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Fire in the Head - Confessions of a Narcissist [Cold Spring Records - 2010]

I'm not often impressed by shock tactics, in music or elsewhere, and the idea of maximum violence, hate and gore in musical form does not particularly appeal to me.  When I first saw the cover of Fire in the Head's latest, "Confessions of a Narcissist", which shows a woman or child in bridal white and veil, mutilated... missing most of her face, the hole filled in collage style with images of chunks of anonymous bloody meat for the purposes of the picture... I expected I would dislike the album quite strongly.  What a pleasant surprise to find that noise musician Michael Page is a perfectionist with a flair for tastefully mixing noise with strangely polished gothic atmospherics, and quite fluent in various methods of achieving intensity in noise music other than pushing the volume up.

Most noise albums go for the gut from the start.  Page gets under your skin but subverting this expectation and plunging the listener into ominous, reverberant soundscapes just on the edge of extreme harshness.  Hearing tracks like the beat driven "Gag Order", or the eerie "Home Is Where The Whore Is", the listener knows real brutality is to follow, and that there will be nothing gimmicky or overdone about it.  These tracks are psychological landscapes.

Elements from power electronics and industrial are borrowed in similar portions as in the music of Wolf Eyes, lending structure and some semblance of catchiness to an often formless genre.  Apparently uninterested in embracing the chaos as many noisicians do, almost every track here is carried by a consistent tonality or drone element.  Each has an ambient introduction of some kind as well.  Some of it is flat out beautiful and mesmerizing, like "Narcissist's Mantra", a track built on the mystic, clean and deep sound of a processed organ.  "If you could only satisfy me the way I satisfy myself...", Page's distorted voice repeats.

Page's vocals are also comparable to Wolf Eyes: phlegmatic rasps in hypnotic, simple cadences, more passive brooding than active threatening.  Page has no particular point to make, it seems, only endless energy to expend.  He lets the waves of noise overwhelm his voice and achieves catharsis along with you as you listen.  The fact that a fully unrestrained scream is only used occasionally makes this music a lot more listenable than a lot of power electronics groups.

On other tracks, like "A Means to What End", he channels the mighty hurricane god voice of Churner (similar in sound to a black metal shriek, but lower in pitch).  His voice echoes all through the vast, engulfing maelstrom.  "Home Invasion" has a thick drone that almost sounds like a doom metal guitar (though it is likely totally synthetic), and more Churner-esque vocals.  His truly sorcerous ability to manipulate the sound space is most evident here.

The album has a definite dramatic progression.  The second half is uniformly denser, harsher and more immediate.  The track ordering is very effective, and serves to make the 64 minutes of the album feel like a continuous experience, moving towards a logical conclusion.  Furthermore, every song possesses its own identity, something virtually unheard of in noise music.  The bizarre, shamanistic delirium of the intro to "The Magi" is all the more powerful coming off of Page's mantra "You're nothing but a slave!" in the second half of "Complacency Is Your Disgrace".  It's fitting too that at the end we revisit "Gag Order", this time with a few extra helpings of reverb, feedback and distortion.

All in all, "Confessions of a Narcissist" is not as narcissistic as it could be - it was clearly made to be listened to.  It's the rare harsh noise album that is both intensely aggressive and incredibly meticulously produced.  With the added depth created by the superbly crafted tonal and ambient elements, I won't hesitate to call this a great album.  Right now, this album stands as my favorite noise release of 2010 thus far

Rating: 5 out of 5Rating: 5 out of 5Rating: 5 out of 5Rating: 5 out of 5Rating: 5 out of 5

Josh Landry
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