Anduin + Jasper TX: The Bending Of Light
SMTG Limited

Svarte Greiner: Man Bird Dress
SMTG Limited

Svarte Greiner + Anduin: Black River (Live)
SMTG Limited

Xela: Heirs Of The Fire
SMTG Limited

If these four releases suggest that SMTG should be seen as a kindred spirit to Miasmah and Type, so it should, given the involvement of Jasper TX, Svarte Greiner (Miasmah head Erik Skodvin), and Xela (Type Records' John Twells). Richmond, Virginia-based Jonathan Lee (Anduin) is the common denominator here, as he collaborates with Gothenburg , Sweden 's Dag Rosenqvist (aka Jasper TX) on the mini-album The Bending Of Light, and on the 7-inch live document, Black River, with Svarte Greiner. Rounding out the quartet are fine EP additions to the respective catalogues of Svarte Greiner and Xela.

The six pieces composing the Anduin-Jasper TX set are titled using quotes from Carl Sagan about the formation of a black hole so it doesn't surprise that the tracks are monolithic and towering by design. Immense slabs of guitar and synthesizer tones suggest the limitless expanses of deep space in tracks such as “Everything Disappears in a Tunnel of Light” and “A Beam of Light Bends Back Upon Itself.” In the slightly more naturalistic “Where a Star Once Was,” a brooding Rhodes motif becomes an anchor for the interstellar rumbles and clouds that incrementally swell in volume and mass and sweep across the heavens. A similar melding of acoustic and electronic sounds, “Like the Footprints of an Invisible Man” expands like a gaseous cloud for nearly nine glorious minutes, after which the coda “Walking in the Snow” offers a peaceful exeunt. The sextet amounts to a strikingly refined exercise in ethereal soundscaping.

The Black River 7-inch documents two short collaborations between tour partners Svarte Greiner and Anduin that the two recorded at the end of a US 2008 concert following their solo sets. Part one's a dreamlike plunge into dark dronescaping, the material suggestive of a boat's slow crawl through dense fog on the river Styx . During the first part, a hint of menace and threat emerges in the wavering wall-of-sound the duo sculpts but it's more implied than overt. That feeling is more explicitly rendered during part two but even then it's subtly handled, with the two choosing not to release the tension so much as intensify it. The release amounts to nine minutes of artful dark ambient.

Unsettling by design, Man Bird Dress opts for haunted explorations of a poisoned psyche throughout its half-hour running time. Field recordings, acoustic instruments, and electronic treatments align in three tracks, two recorded in the studio and one live. In the fourteen-minute “Man,” the violent clatter of macabre clanking and percussive knocking is joined by the sinister scrape and shudder of strings until the myriad sounds, now augmented by piano, gradually cohere into a distended whole. As a bass line pulsates below, the hazy mass slowly expands until it becomes a seething colossus that verges on deafening. The slightly less harrowing “Bird” follows a similar trajectory, starting from relative quietude (water sounds, footsteps) and then advancing through a ghost-like string intro that grows progressively frenetic as aggressively sawing violins separate themselves from the whole. “Dress” ends the recording on an even less frenetic note with glassy tones and low-pitched exhalations echoing within a reverberant space, though even here the materials eventually become an immense, rolling cloud of nightmarish sonorities.

Heirs Of The Fire perpetuates the epic doomscaping style of John Twells' recent Xela full-lengths The Dead Sea and In Bocca Al Lupo. Apparently recorded live in one take using nothing more than vocals, guitar, and a sampler, the 12-inch release couples a twelve-minute opening part with a second that's almost twice as long. Blissful in tone, the first part begins with Twells intoning in mantra-like manner a quote from the Koran after which other vocal layers appear to turn it into a quasi-chorale, and electric and acoustic sounds seep into the frame to render it progressively blurrier. Bells and other percussive accents rise to the surface of a dense and rather indecipherable mix. The mood here is less nightmarish compared to the aforementioned Xela material though it's equally transporting in its devotional and melancholy character. Part II immediately immerses the listener within a haunted zone of shuffling noises, field recordings, and ambient haze. Bell tones and sharp-edged quivers from tuned percussion instruments echo and collide within a reverberant mass that grows progressively more dense and unstable. Much like a volcano on the verge of eruption, activity within the mass slowly escalates in intensity until its violence can no longer be contained. Two-thirds of the way into the piece, drummer Mike Weis (Zelienople) appears, quietly at first, with cymbal shadings that ring out clearly above the ghoulish moans wailing below, but then aggressively as he helps bring the obliterating mass to a crescendo. The extended howl that caps the second half is definitely something to behold. Simultaneously dreadful and incredible, Heirs Of The Fire naturally complements the material heard on Twells' recent Type and Barge releases. Heard in their entirety, the recordings constitute an incredible listening experience.

April 2009