Subarachnoid Space
Eight Bells

Not to make excuses, but Subarachnoid Space isn’t exactly the hardest band to lose track of. Having released three good-bordering on-excellent albums on Relapse’s experimental imprint, Release Entertainment, the instrumental group led by guitarist Melynda Jackson (that’s not her on the cover) has sort of always floated on the periphery of the experimental space rock scene, never winning a ton of praise from the media or a huge following, yet always scratching beneath the surface, constantly touring and consistently plying their craft for those few who were keen enough to tune in. A funny thing happened after leaving the metal label, though, the band actually got heavier, or at least edgier, and while the cosmic compositions on their newer releases are still creatures from their own little secret galaxy, these creatures have grown teeth, causing these pieces to snarl as well as scratch that aforementioned surface, more expertly ensnaring the listener in this tangled web they weave.

“Hunter Seeker”, the second song on this album, is a case in point, starting with a sharp but elaborate lick enraptured by varied cold fusion accentuations, before plummeting into a deep ambient abyss, evoking a mix of contemplation and anticipation as spare notes and chords, augmented by multiple layers of effects, are plucked and sustained in a heady vortex, a sonic playground of the senses. Once the group lulls you into a false sense of serenity, rest assured they will come back to pound and stomp you with a nice heavy riff, as they do to close the proceedings on this twelve-plus minute track. Likewise, another favored “Sub-Space” trick is to engage the listener in a catchy groove or a multi-layered melody or best of all, both at the same time before trailing off in a technicolor swirling confusion of dust and debris to settle back into that aforementioned ambiance (“Haruspex”). It is in the shifts between these two phases that the group reveals their charm the most, as they are quite adept in either niche, unlike some heavy instrumental rock groups where the ambient parts seem like a cue to stop paying attention, or on the other side, experimental groups where the rock parts sound forced and faked. Subarachnoid Space are not just competent in both niches, but comfortable and even more so, compelling, able to keep the listener’s rapt attention throughout lengthy patches of very abstract sound and make the transition back and forth to deliriously heavy rock moments seem seamless, logical and natural.
The sum result of this skill is that the band makes complex music that demands careful attention which at the same time is way too easy to get lost in. Music that simultaneously seems the product of Jackson’s conscientious composition and the rest of the band’s stream-of-consciousness improvisation and exploration. While upping the volume and raging just a bit harder than they used to allows the band to draw the attention of more listeners, those listeners may still have their work cut out for them wrapping their heads around this sound. However, just as on their earlier releases, once the ears are properly attuned, and the stars properly aligned, such hard work will be rewarded by the discovery-slash-revelation of an excellent and unique band with a discography full of equally enchanting material to absorb or even better, to be absorbed by.

[Visit the band's website]
Written by John Gnesin
October 30th, 2009

Comments

  1. Commented by: seaofcartilage

    Easily one of the worst bands i’ve ever had to endure in a live setting…just absolute bullshit.

    But THRONES played afterwards and then the shit got real.


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