[Reviewed by Vitriol]
“In A Place Of Mutual Understanding” is a collaboration between Belgian artist Dirk Serries, well known for his work in numerous projects such as Vidna Obmana, Fear Falls Burning and Continuum among others, and Ronald Mariën, who apart from releasing his own material under the Stratosphere moniker (his latest release was “Dreamscape” in 2012) has worked as Serries’ sound technician for a long time. The two musicians collaborate here for the first time, in this 4-track release the title of which implies the artistic common space the two share, where they have entered to create this very special music.
The album’s main core is comprised of electric guitar and bass drones, on the foundation of which is built an ethereal, trippy atmosphere that, although not standing firmly upon that particular pedestal, borrows heavily from post-rock and shoegaze. In addition, the strong connection between the tracks – the record can easily be perceived as one long track – and the esoteric, composed and balanced nature of the music, taking care to not get completely carried away by the emotions it expresses, bring the experience closer to ambient than post-rock. A few minutes into the recording however, it is clear that it defies genre classification. The complex layering and expertly woven, tight web of drones creates the impression of a voluminous mass, and when combined with the delicate play of tone and texture, only the minimal amount of melody is needed to affect the listener.
The first track, “Unfold The Obscurity”, perhaps the most complex and most dramatic of the album, is comprised of slow-moving, melodic drones interweaving with one another, increasing and decreasing, lifting their head above the surface for a while, only to sink back into the void a few moments later. The title implies the sympathetic approach of the music towards said obscurity – the patient breaking of its hard, cryptic shell, to unveil the strange beauty lying within.
The second track, “Dawn Will Reveal Itself”, is much more minimalistic and has a darker, more downcast feel to it. Unfolding on an even pace it brings us back to earth, allowing the emotions to cool down. The tension is considerably loosened, barely maintained by the contradiction between ringing, high-pitched drones and low-frequency bass drones. The central feeling here is that of letting go. In “Distance” we are further initiated into the darker aspect of the album, as the sadness lurking in the background is made more evident. An unseen tragedy is hidden beneath the high-pitched, melodic crescendo that is the main element in this track.
Just as we are about to surrender to this hopeless despair, “Confront The Reflection, Then Shatter The Mirror!” offers some sort of way out. Its ethereal female vocals and lighthearted atmosphere take us back to the peculiar cheerfulness of the first track, after being plunged into the depths of the album’s melancholy core of inspiration. Here the guitars are crunchier and the sound is a bit ‘dirty’, fading away from ambient and into post-rock territory, allowing for a fair amount of optimism and self-consciousness. Accumulating on guitar drones as its duration increases, the track ends with a liberating, noisy escalation.
Despite its relatively short runtime this release manages to imprint on the listener immediately, playing on the best elements of many different genres that however all have something in common; they share an affinity towards the creation of dreamy, esoteric atmospheres able to evoke emotions, often coded underneath powerful imagery. The two musicians work together in perfect harmony for the creation of just such atmospheres, and in this case it’s absolutely fitting to use the saying a little differently: “Jack of all trades and master of all”. A beautiful recording that will leave you wishing for more when it’s finished.
Stratosphere With Dirk Serries – In A Place Of Mutual Understanding
CD, Digital Download, 2013