Josh Graham is a serial pie fingerer. Aside from his visuals and art work for established names such as Neurosis and Vattnet Viskar, he’s also embarked on a number of music projects including the post-rock Red Sparowes and post-metal A Storm of Light. Now he brings his tight atmospherics and stunning visual design to his new ambient project IIVII and its debut, Colony. I reasoned that if Wolves in the Throne Room‘s Celestite makes the cut for the blog then this should too, with its epic scope and darkly evocative execution. Graham clearly targets an ambient audience, but those for whom metal is more than distorted guitars and aggressive drumming should take note too.
As indicated by its title, Colony bears a distinct sci-fi flavor. Graham invites his listener to revel in his spacious quest of celestial discovery, utilizing layers of flowing synths and ambiguous, distant bumps and noises, only occasionally bearing the hallmarks of his rock roots in lonely percussion and piano keys. Very rarely is anything that can be construed as a melody heard. Last year’s Darkspace and Empire Auriga releases worked on their oppressive atmospheres rather than metal instrumentation to fit into the metal spectrum: IIVII should be recognized similarly.
Where Colony really delivers is in how the music is intensely evocative. The free-form and airy nature of each track (I struggle to use the word ‘song’ for what’s on offer here) permits the redefinition of its vague artistic form into definite visual and emotive images in the listener. I imagine this will vary between listeners, drawing on your existing experiences and associating different memories. For me, “Signals from Home” feels like the sense of wonder invoked by the opening of Gravity (minus George Clooney’s inane and vacuous banter), with its distant and cold space walking. “Transmissions Illumine I” almost narrates Planet of the Apes, with primitive percussion to begin, soaring synths to represent discovery and recognition, before the chilling conclusion. “On the Shores of Markarian 335” harks back to the emotional beauty of traversing the dusty Mars plains from Kim Stanley Robinson’s Red Mars. Most tracks are distinct despite their minimalism, and they encourage an introspective exploration of your own mind.
The obvious downside is that it’s difficult to describe the music as exciting and enthusing in and of itself. It’s repetitive, slow and sometimes drones, with meaningful crescendos few and far between. Sure, tracks build and layer, but never to a climax [There’s a name for that and it starts with “blue.” – Steel Druhm]. The subtle yet pulsing electronica permeating “Black Galaxy” teases a grand finale but fails to progress to what it promises [Again, not cool – Steel]. This is the nature of the record’s minimalism, but even Celestite has its moments of satisfying grandeur. What you gain from the record entirely depends on what you can project on to it: Colony will open your mind but the hard work is all yours. I enjoyed listening to this when on the move with my mind allowed to wander in the music’s encapsulating realm – it was more tedious when devoting my attention for the purpose of taking notes.
This is a work befitting a man whose art is as important as his music. It’s abstract and interesting, taking on new meaning when heard by the right person or in the right listening conditions. But the closer you get to the music, the less interesting it is. If any of the above bands have previously impressed you, or if you enjoy strolling under the stars on a clear night, hear this. If not, this may be too much effort to enjoy.