The sense of finality present on Xela’s The Sublime doesn’t merely stem from the fact that the album is the third part in the artist’s trilogy, but the two-song suite also now ends up being John Twells’ final physical release as Xela. Originally released on cassette via Digitalis Ltd and subsequently reissued on vinyl by Dekorder, as were The Illuminated and The Divine, The Sublime in LP form is a fitting companion to the free, digital-only Exorcism as a nail in the coffin of an ever-present, underrated moniker.
The Illuminated started the series reveling in pitch black sheets of screaming drones, bearing more resemblance to black metal than straightforward drone. Moments of “Black Scripture” could be layered guitar/synth tones processed and laid over a freight train blowing past. The Divine continued the ominous mood of the series’ first part, but traveled a more transcendent path with church bells, hazy recordings of a sermon, lethargic bowls and gongs, and warbled tones perfect for tape listening. Hell, the second part of The Divine processes beautiful choir vocals and slows the angelic voices down to a pace and ethereal ambiance rivaling William Basinski. Twells’ final part of his trilogy continues the feel of the first two parts, but with subtler, albeit dark and foreboding, drift.
The Sublime is Twells’ dissection of our perceptions of heaven and hell using analogue equipment, subtly deceitful emotional themes, and glacially paced action. The first side is comprised of “Lust & Paradise,” a two-part piece that begins with a bleak and haunted haze of warm, buzzing tones melancholically inviting an air of present doom. Heavy strings lightly pass and color the periphery sounding a lot like what I’d imagine the horns signalling the apocalypse would sound like. The scene’s minimalistic mayhem recedes and settles into a soft, elegiac pattern of comforting or resolved chords usher you into the afterlife. The final two or three minutes of “Lust & Paradise” are some of the most sinister and beautiful put to tape, and now vinyl. It’s warmly unsettling and darkly comforting.
“Eve’s Riposte” closes the set with a massive, elegiac lament that shifts and heaves ever so slowly. Unlike the quick, violent action suggested by its title, the piece focuses on a slow motion hum of deeply haunted drones. Opiate-laden buzzing and low-end rumbles shroud the vibrant keys underneath layers of murky rust, its beauty caked in decay and out-of-your-hands negligence. Suggesting an inevitable fall, the piece gradually reduces to a tight-fisted realization that it’s all over. Playing out like a Cormac McCarthy narrative, warning sirens blare, broken strings sustain, and analogue keys erupt into a full-on retaliation, like a rabid animal backed into a corner until the scene implodes, leaving a broken, spent instrument wheezing alone until it runs out of life.
A fitting close to a harrowing and varied discography. Undoubtedly, Twells will continue to set the standard for experimental music labels as head honcho for Type as well as recording new material under his own name (check out Twells & Christensen if you haven’t already), but Xela, you will be sorely missed.