Locrain are at the top of the dark experimental music heap these days. Although their songs lack traditional form and structure, there a visceral quality to their music that recalls some of the most potent and powerful metal and post-rock. Last year's stunning genre-smashing "The Crystal World" made Locrian the band to pay attention to, while raising the bar for everyone else. Since then, they have produced a collaborative LP and single with the like-minded Horseback and the "Dort Ist Der Weg b/w Frozen in Ash" 7", which, for my money, is one of the best releases in any format this year. So to say that "The Clearing" was one of this year's most anticipated releases for me is a bit of an understatement. Even without hearing the whole thing, this was already a must have album among discerning music fans. Naturally, "The Clearing" not only lives up to expectations, but exceeds them to an extreme.
As amazing as "The Crystal World" was, the addition of drummer Steven Hess sounded at times like a guest player. A superb guest player, no doubt, but someone who seemed to be brought in to flesh out the sound of the album. Since that record, though, the trio of Hess, André Foisy and Terence Hannum have clearly coalesced as a group. "The Clearing" is their first long-form statement as the incredibly balanced band that they have become. Each member is essential here, and the success of the album's sound can be traced to the ability of each member to play off of each other. That fact is no more apparent than on opener "Chalk Point." The track, which sounds like the liturgy to a secret rite, finds the band at their doomiest, with Hess playing stately drums, Foisy offering up consistently scorching guitar, and Hannum's keyboards simultaneously stimulating while providing a tragic backdrop to the whole affair. Each player interlocks with the other to create a mood that captivates the listener with images of woods, black robes and bonfires where unspeakable things happen.
As awesome as "Chalk Point" is, it barely prepares the listener for "Augury in an Evaporating Tower." I'm not sure what the title means (other than it has something to do with the art of divination...in an evaporating tower), but I can promise you that it is intense as hell. This piece would come in at the climax in any awesome film, and it is surprising that anything else can follow it, but the ponderous and meditative "Coprolite" does so quite nicely. Foisy's melancholic acoustic guitar plays over Hannum's effects and Hess' thoughtful accents to make for what is oddly one of the most effective songs the band has produced. There is such a powerfully mournful feel to the piece that it cuts to the core of the listener in a way that precious little music does these days.
To close the album out, the band produces a nearly eighteen minute title track, which draws down everything that has come before into a singular pinpoint. The piece starts out somewhat reminiscent of Ennio Morricone's legendary soundtrack to "The Thing" before desperate screams pierce the soundfield and give way to a cavernous denouement. Over the next twelve minutes the band heaps effect on top of effect, instrument on top of instrument, to craft a cumulative and crushing drone that results in a blasted finale to what is a perfect record.
What is so stunning about "The Clearing" is how diverse the album is overall, even as it all sounds a part of a whole. The band explores a variety of approaches throughout, each successfully casting a consistent mood that leaves the listener feeling like they have taken a singular journey by record's end. If "The Crystal World" announced the presence of Locrian as the band to pay attention to, "The Clearing" solidifies their position as a powerhouse. Locrian is THE band that matters right now, and if you didn't know that already, "The Clearing" makes damn sure you do.