It’s been nearly eight years since Andrew Hung and Benjamin John Power reunited as the widely hailed group Fuck Buttons. It’s not as if they haven’t been busy, though. Hung has worked on several side projects, and Power has been focusing on building up the name of his own solo project, Blanck Mass.
The trajectory of Blanck Mass has been quite an interesting one. Starting with his self-titled debut in 2011, Power established his sound as a moodier alternative to the driving hypnotism that was Fuck Buttons. His second release saw the creation of an upbeat atmosphere, but it wasn’t until his third record, World Eater, that Blanck Mass truly hit a breakthrough of original sound. That LP aims to lull then destroy. Power found a way to turn blistering noise into a danceable tempest of a rave.
His subsequent record, Animated Violence Mild, aimed to refine that energy, which for the most part it accomplished. It felt like everything was being set up for Power to try and build off that sound and style again, a move many fans would not be disappointed with. However, with the release of In Ferneaux, it’s clear that Power is not satisfied with resting on his laurels.
If World Eater and Animated Violence Mild were apocalypses, In Ferneaux is the vacuous aftermath. The album is cut into two 20-minute-long phases that roam the murky sonic deluge crafted by Power. The closest thing to familiarity we get to hear is the first few minutes of Phase I.
It starts much like the Blanck Mass we’ve grown accustomed to, but even then there is a slight morose quality to it. The music builds into the typical energetic synth frenzy, at which point pounding rhythms come in from all directions. There is a devastating finality to it even though the album has just begun. It has a foreboding quality that suggests something substantial is on the horizon. It should be noted that this section was actually released as a promotional single, which is a beautiful misdirect on Power’s part because the rest of the album bears very little resemblance.
Collapse; rhythmic structures break down, melody comes to a complete standstill; all we’re left with is textural remnants. Small sounds flitter by like cockroaches after nuclear fallout, like embered kindling on the verge of fading out. Power makes good use of field recording samples throughout the album, but especially in Phase I, when musical direction has lost all meaning. It is very reminiscent of the experimental post-rock band Godspeed You! Black Emperor, which isn’t too surprising considering Power is heavily influenced by Mogwai, another post-rock juggernaut.
The music arrives at a low drone that holds and encompasses the environment. It seems to suggest some form of reflection, but what exactly is reflected on is left unsaid. Things turn sinister as another dissonant drone enters. However, just as this sinister feeling arrives, a harp comes in to add something ethereal. The track dwells on this confusion until the drones become more alive and beautiful. The playful screams of children are introduced, and slowly a white noise creeps up to dominate the music. And then Phase II begins.
Chaos; indistinct conversation is buried underneath power electronics. The track opens up with samples of a man talking on the street about transforming his mind. He is vulgar, but there is a deep understanding in what he says. The music behind falls to a slow ambience, only for a harsh buzzing to rise to the top. It sounds like the soundtrack to David Lynch trying to recreate the Big Bang. It becomes primordial music. Synths come in, and a sense of hope returns, but there is also a tinge of emptiness to it. We’re allowed to bask in this reprieve for a short while before large metallic banging, as well as shrill screams, invade the space. At no point in the record so far has Power allowed the listener to stay comfortable.
Even at the most uneventful moments, there is an uneasiness, like the music is balancing on a knife. And then something miraculous happens. For the first time since the very beginning of the record, an established melody builds into the foreground. It is bittersweet though, as it signifies the end of the journey.
The more I contemplate this record, the more obvious all the commonalities it shares with post-rock become. Regardless of influence, Power crafts a staggering monument that peaks and valleys to a degree that rivals some of post-revival Swans’s most brutal efforts. Post-rock also has an affinity for working within this building-then-destroying dynamic, starting with nothing, creating something so large only to break it down to nothing again.
In the case of In Ferneaux, its spectral and cosmic qualities make the album feel like it is building up galaxies of sound and then smashing them into stardust. In Ferneaux exudes a power and potency that rarely get achieved in music, so strong so that one can only look on in awe as it shoots up to the heavens, then oblivion.
Daily Arts Writer Drew Gadbois can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.