Ocrilim Annwn

[Hydra Head; 2008]

Styles: shredding, modern composition
Others: Orthrelm, Hella, Zs, The Flying Luttenbachers

How long can the divide between ‘fun’ and ‘serious’ music exist? Between art and commercial fodder, classical and pop? It's pretty easy to see those notions of high and low breaking down in the music of Mick Barr's Ocrilim.

His new album Annwn employs heaps of guitars shredding out narrow harmonies and nothing much else; an exercise in focus throughout an extended form, it's an original piece of work not easily pinned down to one realm of composition. Many reference points do exist, however; on a purely mechanical level, the absence of a traditional rock band format creates a strange, simplistic air, even amid the dense, clustered guitar tones. In many ways, Annwn is also minimalistic in its singularity. Though the actual music is ever shifting and, frankly, pretty epic, a mood of tense paranoia pervades the album, claustrophobia even.

It's that somewhat contradictory feeling of expansiveness emerging from a very restrained place, mirrored in the balance of convention and dissonance in a lot of 20th century composition. To be histrionic for a minute, Annwn is like a glob of crunched mass becoming restless seconds before the Big Bang. It continuously writhes and pulls and screams, but the fuss is still emerging from a proverbial straight jacket. It's a beautiful, intense contrast nonetheless, featuring a welcomed, energized employment of the guitar.

And the guitars really are shredding. It's pretty much all sixteenth notes here, which adds an additional metal point of reference, though I couldn't say Annwn would really appeal to hardcore death metal fans. Realistically, the album may attract small pockets of devout genre lovers, or barely anyone at all. For my money's worth, Ocrilim is still expanding the repertoire of modern composition. It's just a shame that a stigma still hovers over the type of ‘rock guitar’ used here, a largely unbroken connection to ‘rebellion’ and, perhaps, naivety.

If Annwn was performed entirely by strings, it would take on a graver air and would probably garner far more attention (just imagine for a minute if Jonny Greenwood's score for There Will Be Blood had been performed on electric guitar). But I guess I'll leave that kind of pondering to future music historians. Even if Annwn isn't remembered past next week, I'm confident its execution at least represents a growing shift in perception, a step toward the public's broadened perspective on what constitutes ‘art’ and ‘music.’ One small step for mankind... maybe?

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