Book of Sand - Destruction, Not Reformation
Paradigms Recordings
Ambient/Avant-garde Black Metal
7 songs (35:12)
Release year: 2010
Book of Sand, Paradigms Recordings
Reviewed by Charles
Did someone say ‘acquired taste’? If you are thinking suspiciously that this is the kind of phrase I might use as a euphemism for ‘inscrutable noise that would work better as a sound installation in a pretentious modern art gallery than as a black metal album’, then… Destruction, Not Reformation is likely not for you. Minnesota’s Book of Sand creates just about the oddest black metal I have yet heard; to the extent that it seems ridiculous using that term at all. It’s ambient music, with some black metal trappings. In the distance you can, if you strain, hear a scratchy vocal hiss, and buried somewhere beneath the haze of ambient fuzz there are hints of an under-nourished tremolo whirr.

Paradigms, the label, also released Murmuüre’s album a short while ago, and perhaps there are some commonalities between these two solo projects. They both tease out weird textures and strange, winding melodies, but in this case the artist has been deliberately, obtusely obscure. In general, tracks take the form of a droning cloud of sound; a formless, heavily distorted buzz of meandering, often melodious tonal patterns in which you can just about detect an array of other components by peering intently. The drums are unbelievably perfunctory; just a repeated click, and I wonder if they could have been ditched entirely leaving us all none the wiser.

In fact it is often warm, rather than harsh, in tone (far more so than previous album How Beautiful to Walk Free), largely thanks to a quirk of instrumentation. The key distinguishing feature here is the cello, which when used effectively turns this from a mere curiosity into something rather fascinating. It is the first thing you hear as the restful oriental-water-garden introduction to first track No Excuses for Fascist Sympathy kicks in, and it continues to pick out sweet pentatonic melodies in a languid, improvisational fashion as curious mists of hissing vocals, clicking drums and thick swathes of distortion swell around it. A number of the pieces use similar techniques. Perhaps the most recognisable fragment of black metal here (though this description is, as Stewart Lee might say, akin to calling someone the world’s tallest dwarf) is European History is a History of Rot, in which an uncharacteristically chugging opening guitar riff is quickly subsumed into a similar crackle of sound, but where the vocals seem slightly more prominent; a harrowed outsider reminiscent of Malefic in delivery. Here, again, the swooping cello lines make the whole thing feel so otherworldly. It even gets a woozily atonal, glissando-heavy solo, like a surreal mockery of a metal lead guitar line; an album high-point. Finally, on closer To Live Forever, it illuminates the floating buzz with rousing, oddly romantic melodies in a surprising display of tunefulness.

Those song titles mentioned in the previous paragraph might hint at another reason many (nearly all?) black metal listeners will hate this. Ideologically, Destruction, Not Reformation sits close to other American acts like Panopticon or Iskra, particularly the former's Collapse LP which also played on the cathartic and destructive theme of revolution, constructing a concept album based around it. The same values are in evidence here, though they do not take as poetic and evocative a form. It is perhaps an apt comparison for other reasons as well, because, like with Lundr’s project, Book of Sand makes music that seems wilfully confusing and occasionally unlistenable, pushing the boundaries of black metal purely for self-satisfaction. Make of this what you will.

Killing Songs :
No Excuses for Fascist Sympathy, European History is a History of Rot, To Live Forever
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