Frozen Niagara Falls

The ‘masterpiece’ is something that all too often announces itself, making its status quickly and sorely known, like the salesperson ringing a bell, or the overly long running time of some hit-by-numbers blockbuster. It can be so easy to fall into the trap on our end, judge a book by its cover, and go in under the preconception that a work is something special just because it says it is. For music it fails as often as it succeeds – just look at the poorly calculated likes of Sandinista – but then for every failure there’s a Sign o’ The Times, where the grandeur, self-declared ‘vision’ and extra length turn out to be absolutely deserved. Where the latest and longest album (discounting box sets) from Prurient lands on the spectrum, is up for debate.

The offering of crushing icy synth melodies, crashing beats and even (wait for it) the odd acoustic guitar that pierce their way through Dominick Fernow’s widest ever array of noises on Frozen Niagara Falls, all feel like the logical conclusion to his nearing 20 year musical journey. Of all his side projects away from the man’s Prurient nom de plume, Vatican Shadow has been the biggest game changer, audibly bleeding over into his other work on the Through The Window album under the Prurient name put out on Blackest Ever Black in 2014. That album saw Prurient reconfigured as a dark techno wizard, Fernow’s well worn screams subdued to a whispered growl over beats no longer submerged beneath fuzz, but rather sitting centre stage, moulded into lengthy epic passages of hold-and-release hooks from hell’s minimal night club. This time put out by Canadian metal label, Profound Lore (who have previously released the likes of Altar Of Plagues, Old Man Gloom, Melechesh and Xasthur), Frozen Niagara Falls spends 16 tracks in 90 minutes grasping every tool in his arsenal, utilising them to punt emotions around a gloomy icy cave until, bruised and battered, only the freedom of apathetic resignation remains. The image evoked by the album’s title is apt. A frozen Niagara Falls feels like an omen, but it’s hard to know what is more worrying – the impending environmental doom it harkens, or society’s continuing apathy, happy for such grim omens to remain mere stories of the week.

Myth Of Building Bridges opens the double album with ten minutes of pure drama. A full minute of piercing sine waves akin to Prurient’s own Arrowhead release on Mego in 2008 open, followed by bashing cymbals and drums, a deathly serious minor key synth melody, and a racing arpeggiation in the background straight from the Berlin School – waterfalls of moody melody flowing freely as dark clouds gather overhead. The influence of epic German synth music is unignorable, particularly the likes of Popol Vuh, whose ability to craft organic, almost spiritual atmospheres from electronic sources has now seemingly transported directly into Fernow. His apparent commitment to a certain slick-yet dated set of synth sounds occasionally also brings to mind the rainy aesthetics of The Cure circa Disintegration‘s lengthier passages. Rushing static, distant growls, and harsh noises duel on top of the dramatic central theme, yet it remains more beautiful and tragic than harsh or angry. It’s a compellingly emotional and driven tone that permeates several of the album’s key tracks – the screams the gothic narration of ‘Every Relationship Earthrise’, or the cathartic fury of ‘Dragonflies To Sew You Up’, which notably features Prurient’s first acoustic guitar on the album, contrastingly juxtaposed with manic drum pounding and guttural screaming. Even the simmering underbelly of the title track’s two parts (or ‘portions’ as allotted here) seep with immense agony and sadness, perceptible even through the grainy veil of rushing static.

The other two more extreme ends of Prurient’s persona are fully explored on Frozen Niagara Falls, comprising several of his finest pure power electronics tracks, as well as many nearly peaceful moments of roughly approximated calm. The likes of ‘A Sorrow With A Braid’ and ‘Poinsettia Pills’ are among the finest pieces of short form noise Fernow’s ever completed, taking in fury from all across the spectrum and vibrant fuzz of all colours and smashing them into less-than-5-minute long chunks. By comparison, ‘Jester In Agony’, the seven minutes of tranquil pads and synth strings punctuated with filmic marching drum machine stabs in its latter half, is a peaceful moment of rest, almost utterly devoid of aggression.

The opening moments of ‘Greenpoint’ provide possibly the album’s biggest shock, in the form of dueting baroque acoustic guitars. They play off each other like the pre-dinner entertainment at one of Henry VIII’s weddings, but the 10-minute track soon travels through passages of militaristic drum machines a la Vatican Shadow, metallic gothic synth atmospheres, and Fernow’s moody spoken narration. Along with 11-minute album closer, ‘Christ Among The Broken Glass’ – which also employs baroque guitars as well as watery field recordings and narration – this was clearly designed as a focal point for the record, unlike anything previously done under the Prurient name. These tracks are, for want of a better word, approachable, and it’s ultimately this that defines Frozen Niagara Falls.

It is one of the best albums by Prurient – key phrase being one of. Its approachability, breadth and vision are for the most part plus points, and much of the album’s drama truly hits home. This is a great album, and it’s incredible to see Fernow again broadening the scope of the noise genre. However, he’s never required us to suspend our disbelief even for one second in the past. I suppose this is what they call maturity.

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