Goddamn, Negative Plane’s second record, Stained Glass Revelations, had me pulling myself in forty different directions looking for purchase on some pertinent perspective. This is one of those toughies to evaluate, because it will be considered golden by some and utter tripe by others. Which isn’t unordinary except that what will characterize the listening experience here is an array of qualities that define the album’s greatness as a function of its ostensible shortcomings and a band that, by all indications, doesn’t give a fuck about this review.
The most obvious place to begin seemed to be production, of all things. I don’t think I’ve ever begun a review with a discussion of production, but this one seemed to warrant it. The knob-sliding and -tweaking here is liable to be a love-it-or-hate-it kind of a deal. Some of you fine folks will love it for its allegiance to all things unfiltered, unclean, unholy. And everything here comes from far away. Not in the next room; maybe the next dimension. Some of you will hate it because you don’t give a shit about such aesthetic and maybe consider it a copout or even some sort of ironic sellout. Either way, Negative Plane doesn’t give a fuck what you think.
But then it also made sense to begin with a discussion of, well, just what the hell kind of music is this, anyway? Black metal seems to be the tag most often attached, but these are not your typical frostbitten riffs. In fact, they’re probably best cast as thrash riffs, though they’re pretty far outside those bounds, as well. The drum patterns are unorthodox and seem to be laid down with a calculated coarseness. Fuck precision. There is plenty of bass here and it will not be ignored, every bit as busy as the other instruments, sometimes in time with them, often breaking its own ground. Plenty of accompaniment, too, from tolling bells to ethereal chants to two-story pipe organ. And then there’s the lead guitar, gliding back and forth between weird, twisty riffs and classical motifs and virtuosity delivered with more mystique than conceit and weirdly awesome departures, like what seems to be a “surf guitar” effect that somehow works perfectly in this context. So what does all this add up to? I’m of a mind to just call it progressive and move on. Either way, Negative Plane doesn’t give a fuck what I call it.
Although, maybe I should begin with how it’s progressive, because it’s not progressive in the same way as the bands that come to mind when you hear the term “progressive.” So, progressive how? What makes progressive progressive? Sure it’s a sound, but it doesn’t have to be all clever harmonies and lilting melodies and synthesized keyboards and super-clean sheen. Moving past “prog” to “progressive,” then, the term more completely captures a structural approach that uses odd time signatures and long, intricate songs full of instrumental acrobatics and contrasting interludes. Progressive music simply moves beyond its purported boundaries. And Stained Glass Revelations does that. Thing is, this record works outside this constraint, as well, and either way, Negative Plane doesn’t give a fuck about boundaries.
But then, of course, why ought I not begin with the album’s evil air? Malevolence is a hot commodity, after all. But this is a different kind of evil. So unconcerned with the good, the light, the living that it renders the contrast necessary to define evil obsolete. It beautifies death. But isn’t revelry – even in death – a function of joy and, therefore, a concession to life? Well, this isn’t exactly celebration. More like an artist’s manic fugue, ablaze with an insatiable taste for creation via destruction. Either way, Negative Plane doesn’t give a fuck about common conceptions.
In the end, I decided it best to begin with what this record does for me. I’ve said many times (I understand if you haven’t been paying attention) that my favorite albums are those that take me some place mysterious and fantastic. I’ve said often, as well, that this demands something of me, the listener, in that I have to get myself right for the record. Get my context straight. Stained Glass Revelations is one of those special albums, to be sure, and it plays well in all levels of light, but it does its best work when I’ve taken the time to invite the darkness, both literally and figuratively.
Finding myself alone late at night, enraged at the traffic-jammed, Wal-Marted, credit report-scored banality of the daylit world, I open wide my windows, drawing closed the curtains behind them. Walls illumined with the gaunt glow of candlelight, I pull my wandering shadow to the center of the room and, anticipating metamorphosis , fear bleeds over my anger. Eyelids tight and aspect disquiet, I hunch, arms raised, palms up, wretched fingers stretched skyward and my space becomes deep, cavernous, the ancient cathedral once sanctuary for salvation seekers, now a place for the conjuring of souls whose salvation never came; long ago bathed in light now swallowed by blackened blue. And “The Fall” commences.
Fear succumbs to mania, reservation to revelation as I slip the mundane to become master of Hell’s symphony. My limbs extended to their trembling limits, distant bells beckon electric discharge to rise, expand in vast cacophony. Surging power reaches my arms to the netherworld, unlocking the door, unleashing the black from beyond the frame and sepulchral spectres engulf the room on electric waves born of bone-fretted instruments, forbidden notes cast backward, overturned, whirling upward. Great crazed flurries of my gnarled hands propel reverberant waves, careening the spirits between and against the walls in byzantine patterns, each note relinquishing its energy only as the next usurps its space.
Vast emptiness is now choked by a tortuous sonic web spanning the breadth and depth of this unholy place, its spaces pressed violently with the deadened drub of toms overstretched with the skin of innocents. Entangled scarves of sound coalesce to dark symbologic tapestries threaded with neoclassical strands, a terrible beauty against a backdrop of necrolust. From my blackened throat froths a voice not my own, the manifestation of centuries of death-staid spite and hatred loosed this night in an eclipse of righteous light. Purity blighted, bedlam relents and the deathly temple is drained to inanimate void, save towering calcite cylinders piping hymnal blasphemies, and I crumble, depleted, to the moss-ridden floor, sensations reduced to a vague awareness of being.
Stained Glass Revelations, primal in substance and grandiose in execution, is destined to be at once revered and reviled and the loudest voices on either side will cite identical criteria to support their positions. But the discussion is relevant only to those of us residing in the positive picture plane, all of it reduced to academic masturbation the moment the record was conceived because, outside of their creative sphere, Negative Plane just doesn’t give a fuck.