The Quietus - A new rock music and pop culture website


Richard Skelton
A Guidonian Hand Daryl Worthington , December 13th, 2021 10:01

Richard Skelton turns lead into gold on an album that sounds more forged than formed, finds Daryl Worthington

Richard Skelton’s A Guidonian Hand is a metal album. Not in a sign-of-the-horns and headbanging sense, but in the way the songs sound metallic, like they might be actually forged from iron.

These ten compositions of fused acoustic and electronic textures conjure the elegance of furnaces, geological processes, and the pranging, creaky beauty of their products. Smothering drones and occasional jagged edges make listening akin to donning a rusted Victorian diving suit and being swallowed into the depths.

On ‘the motion of the indivisible’, flurries of melody sound like they’re being elegantly pried and bent into shape. ‘in patient fabricks’ has a rhythm track which might have beeen sampled from a blacksmith’s workshop. In an interview last year for this website, Skelton described his work as existing in a space “where the archaeologist hands the baton over to the poet and the poet goes off into the realm of pure speculation and imagination.” A Guidonian Hand sounds like it’s adding metallurgist to the list. An alchemical approach to surfaces, textures, and materials in the way these pieces smelt and fracture.

This isn’t to make the album sound totally abstract – it’s not Skelton’s Metal Machine Music by any stretch. Constants in his oeuvre, aching bowed and droned strings, the inward facing levity, are all still present among the ferric electronics. They capture a similar turbulent headspace to his Landings series, especially so in more propulsive moments, such as ‘nature is becoming a point of art’. But instead of ruminating on desolate panoramas, A Guidonian Hand feels more suited to footage of molten metals in a steelworks.

Previously, Skelton’s music and writing has felt deeply attuned to the resonances of place. But rather than an attempt to document landscapes themselves, he traces how they seep into our minds and bodies. The marks a setting leaves after it’s leaked through the membranes of eyes, skins, and ears and inscribed itself into soul and mood. It’s a music of interaction, of negotiations between human and environment, nature and art, emotion and intuition. Sticking in the messy overlaps to breach understanding.

That sense of interaction comes across in how electronics and acoustics meld together here. The separation between strings and wires, human and electrically powered instruments is tenuous at best, and by ‘and instruments of incision’ and the ‘the late affecting fire’ it’s practically non-existent. The arrangements taking on the quality of volatile alloys which haven’t quite settled.

A Guidonian Hand feels fixated on matter itself rather than locations. The wobbly line separating naturally occurring and manmade. The convoluted, tangled histories and brilliant processes embedded in everything around us. An alluring mix of magical thinking and material investigation which bridges the compulsions of metal detectorists and chemists.