If you want to get all scientific about it, music is just physics. “Just physics,” of course, is a silly statement, as physics is the vast study of about everything, and the tiny vibrations that are sound waves are but a minuscule part of the colossal whole. But in the end, without the human mind to translate these vibrations into sound and interpret them as something as abstract as “music,” every guitar riff and drum hit and vocal line ever recorded for expression and entertainment would merely bounce off of inanimate objects without purpose.
In short: If a riff is played in the forest, and there’s no one around to hear it, does it still rock?
We know all of this, but it’s worth reminding yourself just how truly strange and special the human concept of music is. To fully indulge in the art of another human and allow yourself to experience it as an individual is something no one can take from you. There’s a reason Andy Dufresne was smiling after weeks in solitary confinement, and why the scene was believable; those two Italian ladies were still singing in his mind throughout his ordeal.
More than anything, music takes us places. Those invisible airwaves give us visions of memories and abstract places while they crackle with life. Music is a portal into the deepest corners of our own minds, and it conjures spaces both microscopic and vast. This nearly incomprehensible concept is something that brings us back to certain records over and over, and it is a quality in which some artists and bands truly excel.
On a purely sound descriptive level, the Dutch duo that is Urfaust continues to move farther from their black metal roots. There is basically zero rawness left, with the band instead employing simple, pulsating riffs underneath a blanket of ambient sounds, mostly clean vocals (but not exactly normal vocals, as any fan of the band can attest to), and the type of nuanced drumming most slow bands would dream of having. It’s as much “doom” as it is “black metal,” but like the equally-image-conjuring The Ruins of Beverast, calling it black/doom doesn’t feel entirely right, nor does any other label. So we’ll just stick to that whole space/place/traveling theme.
Every part of The Constellatory Practice is connected as part of a whole, as if each represents a different location along some strange journey. Opener “Doctrine of Spirit Obsession,” for example, is like waking up feeling groggy and out of place in a small boat, drifting down some unknown river. The huge vocal moments represent openings into grand vistas, while the subdued passages are like floating through a ravine, with much of the world’s din muted. Each is a result of and respite from the other. “False Sensorial Impressions” and “Behind The Veil Of The Trance Sleep,” meanwhile, truly make the most out of the album’s structural minimalism. The former is a pulsating, heavy nightmare constantly approaching but never quite reaching you, while the latter perfectly executes a constant, deliberate crescendo of a single irresistible motif.
The success of “Behind the Veil…” in particular shows off one of the album’s greatest qualities: the flawless production. From the root sounds and the levels of each element (which may change depending on each song’s need) to the great combination of various ambient and instrumental sounds and the impeccable drum treatment (shimmering cymbals, colossal thump), the record just sounds as if it has physical form. And that physical form is massive, lumbering, and alive within a vast realm. A vast realm that you, the listener, will subconsciously fill and populate.
No song communicates this physical presence and vast space greater than climax “Trail Of The Conscience Of The Dead.” This heavy (heavy) track takes nearly every element of the album to greater heights; the riffs are thicker and more imposing than anywhere else, the vocals take on a more ritualistic and grandiose quality, and two alternating lead lines link everything together. There is no way to express the feeling one gets from hearing one of those leads move into a gorgeous section of strings playing over the throbbing foundation; one must simply hear it. And when the second, even more intense of those lead lines is joined by the strings…
…You simply have to let go. Give into your imagination and allow Urfaust to take the wheel.
Getting transported to imaginary spaces obviously isn’t the only reason we listen to music. Sometimes we listen because we want another type of escapism that might be rooted in community and belonging. Other times we want to share in a common goal with the band, be it a form of activism or emotional catharsis. We listen to music for infinite reasons (at least, we should), which is why we keep our ears open to those sounds that give us a new experience, no matter how small.
Sound is just physics, sure, but the musician gives it purpose, transforming those seemingly random collections of vibrations floating throughout our physical plane into music. But it is within the mind of the listener where the true magic happens, as there is nothing more unique to you than how you interpret the art, and doing so requires completely giving into the possibilities. Some music makes this easier than others, and some forces the issue. Urfaust, on The Constellatory Practice and most of their stunning catalog, absolutely forces the issue. Even in a room full of friends and distractions, this album will transport you. Where it takes you and what you find is yours and yours alone.
“That’s the beauty of music. They can’t get that from you.”