Review: Anna Thorvaldsdottir – Rhízōma

Rhízōma operates on the sort of scale that could either have only spawned from the influence of natural landmarks (canyons, mountains), or that which has been painted illustriously on the cavernous insides of the imagination. High strings resemble eerie slithers of light penetrating an absolute pitch black. Hostility lurks in the awkwardly skewed harmonies, in the staccato shards of violin, and in the meteorite hits of timpani and brass. Rhízōma is inescapable, and often spirals upward and upward to illustrate its entrapment inside some sort of nightmare paradox – intensity builds ever further as instruments moan and cascade in kamikaze glissando, but the album forever falls teasingly short of breaking the surface and allowing resolve to pour in. The strings play a chief role in keeping this tension ticking, either by scraping uncomfortably over otherwise pleasant major chords, or by adding the lightest brushstrokes of dissonance to throw a passing scene of tranquillity just ever so slightly off kilter.

The only occasions on which the album really “settles” are to ponder over gloomy, minor-key narratives (such as in the beautiful “Streaming Arythmia”), during which the instruments crawl and bubble like molten lava: gloops of sound that trundle across the lower pitch registers. But Rhízōma is predominantly in motion. It’s constantly moving between states, always in agonising expectation of what is to follow. The two longer pieces are the clear highlights – taking grander, more cinematic swoops into the unexpected – but the surrounding material form the integral rubble and foothills by which the depth and magnitude of the album’s mountainous centrepieces can be realised. Only occasionally does Thorvaldsdottir resort to more faceless, clichéd forms of orchestra noise – for the most part, everything from the chilling scrapes of detail to the overblown booms of sound are painstakingly placed and marvellously executed.