Troum: Sen

Troum: Eald-Ge-Stréon
Equation / Beta-lactam Ring

Sen, we're told, is “fixated on the North Sea where sheets of black ice creak under the tidal currents that roll onto a rocky beach”—as good a starting point as any for this definitive recording of dronescaping by Troum (an ancient German translation of the word “dream”), a Bremen, Germany-based ambient-experimental outfit comprised of Stefan Knappe and Martin Gitschel that rose out of the ashes of Maëror Tri (1988-1996). It's not newly created material—in fact, Sen, the second Troum album, is a re-issue of an out-of-print CD released on Staalplaat's Mort Aux Vaches imprint in 2000—but, like all great drone music, transcends the time of its creation. Amazingly, it was recorded live in the studio in December 1999 in one take with no overdubs. There's a trance-like and industrial character to the production, which unfolds in a rumbling, reverb-drenched haze apparently generated through some alchemical combination of guitars, bass, voice, accordion, flute, melodica, gong, field recordings, tapes, and keyboards.

For the purposes of the vinyl release, the single, long-form setting naturally has been split into four parts. Rather than separating the piece into four sections of equal length, it has been carefully broken down to where distinct changes in mood and style occur. The opening one crawls through bleak and desolate wastelands for twenty-four haunted minutes, its shuddering reverberations so deep they feel as if they're welling up from the unconscious. The shimmering, ghost-like sounds and distant bell tones are so out-of-time they could pass themselves off as convincingly as material emanating from the 17th as 21st century. The shorter second part verges on almost celestial by comparison when its higher-pitched elements seem to reach ecstatically heavenward, as if in supplication and desperate to sever ties to the earthy rhythms looping below, whereas the third is gloomier in tone, as if to suggest that the darker forces have, at least for now, gained the upper hand. For fifteen anguished minutes, disembodied voices moan atop a hellish churn generated by industrial machinery, after which the fourth caps the release with rhythm-heavy rattle and hum. All told, it's an amazing ride through the Gates of Hell and beyond.

And if the music isn't enough to draw you in, the spectacular artwork (by eyelyft) and vinyl presentation could do so all by itself. Equation Records has made three different versions available, with the one reviewed a deluxe set of two twelve-inch picture discs and three circular inserts housed within a clear, semi-circular gatefold sleeve fastened with a velcro button. One could gaze admiringly upon the discs' psychedelic artwork patterns for minutes on end, but their impact is equally mesmerizing when they're seen spinning on the turntable. Mention, too, must be made of the high quality of the image resolution that has been achieved on the vinyl and inserts.

Eald-Ge-Stréon is fundamentally different from Sen in that in place of a single, live piece, a set of seven individual pieces is presented—“strange songs and odd jewels,” as described by the liner notes—that Troum recorded at various times between 2001 and 2008 on analogue eight-track and then reworked and remastered. The instrumentation is much the same as that used for Sen, though Eald-Ge-Stréon finds djembe and Sufi singing added to the phantasmagoric mix. The visual presentation is a bit less elaborate in this case, though the combination of sky blue and black colours for the respective vinyl discs and a heavy gatefold sleeve (design, layout, and artwork is by Stephen O'Malley) is still striking.

Side one's “Elation” immediately puts distance between itself and Sen in opting for a sound that's less industrial and more kosmische musik in tone. A billowing mass of what sounds like synthetic string washes pulsates determinedly like some sped-up time-lapse image of evolving cloud formations, after which “Usque Sumus Lux” resurrects the convulsive beat pattern heard near Sen's end only this time augmenting it with raw, declamatory sheets of blinding white noise. The hazy and ethereal “Eolet” could pass for pre-Phaedra Tangerine Dream, as could “Ecstatic Forlorness,” even if its tribal percussion rhythms nudge it first more in the direction of Popol Vuh and, eventually, industrial music when the music grows more lethal.

Though brief, side three's neo-symphonic “Dhânu-H” leaves a strong impression for being so affectingly mournful—not a quality heard to any excessive degree elsewhere on the release. Oddly, the piece is based on a song Troum adored by an unnamed German ‘Schlager' singer, and, odder still, the eyebrow-raiser that follows, “Procession,” is a Savage Republic cover that includes a near-buried vocal that evokes fading memories of post-punk bands and sweaty clubs. The final side's given over entirely to “Crescere” (based on a soundtrack from an unidentified ‘70s French movie), a move that takes the listener out on a blistering wave of mind-warping psychedelia. Brace yourself for sixteen minutes of fiery raucousness.

If forced to choose between the two releases, Sen'd be my pick, not just on account of its stunning presentation but because it's the more cohesive of the two. On the other hand, a listener more curious about the range of possible musics Troum is capable of bringing into being might find Eald-Ge-Stréon to be the more satisfying choice. No matter the direction taken, a word or two of praise also should be extended to Bill Bailey for, as Equation Records' head, sending these Troum releases out into the world in such splendid manner (in partnership with Beta-lactam Ring for Eald-Ge-Stréon, for the record).

March 2012