thisquietarmy + Yellow6: Valley
Recorded in Montreal on March 13, 2009, Valley, the second part in the Death Valley diptych by thisquietarmy (Eric Quach) and Yellow6 (Jon Attwood), might just as easily have been issued under the Death title, given how tenuously its material clings to life. Valley, featuring three tracks ranging between ten and twenty-one minutes, chooses the road less travelled when it comes to recordings featuring two guitarists. Often under such circumstances one encounters extended soloing and shredding galore, with the musicians using their axes as dueling weaponry. Not so here: the shuddering guitars of Quach and Attwood evoke phantom presences drifting across desolate plains like skeletal humans dying of thirst as they drag their weakened frames across a merciless, sun-scorched desert. Often the two seem to be marching in tandem; at other moments, the one inches slightly ahead of the other or lags behind to become an atmospheric backdrop. Regardless, the intensity level is restrained, and the volume stays more on the quieter side of the spectrum. In the opening piece, “Dunes,” the guitars are little more than fragile wisps barely holding their threads together as they lurch exhaustedly across the limitless terrain. Like near-death figures reinvigorated one last time, the guitars inch upwards one note at a time during “Creek” until they crest in a swirl of hazy shadings, suggesting that disorientation and delirium still remain close at hand. The tremolo-laden “Flats” opts for peaceful rumination and dream-like swells, perhaps hinting that, against all apparent odds, the weary travellers have reached their destination and are now recovering from the trek. Throughout the album's forty-four minutes, one can pretty much feel the heat rising off of the material, so suggestive is it of a dried-out landscape, and how refreshing it is to hear guitarists using their instruments in such painterly manner instead of trying to outdo one another.
Vessels is an entirely different creature altogether, however. Quach's latest thisquietarmy outing finds the Montreal-based guitarist scultping huge, raw slabs in what would appear to be a concept album of some vague kind about the sea and humanity's ongoing struggle to deal with its relentless power and crushing force. During “The Pacific Theater,” seething masses of guitar distortion roar accompanied by the tribal tatoo of pounding percussion. During the track's second half, beehive swarms of e-bow-like guitars intone cryptically, eventually massing into smoldering lava-like formations and dazed noise patterns. Even more powerful is “Lost Crusades,” which unfolds as an opaque, obliterating torrent of industrial smears and convulsions, and howls and groans like a gigantic spectre caught in its death throes. Vessels isn't pitched at the same level of intensity throughout, however. The opening four minutes of “The Black Sea” show Quach's lyrical and gentler side in a way that recalls Valley's haunting style, even if the track's second half rolls out a heavier, doom-laden attack, and “A Spanish Galleon” is almost symphonic in its controlled blaze of droning guitar washes and mournful figures. “New Dawn Fades” (a bonus CD track) adds a different twist in adding Quach's vocalizing to the track's immolating guitar and simple drum patterns, though the album wouldn't have been overly compromised by its absence. Needless to say, the album's black metal soundscaping represents Quach at his most intense, unrestrained, and aggressive (bombastic even), and obviously functions as the polar opposite to Valley. Having said that, it also shows how extensive a range of sounds he's able to produce using little more than an electric guitar plus various effects. No doubt other sides of the thisquietarmy persona will be revealed in forthcoming releases scheduled to appear on Lunasylum, Orange Milk, Denovali, and Dead Pilot in the coming months.