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En Form for Bla Daniel Baker , February 17th, 2011 11:13

Phew. This cosmically inclined improv unit has finally emitted a record that adds up to more than the sum of its parts. These are some avant rock heavyweights, right here. We're talking Stephen O'Malley, Daniel O Sullivan and Kristoffer Rygg. Formerly a studio based project, the addition of drummer Steve Noble during live performances has immeasurably enhanced the Aethenor dynamic. This bloke has injected learned chunks of extemporized cadence into Rip Rig and Panic and Derek Bailey's Company among others. When you combine that sort of history with the accumulated preconceptions attached to Sunn O))), Guapo and Ulver, it's perhaps easier to understand why players of such calibre have hitherto struggled to successfully map out a refined soundworld of their own. Previous releases have seen the group gradually creep towards a form of blackened esoterica that too often came off as an overly revenant reading of core influences – the syncretic sonic magick of the Balance/Christopherson axis, eternal music, musique concrete. But whereas 2009's Faking Gold And Murder pointed toward a more streamlined yet nascent development of group process, En Form for Bla arrives comparatively fully formed.

A documentation of a series of gigs recorded in Olso in 2010, Aethenor's stylistic concerns are explored with a great deal more unity and nuance than has previously been the case. This is eyes rolled back into your skull, lights out stuff. Perhaps unexpectedly, it's the out-fusion tactics of On The Corner era Miles Davis that inform some of the eight tracks most ravishing passages, albeit with a markedly different interpretation of aural space than that fostered by Davis and Teo Macero. At the heart of each oceanic burble is Noble's earth-core rumble, a restrained use of percussive techniques inherited from free improv that serve to connect each workouts myriad movements. There is a pleasing liquidity present throughout the contributions of the remaining members, rich dollops of blanketed guitar shards and poised interjections of electronic ripple. It's worth noting that O'Malley is on particularly restrained form here, especially on the extended opening salvo of 'Jocasta' and 'One Number Of Destiny In Ninety Nine'. The latter eventually breaks down into a pitch-bent guitar led semi-kraut thrust that serves as a cinematic versioning of Bitches Brew. It also puts me in mind of the whirring fusion of Larry Young's organ freakouts, albeit drastically refined, rhythm spittle clumps and decompressed runs, compact flourishes of a modest, non intrusive nature. The whole thing eventually flows into a reverie of psychic space and tone in which sparkling sprinkles of organ shimmer blanket a controlled correspondence between percussion, FX and guitar.

Eschewing his primary mode of naked atavism, O'Malley's playing throbs its way evocatively up from the surface to provide irregular reminders of its primordial power. There's a textural warmth at play that benefits greatly from interaction with the shifting fabric of O'Sullivan and Rygg's finely wrought atmospherics. That's not to say they can't still harm you. I've probably made this sound like some cherry-picking magpie guff so far. It isn't. In fact, it's all the more effective for an incorporation of elements that usually remain untapped in orthodox improvisation. Darkwave pulp rushes and spatially savvy doom mechanics most prominently. The necessary transitions between each section are especially well handled and display a serious familiarity with the techniques of musique concrete. This is most obvious clear on 'Laudanum Tusk', which shudders away with battling slabs of processed noise jabber and chance static interventions.

Crucially, this is all achieved with a plaintive, infinite undertone, without the current vogue for hyper aesthetics or subcultural cargo that is gripping the underground. 'Vivarium''s mid section incorporates an unabashed synth that wouldn't feel out of place on the latest Dylan Ettinger record and cross-pollinates it with machinist lurches. It's a neat encapsulation of how En Form For Bla is pockmarked with weightless emigrant pulses and unexpected descents. Impressively packaged by VHF and resplendent in a tasteful, unfussy sleeve designed by O'Malley, it's a pretty spiriting example of how a group drawn from disparate sources can gesture toward something approaching originality.