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Natural Snow Buildings - Night Coercion into the Company of Witches

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Artist: Natural Snow Buildings

Album: Night Coercion into the Company of Witches

Label: Ba Da Bing

Review date: Oct. 4, 2012

Since 1998, French duo Natural Snow Buildings — Mehdi Ameziane and Solange Gularte — have steadily released small-edition albums of introspective drones, developing a reputation that’s only now, after almost 15 years, beginning to reach the edge of recognition outside the determinedly insular experimental music world. Even their most widely available release until now was limited to 500 copies, and this massive reissue from Ba Da Bing is the act’s first release you might run into at a record store.

Originally released as a limited-edition triple-CD-R back in 2008, Night Coercion into the Company of Witches is either a terrific introduction to the duo, or a forbiddingly weighty experience — it depends on your inclinations. As either three CDs or four LPs, this is three hours of intense listening, not New Aged peaceful drone. Whether it’s just enough or too much is down to the listener’s expectations and willingness to engage.

The album is divided into six pieces, but the divisions feel fairly arbitrary; they might as well flow together across each disc. From the Vodoun-referencing "Kadja Bosou" through the final 58-minute, disc-filling "The Great Bull God,” Natural Snow Buildings take listeners through ups and downs, occasional spots of calm amidst storms of churning, cascading noises and crashes. By mixing sounds from guitars to woodwinds, percussion and vocal chanting, Ameziane and Gularte craft music that references gypsy melodies at the same time as it nods to the textural drones of Organum.

The churning spectrum, sometimes anchored by steady pulses more like a heartbeat than a rhythm, can be harrowing. More than once the raucous clamor brings to mind guitars sandwiched between broken pianos. Then they’ll turn the knobs and a prettier passage will emerge, though never for long. "Mirror-Shield" contains perhaps my favorite portions, with cascading guitar notes and groaning metallic drones, nicely textural and gritty without being abrasive. Perhaps surprisingly, the least-effective piece, "Gorgons,” suffers not due to harshness but anarchy — its pipes and squeaks feel aimless and purposeless. What makes this album’s long soundscapes work is the sense of focus and direction. Even in the midst of an hour-long storm of sound, there’s a push or a pull and the feeling that the noises are all in place for a reason, and we’re being taken someplace. Yes, at times the plot gets lost, but more often than not Natural Snow Buildings have got it under control, and it’s a fun ride.

The blend of instruments and sounds that Gularte and Ameziane bring to bear is part of what makes Natural Snow Buildings unique. When piping woodwinds appear atop grinding guitar noises, or chiming bells balance out metal attrition, the blending creates an intriguing balance between extremes: folk and noise, perhaps, or organic and unnatural. It would be easy for the combination to come off as contrived, even silly, but the duo pull it off by leaning heavily to the side of dense, unnerving and even harrowing depth and weight. The natural instruments leaven the noise rather than the other way around.

In these days of quick listening and then moving on, three hours of dense drones is a lot to expect. But the duo’s self-editing is admirable; at only a few points did I find myself thinking that a passage might have been better off left out. For those with the willingness to really sit down and focus on listening, Night Coercion into the Company of Witches is among the best experimental drone music out there.

By Mason Jones

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