Läjä Äijälä & Albert Witchfinder – Ordeal and Triumph Review

You ever hear an album and you’re like “what the fuck?” Ordeal and Triumph is that kind of album. You are not ready. And grading this sumbitch is its own ordeal, and largely up to you whether it’s a triumph or not. You’ll probably turn on this thing and go, “why?” and you have every right to. But grit your teeth and get through it, and you know what? You’ll probably still hate it. And that’s okay. It’s only – ugh – an hour long. Get in, loser: we’re going for a ride.

Läjä Äijälä and Albert Witchfinder are both veterans to the Finnish music scene, the former best known for his time with punk band Terveet Kädet, while the latter is renowned as vocalist/bassist of Reverend Bizarre – although their collaboration has nothing to do with either. Like 2021 debut Centuries of Youth, Ordeal and Triumph offers three tracks and an hour of a polarizing blend of power electronics, industrial, analog noise, dark ambient, and spoken word. Läjä Äijälä’s pulsing and molten approach is jagged and unforgiving, as well as warm and organic, low drones comprising a foundation and noise and ferocity of industrial steel sharpening above. Toss in Albert Witchfinder’s traditional doom-esque delivery, and you’ve got one auditory conundrum. Ultimately, Ordeal and Triumph makes niche feel mainstream – however you want to handle that.

Ordeal and Triumph is incredibly difficult to grade objectively but head above shoulders better than its predecessor. While a similar instrumental approach saturated Centuries of Youth, Witchfinder’s lyrics were a thing of the utmost embarrassment, discussing sexual fantasies and suicidal ideation with the lyrical prowess of a preteen. In this way, Ordeal and Triumph is an improvement, focusing on more philosophical concepts like other dimensions, forbidden knowledge, and the limits of the human mind, albeit still with the prowess of preteen. Witchfinder does his best with Ordeal and Triumph, primarily relying on a vibrato-laden delivery rife with melodrama, although blackened shrieks appear in “Phobos, including Electric, Matrix, Them and Foetus” and more subdued deep mumbles appear in “Oberon, including Labyrinths of Earthworms and Purification.” There is little else to discuss about Ordeal and Triumph’s vocal delivery, because it is so one-dimensional and too loud in the mix. They also fall extremely flat in their very committed melodrama compared to other spoken word acts like the warm southern feel of Listener or the screamo-adjacency of La Dispute.

Polarizing is a good way to describe Äijälä’s electronic presence. While it recalls power electronics artists like Whitehouse or Ramleh, it T-bones the warmth and predictability with the sharpness of industrial noise a la Merzbow. While more subdued than Centuries of Youth, it is nonetheless alienating and unlistenable; but it means to be. The noise, drone, and electronic effects are jarring at first, but the more exposure given, the more layers are unveiled. This is best exemplified in central track “Deimos, including Twilight World, Pit and Digitalis,” which lets its electronic presence shine, in spite of Witchfinder’s painful poetry. Featuring an off-kilter beat made of industrial noise, lush reverb-laden keys, and washes of drone in a rhythmic, almost ritualistic form, it is simultaneously the most uneventful track with the most indistinguishable movements, and the most hypnotic. Ironically, the track with the least highlights is the highlight of the album, thanks to the embrace of minimalism. It recalls albums like Giles Corey’s trance-inspired Deconstructionism or Trist’s blackened Hin-Fort, jamming the brain into a rut and grind across its surface again and again. This description is ambiguous because I’m ultimately grasping at straws: Ordeal and Triumph is devoted so entirely to hostility and abuse that it is almost impossible to find any semblance of reasonable humanity besides Witchfinder’s awkward warbles, which provide the very human reaction of cringe.

Ultimately, Läjä Äijälä and Albert Witchfinder’s second collaboration is an upgrade from Centuries of Youth, but only lyrically. Graceless topics greet the ears with awkwardness rather than pain, but the instrumentals are more than happy to compensate. Ordeal and Triumph certainly lives up to the first part of its title, but the second will depend on the listener. Even so, when it feels like Shakespeare tryouts with the fire alarm going in a theater with the AC too loud, it’s hard to justify a recommendation to anyone. While “Deimos” provides a faint glimmer of balance and interest, Ordeal and Triumph is less triumph, more ordeal. It’s a “no” for me, dog.

Rating: 1.0/5.0
DR: 5 | Format Reviewed: 320 kbps mp3
Label: Svart Records
Websites: lajaaijalaandalbertwitchfinder.bandcamp.com
Releases Worldwide: March 10th, 2023

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