A complex and carefully crafted narrative of experience that only gets richer with repeated listening and careful attention.
Insect Ark accurately describe their carefully-crafted roar as “experimental psychedelic doom metal.” But the six tracks that make up The Vanishing are so much more, slipping deftly between the rolling grind of Earth and a delicacy that evokes the wide cinematic vistas of Calexico or Tan Cologne, with more grit on the windscreen and more clouds on the horizon. The band’s previous incarnation of Dana Schechter and Ashley Spungin developed a reputation for blackened and noisy soundscapes and, with Spungin replaced by drummer Andy Patterson, The Vanishing is a full and confident addition to the stable of prior Insect Ark releases, further refining the sonic landscapes detailed in 2018’s Marrow Hymns. Where that album offered compositions that suggested a blasted urban setting, here Schechter adds pedal steel guitar that lends a depopulated and Southwestern feel.
“Tectonic” growls into being with a low and slow bass riff, a mid-tempo phrase that gathers drums along with it before layers of noise and drone accumulate, parts clustering and gaining weight, presence and solidity. As a template for the album, it clarifies the governing sensibility of the compositions and the great care taken to provide a narrative, however buried it might be in layers of power and feedback.
“Three Gates” mixes acoustic guitars with the growing dread of minor-key drones and hums. Its digital noise mixes with the analogue, both deployed to provide a stable, glacial base upon which the band’s thunder can emerge and into which it can retreat, as in brief moments when Patterson’s drums pause and the guitars breathe before they gather once more. Like “Tectonic” before it, this offers cycles of tone and timbre, and across these two tracks it becomes clear that this ebb and flow of cyclic moments governs the album. “Philae,” in comparison, utilizes a drumbeat that has its military snare catch and pause on each fourth beat just a fraction longer than one might expect. It’s a small thing, but Patterson’s skill introduces an uncertainty, an anxious sense of fragility that sits underneath Schechter’s guitars that, in return, grind like a dirty Chris Issak tune.
“Danube” starts as the most straightforwardly ambient of the tracks, with a heavily reverbed pedal guitar blowing across pulsing drones like the opening of some darker and sadder Paris Texas. The soundscape gathers and breathes for a full three minutes before Patterson thunders in and Schechter’s renewed guitars carve out a new route through the desert, gradually settling into a third movement of subdued guitar lines that slowly rise back to the volume and intensity we started from. “Swollen Sun,” in comparison, renews the digital noise and utilizes higher-pitched drones which circle and loop, joined by deeper synthetic tones and the hum of electricity before “The Vanishing” closes the album with nearly 11 minutes of chiming guitar notes ringing across the most classically doom-like of the tracks, pulling together all of the album’s attention to rhythms and cycles, pulses and drones.
Schechter comments that her latest is concerned with “the impermanence of life. That we’re just here for a minute, and then we fade off.” It’s too easy, she continues, to forget that we’re not immortal. The Vanishing, with its attention to the ways in which the ebbs and flows of life can be suggested by the rise and fall of volume and power, offers a complex and carefully crafted narrative of experience that only gets richer with repeated listening and careful attention.