Release Date: Jul 23, 2013
Record label: Blackest Ever Black
Genre(s): Electronic, Dark Ambient
One of the most famous problems in medieval theology was the question of how many angels could dance on the head of a pin. Scholars produced a multitude of answers, and the question itself became emblematic of the trivialities that concerned the theologists, so much so that even today critics use it to malign chatter they find pointless or exhausting. But it strikes me that the theologists were looking for angels in all the wrong places.
Here’s a decidedly old-fashioned request: Listen to The Word as Power, the first-ever vocal-oriented album from dark ambient pioneer Lustmord, multiple times in short succession, as though it’s the only new album you’ll hear all month, or at least all week. Don’t just listen to it on repeat, either: Hear it in different settings-- on different sound systems, in different rooms, sometimes in public places and, when possible, in private, with as few distractions as possible. If making that sort of commitment to a 75-minute album of largely wordless chants and torpid electronics doesn’t seem likely, maybe skip this one; its length and generally tectonic pace are easy targets for accusations of boredom.
Long recognized as one of the prime innovators in the pitch-black electronic field, Brian Williams has been composing spine-chillingly dark ambient works under the Lustmord banner since the early ‘80s. A trio of ominous albums during the ‘90s (Heresy, The Place Where Black Stars Hang, and Stalker), have defined Lustmord’s atmospheric aesthetic, and their echo can be heard in contemporary avant-metal, noise, experimental and industrial ventures, as well as electronic music’s many strains. Lustmord has dug deep into the psyche across the years—dealing in metaphysical themes, picking at our fears, and summoning portentous visions—and the band’s latest album, The Word As Power, is no different.
Renowned as one of the pioneers of the dark ambient genre, Lustmord’s latest album is essentially a piece for chamber choir and electronics. It also features a stellar line-up, that chamber choir consisting of ex-Swans frontwoman Jarboe, Maynard James Keenan of Tool, and Soriah, an American specialist in Khöömei, Tuvan throat singing, alongside soloist Aina Skinnes Olsen. Khöömei is founded on drones and nasal overtones, a reverential, abstract imitation of the sounds of nature – animals, wind and water – neatly complimenting Lustmord’s own drones, field recordings and cavernous use of reverb.
Dark ambient has rarely impressed me as a genre, with each release tagged under the style merely seeming to be engaged in a tiresome battle to outdo other releases in the massive bleakness stakes, but without the dynamism and aggression of other "dark" genres such as doom metal or noise. But, if anyone has put forward dark ambient as a relevant and significant genre, it's Brian Williams, aka Lustmord. Over the years, he has racked up an impressive tally of critically-praised albums, with 1995's joint album with Robert Rich, Stalker, a notable high point.