I think there’s an expectation raised before you listen to certain albums based on the album artwork and some of the genre descriptors, a promise that you’re going to get a certain experience out of an album. I try not to think about these things beforehand but it’s difficult to avoid, and with Abstractive Noise’s Of The Adder’s Bite there comes an expectation of big, bold and dark music, but one that fails to materialise.
The premise here is that it is a concept album, a journey through a machine-world in which the male protagonist in his travels discovers is a woman (or a woman in the form of a machine). It’s quite an unusual concept, one that perhaps does not make itself superficially obvious; first to be explored is the first chapter, the realisation of the machine’s existence. It’s opened by “Outcast” by lonely and slowly swelling drones as we come to. Vision materialises quickly and there is something of a mechanical feel to the repetitive sequences of violins and hushed percussion, but it’s slow and even at its peak never really feels grand or big. It tumbles into the machinations of…”Machine (Phase 1)”, a short interlude that finally begins to hint at space in its dark sub-bass currents, combined with aggressive and cold glitch fragments writhing over the top. Phase 2 is significantly more active as it moves away into more expanded melodies and rigourously structured music, but it has replaced all emotion with pretty unassuming and uninteresting recombinations of the same constructions we’ve heard for the last 10 minutes. Admittedly the staccato footfalls in the abrupt final throes are pretty cool and menacing.
The second chapter is presented as being the struggle for escape. “Trap” finally has some frantic energy to it that I’ve been waiting for; the violins are as highly strung as they’ve ever been but there’s an alarming pace in the underlying cellos(?) and powerful percussion that sets things into a flat spin. There are then moments of despair and hopelessness in the next effort, here in the first movement of the title track. Piano is introduced for the first time with powerful effect, crushing the pacing and with slow stringed wails sending us into a pit of despair. It is something of an overdone moment though, exaggerating this plight somewhat, and it switches gears abruptly into the more surreptitious and plotting “Vengeance”, the uselessness of the previous track suddenly abandoned in favour of sharper and more determined music. Little xylophones ring out in the dark and the plucked and manipulated strings set out this tiptoeing and creeping image, deviously working in the candlelight.
Lastly, the final chapter presents us of the realisation that our escape is not possible. “Poisonous Well” begins to proposition this idea of acceptance; seemingly the plans from “Vengeance” have not materialised and we’re left with the broad swathes of, well I’m not quite sure how to describe it. The music is stylistically close to everything else we’ve heard so far so there’s not much to go on. It’s a bit more downtrodden I suppose, more resigned. This is especially true in the second movement of the title track; faint screams can be heard in the distance alongside the sad creaks of doors and other mechanical oddities in some quiet corner of this terrible machine. The violins are back to serenade us through this clichéd experience, but it is touching despite it. Frustrated bangs and smashes punctuate the quieter moments in madness. Finally, closer and longest track “of Betrayers and Betrayed” takes us out over its 10 minute span. It’s content to simply soldier on through, suck it up and just deal with it, but sadly that means we’re presenting with a relatively unwavering and unchanging track throughout, not migrating far from the usual, almost boring at this point, combinations of limited strings and percussion.
It’s a nice idea and concept, but I’m sceptical as to how well it can be deciphered through the music alone without reading the press kit. On my first listen without the context I felt the album as a whole felt pretty loose and not particularly progressive, and I still maintain that there is a disappointing amount of variety. I just wish it had more ferocity, a bit more fire in the belly that would just make it a little more entertaining and dramatic; some noise here and more glitch fragments there. Well executed and produced but a bit thin in the ideas department, using the overarching concept as something of a crutch.