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Something valuable for the entire scene

img  Tobias

Music reviews are mostly regarded as a mere promotional tool to sell records. This thesis does not hold true for the latest Fear Falls Burning  release “Once we all walk through Solid Objects”, however, as it has already all but sold out. So what am I writing about here? Well, the fact that almost 500 copies of a work offered at a price of 60 Euros and purely pressed on vinyl have practically found a new owner over night, to begin with. Even counting in the occasional speculative buyer (who will try to pass on this massive five LP set at a surcharge) this is both a powerful sign that the fight between physical and digital distribution is more and more one of quality versus quantity – and that Fear Falls Burning is currently capable of serving both.

Casting a Shadow
All through 2006, we have been witnessing the maturation of this one-man guitar drone project, announcing new pinnacles on a monthly basis: A double CD for a debut album, the grandiose “I’m One of those Monsters Numb with Grace” foldout cover, the 4,5 hours of the smoothly packaged “The Infinite Sea of Sustain” DVD and the monolithic cooperation with Canadian Doom mongers Nadja. But all this time, as all of these things were happening, “Once we all walk through Solid Objects” slowly took shape, casting a shadow of great things to come. Listening to it over the last month, slowly entering its world, it has become clear to me that the strength of the release lies not only in mobilising Dirk Serries’ extensive network of friends and respected colleagues, but in concentrating an entire scene over the course of these ten sides of music. It is the essence of a genre, which has long been a synonym for obscurity and pointless minimalism and which now shines brightly, as its outer limits imposingly approach bordering styles.

A Drone Manifest
It is all about the drone, therefore, in all sizes and shapes. Serries calls “Once we all walk...” a “Drone Manifest” and he is right. Without a single exception, all ten tracks are based on reverbed feedback, sustained guitar string clusters, endlessly distorted chords and shimmering harmonics born in the wake of raw textures, pulsating at different frequencies, scratching each other’s surface areas.

On the one hand, this can be explained by the fact that all of these pieces base on source material personally provided by him. Each and every artist treats it in a uniquely personal way, but no matter how much they manipulate, mash and mix it, his typical timbres of intangible, longing sweetness and inexplicably sensuous mystery always shine through. Aidan Baker feeds the music into his PC, Justin K Broadrick (who on this occasion takes on his “Final” incarnation) plays along to it in his studio, enigmatic duo Byla add hypnotic acoustic guitar pickings, Campbell Kneale of Newzealand's “Birchville Cat Motel” adds a host of other instruments, while Freiband’s Frans de Waard even “re-composes” the piece alltogether “in the world of ones and zeros”. Purely computer-based or in a band-like context, the music comes into being in all of the colourful ways the scene is capable of.

The second reason why we’re deep into drone territory here is that one could safely leave the confined space of the genre today and will still find many of its constituent elements everywhere in experimental music. The drone has become an integral part of all variations of soundart and the fact that the ensemble of contributing artists is anything but “typical” (except for a few obvious choices, maybe) proves that new adepts are coming in from all directions. Even the huge crowds Serries has played to in support of Swedish Metalband Cult of Luna were anything but completely unfamiliar with the Fear Falls Burning concept. Although it is anything from compatible with what is happening in Pop charts, this box set is certainly no longer just food for a secluded niche anymore either.

The studio version of a festival
Musically, “Once we all walk through Solid Objects” could be compared to the studio version of a festival: There is a clear red thread and yet enough variety to keep the most diverse groups of listeners glued to their seats. In the context of the Fear Falls Burning discography, it contains both material which is closer to the roots of the project than anything that Serries has released himself as well as compositions which stretch his vision to its limit.

The opening collaboration with Steven Wilson (untitled, like all other entries) is a slowly building, ominous cloud, which grows in volume and density, while Broadrick’s impromptu improvisation as well as Stefano Pilia’s similarly constructed track (which, however, in addition uses “magnetophones and ventilators” according to the info) deepen the ambient side of Fear Falls Burning, attaining a new and strong kind of tranquility. Frans de Waard, meanwhile, turns the material into a haunting, ghostly piece of microtonality, filled with crackling chains of subtly taunting clicks and hiss, while Byla distance themselves far from the original, turning it into a dreamy folk mantra, which happily spins round its own axis.

From a fan point of view, though, it is probably the submissions by Birchville Cat Motel and Cult of Luna-member Johannes Persson which leave the strongest impression. The former unleashes an amorphic, viscous and viscious audio-lava-stream, with sounds as though an entire orchestra were moving nervously underneath its skin, while the latter begins with a triumphant, hymnic guitar theme, which is then gradually deconstructed. In both cases, you could close your eyes and imagine Dirk Serries holding his guitar himself, enjoying each and every moment.

Holding on to the vision
It has been, Serries admits, with “relief and still with enormous pride and satisfaction” that this box set has been finished. Various delays seemed to have endangered its release, but those responsible never faltered,  record company Tonefloat included. As they point out: “The artwork alone was something that took over six months of preparations to get it the way we wanted - and even required a completely new sleeve format at the plant.”

The result is a firm brown cardboard “file”, which includes all of the transparent vinyl discs in rubbery plastic “folders”, each one with exclusive photography printed on it. It is clear that such a project wants to make a statement. In this case, though, there may even be two.
Firstly, “Once we walk...” is an overview of the different manifestations of the guitar drone, a collection with a broad palette and bright individualism. Secondly, it is the materialised personal quest of a man who had a dream and pursued it, the temporary acme of an ongoing process of finding the perfect drone and holding on to it as long as one can.

Meeting on uncharted territory

Most of the records of the Fear Falls Burning cosmos have by now sold out, but writing and reading about them has never exclusively been about selling records - but about documenting this journey as well as one possibly can with words. Dirk Serries is not “one of those monsters numb with grace”, he is preaching his gospel in an ever-increasing number of venues around Europe (with the rest of the world undoubtedly to follow soon). The connections he has made on the road are already beginning to show a mutual fertilisation between different factions, between the experimental and the more accepted. This process is anything but new and in fact, the slow rise from obscurity into the general canon is one most established genres have once made. Never before, it would however seem, has it been documented this closely. “Once we all walk through Solid Objects” tells a story of bridging divides and how hands are being extended from various sides and meeting on uncharted territory. I can already imagine the participating artists finding ways of continuing down this road in different constellations and of several of the 500 lucky owners being inspired to take up a guitar them. If there is anything we can learn from the story of “Velvet Underground” it must be that it's not about how many records you are selling. There is something valuable happening here for the entire scene.

By Tobias Fischer

Homepage: Fear Falls Burning
Homepage: Tonefloat Records

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