Why Manchester is the new creative epicentre of neo-soul and hip-hop
The artwork for ‘Excavation’ – the forthcoming album from The Haxan Cloak that The Mirror Reflecting (Part 2) is lifted from – at first appears almost impossibly bleak in tone. Against a dark backdrop of mucky greyness, nearly mimicking the blots of a medical scan, a noose swings out of the ether. But are the deathly implications quite that clear cut? Falling freely and bathed in contrasting light, the noose certainly isn’t strung up and ready to be used as a harbinger of death. There’s no human shown – no further evidence of suffering. Is there hope hidden in the image somewhere?
Consuming – and it’s a work that has to be “consumed” rather than fleetingly listened to – The Mirror Reflecting (Part 2) initially overwhelms with its snarling airs of negativity. Swathes of hissing and spitting shapeless sound festers: at one point a tricksy melody forms, but before long it’s beaten back into the void by a bellowing bass drum. This is doom and gloom of the widescreen, epic-in-Dolby-surround-sound variety. But while instantly cinematic in reach, it’s the pre-1900s strains of witchcraft that Bobby Krlic – the musician behind The Haxan Cloak – has spoken of as central inspirations, which are really positioned at the heart of all this breath-snatching tension.
Around the three minute mark – just as you may be ready to throw the towel in and accept that life is in fact ultimately futile – comes a far-off vocal calling. It’s reverberating, it’s been manipulated – possibly Auto-Tuned – but reveals some semblance of condensed human emotion. Around it, a more sharp-edged, metallic version of that earlier melody re-forms; the final minute builds a newfound radiance, again snatching at the possibility that all the weight may now be being lifted.
In an interview with Corpseplayer Magazine from 2010 shared on his Tumblr, Krlic states that at the heart of his aims for The Haxan Cloak exists a “desire for honesty”. It’s perhaps not what you might expect as a central concern in a project so centred on forming stifling, ominous soundscapes – but it’s clearly a major part of what speaks to Krilc’s success in his field. It’s also what characterises the turns of mood in The Mirror…: they don’t want to move you for the mere sake of it, they want you to be fluid, up for debate: real. When you’re listening to The Mirror… you’re never quite let off the hook; there’s never full light emanating at the end of the tunnel, but it’s by emerging out of the black and towards a merely hinted-at hopefulness that the track transcends. Like the cover of ‘Excavation’, it’s the unanswered questions, the smatterings of possible emotions, that are left to unbearably turn over in your mind.