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Gravetemple/Russell Haswell (live at Café Oto)

13 April 2013

Russell Haswell Cafe Oto April 2013Slipping quietly into the performance area, arch-noisemonger Russell Haswell opens his set with a slow build of spluttering sharp attacks, crawling eventually into chaos wrapped in shards of broken glass spat bloody and still sizzling into the ears of the willing victims in the crowd. Haswell is hunched intently over his boxes of dubious FX, never looking up and playing his devices the noisnik rather than the muso way – hard, brutal and as instruments themselves, an analogue/digital miasma with any emergent beats left to fend for themselves in musical purgatory.

Gravetemple are tonight (the first of two shows they will perform at Café Oto this weekend) the core trio of Stephen O’Malley (also known as SOMA), Oren Ambarchi and Attila Csihar, an international avant-metal/experimental/doom/drone supergroup of sorts. For the relatively confined space of Oto, they have left the smoke machines out of the equation; tonight it is the trio in comfortably intimate mode. That is, comfortable until Attila’s hoarse vocalisations accrete throatily in his signature style. He has an impressive vocal range, and he uses it like a phantom sliding into the mechanical chamber of the microphone and his bank of effects, while loopers bring in choral waves of self-counterpoint.

Gravetemple Cafe Oto April 2013

As with Haswell’s set, Gravetemple perform in darkness – save for a single weak bare bulb suspended before the trio – overtones swelling at slight remove, a lurking celebrant morphing into a self-replicating amorphous whole on a raft of Attila’s complex layered vocalisations. It’s not quite monk time, but there is a definite monastic mood to the performance – though on this occasion neither robes nor cowls are required to achieve it. So, propless, the vocal threnody grows at funereal pace, an amplifier twitches sparkily to hint at the doom yet to come, and all the while the audience held pent in churchlike reverence.

Gravetemple Cafe Oto April 2013

So when SOMA brings in a reverberating sustain, it comes almost as a shocking return to rock, even as it is simultaneously the most natural progression in the world. Gravetemple switch effortlessly into the SUNNO))) mode which SOMA and Attila share (and where Ambarchi has guested); and so ribcages commence their resonations and ears tingle with anticipation. Interlocking guitar drones from SOMA and Ambarchi rise and fall in cadences of longing; languid electricity made audibly present, holding time hostage while simultaneously in thrall to its slow decay and rebirth, the trio lost deep in their instruments, the volume and each other’s performance.

The heart of Gravetemple’s sound is the harmony (barring the occasional blip of speaker protestation) of electronic and vocal spheres intersecting on sinusoidal amplifier waves, oscillating into each other in conspiratorial divergences, glacial in pace but hellishly fiery at heart. Popping ears steps the harmonics up and down across sharpened trills, bouncing the sustain off Oto’s pillars, walls and sheet glass windows, making the air hum with resonance. The treble sets teeth on edge, soon provoking a whole body vibration as the guitars bathe in (en)cyclical striations where the wild feedback grows. The music combines in cross-cut interference patterns, while Attila’s throaty interjections bring his (in)human presence to the ongoing overload party. Lambent persuasion slips in and out of the slithering vocals’ haunted imprecations in an invocation which seems to chant a collective Om Mane Padme Doom.

Gravetemple Cafe Oto April 2013

The audience cannot afford to be dilettantes intent on chattering during the music at the bar, nor to be here to socialise; the music simply couldn’t let them be so shallow. Instead they must be in for the long haul – more than an hour and a half – and it’s only after sixty minutes of devastating intensity that Ambarchi skips behind his drumkit to rustle up a storm of cymbals and a roiling percussive scrawl, catharsis kicking in on a rhythmic tide, summoning an eschatological conclusion served up on a roll and in a whirl. Gravetemple coruscate into an immensity of noise unfolding and revolving relentlessly to its final apocalypse of all-consuming sound and fury signifying the moment of their – and the audience’s – very own drone metal apotheosis.

-Richard Fontenoy-

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