I first heard a piece from Bill Kouligas' Family Battle Snake project a year or so ago--the track was called "Macula Lutea." It was on Husk Records' sprawling "Static Hymnal" six-cassette compilation, and I was blown away. Out of the myriad of bands on this huge overview of dark noise/psych, FBS stood out by virtue of their technical skill and their highly-developed sense of tension and release. This Harbinger Sound LP collects material from Kouligas' last few years of recording, and despite the patchwork nature of the album's assembly, there is a tremendous unity to the record in both sound and compositional style.
"Metahaven" is the album's first track, a slow creeper that moves slug-like across your spine. It begins with a hollow, spacious electronic pulse which then gives way to a queasy, wavering synth riff. Short, hard scraping noises are added, and a bassy drone begins to oscillate underneath, pushing the piece forward and giving it a hefty dose of evil. "Utopian Mirror" uses a quavering synth line to start, and as the track develops wisps of buzzing tones whirl around the original pulse, creating a nauseating, nightmarish feeling. Synthesizers rush past the ears like speeding vehicles as the song piles noisy layer after noisy layer atop the wobbling mess of the original riff. It's the highlight of the album, a caustic and merciless drug ride through the frontal lobes.
"Virtual Escape" starts with a brief fragment of synth churn, before collapsing into disjointed, scattered bursts of high-frequency pinging. Distorted and fractured voices (old answering machine messages? One half of a taped phone call?) mutter as a gentle, elegiac synth chord slowly emerges to dominate the mix. "Stone Cave" continues the album's claustrophobic feel, beginning with staggered phrases of crunching and scraping noises before yielding to a siren-like synth tone. Kouligas sets a looped chord against the shrill pulse, but rather than chasing away the sense of unease, the chord seems to make the pulse even more piercing. A huge, suppurating drone winds things up before "Stone Cave" decays into the same grouping of sounds heard in its intro. Album closer "Lubbard's Farm" enlists Luke Younger from Helm to help on guitar, and works a more chaotic angle, as a live recording should. A bewildering morass of sound bursts loose and crashes about, finishing the record on a very different note from what the earlier tracks had established. Gone is the moribund elegance of "Utopian Mirror"; left in its place is a spasmodic, twitching body of corroded viscera and leaking pores. Either way its catharsis works well as a different sort of sonic barrage for Family Battle Snake, and it ends the album on a strong note.
Overall "Glass Face Island" shows the formidable range of Family Battle Snake's soundworld--in turn bleak, disquieting, blissful, and clamorous--and though this LP is limited to a mere 100 copies, it's worth making the effort to search it out. 9/10 -- Mike Griffin (4 August, 2010)