Anything that Tombed Visions boss, Gnod-bothering reedsman and friend of We Need No Swords David McLean is involved in is worth a listen. And this heavy slice of crepuscular ritual drone is no exception. The brainchild of Richard Knox, who has performed in Shield Patterns and The Rustle of the Stars and runs Gizeh Records, The Gatherer presents four satisfyingly dense greyscale chunks that combine heavy melancholy with open-ended ambience, resulting in a suite of anaesthetized nocturnal laments.
McLean is just one of a roster of collaborators Knox has enlisted to build The Gatherer’s oppressive sound-world. Aidan Baker and Claire Brentnall are there too (the goth pop of their recent Delirious Things is one of 2017’s marvels), as is previous Knox collaborator Frédéric D. Oberland as well as a host of other buddies. The expanded guest list has helped Knox shift A-Sun Amissa from the hazy ambience of 2013’s You Stood Up For Victory, We Stood Up For Less to something more complex – tougher, more threatening, yet retaining a lyrical edge.
Knox, as on previous A-Sun Amissa records (2012 debut Desperate In Her Heavy Sleep is also recommended), has a keen ear for drama, which has always kept his long-form soundscapes from oozing into general drone mulch. There’s a great sense of this The Gatherer’s opener, Colossus Survives, when a stern opening section of drum machine, synth and piano abruptly cuts out, replaced by a burst of altissimo squeals that first bring the drums back in and then herald a gutsy saxophone and clarinet duet from Brentnall and McLean.
The duo crops up again later, on final cut The Recapitulation. Here, Knox carves chewy field recordings and whining synths into an echoing heave, as crunching percussion ushers in Colin H. Van Eeckhout’s deadpan vocals that could have been lifted straight from some 1970’s horror flick. To be honest, it’s all bit dark ambient for me – fortunately, those soulful clarinet and saxophone lines leaven the mix somewhat and the end result is more like a gritty take on ECM’s tonal hoarfrost than Current 93’s occult cheese.
That doom from the tomb vibe is less heavy handed on Anodyne Nights for Somnolent Strangers, where a clanging musique concrete-sounding introductory passage gives way to a slowly-unfurling bed of drone. Across it, a cello marks out a rather lovely melody, its lyricism teetering on the edge of dissonance. In the last third, a recording of a furious argument is a surreal note, yet its insertion is counterintuitive genius, giving the track the tension of a string wound almost to breaking point.
But it’s in Jason Molina’s Blues that Knox’s compositional skill packs a real emotional wallop. Maybe just mentioning the Songs, Ohia and Magnolia Electric Company songwriter is enough to morph this piece from gloom as an applied style to genuine sadness in the minds of his listeners. But I think there’s something sincere and heavy going on. While they may seem like very different artists, both Knox and Molina mine the grim depths of the human condition, feeding their results into their art. Knox’s piece, fueled by a heartbreaking wail of a saxophone line threaded through the ten-minute runtime like a prayer, is a hymn to a fellow explorer of the desolation, one who pushed too far out to make it back in one piece. Not so much a satanic mass as a acknowledgement of the pain and loss that is an inescapable part of life, the track helps lift The Gatherer above most other releases of its post-Coil canon.