RADIO 4 listeners were recently witness to an unexpected chill: a short documentary on the history of the public information film. One clip stood out as particularly horrifying: Searching by John Krish, a respected postwar documentary maker whose knack of frightening the public to the dangers of modern life earned him the name “Dr Death”. It's soundtrack a cracked mirror of desperate cries between mother and child, it did not need the visuals of a charred house to imprint the message that matches are never toys.
Benjamin John Power, like Krish, excels at scaring for good. Dumb Flesh, Powers' last album as Blanck Mass, featured a cover so unsettling, The National would obscure it with the pastel cheeriness of Oh Inverted World by The Shins when playing it. That happened a lot.
World Eater, out last month on Brooklyn indie Sacred Bones, gnashes with the knowing grimace of its canine cover-star. Its opening ten minutes are pure horrorshow – in The Clockwork Orange sense of the word too - the off-key toy piano motif of John Doe's Carnival Of Terror giving way to Rhesus Negative's eight-minute brutality. It's Battles's 2007 touchstone Atlas recast for more fearful times, its shuffling techno and absurdist fun replaced by tortuous kick drums and splices of mocking, carnival-like melodies.
Loading article content
It's huge – and accessible too. As one half of Bristol's Fuck Buttons with Andrew Hung, Power made punishing music popular. They're powerful enough to rupture tectonic plates, and yet soundtracked the opening ceremony of the Olympics. It's visceral, rhythmic noise you can play in a club, albeit, in the case of World Eater centrepiece The Rat, a club on the moon with a view of a home planet consuming itself. It was on Fuck Buttons's astonishing 2008 debut Street Horrrsing that we last heard something that makes a welcome return in the apocalyptic dance music of World Eater: some black metal screaming. The National for one is glad to hear it.
“Yeah, me too,” says Power with relish. “I just played my the Hague at the weekend and it was the first outing of doing that stuff. I certainly still have an interest in black metal, especially when it comes to dynamics and palette. It's a really nice thing to be doing that again.”
Dynamics and emotion are central to his compositions; largely instrumental, builds and fades weave around repeated figures, often just beyond the confines of comfortable expectation. The point where one loop ends and another begins is often imperceptible. It's fitting that Sacred Bones's logo is an uroborous; a snake consuming itself in an emblem of infinity and renewal. And for something to be renewed, it must first be destroyed.
Destroyer gods are numerous, but perhaps the Norse god Fenrir is an appropriate reference. Depicted as a wolf, he ran across the Earth with his lower jaw to the ground, his upper to the sky, consuming all. One of Odin's avenging sons killed him, thankfully. Written and recorded against the tumult of last year, maybe the Death Eaters of Harry Potter, with their fascistic concern for bloodlines, are also potential referents. For Power however, the title is “a reference to the inner beast inside human beings that when grouped en-masse stops us from moving forward towards good.” So whereas Dumb Flesh, its cover plump folds of downy skin, its titles signifiers of degradation such as Atrophies and Detritus, spoke of the fear of human fragility – the existential dread at the heart of the horror genre – World Eater takes a step further into the human pysche, into the primal fears that manifest in times of division and uncertainty. As beings endowed with history and a degree of self-awareness, Power is saying, we should really know better than this. And unusually for someone reluctant to give the listener explicit cues on how to think, he's happy for World Eater to be understood as a protest record of sorts.
“I'm comfortable with it being called a protest record in any sense really,” Power says. “That is definitely how I was feeling at the time. At the time I was writing World Eater, there was a lot of stuff going on, and I was very angry, and in that sense it's a protest record for me personally, yes.”
“I know it could be contradictory for me to even want album artwork or track titles; why should I lead the listener into my train of thought? But I also feel that this is a snapshot of mine; this is how I was feeling. But please disregard that if you want, and have it your own way.”
And if Dumb Flesh was a move away from the glacial murk of his self-titled 2011 debut as Blanck Mass to the hammering, fractured alienation of Slow Focus, the most recent Fuck Buttons album to date, World Eater is Power's most cohesive effort yet, in any guise. That may be partly down to consistency of location, he explains.
“The process on paper, my working practise has been the same for everything,” Power says. “But the one major difference between Dumb Flesh and World Eater, is that during the process of writing Dumb Flesh I moved around a lot, I was living in a lot of different places – four different places - while the tracks were materialising. Everything has an effect when you're working as an artist. I think that with Dumb Flesh you have to spend a little bit of time with it, and that may be why it's more of a mixed bag. Whereas World Eater, I wrote that completely in one place, and that's maybe why it has more of a direct sound.”
Having first moved from England to Cannonmills, Power now calls East Lothian home – its where he also birthed recent Eps The Great Confuso and D7-D5, a delirious track intended as the second move in a game of chess initially started by Manuel Gottsching's E2-E4, the recording some say kick-started techno. It's also the base from where Power travelled to a remote church in Orkney to produce the forthcoming album by Glasgow's Outblinker. Power says he feels an affinity with his new community and remarks he should have moved to Scotland sooner. Perhaps it's this sense of groundedness and common feeling that inspires World Eater's softer, more reflective moments.
Though the album's most experimental track, once the flashing cables and sizzling synapses of the triply-named Minnesota/Eas Fors/Naked have burnt themselves out, soothing water flows and prayer bells clink 'n' chime into something not unlike the kind of mellow, upbeat dubstep that forums such as Reddit once termed “vapourwave”. Meanwhile, Please is almost inverted chart r 'n' b, and Silent Treatment and closer Hive Mind include the dreamiest moments Power has surely recorded.
“Being surrounded by so much hate in the world right now throws a whole new light on the importance of love,” he says. “Some of the quieter tracks – I was going to say the ones that lack dynamics but that's not true – some people have said to me that they find them uplifting whereas others have said that they find them very sad. The experience is maybe different when you're not told how to feel.”
“But for me, I guess those tracks are my subconscious calling out for some kind of balance during the times that we live in. They are close to love songs – and not necessarily love between two people – because that's really what the whole album is about. We need an understanding that we live in a place where there's a lot of terrible things happening but there are two ways that they can be dealt with. With fear, or making something better. It's a call-to-arms, to take notice. But more often than not, we see that not being the case. I feel that love is the key, really.”
World Eater by Blanck Mass is out now on Sacred Bones Blanck Mass plays Glasgow's CCA, Friday April 21, 7pm, £12.10. Tel: 0141 352 4900 blanckmass.co.uk