thisquietarmy: Blackhaunter

Former Destroyalldreamers member Erich Quach returns with the superb new thisquietarmy collection Blackhaunter, nominally an EP but more accurately a forty-one-minute mini-album. The Montreal-based sound sculptor makes good on the promise shown on the Unconquered release that Polish label Foreshdaow issued earlier this year.

The opening piece “Black Haunters” is, in a word, stunning. One of three drum-less tracks, it's very much in the No Pussyfooting tradition of guitar-based dronescaping but the skill with which Quach pulls you into the song's immense whirlpool is something to behold. Generated in real-time using loop-samplers and assorted effects, shimmering pulsations provide a thick textural base over which his sinuous, multi-layered guitar lines unspool, until the piece imperceptibly segues into the second track “In the Breathing Forest” where the mass swells to an even more towering pitch. Taken together, the two pieces comprise fourteen glorious minutes, and the fifth track “Hunting Demons” revisits the style to equally powerful effect.

In addition, the funereal “Vampyrs” is as haunted as the title suggests, and oozes a gloomy pallor in its woozy tone-bending. Listening to the piece, one easily imagines ghouls clawing their way out of their graves while the undead moan alongside writhing guitar stabs and a lurching beat pattern. During “Taming the Beast,” a cauldron comes to a slow broil as a tribal pulse and smoldering guitars merge into a curdling mass of black magma. Beneath the raw surface of the guitar-blistered closer “Stranger Than the Sea” lies a melancholy that manages to be both intimate and epic.

In our Unconquered review, we commented that the inclusion of drum programming weakened Quach's otherwise distinctive thisquietarmy sound slightly by conventionalizing it , but the equal split between drum-based and drum-less tracks on Blackhaunter feels right, for the simple reason that, had all of the tracks been beatless, Quach's sound might have evoked Fripp & Eno's No Pussyfooting and Evening Star a bit too much. Splitting the tracks as he's done strikes a balance that feels satisfying and extends the stylistic territory at the same time. Based on the available evidence, thisquietarmy clearly deserves to be spoken of in the same breath as Quach's sometime collaborator Nadja. Certainly any devotee of the latter should also investigate the former. Blackhaunter is the kind of recording that, when it ends, you're satisfied but also hungry to hear more, and how often is that the case?

December 2008