For over eight years, Dana Schechter and Ashley Spungin created heavy, eerie soundscapes as Brooklyn-based duo Insect Ark. When this fragmented last year, with a new album and US tour in the pipeline, leading force Schechter found herself in a tight corner until a serendipitous union with former SubRosa drummer Andy Patterson enabled the renewed probability of both. Tour almost complete, it’s time for the fourth album The Vanishing (Profound Lore Records) to hit the airwaves and Patterson’s influence, together with a more intense writing process, sees the band’s sound throb with added weight.
The punishing bassline introducing opener ‘Tectonic’ is hammered home by some pounding brutality, the truly sinister rumble given life by the Swans / Årabrot guitarist’s howling leadplay. The oscillating samples of the second movement add to the crushing anxiety created by that tight, thunderous rhythm and sprinkle sparks of energy throughout the ensuing ‘Three Gates’, its double jabs of earthshaking bass underpinning some monstrous drumming and Schechter’s steel lap chords shooting for the sky. It’s unusual for an instrumental act to tell a story so eloquently but the subtle expressions here substitute for lyrics beautifully: the slow, steady patterns of the titanic ‘Philae’ setting out the storyboard while those portentous strings boom and wail around the sparing keyboard effects, giving both the thrill and tragedy of a film noir; the hopelessness mixing with an almost triumphal fight for survival in an ‘Earth, sans words’ kind of way.
The album’s second half begins with the subtle, Country-esque jangles and atmospherics of ‘Danube’: sparse, painful chords echoing through a softly growling rhythm guitar and cooing protest, until a gentle burst of rhythm gives the centre and second movements a tense, swelling yet gradually euphoric body. It’s gorgeously dictated by Patterson once again but the symbiosis is so organic, both protagonists’ contributions blending to pure alchemy: the howling, growling Drone of ‘Swollen Sun’, so stirring yet chillingly effective, is close to the sound you’d expect such a phenomenon to create yet the lack of drums doesn’t lessen their importance. As the shimmering tones of the closing, epic title track chime its outset, that slow, swaying metronome returns: creating a rhythm seemingly at odds with what’s required yet, bizarrely, fitting perfectly.
That music can be created to be so cinematic whilst standing as the key component of the story is no mean feat. It’s something Insect Ark has strived for, and been close to, since its inception: but the added pathos within The Vanishing has ensured all previous attempts were mere stepping stones to this moment; a new mode of expression; the epiphany.
8 / 10