Seven Horses For Seven Kings by Black To CommRelease date: January 25, 2019
Label: Thrill Jockey Records
Seven Horses For Seven Kings brings a new set of widescreen, richly-layered sonic abstractions from Black To Comm that travel on darker, angrier roads than previous. Not that the earlier records were all sweetness and light by any means but Seven Horses… feels more urgent and draws a broader sweep of sound into its world. Sorrowful drones and dissonant organs mix with clattering percussion and wordless choral vocals. Horror strings and sax skronk are stirred in amongst the processed loops and samples of fluid electronics, its face always smudged with the grime of field recordings and non specific noise.
Black to Comm is the solo project of German sound artist Marc Richter, a master of the studio as instrument who takes sound as raw material to be manipulated and collaged, spread thin and layered, piled up, sanded down, daubed, stretched and contorted into new forms of beauty and menace. Since the last album he’s been working on a variety of commissions for film and theatre, art installations, even apps and sleep music. New ideas and approaches spilling into his own compositions. Sure, it’s plenty ‘cinematic’ and certainly contains more drama than before but pleasingly Richter allows the music to stand on its own, declining to offer any narrative reading or specific genesis for the project. This extends to the titles which are somehow both blank and evocative at the same time, standing apart from each other, making only the haziest of suggestions.
After the scene scouring herald of ‘Asphodel Mansions’, second track ‘A Miracle No-Mother Child At Your Breast’ sets us up for the album. It starts with ominous drones, is stirred by a clanky off kilter rhythm before becoming an ever denser swarm of noise and terror that cuts dead. The sound design and clarity of multiple elements is breathtaking. ‘Lethe’ has a gentler feel of time running backwards into ‘Ten Tons Of Rain In a Plastic Cup’ a distant alarm or factory siren and the return of that buried clump of rhythm, again submerged by waves of distorting electronics.
Previous Black To Comm outings having skirted ambient drone and electro acoustics and that rhythm is the most striking new element on this album. It appears dense and muddied, not the precision elegance of machine music but feral and human. The incidental music of industrial clank and scrape or the sound of multiple distant drummers. War drums. They begin to tumble across one another against string stabs and drones on the striking ‘Fly On You’. A standout on a remarkable album the track is broad, dramatic and discordant with a powerful sense of impending conflict about it. That dread pounding of gathering darkness recurs across the album. On ‘If Not, Not’ the drummers are urged on by a hunting horn and a supernatural choir of dead eyed ghost children.
The ominous rumbling is contrasted with calmer more reflective pieces. When the hell drums recede into a backwards loop at the end of ‘Rameses II’ they give way to the possibility of hope. The last couple of tracks offer some kind of calm or redemption after the storm. ‘Angel Investor’ floats on heavenly loops of mellotron ascending into the light until the sweetness becomes too much and everything starts to melt and slide. The final piece bears the extraordinary title ‘The Courtesan Jigokudayu Sees Herself as a Skeleton in the Mirror of Hell’. It’s four and a half minutes of shining, delicate, sunlight-dancing-on-water drone before a cloud of bass and radio signals churns up from the depths. They swarm and chatter over themselves offering us a return to the (multivalent, found) source, to a steady, busy world.
It’s unavoidable if simplistic to see the album as a response to the uncertainties and anxieties of current world events, there are many more possibilities contained within. I’ve yet to try listening to it on a walk after a couple of drinks but I imagine that’ll be an intense experience. Far from being easy, or even uneasy, listening background music Seven Horses For Seven Kings is a powerful and resonant record. Whether or how it hits you emotionally probably depends on what you bring to it but it’s an undeniably impressive piece of work.