MGR Nova Lux

[Neurot; 2006]

Rating: 4/5

Styles: post rock, dark ambient, modern composition, cinematic drone
Others: Godspeed You Black Emperor!, Thomas Köner, Main, The For Carnation

As guitarist for the imposing doom metal outfit Isis, Mike Gallagher has developed a style characterized by dense, sustained textures coupled with a penchant for the subtle melodicism associated with the post-Sabbath riff. His solo project, MGR (the acronym for Mustard Gas and Roses, which Gallagher has borrowed from a line of Vonnegut's Slaughterhouse Five), is far from the drone/doom of his full-time job, however. Though more closely aligned with the post-rock of Tarentel, Labradford, Flying Saucer Attack, and the like, MGR's debut full-length Nova Lux is an emotionally charged amalgamation of sounds that, much to its credit, refuses to fit neatly into any particular category.

By its very nature, the entire doom phenomenon (and even more specifically, its darker, more funereal constituent sub-genres) is ostensibly predicated on the existential despair that results from the knowledge that existence itself is inherently meaningless and ultimately hopeless. But rather than a dirge-like wail in the darkness, Nova Lux instead conveys a sense of deep-seated melancholy at the aforementioned loss of hope. Furthermore, Nova Lux should be loosely considered as Gallagher's threnodic response to the 1945 bombing of Dresden (Slaughterhouse Five was itself a response to Dresden's firebombing) and the subsequent societal guilt that prevented a nation from soliciting compassion for this cataclysmic event. Gallagher borrows from elements of the modern requiem ”” previously the domain of Eastern European composers from former Soviet Bloc states ”” to create a work that resonates heavily with tragedy and sorrow. MGR's stunning fourth track, for example, exudes a haunting beauty and rawness of emotion that weigh heavily upon the soul. Featuring production from Dälek's Oktopus, "IV" transports the listener, in the final analysis, to a place that is simultaneously beautiful and frightening.

In terms of structure, there is a certain homogeneity to the pieces on Nova Lux. Each track begins fairly sparsely, with leaden, pensive drones forming the base of the songs, until they gradually erupt into crescendos that are intensified by the addition of piano, electric guitar, and other instruments that serve as the tracks' melodic backbones. But despite the uniformity (which exists only in the most superficial way) of these five pieces, each cut is its own distinct presence on the album, which is the sum total of a considerably broad array of textures and melodic expression. In a manner not unlike that of GY!BE, MGR's effectiveness stems from how fluidly Gallagher is able to gradually add texture upon texture, building up the intensity of the tracks until they reach a tragic momentum. The sadly defunct The For Carnation, another of the post-rock greats, comes to mind during these cinematic pieces as well. The tense, dramatic nature of TFC's remarkable self-titled album is a reference point of sorts for Nova Lux. MGR are discernibly adept at inundating the listener in soundscapes fraught with tension, though Gallagher takes extraordinary pains to ensure that these tracks, though bend they may, do not break.

Vastly more than merely a simple, run-of-the-mill side project, MGR are a valuable addition to the Neurot roster. The moody grandeur of Mike Gallagher's compositions complements his work with Isis in much the same way that Tribes of Neurot are the perfect foil for Neurosis. Nova Lux, from its tasteful packaging to its audio content, is an impressive and mature recording that comes highly recommended, though it is not, truth be told, for the faint of heart.

1. I
2. II
3. III
4. IV
5. V