When we think of the word “apocalypse” what most people will immediatly visualize is an image of utterly destruction and chaos. We imagine the reality we live in biblically annihilated by the hand of a god or by the wicked action of our siblings.
But for the British musician Chris Stephen Clark, that very same word seems to have a completely different meaning: structure, control, calculus. In fact, nothing that hasn’t been built or shaped before can be turned into pieces. It is pretty basic. This said, there are different ways to crush something, different ways in which things can lose their form and their integrity. And sometimes, destroying something can be an act that requires incredible skills, especially if performed in certain ways. Paradoxically, it can require the same amount of skills as shaping something.
This is what Clark’s last effort, “Death Peak”, feels like, sonically: creation and destruction as two ways to alterate shapeless sound waves, executed with the same precision and care, leaving nothing to chance. We are in front of a work that develops to its fullest the “cyber-apocalyptic” sound he achieved in his 2014’s self-titled album, in which every single distortion and every “broken-machine” sound was intentional.
After eight LPs (or seven if you exclude the 2016’s OST for the British tv series The Last Panthers) released via WARP Records, all of them still manage to feel extremely different from the others and each of one seems to maintain its own recognizability. Being the products of the same restless mind, Chris himself has stated in an interview for Redbull Music Academy Daily: “it’s a really comfortable zone I’ve reached with this last album. It feels like it condenses a lot of things that I’ve been working on for years. A lot of obsessions have been crystallized, and I’ve managed to really find a sound I’m happy with.”
And this tranquillity is perfectly reflected in the stylistic freedom with whom Death Peak is built. Apart from “Hoova”’s reprise of “Peak Magnetic”’s theme, all tracks sound disconnected, like separated experiments in a laboratory. The consequence of this doesn’t spoil the album’s coherency since all of the nine songs feel like they were naturally born and built under this light and were always meant to be progressively deconstructed. It is impossible to imagine them to tie directly to each other since this would ruin the intentions of the record itself.
The chants and the synths of “Butterfly Prowler” sound like if they were devouring each other while sliding over a techno beat, in a ferocious battle that could only end in silence, while the dynamic drums of “Peak Magnetic”, melt under the abrasive bass distortion together with a feeble drum kick flanked by dub cymbals, all faded under a sharp, analogue synth.
All of this evolves in a record where rhythm drastically changes here and there in an irregular alternation of fast and slow tempos. After a beating and industrial banger like “Slap Drones”, for example, comes a melancholic, “trebless” harpsichords suite, like “Aftermath”: a moment of relief and mourn during this sonic war. A detached prelude to the beautifully produced “Catastrophe Anthem”, indeed one of the most interesting tracks of the record, a seven-minutes-long piece of music that evokes WARP’s titans early works, slightly distorting every sound but never to the point of saturation, while a ghostly choir of children chants: “we are your ancestors”. It is both delicate and brutal, an excellent synthesis of Clark’s two souls.
Death Peak is the work of a mature artist that has full control of his music palette, a perfectionist who is deeply in love with the art of making music. Its production is absolutely flawless and so are its arrangements: the perfect follow-up to 2014’s Clark. Nonetheless, the record lacks the innovation of its predecessor, and appears like a personal experiment, a research through “cyber-apocalyptic” sounds’ possibilities. Yet again, Clark’s extraordinary ability as a musician is able to make even this kind of mad exploration amazingly enjoyable and touching.
Full listen to the album below: