Grasshopper – Dark Sabbath: Symbols of Evil

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To be released on 11/11/2014! 150g LP with insert and download coupon. Mastered by James Plotkin. Artwork by Sam Nigrosh.

Jesse DeRosa and Josh Millrod have logged years of auditory exploration as fixtures of the New York avant improv scene as the duo Grasshopper, as solo performers, and as members of Hex Breaker Quintet (combined with Telecult Powers duo Mr. Matthews and Witchbeam). Grasshopper‘s multi-instrumental sessions of overwhelming synth drone and feedback-soaked noise animated by the howling voices of their live trumpet performances previously appeared on vinyl releases Calling All Creeps (on Prison Tatt Records) and Good Night Sweet Prince (on DeRosa’s own Baked Tapes imprint) and over a dozen cassettes on labels like SicSic, 905 Tapes, and Pizza Night.

On Dark Sabbath: Symbols of Evil, their first LP with Hausu Mountain, the duo pushes their uncompromising live assault to new heights of doom-worshipping heaviness and tonal abstraction. Channeling their classically trained chops and underground-honed improv sensibilities into the darkest sessions we’ve heard from them to date, DeRosa and Millrod sketch out a unique strain of electro-acoustic performance ripped to shreds in a tug-of-war between the contemporary classical, DIY noise, and free-jazz traditions. This marked upgrade to the Grasshopper aesthetic arrives in step with some major upheavals in the duo’s personal timelines, as Millrod goes back to school to change careers into music therapy, and DeRosa expands the practices of both his solo project Shingles and his label Baked Tapes. But these details can only define this music so far. The damaged atmospheres of Dark Sabbath: Symbols of Evil float in some hallucinatory stratum parallel to our world, and recast any semblance of “real life” as we know it into a wholly other headspace that inches closer to oblivion with each enveloping swell.

The four extended sessions that constitute Dark Sabbath: Symbols of Evil unfold as slow-brooding exercises in tonal juxtaposition and structural drama, building from fields of pure texture and disfigured synthesis into crushing fanfares of trumpet-charged triumph best suited to herald the dawn of the apocalypse. Manning an intricate rig of boutique synthesizers designed by Telecult Powers spirit guide Mr. Matthews, DeRosa spews forth finely grained drone voices and keening oscillator bursts alongside the output of his trumpet and Electronic Valve Instrument (a synthetic trumpet known for its alien tones). Millrod, meanwhile, blasts his own trumpet melodies and vocal howls through a rig of loopers and effects pedals, coloring the dense mix with lush harmonies glimpsed as the corrupted fever dreams of a lineage of canonical composers from the Renaissance to the present. The duo’s command of their overlapping systems of electronics conflate with their remarkable ability to multitask in a live setting into spontaneous compositions saddled heavy with layers of looping and live input. James Plotkin‘s mammoth mastering elevates each of these layers to its full low-end potential, resulting in a singular listening experience whose textural details continue to emerge as the volume rises.

Light the candles and prostrate yourself in front of the cauldron. Grasshopper‘s Dark Sabbath is about to begin. Album opener “Snake Crucifix” pits the increasingly manic whirrs of an alarm-like synth voice against a churning backdrop of bass terror before a torrential trumpet break carries the session out into the horizon. “Inverted Cross of Satanic Justice” opens with a self-consuming mantra of brass leads and glistening synths that culminates in the album’s most regal passage of reverb-drenched melody, fit for some demonic revision of Gil Evans‘s Porgy And Bess arrangement. The immense gravitational pull of “Bitches Sabbath,” born of throbbing bass pulses and quivering walls of electronic distortion, sucks all visible light into its overloading core, upping the intensity with each garbled addition to its mire of feedback. The album closes out with the epic “Birth of Blood,” which creeps along a few paces behind you in the dark as it stacks layers of hiss and moaning brass above the endless two note bassline motif that propels the session forward. When Dark Sabbath: Symbols of Evil airs its final roars, pick the needle up from the groove and sink into the whirlpool maw of the album’s cover image, drawn by Sam Nigrosh (who has designed posters and LP sleeves for the likes of Wolf Eyes and Oozing Wound). The abyss calls your name. Pay it a visit. Grasshopper will introduce you.