Album Reviews

The Skull Defekts – Dances In Dreams Of The Known Unknown

(Thrill Jockey) UK release date: 7 April 2014

The Skull Defekts - Dances In Dreams Of The Known Unknown Organise! Get tribal! That seems to be the central tenet at the heart of Dances In Dreams Of The Known Unknown, the new album from The Skull Defekts. Fashioned apparently from little more than a loose pile of riffs, this is an album that circles around the daunting poetry and presence of one-time Lungfish man Daniel Higgs. It is his gravitational pull that forces these songs into shape, dragging the riffs towards him and then, sending them back out into the world coated in metaphor and barely concealed threats.

Not that these songs are so tight as to be practically geometric – far from it. There’s an appealing looseness to the guitar work that gives this material an almost elastic feel at times. It’s this aspect that gives the songs their dreamlike quality, whist the tribal drums provide the impetus to dance.

Without Higgs’ presence however, it’s possible that the Defekts could quite easily wander off into self-indulgent territory. There is a series of opposing forces at work on this album. The need to organise faces off against the will to drift off into abandonment. Dreams battle with nightmares. There are knowns and unknowns. Where there is focus there are also blurred lines, and where there is ugliness, there is also beauty. Yet these opposing forces just about balance each other out, and what could have been a phenomenally messy piece of work edges towards just being phenomenal.

Kicking off with The Pattern Of Thoughts, the guitars of Daniel Fagge Fagerstroem and Joachim Nordwall provide a clanging backdrop that is occasionally punctuated with a rough-edged stabbing guitar lick. Discordant it most certainly is, and gloriously so. It barely sounds evolved, so when Higgs mumbles/sings how “this dance is ancient…prehistorical” it’s hard to argue. It Started With A Light is slightly more evolved, but barely. Here, a simplistic metallic intonation sets the scene, it’s primal certainly but there are times when the band embrace straight-up melody and when that kicks in, it’s like an unholy alliance of Sonic Youth and Ultramega OK era Soundgarden.

When it works, The Skull Defekts are an unstoppable force, but every so often, they get a little aimless. The repetitive simplistic nature of The Fable for example doesn’t quite work, and by the time it bursts into life, the drive has been lost. Thankfully, nestled at the heart of the album is the colossal The Known Unknown with rumbles with lithe efficiency and is genuinely thrilling. Wiry riffs collide into each other as the drums tumble and clatter as if they’re falling into battle rather that marching. Here the repetition works in the band’s favour as it is appears to form a cumulative ball of aggression and confusion. The vocal refrain of “the battle of the known, unknown unknown…” becomes a shamanic chant aiming to drive everyone towards some kind of understanding. What that might be however, remains unknown.

Closing the album is Cyborganisation, which makes a kind of evolutionary sense. From the primordial screeches that started the album there’s now an electronic, robotic feel to the band’s approach. It still has that tribal edge though, with another shamanic chant. This time the band is worshiping at the altar of our robot overlords, but the effect is the same. A wild sense of psychic abandonment pervades the song, and it is hard not to get caught up in it. The deity might be different this time around, but the message is the same “Organise! Get loose! Dance in dreams”.

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The Skull Defekts – Dances In Dreams Of The Known Unknown