Meticulously constructed and thoughtfully crafted over a six year period, The Infinite and the Unknowable is a dark premonition and a one-way voyage. The clouds that hang above and over the music (and there are many) are black, ink-stained omens that signal and prepare the way for an imminent tragedy. They smudge and butterfly into something bigger than themselves; into something that can’t be stopped or avoided.
Like a cursed ship on her maiden voyage, the music is a dark harbinger of things to come. It carries something unnatural and rotten around with it, like the dirt-covered coffin that slept on the lower deck of the ship that brought Dracula to England, The Demeter, or an infectious gathering of people who will later be announced as the first victims of the plague.
Daniel Thomas Freeman predominantly uses a heavily processed electric violin, adding percussion and electronics along the way, and like planks of wood they’re added to the skeleton of the music and laid down one at a time. This record snuffs out the wavering candle and, for the most part, embraces the darkness. It’s dark, but that doesn’t mean it’s not beautiful. The beauty is there, but it’s largely obscured by the dull grime of dark tones which are in need of some restoration.
Shaded textures are scrawled over the surface of the music. It starts off in ominous territory and the record stays there, unable to move and paralysed by its own impending doom as it stares at the tip of the iceberg or the sickly yellow beams of a car’s headlights. On ‘Tears For A Salt Land’, the violin slides downwards, like water cleansing (and drowning) the sides of the hull as it descends into the grey depths. It tries again and again to scurry out of danger, but its repetitions are in vein.
The Infinite and the Unknowable sets out to explore ‘the fathomless mysteries of the divine’. In this instance, the strings are well-used and well-presented, because they’re depictions of royalty – of a higher being. It’s been that way throughout history. Classical instruments sit on a throne constructed out of the parts of other instruments, and they don’t want to relinquish that position. Here, though, the violins almost rip each other apart as they swirl in a maddening cycle, losing themselves in the grey labyrinths of the sea. On ‘Beyond the Harbour Wall’, the music is pursued – hunted – by some kind of otherworldly force, its heavy breathing emanating from the broad body of a raging Minotaur.
The gongs are a sacred mystery, circulating, reversing and spinning, but a thick, top-heavy drum begins to pound and the timbre of the percussion suddenly changes. It picks up speed; then, in a flash, it’s relentlessly running after the underlying drone. A feeling of dread creeps over the music – the thumping beat only provokes and fuels it further – and ‘Under the Dead-Eyed Lighthouse’ is a prime example. There is nothing random about the rhythm; it comes from an intelligent source.
This is thick and blood-red music, constructed out of old metal, shards of rusted steel, pages of prophesy, the Book of Revelation and its explosive dynamite. The old world bleeds into the new, the music sharing equal degrees of mysticism and cynicism. The blood of brave sailors trickles out of the gaps in the stone. The mood doesn’t really brighten, but occasionally there are pockets of bright sunshine to pierce the tonal sea. Tones lightly clank together, sounding like trinkets used in an ancient ritual, the music aiding a sacrifice to a god that nobody has ever seen.
‘Hope for the Fragile’ vanishes as its volume plunges. Everything is disintegrating. A sublime tunnel of light opens up on ‘The Infinite Within Us’, and the light brings a dawning realization. It’s not so much a brighter sound as it is a warmer, thinner one. The harmony is a slim substance. Flashbacks light up the coronas in a stunning rewinding of events long transpired, and this, along with ‘The Song of the Abandoned Trawlers’, is probably the only ‘pure’ ambient piece. Diluted chimes sway and shuffle back and forth like a crew of lost souls, their ragged, wet garments clanking together and producing a clammy, misty atmosphere.
The strings return for the final piece, ‘Reaching for the Stark Beauty of the Divine’. The drawn-out melody wants to ascend – it longs for it, or at least that’s what it feels like – but even when it’s fully stretched out, it can’t quite make it.
When we look up at the stars and other galaxies from this lonely orb, thoughts can easily turn to bigger things, of titanic Gods standing over us, perhaps even judging us. Cut off from alien civilizations, it takes humility and acceptance to realise we’re powerless when it comes to life, death, our place in the universe, where we’re from and who we are.
Music has always been found in every corner and aspect of human civilization. Stones became the first, primitive rhythms, the first drumsticks. Music has also played a crucial role in spirituality, be it in the call to prayer, the uplifting of the spirit when singing, the chanting of a meditation or the repetitive reciting of spoken word. Somehow, the atmosphere changes in the process, but does this change come from the worship of a higher being, or is it a response to the power of raw, unfiltered music?
In the end, the face of a higher being is something that we can’t quite see. The afterlife breaks through like a window of light framed by a closed door, but you can’t cross over while you’re still living. Devastating in its power, The Infinite and the Unknowable is a personal apocalypse. At the end, the captain must go down with the ship.