Matthew Bower’s Skullflower have been around a fair few decades having formed in 1987, and in that time they’ve never lost the ability to menace the sensibilities of those who prefer the noisier end of the industrial spectrum. And if ever there was ever a need to prove that noise isn’t just noise for its own sake, then Skullflower is that outfit.
Here we have a two-disc set of drone/orchestral/dark industrial/occult noise tapestries by these consummate wranglers of harsh gratings, insistent buzzing, stifling fuzziness, and high-pitched overtones. Having described it thus, it’s less confrontational and much less bombastic than much of Skullflower’s previous output, but this doesn’t mean it’s lighter in any way; if anything, it has the opposite effect. These tracks can be thought of as sketches—glimpses of other realities and states of mind, or dispatches from the front lines of some otherworldly warzone. Indeed, one can sense that something numinous, almost divine, exists behind the apparent limits of reality, but simultaneously it isn’t necessarily an untainted divinity. Degradation and decay weave their filthy tendrils through each of these monster compositions.
Highlights include ‘Yuggoth from Within’, describing to perfection that feeling mentioned above. A bright refrain clashing with a grainy blanket of distortion, fighting to be heard above the miasma. In a sense, it’s telling us we’re drowning and that we’re slowly being subsumed by a nightmare beyond our understanding. Eventually the refrain disappears altogether and we’re left with nothing but the endless void.
‘Fuck the New Estate’, the final track on the first disc, ‘Hell’, isn’t a pit of fire; it’s a world in deep-freeze, where only bitingly cold winds blow and the ghosts of those once living wander aimlessly looking for a warmth that’s long since died. There’s no hope here, that particular intangible quality having abandoned us when we weren’t looking.
‘And Carthage Must be Destroyed’ is all massed fury, an endpoint of history perhaps. Saw-like waves of bitter sharpness cut an unstoppable swath, buzzing loudly and uncompromisingly, decimating all before it. ‘Ice Nine’ borders on the tuneful, the whipping and chopping of rotor blades hovering over a sonorous backdrop of bass piano chords and axle grinders. It’s teeth-grindingly menacing, all jagged edges and ripped flesh.
If nothing else, the pieces presented to us on The Spirals of Great Harm leaves one’s brain blasted of thought and almost brings one to the brink of an elevated consciousness. It’s just like the afterimage left on the retina subsequent to being exposed to a bright light, but in this case, it pulls one out of the everyday and into an alternate reality/state that paradoxically leaves one feeling cleansed. What we witness on a daily basis isn’t the ultimate truth, and this is what The Spirals of Great Harm appears to be saying. Despite Skullflower’s modus operandi, they’re in effect offering us a series of short essays on what it’s like to strip away the gloss and pretense. In fact, I found it incredibly meditative and, bizarrely, uplifting. This, to me, is the true power of pure noise.
03) Tangled Light of Isis
05) Thunder Dragon
06) Venom & Nectar
07) Fuck the New Estate
01) Rotting Jewelled Stormclouds
02) And Carthage Must be Destroyed
04) Ice Nine
05) The Firebright & Linda Show
06) Yuggoth Within