Disc jockeys are the new guitar heroes — the rock stars of the Kim Dotcom age. They’re the crowd-commanding kings of a shirtless, furry-booted dominion, holding court over an awed, balls-tripping mass in rapt attention as they wait for the greatest of electronic currency: The Drop. Not everyone in electronic music is sold, however; techno pioneer Richie Hawtin has criticized the divide rock star DJs have created between themselves and their fans. And we all know what James Blake thinks. But the rise of a charismatic, almost evangelical culture of EDM stardom has presented an opportunity for producers of a different ilk to explore the dark and seedy underside of the beaming euphoria perpetuated by the likes of DeadMau5 or Steve Aoki.
There is a yin to this festival-rave yang, a lesser publicized but more deeply nuanced exploration of some of the more haunting creations to be born of a sampler. It’s the stuff of Andy Stott’s permanent ambient midnight, or Demdike Stare’s occult dub. It doesn’t exist to move bodies, but to touch nerves, and to stimulate some very different primal urges — dread, melancholy, and above all, fear. This is the domain of The Haxan Cloak.
The pseudonym of London-based sonic avant gardist Bobby Krlic, The Haxan Cloak is not, as the name might suggest (“häxan” being Swedish for “witch”), “witch house.” Rather than descend into syrupy chopped-and-screwed electro lurches, Krlic finds his inspiration in some decidedly dark and harrowing material. In aesthetic, he’s not far off from the abrasive urbanscapes of Stott or Demdike Stare, but his approach is far more terrifying still. Described on Tri Angle Records’ website as “representing the journey after death,” Krlic’s new album Excavation is as bleak and as unsettling as that sounds. It carries some particularly massive and ominous synth sounds, coupled with ghostly moans and the slow pound of ceremonial drums. It might not fly at Coachella, but it amounts to the most impressive rave the underworld will likely ever see.
At its opening, Excavation is pin-drop silent, as if to represent the gradual ascent into consciousness when slipping into the Great Beyond. And yet the brief first track, “Consumed,” quickly begins a progression of harsh, bassy gargles, turning the ethereal sinister in short order. “Excavation (Part 1)” takes on a different approach, however, with shades of percussion drifting in and out over an opaque drone, while its counterpart (“Part 2”) administers an array of sounds that at times resembles blades sharpening, and at others, voices moaning from the void. Three tracks in, and Excavation is already on its path toward being one of the most unsettling recordings ever, but in its chilling, dark nature, it always arcs toward the sublime. The voice that opens “Miste” may very well give the listener a startle, but it opens the door to one of the album’s most engaging tracks, its industrial sputter more accessibly hypnotic than the tracks that precede it. Meanwhile, the two-part “The Mirror Reflecting” presents the Haxan Cloak at his most potent, building up a suspenseful, spacious head of steam in its first half, only to follow it with a menacing, heavy, yet unexpectedly beautiful coup de grace.
Throughout the journey Krlic presents on Excavation, there are few moments of logical progression or basic song structure. There are builds and climaxes, but Krlic is just as likely to pull the rug out from under them, or unload an avalanche of new plagues upon them. The feeling throughout is disorienting, but endlessly intriguing, as the process of following these threads (or nooses) can end up more rewarding out of the level of sheer surprise that The Haxan Cloak conjures. But that, in itself, isn’t necessarily the real reward. Aesthetically, it certainly helps, but even more compelling is how music like The Haxan Cloak’s stays with the listener, and creates a place in which fear can be indulged, and where darkness can be presented as a graceful creation, rather than an ugly or repellent one. Excavation might take you somewhere you never expected, or even wished to visit, but don’t be surprised if you feel a yearning to be pulled down further.