Insect Ark return once more to blow our socks off, with one of their tightest and most mesmerizing albums to date.
Good news, everybody! Insect Ark is back. The last time I had the pleasure of reviewing this outfit was in 2018, upon the release of their intricate droney powerhouse, Marrow Hymns. Well now it’s 2020, and once again, the pleasure is all mine.
The most notable difference between Marrow Hymns and Insect Ark‘s new release, The Vanishing, is the lineup. Project mastermind, Dana Schechter, has swapped her previous colleague in sonic manipulation, Ashley Spungin, for the equally talented Andy Patterson of SubRosa fame. Naturally, this shift in influence makes for a subtly different listening experience. By my reckoning, Patterson’s drum skills are a little a rawer and more direct than that created by his predecessor. However you look at it, The Vanishing serves as a fresh chapter in the Insect Ark timeline, but luckily for our ears, that resounding quality and depth has not only remained firmly present, but has also gained a refined sense of focus and purpose.
You’ve got two main principals at work here. The first is the uncanny ability to craft some of the most spellbinding and engaging sounds that strings and keys are capable of producing. The second is a musical vision, based on high levels of knowledge and intensity. Combine those two things and the world’s your oyster, though that’s far easier said than done. Insect Ark, however, pull it off so expertly, you’re permitted to put it down to magic rather than musicianship. Though I risk sounding daft saying that, the record really is that damn good.
The hypnotic atmosphere, so well crafted by Insect Ark, remains in high balance throughout the album, and delicately meanders between the foreboding and the bombastic. Tonally, you’re pulled in deep from the very start. The numerous climax’s of the opening track “Tectonic”, in all their eerie and dramatic glory deliver tension and depth sufficient to send the brain fully wondering. In this vein, The Vanishing is very much a soundtrack album. Yes, it may be abstract, and it’s fully open to your own personal interpretation, but the depth of mental vision the music is capable of unfurling is very real and undeniably mind-blowing.
The raw explosive progressions of “Three Gates” and the unfolding sinister vibes of “Philae” further affirm this concept, and the ever-shifting narrative keeps the album’s structure complex and engaging. The second act of the record begins subtly, steadily builds, and equips you for the final burst, taking you through some seriously turbulent moods along the way. If you paid full attention, then you might find your emotions bombarded at the terminus. After the steadily creepy motions of “Swollen Sun”, the self-titled epilogue, “The Vanishing”, rounds off the journey in theatrical fashion. ‘Cinematic’ is one of the simpler terms to describe it.
I could never fully get my head around how good Insect Ark‘s last album was, and the exact same goes for this one. From a technical standpoint, I’m sure it was just a case of knowing what strings to twang and what buttons to press, but the sensation that the end result provides is something I can only put down to abnormal intuition. If John Carpenter shook hands with the drone musical elite, and they subsequently tumbled into the event horizon and emerged eons later as one great hulking deity, this might well be the resulting sound. Don’t attempt to understand it! Just take the ride! If you rise to the call of immaculate eerie doom, then you will find no better addition to your catalogue than this. It’s incredible.