Witnessing the metallic tonal rush of BIG|BRAVE earlier this year at Manchester’s White Hotel, and one thing was clear: guitarist, Mat Ball, was the chief agitator, causing the kind of hellish uproar which made VITAL such an important record in the current landscape of experimental guitar music.
Staring down his amplifier as if it were his enemy, Ball spent the entire set flailing his guitar in search of perfection, whether it be tone, feedback or drone. His technique was something beautifully unique; a musician forever on the path that leads to the perfect drone.
During Ball’s debut solo album, Amplified Guitar, to these ears at least, he captures all of the above with something akin to pure sonic intoxication.
Accompanied by the book, Accidents Operating, which is said to act as a visual analogue to Amplified Guitar, Ball has expertly sculptured a series of sounds that swelter with big time tonality.
In the lead up to the release of Amplified Guitar, Ball said that he relied on “amplification for amplitude,” and “to bring out certain harmonic qualities and voices of the instrument”. It rings true, as Ball (in collaboration with Obscura MFG) built the guitar used on Amplified Guitar just months before these recordings.
And speaking of which, with the assistance of Godspeed You! Black Emperor’s Efrim Manuel Menuck, these compositions were recorded in one live take at Montreal’s Hotel2Tango, with mixing and mastering at the hands of BIG|BRAVE’s go-to, Seth Manchester (Lingua Ignota, The Body et al).
Menuck’s fingerprints are all over these recordings, as Ball finds himself ensconced in a similar milieu to the former’s Pissing Stars LP. While that same turbulence is prevalent, Ball’s ceaseless march to this endpoint is reached via a different trail.
Make no mistake, Amplified Guitar is enveloped in thick fog. Drenched in feedback that does its best to pierce through the dark mist in search of light, there is none forthcoming. If anything, the textures grow darker with each track.
The remnants of compositions such as opening cut, To Catch Light I, To Catch Light II and Within the Billow sound as if they could have been conceived in the hills of North Carolina or Vermont. Folk laments that Ball douses with a dissonance so fierce that a weather-beaten outhouse wouldn’t sustain such intense noise.
It continues on Steel Wound Arteries I and II. A snarling mess that spits with bowed guitar feedback which featured on BIG|BRAVE’s collaboration with The Body – last year’s Leaving None But Small Birds. Gravitating back to that album and then being met with something like the fractured folk rush of To Catch Light III, and it’s clear just how fundamental Ball’s contribution was.
Then there’s Within the Billow II: a piece that is just plain ugly. Otherworldly in a way that it’s beyond the post-apocalypse and the darkest of vortexes. While many have tried to match the visceral nature in what Sunn O))) have garnered from the drone, none have come as close as Ball does here. The sheer blistering heaviness of it almost brings a tear to the eye.
And that’s the thing with Amplified Guitar. Ball makes the guitar speak with the kind of militant dread many others in the world of experimentation strive for.
Amplified Guitar is a record that crushes creative boundaries. Ball explores borderless lands with a record that can be construed in many different ways. Is it metal? Is it folk? Is it slowcore? Is it post-hardcore? It is all of these things. Meditative, primal, cathartic, demented. With humid surges and through a sea of volume, again, it is all of these things. To the point where we welcome a new amplifier overlord into the broad-church of doom.
Amplified Guitar is out via via The Garrote/Evil Greed in Europe. Purchase from Bandcamp.