Locrian aren't the only act that use elements of experimental drone, black metal and noise to create their alchemical musical formulae, but they certainly are the only ones to do so this beautifully. While many bands that share this nebulous genre are concerned with the aesthetics of disgust and revulsion, Locrian unabashedly explore the aural possibilities of loveliness, with no shortage of ominousness or even outright violence. Return to Annihilation is their Relapse debut and is unquestionably their finest work to date.
For a band so devoted to endings, the noise metallurgists of Locrian are surprisingly keen with beginnings, too. More than a year ago, Relapse Records announced they'd signed the Chicago-and-Baltimore trio. The move seemed surprising at the time, but not because Locrian's electronics-and-effects-driven approach was at odds with the more orthodox heavy metal roster at Relapse; in fact, the label's two decades are dotted by momentous dalliances with experimental music.
It’s not a criticism of Locrian to say that this is probably not one of the places that black metal’s progenitors ever thought it would wind up. The Chicago trio’s sound spans gnarled ambience, power drones, and hushed beauty as much as it does dark aggression, and Return to Annihilation is an unabashed homage to heavily conceptual albums by Yes, Genesis, and King Crimson, complete with dense thematic concerns and a plot that mostly floats free from the actual songs. Thankfully a close reading of the album’s narrative backdrop isn’t necessary to enjoy the result (although it certainly adds something), because the power of Return to Annihilation stems primarily from Locrian increasingly impressive mastery of their sound, its heft and depth as well as its quieter shadings.
For a long time, the word apocalyptic found its way into any review of a post-rock album that contained at least one long crescendo. It’s an easy descriptor for music that seeks an epic tone, and the paranoiac field recordings on, for example, Godspeed You! Black Emperor’s Lift Yr Skinny Fists Like Antennas to Heaven only heightened the anxiety that all was coming to an end. It’s tough to say whether the lack of vocals rendered these albums Rorschach tests for rock critics who feared the loss of hooks and choruses were a sign of the end times or whether the artists intended to invoke great catastrophes with their walls of feedback.
Three years ago, Chicago trio Locrian released The Crystal World — a terrifying piece of droning black metal. Terence Hannum’s screams sounded like those of a man being gored in some medieval dungeon. Under waves of murky reverb, Locrian’s atonality was a visceral horror rarely heard in metal or any musical genre, equal parts Burzum and Brian Eno.
Black clouds duet with silver linings on Return to Annihilation, the latest record from experimental trio Locrian. The Chicago band layers psychedelic drones against extreme metal scree, taking delight in letting the carefully balanced extremes extract the very essences of each. The sedate “Two Moons” and “Exiting the Hall of Vapor and Light” may not reach the eruption promised by the consistent buzz under the waves, but the cochlea-wrecking “Eternal Return” provides the requisite painful thrills.