A-Sun Amissa - Desperate in Her Heavy Sleep [Gizeh - 2012]
Is it dark ambient that sounds like post-rock, or the other way around? Leeds' A-Sun Amissa plays music that is long and ponderous and moody, mixing strings with touches of guitar and a variety of dynamic effects that likely evolved out of live playing. Four of the five pieces are multi-part suites averaging ten minutes each; the longest is seventeen. If there is an electronic element to these, then it is carefully masked, as the organic sound of the music creates its essential character, even though the murky mix tends to make the variety of instruments somewhat indistinguishable.
Cacophonic drones are created by playing long single notes on cellos and violins while squeaking out as much distortion and incidental noise as possible. Reverbed cymbals at times create a loud, splashy aura. Melody derives from somber, discordant harmonies. The music can be funereal at times—the first part of “Hungover Whisper” in particular is a real dirge, a sort of dead-man-walking-in-the-wild-west-theme. Light guitar sometimes lifts the blanket of the sound off the ground, but the overall weight of the sound mix usually pulls it back down. Often the second half of each piece (most obvious in “Hungover Whisper” as well as “Dislocated Harmony”) strives for relentless intensity, taking the same basic recipe of the first part, kicking up the volume, and filling in the space. The effect can be overpowering, but only if the sameness of the music continues to be engaging over such long passages, which it rarely does.
“Arm in Arm to a Full Awakening” boasts all the hallmarks of the group’s sound in full force: the claustrophobic din when bowed instruments blend with fields of static, marking the halfway point between an atmospheric industrial soundtrack and the picked guitar that would typically accompany a panorama of a sullen desert landscape. If A-Sun Amissa has perfected anything on this release, it is striking upon this unique mix as if it is part of an obvious musical continuum. The moods zig and zag through the other pieces, though there is never any surprising departure. “Speechless Turns” is the horror piece, with a vampiric first half that descends into the concrete sewers, complete with effective/cliché horror-movie violin enhancements. The drone of strings returns for the second half, representing the steam that rises from the dankness, perhaps of a fresh kill.
The closing “Ceremony” adds a choral element: the sighs of angels can be heard in the washes of sound as the central grayness of the recording leans toward white instead of black for the one and only time. Desperate in Her Heavy Sleep is carefully mannered and performed, if not necessarily composed, and is recommended as backdrop only.Richard T Williams