Frédéric D. Oberland – Labyrinth

On his sophomore solo album, Labyrinth, French multi-instrumentalist Frédéric D. Oberland echoes the philosophy of Georges Bataille’s Inner Experience and the dark poetry of Dante Aliegheri’s Inferno. The music is immediately dark, lit only by fiery splotches of ultra-light and lava-flow, descending into the nine circles of Hell without delay. Bataille’s Inner Experience, on the surface, at least, seems to oppose Inferno, as the former is a philosophical work on finding the sacred in the absence of God while the latter holds no such sacred staging save for its eternal text. Both indirectly gravitate toward spiritual planes, of Heaven, Hell, and the afterlife, or absence thereof.

Is this the sound of eternal damnation? The electronics are cavernous and cutting, seemingly dropping, without a care, into an oblique world of crunching machinery and high-pitched drilling, its cities built on nothing but sadistic industrialisation and the promotion of severe pain. Torturous racks that went out of fashion around the time of the Black Death, along with a plethora of evil-looking devices designed only to inflict deepest despair and agony, are on show and in continual use. The seven deadly sins, once so highly thought of, pursued, and favoured upon the Earth, are instantly regretted. Atrophied melodies squeal in pain and the claustrophobia is made complete amongst towering tongues of fire.

But Hell is more attuned to the heart and the soul. Some sections of the Church believe it to be a physical realm, but Hell could also be more in tune with Bataille’s writings and Oberland’s Labyrinth, envisioned as a living thing: an inescapable absence of God, a separation from a Father, and the painful emptiness of divorce that burrows and torments the soul. Bataille himself called the work, “a narrative of despair”, and Oberland’s music certainly reflects this. But he also went on to say that it’s a work where “profundity and passion go tenderly hand in hand”.

The mind moves in a strange world where anguish and ecstasy coexist…

Despite the whispers of prayer, a raging minotaur prowls around inside the labyrinth. The music is stuck, writhing in anguish, each rhythmic block becoming one dead end after another; there’s no escape. The dull and muted background thump of ‘Abysse’ speeds things up, each kick either a heartbeat or the quick, heavily-padded sound of pursuing hooves. Repeating electronic notes and French whispers accompany them, snips of dialogue hiding within the melting walls of sound. In this album, dogma as well as doctrine is collapsing. Those voices come back, returning again and again after taking a series of wrong turns in the maze-like crypt. Finally, a garbled alto saxophone unravels the mind. As loose tape will spill its guts, emerging from the cassette deck as a ruined and tortured spool, so too does the music lose cognitive comprehension.

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