James Welburn


James Welburn’s first foray into solo album territory surges into life on a heartbeat pulse which prefaces an album of dread, full-spectrum doom and meaty ambient grind. Grounded by the precise drums of Tony Buck, Welburn brings a weightiness to Hold which, while operating in the same territories as some of Justin K Broadrick’s many and heavy musical identities, dispenses with all vocals in favour of an instrumental approach to numbing of the senses through overload.

Those who know Tony Buck for his more restrained work with The Necks may be surprised by the muscularity on display here, battering up a storm and rattling the metal bars on the title track with the monomaniacal persistence for which he is renowned. He and Welburn lay out avant-math metal and full-on noise, and Welburn seems at times to be gazing so intently at his shoes that he may burn holes on them, so intense is his thousand-yard glare.

Welburn shares an affinity with the depths to which effects pedals can be stretched with label-mate Aidan Baker, though he came to similar – but divergent – heavyweight conclusions independently (and hadn’t apparently heard Godflesh either). While his approach here is certainly in the same realms as Nadja’s bruising blissouts, it’s the combination of Welburn’s coruscating FX-mangling with Buck’s percussive intensity which helps take matters into equally hypnotic realms which tend towards the craggy and voluminous without the arctic feel which can pervade the wide-angle sound of Welburn’s fellow Berliners.

Enough of the comparisons. Needless to say, this is music which makes proper sense at proper volume, whether to appreciate the window-rattling properties of the bass and drums or to give the skull a thorough cleansing on headphones. Full of sounds and structures to get lost in, to bathe in the layers and wade through the textures that Welburn constructs with consummate skill; and for such a dense album its production remains crisp and clearly-defined.

Buck’s mastery of avant-garde technique stands him in good stead in a more rockish environment too, pushing the music into new levels at every turn, particularly during some extended descents into capture and release encountered on ‘Duration’ and ‘Hold’. Even when his drumming is metronomic and repetitive  on ‘Shift’ or ‘Transience’, the rhythms are enacted with a flexibility that would be difficult to programme into a drum machine, holding steady and solid but with an inherent human muscularity at their core.

By the time the climactic moment arrives at the end of the title track that concludes side B, it feels as if the album has given the ears a pummelling workout. Hold demonstrates that James Welburn refreshes parts that other musicians certainly can and have reached, but with his own particularity that marks him out as  solo artist and collaborationist to watch.

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