A Journal Of The Dark Arts
There, in that clearing, on that cold blue night, we three knew that would be the last time that the call of the maddening machine would interfere with our lives. Those hellish visions, however, were burned rightly in our minds forever, and the sounds of stars and distant galaxies would dance lively through our ears until we no longer had a breath in our bodies.
– The Call Of The Maddening Machine
These are the final words, narrated by Joshua Levesque, of “The Call Of The Maddening Machine,” which provides this album it’s name and central concept, being inspired by Hellraiser, the discovery of the antikythera device in 1900, an early example of an analog computer, and demonic possession. From this brief interlude of spoken text, in this otherwise instrumental album, a narrative begins to emerge; a kind of turn-of-the-century steampunk version of Hellraiser and LeMarchand’s box.
The Maddening Machine begins with “Tremor Drift”, which reinforces the idea of a soundtrack for a film that doesn’t exist, with the sound of crackling vinyl and what sounds like a film reel unspooling, before an ominous ritualism commences, with downtuned doomy guitars, pulsing percussion and some authentically evil sounding synthesizers, that sound ripped straight from some cut-rate movie starring David Carradine and a book bound in human flesh. As usual, Wizards Tell Lies manage to coax out an impressively full sound for a one man band, courtesy of Matt Bower’s split personalities: Fox, Owl, and Hart. As with the last time we ran across WTL, on The Ninth Door, released earlier this year on Jehu And Chinaman, the drums sound impressive, like a full-fledged psych/occult metal band. As with The Ninth Door, The Maddening Device continues Bowers’ mission to revitalize the genre once known as post-rock, holding on to the dynamics and epicness, but ditching the predictability. The loose narrative helps Wizards Tell Lies, in this regard.
“Spyridean Mechanism Ritual” is my favorite track on here: a lengthy dark ambient opus of creepy warped music box tones and melted tape. “Spyridean Mechanism Ritual” would sit comfortably next to Coil’s “The Box Theme,” adding to the Hellraiser theme, as “The Box Theme” was from Coil’s unreleased score for the original Hellraiser. The underwater, experimental electronic texture of “SMR” is just one more element that prevents this from being yr run of the mill post-rock record, recalling recent efforts by Mogwai, and giving us hope that their may be life yet in the world of powerful, visionary, climactic rock ‘n roll. I also really love the wall of delayed percussion, which borders on dub techno, like Adrian Sherwood remixing Jesu. The subtle, ominousness gives way to powerful sludge, with buzzing black metal guitars joining growling, plodding bass, that is equal parts June Of 44 and Godflesh.
This fluctuation from epic, instrumental rock to atmospheric dark ambiance continues throughout the record. There’s something for every lover of psychedelic metal here.
Next is the eponymous “The Call Of The Maddening Machine,” quoted above. One cannot help but view this as the cornerstone of the record, giving it it’s name and the longest track here. It starts off with the distant crackle of thunder, arcing electricity, and divebombing string drones, issuing from the cello of another Forestpunk fave, Ms. April Larson. Stomping percussion, clean ringing guitars and that face-melting bass announce the theme and set the mood, building up to the narration from Levesque. For all horror writers and storytellers, this would make a wonderful soundtrack for penning yr own stories of dread. It builds to a terrible, triumphant climax, like the portal to hell opening, like being torn apart by hooks, in rapturous agony.
Back to the dark ambiance, back to dark waters with the final track “Dark Stairway To Exit,” which sounds like nothing so match as being hunted by some dark reaver down a metal sewer pipe. There’s some analog electronics and harsh noise static on “Dark Stairway,” bringing in even more layers and textures to this already jam-packed record. There’s some glorious phasing towards the end, and some blissful organs, suggesting there is a light on the other side of this darkness, that seeking forbidden wisdom may have been worth it after all.
It’s a compelling headtrip, all in all, that fans of Clive Barker’s mythos, as well as H. P. Lovecraft’s should gibber over. Matt Bower (and his personas) are growing in power, with each release, making some of the most powerful and compelling self-produced music out there. For anybody that loved bands with no words, long songs and long names in the mid ’00s, we owe Bower a huge debt of gratitude, injecting new life into the world of instrumental rock music, by splicing it with dark ambient, noise, and various shades of metal, to create rich music with a wide emotional vocabulary, that is open-ended and open to interpretation.
Sadly, the Maddening Machine is gone, in its physical form, on the ever-essential Rano Records, but the digital archives remain, to be tasted by all.