Album Reviews

Wrekmeister Harmonies – Then It All Came Down

(Thrill Jockey) UK release date: 20 October 2014

Wrekmeister Harmonies - Then It All Came Down “If my brothers and sisters did it, then it’s good. Everything in life is good. It all flows. It’s all good. It’s all music.”

So says Bobby Beausoleil, murderer of Gary Hinman and former associate of the Manson family. In this 1973 interview with Truman Capote, Beausoleil expressed neither pride nor remorse for the slaying, stating that “if it happens, it’s got to be good… one thing happened. And another. And then it all came down.” Hence the title of the interview, and the title of JR Robinson’s 2014 work as Wrekmeister Harmonies.

Named after a 2000 Hungarian film detailing a surreal circus that comes to a post-World War II city, Robinson’s project is aptly and autologically titled. Wrekmeister undoubtedly details Robinson’s musical ethic of sweeping black and doom metal-influenced catharses, and Harmonies reflects the delicate and certainly not emotionless bookends of chiefly ambient or classically-influenced sound. Then It All Came Down is a 34-minute epic that strays not from Robinson’s sound, yet finds the composer surveying aesthetics as black and white as the project’s namesake.

As with all of Robinson’s compositions, Then It All Came Down features a cast of musicians from the heavy metal and indie rock genres; including Dylan O’Toole and Ron DeFries of Indian, Chris Brokaw of Codeine, and Jef Whitehead of Leviathan. Power electronics artist Mark Solotroff offers a punishing array of background ambiance, and the triumvirate of Chanel Pease, Kate Spelling, and Lydia Lane Stout sing a hauntingly despondent and beautiful aria against Ryley Walker’s acoustic arpeggios. It is – as always – an immensely and intensely successful collaboration, owing to Robinson’s capabilities as a composer. Indeed, there is no part of Then It All Came Down that is anything less than coalescent.

The composition begins with a soft organ that steadily merges with the aforementioned soft vocals and dainty guitar, but at the ten minute mark, Whitehead’s evil growl emerges from the mix as a crushing blackened doom metal chord is strummed. Robinson’s classical roots betray themselves shortly afterwards as a despondent and mournful string orchestra is juxtaposed against yawning ambiance. The strings nigh-imperceptibly become dissonant until Then It All Came Down lapses into an excruciatingly slow doom metal climax with operatic vocals and screams. The piece ends with an ever-increasing amount of feedback and O’Toole’s hellish screams that fade away into the reappearing orchestra.

Classical music and extreme genres of heavy metal are less disparate than initially beheld; one only has to look at the works of Emperor, Tartaros and Dimmu Borgir to see how easily the baroque genre and black metal intertwine. This is the strength of Wrekmeister Harmonies. Many, many metal bands attempt the album-long composition – from the drone metal of Sunn O))) to the grindcore of Pig Destroyer and Noisear –  but rarely is it pulled off with the attention paid to the technicalities of music theory that makes such compositions worth more than a curiosity’s listen. JR Robinson’s work avoids these pitfalls by being extremely aware of what makes music interesting: each passage has its own attack and release, ebb and flow, and even modes and scales. Then It All Came Down seriously rewards multiple listens on behalf of the theoretically inclined.

JR Robinson is one of the most fascinating and worthwhile names in the heavy metal, classical and experimental music formats; not to mention the curious plane where all three meet. Those who heard last year’s You’ve Always Meant So Much To Me will find much of the same of the same elements at play, yet this will bore only those whom were already unimpressed. Then It All Came Down is at once a peaceful, despairing, torrid and longing production, and it is one that will surely lead to more good things in the future.

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More on Wrekmeister Harmonies
Wrekmeister Harmonies – Light Falls
Wrekmeister Harmonies – Night Of Your Ascension
Wrekmeister Harmonies – Then It All Came Down