Marble Sky: Marble Sky
Students of Decay

Secret Pyramid: The Silent March
Students of Decay

Aural hallucinogens of an extremely potent vintage, The Silent March, a remastered vinyl reissue of a 2011 tape release by Secret Pyramid (Vancouverite Amir Abbey) and Marble Sky, a double-vinyl set from Jeff Witscher (aka Rene Hell) operating under his Marble Sky moniker, are the latest ambient-drone releases from the Cincinnati-based Students of Decay imprint.

The Silent March is actually the precursor to the more recent Secret Pyramid outing Movements of Night, but the earlier set is as fine a representation of the project's sound as any. Describing Abbey's sonic edifices as titanic isn't far off the mark, given the magnitude of the seven masses featured on the thirty-six-minute album. Offering a good way into the release, the opener “Outside” presents a colossus of slowly mutating blur that feels like Abbey's taken a thousand layers and compressed them into a restless whole. Fragments of melodies are audible within the mass, though they're so deeply buried their presence is as much subliminal as explicit. The wall of sound Abbey manufactures in “Still Return” is likewise so massive, it all but obliterates the flickering acoustic guitar figures that can be glimpsed if one listens hard enough, while the slow-burning “Eternal” might make the most compelling argument of all on behalf of Secret Pyramid. “Her Spirits” changes things up dramatically in alternating between folk-styled episodes featuring dusty acoustic guitar strums and wispy vocals and crushing blasts of a kind more representative of the Secret Pyramid persona. Abbey enhances the listening experience by having each track segue into the next without pause and consequently the album's spell isn't broken until the end. Also arguing in favour of the recording is the fact that, while most of the tracks do adhere to the intense Secret Pyramid style, there are contrasts in dynamics from one setting to the next. That said, the only way The Silent March should be experienced is at peak volume. At the very least, such a scenario will prove mind-altering, although it might just as easily induce some degree of psychosis, even if only temporary.

There's nothing terribly significant about the fact that the self-titled Marble Sky release is twice the length of The Silent March. What is interesting, though, is that Witscher's features six pieces to Abbey's seven. Witscher, in other words, likes to let his material stretch out, as attested to by the fifteen-minute running time of four of the tracks. Not that there's anything objectionable about that—if anything, the generous length allows for a greater degree of immersion. Compared to Secret Pyramid's torrential attack, Marble Sky's slow-burning soundscapes are closer in spirit to deep ambient. The vaporous masses coursing through the opening “Pulling Up Grass Under A Blanket,” for example, drift peacefully, their ebb and flow calibrated carefully so as to not be overly disruptive or violent. Even when the volume escalates, as it does when “Dull Hue” layers one slab-like sheet-of-sound upon another and Daren Ho adds violin textures to the tectonic drone that is “A Shining Juniper,” the material never loses its restful quality. Subtle undercurrents of melancholy are also present in Marble Sky's music, even if they're typically muffled by the density of the presentation. In fact, Marble Sky is rather similar to Fennesz in the way both are able to invest massive force fields of blurry sound with a powerfully affecting plaintive quality. Regardless, marvelous monoliths such as “What You Might Forget” and “Lea; Crossed Eyes” offer awe-inspiring rides to anyone with a jones for immersive ambient soundsculpting.

January 2015