Portland’s Silentist is an ugly, visceral, disturbing group that sounds like absolutely no one else. The best approximation that I can give is “this is what it would sound like if Steve Reich took a lot of hard drugs, had a mental breakdown, and made a black metal album”. The band’s sole founding member and chief architect is pianist/drummer Mark Evan Burden (formerly of Get Hustle and Glass Candy), but he was later joined by like-minded vocalist August Alston and bassist Dustin Ferris. As alluded to above, most of the songs here are built around rapid minimalist piano patterns in the vein of folks like Reich or Conlon Noncarrow, often with several clashing notes included (Burden’s piano sounds like an angry swarm of bees on “Verdelet”). Then, of course, there is the absolutely brutal blast-beat and double-bass drumming and Alston’s tortured shrieking to complete the confrontational and oppressive atmosphere.
Unsurprisingly, it is somewhat hard for me to make it through this entire album in one sitting, as it is roughly the sonic equivalent of having acid thrown in my face, but some of the individual tracks are absolute masterworks of splenetic, spastic hostility. In particular, the bludgeoning, swooping “Seizures” is one of the most perfect distillations of black-hearted menace that I’ve ever heard. There are a number of other inspired moments on the album too, such as the relentless double-bass drumming and nightmarish and discordant ascending piano runs near the end of “Repulsive Resurrection” and the free jazz/Neurosis hybrid outro of “Bars”. Burden has quite a knack for wringing maximum brutality out of the spartan and atypical instrumentation (although guitars make sporadic appearances too).
OF course, the album has some sizable flaws too: the songs all kind of sound pretty similar, the black metal squawk of the vocals can be a bit annoying, and the songs with more epic lengths tend to drag. Silentist are much better suited for EPs than full-length albums, I'm afraid. Nevertheless, this is such a cathartic, unique, and bat-shit crazy vision that I cannot help but recommend it anyway. This is art, not entertainment, damn it. I am thrilled that this exists. 7/10 -- Anthony D'Amico (1 July, 2009)