Unchained from the formalities of guitar, drums, bass, and vocals, Thomas Doyle – Tad – is a new beast entirely. Onto his seventh full-length release, there is even greater confidence in his doomy instrumental tracks, with the heaviness of his own historical output, the mathematical exactness of premium post-rock, and the otherworldly unease of experimental ambient stylists like The Caretaker.
His latest release, ‘Aberrant’, is a step forward by any standards, with sounds allowed to build and decay, and taking on a disturbing biological form. Opener, ‘Clairvoyant Witness’, feels like being wheeled down a hospital corridor during the rapture. What initially sounds like the bellow of a flailing monster turns out to be something more mechanical yet no less frightening. It lives in its own space yet still leads perfectly onto ‘ Ichosahedral Symmetry’, a track which not unusually for Doyle, has me reaching for the dictionary. The mention of maths means I abandoned my learning for the day before becoming any the wiser but does nothing to spoil the enjoyment. Although occasional interruptions by electronic elephants do their best to intrude, this is redolent of Doyles’ previous experiments, with repeated refrains leaving you feeling trapped inside the body of something huge, with the swell of inflating lungs offering a morbid sense of reassurance. Though the music may be digital, we are always reminded of our own bodies and minds, the unease coming from the terrible places they are taken to.
There’s more biology in ‘Macrodimensional Portal’, a swarm of flies swirling around a children’s choir, or maybe it’s just the sound of them screaming, echoing forth from some time past. If this were the sound of some portal you were passing through, it wouldn’t quite bring to mind images of clouds and pearly gates or of utopian planets with multi-coloured clouds. We feel completely at the mercy of whatever has brought us here, like sleep paralysis but with our eyes wide open. ‘Vast Unknown’ is quite possible where we’ve been dragged to. The sequence at the beginning of ‘Poltergeist‘ where the Amercian national anthem plays before clicking onto a speckled grey screen and white noise? You almost feel like you can see images within the screen of static, tumbling, morphing dragon heads and horned things. This is the same. A malevolence created by so little, tone and volume shifting slightly and precisely yet playing tricks on your mind.
‘Probabilities’ scrapes at a cliff-face blackboard with jagged fingernails, agonising and satisfying, hitting the spot where you didn’t even know there was a spot. If this were used in a horror film, it would be alongside scenes of mass carnage. Interesting that it’s called ‘Probabilities’ rather than ‘Possibilities’. Again, we’re rooted as passengers, stooges to whatever we’re wheeled towards. The album revolves around the epic ‘Disintegration Rites’, a 13-minute monolith that feels like a Lovecraft reveal or the haunting bleak nothingness at the end of Lucio Fulci’s ‘The Beyond‘. There’s an ebb and flow of some ghastly tide or the red glow of a lighthouse coming back around and around, each time more disgusted by what it sees. As the album title signposts, it’s not necessarily that we’ve strayed into somewhere inherently evil, more that we simply don’t belong here and have no right to be party to what we’re seeing and hearing.
‘Rituals Engimatic’ is the aftermath but offers little in the way of relief. There’s something stumbling around…or maybe it’s an erratic heartbeat. Like all musicians worth their salt, Doyle knows that the space between the notes is as important as any amount of crashing orchestration. What isn’t there, the listener fills in themselves. This isn’t pantomime – there are no stingers, no twinkling music boxes luring you into a feeling of safety. This isn’t even the world we know, just one to which we attach our own experiences to try to make sense of it. ‘Ultima Thule’ harkens back to some of Doyle’s recent work which centres more firmly in outer space. The electronics are colder, and more obviously alien yet it’s no clearer to see where we are being guided.
If you’ve let your guard down at ‘Disintegration Rites’, ‘Charon Light’ will finish you off. Even nearer to the 15-minute mark, it’s less hairy; less feral, but gives off a magisterial light which feels like you’re finally home. Not your home, obviously, but ‘something’s’. ‘After-Storm Ideation’ rounds things off, a repeated refrain reminding us that we have had no impact on where we’ve been and what we’ve seen. Slow and meditative, it feels like being sat down and told that if you’re going to be inquisitive, you have to accept whatever comes your way. The first of at least four releases this year, Tad is releasing music which constantly surprises and challenges.