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Concert Report: Fear Falls Burning & Bass Communion

img  Tobias

As I wander through the streets of Antwerp, the air caressingly cool in the early evening light and the streets covered by a shiny coating of rain and glistening dampness, I am beginning to understand the intricate influence this city must have had on the music of Fear FallsBurning. At every corner, it seems, the colossal towers of countless churches proudly stem their crosses into the bloodred sky, their bells tolling in bronzen majesty, harbingers of some long forgotten prophecy. The sympathetic cobblestone roads leading pedestrians past candle-lit cafes, cozy bars and crammed Italian restaurants fronted by hollering waitors beckoning in customers with promises of Pizza and Pasta are framed by perfectly restored ancient facades. But behind the iron gates, you can catch a glimpse of dark gothic backyards, murmering with mystery and the kind of crumbling stucco depicted on the cover of the penultimate Fear Falls Burning full-length „When the mystery prevades the well, the promise sets fire“.

It was merely a question of time that this town would eventually come to produce the multilayered Drone-Psychedelia of Dirk Serries' most recent album „Frenzy of the Absolute“, whose festering cracks in a powerfully crunching surface revealed nightmarish visions burried deep inside a winding riverbed of tonal Schizophrenia. And it speaks books that the city has now deepened their bond by inviting him to perform this implicit homage in its entirety at home.

Bass Communion: A subtle test of stamina
When I enter the Luchtbal's entrance hall, though, the crowd I find assembled in anticpatory supense of this celebratory mass is anything but a puny local circle of intimates. In fact, many economic congresses would be proud to boast a similarly international audience. Fragments and figments of foreign languages are buzzing in the air and while spending some time at the booths of the Tonefloat- and Conspiracy labels, I overhear questions like „Do you take Danish money?“ - the circles of Serries' music are growing in concentric exponentiality.

There can be no doubt, on the other hand, that large portions of the audience were drawn in by a delectable double bill ennobled by the special guest of tonight's program: While Steve Wilson's prolific engagements in succesful bands and projects like No Man has long made him much more than „just“ the head of Porcupine Tree, concerts under his Bass Communion banner are still a rare treat. Judging by the myriads of Porcupine Tree T's filling the foyer, the uniqueness of the occasion has been thankfully welcomed by his fans, whose heavy shopping bags filled with precious Vinyl tell of their unfaltering love of even his more experimental endeavours.

His performance on the evening certainly puts their stamina to the test. Wilson opens with secretive brushes of crackle and hiss, solemn string fanfares looming large in the distance. For minutes, he keeps the suspence simmering, fanning it softly like a hiker would a camp fire at midnight. There are no visuals or projections whatsoever either. Instead, the centre of the stage is filled by plumes of smoke coallescing into thick clusters of white, while the devlish red of the spots highlights their fractally fractured surface. Sat side-ways behind a Powerbook in the far left corner of the stage and holding on to his guitar in an inflected position, Wilson gives the appearance of someone wishing to disappear behind his music completely.

His physical reticence is however quickly counterpointed by determined musical strokes. First adding brittle, slightly skewed Guitar figures to the mix, he gradually tilts the balance from a fantastical soundscape into a demonly wash of vortex-like textures, wah-wahed into a howling wind of impenetrably intertwined harmonics. I close my eyes for a second and all I see is a maelstroms of colours, spiralling down into a both seductive and horrific abyss. Slowly, the introductory themes return, making way in turn for an ominous Ambient section, which sees Wilson use the entire body of his instrument to produce associatively scratching, plopping and tearing noises, embedding them in sometimes gargantuan blows of pure bass thrust.

Bass Communion has something entirely his own to add to the crowded Guitar Drone market and parts of this approach are becoming apparent tonight. Instead of remaining insolent and immobile in the weighing-down heaviness of the moment, his epic style is motorised by a clear narrative, by strange stories filled with spaced-out metaphors of instrumental timbres, musical themes and non-linear development. Wilson's motives move through these worlds of ideas like delirious personas in a William Burroughs novel, his characters undergoing incisive changes against their will. And yet, the long work he presents at the Luchtbal also recounts of the difficulty of taking this vision to the stage.

The track keeps returning to a solid core of melodies and harmonic schemes, with the tension arch resembling a gentle oscillation instead of a ferociously curving wave. Wilson's method is one of melodic minimalism and moodwork, achieving transformation through an array of Software effects aimed at creating the sensation of floating motion. One would like to revisit the morphing aural paintings he is sketching again and again, to examine them in all of their otherwordly details and to understand the process they've been subjected to. As part of a live performance at a venue as sizeable as this one, though, they at times seem just a little too intimate to come to full fruition. Or maybe you just need to adjust your expectations. If you turn your gaze away from Wilson's fragile contours and into the darkness behind the wall of cold smoke, you can loose yourself in these minutely evolving structures completely.

Fear Falls Burning: Stupendous Insistance
After a short break, the difference between Wilson's imaginatively constructed dreamscapes and the glorious, head-on tribal hypnoticism of Fear Falls Burning is spelled out in full. Except for the abscence of Dave Vanderplas, the entire „Frenzy of the Absolute“ crew has been invited to the event and for the duration of the concert, this imposing army, otherwhise safely contained within the boundaries of Silicone and Vinyl, explodes big-bang like into real life. As could be expected, and fully in tune with Serries personality, there are neither lengthy opening speaches nor spectacular entrances. The backing tape stops, the lights dim down and suddenly, as though he'd always been there, Dirk is standing in the middle of the podium with his Guitar in his hand. In the back, Tim Bertilsson has already taken his seat behind the drums and with a momentous cymbal stroke, he rams into the title piece.

Already on the album, this was much more than just the opening track. Its brute, raw and disarmingly naked percussive patterns were messengers of impending change in the Fear Falls Burning discography, their stupendous insistance and resolute stubbornness both monolithic and near-carricaturesque. The more one listened to them, the more they turned into a gravitational centre and the boldness to go this far has paid off, turning it into one of the most recognisable pieces in Serries' catalogue, a signature tune of sorts and a 21-minute monster with a spherically unfolding plot.

While the version performed as the opener to No Man in Düsseldorf had a glistening, grooving and delirious Pink Floy'dean quality to it, tonight's integral rendition is more direct and compact. The opening seconds are essential: Serries doesn't develop his main drone through a careful harmonic buildup. Rather, he simply flicks over the volume switch and there is, sizzling with red-hot energy and hungry for growth and power. A dialogue between the Drums and the Guitar on CD, the latter takes the lead on this occasion.

Variations of the Drone are subtle, but despite the wave of fulminant pressure sent into the auditorium, they are clearly discernible and seem to follow a wondrous yet intruiging logic. The switch-over in the middle section appears more like a short break to catch one's breath than a structural incision here, but the duality of the piece comes out no less for it.

For second piece „He contemplates the Sign“, the music again tends towards the sharp and needly, eschewing finely woven tapestries in favour of aggressively granular sandpaper. Not only is Steve Wilson replacing Dave Vanderplas on stage, virtually turning this collaboration into a live Continuum session, but his Guitar is taking over from the bowed Cymbals and electronically elevated Percussion of the studio edit. Thanks to the voluminous, dynamic, imposingly loud yet impressively clear sound created by Serries' personal sound expert Ronald Mariën as well as the Luchtbal's tech crew, the effect is immediate and blissed-out at the same time.

The weightless atmospherics of the original are speared by a pulsating bass line, duelling with the recognisable crunching Guitar motive. Wilson doesn't remain silent for long, sending deformed screams and wails into the mix, their dialogue shaping into a solidified current of noise and frequential turbulences, serpentining through the ether for minutes on end. If there is no apparent structure in the sense of a clear-cut opening, middle section and finale, then this is wholly intentional: Unappologetically penetrating the moment, this music seems to spread like a fog, gaseously permeating the hall's most remote corners.

Breaking the trance as if shaking off a ghost, Serries lashes into the final work of the evening, releasing the riff of „We took the deafening murmer down“ with a roar. Everything Fear Falls Burning stands for is contained within these three simple chords: Nocturnal passion, raw power, sweet delirium and romantic ferocity. It is also a composition he has been refining ardently for the past year or so, without ever redefining or betraying its soul. The first version, published as a collaboration between himself and Cult of Luna Guitarist Johannes Persson on “Once we all walk through solid Objects”, emphasised its forebodingness and premonitious seclusion, spiritedly riding the riff's crest towards unattainable salvation. The „Frenzy of the Absolute“-mix, meanwhile, added Magnus Lindberg's Drums, who propels the music forwards on the last stretch of the way, culminating in an irresistably catchy finale.

Tonight, this process has reached a logical conclusion. After Serries has transformed the captivating aggression of the opening into a mantric soundscape, Persson takes to the stage, adding a second, garishly tarry layer of harmonics to the sonic panorama. Sympatically, they circle each other's movements, carefully closing each and every acoustic hole in their frenzied fabric of sound, before the stools behind them are being taken and the Drone-twins in front are mirrored by a Drum-duo in the back.

At first, Magnus Lindberg solitarily accentuates the distorted chords, going from powerful snare blows to destructive cymbal collisions. As his performance grows in resolution, the music establishes a new, feverishly headbanging rhythm, which is further intensified as Lindberg switches gear and dives into a spikey groove. Fueled by his boldness, Serries and Persson answer the move with more heavyness, linearity and new, tantric melodic lines. Seamlessly,Bertilsson joins in, adding deadly-effective polyrhythmic variations to Lindberg's machinery, until the band has reached a point where they just need to keep doing what they're doing and the music plays itself, lashing into a new round of spinetingling chords again and again.

Fear Falls Burning was never supposed to turn into a Metal or Rock project and strictly speaking, it never has. But in these last, triumphant minutes, it has certainly attained a similar degree of emotional euphoria. No wonder then that the available stock of „Frenzy of the Absolute“ CDs and LPs is rapidly dimishing as the crowd floods towards the mechandising stands after the concert. One by one, the band joins them for a relaxed conclusion to an arousing concert. Only Dirk Serries is nowhere to be seen yet, as I leave to catch my bus. Undoubtedly, he is still savouring the moment, taking in the aftermath of his performance in backstage privacy, safe in the mutual creative embrace of the city whose streets he continues to wander in his music.

Picture by Joachim Beckers

By Tobias Fischer

Homepage: Fear Falls Burning
Homepage: Bass Communion
Homepage: cc Luchtbal
Homepage: Tonefloat Records
Homepage: Conspiracy Records

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