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Aun: Motorsleep; Ultica; Habsyll Split; VII

img  Tobias Fischer

Thanks to a unique ability to reconcile his fascination for the arcane power of Metal with an Ambient-philosophy towards composition, Guitarist Martin Dumais has secured a leading position on the Montreal underground for his Aun-project. It was about time the rest of the world caught up: Intrigued by this well of wilful sounds, an invitation to partake in the highly limited „Ostinato“-series initiated by visual artist Jérôme Fortin  was followed up with a quartet of releases on four of the leading imprints on the scene. These works, published within a mere months of each other, encompassed the entire spectrum of his activities and displayed the full diversity of his oeuvre: From barely 12-minute short 7inch Utica on Drone Records to meditative epic Motorsleep on Alien8 and from a heavy Split-LP with enigmatic French cult-act Habsyll on Conspiracy to concise and astoundingly immediate Doom-opus VII on Important, they opened up an acoustic cosmos drenched in darkness, which seemed to know no boundaries and did not allow itself to be restricted by any dogmas or rules.

At the same time, they disproved notions of Dumais - and his congenial musical partner Julie Leblanc, whose role in Aun has gradually been extended into a veritable duo-slot - representing a postmodern king of polystylism, cleverly juxtaposing his plentiful influences by means of collage techniques. It would certainly be misleading, as some press releases have already done, to refer to his work as „bi-polar“. Admittedly, to an outside observer, the rift opening up between a record like VII, with its electrical fuzz, grainy textures, straightforward arrangements, brutish riffs and surprisingly groovy drumming (courtesy of Canadian Metal-legend Michael Langevin of Voivod) and Motorsleep's ultra-discrete, intricately developed, deeply layered and surreally floating quilt of interconnected guitarscapes must seem confounding and bordering the absurd. In reality, however, they are made of the same cloth and, in fact, feature an essentially identical set-up. In a sense, Aun's Ambient-work as well as his Metal-pieces were constituting volatile systems constantly in danger of collapsing into their opposites.

For a clearer picture of Dumais's intentions, one only needs go back to Irrlicht, his 2009-collaboration with Nina Kernicke aka Allseits and to Klaus Schulze's Krautrock-classic the title refers to. At the time of its inception, Schulze's album was all but boycotted by the classical musicians he'd hired to perform at the sessions, ridiculed by the producers (whom Schulze overheard calling him a lunatic) and almost unanimously ignored by the press. Its opening movement brought a string orchestra in collision with a swelling and deflating bass pulse and culminated in a furious sequence of organ-arpeggios, while all of the finale section's 18-minutes ran backwards (an accident in the editing process, as the electronic pioneer cheerfully admits today), turning it into a psychedelic artifact of mindblowing dimensions. What made the music provocatively unacceptable to its professional personnel was exactly what so fascinated Schulze and lent the album its singularly timeless appeal: A complete ignorance of conventions as well as a spellbinding simultaneity of darkness and light, fear and hope, the absurd and the obvious, the spiritual and the corporeal, of ambition, madness, audacity and hubris.

All of these facets are equally apparent in a work like Motorsleep. Representing a one-hour long journey through whispering harmonic figments, convulsing sheets of overtones and moments of otherwordly bliss and majesty, it come pretty close to what many would consider a magnum opus. Especially Dumais's talent at moulding heterogeneous inventions into a seamless alloy and carving emotional resonance from solid blocks of timbre is at its peak here: After carefully raising, concentrating and releasing the tension over the course of the first five tracks, he eases the pressure with two slightly more tangible, almost sentimental episodes, before bringing things to an anthemic close. As focused and precise as the work may seem, the aforementioned borderline-nature of these pieces is shining through at all times: In „Protection“, impulsive guitar-thrusts are rudely kicking underneath a flimsy foil of sustained harmonics, creating the impression of a nightmare violently demanding to be set free.

Despite obvious disparities in aesthetics, the Doom-laden elegies of VII are emotively, if not stylistically, within arms' length. A piece like „Drainbow“, with its ferocious distortion and crushing powerchords, is not all that far away from Motorsleep's „With Bows Bent“, as long as one sees through the initial outward dissimilarities. It is quickly becoming apparent that these massive sculptures of pain are, in a way, upended versions of their atmospheric counterparts: In the former, aggression is freely released, here it is kept in check like a wild beast in a cage. In the former, the apocalypse is suggested, in the latter it is already upon the listener. And yet, not even the most morbid Metal-metaphor could suppress the deeply meditative qualities of this music: „Broken Hill“ even opens with a sweet, innocently lulling organ drone, only to bury it underneath menacingly wailing feedback-explosions, while Falcon“, presents a hypnotically looped guitar line on top of a catchy, slowly crawling beat.

These opposites are brought to a temporary truce on two-track EP Utica. The title track may hint more at Dumais' background in Noise, while „Lelehudah“ introduces an orchestral element. Both, however, are marked by an epiphany-like moment, when a luminous bass-drone kicks in and floods the scene with radiating warmth – sensual outposts amidst an infinite postnuclear wasteland. The split with Habsyll, meanwhile, also arrives at an equilibrium, albeit an uneasy one: On 13-minute opener „Druids“, the drums are pounding as though Zeus almighty were manning the decks. Dumais hinges the entire piece on a hypnotic exploration of the same chordal relationships, tasting the aftermath of their distorted powerchords to the full. „Fall Out“, with its spikey riffing and piercing frequencies, meanwhile, sounds like a Post-Punk trio jamming out in a pitchblack cellar. Owing to their tangible and electrifying energy and immediacy, these two tracks merely feel dark and deep rather than outright depressive and defeatist – compared to the satanic avantgarde implosion of the Habsyll material, they even have a surprising air of optimism about them. They might as well: Thanks to his unique ability to reconcile the enigmatic bleakness of Metal with the tender equilibrium of Ambient, one of the leading voices on the Montreal underground should soon make itself heard all over the world.

By Tobias Fischer

Homepage: Aun at MySpace
Homepage: Alien8 Records
Homepage: Conspiracy Records
Homepage: Drone Records
Homepage: Important Records

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