Sunday, February 14, 2010

Missing Melbourne's sludge - Grey Daturas

As far as I have been able to ascertain, Australia has not been particularly big on the experimental music scene and, while I am more than happy to be corrected on that, it’s nevertheless still a great shame that Melbourne-based noise-rock trio, Grey Daturas decided to call it quits just a few weeks ago, after nearly nine years of very interesting music.

Their music has feet in a number of experimental camps – there’s a bit of drone there, a bit of noise-rock, a bit of pure avant-garde experimentalism, a bit of heavy metal, and a bit of a whole lot of other things that probably don’t have names. The music is essentially improvised, building dark layers of sounds from low riffs that tramp and clump through thick mud, pounding percussion that crushes rather than beats its way through the music, and a cacophony of electronic noise that enfolds everything, and you, in a nightmarish ambience. Amps and microphones are as much a part of the musical ensemble as are guitars and drums, with feedback and static noise and looped echoes all contributing their own extra coatings, sometimes caked in sludge, sometimes wrapped in barbed wire, to the music.

Grey Daturas’ final album, Return to Disruption, captures all of this. Its tracks more or less alternate between heavy drone-laden epics and shorter, noise-based, tracks that create a sense of space to the album, a sense of walking through different places. Some of those places, like the opening ‘beyond and into the ultimate’ seem to be packed with dense, raging volcanic fire, spewing out electronic lava at lightning pace, even while the inert drone of down-tuned bass guitars grumbles below. Other places are desolate and spooked, like the short title track, with ominous deep drums beating quietly in the dark, and eerie metallic clatter reminding you of things that go bump in the night. You wander amidst frightening screeching sirens in ‘balance of convenience’, and through a long, dark passageway, with low drones for walls, in ‘answered in the negative’, where the music’s deep and drudging guitars riffs keep pushing you further, with more power and more momentum, while your heart thumps to a terrified and terrifying beat. ‘undisturbed’ is anything but undisturbed, with electronic creaks and shrieks, and a slowly beating drum, like primeval pain has been awoken from centuries of sleep beneath the earth. The places into which ‘demarcation disputes/unity’ and the closing ‘neuralgia’ take you are dark and menacing, with sound that builds from emptiness, and from a quietly pulsating beat, to a creeping upwards little riff that repeats over and over, and grows more and more confident, and weaves in amongst music that ends up so thick that it could be made out of molten lead.

Return to Disruption is scary music but it’s music that is worth getting scared for. It uses the raw elements of some of music’s darkest genres to build its own unique and powerful sound. You need to play it in the dark, on a night when everything else is still and when you don’t mind too much about freaking out the neighbours.

I saw Grey Daturas performing in Geelong not long ago, when they were supporting the sensational Lightning Bolt (see 30th November, 2009) at the Nash. While Lightning Bolt were the main attraction that night, Grey Daturas were sensational to watch, and to hear, too – the way they hunched into their music, building sounds that deepened into one another, swirling and black, each musician moving from guitars to drums to amps throughout their long single track performance. I certainly had no idea that that was to be the last time that I would see them and, if I had, I would have thrown myself at their knees and begged them to stay.

But, as it happens, Grey Daturas have called it a night and, while Return to Disruption, is a sensational way to say goodbye, I am certainly very sorry to see them go. Horror movies are going to be a poor and puny substitute.

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