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INSECT ARK - The Vanishing

Every once in a while you fall in love with a record already only over listening to its first promo tracks. In 2018 "Marrow Hymns" from the instrumental duo Insect Ark was such a case for me.

With a musical formula that hit all the sweet spots by perfectly arraying its influences to something very unique and unmistakable, there was a band which felt very much complete in its vision. At least as complete as experimental, often minimalstic art can ever be.

Two years later the follow-up record "The Vanishing" confidently keeps exploring the possibilities within the already established sonic framework. A legitimate and good artistic choice, even though for me as a critic it means that any actual descriptions of the music in this review is probably doomed to shamelessly parrot what I've written about Insect Ark in the past.

INSECT ARK - The Vanishing (clear vinyl) (2020)

Before I come to the music though, the obvious elephant in the room has to be addressed.
Usually I'm not the one to get sleepless nights by line-up changes of bands. But in a duo each member is fifty percent of the whole, so when drummer Ashley Spungin, who had been such a great presence at Insect Ark's Roadburn Festival show, departed, it had me worried for a moment - until it was announced that none other than Andy Patterson from the sadly disbanded SubRosa would be the replacement. Being a fan of both of them I had already noticed a strong kinship in their style before, so him as the successor promised to be a perfect choice.

Spungin has still left her imprint on "The Vanishing" with some writing and recording credits though, so maybe it's fair to look at this as a transitional record. From the outside it's nearly impossibly to estimate how much input of each drummer is in here - and if it makes any significant difference or not.

Because one thing still is as clear as the beautiful transparent vinyl in the album version I purchased from Profound Lore Records: The main drive behind Insect Ark remains Dana Schechter, who operated the band as a solo project for several years before "Marrow Hymns", and whose snarling bass lines pretty strongly determine where the rhythm ultimately has to go.

Besides the bass, which is often looped in the live situation, Schechter's main instrument is the lap steel guitar, which in itself of course leads to comparisons to Swans, which should be extra not-surprising, if you know that she has not only worked with Michael Gira in The Angels Of Light, but is also a member of the current Swans line-up.
And while especially the groovier passages on "The Vanishing" show some resemblance to Swans (mixed with a more naturalistic Godflesh), the exuded feeling is closer to both the droning and the Western tone of the guitar of Dylan Carlson (Earth).

Like I've said further above, the general direction of Insect Ark hasn't changed: eerie experimental instrumental doom metal, with leanings to drone, psych and post rock, refined with small pinches of electronic and avantgarde. Maybe a little bit more focussed on being performable, but that's a presumption I'd have to fact-check at a show.

I can give you one new, weirdly specific, unexpected deep cut comparison: When the full beat and the piano set in half through "Danube", the track almost feels like a alternate version of the finale of Tori Amos' "Lady In Blue" (track 17 on "Abnormally Attracted To Sin") to me. Damn, I love that song.

The average track length on "The Vanishing" is longer than on its predecessor, so there are only five tracks before we arrive at the closing title track, a piece which captures its nightmarish inspiration - the disintegration into nothingness - in a poignant, exciting way.
Incidentally I'm just first-time binging through "Bojack Horseman" right now, and in the first season there's a brilliant depiction of that same classic dream motif. It instantly made me think of this album. That being said the cover artwork also provides an interesting visceral interpretation of the matter and perfectly harmonizes with the disturbing undertone of the musical content of the album.

So, yes: "The Vanishing" is a perfect package.

I'm not ready yet to decide whether this album is better than "Marrow Hymns" or not, since they are both so flawless that it doesn't actually matter.

Let's just say I fucking love everything about this record.

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