Locrian: Infinite Dissolution
The more music Locrian create, the less sense the metallurgists seem to make: That is the implicit lesson of Infinite Dissolution, the most adventurous and accessible album the once-prohibitively esoteric band have ever made. During these nine tracks, they buoy black metal with kaleidoscopic guitar solos and punctuate cinematic three-piece suites with transfixing synthesizer serenades. Screamed anthems find and then finesse an unexpected threshold between post-metal and post-punk, while some of the band’s most grim vocals ever provide the friction against their most gorgeous and warm musical setting to date. With Infinite Dissolution, Locrian continue a series of impressionistic explorations devoted to apocalyptic apprehension—or “hymn[s] to the deluge,” as they put it at one point here. Somehow, though, these soundtracks to oblivion come to feel redemptive and even empowering, like torches made only to work in the most extreme dark.
For half of their career, Locrian were a duo whose hard-shelled hybrids of harsh noise textures and heavy metal structures felt compelling but often stable. Terrence Hannum and André Foisy built bleak expanses of brutal sound, where considerations about technical and cultural obsolescence fought through sheets of dissonance and walls of distortion. Their recordings were aggressive and ruminative, less concerned with acute crescendos than cumulative atmosphere. But in 2010, for the album Crystal World, Locrian enlisted Steven Hess, a Chicago improviser with a long and impressive résumé of collaborative electronic abstraction. The moment was an oxbow: Locrian’s ideas crystallized around the skeleton of Hess’ drums, and their music began to take new shapes and gather sudden speed. Urgency and bravado entered their vocabulary. By the time Locrian issued their full-length Relapse debut, 2013’s Return to Annihilation, the trio were able to talk about the influence of Genesis and make music that offered up evidence.
Despite Locrian’s doomsday obsessions, Infinite Dissolution—much like the last five years of Locrian at large—depends upon a wide-eyed sense of musical wonder. Locrian’s evolution has hinged less on a refinement of their style and more on an expansion of it, so that new influences and impulses operate inside of their general roar. This spirit is obvious from the start of Infinite Dissolution, which exposes facets and folds of Locrian that never before seemed to exist. The brilliant opener “Arc of Extinction” begins like a Locrian creeper of not so long ago, with piercing noise and saturating tones shaping a broad drone. Powered by Hess, though, the song steadily escalates, moving from a slow-motion march into a sustained sprint of blast beats. Locrian have touched on black metal before, but here, they perfectly tuck it into their past. The speed animates the animosity. The tumult counters a guitar solo so bright it seems excised from a Rainbow record. The effect is both beautiful and frightening, much like the lyrics of death and rebirth that Hannum sends into the squall.
The brief poem at the center of “Arc of Extinction” highlights another crucial element of Locrian’s evolution, because you can barely hear Hannum. Instead, his words are massaged deep into the mix, so that they are part of a whole and not its obvious leading edge. Likewise, during the strangely triumphant “The Great Dying”, the obvious vocal hook yields the foreground to the band, the chant becoming the de facto bass for a band without one. After a decade together, Hannum and Foisy have erased many of the boundaries between their electronics and electric guitars, their synthesizers and their manipulated shouts. During the dénouement of “KXL I”, for instance, the strangled riff, static-caked vocals, and screeching circuits congeal into one righteous din, a single symphony of terror. Hess has not only learned their logic but also enhanced it. In the past, “Heavy Water” might have been a formless cloud of hazy effects and echoing glissandos, but he gives the record’s cold comedown a pulse and purpose. During Infinite Dissolution, Locrian make very involved music seem effortless, allowing the sound to support the emotion rather than overpower it. That’s what they’ve tried to do for a decade.
In their salad days, Locrian seemed to issue new music constantly. A stream of seven-inches, CD-Rs and cassettes arrived one after another, as though Hannum and Foisy had nowhere else to be for five years. But Hess joined the band, and Hannum split Chicago for Baltimore. The complicated schedule and the precipitously slower pace have been boons for Locrian. They have had time to incorporate new touchstones without letting them overrun the band, and they have had time to approach each additional layer with diligence. There is so much pressure to speed up as a band these days, to not give any bit of online notoriety an instant to disappear. But Locrian chose to slow down and create consecutive meticulous albums. They are isolated and involved worlds of sound—safe, as one song suggests, from our own “wreckage of a mighty dream.”