I tried. I listened to it on low volume, to see if that noise-as-ambient (and vice versa, for that matter) rule worked. I played it hella loud, hoping an unholy black maelstrom would sweep me up in its infernal clutches. I tried because Matthew Bower has released some impeccably powerful music in his time, including Orange Canyon Mind and Desire for a Holy War, in recent years. I tried because this is his debut on Neurot Records, a label run by the legendary Neurosis, which has released absolute stunners in the last couple of years from the likes of Akimbo and A Storm Of Light.
Sometimes there’s nothing you can do, beyond enduring two hours of boredom. Tracks begin as confused churns of noise, and go nowhere from there, sometimes for up to 15 minutes at a time. The only changes occur when one track ends and another begins; the listener is plunged once more into incessant drudge, like being buried alive in worm-ridden soil. Gone is the fizzling, exciting potential energy of Orange Canyon Mind, replaced with nothing but lethargy.
I once read that, rather than the comic-Satanick likes of Morbid Angel, Skullflower were the real, pitch-dark, death metal deal. Even if that were once the case, this lumpen example would be dead metal. Any energy, light or imagination has been eradicated, as though Strange Keys To Untune Gods’ Firmament represented the last signal broadcastable from the singularity of a black hole. And, at least for nihilism on such a scale, Bower should be applauded.
Your reviewer tested this album in a number of contexts. Most successful was a walk home, after a particularly ferocious rain storm. The streets were empty, the uneven surfaces of the footpath filled with stagnant, acidic water. The sky was baleful in its bruised complexion, threatening another downpour. And then it came, soaking everything in seconds; raindrops pounding all beneath them as though with bad intentions; water-covered spectacles reducing vision to a haze of dusk and blotch-streetlights. In this situation, the album made more sense, as a soundtrack to a low-key Omega Man, walking the streets in grim un-light.
Were you able to guarantee blustery weather bordering on the malicious for each listen, Strange Keys To Untune Gods’ Firmament might come quite heartily recommended. Similarly so if your aesthetic taste overlaps with the soundtrack of a construction site: pneumatic drills, cement mixers and idling engines coalescing into a steady drone. Otherwise, it’s hard to find a silver lining on this darkest of nimbostratus clouds; two hours you’ll likely wish you had back. If this is a grower, you probably won’t live long enough to enjoy the fruition.