Thaw have established their chops and underground appeal over the past seven years and across a variety of releases, yet in many ways St. Phenome Alley stands apart from its predecessors. It is an album built entirely on a foundation of improvisation, yet it maintains a cohesive identity across its two tracks. Largely situated in the realm of drone, though possessed of an overall ritualistic atmosphere, the instrumentation of St. Phenome Alley runs the gamut from rudimentary-sounding cymbals to twangy reverb-effected guitar, and subtle distorted bass to a plethora of droning synths. And yes, there are notes of other percussive elements, seemingly derived from a variety of scrap and other junk metals.
Each track is weighty, clocking in at over twenty minutes each, but the crescendos, swells, and recessions feel organic. In fact, often enough, the disparate facets appear and disappear completely without notice, subtly transforming the entire character of the piece at hand.
Both tracks share a large amount of similarities, but as alluded to earlier, each respective piece is also possessed by its own unique identity. Within these two tracks a familiar progression unfolds, starting with a sparse instrumentation that is notable in its isolation. A variety of noisy and droning elements build tension and are added and combined in many ways to form a dense precipice, one easily tumbled over when studied closely. “n/a/k” hosts a distant Earth-like clean guitar progressions, buttressed by fuzz bass and the ambience generated by the various tools at their disposal. There is a great yawning to close it out, evoking nothing so much as a vast mouth at the end of a chasm, a beckoning and warning both. In contrast on “p/m/g,” the central motif unfolds like some of the moments from Ufomammut’s Idolum, monolithic in its procession, with a ring modulator weaving and diving atop the crushing riff. The album overall feels a lot like if Godspeed You! Black Emperor had decided to record in the ancient catacombs of a tribe long forgotten. The ways through this passage are dark, and there are strange echoes resounding through the halls.