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Netherworld – Zastrugi

Zastrugi

Zastrugi

Alessandro Tedeschi’s Glacial Movements label has carved out a certain niche in ambient music. Influenced by the Isolationist ambient movement and inspired by places frozen, forgotten, and inaccessible, the label has established itself as one of the premier sources for cold, minimal sounds that evoke the suffocating beauty of the polar regions. It’s oddly specific, yes, but it works; Glacial Movements has put out albums from respected artists such as Rapoon, Machinefabriek, and Loscil, as well as Tedeschi’s own project, Netherworld.

Being a great fan of music in this vein, as well as a bit obsessive about all things Arctic, I approached the new Netherworld with some trepidation.  Zastrugi, after all, departs significantly from the Glacial Movements template in that it’s beat-oriented; the first in a series dedicated to combining polar field recordings with dub influences.  It seemed difficult to reconcile the agonizingly evocative drift of 2013’s The Alchemy of Ice with anything that smacks remotely of techno.  Wouldn’t this, you know … ruin everything?  How can I think about the long-lost Franklin Expedition while there are beats happening?

You’d be surprised.  One of the most striking aspects of the album is how naturally these seemingly disparate parts come together.  Perhaps “striking” isn’t the right word for it; the process is gradual and, at first, barely perceptible.  “Mapsuk” swells with a drone as deep and distant as a foghorn, an ominous warning across a frozen sea.  A persistent heartbeat pulses behind a frigid hum and crystalline tones.  In the hands of a less skillful artist, such a thing might come across as heavy-handed or intrusive, but the beats seem just as organic as the polar field recordings that make up a large part of the source material.  It’s different, yes, but the progression from Netherworld’s previous sound and its current one seems wholly unforced; a continuation rather than a radical departure.

Alessandro Tedeschi

Alessandro Tedeschi

In a sense, there’s very little about Netherworld’s sound that has changed.  While certainly less minimal than previous albums, Zastrugi still evokes the glacial austerity of frozen places and touches on the human fascination with the unexplored and isolated.  Subtle innovations seem to enhance, rather than distract from Tedeschi’s sonic world-building.  The halting, haunting vocal sample on “Serác,” for example, calls to mind Thomas Koner’s La Barca, were it not for the sinister rattle in the forefront that builds gradually into a standard 4/4 beat.  Sweeps of white noise shape the compositions into peaks and crevasses of sound.  Even “Uikka,” the most outright techno track on the album, has a ghostly, hollow sound to it, with shattered female vocals echoing over and over like a tiny, lost voice in a cave of ice.

Zastrugi is a difficult album to categorize.  Neither ambient nor dub, it’s a fantastic album that ought to be explored by fans of both genres—even the purists.  Beats notwithstanding, it’s one that has quickly become a personal favorite for its ability to evoke the overwhelming isolation and beauty of the Arctic.

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Track List:

01) Mapsuk
02) Sergie Seltzer
03) Sérac
04) Dry Andes
05) Uikka

Rating: 10/10
Written by: Rebecca C. Brooks
Label: Glacial Movements (Italy) / ICEBERG #1 / CD
Dub Ambient / Minimal / Techno