This duo of Stephen O’Malley and Peter Rehberg is a fertile pairing, possessed of unholy drone skills. ‘V’ is about as unsettling an album as you could hope to be freaked out by; it is deeply eerie while also infused with a stark and uncanny beauty.
The album demands close and repeated listening despite being bleak, forbidding and intimidating; there is a great deal occurring within and around its shifting blocks of sound. Utterly absorbing, it rewards the listener with a sound world of stunning physicality; it builds thin vibrating gossamer branes of drone that clash with deep gulfs of echoing reverb and rumble. It also contains material of a more ethereal nature; a skywards-gazing openness.
‘Phill 1’ sounds like looped tape-based computers locked in a deathly embrace with whistling electronics and wind-blown guitar strings. ‘Study A’ is an exercise in poignant taut wire harmonics, like a 10 mile long steel fence vibrating in a gale. ‘Tony’ is more austere, consisting of an undulating buzz and aquatic clanging. Each of these tracks examines its drone in fascinating detail; at times close up and violent, at others distant and more easily graspable.
‘Phill 2’ is one of the very best pieces of music to emerge from 2012. It sounds ageless and eternal like an Ansel Adams photograph of an enormous tree, gnarled and ancient. The slow swoop of massed strings and blasted gales of brass evoke the tides, the encroachment of dunes, the division of cells, and the slow pan of stars across a night sky. It is simply and profoundly beautiful while exhibiting a toothed savagery in its uncompromising volume. It opens a gulf of terrible beauty constructed from wood, wires, bodies and the crackle of electricity. This masterpiece is sadly temporary and ends in a heat-death of flat silver emptiness, as shrieking electronics overwhelm the orchestra.
No review of ‘V’ could possibly be complete without mentioning how utterly terrifying the final track ‘Last Spring: A Prequel’ is. The vocals are in French and so incomprehensible to me, but they seem to alternate between someone pleading in agony and their painful transformation into a gravel-throated demon. The voice is subtly adorned with disturbing ambient noises. Footsteps in a deep, long forgotten sewer. The dripping of rusted pipes. The flutter of insect wings. The distant slamming shut of filing cabinets filled with meat. It sounds like a field recording of hell.
‘V’ is a remarkable album; it will feed the brain and chill the bones; an intelligent and fiercely singular work of genius.