4 out of 5
Produced by: Matthew Bower
Here is a much smarter review.
Reviewing a Skullflower album can be a difficult chore. You have your albums – that is to say there are separate tracks, and you can maybe make a case for one track versus another – and then you have the full-length burnouts: single tracks extending over 20-30 minutes. The albums have these as well, but packaging several tracks together ideologically links them, just as only offering 3 tracks as an album suggests some logic behind that decision. Of course, on some level you can call this all noise, but if you do, maybe you’re not one to listen to Skullflower, or any of Matthew Bower’s various projects.
The Black Iron, featuring Bower with recent / frequent collaborator Samantha Davies, spreads 2 songs on side A and 1 on side B for a total runtime of over forty minutes. Both performers wielding guitars (and other instruments, like ‘Fire’…), the album finds that sweet spot Skullflower often nails between barrage and beauty. The linked review above has a thorough analysis of what the approach might mean, but for me, the trancelike state of the achieved volume is an amazing thing, intentions / meaning aside. The line between white noise and musicality is quick to disappear, but that we are hearing guitars, and that they are seemingly intensely applied for an effect is apparent; I compare to something like Air Conditioning (a group I dig) where the drive seems to be to fill up your ears, whereas Black Iron feels invested in a skyward feeling, or something maybe beyond our grasp. The two tracks here have no clear divide to my ears, though there is an appreciable surging and propulsiveness to the songs as they go on. The B side gets a little less mileage for me. A drone-ish warbling takes the primary focus, with the squall wandering in the background. When Bower and crew take this tactic, it can be equally as mesmerizing as the loud stuff, but the track just sort of hangs at a single level for twenty minutes (or whatever), more meditative than contemplative, perhaps.
Another amazingly excellent addition to Bower’s forever growing catalogue, and on vinyl – something of a novelty amongst his frequent digital / CD releases.