Not much of an Isis admirer, I was a quite surprised when I first heard that Type head honcho John Twells (aka Xela, as if you didn?t know) was to share a split release with Isis guitarist Mike Gallagher. Well, turns out I definitely like this release, both parts of it: two long tracks, one by each artists. Gallagher?s slow-burning but steadily growing wall of electric and acoustic guitar is up first. Over some 16 minutes, Gallagher succeeds in creating an atmosphere that is full of tension and melancholy, which in my ears is not a small achievement. Droning chords reluctantly align themselves to an epic theme that speaks of loss and dread. Indeed, Gallagher?s build up of tension is highly effective, his dramatic guitar work is more fervently pushing to the foreground than you might expect, but without ever becoming obtrusive.
Xela?s "Calling for Vanished Faces? is fighting an uphill battle from there, and successfully. The track?s introductory feedback noises make it abundantly clear that Xela isn?t willing to move back a single inch. With the help of some insane drumming courtesy of Jed Bindeman (of Heavy Winged), Xela pays homage to Thomas de Quincy and ? once again ? Argento?s "Suspiria?. You just have to admire John for the passion that drives his ongoing musical metamorphoses which have taken him from indie electronica to cinematic zombietronics and, finally, to that kind of machinery torture that?s best applied on carpets and on all fours. "Calling for Vanished Faces? is, to my ears at least, a remarkable combination of Xela?s more recent incarnations. Noise and improvisation are definitely there (the collaboration with Bindeman goes back to a spontaneous performance at the Bottled Smoke Festival in 07), but these 23 minutes sound far from improvised. No knob is twiddled without a reason, even Bindeman?s multi-faceted drumming is only drenched in heavily reverbed female vocals because such Grouper-isms help to perceive the beats as the tar drops they really are. "Callling for Vanished Faces?, then, puts improvisational and noise elements to use within the compositional framework. That?s why the cinematic atmospheres of "The Dead Sea? are all over this track, which may be less narrative but also much more textured. I wasn?t too fond of "The 12th Chapel?, Xela?s earlier collaborative attempt at atmospheric improvisation. This, however, is so much better, and totally unmissable. 9/10 -- Jan-Arne Sohns (25 June, 2008)