Insect Ark has made some truly unsettling music.
Insect Ark has made some truly unsettling music, the sound of crushing anxiety closing in around you and cutting you off from the rest of the world. Its second album, Marrow Hymns, improves on the dark promise of its debut.
Founder and multi-instrumentalist Dana Schechter made Insect Ark’s first album, Portal/Well, “in complete solitude”. The project, which began with just Schechter, filters desolate and tense soundscapes through a soup of post-black metal à la Wolves in the Throne Room, Chelsea Wolfe’s penchant for pastoral electronic textures and goth rock instrumentation, a bit of Swans-esque sweaty brow persistence and some Nine Inch Nails serrated edge squonks. In essence, Insect Ark conjures up a perpetual creeping sense of dread that’s perfectly suited to soundtrack a horror flick from Blumhouse or A24.
Shortly after Portal/Well was completed at the beginning of 2015, Schechter added drummer Ashley Spungin. Their first release together, a mostly dark ambient song called “Windless” from a fundraising compilation called And Suddenly Everything, Absolutely Everything, Was There, was standard fare for IA. The addition of live drums, however, was notable: The sound of organic percussion gave the song some brightness, like a candle flickering in the distance of midnight blackness.
What stands out upon first listen to Marrow Hymns is the duo’s experimentation with rock-ish song structures, perhaps the result of Spungin’s contributions as both musician and songwriter. “Arp 9” and “Skin Walker” are the most rock-centric compositions of IA’s catalogue—the latter’s riffing borders on doom metal—while “Sea Harps” starts off as a droning elephantine stomp and then morphs into what would’ve happened had the breakdown in “Whole Lotta Love” been played by the Stooges.
Like the Stooges, Insect Ark know how to wind up tension and unspool it, only to wind it up tighter than ever. Marrow Hymns is a collection of ebbs and flows that initially spike and then flatten over time, giving off a disorienting feel. It’s superbly paced with peaks and valleys, sometimes within a single song, hitting at the right times for maximum impact. The first half alternates between rock-oriented and drone-oriented tracks like a sine wave, while the back half consists of insistent drone. Side B’s “Tarnish” and “Daath” in particular have no percussion, instead relying on fridge-from-Hell buzzing as the foundation over which sparse guitar and reality-warping electronics are a carefully arranged pyre.
“Windless,” the strongest and weirdest song here, is eight-plus stunning minutes of listening to a storm brew in a lava lamp followed by the resulting downpour, while the superb “Slow Ray” features a guitar that wanders and moans as it gropes around in the darkness in an attempt at stability. Marrow Hymns can be a difficult album. Don’t mistake Insect Ark’s toe-dipping into rock as a softened barrier of entry for drone music. This is not an easy listen—What drone album is? But give it the proper attention and patience, and its brilliance is revealed.