Album Review: Beauty is Terror – Stoneburner

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For anyone new to Stoneburner, it is the solo musical project of Baltimore artist Steven Archer.  Steven is also the sole member of the abstract Electronic project ::Hopeful Machines:: as well as part of the Electronic Rock band Ego Likeness (with the equally talented Donna Lynch). Stoneburner began in 2012 as a musical vision from Frank Herbert’s “Dune” books, but has evolved from there to become a challenging entity in the realm of Gothic Industrial Dance music.

Stoneburner and Steven Archer first came to my attention only last year when a fellow reviewer did a write up of the latest release, “Technology Implies Belligerence.” I was contemplating going to see him play live, but the available dates were both on weekdays and 2-3 hour drives. However, when I commented this on one of Steven’s Facebook posts about the tour, he responded that he “doubted my commitment to Sparkle Motion.” Well, I had to prove him wrong! So I made the 3 hour drive to Detroit for a Thursday night show in October to kick off the tour.

Needless to say, it was a great show despite the small gathering of us who had come together to see Stoneburner and opener, Caroline Blind, perform. Steven was joined on stage by Hemlock Sile Wargrave (Sister Sarin) along with numerous handmade metal objects. The pair physically abused these living artworks during the performance in order to trigger electronics, drums, and lights in time with the relentless beats and the continuous video collage projected behind them on the stage.

Since that first pique of interest, two EPs of original music (“Massdriver” in October 2019 and “Red In Tooth and Claw” in April 2020) as well as three cover EPs (“Kompramat 1, 2, 3“) have been issued bringing us to this latest release, “Beauty is Terror.” Steven has referred to it as a “mini-album”; it clocks in at a tidy 38:18 with eight tracks, and the time is split almost perfectly even between the first four tracks and the last four. One can only wonder (and HOPE) that possibly this release will end up on two sides of a vinyl record at some point. But I’m getting a bit ahead of myself…

The album opens with the title track, which kicks in with a hard Electro Industrial beat after a brief swelling synth. The song invites the listener to sacrifice our current dependent technological state and return to nature lest the Furies arrive to seek their vengeance. A bit ironic since the song is composed almost exclusively using that same technology, but it is a great pounding industrial dance track regardless of that (intentional?) inconsistency.

The second track of the opening IDM trilogy, “Autochaoticassassination,” brings severe noise into the mix of pounding electronic drums, synths, and Steven’s heavily effects-drenched vocals. As one would expect from the title, the lyrics revolve around the topics of birth, death, re-birth, and the wandering in between states of consciousness. The final conclusion for the song’s protagonist is a pure end, with nothing on the other side, an atheistic view which actually gives me comfort.

Wrapping up the opening trilogy of songs is “Amnesialand.” This one starts to slow things down and move almost into a more darkwave tone during the verses, but still maintaining the industrial noise aspects of the first two tracks. The first two lines of the chorus make it clear what this track is about. “White writhing becomes black buzzing, eggs laid on the lip of this fabulous wound.” Some elements of the human race have forgotten, or choose to ignore, that we are all part of the same, human, race.

The next two tracks, “Are You There the Way I’m Here?” and “London” bring the tempo and perceived volume down. The self-made video for “Are You There the Way I’m Here?” is quite mesmerizing as is the song itself. It deals with a sense of internal loneliness and loss of connection to the world, as well as coming back to the thought of reincarnation and attempts to make connections across lifetimes. Can two particles, or souls, be entangled so thoroughly as to be inseparable? Musically, the song is more stripped down, but there are some very interesting layers including a bubbling synth sound that is underneath everything and brings to mind Yello, Yaz, or Erasure.

The second of the slower, more melodic tracks, “London” opens and has as its main musical motif an echoing piano part. There are no “drums” in the track, although there are percussive attacks throughout the song. The dark lyrics bring to mind being in the title city as it is being bombed in a remembered or possibly future war. This is enhanced by the samples of radio chatter seeming to come from unknown military sources.

We Walk On Secrets You and I (Eye)” opens with a pulsing, glitchy bass synth shifting back and forth across the horizon before the drums kick in. The industrial noise is back in full force with this track, with only short breaks from the relentless beat. Thus begins the closing trilogy of tracks from “Beauty is Terror,” telling the listener that “half life lived is not alive.”

The album closes with “Howl” and “The High Priest of War,” both of which have vocals so heavily masked by effects as to be indecipherable, which leaves them entirely to the listener’s interpretation. “Howl” continues with the industrial noise from the opening tracks, but also has some hints of lighter synth sounds buried in the layers.

While both tracks bring to mind the chaotic greatness of Skinny Puppy’s best works, they maintain their uniqueness in the sonic choices that Steven has made. The closing track approaches this dichotomy between chaos and order even more so, moving back and forth from ethereal glimmering vocals and even the hint of a clean guitar to harsh screamed vocals and a wall of synthetic noise.

“Give yourself to the Bacchanal.”

Rating – 5/5

https://stoneburnerofficial.bandcamp.com/album/beauty-is-terror

https://www.facebook.com/stoneburnerofficial/

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