Stray Ghost: Losthilde
Highpoint Lowlife

Never before has a recording like Losthilde, a collection of corrosive drones by Stray Ghost (sonic manipulator Ant Saggers), appeared on Highpoint Lowlife. Having said that, the UK label doesn't hew to a single style, something diverse releases by the likes of Bovaflux, Erstlaub, Like A Stuntman, and The Village Orchestra make amply clear, so even if drones per se haven't figured prominently in the label's catalogue to date, Highpoint's open-ended sensibility can easily accommodate adding the genre to its eclectic offerings. Though Losthilde is his debut full-length, it's not Saggers' first appearance on the label, as a free-to-download, eponymous web release was made available in December 2007. He constructs deeply textured soundscapes using gear and programming tools that by today's standards may seem modest—a Microkorg, Casiotone, organ, effects pedals, field recordings, and (especially) guitar; however, there's nothing in the immersive material itself that suggests it's lacking in production quality or sonically deficient in comparison to concurrent “electronic” releases. The album undergoes a fairly clear transformation, starting out with the very ghostly opening piece and plunging progressively deeper into metal-drone guitar zones as it makes its way through the subsequent three pieces. (The sense of loneliness and longing that suffuses the album's material is reflected in the title itself: “Losthilde” is a term Saggers coined by amalgamating “Lost” and “Mathilde,” the latter the name of his partner from whom he was physically separated during the album's production—hence the song title “There's An Ocean Between Us, You and I.”)

At twenty-four minutes, the first of Losthilde's four pieces (Part One of the aforementioned "There's An Ocean Between Us, You and I") may be the longest, but it's less a single-movement epic than a three-part suite. Elegiac in character, the first section's hazy streams of surging string tones create a symphonic effect that's reminiscent in style and feel of Eluvium's Talk Amongst The Trees; halfway through, the elegiac episode recedes, leaving four minutes of ambient whooshes and rumbling in its wake, while the material turns blurriest in part three when vaporous clouds of smoke roll across deep string tones. Like an aural transcription of a séance's invocations, the haunted "There's An Ocean Between Us, You and I - Part Two" is dominated by whirlpools of droning haze and moaning strings that swell to grandiose levels, and the distorted, guitar-fueled howl that roars at the eight-minute mark could give Tim Hecker nightmares. The amazing seventeen-minute "Saudade - Part One" plunges the listener into a congealing Fear Falls Burning zone when molten guitar stabs catch fire two minutes into the piece, and deathly fireballs are expelled halfway through that'll feel like nirvana to metal-drone fanatics. In the Tim Hecker-like Part Two, detonating blasts shoot blistering shards in all directions as turbulent masses of feedback-generated noise swirl and toxic blisters of corroded rust bleed. A few missteps dot the material: the downtempo beats that surface partway through track two are hardly necessary, and the distorted voice-over in the middle section of track one is merely distracting and would be better deleted.

When Tangerine Dream's Phaedra was released, it was pitched as “music that melts” (the promo ad included illustrations of objects being progressively reduced to liquid form); listening to Losthilde, the phrase comes to mind again though this time amended to “music to make the mind melt”; certainly listening to the album at maximum volume is an awesome experience. Listeners hungry for a brutalizing and powerful sixty-eight-minute excursion into drone-metal ambient need look no further.

September 2008