“Could you please turn up the bass,” Six Organs of Admittance’s tour bassist requests after some time of operating in near-inaudibility, as guitarist (and the only constant in the ever-shifting project) Ben Chasny’s roaring Stratocaster finally winds down for a tuning break.
A bout of silence later, Chasny concurs, with the air of a man who hadn’t quite noticed there are other instruments on the stage.
A few steel-coated riffs into tonight’s eardrum-battering set, it’s quite funny to think that Chasny is still routinely linked to the psych-folk movement that gained considerable renown a decade or so ago. Tonight, Six Organs of Admittance’s main mission is to celebrate the paint-stripping potential of the electric guitar. However, it’s not the only campaign Chasny’s waging: the band are here to promote an entirely new method of writing music.
Six Organs of Admittance’s latest album Hexadic is an attempt to build compositions based completely on chance, with the chords and melodies decided by a specially designed deck of cards.
Chasny’s music has always aimed for a desolate majesty, but the nocturnal abstractions of Hexadic push the doom-laden starkness to hitherto unimaginable levels; as tempos dissolve, guitars squeal and chord sequences progress with the randomness of a leaf being thrown about by a hearty gust of wind, it’s not the easiest of listens. In fact, there are points where you’d be forgiven for thinking that your listening device has caved in by the sheer heaviness of the enterprise.
Live, the new material gains plenty of immediacy and urgency that makes it that much easier to stomach the logic-defying workouts that veer unpredictably between unadulterated, feedback-crusted noise that makes the most out-there moments of Chasny’s erstwhile cult hero band Comets on Fire sound like pure pop, uniquely metallic free jazz, pulverising drones and bursts of ascending melody.
If such conceptually challenging, uncompromisingly experimental music is meant to be infused with chin-stroking tedium and academic dryness, someone’s forgotten to tell Chasny, who throws himself into the pulverising proceedings with such vigour that he’s soon bathed in sweat, almost as if he has to physically wrestle with each note.
Next to this, the older material, initially welcomed as a spot of light relief, seems almost disappointingly, well, normal, even if Chasny grasps every opportunity to make his guitar howl like some dying mythical beast or a jet engine on the verge of take-off.
Gig date: June 16