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VagusNerve - Go Back to the Sirius [Utech Records - 2012]

The Chinese duo VagusNerve has returned with their second album "Go Back to the Sirius" on Utech records, a full 65 minutes of dense and heavy drone split into 3 tracks, averaging a little over 20 minutes in length.  Their debut, "Lo Pan", was also released on Utech, in 2009.

Their doomy, improvisatory sound is created utilizing a combination of guitar and laptop.  Earthy, shifting tones of feedback are intertwined with detuned crystalline synth oscillations from the analog school of thought, at times waxing quasi-melodic, but always maintaining a murky, reverberated vastness.

VagusNerve certainly belong to the same church of amplifier and distortion worshipers that has included such artists as Stephen O'Malley, Dylan Carlson and Boris.  As with any many such albums in which the sound is meant to immerse and engulf the listener, turning up the volume knob reveals an entire world of timbral and tonal richness on this very well mixed recording.

Their sound depicts a ruined, monstrous landscape in which a pale, impenetrable fog hides nightmarish primordial dangers.  Li Jianhong's guitar playing has a sluggish, siren-like quality, dwelling on eerie bends and chorused wavering tones before scraping and dragging the strings into an avalanche of dusty crackle.  His style is less harsh than that of psychedelic freakout guitarists like Suzuki Junzo or Kawabata Makoto, and while I appreciate the spastic energy those artists bring, my ears would rather hear this.

The second track, "The Exiled Life", actually has a repeating sample of a siren, which crossfades with the guitar at one point, so it appears the artists themselves saw this comparsion.  Whale-song would be another close comparison, the style of movement is very similar.  In this track we also find some garbled and pitch processed vocals, which have an unsettling effect that may cause you to look over your shoulder and see if someone is there.  It is sounds such as these that give this album a decidedely ominous quality, but there are also elements of cosmic or spiritual space ambient, as in the work of artists like Inade or Lustmord.

The final piece, title track "Go Back to the Sirius", is the most searing, reality tearing howl of all, skyrocketing into shrill, luminescent gail winds and the feeling of tornado suction.  The white harshness evens out again into an ominous e-bow tone as the synth repeats a laser-like resonated sequence, in a way that feels musical and evocative.  This is one of the moments when Li Jianhong strongly hints at a scale, and the reverent cascade of liquid consonant pitches has the multifaceted, balanced emotionality often found in the work of Robert Rich, one of my favorite musicians.

Ultimately, it is the darkly melodic creativity of Li Jianhong, and his ability to balance tone with noise, that saves this long and slow album from being repetitive or unengaging.  His massive sound seems to push to the forefront of every soundscape, and if he'd had a smaller bag of tricks, it could have become tedious.  As it is, there is an air of mystery and import to this album, and a feeling like each successive swell of colored feedback is the next development in a narrative.  I would certainly have liked to hear more of the electronic sounds beneath the surface, and to hear something with more focus or specific direction as well, but this is a massive and formidable recording with a great amount of psychic force, and some existential merit.  I recommend it.

Rating: 4 out of 5Rating: 4 out of 5Rating: 4 out of 5Rating: 4 out of 5Rating: 4 out of 5

Josh Landry
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