Have you ever had the experience of listening to music, closing your eyes, and just letting the sound wash over you, slipping into your own mind to the point that you’re starting to see ‘visions’? They’re like mental short films that start to form and appear in your head, guided, or perhaps dictated, by the sounds that surround you. I’m sure that at least to some degree you’re familiar with this phenomenon; perhaps it even sounds a bit like asking, ‘have you ever had goosebumps while listening to a piece of music?’ But what I’m talking about here is something that overwhelms you, that forces itself upon you, almost as if there is a hidden dream embedded inside the audio waves. And just like with dreams, sometimes it can be very abstract while simultaneously being ridiculously detailed. The thing is, though, that most of the time, this effect doesn’t take hold. Life gets too in the way and the constant ‘noise’ of your own thoughts and inner analysis or other distractions (from the outside world or from within) prevents us from really diving so deep into our art and ourselves.
For a piece of music to really penetrate and take over your mind is usually quite rare; it needs to get your attention but leave enough room for the atmosphere to not overstimulate you. More importantly, it needs to be powerful; to brake trough the hackneyed discourses of your inner voice.
If I would have only one word to describe Shift, that word would be ‘powerful’. It is a destructive force.
The first time I listened to Shift’s work—a few years ago—I experienced such a cinematic undercurrent. It wasn’t in any way a spiritual experience; it was way too calamitous to be considered as such. There was none of that embarrassingly new-age kind of spiritualism where you feel you’re ‘one with everything’ or any such junk; rather, there were just scenes of ruins and desolation.
Thinking back, I’m not even sure if I was listening to Unable to Abide the Silence of the World (Unrest Productions) or Sleep Paralysis (Freak Animal) at the time. Both are different but equally devastating and forceful in a very similar way. What I do remember, however, is that the music invoked some very vivid mental imagery which were projected into my mind while listening to the sounds. The scene I remember most was of a D9 tearing down a building—one that was once a home—smashing concrete, bending metal, shattering wood and glass, and just pushing forward, emotionless and committed to destruction. That was the mental impression that Shift left with me.
In retrospect, and after digging deeper into the other albums in this project’s discography, I can now say that my scale was all wrong. Shift isn’t a man-made vehicle created to demolish buildings; it is a 9.5 magnitude earthquake in the heart of an over-crowded metropolis.
Shift was born in Sweden as the brainchild of Martin Willford, who now resides in the UK. Although the project was officially formed in 1997, physical releases seem to only have emerged from the mid-2000s onward. In any case, Willford has left behind a true legacy of pain and fury in the form of distinguished violent industrial music.
Abandon, Shift’s latest full-length, was released last year on one of my all-time favorite labels: Cold Spring (it’s also available on LP format, released by Willford’s own Unrest Productions in a limited hand-numbered edition of 150 copies). It landed on my desk a couple of months ago, and at first play, it roused some powerful and disturbing mental visions of destruction and annihilation. They were as lively in my head as they were grotesque. It’s truly amazing yet terrifying to see what your brain can manifest under the right settings if you’ll allow it, and this album certainly enables the very worst of possibilities.
Abandon opens with ‘To Rid Them All and to Wash Their Filth from My Body’, which fades in slowly with a low rumbling drone. I close my eyes to invite in the darkness, and as the hissing continues, Shift becomes more malevolent, signaling absolute menace. An alarm blares off in the distance, merging with the whir, and blurry images of a snowy landscape begin to appear before me, all in black and white. A cascade of images reveal themselves and fade off just as quickly: images of shovels breaking soil in a land and time that God forgot; images of Sisyphean horrors; images of despair and approaching death, of an all-devouring furnace from which no man of any persuasion can escape. Here is a place where reality falls apart, leaving only scorched earth, absolute panic, and terror without distinction in its wake. I won’t go into the other three tracks on this album and tell you what I saw within them as by now you assuredly can see the grim thematic path within which Shift operates.
By any measure, this is the best Shift album that I’ve heard so far, and it isn’t close. Abandon, as is clear from its namesake, is heartless; above all, it is crushing. In short, it’s nothing short of absolutely fucking powerful!
The quote ‘some people just want to watch the world burn‘ has now become a famous part of our contemporary pop culture. I can proudly declare that I am one member of that burgeoning population, and Abandon is the perfect soundtrack to the growing flames.