There’s a chain of connection here: René Aquarius is the drummer from heavy free jazz duo Dead Neanderthals; Dead Neanderthals once collaborated with electroacoustic whizz Machinefabriek (on the album “DNMF”); Machinefabriek made my all-time favourite drums-and-processing album, “Drum Solos”, back in 2014. Being an actual drummer, one would think that Aquarius’ take on the same format might conform more to traditional drummer clichés — more rhythms, more power rolls, more stick-waving acrobatics. Well, think again: “Blight” takes drums and cymbals in a direction I wasn’t at all prepared for.
Black clouds of echoing cymbal float on by, a harshness to their colour. A deep regular thud, like a marching beat slowed down to the pace of dread, underpins a fluid metallic churning like water in a wave tank, and what sounds like a muffled voice chanting. More cymbal rolls like jets of steam from some colossal machine. Blinding flashes of metal, quiet tinkling and glistening, deep throbbing and elephantine groans. The atmosphere is dark, dreary, and industrial, like the back streets of a concrete city late at night. Even the softer moments are often claustrophobic and tense.
Sometimes, however, the luminous, shifting quality of the cymbals allows the music to transcend the gloom in which it is mired and become something else — something alive and vital. Nowhere is this more apparent than on the tremulous closing track “VIII”, where quiet rumble and tense resonances slowly build in intensity until it feels as if the whole room is shaking. Aquarius is one of those composer-performers who can draw something you never expected out of a chosen instrument, while keeping some recognisable trace of that instrument’s characteristic sonic signature. While perhaps too pathos-laden for some, “Blight” stands out as a unique and intriguing take on drums and cymbals.