La Décadence des Étoiles – An Empty Spot where Memories Live On

[Reviewed by Psymon Marshall]

La Décadence des Étoiles (The Decadence of the Stars) is a collaborative effort between BRTHRM and Arnaud Chatelard’s Apocalypse Sounds. I’ve already reviewed their first release Lost in Jail, issued by Manninen Henki Records last year, on another blog, and An Empty Spot where Memories Live On is their follow up – in other words, this is their so-called ‘difficult’ second album. I noted in my write-up of their debut that it was a mature and mesmerising work, and upon re-listens and subsequent reflection I realised that their drone/noise/ambient concoction had arrived perfectly formed as if they’d been working together for years. My question becomes: ‘Are their creative stars still in alignment, and is the second album as good as (or better) than their debut’? Let’s open the investigation…

‘Ouverture (Sun’s Epiphany)’ is a great harbinger of what’s to come, opening with ringing and resonant drones before deeper and darker blankets of sound flood the aural vista, all accompanied by a slow drumbeat. Within moments though it opens up and expands beyond any confining horizons, indeed bringing to mind a vision of a beautiful sunrise as seen from a beach, pale colourings tinting the sparse and ragged clouds, and with the sun’s rising bringing colour and tone to the world. Life awakens and revels in the panoply of nature and existence. ‘Ponte Brolla Leaves will Paint our Fate’ is much darker, a maelstrom of swirling drone currents and chaotic streams, a skein of the threads of destiny twisting and tumbling in confusion. It’s noisy and vaguely cacophonic, as indicative of just how Fate as a concept works as any other theory of what it all means. Strangely, though, it still manages to be uplifting in an odd kind of way, a vein of light weaving its way through the chaotic melee, showing itself here and there. (I admit that, in the context of the piece’s title, I assumed Ponte Brolla was a species of tree or bush but I failed to find any reference confirming that.)

The title track, ‘An Empty Spot where Memories Live On’, begins with cold winds barrelling through an empty eroded landscape, accompanied only by the skitterings of tiny insects. Sonorous orchestral drones then sweep in, instilling a melancholy flavour, a lament of loss and grief, perhaps a loved one who died too young, or a child who never had a chance at life before being cruelly taken away from loving parents. ‘The Long Night’ is on a different plane altogether, suffused and permeated by supernatural currents and plasms, matter which is animated by unknown and unknowable minds and hands. Astringent tones and drones raise the hairs on the back of one’s neck, thrilling through every nerve and fibre, eliciting an instinctive flight response. There are certainly phantasms abroad here, ones that are inimical to humanity and who bear us no love. ‘Forward, Ever…’ continues the theme of the supernatural and inexplicable, as what I can only describe as ghostly/sci-fi effects inspire notions of poltergeist and spectral phenomena and activity, even perhaps some EVP (electronic voice phenomena). There again, from about the middle of the track a definite drumbeat is introduced, adding a almost living tribalistic/mechanical essence to it. The thing is, is that it all synchronises together perfectly and naturally, a harmonic whole where nothing is out of place.

Now we come to ‘Cleansing’, a title that is imbued with so many subtle levels of meaning and context. Does it imply cleansing of the mind or the spirit? Or could it be a physical phenomenon, a local or global cleansing? Or even something more terrifying than that? Certainly, as the track opens with a jet-fired rasping oscillation, one is inclined to imagine one of the latter options, especially when a machine-like quality kicks in soon into the track. In my (somewhat overactive) imagination I conjured up visions of vast mechanical monoliths hovering over our heads, picking or suctioning us up in our thousands, at the behest of some unseen overlord intent on ridding this planet of its infestation. It all appears impersonal, in the same way that a doctor administers treatment against some bodily infection.

I can’t even begin to venture what the significance of the date ‘22nd of December’ could be, but I’m plumping for the explanation that it’s simply the date on which this was recorded. Now we return to the atmospheric ambience of the first track, albeit of a darker shade, with soaring organ-like chords rocketing us upwards to where we can float on thermal currents. But above the safe zone, there are abundant hints of dark elements abounding, with vast swirling winds of the upper atmosphere ready to buffet and carry us whither they will. It’s a matter of either fighting or surrendering to their whims, in a sense in the same manner that we either accept or rail against our individual Fates. Neither is particularly comforting, but neither is particularly threatening either – this is just the way it is, how this chaotic universe operates.

I loved this – absolutely adored it. It’s a continuation of the themes that were developed on Lost in Jail, but simultaneously a logical evolution of them as well. As I said above, the combination of BRTHRM and Apocalypse Sounds seems to be a major conjunction, an event that needed to happen because the stars were right and the planets were aligned. If they keep putting out such obvious quality, then I for one will be eagerly anticipating every future release.

Available as a digital album only, from the link below:

https://apocalypsesounds.bandcamp.com/album/an-empty-spot-where-memories-live-on

La Décadence des Étoiles – An Empty Spot where Memories Live On
Foolish Records
Digital 2020

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