Haunted Plasma – I Review

There was something about Haunted Plasma’s debut, I, that just drew me in. Partly that art, which literally draws one’s eye inward towards its centre, a square of bright, unnatural light, the exit from a tunnel of clouds of similarly strange hue. Partly also its constituents—a trio of members from Oranssi Pazuzu, K-X-P, and Aavikko, plus guest vocalists—and blurb, promising music that would play upon the genres of krautrock, techno, and more, for a psychedelic and novel twist on electronica. This is not metal. But in its unusual, genre-defying progressiveness, it could be said to embody the spirit of the genre’s avant-garde offshoots, refusing to remain precisely one thing. It doesn’t really matter what you call it; what matters is how it feels to listen to. And I provides one with a lot to say in that regard.

Across five movements, I shapeshifts through a series of interpretations, within and between cuts. Moody electro-rock (“Reverse Engineer,”), gaze-y ambience (“Echoes”), synthwave techno (“Machines Like Us”), almost-noise, krautrock (“Haunted Plasma”). Not post-metal or post-rock, but post-everything, with an ethereal unreality to every passage, a dreamlike quality that’s discomfiting and pleasantly vibey in equal measure. It turns out that the album’s artwork is not the only vaguely mesmerising thing about it, as no matter how upbeat, groovy, or sinister it becomes, it remains hypnotically easy to listen to, and difficult to ignore despite its pretensions to fade into a soundscape of your new normal, at the extremes of its structurelessness. If there is a true common thread, its this sense of being inside I; as though one has stepped through the bizarre orange portal and is free-falling, carelessly, through whatever exists on the other side.

Through gracefully subtle evolution, Haunted Plasma pull in the listener irrecoverably. Each song builds layers of noise, synth, vocals, guitars. Ringing, distorted refrains blur the lines between physical and synthetic instrumentation, just as the echo of a once prominent voice, or note makes indistinct the true leader of the piece, and heightens tension to a anticipatory hum. Opener “Reverse Engineer” entices with a gradually manifesting canvas of enigmatic droning, ringing, mournful notes, and the ever-more assertive voice of Mat McNerney (Hexvessel, Grave Pleasures), rising to the oddly affecting “tell us what we want//give us what want” and falling back on the repeated threat of “technology of power.” This layered slow-burn is in an incredible way to set the stage for what follows, immersing its audience in its obscure, moody world of vibrating suspense, bleeding with eerie groove. This expectation is met in full. “Machines Like Us” smashes any idea of continued slow, stalking smokiness in favour of a spiralling voyage of glittering synths, flickering like light from every direction. “Echoes” is almost painfully pure, ethereally shoegazey beside its more violent, effortlessly efficient partner “Spectral Embrace,” but the two nonetheless belong to the same realm. The latter reflects, in the most “metal” vocal performance of barbed, dissonantly-pitching vocals, paired with an uncomfortably irresistible drum pattern, that bubble up in “Machines Like Us” and “Haunted Plasma”, just as “Echoes” echoes the endlessly shrouded pulse of the opener, and which emanates from every second of every song.

It is because I is just that compelling that it becomes difficult to find meaningful criticism—so easy is it to fall into its weird, pacifying embrace. Closer, “Haunted Plasma,” at just under thirteen minutes, is a behemoth that like its brothers builds until it’s an undulating series of circling noise, strange female vocals (Ringer Manner of The Hearing), and clipped, buzzing guitar lines, each a part of the tapestry, so slick it happens as much behind your back as in front of your ears and eyes. And I can’t decide whether it’s genius or not, to end what is not a very long album with a fully instrumental track that is so long, and yet, so confidently executed and just as immersive as anything that came before. Part of me wants to think I just don’t “get it,” while just as big a part feels just a little nonplussed. Disappointed that the finale fully gave in to the freeform non-conformity, and almost fizzles away in its eventual whistling synths, rather than going out with a bang. But maybe this was the only way I could end.

Whatever my feelings, or as the promo blurb puts it, “[w]hether you want to give in […] or not,” Haunted Plasma have created something that I couldn’t ignore even if I wanted to. Drawing me back incessantly, I had better be what it implies, the first of many expressions from the avant-garde trio. Because they’re haunting me now; and I kind of love it.

Rating: Great
DR: 5 | Format Reviewed: 320 kbps mp3
Label: Svart Records
Websites: Bandcamp | Facebook
Released Worldwide: May 31st, 2024

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