The most interesting thing about metal as a genre is just how liberal the definition of the genre is. It’s a genre that encourages experimentation and invites reinterpretation. At a certain point, one has to argue whether something isn’t metal. As a result, metal fans benefit from having artists who are willing to try new things and take big leaps in an effort to expand the genre and blow our minds. Insect Ark is one such band that is more than willing to push the envelope and make fans think.
Insect Ark is the original brainchild of multi-instrumentalist and all-around artist Dana Schechter. The band’s first album, Portal/Well, was recorded exclusively by the Brooklyn-based bassist who also contributed lap steel, synths, and other electronics to the record. For Marrow Hymns, the band expanded to a duo by adding Ashley Spungin, the Portland-based drummer who also contributed electronics to this record.
The sound is hard to describe. While there are many components to each track, it’s almost as if the instruments just combine to create an image. Listening to this record is much like looking at landscape art: there doesn’t seem to be any specific thing to focus on but the entirety of it is an amazing picture. Each song is a soundscape. Imagine a Hans Zimmer-style soundtrack to a scene. The screen pans across a vast open desert. You see rolling dunes, blowing sand winds, and maybe large boulders emerging from the great sand ocean. Maybe a big wind blows part of a dune with the crash of a cymbal. Perhaps a heavy bass riff introduces an incoming sandstorm. Closing your eyes while listening to the record is the best way to experience it because the whole is truly greater than the sum of its parts.
The parts of the songs are far easier to describe. The band describes themselves as psychedelic doom, and that’s a pretty spot on descriptor. The comparisons to Bell Witch would not be terribly off though Insect Ark is not as committed to the sparseness. They dabble in funeral doom, and they can create atmospheres like black metal bands. Their songs have a very post-metal feel to them, too. It’s not like the songs have some chorus or verse sections to identify specifically, though that should certainly not be interpreted as a critique. These songs end up sounding like instrumental drone. There’s a central musical theme to each track with the songs being built with the drone interrupted by bridges.
Take a look at “In The Nest.” While much of what Insect Ark is doing with instruments is difficult to know specifically, you can tell that there is a prominent bass melody with layered lap steel and synth chords with the drums giving a kind of direction to the song. There are subtle variations on the main riffs. There’s a loud section where the bass note breaks the mold and the lap steel slide soars through the mix accompanied by splashing cymbals. Then it quiets down and everything is more subtly defined.
What this record boils down to is a question to the listener: can you fill the gaps in your mind? It can be more complicated than you think. This is not the band of wailing guitar solos and screaming vocals. Everything Insect Ark does is subtle and leaves a lot of room for the listener to creatively interpret their audio experience. If you like post-metal and spacey doom, don’t miss this record.
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Marrow Hymns will be released on February 23rd through Profound Lore Records, and is available for pre-order in physical and digital formats through the label’s Bandcamp page.