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Wednesday, January 28, 2009

ESA - "The Sea & The Silence"

Artist: ESA
Album: The Sea & The Silence
Year: 2008
Label: Tympanik Audio
Genre: rhythmic noise, tribal, experimental

Packaging: 5.5/10
I wonder if Tympanik has increased their budget for packaging? Instead of the usually 1-fold digipak, this time we are given a 2-fold. I for one am happy with that. The art itself is ok; each panel is a picture of a naked women floating in water with a strategically-placed white cloth. The color scheme is really nice. Also one thing of note is there is a cool poem on one of the pages which, I assume, explains the concept of “the sea & the silence”. One misc. thing to note is that EVERYONE who had any part on this album got their webpage printed in the artwork, which is a nice feature.

Composition: 8.5/10
I missed ESA’s last offering “How Pure Would Your Utopia Be?”, but after hearing this record I am tempted to go back and listen. “The Sea & The Silence” is a fascinating mixture of rhythmic noise, tribal elements a la This Morn’ Omina, and dark atmospheres…all with an exceptionally gritty edge to it.

The first track, “Tasting Nails” takes too long to kick it, but it finally opens up into a very cool tribal piece quite reminiscent of the aforementioned TMO. After that ESA gives us pummeling rhythmic noise in “Absolute Fury”. This is an awesomely brutal track and proves that ESA is thankfully nothing like the ubiquitous techno-noise-full metal jacket samples crap. Even though the track is to some extent straight-forward brutal noise, it is very dynamic and has a ton of little breakdowns and fills which give the track a lot of character and bring to light ESA’s creative edge. And it keeps the tribal overtones, so I can’t help but love it. Next we have “It’s Hard to Sleep, In Hell” which is a funny/awesome title. Again is a beat driven rhythmic song, however it is substantially less noisey. It showcases ESA’s ability to manufacture and sustain a convincing dark atmosphere fitted around his beat. Tracks 4 and 5 are the title tracks, the first being “The Sea” which is a rhythmic noise track, and “The Silence” which is another tribal track similar to “Tasting Nails”. “The Sea” is an overly minimal but driving noise track with some spoken word female vocals. It continues to build through its 8 minute duration, and despite that length it never gets overly boring. “The Silence” has another lengthy intro, but it leads to a remarkable middle-eastern tinged tribal piece; very different from the previous track, but I love diverse albums and it’s great to hear a producer who can go from noise to downtempo tribal with little effort. The album drops off a little bit for the next two tracks, as in my opinion they sound like less good versions of “It’s Hard to Sleep in Hell”. After a brief interlude with a long title, ESA ups the ante again on “Randomly Selected Drawbacks of the Human Condition…”. This track is very strange and would be out of place had this been any other album. The one has doom/folk metal influence, namely a very doom-y atmosphere and some beautiful sad acoustic guitar and sung female vocals. Though this is totally different from the other tracks it’s one of my favorites, as it’s very…genuine. The last track is sort of a combo of power electronics, tribal beats and power noise. And one cool thing is that there is a hidden track at the end of album (a throwback to albums of yore? I haven’t seen this done in a long time).

All in all, this is a very diverse album which makes it impossible to pigeon-hole ESA into one particular genre or style of producing. ESA shows that he has tons of talent and no shortage of creativity. The only thing that I really did not like about this album was the vocals, which unfortunately appear on a number of tracks. They sound like someone simply talking loudly with a hint of anger. They remind me too much of the combichrist style, and similarly, in many cases they just repeat one or two phases over and over. To his credit he adds in some dynamic effects and modulation, but I still don’t like them.

Production: 5/10
“The Sea & The Silence” has very raw, gritty production. Now, I like raw gitty production like on Ad-ver-sary – Bone Music. I think I remember reading that ESA came from a death metal background, and this album sounds a bit like a 90s death metal album in its rawness, which is cool. However there are too many times on this album where the production hurts it. The low end is too weak and muddy. Tracks like “Absolute Fury” sound good, but they lack that huge sledgehammer chest smashing bass kick that would’ve made it perfect. And as a result of the unbalanced low end, often the high/mids seem too prevalent.

Artistic Merit: 7/10
Whenever I have seen the ESA name, it has been somehow related to the genre of Rhythmic Noise. So for a guy who produces rhythmic noise, it’s very pleasing to hear a work so varied and immense. Each style he works in is constructed equally well.

Flow: 7/10
Even though the songs are so diverse, they all have a similar enough atmosphere and/or style which allows them to fit together pretty well as a whole. One thing I didn’t like was how the really hard rhythmic noise tracks were spaced too far apart; I would’ve liked to be able to hear a few in a row instead of a slow song, a really hard song, a mid-paced song, repeat. Still pretty solid though.

Overall Rating: 7/10
Despite a few flaws, this is still a very dynamic, interesting and worthy album. If you are into heavy, dark atmospheres, rhythmic noise, and the other stuff Tympanik has been releasing than you will probably enjoy this. ESA has proven himself a capable producer, and inspired me to check out some of his back catalogue. I just hope his next album has stronger / tighter production.

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