Internet refusenik and northeastern drone maestro Culver pops his head above the parapet for a rare appearance to the wider world in this split with Fells on Gateshead’s Invisible City Records. Usually only accessible via a request to the man himself via email (see below), dead-tree post, messenger pigeon etc, this release appears on ICR’s Bandcamp, although the stentorian message ‘Cassette only. No digital’ ensures compatibility with the core Culver brand values. Content follows form here, with plenty of the trademark glower to keep enthusiasts happy, although the input from geographically-proximate likemind Fells adds an uncanny ambience that leavens the usual darkness with looping clangs of plangent frost. The result is both an ideal entry point for those new to either artists’ work and a great counterpoint to the wide-open ambient wastes of Fells’ own Waking, released on ICR around the same time (a review here is forthcoming. Ish).
Although Culver/Fells is strictly speaking, a split, there seems to be so much commonality in their DNA one could probably treat it as a collaboration. The tape is sequenced in such a way that the same two tracks are repeated one each side, but in a different order, resulting in a rather pleasing symmetry – it could, in fact, almost be considered a single long piece, which is just fine. Culver’s Elion starts us off, with a tough bass growl ushering in a series of desolate guitar twangs, before a wall of brutal distortion gradually subsumes everything in a dank mudslide of eternal sustain. This hits all the right emotional buttons, and works even better in retrospect as a crossfade brings some new guitar figures back in, picking their away across the dronescape like scarred crabs on a volcanic beach (this is Fells’ Wood and Wind). The soft edges and looping calls are almost Basinski-like, although the underlying bass grumble keeps things sufficiently twilit.
Flip the tape and you get… well, more of the same really, with the simple repetition of those almost-fumbling guitar transformed into mind-opening mantras. They’re about as similar to those trendy new age oscillations as a polar bear with a migraine is to a seal, mind, their hollowing out of beatific purpose creating a kind of lullaby for the inferno. The miasma of the Upside-Down dimension from the Stranger Things TV series is an obvious parallel, except that mentioning Netflix in the same breath as any Culver-related project is, perhaps, tantamount to sacrilege. It is lovely: low-lit and monochrome, and with the different running order giving us a new perspective on sounds we’ve heard previously. When Culver’s guitar plucks and drone fuzz reappear, it’s a genius move of psychic apparition. This return of the repressed sees zombie corpses refusing to sink into the mud, instead rising again to cause further mayhem. And this time the riff-wall wipes everything away in its vortex of gravelly slop. Grab your pearls. We’re going down.
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