Servile Sect Stratospheric Passenger

[Ecstatic Peace!; 2009]

Styles: ambient, shoegaze, black metal
Others: sunn 0))), My Bloody Valentine, Wolves in the Throne Room

The vinyl release was limited to 500 pressings. The record itself contains a one-page insert featuring a cryptic picture and phrase on either side, and the cover of the record is simply an expanse of moon rock on an alien plain. The band’s name isn’t even on the spine of the record sleeve. So much about this album, even before listening to a second of it, seems so private, so intimate, like you are one of few enjoying something undeserving others didn’t get the chance to experience.

Indeed, the music on Stratospheric Passenger, the LP reissue of Servile Sect’s 2007 CD-R of the same name, is no different. A hazy drone with black metal shrieks, the album plays out like a roll of Polaroid film, just one memory bleeding into another. You know those small moments after the majority of the songs on Loveless, where the song is over and this little 30-or-so-second piece carries the tune out? This album almost seems to be an entire record of those little pieces fleshed out a little further. Where one song ends and the other begins, what the song titles are -- none of it matters when the album is spinning.

Stratospheric Passenger starts off poignantly. Beginning quietly, with an accessible little chord progression repeating and repeating and repeating through top-heavy distortion, the album then makes way for huge black noise and snow. Then the charred screams. Featured heavily throughout the album, the scream is the only thing hinting at Servile Sect’s black metal background and leanings. The album then backs off in “Stratospheric,” a short little post-rock vignette featuring a guitar melody and Satanic whispers.

From here on, the album plays out like a dream, like a collection of memories emoted on wax. Without drums, the album’s few percussive, pulsating moments are made all the more inspired. “Kingdom” features what seems like stomps and metallic clanks as the backdrop for drone and authoritative ranting, no words of which are at all discernible, making the track a Henry Ford assembly line of metallic dictatorship. The first side of the album plays out in magenta drones and a soothing paternal voice. This antiquated, fizzy guitar sound -- sometimes chugged, sometimes bowed, sometimes plucked and sloppily picked upon -- contains within it this borderline analogue-sounding tonal theme for the entire record, made somewhat more fleshed out the second half, a pastiche of drones purple and blue, like a beatless Boards of Canada record. The oscillating electronic blips never smack, never hit. Everything is soothing, tiptoeing in and tiptoeing out. In spite of its metal leanings, even the most abrasive moments are neither harsh on the ears nor last particularly long.

Yet herein lies the problem of Stratospheric Passages: nothing ever seems to be fleshed out, nothing lasts long enough to understand it beyond the surface level, and everything pretty much exits the moment it comes in. In spite of all the doom and drone, the album’s framework seems skeletal and sparse. “Suicide from Verona Rupes” begins hazy, stuffed to the brim with major chord distortion and loveliness; this lasts a few good minutes, only to be thrust into a darkened minor chord ritual of screams and then abruptly led into twiddly phasing and churning. These three moments could have been developed, but are instead thrust upon the listener in a rushed fashion, leaving little on which to dwell. Nothing is concrete, nothing is complete.

1. Numb
2. Into the Bloom
3. Stratospheric
4. Kingdom
5. Hypodermic Like Bailing Wire
6. Rendering
7. Suicide From Verona Rupes
8. Trainwreck
9. Hudf

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