Xela - In Bocca al Lupo
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Xela
In Bocca al Lupo

Although his early work was light and at times even playful, the first album from John Twells (aka Xela) on his own label Type was an incredibly bleak affair. The Dead Sea tried to capture the sounds of a doomed water voyage, and his latest full length certainly doesn't lighten things up. In Bocca Al Lupo is another concept album of sorts, this time guided by the dark corners of the Christian religion. There's a particular focus on religious bells and cavernous spaces, and another visceral illustration by the excellent Matthew Woodson graces the cover.

Initially composed for a Chicago art installation that focused on fear, the four long tracks (running about an hour in total) drift, scuff, and finally grind heavily through fog-shrouded spaces where decay and half-remembered sounds seem to be the driving forces. The first three pieces on the release explore variations on this same theme, with alternately closer and expansive spaces where industrial scrapes, hissing fuzz, groans of feedback, and disembodied voices drift through the air alongside bell melodies that never even hint at happiness. Of these, "In Deo Salutari Meo" is probably the most effective, as deep gong sounds ring richly in the distance while closer half-rung bells sound like death rattles.

On the epic twenty-minute closer "Beatae Immortalitatis," Twells wisely shifts gears, and teams up with Heavy Winged drummer Jed Binderman for a sludgy, noisy mass of brutish evil that finds grinding wave oscillator tones humming along multiple layers of overlapping drones and the freestyle percussion. It closes out with a repeated electronic pulse wave that dissolves into a chorus of howling voices, having made the trip through at least a couple circles of hell. A little too similar throughout the first half, this is one of those releases that gets better (and seems to sink even further into a dark hole) as it goes.

rating: 710
Aaron Coleman 2008-12-18 19:16:07