Chaos Echœs with Mats Gustafsson – Sustain (2018) REVIEW

To describe an improvisational dark ambient collaboration is to pull helplessly at whatever strings of inspiration and mental imagery it evokes; where the experience becomes problematic is successive listening. The first pass of ‘Sustain’ was the hardest, heaviest flush of chaos from my mind. All of the horrors of the present day world and my own wandering meditations on the ever-increasing death that encroaches upon natural species flitted in front of me like that infamous aversion therapy scene from A Clockwork Orange. By the third pass of ‘Sustain’ it surprised me even beyond it’s expressive instrumentation in terms of utility: In fact my mind had briefly excised the horrors of being and forced me to live in the horror-themed adventure of the moment.

Of course even the best possible primer for this release, Chaos Echœs‘ most recent improvisational death metal opus ‘Mouvement’, could never have readied me for the terrorist-of-the-soul that is Swedish free-jazz saxophonist Mats Gustafsson. His collaborations with Merzbow, Sonic Youth and Thurston Moore in more recent decades have been likewise dark and inspiring but perhaps never this textural and raucous. It helps that Chaos Echœs have refined their knack for foreboding and darkly tribal percussion to the point that it flows so naturally within improvisational guidelines. There is a terror, an inherent fear of death and apocalyptic warning felt within each of the two thirteen minute improvised tracks here.

“Spellbound” slithers slowly into desert-like scene as Gustafsson‘s saxophone rises from a gurgle to a fever pitch of harrowing death yells, as if he’d discovered a rotting corpse only to crest a hill and see hundreds more littering the landscape. Ilmar Uibo‘s drumming adds a great transition to this scene as the second half of “Spellbound” progresses amidst chiming bells, roiling saxophone trills and a low-rumbling distorted bass tone looms underneath. “Harvest of Souls” uses the momentum of the first movement and begins with a tribal war-drum anchoring the piece. The interplay between Kalevi UiboFabien W. Furter’s guitar swells and Gustafsson‘s saxophone mid-track is absolutely my favorite dynamic moment of ‘Sustain’. I’ve certainly read journalists describe Mats Gustafsson’s improvisation as capable of reaching ranting ‘tonally belligerent’ highs but I wasn’t prepared for his ability to conjure such terrifying, unforgettable screams from his instrument.

The case for dark free improvisational music is well made on ‘Sustain’ where Chaos Echœs bring masterful layers of darkness to the unique expressionist lead of Gustafsson. The scorched earth howls of his saxophone express far more here than what any one guitar or chorale of voices could manage and it is hugely compelling even when exhausted through repeat listening. Highly recommended if you yearn for a companion piece to ‘Mouvement’ or if you’ve interest in the darker side of Mats Gustafsson’s voicing.

Artist Mats Gustafsson & Chaos Echœs
Type Album, Collaboration
Released April 13, 2018
Available from UTech Records Chaos Echoes on FB  | Mats Gustofsson on FB
Free Improvisation, Dark Ambient

Shuddering induction. 4.0/5.0

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