Wednesday, 10 July 2019

The Haxan Cloak ‎– Excavation (2013)

Style: Dark Ambient, Drone
Format: CD, Vinyl
Label: Tri Angle

1.   Consumed
2.   Excavation (Part 1)
3.   Excavation (Part 2)
4.   Mara
5.   Miste
6.   The Mirror Reflecting (Part 1)
7.   The Mirror Reflecting (Part 2)
8.   Dieu
9.   The Drop

Instruments – Bobby Krlic
Composed By, Recorded By, Mixed By, Producer – Bobby Krlic

Death isn't going to come easy for Bobby Krlic, the London-based producer who records as the Haxan Cloak. At least he has Excavation, a sort of multifaceted roadmap of the afterlife, to guide him. This record, his first for Tri Angle, is about the journey taken after death, making it a sequel to his eponymous 2011 debut, which was themed around someone approaching their final days on the planet. Both albums are imagined, instrumental quests, drawn out through electronic compositions with occasional strings. The first record came close to twisted Wicker Man folk at times. This one plunges into a blackened well and never gets out. There is no light relief from Krlic's malaise, no sense that we won't be here some day and there's a place at the end of it all where we might find peace. Excavation is quite the opposite. It paints death as a terrifying, complex process, full of confounding turns and illogical rhythms. 
Krlic isn't exactly working in isolation as the Haxan Cloak; he has peers in Demdike Stare's drone-shaped darkness, and he's in a similar orbit to the digital trudge-to-oblivion practiced by fellow Londoners Raime. But while Excavation continues a theme, it goes to more expansive places than anything that bears vaguely similar properties. It's bold and domineering, the kind of music that towers over you and casts a giant, intimidating shadow. There's a magical quality to it, drawn from its transportive nature. It's hard to imagine this being put together in someone's bedroom or a crappy studio, mainly because it's so far withdrawn from the everyday. Krlic has far grander thoughts in mind. He is, after all, building a whole world here, one full of mysterious scratch marks on walls, bloodstained carpets, or the noose tossed into view on the album's cover. 
Excavation is more soundtrack than regular album, pulling on familiar tropes from the horror world such as the sudden escalation of strings that lead to a stony silence in "Consumed". But Krlic doesn't follow a straight path at any point, instead setting muted rhythms in progress and disrupting them just when it feels like you've got a handle on where he's going. The depth is quite extraordinary at times, largely due to the bottomless bass Krlic deploys, helping to depict the afterlife as a relentless slog. In many religions death is seen as a destination, but here it's a struggle, another journey, a new set of circumstances with which to grapple. There's a strong sense of deterioration, of things falling apart. When "Excavation (Part 2)" plunges into the quiet it feels like Krlic's carefully constructed world faded away, only for it to segue into the queasy strings that beckon in the following "Mara" that confirm: yes, you are still here in his personal hell.

It's an album sequenced with a central narrative in mind, and one that's not without glimmers of hope at key junctures. "The Mirror Reflecting (Part 2)" and "The Drop" are key tracks, both deploying lighter textures that symbolize a form of redemption from the sooty gloom that eats at the edges of the Haxan Cloak. They come toward the close of the record, suggesting that some kind of unsteady peace has been made in this particular form of purgatory. It adds a resigned air to the album, a sense of accepting fate no matter how bad it may be. Krlic brings the strings into greater view once again during "The Drop", heightening the feelings of sadness and empathy that slowly guide us away from the inky path of all-out grief and dejection. Still, the bass hits continue to punch in that sinking feeling and the beats add a dramatic flourish, always emphasizing that this is a place of sickness, not security. 
With music we like, we often talk about the compulsion to come back to it, that need to hit the repeat button as soon as it's over. But music you need a break from can be equally powerful. Excavation has that air, of a place that actually needs some preparation before entering into it. It's not aesthetically similar to Scott Walker's later works, but it similarly highlights how certain music specifically needs the right time, place, and mood to function. Krlic even seems to know it himself, commenting in his Rising feature about the effects of his nine-hour-straight recording sessions. "Being in that zone for that long can freak you out," he said. Instead, Excavation gains power from gathering a little dust for a while, becoming a dark treat to occasionally sink into. It's not a place in which to seek refuge from life's ills, but rather one in which you can satisfy a perverse need to draw them in closer. 
Nick Neyland / Pitchfork

The Haxan Cloak ‎– …The Men Parted The Sea To Devour The Water (2012)

Style: Drone, Experimental
Format: CD, Vinyl
Label: Latitudes ‎

1.   …The Men Parted The Sea To Devour The Water

Arranged By, Producer – Bobby Krlic
Art Direction – Stephen O'Malley
Engineer – Harvey Birrell
Illustration – Robert Beer

Bobby Krlic's debut album as The Haxan Cloak arrived last year like a boltgun to the back of the neck, accompanied by the Observatory EP's swift coup de grace, a knife swept delicately through the tendons of its victims' willing throats. Both were precociously fully-formed releases for a relative newcomer. Though when I interviewed him late last year he described Observatory as "my interpretation of a Skaters record", it was far better than simple pastiche or tribute, its rhythms reverberant as though beaten onto a rotting tree trunk and clogged by swampy synth and string drones. 
The full-length was even better. Released through Aurora Borealis - a label frequently associated with metal - its ritual bells, struck percussion and tearing cello figures (all played by Krlic himself) were instead suggestive of some archaic folk form performed by a skeleton troupe, unearthed from moorland barrows still caked in earth and the half-fossilised remnants of their own flesh and blood. All the more impressive when we discovered it was all recorded in a home-constructed studio in his parents' garden, it landed right near the top of the pile of our favourite records of last year. 
One aspect of being a relatively new artist is that your muse is likely still in a state of flux. While The Haxan Cloak immediately snared listeners, it was only Krlic's debut, and his live performances immediately showed signs that he was taking his music in slightly new directions again. The day we met for an interview in London in November last year, he was about to head off to Southern's studios to record this instalment in their Latitudes series. Essentially a session album, The Men Parted The Sea To Devour The Water records the contours of his live performances at the time. He's since signed to London label Tri Angle (initially associated with the emergence of so-called 'witch house' last year, and since having signed the likes of Clams Casino and Vessel) for his upcoming second album, which might again suggest distinct steps away from the insular spaces of his debut. 
Krlic's live shows at the time - captured for posterity on Devour The Water - were beginning to incorporate more obvious electronic elements. He admitted when we spoke to having always been a bass-head and dance music geek, although evidence of those tendencies was hidden away on his earlier releases. Those interests were starting to be expressed in his live sets, though, which took recognisable segments from his recorded output - the disembodied aquatic choir that drifts though this record's opening section, for example - and framed them with sparse, technoid beat constructions and throbbing, overtly synthetic sub-bass. They hit in hard around nine minutes through Devour The Water's single track: crisp polyrhythms a tad reminiscent of the hand-played Middle Eastern drum patterns of Skull Disco-era Shackleton, but slowed to a more comfortable pulse than the latter's wild-eyed flailings. 
Here these foundations are gradually joined by additional percussive elements, a few of which acquire melodic characteristics, threading a spidery motif through the mix that's not too distant from something you might hear on a Robert Hood or Shed record. If those sound like strange comparisons to make to Krlic's music, they are - for those only versed on his earlier material, this record will probably come across as a dramatic stylistic shift. And as with any transition away from such a distinctive debut, there's always the risk of losing something along the way. What marked The Haxan Cloak out was its timeless quality: there were no particular production tricks or techniques that betrayed it as an album of 2011. Had we been informed that it was a reissue of an obscure horror film soundtrack from the 60s or late 70s, it would have seemed entirely plausible and we'd probably have accepted the story as read. 
Admittedly, most of the sound sources for Devour The Water appear to have come from the same home-recorded library as The Haxan Cloak, lending it a similar mood and atmosphere to Krlic's debut. However, the electronic elements added here do definitely feel of a particular moment in time. If Krlic cleans all the muck and dust off his music, it's possible that a once unique sound - kindred to Coil, Leyland Kirby's work as The Stranger and Richard Skelton - might instead end up lost within a wider ecology of London-based producers making moody, sub-bassy electronica. Given the consummate skill he's shown thus far, I suspect I'll be proved wrong. Nonetheless, I do hope that he continues to consign his beats to the damp and dark corners of the garden, the better to keep them mouldering nicely. 
Rory Gibb / The Quietus

The Haxan Cloak ‎– The Haxan Cloak (2011)

Style: Dark Ambient, Drone
Format: CDVinyl
Label: Aurora Borealis

1.   Raven's Lament
2.   An Archaic Device
3.   Burning Torches Of Despair
4.   Disorder
5.   The Fall
6.   The Growing
7.   In Memoriam
8.   Parting Chant

Instruments – Bobby Krlic
Mastered By – Kris Lapke
Composed By, Recorded By, Mixed By, Producer – Bobby Krlic