Stagnant Waters - Stagnant Waters
Black Metal, Industrial, Free Jazz
8 songs (45:37)
Release year: 2012
Reviewed by Charles
Album of the month
Ah, the eternal question of avant-garde music: is it good, or is it shit? I remember a decade ago, I used to listen a lot to a certain type of avant-garde jazz musician. Back then, I couldn’t decide whether what they were doing was good, or whether it was shit. Seeing it live was certainly entertaining. Hearing dudes turning the sound of the saxophone into a mad kind of quacking duck thing was fun. Watching them play their floor toms by furiously scraping the rubber feet of their drum stools against the skins was also fun. I used to play this sort of thing myself, and had a whale of a time. But, a bit like how there are websites that churn out completely meaningless randomly-generated post-modern essay titles that still sound the part, we could all have been completely titting about and most people would have been none the wiser.

I’m tempted to say that this meant it was all self-indulgent bullshit, but that is just the other side of the same stupid coin. One of the biggest barriers to progress throughout history has been people who assume that, because they don’t get something, then there isn’t anything to get (probably… I just made that up, but it sounds like it could be true). Avant-garde music isn’t there to cheer you up or help you unwind. It demands you actually devote some brain power to thinking about what is going on and look for value in it yourself, even where value mightn’t be immediately apparent. The vast majority of the people who write off avant-garde music as pointless pretension have never contemplated doing this.

Stagnant Waters is sort of avant-garde music, but also sort of not avant-garde music. It is, in the sense that it is batshit. Industrial black metal clashes with free jazz and electronics; it’s like the slightly unhinged sound of DHG’s 666 International taken up several levels, imbibing the influence of Naked City and Mr Bungle (there are moments on the track Concrete that bring To Carry Stress in the Jaw immediately to mind; catapulting the listener gleefully from honking reed solo to abrasive metal and back again). Nonetheless, this album doesn’t make the same demands of the audience that I described above. I don’t think there are deeper layers here that need work on the part of the listener to uncover. Instead, the album seeks to wow you with spectacle: it’s like an aural fireworks display of freaky sounds.

Opener Algae begins as an explosive tirade of black metal but quickly subsides into an odd, abstract procession of computer beeps and electronic pulsation. This kind of thing is not unheard of, but things spiral further into chaos with ССАЕР ЦНАПЯЛ ПНОИ ТАТ. This is an aggressively confusing piece which twists and writhes between horrid industrial blasts and bursts of freeform bass clarinet soloing- interspersed with micro-silences and mocking smooth jazz fragments. The reeds are used throughout, and are more reminiscent of the violent honking found in the wackier types of jazz mentioned at the start of the review than any of the other black metal experimenters. The saxophone playing Ihsahn uses is more polished- it frequently serves to accentuate melody rather than unleash the kinds of convoluted musical tongue-speaking to which the instrument is so well adapted. Neither does it really compare to the jazz influences found in Lugubrum. The latter’s approach is one of warped austerity. Here, experimental sounds permeate every bar of the album giving it a perplexing and hyperactive feel. The ten minute Axolotl is essentially a disorienting parade of sonic curiosities allowing Aymeric Thomas to experiment with his electronic gizmos.

Justice demands that I make special mention of Castles. These six minutes prove that Stagnant Waters can write powerful music, rather than produce extremity for show. A fleet-footed but wistfully melodic guitar fragment is the starting point; in a different context it could be the central idea behind a ballad. But here it is mauled from every direction- buzzing electronic sounds and piston-like industrial black metal build this little pattern into something pulsating and exhilarating. Probably my favourite black metal (loosely defined) track of 2012. Stagnant Waters’s intention here is to overwhelm and assail their listeners rather than engage them as avant-garde fellow travellers, and it’s in this sense that their debut album has a more metal character than might be assumed.

Killing Songs :
Charles quoted 90 / 100
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