Fragment is, in fact, the work of just one man – Thierry Arnal, a Lyon-based musician with a taste for industrial tinged post-rock that draws a line between the melancholia of Red Sparrowes, the lengthy, sun-dappled drones of Jesu and the might of Godflesh. The latest release, out on OPN records, is ‘temporary enlightenment’, an eight track trip through passages of blackened beauty, that will certainly please fans of the aforementioned acts as well as those of Angels of Light and latter-day Swans.
Opening with ‘cast out’, a twelve-minute piece, Thierry utilises droning guitar and throbbing bass to lay the foundations of a track that continues to evolve throughout its run time, with new guitar figures emerging out of the gloom like fractal patterns. Howling feedback and repetitive riffs do battle against world-weary vocals and snail-pace percussion, and yet there is beauty here, amidst the desolation. Thierry has a voice that sounds like Peter Steele at his lightest (indeed comparisons can be drawn to Type O negative’s, slower, more melodic side here), and as his words echo through the mix you will find yourself either repelled or hypnotized – music such as this does not offer room for mere ambivalence – with the latter group drawn to the centre of this spiralling void like moths to a flame. ‘Rituals’ opens in a sea of ambient noise before drifting into a blissed out realm of barely-heard harmonic dissonance and half-chanted words that float out of the ether. It’s an amazing pairing of maximum volume noise rock coupled with an irrepressible feeling of hope that marks out Thierry’s work as something rather special in a musical realm where the result of poor song-writing skills is all too often tedium. ‘From this moment’ takes a simple guitar riff and builds a haunting melody around it that will stay with you long after the album draws to a close. It recalls the pastoral beauty of Jesu at their most elegiac and as Thierry slowly builds more instruments into the mix it draws to the surface emotions that modern life all too often demands we restrain. Perhaps in response to the naked feelings of the previous track, ‘Shield’ clothes itself in powerfully protective riffs and walls of distortion, the percussion that forms its backbone a steel-clad monster that reverberates around the room at sufficiently high volume, sucking the oxygen out of the place and leaving you gasping in its wake.
Things take a darker, more industrial turn on the distorted ‘last embrace’, the vocals still layered in melody, but haunted, worn down by care and loss. The guitars, meanwhile, chime in the darkness as increasingly sludge-blasted riffs are piled on to the overloaded percussive backdrop. ‘Just for today’ is the shortest track, clocking in at a mere six minutes, but its beautiful harmonies make it one of the most stunningly memorable tracks here. ‘Cold monsters’ is no less gorgeous, the warm wall of guitars and lost, echoing vocals hinting at Neurosis at their most engaging. The grand finale, the sludgy ‘hide’ mixes beautiful vocal harmonies with echoing noise and chiming guitars to great effect, and yet once again the effect is hypnotic and laden with hope rather than awash with traumatic despair, and the result is that you leave the album feeling strangely alive as if you’ve passed from out of the dark building represented on the album’s cover and into the bright light dimply visible through the window.
Getting music such as this right is a delicate balancing act. Push too far into dynamic territory and the psychedelic edge is lost, slow down too far and you enter a Ketamine-enhanced hole of despair. The potential for such music to be tedious or mindlessly repetitive, too, is all too apparent in less talented acts. Thierry, however, is not just an excellent musician but also a talented songwriter who balances the ideas present on the album perfectly. Often taking a single idea and then allowing it to grow organically over lengthy track lengths, the droning guitars and stunning vocals all work to produce an album that you cheerfully allow to wash through the heat haze and sun and transport you to a far off place, buried in the recesses of the imagination. Like all music of its ilk, this is not an album to be cut up and inserted into some iPod playlist, this is music to enjoy as a single conceptual piece, preferably free from external distraction, and for those whose tastes run to the dark realm of ambient post-rock ‘Temporary enlightenment’ is a masterpiece.
Want to see if we were right? Listen here: