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Blanck Mass: In Ferneaux

After 2019’s Animated Violence Mild, it seemed Benjamin John Power’s electronic project Blanck Mass had reached some sort of peak. The industrial elements were always cranked to eleven, and the melodies were bordering on anthemic. His newest extension of the canon, In Ferneaux, is a drastic departure from the sonics and extremities that gained the project such acclaim, but simultaneously a product of his relationship with Blanck Mass up to this point.

The album comprises two, roughly 20-minute phases, and listening to it as a whole is something of a journey. The intro of “Phase I” is drenched in Blade Runner neon, opening with chugging synths lacing on top of each other, soon revving up as the melodies drive over moaning bass and accompanied by short vocal snippets. It’s difficult to not get sucked into this train ride of an album to see where it leads. Eventually, what appears to be a return to form shows itself in a further escalation reminiscent of “Rhesus Negative” off of World Eater. Screaming synth’s akin to blaring jet engines bring back what a Blanck Mass fan might typically expect out of Power, but they get stripped away just as soon as they appear.

While obviously intentional, you can’t help but feel this is a red herring. It starts with such a powerful presence, and while the rest of the album is far from unlistenable, it may leave you imagining what a 20-minute epic in classic Blanck Mass-style could have been. But In Ferneaux is an intangible kaleidoscope of field recordings and power electronics from here on. The first few minutes of the album found us in the middle of a trip, and soon after we arrive, we are given vivid memories that we have no recollection of, decode them.

In Ferneaux is music born out of a decade’s worth of travelling across the globe. Endlessly touring from city to city and country to country is bound to carry some emotional toll. Every connection made is lost the moment you move onto the next venue, and every culture you cross is merely a glimpse of what it has to offer. The recording of what sounds like a group banging on drums or some other percussion is lively and intense and feels so cathartic for those few minutes, but within moments you get swept back into a vast soundscape, leaving that world behind. These jarring transitions effortlessly emulate the mental tax these times had on Power. The use of field recordings interwoven with vistas of ambient create a compelling look into the psyche of someone who has spent 10 years on the road, and the festering frustration that comes with it.

A large chunk of the album is filled out with either serene ambient or disorienting electronic, but serves as the whimsical, dreamy backdrop to the endless unnamed locations visited. From the bustle of what sounds like a seaport to a stranger ruminating on the street about his monetary investment in his own faith, In Ferneaux puts you in the shoes of someone who doesn’t know where they’re headed and doesn’t know where to begin.

Without having a firm grasp on the structure of these two phases, the journey can be disorienting and sound almost aimless. But given the content, it makes for a powerful first impression that dives in unfamiliar yet intriguing scenarios that become natural after repeated listens. At the very end of the ride, Power sends us off with an elegant piano that sounds as if it was ripped from some PlayStation 2 JRPG soundtrack, coming off as cheesy and out-of-place within the context of the album. It’s a melodramatic ending to something that had the room to end with much more intensity, something Blanck Mass has mastered by this point.

Within the Blanck Mass discography, In Ferneaux is the outsider. What it does isn’t offensive or off-putting; it’s more a case of being something that takes time to process and understand, which is important to know going into the album. The ideas are easy to respect, but difficult to wrap one’s head around. In Ferneaux is a foreign exchange student amongst a friend group that has cultivated a very specific form of communication. It isn’t likely to be a favorite for many Blanck Mass fans, but serves as a fascinating point in Power’s personal journey with this project.

Pieced together with a decade’s worth of field recordings, In Ferneaux isn’t likely to be a favorite for many Blanck Mass fans, but serves as a fascinating point in Benjamin John Power’s personal journey with this project.
75 %
Abrasive Introspection
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