I am a particularly busy man. I’m married with a toddler who requires extra attention due to special needs. I hold down two jobs that currently occupy all seven days of my week. And yet I do my best to hold to my commitment of contributing at least one review to this blog each week; not just for the benefit of you, dear reader, but also for the artists who pour their hearts and souls into their music. I’ve never reviewed a record whose artistic vision and intent has eluded me; good or bad, I’ve always been able to sense the passion and the love for the craft. But Dunnock… oh, Dunnock. I’d love to believe that, somewhere in the creation of Little Stories Told By Ghosts, you managed to hide at least a little nugget of compositional wit. But by crawling up your own assholes with the pretentious notion that obscuring any hint of clarity with unbearably lo-fi production is somehow the pinnacle of “atmospheric” black metal, you’ve not only created a disastrous record, but also a complete fucking waste of my valuable time.
There are two positive attributes I managed to unearth from Little Stories – by the way, four fifteen minutes tracks spanning a full hour is not fucking little – so let’s shovel those out of the way first to make room for the rage train. Firstly, there is one experimental gimmick on the record, found in the latter half of “Middle Aged Man’s Body – Fish Creek – 2002,” that hints at cleverness; recordings of falling coins are sampled to create notes over a dark synth soundscape, resulting in a whopping total of two mildly engaging minutes across the record’s entirety. Secondly, the rest of the music (that I can actually decipher, at least) is so nondescript as to render this painful listening experience completely unmemorable. And now, with our housekeeping complete: choo choo, motherfucker.
Little Stories is segregated into two distinct modes of operation: unlistenable “atmospheric” “black metal,” and “Look ma, I’m using Garage Band”-tier ambient/synth passages. The former aesthetic offers insufferably loud black metal rasps that smother generic keyboard effects and tones of white noise – oh, sorry, I meant guitar riffs – that in turn completely drown out drums which are, to put it lightly, sporadically audible. That might be the sound of a snare hit rising to the surface, or it could be that the recording equipment picked up the sound of someone stirring a pot of soup all the way from the bathroom; who’s to say, really? It’s borderline impossible to detect any semblance of rhythm during these sections, which may be just as well, as the higher clarity synth passages reveal embarrassingly incompetent instrumental syncing. The utter misalignment of the silly synth melody and dinky percussion line at the start of “Young Woman’s Body – Fell’s Point – 1988” is particularly maddening.
By now you’ve probably caught on to Little Stories’ track naming gimmick, which is the product of an experimental concept exploring fictional murders set in real world locations important to multi-instrumentalist Jacob Thomas. Though interesting in theory, its execution makes it indecipherable, as any spoken word sections are immediately drowned out by ambient noise. And really, any stab at experimentation on Little Stories is so ill-conceived that the aforementioned timing issues may actually be borne from really bad ideas rather than instrumental incompetence. One black metal section abruptly drops into the most limp-dick club beat you ever did hear (“Young Woman’s Body”), while one track kicks off with abhorrently tuneless acoustic chords in what I can only assume is a supremely unneeded homage to Panopticon (“Middle Aged Man’s Body”). None of these ideas are connected by any sort of logical tissue, making even the aforementioned falling coin section a frustratingly out of place oddity.
Yet as supremely ill-conceived as all of this experimentation is, I’d endure it a hundred times over if it meant sparing myself from another round of white noise, feedback, tuneless guitar wails, and psychotic screeching, all haphazardly piled into seemingly endless stretches of earbleed-inducing chaos. If you can actually listen to Little Stories and believe that it’s the most valuable way to be spending your time available for leisure listening, I’m not sure whether to question your tastes, or to envy you for your apparent overabundance of free time to listen to what is essentially someone dicking around on a secondhand Casio in between bouts of pure noise. If I happen to be wrong, and this is the kind of stuff that’s going to push black metal forward in years to come, I don’t want any part in it.