Brutalism has never sounded so bright, finds Jon Buckland

Of all the facets that make up music, the one aspect that I find myself repeatedly drawn to isn’t rhythmic, it’s not a melodic trait, nor a specific style of vocalisation. It’s distortion. Big fat walls of the stuff. It should be muscular, overwhelming, all-consuming. Solid slabs of static that crash into you like a concrete wave.

Emptyset provide this in proportions which could furnish the largest Brutalist structure that the Smithsons dare dream up. The Bristol duo are no strangers to concrete, after all. They made use of the huge reverberation opportunities within a concrete testing bunker in London, and have had installations in a North Wales nuclear power station, a mansion in Gloucestershire and a Kentish cave. I’m not sure quite how much concrete there was in that cave but it does seem that the pair like addressing spatial concerns with their sounds.

With Ash, they seem to be interrogating a different set of dimensions. Those of heat, time, pressure, and transformation. It’s bulky, boisterous, brutal, even. ‘Flame’ plays with tempo. Its whomping great industrial cadence speeds up and slows down, hitting twice as hard as the brightness with which it burns (and, trust me, it sears retinas). The glimmers of feedback shining through the crunch of ‘Ember’ offer further mutilation of those rhythms whereas ‘Cinder’ is cooler, like washed-out, greyscale crumbling.

By the time that we reach the title track, the EP’s shape starts to unravel. The drones are more drawn out and increasingly disfigured by jackhammer drums slogging through the silt. And, on the mechanical manoeuvres of finale ‘Rise’, you can almost smell the petrol gliding through jiggling hoses as pistons pump their very best. Compared to what came before, it’s cleaner, tauter, sleeker.

There’s a clear narrative playing out during Ash. From ‘Spark’ to ‘Rise’, the licks of fire grow, burning as blistered distortion, reducing down to glowing embers and chilling into ash before, finally, emerging as a new, raw beast on ‘Rise’. A phoenix from the flames. A shiny slither of steel from a roaring kiln.

It seems to be about creating something new out of the wreckage of the old. Interestingly, once the fat has been sliced off, leaving a beast both sinewy and lean, there are still a lot of similar characteristics to the earlier sounds. Just a little more refined. Emptyset aren’t dismissing the work of the past but building on it, honing it, carefully selecting those parts fit for the future.

I’m no closer to ascertaining what it is that draws me to these enveloping blankets of overclocked fuzz, but within this EP lies a glorious sense of something bigger than us, something awe-inspiring. There’s something deeply primal to submitting to these powerful sheets of sonic aberrations. It’s the musical equivalent of standing on a shoreline, gazing out across a seemingly endless, turbulent sea. Look into the void. Yield to the vastness. Stare down the stony abyss. Just be prepared to pick yourself up out of the rubble after.

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