Featuring an all-star cast of musicians from various atmospheric, left-field acts, the new release by ambient/drone collective A-Sun Amissa presents an exciting prospect for fans of these musical wanderers’ various niches. Led by Richard Knox (Shield Patterns, The Rustle of the Stars, Gizeh Records), The Gatherer includes contributions from members of Amenra, Nadja, Lanterns on the Lake and Hundred Year Old Man, to name but a few, and their long-form output is best taken in a single, zoned-out session.
From the very outset of opening track ‘Colossus Survives’, A-Sun Amissa’s stall is laid out clearly, the mix of wind, string and electronic instrumentation drawing strong comparisons to Sunn O)) and Ulver’s collaborative 2014 release Terrestrials. The droning, strangely tribal soundscape evolves with the help of a on-and-off reverberating electronic drumbeat, the organic string and wind instruments both providing tonal musical backdrops and piping up with screeching, noisy lead melodies. The track is a bewildering array of generally unsettling sounds held together by the threads of a few recognisable, structured elements. Harmonic weirdness continuing, this opening statement fades away with a more traditionally ambient piano passage and before you know it, the 8 minutes are over.
The introduction to the excellently titled ‘Anodyne Nights for Somnolent Strangers’ brings with it a menacing electric guitar as a new element; for a few moments, this could easily be the opening to a dirty post-metal track. However, tensions quickly fade back to nothing once more and the ethereal sound grows into another thrumming ambience. The texture ebbs and flows, hinting at both noise and complete background ambience, never quite reaching either extreme but existing in a haunting medium. After some time, we are led away by ghostly strings before things abruptly become electronic and we are finally dumped into a bizarre, distant sample of a foreign language argument.
The smoky saxophone of ‘Jason Molina’s Blues’ is, of course, the only true reference to the eponymous blues genre, and its meandering solo leads us over the deep and uncluttered texture beneath, making this perhaps the most focussed track (at least as much as is possible within the genre). Once more there is an inescapable hint of Norwegian experimenters Ulver about the timbre, the simplicity of this track making it a highlight in the album.
Colin H Van Eeckhout’s vocals on closing track ‘The Recapitulation’ are far from the usual nihilistic shrieks employed in his main band Amenra and his sombre, monastic tones are much more akin to his own ambient/drone solo project (CHVE). A cleansing, atonal wash of soft noise opens proceedings before Colin’s voice is used as simply another atmospheric instrument in the most funereal yet forward-moving section of the album. An engaging and memorable closing statement.
Some of the ideas in the first half of The Gatherer appear a little scattershot and random, often appearing and then disappearing before they given a rationale or a chance to settle in. The former two tracks here suffer a little from indistinctiveness as a result and the transitions between motifs are not always comprehensible. However, although things are not always clear whilst they’re happening, like all good drone releases, when the silence comes at the end of each track you feel somewhat changed; perhaps heavier, perhaps lighter; cleansed even. You miss the music’s presence when it is gone. The increased focus in the second half drastically improve things, and whilst this is not the perfect, fully transcendental release it could have been (and perhaps could have benefitted from being condensed slightly) it certainly creates the atmosphere that was both intended and necessary and demands repeated listens to fully unfold.