Imagine wandering around an ice-smeared forest in the dead of night, completely stoned and on your own, listening to the unsettling sounds of creatures alerting each other to your presence, then you stop. You hear footsteps in the not so near distance. No torchlight. No communication. Their pace quickens and suddenly stops. Silence. Not even the animals can bring themselves to utter a peep. What do you do? Curl up into a ball and shit your pants? Run, arms flailing into the blackened void of the dead leaf tundra? Or embrace the fear which is coursing through your motionless legs, your shuddering body and your electrified brain? I can’t think of an album that inhabits this environment of petrified paranoia better than Ensemble Pearl's self-titled debut.
Made up by members of SUNN O))) and Japanese drone-noise-rockers Boris, you would expect this to be a pummelling experience. However, with Ensemble Pearl, you are more likely to have your anxiety attacked rather than your eardrums. The album is, predictably, a lengthy affair with six tracks reaching over the hour mark, but this is not sixty minutes of stodgy noise and feedback. In fact the album is rather delicate at times. Take 'Wray' for example, a track which mainly deals with breathy synths and haunting strings, taking the listener to more serene, almost blissful territory. In fact, despite their being moments of skin-peeling guitar wailing throughout, most of the album is very still and almost tranquil. This isn't always a pleasant tranquillity, mind. More like the tranquillity you supposedly experience just before a plane crashes. 'Giant' even sounds like The Slow Mo Guys filming their final YouTube video inside an aircraft as it gradually disintegrates into a mountain range.
'Ghost Parade' begins the album with minimalist distorted guitar notes and an ominous rumbling bass which is almost signature for any record that features Stephen O'Malley. The drumming remains sparse as do the crescendos, which mainly rely upon terrifying sustained guitar shrieks. It is a low key beginning to an album which doesn't so much pound the listener, but relentlessly coerces them into psychosis. The rolling drums and splashy cymbals on the brilliantly titled 'Painting On A Corpse' set the song upon dark, rolling waves whilst the dreadful waters are plunged by searching guitar stabs and migraine inducing strings.
'Island Epiphany', whilst relying once again on steady drum patterns and rumbling bass, progresses through seven minutes of murky drones until finally culminating with a fearsome guitar howl, which wouldn't sound out of place in an Aphex Twin nightmare, setting fire to the song and screeches until it slowly burns out.
Ensemble Pearl may be a monolithic piece of music with enough drone and fierce noise to curdle sperm, but that isn't the entire story of this album. Just like all the best horror movies, Ensemble Pearl revels in the quieter moments in order to make the catatonic howls of pain and visceral din even more frightening. Despite sharing prog-rock lineage with bands like Pink Floyd, this takes you on a completely darker journey. Getting stoned to Floyd will make you love life, getting high to Ensemble Pearl will make you fear it.