“Holloway even succeeds in scratching, stabbing and ultimately kicking a hole in the wall, only to discover another windowless room with a doorway leading to another hallway spawning yet another endless series of empty rooms and passageways, all with walls potentially hiding and thus hinting at a possible exterior though inevitably winding up as just another border to another interior.”
– Mark Z. Danielewski, House of Leaves
The claustrophobic scenarios Danielewski evokes in his debut novel House of Leaves are primary, meddling components to the hijacked narrative that nonchalantly switches between a documented transcript of characters exploring the hermetical bowels of a dwelling, the rambling footnotes of a paranoid hoodlum, and scattered clippings of hyperglyphic, multidimensional text strewn across the book’s foreboding pages. It’s a frenzied read that indulges neurotic interplay amid the reader, the writer, and the crackpot personalities that are brought to life within. The passages by which Holloway and his team become so entranced comprise a dank labyrinth, ashen and lightless, abound with a delirious sublime that is ultimately paralleled by the intrusive, forceful soundscapes encrusted on Blackest Ever Black’s latest, Raime’s Quarter Turns Over A Living Line.
With an inspirational backdrop conjured from early goth and synth industrial music and a condescending approach to those who might not be as acquainted with the rehashed screenshots and YouTube content selected to carve the label’s desired online aesthetic, Kiren Sande birthed Blackest Ever Black on the side of his gig at FACT. First to be unleashed was the 2010 Raime EP, a three-track record that saw Joe Andrews and Tom Halstead adhering to sounds relatively distant from the jungle and trip-hop persuasions of their past, where vocal samples were propelled amid tightly paced beats and behind deliciously gloomy layers of reverberation. The release spliced a brooding, hallowed benchmark for both the label’s web presence and the artistic roster destined to assemble in grounding one of the most compelling outposts of electronic music on the web.
Before the EP’s release, however, Raime concocted the first in a series of compilations for Blackest Ever Black; You Can’t Hide Your Headcrack could now be construed as an illuminating manifesto for the label’s direction, an oblique map or set of instructions that would soon thrust listeners alongside Holloway in his petrifying descent into darkness. The tracklist is all but compromising in its flaunting of industrial post-punk through Cabaret Voltaire, a double drop of Konstruktivits, and a dark-wave Psyche number, which bleeds across vinyl surface crackle to create a sound that ultimately sets the ball rolling for recent mixes adhering to similar themes by Sande himself as well as Tropic of Cancer and Before My Eyes, a series of vastly popular collaborative DJ sessions across London that provide a public platform for choice cuts spun by Demdike Stare and others from the BEB roster. Those highly concrete catalogs are symbolic of a fetishization that encompasses both online presence and the sonic models embellished by artists producing for the bill — the blackened tribal percussion of Cut Hands, the pneumatic techno of Regis, the militaristic onslaught of Vatican Shadow — each act harboring their own styles and patterns yet all of them unified by fostering particularly somber dispositions that linger throughout the course of everything that trickles from the label, from Oliver Smith’s convoluted layouts to Sande’s precise tinkering.
Raime is at the very core of that bleak and mesmerizing setting. As self-professed record collectors bent on gloomy industrial music, drone, and crawling metal, they have repackaged a musical framework wherein they reign wholly unchallenged, pulling from an eclectic body of influences and absurd aspirations to devise a sound that doesn’t quite cut into a specific genre, but that continues to point towards dimly-lit avenues. Their previous efforts, mixtapes, and compilations contain a peculiar degree of violence that purports to puzzling aural states of continued expectancy and fear, stylings that are amplified tenfold on the duo’s debut. What they have achieved here is not so much an addition to the aesthetic they helped design, but a broadening of musical depth and reach that fashions an all-encompassing approach.
Whereas muffled kick drum dirge and creepy synth background noise were inherent focal points on previous output, the emphasis on Quarter Turns Over A Living Line embroils atmospheric tampering created through live instrumentation, before the results are cross-pollinated with percussion patterns as opposed to pitch-shifted sampling. Live sessions involving guitar, cello, and percussion are brought to the fore of the recording, where they undergo vibrant dissections that account for their intricately scattered presence throughout each one of these breathtaking pieces. In so doing, the essence of the act is torn asunder and utterly reconfigured while aesthetic models remain firmly in tact through the elaborate incarnations they assume here — the tangled strings on “Passed Over Trail” are magnified, not devoured, by the whopping, visceral chasms of bass that writhe incessantly around the opening number.
The album pitches space as a centrally defining characteristic, which is so sensationally colossal it feels as though the house Danielewski spent 10 years of his life depicting has taken on utterly staggering sonic forms. “The Last Foundry” is located somewhere in the basement, a twisting sub-labyrinth where deep-rooted rattling scrapes over bewildering bass lines that resonate claustrophobia. It’s a paradoxical feat when taking the dimensions of each score into account, for despite the capacious feel of Quarter Turns, the latitudes one is given to move through are exceptionally cramped. There is very little room to maneuver here; instead, ease is delicately managed through losing one’s self in the folds of cello reverberation on “Your Cast Will Tire” or the enervated cowbell loop of “The Walker in Blast and Bottle,” both of which are impossible to resist, despite the appalling holler forged on the latter: these are intoxicating spirals of sound that etch insuppressible kinetic dilemmas of intrigue and awe into their dumbfounded listeners.
Blackest Ever Black is not simply about creating an image or imposing a hierarchical preponderance over its audience. Raime is at the forefront of a project concerned with exemplifying an appreciation for the musical ancestry they have inherited, and their determination to connect the dots through re-imagining a specific set of aesthetics is unparalleled. The resulting album is a suffocating tribute to both realizing that ambitious potential and exposing command over it. When Holloway descended into the depths of that house in Ash Tree Lane, his intent was laden with curiosity, a desire to uncover the truth through exposing cavernous paths and halls for what they truly might be. Quarter Turns embodies a shadowed and daunting environment with such an abundance of beauty that it bears contrast rather than resemblance to that damning abode, for the former remains an uncontrollably agreeable environment, despite its grim and unnerving allure.