Mika Vainio - Life (...It Eats You Up) [Editions Mego - 2011]With his new album "Life (...It Eats You Up)", avant electronic veteran Mika Vainio leaves behind even the loose structures of his monochromatic minimal beat workouts in Pan Sonic, and records an album of even darker and sparser music than ever before. Surprisingly, it falls comfortably into the category of macabre ambient doom metal along the lines of Sunn 0))), and I suspect with this album we are witnessing the result of a longtime appreciation of the genre. While the music retains the unforgiving, vertiginous coldness that has consistently characterized Vainio's output, sterile digital electronic elements are kept to a minimum.
Abrasively distorted guitar textures form the body of the album's sound, lacerating abruptly into the listener's awareness at times with unapologetic trebley harshness, only to fall unexpectedly silent. Repetitious droning passages show Vainio attempting to reach the beatific, timeless zone legendary doom albums like Dopesmoker and Earth 2 are known for creating. Unlike those artists, Vainio often becomes impatient, hastily chopping brief chunks of audio into rough cut-up pastiches.
"In Silence a Scream Takes a Heart" introduces the album in epic fashion. Scintillating metallic scrapes akin to something from Nurse With Wound's albums of spine chilling dark surrealism ("Homotopy to Marie", "Thunder Perfect Mind") gain complexity and presence over several minutes. There's a certain organic whimsicality to the rhythm of the sounds that clearly indicates they were performed, somehow spontaneously coaxed out of an instrument or object, and it's great, as precisely that quality was missing from a lot of Vainio's past music.
At 7 minutes, the explosive unveiling occurs, the beasts have gained access: it's as if the door opens, the mute falls out of the instrument. The sound floods in, and in one fell swoop reveals its full spectrum stature. The guitars seem at first so granulated and alien that one almost doesn't recognize them, but these thick waves of beating detuned bass prove as enjoyable as any in the doom genre. There are no real 'riffs', per se, but plenty of determination in the patient rhythm of the strumming as Vainio dwells on a single fat chord. A deep electronic bass drops in at the same moment as the guitars, then diffuses almost instantly into ether.
"Throat" is the first of several predominately electronic gestural interlude tracks. Here, the guitars have completely transformed into a white noise howl, which jumps between different filtered permutations in cassette tape fidelity. It's Vainio's nod to DIY noise culture.
"Mining" introduces a schematic kick and snare pattern straight out of the Pan Sonic catalogue and recalls the glory days of dread soaked industrial sludge rock with a chugging Godflesh-esque stop start bassline. Like many other pieces on "Life...", the piece descends into fatigued, disoriented improvisation once a basic pattern has been established... something that works expressively for some tracks and kills the momentum in others.
For "Open Up and Bleed", watery, filtered and phased guitar circles around an unhurried jam rock beat clumsily belted out by a drum machine, reminding me of those countless hours spent in my bedroom practicing to the canned beats built into my various guitar effects units. Though the track plods on for nearly 9 minutes, little occurs to distinguish the track from a similar practice session of Vainio's... The stray noodlings do not achieve enough density to form into a cohesive drone or brooding, contemplative atmosphere, and the result is disappointingly close to a throwaway Bill Laswell tune, minus the polished musicianship. It's the lone dud here.
"Conquering the Solitude" does well to describe the struggle indicated by its inspiring title, accentuating the aqueous overtones of a distorted guitar through clever filtering and chorusing, taking a sound with buzzsaw sharpness and making it indisputably beautiful.
My favorite track is the last one, "A Ravenous Edge", which blends electronics and unruly guitar utterances better than anything else here. The protracted militant beat sketches a volcanic subterranean locale for a couple minutes, and is then joined by crushing chords, which begin to descend, dragging the piece to ever lower planes for a cohesively nightmarish astral flight.
Conclusively, Mika Vainio has shown with the black broodings of "Life (...It Eats You Up)" that he has the right attitude for doom metal, and the ability to integrate it with the wintery isolationist soundscape he is known for. His compositional formula is a bit predictable and simple here, especially in the longer tracks, but it's a powerful album that should appeal equally to fans of ambient doom and harsh guitar noise. I recommend it especially to fans of TenHornedBeast.Josh Landry