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“Darkness for me isn’t always synonymous with pessimism”. This was one of several intriguing statements made by The Haxan Cloak during our recent video interview with him at Stoke Newington’s Abney Park cemetery, and it’s a particularly revealing one after getting to know ‘Excavation’, his first full-length release since joining Tri Angle. The open-endedness it indicates – the sense that what may be dark may not always be bad for us – feeds into a listening experience often revelling in jolts of discomfort and disorientation, and one that, with a sly wink, delights in allowing you to stare straight into the abyss. But further than this, it’s the cracks of optimism – in the form of semi-decipherable melody and momentary respite from the shrouds of lumbering, bellowing rhythm – that flicker in ‘Excavation’s’ final section that really cement the piece as a whole.
Also in our Dummy video and expanded on in a Quietus interview this week, Bobby Krlic – the man behind The Haxan Cloak – made some revealingly honest observations on the expectations that come with releasing on Tri Angle. He talked in clear terms on the pressure of having to create something marketable, telling The Quietus: “I want this to be my life, so much, that I’m not just going to do something completely off-centre just for the sake of it, I’m going to do something that says what I want to say, but also that can fit into people’s tastes.” Some might become suspicious here, and claim that Krlic might be watering down his severer strands of industrial noise to end up with something more palatable. The issue with that line of thinking is that while Krlic might reveal an awareness of the realities as a 21st century recording artist, ‘Excavation’ doesn’t come off as compromised, or as if its doom-laden atmospherics have been put on hold for temporary glimpses of light relief.
The Haxan Cloak – Excavation (Part 1)
Where Krilc does feed off pure incendiary intensity, his ability to build suspense is evidenced with aplomb. ‘Excavation’ signals The Haxan Cloak more clearly incorporating the type of razor-sharp techno comparable to the likes of the Blackest Ever Black collective, with his self-titled debut for Aurora Borealis trading for the most part in petrified strings and unsettling found sound recordings. These movements arrive in Consumed’s shock and awe introduction, further unfolding around the title track’s two-part movements through beats that fall like heavy boots trekking across thick mud, and shape-shifting shards of machine-like din.
“Without the additional tones and shades that enter late on it’s possible the album could get lost in its own pitch-black menace – but with them, ‘Excavation’ becomes a journey really worth staying with.”
This suspenseful skill really comes through in Mara’s shuddering sub-bass conclusion, passing into the clipped, alarming outcry that opens Miste (which I’m not ashamed to admit has scared me silly on several occasions). While there might be some sonic mischievousness played out here, Krlic also reveals an acute understanding of where and how the briefest of unnerving sound can immediately engage the listener. Not all of this is present through purely explosive means: early in Excavation (Part 1), a short burst of human conversation drops into the mix with a clarity and mystery comparable to Shackleton. But it never returns, as if it was never really there to begin with.
The Haxan Cloak – The Mirror Reflecting (Part 2)
The turning point, as already signalled in microcosm when its blossoming energy made it our song of the week a few months ago, comes with The Mirror Reflecting (Part 2). The manner in which things suddenly burst open here feels allt he more tangible for the disorder of what has come before – and its sudden shape is built upon in Dieu, which almost swaggers its way to the dancefloor with that pulverising, insistent backbeat. This culminates in The Drop’s opening coruscations, with its lamenting chimes sounding twice as humane as the blockaded and brief snatches of voice that have previously surfaced.
Returning to Krlic’s comment, what ‘Excavation’ looks to remind us of is that these complexities in lightness and darkness – of muddled states of hope and despair – are frequently more connected than they might first appear. Without the additional tones and shades that enter late on it’s possible the album could get lost in its own pitch-black menace – but with them, ‘Excavation’ becomes a journey really worth staying with. Keep one ear locked on the detail and expect the unexpected along the way, and its excursion through the depths will guide you through one of the more absorbing listening experiences 2013 has yet offered.