It’s been two years since Eric Burton released his universally lauded breakthrough LP as Rabit, Communion. That record expertly blended harsh contemporary Grime elements with visceral Dark Ambient spaces and earned Rabit the title of heir to the throne of Coil’s Industrial kingdom, so to speak. Communion was a difficult, abrasive record with moments of shining glory—like sunlight leaking through the prison bars of a cell window. In 2016, Rabit released a couple limited compilations and a few singles, and now he’s given us a proper follow-up, Les Fleurs Du Mal (a reference to the 19th Century French Symbolist poet Charles Baudelaire). This album is a comparatively subdued and optimistic one, with several deeply moving beatless tracks—songs that sound like, if they happened to meet Communion on the street, they’d be beaten to a pulp. In reality, their brand of evil and decadence is just of a markedly subtler type—an internal trouble rather than external.
The opener, “Possessed”, immediately sets a remarkably more melodic tone for the album. It’s stately synth cellos bring us into the realm of identifiable instrumentation—a complete departure from Communion. A softly spoken, impeccably engineered vocal sample speaks French through most of the song, with additional, exceedingly diverse sampling used in the background—including those signature Grime glass-breaking samples we all know and love. Occasional synth-bass stabs and additional shouting samples give the song a deeply disturbing, psychological feel, in spite of the major key. There are no percussive pounces, no violent assaults—it’s a beatless ambient track, for the most part.
The album’s single, “Bleached World” takes Rabit into the realm of completely melodic expression without losing an ounce of its cerebral uneasiness. The track centers around a beautiful, isolated, echoing, resonating plucked-sounding synth, which moves between different reverb spaces, back and forth in the mix, and in and out of glitches. Its articulated, stuttering melody fills the track with solipsistic sorrow, only interrupted twice by a “chorus”, really just a bass and soprano synth playing chords to effectively emphasize the motion and decay of the primary synth. It’s a brilliant exercise in synthetic minimalism and contemporary glitch, clearly on the cutting edge of what is currently fashionable in the experimental electronic community.
The third track, “Roach”, begins in much more arcane territory, and changes the album’s mood to a more decidedly Dark Ambient one. About a minute into the song, Rabit finally introduces a percussive rhythm, but it’s not even in time with the rest of the song; it beats crazily at what sound like low-grade keyboard drum presets, and it’s mixed uncomfortably low relative to the tape-manipulated mayhem and unsettling washing synth chords in the song’s forefront. It’s an incredibly disturbing listen, bound to completely disorient even the most jaded of Industrial or Harsh Noise fans.
Impressive later tracks on the album, like “The Whole Bag”, “Humanity’s Daughter”, and “Prayer II (Gimme)” proceed with clear influence from Dark Ambient Drone and Musique Concrete. The former is essentially used to contextualize the latter, so no matter how clearly pretty the bell melodies or vocal samples may seem, they’re chained to some eternally sinister force of natural decadence and moral dereliction—making Les Fleurs Du Mal (The Flowers of Evil) a very fitting title and allusion. Rabit’s key insight with this record is to make even the most delicate of musical motifs seem threatening by recontextualizing them. He works with sonic symbolism to create masterfully narrative music.
Unfortunately, I anticipate Les Fleurs Du Mal will go overlooked and underappreciated relative to Rabit’s debut, even though it’s a much more impressively engineered and produced album. This album was released on Halcyon Veil, a considerably smaller label than Tri Angle, Rabit’s former label, so it hasn’t gotten nearly the same journalistic coverage or advertising exposure. Moreover, it doesn’t quite pack the implacably aggressive punch of Communion, and it works mostly outside of the traditional boundaries of genre—not far from the sonic terror of Yves Tumor. It’s a shame; I personally prefer the direction in which Rabit takes his sound on Les Fleurs Du Mal. It’s a frightening, spectacular, experiential, and psychological effort from an immensely talented producer, whom we ought to keep our eye on in the future.