Listen to "Heavy Waters" from the Chicago experimental demigods' upcoming new album.
Photo by Jimmy Hubbard
It might not seem that a record steeped in concepts of man’s inevitable extinction and his inability to face his starring role in his own demise would contain as much staggering beauty as crushing despair, yet Chicago-Baltimore experimental trio Locrian strikes a perfect balance of the two on its upcoming sixth full-length, Infinite Dissolution (out July 24 via Relapse Records). Perhaps it’s no surprise from a band that has been masterfully conjuring and destroying alternate universes through music for nearly ten years and more than double that number of releases, with each one providing challenging sonic adventures and evocative perspectives on the physical state of the world around us.
Locrian was formed in Chicago in 2005 by multi-instrumentalists Andrè Foisey and Terence Hannum and rounded out by drummer Steven Hess in 2009. Andrè and Terence were transplants to the city (from upstate New York and Florida, respectively), who came together over their shared hardcore roots, diverse musical and aesthetic palettes, and boredom with much of the music of the day. As Locrian, they took on the murky void between the Chicago’s thriving noise scene and underground metal community (the latter being even further on the cultural margins than it is in 2015). “It was exciting because at that time it wasn't a weird thing for the noise people to go the metal show and for the metal people go to the noise show. Why not? We were all on the fringes anyway.” says Terence.
Locrian took from both ends of the spectrum and then some, combining ambient, black metal, noise, drone, industrial, electronics, and more into intense and ominous soundscapes were all the more blistering live. “For a while it was very improvised, drone-based, and from there we started to evolve as people, musically, and with our artistic direction,” says Andrè. The band also brought its knack for artistry and inventiveness to its numerous physical releases, which were released on multiple labels including Andrè’s own Land of Decay imprint and often presented in artfully-packaged limited runs, pressed on multiple mediums (including a rare edition of their first album, Drenched Lands, that was quite possibly the country’s only 8-track release in 2010), or in unconventional formats such as two loop cassettes meant to be played simultaneously.
Terence, who also works as a visual artist and art school professor, relocated to Baltimore in 2011. Soon after Locrian signed to Relapse Records, an unexpected and exciting move for an experimental band with a limited touring schedule and a fondness for DIY and niche labels. These two changes ushered in a new era of the band as they put their regular, prolific release cycle on standby to focus instead on more deliberate, high-concept records written over longer spans of time. The larger scale of Relapse’s operations and distribution network, compared to the band’s previous labels, had the added effect of introducing their music to wider audiences. “It's been a great opportunity to have more ears tuned into Locrian,” Steven says. “It’s getting out there because of Relapse. I’m not saying anything negative about the smaller labels, but more ears has been nice.”
Following a reissue of its 2010 LP The Clearing as a double album with a long-form composition titled "The Final Epoch" on disc 2, Locrian made its proper Relapse debut with its breathtaking 2013 masterpiece, Return to Annihilation. The record’s mountainous, prog-tinted atmospheres were a far cry from Locrian’s early droning textures, but also an essential and natural next step in the band’s progression. “This is the development of Locrian,” Steven says. “We keep wanting to test ourselves and get bigger and better.”
Wherever Locrian has taken its sound or will take it in the future, certain elements of the group remain firm. “The thing that holds all of our themes together is that the music embodies both the beauty of decay and the beauty of rebirth for a civilization in decline,” Andrè says.
Nowhere across their catalog are these ideas more evident than on Infinite Dissolution, a gripping concept album that is arguably Locrian’s most dynamic and vital work to date. Produced by Greg Norman (Pelican, Russian Circles) at Steve Albini’s Electrical Audio in Chicago and mastered by Brad Boatright at Audiosiege, the album takes inspiration from journalist Elizabeth Kolbert’s compelling study of mass extinction and climate change, The Sixth Extinction. “Elizabeth Kolbert planted this idea of the impossibility of thinking that we might go extinct. We can't even fathom that thought. We can't even begin to think about what would it mean if we terminate all these species, which will lead to our own termination,” Terence says.
With Kolbert’s work as a jumping-off point, Locrian explores its own “what if” scenarios and perspectives on mankind at the edge of total destruction, using elements of noise, black metal, industrial, and cinematic post-rock to paint a dystopian look at the world made all the more urgent and poignant in light of the very real basis of its subject matter. “I don't know what the world will be like when I'm 70,” Andrè says. “At that time there will probably be 10 billion people on the planet, so there's going to be more people consuming more resources. It's a terrifying thing to think about. I do lots of yoga, I meditate. I go to the Russian sauna all the time in order to get that out. When I start to think about it, this is where the shit goes. Into our music.”
With Infinite Dissolution, it seems that Locrian has turned the “shit,” or rather their frustrations and anxieties about the world, into gold. The record’s moods and textures are unequivocally varied, its nine songs carefully paced and arranged for maximum effect. One minute’s unrelenting harshness is the sonic equivalent of having your face scraped across concrete. In the next, the wounds are melted away in atmospheric bliss. Through it all, layers upon layers of sound and field recordings make for even more heightened dimension. And though Locrian has long been lionized for its improvisational prowess, the album shows its boldest use of structure so far, resulting in many of its finest moments, such as the majestic three-part suite “An Index of Air,” and the foreboding shimmer of “The Future of Death.”
Much of Infinite Dissolution was sketched out long before the band entered the studio with a considerable portion taking shape on stage throughout Locrian’s 2014 European tour. The second offering from the album, “Heavy Waters,” was only track written entirely in Chicago. Though it originated two days before recording began, it almost didn’t make it on the record at all. “Every time we play something it is totally different,” Andrè says. “Terence and Steven totally forgot about it but I had it on my phone. I used different instruments including this Vektor guitar, which is the kind of guitar Kurt Cobain used on In Utero. It has this really metallic kind of sound, and that's kind of what turned into the song, with this more dancey thing to it.” The song is followed by the atmospheric closer “KXL III,” but it can easily be seen as the record’s culminating statement, offering a vision of serenity and new beginnings that can only take place following complete mass destruction.
Despite its fatalistic overtones, Infinite Dissolution is a starting ground for conversation and communication about the environment rather than a sort of avant-metal doomsdayer decree. “Our records are very narrative—at least we think they are,” Terence says. “When we sit down to write a record I have it in my head that we're trying to tell a story. We're trying to walk people through an idea… Personally, I don't know where I fit in. Sometimes I feel there's not much more that can be accomplished, and other times I think there is more we can do to help.”
As Locrian celebrates its tenth anniversary, the opportunity to do more, as musicians and as friends, keeps them focused on the future in a positive way. Characteristically, they’re already talking about concepts for new releases, which they see as following two threads: the type of carefully-constructed, and spaced-out records akin to Return to Annihilation and Infinite Dissolution, and a return to their roots with more short-run, experimental recordings. “I just feel really honored that I've been in this group for 10 years. That feels like a really long time to be able to make things that are meaningful and creative that I'm proud of with these guys. It's pretty awesome,” Andrè says.
7/17/2015 Small's Bar - Detroit, MI w/ Beast in the Field, Beset by Creatures Of The Deep
7/18/2015 Empty Bottle - Chicago, IL w/ Liturgy
'Infinite Dissolution' is out July 24 via Relapse.