Somewhere in the world, and at some point in time, two Swedish artists (Altar of Flies/Mirrors Are Black) collaborated to create a work of music; but rather than pool their efforts together they decided to set them side by side—two distinguishable halves that when paired would make for something all the more profound. The result of their labor is the Split LP. Let’s dive in.
Side A (Altar of Flies) gradually, and ever so gently, like an unforeseen morning fog, rolls in. ‘Attention Please’ unfurls with the rattle of pipes, and the groan of power lines. This hum—a cross between electrical distortion and insect buzz—snakes its way throughout, a constant unsettling reminder of the record’s most memorable quality, its ominous character. The experience of the opening sequences of this record are somewhat akin to easing into a warm bath, the sensation is at first mild, but once things intensify, you feel that gurgle of hot raw guts churning under your flesh, that disquieting discomfort of a heated mood. The aural impression is strikingly similar, sounding like the monstrous hallucinations of some long-fevered brain.
‘Fragments’ is a stitch-less patchwork of found sounds, original instrumentation, and field recordings that blissfully brings to mind the electroacoustic musings of Bernard Parmegiani. The noises here, both cosmic and faintly oceanic, melt into one another so convincingly that they almost form what could be considered, ever so loosely, rhythms. The sharp contrast of the various acoustic elements provided here, suggest vague but irresistible concepts to the mind that sinisterly inebriate the listener into a false sense of physical surrounding. While musique concrete is the obvious signpost in this track, a comparison to the spatial audio experiments of Alvin Lucier better communicates the true nature of what goes on here.
Side B (Mirrors Are Black) is, on the whole, unquestionably more absorbing; and, as with Side A, it learns to crawl before it takes off in earnest. It opens: strikes of jagged metallic sheets find a home among the chirps and trembled squeals of the soundscape’s artificial wildlife. Once the background landscape is firmly established, the whisper of an understated drone slowly oozes its way into the sonic environment, eventually, evolving into a texture all its own, one that consummately consumes the track en masse. Before long (and without notice) this wall of noise comes further into focus, dividing itself into noticeably separate components which reveal to the listener the litany of ingredients that make up Side B’s cacophonous audile soup. This malfunctioning drone continues to transform, suddenly mutating into wailing eschatological alarms that efficiently induce panic as readily as they suggest defeat. While a walk-through like this one can tell you something about what goes on in this cut, it’s horribly insufficient in conveying what it’s actually like to listen to this arresting music.
Mirrors are Black’s contribution to the Split LP is equal parts terrifying and enchanting; it seesaws the mind, and forces upon the imagination images at once ornately organic and fixedly industrial. It is a churning, gurgling, scaly sort of work, like the sound of a rigidly mechanical golem finding its way to the living.
The Split LP is a nameless, faceless work. It unabashedly wears its influences on its sleeve. Contained herein one can find: (though, admittedly, often in minute or diluted form) The aural disturbances of Stockhausen’s Kontakte, the alien nature of Throbbing Gristle’s Heathen Earth, as well as the mentally asphyxiating quality of SPK’s most stifling industrial moments. Although the Split LP isn’t as potent, or compelling as these comparisons, and borrows from them liberally, it hardly plays like your average pastiche. This is not merely an amateur’s take on the works of these aesthetic giants, but rather it is a brilliantly executed piece of music that at times touches, and even reaches, the spikes in genius displayed by these revered classics of the avant garde cannon. Sure there are records out there that do the same things and better, but like having a beautiful woman in front you, it hardly matters in the moment, that there are sweeter prizes to be had. In this isolating and seductive way, this record can swallow your attention whole.
A ruthless, restless tone drifts throughout this album–like a drunken stupor pulling you haphazardly through some disjoined narrative. The album’s journey, once unwound, is ravenously consuming and surprisingly expansive—plunging us from the urban-damaged sores on earth through the tortured pits of hell, all the way to the dimmest chasm of the most absurd of nightmares.
This is not music welcome to constant revisit. It’s an exhausting work. It leaves you feeling emptier than a night of infinite debauch, yet satisfied in a spent sort of way. This music can be chewed on for several days, and perhaps far more fascinating, it can chew on you for even longer. Pieces of music like this grant (when supplemented with patience, and careful silence) the listener a pathway into the regions of human thought—a fresh outlet for self-enjoyment and an indispensable means to discover something surprising about the world.
Personally, the willful intention to divorce the sounds of this record (and the thoughts that violently rush to mind due to them) from my memory, has been like a tearing surgical extraction—they simply bury themselves too deep. This is a record that will stay with you for a while, and will certainly warrant a nod when year-end lists begin to rear their ugly heads.