Marrow Hymns by Insect ArkRelease date: February 23, 2018
Label: Profound Lore Records
Marrow Hymns is the second album from Insect Ark, the duo of Dana Schechter and Ashley Spungin. I listened a couple times on work commutes but didn’t really get into this one until a day off consisting of junk food, tv, and most importantly, the entertaining serious/absurdity of the winter olympics.
Turning the sound down to mute all that dull sportsy talking, this oddly ambient metal album turned up, soundtracking the techno-future-kitsch posthuman gliding around ice curves, the protagonists all black-visored helmets and blades, fibreglass skinsuits and other cyborg beetle-human extensions (competing for a place on the insect ark perhaps?). The insectile machine is actually an image that’s occurred to me before in writing about related kinds of mechanical or motorik-influenced shapes or shades of metal, like Aluk Todolo for example. Something about the organic-technical hybrid that sounds sort of alive but alien and creepily machinelike, all shiny exoskeletons and geometric eyes.
Anyway, the music here is great once you’ve snapped into it, an accessible and interesting mix of doom constructions, with the signature element being various kinds of glisses and slides (hence the speedskating/skeleton/skijumping resonance). ‘Arp 9’ has a stopstart beat and some slowish trad-doomy metal picking, but then its directed into graceful sweeping vectors by what seems like a piercing slide guitar. It reminds me of high school music lessons where 30 kids went nuts in The Keyboard Room, expressing our collective avant-garde tendencies by setting all the keyboards to play the Chopsticks demo all at once while yelling and hammer-mashing the keys with foreheads. But one keyboard, the fanciest model, had a pitch wheel you could turn to send the notes swerving all over the place. This album really taps into that kind of quavering sonic magic, with brilliant swooping whirls that bend the sound around, like a quiet ice corner, or perhaps the gliding of the phoenix-like bird on the cover. ‘Slow Ray’ has a janglepicking and siren duet, before a low grumpy buzzsnarl wends its way towards a few seconds past four minutes, into a wonderful ski jump then drifting, floating descent. In ‘The Nest’, it feels more like the whole structures are swimming into and out of place, the slow click of the drums setting up for each next icesheet to slide into the sea. Another high school memory snippet surfaces- learning the perfect onomatopoeia of the German word for iceskating, schlittschuhlaufen (although an online translator thing suggests that that’s wrong, but whatever). There are no words on any of the tracks, which perhaps adds to the blank cold landscape feel, redirecting focus back to the creaking and sliding slow wanderings of the sounds. The gears change, or perhaps we turn from the downhill slopes to the crosscountry, for the final three tracks, with ‘Tarnish’ all glinting drips of meltwater before ‘Windless’ embarks further out into the grey white wastes, with panes and wisps of harsh dry sound paradoxically adding up to a wide ambient feel.
Obviously this strange winter olympics vibe to this review is based on a totally arbitrary and coincidental setting of my listening, and I’m 99% sure that the musicians weren’t trying to make an bobsleigh-themed record. However, this is just an oddly specific version of what happens anyway, listening and then describing listening is based on what mental references pop up, whether that’s from cover art imagery, or track titles, or the wonderful image of the Insect Ark itself (which I like to envisage as a literal future Noah’s ark style project, an orderly utopia of strange invertebrate life going in two by two, and then probably setting off into space or something). In any case, the weird future-beetle-people-on-ice competitions seemed strangely fitting backdrop to this understated but impressive record. The only thing now is to wait for someone in four years to pick this album for their figure-skating routine.