1: 11 April 2019
This album is sea sickness. A constant, giddy tilting. The summoning of mirage through weakness. The inner, churning weight of feeling utterly stranded, fated to sway and degenerate forever. All three instruments abide by this queasy imbalance. The guitar of Jan Christian Lauritzen (Noxagt, No Balls) withers into itself, chords hunched and emaciated, dissonances protruding like bone. The drums of Thore Warland (Golden Oriole, Staer) are like loose rum barrels knocking against the hull, occasionally puncturing the wood to relieve gushes of cymbal wash. The viola of Nils Erga (Findlay//Sandmark, ex-Noxagt) traces upturned smiles of sunlight across the sky, setting the whole scene at dusk – golden and shimmering, yet turning predatory and harsh through persistence. For a full 48 minutes the album hangs in this stale fatigue, creeping around the rim of death and reeking of it, yet somehow denied the catharsis of actually falling in. How incredibly cruel.
Same scene, but another image: the guitar and drums as the remnants of corporeal life, painted in the palette of jaundice, browning flesh and black-red sores. Miserable, staggering. Meanwhile, the viola and cymbals gleam with some sort of ghastly promise, like a dagger dangling aloft, perhaps hallucinated during those clouds of waning willpower; tempting, sharp but also shapeless, perpetually dancing out of reach. A pathetic, beautiful, ever-dimming ray of mortal wanting.
Perhaps due to the cacophonous reputation of the Burning Axis personnel, the entire album is haunted by a sensation of suppressed intensity. It stalks the edges of its louder, more abrasive potential. The trio allude to it through sudden and unstable energy surges: strums that snarl out of the amplifier grill, tom drum hits that dent but never puncture, shrieks of viola like the primal spasms of birds under threat. It hangs in a state of morbid possibility, and despite closing track “All The Vultures” summoning a wave of raised urgency, I’m never subjected to the catastrophe that the record so grimly forewarns. There’s the fact that nothing is more spectacularly gruesome than the monster cast in the colours of the imagination. There’s also the notion that even the most hideous revelation would be its own form of relief. I feel impotent in my expectation. As it stands, I’m left to anxiously draw lines of connection between these fragments of allusory verse, weakened by the powerlessness of not knowing, eyes transfixed on the future’s crooked silhouette as it looms larger, fast becoming all my eyes can see.
Today, I’m putting all my attention on the viola. It hangs in the background. Too distant to know. It glimmers, blurred and displaced, on the periphery of vision. More light that object. Sometimes it’s a hacking sound suspended in the air; the aqueous outline of blacksmith labour nestled in a corner of sky, as Erga drags the bow leadenly across the strings as if sharpening it, alternating between sharp squeaks and prolonged moans. Sometimes the viola is a slow, indulgent curvature. The upward swoop of a gigantic, lop-sided phantom smile. Sometimes it sinks into the cracks of the guitar and drums, harmonics pooling like acid between vibrations and punctuations, corroding these compositions from the inside. Where the other instruments slowly mark out a plodding, crooked impression of time, the viola feels playfully immune, dripping down upon the horizontal plain of passing like a leak from the sun.
What if this isn’t an instance of suppressed intensity, but more the echoes of a former catastrophe? I liken the feeling to reading about mythic battles or prehistoric disasters. All of the violence has been softened by the distance of time, or eroded in transit between worlds. It manifests in oral history, or yearning metaphor, or fantasised illustration. It is the echo of an agony that presses, ever so gently, upon the edges of the imagination when one hears about events long gone. And so the guitars tremble with the residue of a former tectonic rupture; the drums reenact explosions through muffled thumps and peripheral washes of cymbal fire; the viola drags the translucent memory of a missile as it soars overhead. Burning Axis are perpetuators of an ancient myth, fraught with the dissonance of compounded conjecture as they whisper their dramatic retelling. Sometimes their evocation feels a little too real, and just how the re-enactment of a ritual can reawaken the dormant spirits of the past, this music regularly risks puncturing a hole through which mythic history can emerge into the present. Take the cyclone of drones that pirouettes through the centre of “Sacrificial Day”, which even sounds like a portal ripping open between here and elsewhere. Are Burning Axis fully aware of the forces they’re playing with here?