thisquietarmy: Exorcisms LP
Denovali Records

thisquietarmy: Phantom Limbs CS
Land of Decay

Erich Quach (aka thisquietarmy and Mains de Givre member) describes the cassette release Phantom Limbs (limited to 100 copies but also available in digital form) as an EP, but its forty-minute running time qualifies it as a full album. Its material almost fell between the cracks, so to speak, as Quach recorded it in between Aftermath and Vessels back in 2009, and, though he had it set for release, Phantom Limbs ended up shelved and forgotten about until earlier this year when Land of Decay stepped in for the resurrection. It would have been a terrible shame had the label not done so, as Phantom Limbs is quintessential thisquietarmy material and a fine addition to Quach's now-considerable discography. No one need worry too much about the title or related definition—the term itself referring to the sensation someone missing a limb experiences when he/she feels as if the part is still connected to the body—as the music holds up perfectly well on its own gloriously instrumental terms.

Phantom Limbs lends itself naturally to the cassette format, as its four tracks break down into three shorter pieces and one twenty-minute opus, and captures thisquietarmy in pure guitar-and-effects form, with no vocals, drum machines, or other instruments to confuse the issue. The recording begins in an ambient guitar mode in “Phantom Eye” that finds Quach inviting comparison to Robert Fripp in his soundscaping mode—until, that is, a molten stab pierces the haze as the two-minute mark nears and Quach's ghostly shudder appears to counter the abrasive shards scattered violently into the air. “Phantom Brain” appears without pause, its plaintive lines flowing naturally until its calm is disrupted by a harder-edged solo segment, after which “Phantom Pain,” shrouded in gloom, amplifies the thisquietarmy sound with, first, a generous dose of tremolo and, secondly, a nightmarish plunge in its closing moments. Sparks certainly fly during the side-long “Phantom Voltage,” though that happens gradually when Quach lets the piece develop ever so patiently. During the first half, layers of washes and shudder accumulate into a drifting cloud mass of electrical energy until the now-snarling mass swells, growing ever more turbulent and threatening to combust. The closing five minutes ostensibly constitute the recording's climax as they plunge the listener into a lethal cauldron of seething howl.

The ideal follow-up to Phantom Limbs, the Exorcisms album splits its two vinyl sides between two twenty-three-minute settings that were, in fact, recorded months apart. An improvised live piece, side one's “Exorcisms I” was laid down in October, 2010 when the New Harbours Music Series collective asked Quach to perform at the Christ's Church Cathedral in Hamilton, Ontario. Less than a year later, he returned for a second performance, titled “Exorcisms II,” generated, like the first, using electric guitar augmented by effect pedals and amplifiers.

“Exorcisms I” builds gradually, its waves of shudder swelling into an immense field whose reverberations must have multiplied within the cathedral space so incredibly that the listeners must have felt themselves engulfed by Quach's sound. The Gates of Hell seem to open up, with the guitarist unleashing one demonic slab after another. It's a crushing dynamo of a piece yet one that doesn't stint on musicality or nuance, and as a portrait of Quach's solo artistry, it's hard to top. Emerging quietly amidst ambient crowd noise at the start of “Exorcisms II,” Quach's ghostly trails again slowly come into focus, becoming more assertive and powerful as the minutes pass. The second treatment proves to be as powerful as the first, as Quach once again generates an ambient-drone mass so large it almost beggars belief. Rather than one buildup only, however, a peak is reached halfway through, after which a ruminative second half circuitously works its way toward another intensification.

Bonus material comes with the vinyl edition that can be accessed via a download voucher, specifically a sixteen-minute video file of Exorcisms performed live at Christ's Church Cathedral and two additional tracks: “Exorcisms Outtake” distills all of the power of the longer settings into a blistering, seven-minute microcosm, while “The Black Sea” departs from the others' style by adding a plodding drum beat to its molten sludge. As worthy of a listen as they are, however, it's the two vinyl sides that clearly recommend the release most, especially when they offer such a definitive portrait of the thisquietarmy sound.

January 2013