MacDara Conroy reviews Jodis‘ Black Curtain, an album of ‘awe-inspiring spaces, ethereal and dreamlike’.
Though Prurient’s recent split LP with JK Flesh, Worship Is The Cleaning Of The Imagination, might be the official final release from the now sadly defunct Hydra Head Records, splits don’t really count in my book. For me the accolade, if you can call it that, of Hydra Head’s last long-player should fall to Black Curtain, the second effort from drone rock trio Jodis.
Comprising label head Aaron Turner on vocals with guitarist James Plotkin and drummer Tim Wyskida, both formerly of the ultra-bleak doom metal supergroup Khanate, Jodis could be considered a fork of that other group’s patient, crawling approach, trading Khanate’s overwhelming malevolence – emphasised forcefully by Alan Dubin’s witch-like shrieks and cackles – for more neutral but awe-inspiring spaces, ethereal and dreamlike. Plotkin posits the Jodis sound, as described to him, as “a more relaxed Khanate“, which sums it up as well as anything. Though it doesn’t come from the same tortured place, the music of Jodis certainly shares Khanate’s awareness of space, and a grasp of the virtual tangibility of sound. It might not be metal, but at the same time it’s distinctly of metal.
Like Jodis’ excellent 2009 debut Secret House, Black Curtain is a minimal yet expansive affair, its six tracks over 42 minutes holding a mass and volume that near transcends the space-time continuum. ‘Broken Ground‘ opens the set with what’s essentially a simple five-note descending chord phrase, but Plotkin’s guitar tone is so loaded with crunch and drenched in reverb that the environment it evokes is cavernous, cathedral-like, backgrounded with layers of choral voices and subtle electronic drone; a reverent place for Turner to croon his words of rebirth under “the new white sun“, his voice soft yet strong to hold its own in such a wide open space. Turner’s presence here is the polar opposite to the seething anger he expressed on Old Man Gloom’s NO, his other major collaboration of 2012, although the lyrical preoccupations with growing older, revisiting the past and rethinking one’s future path remain. When he sings on ‘Corridor‘, “How did it come to this?“, one can’t help but think of the obvious.
Plotkin’s guitar is the centrepiece of the Jodis experience: on ‘Awful Beast‘ the ringing chords expand to fill the void left by the mournful ‘Corridor’ and erect a platform for Turner’s sample-looped clone choir; on ‘Red Bough‘ it alternately vibrates like a shimmering jewel when the music swells, and punctuates moments of silence with piercing clarity. Meanwhile, much like his place in Khanate, Wyskida keeps the percussion sparse throughout, more a frame for the action than a part of it, providing the necessary structure. He holds back entirely for long passages, giving those moments when he does hit the skins all the more impact – but contributing to the heft of the atmosphere the trio creates as a whole, never dominating proceedings.
The final track ‘Beggar’s Hand‘ is the closest the band get to Khanate here, and even then it’s only in the gravelly down-tuned sludge that lays its foundation. As it relaxes and unspools, the song bares much DNA in common with early Red House Painters – think ‘Mother’ – in its setting of a beautiful, melancholy mood with just the rights chords, at just the right tone; Turner singing in a high register far above a repetitive riff that drifts on rolling and crashing cymbal waves in a restless ocean of sound and emotion, sailing to destinations unknown. If this is indeed to be the last proper album released by Hydra Head, the label couldn’t have gone out on a better note – no curtain call required.