The Haxan Cloak

The Men Parted The Sea To Devour The Water

Bobby Krlic’s debut album as The Haxan Cloak arrived last year like a boltgun to the back of the neck, accompanied by the Observatory EP’s swift coup de grace, a knife swept delicately through the tendons of its victims’ willing throats. Both were precociously fully-formed releases for a relative newcomer. Though when I interviewed him late last year he described Observatory as "my interpretation of a Skaters record", it was far better than simple pastiche or tribute, its rhythms reverberant as though beaten onto a rotting tree trunk and clogged by swampy synth and string drones.

The full-length was even better. Released through Aurora Borealis – a label frequently associated with metal – its ritual bells, struck percussion and tearing cello figures (all played by Krlic himself) were instead suggestive of some archaic folk form performed by a skeleton troupe, unearthed from moorland barrows still caked in earth and the half-fossilised remnants of their own flesh and blood. All the more impressive when we discovered it was all recorded in a home-constructed studio in his parents’ garden, it landed right near the top of the pile of our favourite records of last year.

One aspect of being a relatively new artist is that your muse is likely still in a state of flux. While The Haxan Cloak immediately snared listeners, it was only Krlic’s debut, and his live performances immediately showed signs that he was taking his music in slightly new directions again. The day we met for an interview in London in November last year, he was about to head off to Southern’s studios to record this instalment in their Latitudes series. Essentially a session album, The Men Parted The Sea To Devour The Water records the contours of his live performances at the time. He’s since signed to London label Tri Angle (initially associated with the emergence of so-called ‘witch house’ last year, and since having signed the likes of Clams Casino and Vessel) for his upcoming second album, which might again suggest distinct steps away from the insular spaces of his debut.

Krlic’s live shows at the time – captured for posterity on Devour The Water – were beginning to incorporate more obvious electronic elements. He admitted when we spoke to having always been a bass-head and dance music geek, although evidence of those tendencies was hidden away on his earlier releases. Those interests were starting to be expressed in his live sets, though, which took recognisable segments from his recorded output – the disembodied aquatic choir that drifts though this record’s opening section, for example – and framed them with sparse, technoid beat constructions and throbbing, overtly synthetic sub-bass. They hit in hard around nine minutes through Devour The Water‘s single track: crisp polyrhythms a tad reminiscent of the hand-played Middle Eastern drum patterns of Skull Disco-era Shackleton, but slowed to a more comfortable pulse than the latter’s wild-eyed flailings.

Here these foundations are gradually joined by additional percussive elements, a few of which acquire melodic characteristics, threading a spidery motif through the mix that’s not too distant from something you might hear on a Robert Hood or Shed record. If those sound like strange comparisons to make to Krlic’s music, they are – for those only versed on his earlier material, this record will probably come across as a dramatic stylistic shift. And as with any transition away from such a distinctive debut, there’s always the risk of losing something along the way. What marked The Haxan Cloak out was its timeless quality: there were no particular production tricks or techniques that betrayed it as an album of 2011. Had we been informed that it was a reissue of an obscure horror film soundtrack from the 60s or late 70s, it would have seemed entirely plausible and we’d probably have accepted the story as read.

Admittedly, most of the sound sources for Devour The Water appear to have come from the same home-recorded library as The Haxan Cloak, lending it a similar mood and atmosphere to Krlic’s debut. However, the electronic elements added here do definitely feel of a particular moment in time. If Krlic cleans all the muck and dust off his music, it’s possible that a once unique sound – kindred to Coil, Leyland Kirby’s work as The Stranger and Richard Skelton – might instead end up lost within a wider ecology of London-based producers making moody, sub-bassy electronica. Given the consummate skill he’s shown thus far, I suspect I’ll be proved wrong. Nonetheless, I do hope that he continues to consign his beats to the damp and dark corners of the garden, the better to keep them mouldering nicely.

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