Chord do exactly as it says on the tin. The Chicago quartet have spent the best part of a decade trading in a unique brand of drone music that takes a single chord as its starting point, and explores its possibilities in depth and texture. Their best-known member is arguably Trevor de Brauw of Pelican, but what Chord purvey is a very different sound from that band’s post-metal idiom. Minimalism is the order of the day here, but minimal doesn’t have to mean weak or devoid of character. Chord are often styled as ‘drone metal’ but ‘power ambient’ might be a better descriptor, bearing as they do a lot more in common with the drifting, crackling psychedelia of Growing than the lurching, creeping blackness of Sunn O))) or early Earth.
Gmaj7, titled after the chord that provides the seed for this third full-length release, comes in two halves. The first, ‘Gmaj7 (Stasis)’, rises into being with hazy, reverberating waves of tone and feedback, underpinned by a sinister low-end rumble that could be the distant whop-whop-whop of black helicopters closing in on your position. The sounds overlap, phase in an out with each other, slowly unfolding and stretching, coalescing before pulling apart, some elements fading in thrall to others. It’s an enveloping experience.
The four-minute mark births brighter tones that contrast with the bleak uncertainty of the atmosphere already established. But beneath it all can be heard physical sounds – the rattle and buzz of string against pickup – that remind you this is music being made by people; not ethereal, ambient emissions from another world.
By the tenth minute, those sounds have all but drifted away, leaving an almost misty echo in their wake, punctuated by shrill cicada-like whistling from the edges; that soon becomes a piercing attack over a low guitar hum that could be a garden strimmer, or a dive-bombing aircraft. The tension builds as sound layers upon sound; the bass tones rumble harder and louder, the guitar drones swoop and thrash like birds of prey descending on a kill. Yet there is a semblance of harmony beneath the clatter; a rudimentary melody that nevertheless holds together the strong yet fragile fragments of noise.
‘Gmaj7 (Kinesis)’ is more down-to-earth from the outset, with the repeated chime of picked strings establishing a more human presence, even if it follows a robotically simple pattern. As the volume gradually rises, the lower tones churn and throb – and the crescendoing cymbal rides herald the big change six minutes in, when the tumbling percussion of former US Maple sticksman Pat Samson falls into the mix.
It’s jarring at first to hear the drone interrupted by jazzy snare and tom rolls, but past the halfway mark the track settles into a strangely conventional groove, the frantic drumming only rising to the surface occasionally like a whale breaching the waves. Then just when you think you’ve got a handle on things it morphs again, pulling back from a spaced-out, transcendent ambience into something resembling late 1990s Don Caballero, particularly those moments where Damon Che’s thunderous drumming most threatened to blast away Ian Williams’ cut-up guitar loops. It makes for a euphoric climax to a record that’s far more than the sum of its parts.