Twenty-two just wasn’t going to cut it. That’s how many copies of Night Coercion into the Company of Witches were self-issued in 2008 by Natural Snow Buildings, the cult-followed and -inspired French drone-folk duo, before it was reissued in October in a much greater quantity. In some ways, Night Coercion is a strange candidate for such a wide release: it’s relentless and unforgiving and, with its shortest piece lasting 18 minutes and its longest 58, absurdly ambitious. It’s also three hours long.
But then again, Natural Snow Buildings are known for testing endurance; The Dance of the Moon and the Sun and Shadow Kingdom, two of their most highly regarded releases, are both closer to three hours than two. Those albums, accessible by NSB standards, were broken up intermittently with short (again, by NSB standards) soothing folk songs that added balance next to the longer droning tracks.
Night Coercion, however, is all drone, a monstrous mood piece without a respite throughout its six incredibly long tracks (except for a few moments of silence in between). It’s more what we’re used to hearing from Isengrind (Solange Gularte, the female half of the duo who tends to favor longer drone suites) than TwinSisterMoon (male half Mehdi Ameziane, who writes shorter delicate solo songs, sung in an epicene Vincent Gallo-style whisper). Lyrics are absent on this album; instead, vocals materialize as chants, hums, and background wails or are missing for long stretches altogether.
Borrowing from whatever disparate cult/god/religion sounds ancient or abstruse (the tracklist hints at voodoo Loa, Greek mythology, and Mithraism), Natural Snow Buildings have always been interested in esoteric weirdness, frequently peppering their releases with phrases lifted from the dusty tomes in occult bookstores. As a whole, the record, which begins and ends with ritualistic chanting, sounds like the soundtrack to a seance, replete with otherworldly moans and a sense of foreboding that lingers over the album like heavy ceremonial incense.
Even the pieces that begin peacefully are deceptive: “Gorgons” starts as a folk idyll that slowly shifts into an outright nightmare; its patient plod to the climax makes its final few minutes all the more terrifying. This is the benefit of Night Coercion’s length: like the folk tale of the frog unaware of its impending death as it’s very gradually boiled alive in a pot of water, Natural Snow Buildings provide no warnings of what’s to come, no demarcations between tranquility and terror. Changes in tone happen so slowly that they aren’t fully perceived until the listener is submerged in a roiling cauldron of distortion, sustained notes bleeding together into one extended blur.
Night Coercion is a challenging release, even for Natural Snow Buildings’ established fans. For some, it’ll be a slog; for others, too abrasive. But while it’s certainly less immediately gratifying than their better known work, the patient will be rewarded with an album that wonderfully articulates the power of deliberate pacing, re-released in a quantity that suggests great hope for the current state of experimental music.