A Journal Of The Dark Arts
Label: Modern Love
Release Date: 10.29.13
Riyl: The Caretaker, Raime, The Haxan Cloak, Lustmord, Brian Eno
Leyland Kirby’s music, whether under the guise of The Caretaker or his monolithic piano lamentations under his own name, have always been about decay. About things being lost. Watching Dead Empires Decay, his first album under The Stranger imprint since 2008’s Bleaklow, turns the gaze outward, taking the listener on a journey through desolate, scarred landscapes.
Let’s face it, photos of abandoned places are beautiful. The textured grit, often captured in glorious monochrome (like this stunning cover from Guy Denning), evoke a sense of time and mystery. They spark the imagination, with the sheer weight of history and the passing of time.
Watching Dead Empires In Decay is a guided tour through what Mark Fisher, the esteemed hauntologist K-Punk, called The Eerie Northwest, an area of the UK that encompasses Manchester, Cheshire, and Northern Wales, in this excellent essay. The Northwest is to England what Detroit is to the US, post-industrial decline.
The 9 sound sculptures evoked on Watching Dead Empires seems as if these ruins are being viewed 1000 years in the future, however, and possibly on a different planet. The primal, knocking pulse of “So Pale They Shone In The Night” could be a mating dance for Morlocks. There is a ritualistic flair to these proceedings, with an emphasis on booming tribal percussion.
Leyland Kirby has largely forsaken the sweetness of the crackling, Jeck-ian miniature melodies of The Caretaker. Watching Dead Empires is almost entirely rhythmic and textural, which make it a surreal and compelling journey, that can be undertook again and again. It transforms yr life into a cryptic, misty enigma, like suddenly being plunged into Silent Hill or wandering around in Stephen King’s The Mist. Almost every reviewer that has set to come to grips with this album have focused on the dread and terror, and i’m here to set the record straight. For those of us who have cut our teeth on Lustmord and Tribes Of Neurot, and have been eagerly following the works of Raime and The Haxan Cloak, this work does not sound terrifying, merely immense and awe-inspiring.
Raime and Haxan Cloak are the closest connections to The Stranger, but where those artists technoid soundworlds seemed deeped in tar and dropped into a deep, dark well, Kirby’s world seems lost in a haze; with monolithic structures gleaming like alabaster through the miasma. One is reminded of the deserted streets of Chernobyl, with powerful machines continuing on in rusted half-life beneath the streets.
Watching Dead Empires In Decay does share those artist’s immense, hyper-modern production, however: big booming tribal drums meet dry clicking staccato bone rhythms, that conjure images of gigantic Boll Weevil beetles scurrying over the landscape, laying waste, like on “Ill Fares The Land”. This combination of field recordings and programming hints at exciting horizons for electronic production. Every single detail is impeccably placed, warm and rich, with an understanding and utilization of space. Kirby’s residency in Berlin must be having an effect, as you can hear echoes of Wolfgang Voigt’s Gas, in the nearly dub-techno of “About To Enter A Strange New Place”.
Although predominantly rhythmic, when the melodies do emerge, they are breathtaking, like on the nearly religious “Providence Or Fate”, where swelling strings and lush synth swells break like a sun through the clouds, glinting on broken glass and corroded steel. Leyland Kirby’s music, under any name, has always seemed colossal and timeless, but there has always been a human element. It’s the sound of the human dealing with the sublime and the ineffable, which is why his work stands head and shoulders above the vacuous, anonymous works of drone artists with nothing to say.
As the years weather onward, Leyland Kirby’s music is becoming more original, and less dependent upon samples. He is revealing himself to be an adept composer, as well as sound manipulator, and he is a force to be reckoned with.
If you are interested in the future of electronic music, if you like dark ambient music but are bored of bland synth pads and generic synth ambiance, if you like environmental field recordings, but are embarrassed to shop in the new age section, look no further. This record is essential.