My first experience with Fire-Toolz set the stage adequately for how every one of them since has gone. Initially, her record Field Whispers (Into the Crystal Palace) was passed to me by certain heavy metal types, the black metal fans who occasionally betray bizarre hyper-conservative notions of genre boundaries. “Look at this,” they said, sharing the link among themselves and also with me. “This is some jazz fusion electronica stuff, real corny. And just wait for the vocals. It’s a laugh riot. Truly awful.” I clicked play, of course; I won’t pretend to be always being above that kind of admittedly puerile and at times mean sense of gawking at the trainwreck. It took about maybe one or two full minutes of the opening track before I shot back a message: What the fuck are you guys talking about. This is absolutely incredible. I became rabid, writing about the record wherever I could, joining as but one voice in a chorus slowly being turned on to a persuasively imaginative artist that felt, especially at the time, deeply without equal. This seems to illuminate the nature of the two responses to Angel Marcloid’s work: there are those that don’t get it, and then we the rabid.
Within one minute of the second track on Eternal Home, one experiences shards of jazz fusion, glitch, vaporwave, black metal, grindcore, soft rock and the kind of big polychromatic pop universe-conquering color that would make Carly Rae Jepsen weep on a swirling translucent glowing star. These turns are not performed as they might in shallower and more callow hands, flipping with hyper-speed in post-Mr. Bungle fashion between clouds of genre forms in some venal attempt to impress through psychic overflow rather than a sense of real aesthetic cohesion. Fire-Toolz is, despite the rather outré appearances, substantially more refined than that; each pivot has an internal logic, feels like appendages of the same interior object, such that these are less like mosaic shards and instead more like metals melting to produce an alloy. Blackgaze emerges from the murk on tracks like “Odd Cat Sanctuary,” feeling more like a reconfiguration of elements already present than a digression, before evolving again with bright synth pop keys before taking on prog metal characteristics before yet again shifting into bright and effusive post-hardcore. It feels, in a word, limitless.
There is an issue I have that I must admit is purely personal. Hyperpop in various fashions is a struggle for me, perhaps the first and most serious sign that I am in fact aging and am not, as I had always vainly hoped, destined to remain hip and with it forever. I refuse to openly critically renounce the genre aside from pithy nothing-meant jokes on Twitter because at root I understand the issue is largely one within me, a failure to grasp something that makes different use of a bunch of elements I already understand and know I like. Given as well the intense suffusion of trans and gay artists within the space and how much it seems broadly to resonate in those spaces it feels like it would be especially egregious for someone as cis and heterosexual as me to come swinging out of merely failing to understand something. I mention this because despite my distant measured respect for groups like Black Dresses, whom are likewise as compelling and deeply tremendously imaginative, with Fire-Toolz I suddenly get it. It is a difference of degrees, but the way Fire-Toolz is able to make a hyper-futuristic hybrid of everything from New Age to breakcore, prog rock to vaporwave, on and on in an endless wheel and suffuse it with the same limitless sense of color and power as SOPHIE at her best feels for me like the way you shift your head just the right way and suddenly the modern art sculpture hits you right in the heart.
It helps that Eternal Home feels, unlike many aspects of vaporwave of the past ten years, absolutely devoid of cynicism and irony. Gestures which in other hands would feel eye-rolling and tedious in their obvious and thin post-capitalist criticism, taking aim at the shopping mall what should be directed at the flow of capital and alienation from labor of its workers, instead here throbs with an intense and profound humanity. This, as it turns out, is precisely the thing that in other hyperpop settings tends to confuse and challenge me. It is a capacity to look at things that I, in weakness, sometimes look down upon or view myself better than and instead to celebrate them with earnest love and through this love transform them into aspects of alchemy for the con-fusion (to be fused together) of sacred elements. Eternal Home doesn’t feel as flighty, detached or clinical as some types of arthouse electronic work can. This is a human document, suffused with blood; there is a sense of Angel’s personhood behind the music, a sense of witness and presence, the same kind of thing that animates genres like folk and punk and hip-hop at their very best.
What isn’t a surprise is that this record is as profound and compelling as her last several. Nodes absorb sunlight in the medical bay; the brain becomes the machine and metal drinks up skin, and all is bright and beautiful under the rainbow refracted rays of the marble sun. Post-psychedelic and cybernetic bliss. What is a surprise is that Fire-Toolz is no longer alone in this field of work. Formless Body, a relatively newer project, feels produced in the footsteps of Marcloid’s labors, producing sweeping post-vaporwave black metal that feels adventurous and seeking to dialogue with music beyond. These developments I believe are the greatest sign of Fire-Toolz’s worth overall, a worth indicated and reaffirmed by the mastery of this record. Eternal Home is a double-disc album, over 80 minutes, spread over four lengthy suites, but passes more like a film. It is an unbroken programmatic sequence of images, the greatest prog rock concept record of the year.
The instrumental version of this record makes those sequences and the contemporary prog strains of the record especially prominent. While I am a noted fan of progressive music of the past, it is impossible to argue that the genre should be limited solely to recapitulating the sounds and modes of history. These tensions between replicating that which worked in older bands and preserving modes that are moving and worthwhile while also exploring in earnestness the vast untapped potentialities of music and its lingering hybrid forms as long been a generative force within the genre. It is not that the vocals make the modernist prog aspects of her music invisible but rather that focusing purely on the compositional and melodic forms, the structuralist manners in which Marcloid seamlessly fuses together otherwise disparate elements into lengthy and adventurous songsuites, feels in instrumental form more like listening to Tales from Topographic Oceans and its four lengthy and endlessly beautiful oceanic symphonic prog suites than how her music is often described. It is a problem not unlike the one I have discussed before regarding Kate Bush’s work; in attempting to elevate her work, her defenders sever it from traditions it rightfully belongs to, which itself only reinforces that sense of severedness that those who disparage it themselves cite.
Fire-Toolz is at once prog of the future and undivorced with its past. Her music, like Mr. Bungle’s before, opens doors for me when I sometimes already feel nearly every last door is opened. It helps make sense and show the human value of forms of art I otherwise might scorn. That it would be so fertile as to become an inspiration to others, helping birth a new field, feels only fitting. Eternal Home is a triumph, another absolutely phenomenal record in a run that seems impossibly bright already. Long may Angel reign.
Label: Hausu Mountain
Langdon Hickman is listening to progressive rock and death metal. He currently resides in Virginia with his partner and their two pets.