Phos by BloodmistRelease date: August 7, 2020
Label: 5049 Records
For those unfamiliar with Bloodmist, it is well worth a brief introduction to those that constitute the trio’s line-up.
They consist of Jeremiah Cymerman, a clarinet and synthesizer player known for electronic sound design and a real penchant for the freedom of improvisation, Mario Diaz de Leon, a drum and synth programmer who has created electronic metal freak-outs and also fashioned moving, unsettling chamber pieces using traditional acoustic instrumentation, and perhaps the most recognisable name to Echoes and Dust readers, Toby Driver, modern classical composer and the driving force behind post/prog/goth-metal pioneers, Kayo Dot.
As such, I imagine most readers already have a strong sense of what Phos, Bloodmist’s sophomore album, might sound like. This album is dark, unsettling and has a thick atmosphere from which one cannot escape during the tortured listening experience of over forty minutes.
The band’s debut record, Sheen, released in early 2016, feels like a ‘warm-up’ to Phos, albeit a quality work in its’ own right. A dark ambient piece, electroacoustic and still improvised in nature, it held a certain menace and an unwieldy essence. Phos, despite being released in the wretched year of 2020 – and sounding absolutely perfect for it – was actually recorded fairly quickly after Sheen, three years ago, in 2017. Due to other members’ commitments, and the labour intensive post-production a project like this requires, the recording was shelved and it has only been in this slow, locked-down, stark reality-fuck of a year that the three musicians felt they had the time to revisit and do justice to this melange of complimentary but dissonant sounds.
Phos is one piece of music, split into five tracks. Each of those five tracks is a collage of cuts, edits and mash-ups of the one long, live improvisation that was recorded all those years ago. There has clearly been some painstaking work done here to provide us with this finished album, and in many ways, the LP is less about musicianship, instruments, or even live improvisation at all, but rather the quality and skill of the post-production on show. It seems odd for a review here to want and need to focus so much on this element – as it feels like something one does far more when discussing and unpacking quality hip-hop albums and some of the more artful, considered sub-genres of modern pop.
Of course, the musical aptitude on display is peerless, as one should expect from this trio of avant-garde, experimental music mainstays. The wild, florid clarinet in ‘Incantatory Sentience’ is at once beautiful and disruptive; the brooding, throbbing synths barely audible at times in opener ‘Therianthropic Procession’ provide an organic heartbeat to a project that could, for some, sound all too mechanical, ‘electronic’ and produced without it; while the insurgent beat that conjures art-house horror film freeze frames on ‘Corpuscular Refraction’ give a definition to the mode with which the album wishes to wax and wane.
A sense of dread is never far away in Phos, and in that and other subtle ways, it is most certainly the darker of the two records from Bloodmist, despite the fact Sheen is in itself a deeply troubled work. The spoken word on closing track – the eleven-minute plus ‘Empathic Predatory Biome’ – roots the album to a sense of ultimate doom that one feels the fluttering, shapeless, often formless sounds have been corralling you towards. Ever down the pitch black rabbit hole one falls, until those voices usher from the void and you truly know the floor and ultimate destination of the pit. The mammoth closer ends Phos in fine form, rounding out an album that is a soundtrack to a lonely, plaintive evening, with rain pounding at the windows and a single candle struggling due to unknown, perhaps malevolent flurries of air, trying their best to extinguish the one source of light in the gloom. I think we might have all at least felt this way during 2020, even if we haven’t suffered the picture painted.
For those who digitally pre-ordered Phos – and for us reviewers – there is a ‘bonus’ sixth track available called ‘Chemiluminescence’. A bonus track on an album of this ilk, I have to admit, feels slightly odd, especially as it runs at over eleven minutes in length, too, meaning its inclusion in the album proper, would have made it easily the second longest composition on Phos. A bit odd, then – but that seems to be Bloodmist. In a similar fashion to the album closer, but sans any spoken word, the track meanders with directionless ire and melancholia, providing another sliver of time to reflect and find no succour. I only note it in this review due to its length, but also because I feel it could almost be dubbed an alternate album closer, whereby fans with access to it could choose to listen to ‘Chemiluminescence’ as the final track of the LP rather than ‘Empathic Predatory Biome’, after the powerful, buzzing, subtly astringent, ‘Pathogenic Panspermia’.
Phos is a powerful, disquieting album, then. This kind of project always intrigues me as to how often I will listen to it afterwards, and I have to admit to that still being a question mark in my mind. It is a deeply layered, extremely interesting piece of improvised music and wonderful post-production work (and great mastering from the one and only James Plotkin), but I had not returned to Sheen prior to this review, since 2016. I think these pieces capture a time and mood so perfectly and can often seem – to me – to be transient in nature. I am happy to ‘dial in’ and take in the majesty at the time, but repeated visits are doubtful. However, surely the magic of Phos is that the trio captured 2020 in a bottle in 2017. I do hope Bloodmist continue to record and release again, as I will always be happy (yet wary) to be drawn back into their endless, nuanced, textured, eerily lit corridors.