundtrack and tell me they don’t sound similar) and the vibe changes. The dichotomy between straight, rough sounds coming from harsh noise/power electronics territory is not new to Prurient, and it will be a constant—and not always successful—element for the rest of the album. Here the two sounds clash too much for my taste. Nasty distorted vocals and bass, and savage, sparse kick drums help a bit to sweeten the deal but this lengthy track just doesn’t rub the fat clitoris in my ear the right way.

Dominick Fernow

Dominick Fernow

Another thing that completely puts me off about this album is the beats. I’ve never been a big fan of mixing dance-floor drum machines and noise—with a few exceptions, of course (Noise/Girl’s Discopathology comes to mind)—and Prurient didn’t make me change my mind with Frozen Niagara Falls. Most of the time, the drum machines on the album sound sparse, quite random, and just terrible in general. It’s as if Fernow casually and drunkenly triggers them while hitting on synths and hurling contact microphones around. They sound generally misplaced and unnecessary. In some cases, especially when there are actual Swans-esque brutal drums involved like in ‘Dragonflies to Sew You Up’, the idea of using beats works better, but it’s still something that doesn’t satisfy.

It’s clear that Fernow condensed many influences (some quite surprising to me, even if not completely unexpected) on this record, and tried to process them into something new. The synth lines often seem to come straight out of the dark and sweaty dance floors of eras past, sometimes recalling Italian progressive house from the 90s. Prurient meets Robert Miles, perhaps? Try ‘Every Relationship Earthrise’ and you’ll hear goth/EBM and British synthpop.

I can’t say I didn’t enjoy stumbling upon these resemblances, but I presume Fernow didn’t really intend to be comical.

The second issue that I take with Prurient’s latest work is the titles. I know it might seem superficial on my part, but please try to understand; I mean, there’s a track called ‘Jester in Agony’.  Are you fucking kidding me? The only images that title brings to mind are terrible Marillion cover artworks and sad clown paintings that hang in horrible hotel receptions. Seven minutes of galactic Tangerine Dream-like synth, seemingly random bursts of bad, clear drum machines out of Fruity Loops, and a tambourine didn’t really help to shake those awful images from my mind.

It’s not all bad, of course. Whenever Prurient churns out crude harsh noise, nasty ear-piercing feedback with old-school Whitehouse and Ramleh vibes, and gut-churning screaming (‘A Sorrow with a Braid’)—and when he carefully alternates weird, soft-spoken words with guttural growls—I am reminded why I actually like some of his records, but the brooding presence of the other side of the medal is too encumbering for my taste.

Frozen Niagara Falls also reserved a couple of surprises for me, namely ‘Greenpoint’ and the closing number, ‘Christ among the Broken Glass’. I would never have imagined that I’d be hearing Medieval neoclassical guitar on a Prurient record, but I suppose reality surpasses fantasy once again. In post-prison Burzum style, both tracks feature redundant, repetitive,  hypnotic guitar riffs that either serve as an introduction or carry the whole core of the composition. ‘Christ among the Broken Glass’, also because of its creepy bass lines and field recordings, even reminds me of Bohren & Der Club of Gore, which is absolutely a good thing. It’s bizarre to find guitar melody here, even if it’s twisted and dissonant, but at least it’s an interesting element. In some ways it works and it does sound like Prurient.

As you have probably guessed at this point, my opinion of Frozen Niagara Falls isn’t exactly positive. It feels like Fernow tried to bite off more than he could chew by doing too many things at once without actually managing to nail anything down completely. The clean synth sounds and the raw harsh noise too often sound like completely different records that have been layered on top of each other.

Here and there Frozen Niagara Falls offers a glimpse of what Fernow is capable of, but it’s not enough to save it from the scrap pile. Oddly enough, the most refreshing thing is the guitar addition; I’ve heard them before in his noisecore and black metal projects, but it’s a first in my Prurient experience. It might be something that warrants more exploration.

A special mention goes to the lush, elegant, clever, and yet filthy graphic design of the booklet, ruined only by two drawings of comedy masks, the over-the-top font used in literary quotes (the best one has to be ‘Ambient, ethereal, and atmospheric 22-year-old mind traveler would like to hear from other males who enjoy sound that takes your mind and imagination to another world—taken from Industrial Nation #10), and a lame list of recommended ‘books on love and death’.  Oh, and how about these listening instructions:

‘Listen at night while snow falls silently under street lights.’

Please, Jim Morrison, high school is over. Maybe these thematics and the attitude they exude are a big part of why Frozen Niagara Falls just doesn’t click. I admit that I’m not the best lyricist myself, but everything Prurient enunciates here sounds like embarrassing blogger poetry.

In conclusion, this album’s worst flaw is being simply boring. After all, it’s ninety minutes of the same, unsatisfactory concepts repeated over and over, and apart from a few inspired moments, nothing managed to keep my interest up. Maybe this record will be good for people who wear tight pants and hang out on the semi-respectable outskirts of noise. They can get the tape edition and spin it halfway through—once—before putting it back on the shelf and using it as a reference when they talk about ‘great noise acts you absolutely have to check out’. I’m quite sure a few hardcore noise people will like it as well, since I can’t deny that it has some good moments and there’s probably a bit of something for everybody. My suggestion though is to skip it and wait until Prurient comes up with something that’s actually good again. I’m sure he can, and I’m sure he will.

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Track List:

01) Myth of Building Bridges
02) Dragonflies to Sew You Up
03) A Sorrow with a Braid
04) Every Relationship Earthrise
05) Traditional Snowfall
06) Jester in Agony
07) Poinsettia Pills
08) Shoulders of Summerstones
09) Wildflowers (Long Hair with Stocking Cap
10) Greenpoint
11) Lives Torn Apart (NYC)
12) Frozen Niagara Falls (Portion One)
13) Cocaine Daughter
14) Falling Mask
15) Frozen Niagara Falls (Portion Two)
16) Christ Among the Broken Glass

Rating: 4/10
Written by: Nicola Vinciguerra
Label: Profound Lore Records (Canada) / PFL-152 / 2xCD, Tape, Digital
Industrial