Sheer Hellish Miasma
here are likely only two reasons for reissuing a recording. One, the recording’s initial release was in too meager a quantity to meet the initial or eventual demand; two, following years of listener and artist gestation, artist and label decide to revisit the material, repackage it, tack on a few bonus tracks, add some overblown and breathless liners, and perhaps even re-master said recording. Notorious for ludicrously low release quantities and even more ludicrous homogenization of releases, the noise community is hardly known for yielding product worthy of reconsideration. Besides Lou Reed’s genre defining fuckall, Metal Machine Music, only a handful of noise musicians have created anything deserving repeated listens, with the majority of those folks hailing from the Land of the Rising Sun. Kevin Drumm’s Sheer Hellish Miasma is easily a release that deserves and demands a second-look even if it’s still relatively green—having been released initially by Mego in 2002—and still easily obtainable with a cursory internet search.
While Drumm himself has decried the notion of “reinvention” or a marked artistic determination to resist repetitive process, each of his recordings embraces a remarkable variance and approach to sonic organization, from his first CD release on Perdition Plastics in 1997—a troubling minimalist archeology of static and instrumental malfunction—to the hyperbolic Death Metal guitar of 2004’s Impish Tyrant. The first six years of his discography show Drumm’s gathering strength; Frozen By Blizzard Winds, Drumm’s split with Lasse Marhug recorded in 2001 is a harbinger of things to come, lulling tones mined with ear-rattling explosions, an approach that would be fully sketched out by the time Sheer Hellish Miasma was finished.
“Hitting the Pavement,” arguably Sheer Hellish Miasma’s finest track and ostensible centerpiece, is a perfect storm of endurance, dynamics, and terrific beauty. Its success is in its ability to embrace dichotomy and achieve amicable commingling through wanton and able termination. “Hitting the Pavement” is harsh and pleasing, sonorous and scabrous, gorgeous in all its hideousness. Droning static works itself into boundless energy; suns that refuse to set and threaten to explode, their heat and light at levels unnatural and apocalyptic, forcing tide into tidal, wind into tornado, lines of plains into ruptured and overturned quakes of destruction. Its effect is entrancing and alarming. Eight minutes in, source drone is at untraceable level; a “guitar” shrieks and stalls in circles of muscular feedback, tar-coated buzzards driven into a wheeling, cawing frenzy, their black whirl pushed into motion by the sweet reek of the piled dead below. The last five minutes, a sonic homage to putrefaction is nothing but stench rendered sound. Cooked flesh, confusions of broiled viscera, riffles of blood and urine, small ponds of gray matter pulsed into a rancid brown pudding by unforgiving heat. Of course, “Hitting the Pavement” doesn’t end. It slowly fades away, crawling into silence as its intestinal tails draw shit-colored streaks on dead, cracked ground. “The Inferno” is the second coming: an unwanted return from the Messiah of Perdition. “Hitting the Pavement” is reconfigured, its structural bones broken into dust and wrapped in rugs of sun-dried skin. The baptism is acute and overwhelming; those that choose to listen have no other option but to submit. Closer “Cloudy” provides single reverberating tones adrift in overwhelming background. The horizon goes on forever. Still it continues.
All four tracks from the original are retained; the reissue adds a single bonus track, the adequately entitled “Impotent Hummer,” which spends thirteen long minutes going nowhere. We get a sharpened and sparkling re-mastering and a pointless artwork revamp by the ubiquitous Stephen O’Malley. With a likely trove of album edits from this era, one’s left wondering why Mego—and Drumm—didn’t choose to bundle it all together to give listeners more perspective as to how Sheer Hellish Miasma was built in the first place; a valid question and a substantial criticism, but nothing that should deter adventurous listeners from indulging in what is authoritatively one of the bona fide masterpieces of American music of any genre, of any era.
Reviewed by: Stewart Voegtlin
Reviewed on: 2007-05-01