Place this release alongside earlier Skullflower works such as “Last Shot at Heaven” (put out seventeen years before) and it really puts it in perspective how the project has developed. Certain elements have remained – the discordant whistle of guitar drones, the bleak, black atmosphere – but somewhere along the line the use of rhythm and bass-driven groove was phased out in favour of something more free-flowing and grotesque. Whilst some may yearn for a return to the more rock-based jams that conjured up Swans comparisons and influenced the likes of Godflesh, this gorgeous double disc leaves me feeling extremely thankful for the way in which Skullflower has evolved.
Strange Keys to Untune Gods’ Firmament is the hydraulic hiss of factory malfunction, the hideous scrape of frets and hordes of flailing feedback entwined with erratic guitar dissonance and whatever terrible noises you can possibly imagine. It’s a relentless 110 minutes of cold industrial noise, where track transitions are often notified by abrupt switches in sound as opposed to breaking the release up with fleeting seconds of silence. There is absolutely no resting point here – any hint of melodic harmony in amongst the disarray feels accidental, any dip in volume is quickly swept up in the blistering dissonant hurricane that follows. By now I’m sure you’re fairly decided on whether Strange Keys… is a double album for you or not.
I decided it was for me, and took an evening walk by the coast to assess whether I’d made the correct judgement there. Even as an avid fan of noisy music, there were points during the first half of the release where two hours seemed daunting and rather excessive – I wasn’t positive that music of such a merciless dynamic could hold my attention for that duration. But as the album progressed, my listening became subconsciously more attentive, and the seemingly static landscape unfolded and brought a whole array of intricacies into focus from the seemingly indistinguishable atonal mass. By the end I was completely immersed, only to be juddered back into reality by the abrupt manner in which the record shuts off into silence.
In fact, it’s only when Strange Keys… cuts out, and your head becomes free of the glorious sonic muck that has occupied it for the past two hours, that you can actually soak it up and make sense of everything. Personally, I think it’s a great listening experience. One that may perhaps be a bit too dizzying and intense to repeat too frequently, but one that leaves a sick satisfaction scorched onto your mind for a long while after coming to a close. Lovely.