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22 July, 2007

Review: 'Continuum 2' (Continuum, 2007)

Four minutes and three seconds.

Continuum is a collaboration between Steven Wilson (Bass Communion, Porcupine Tree, etc.) and Dirk Serries (vidnaObmana, Fear Falls Burning). For those unfamiliar with those projects, I'd better state that the content of their second album is dark ambient 'music'.
Ambient means it's composed of drones and processed samples. There's no melody or conventional structure, merely chord progressions and s-u-s-t-a-i-n-s. Where any conventional instruments are used, it's as individual notes prolonged for 5-10 minutes. Much of the attraction is in the texture, the atmosphere, the, well, ambience.
Dark means it's evocative of emptiness: windswept moors and abandoned factories, not flower-filled meadows and waves lapping on quiet beaches. New-Agey whalesong does not appear.
'Music' is in quotes because some might question whether ambient noise meets the definition of the word (I don't).

Still here?

There are only three pieces, 'Constructs IV-VI' (I-III are on the debut album), but the shortest is over 17 minutes long, giving an overall running time of almost an hour. However, I feel those are appropriate lengths to absorb as individual pieces, separately, rather than playing the whole album as a continuous experience.

Construct IV
One soon realises this album is going to be a lot less ethereal than 'Continuum'. A lot less. 'Drones and processing' are the expected components of dark ambient music, but Continuum have added electric and bass guitars, creating something approaching ambient metal. The pace is slow, suggesting the unstoppable ponderous encroachment of an oppressive weight. It's not party music!

Construct V
Very reminiscent of Bass Communion's 'Ghosts on Magnetic Tape', faux-EVP voices backed by a drone itself reminiscent of distant machinery, soon joined by additional layers of mechanistic electronic tones. Imagine walking alone through the vast turbine hall of a near-derelict power station, towards the sole remaining functional generator, with a disembodied voice whispering wordlessly in your ear, gradually drowned out by pipes 'singing' as they warm and the noise of the generator itself. Though the tones are purer and marginally more musical than raw mechanical noise, you get the idea.

Construct VI
Again, there's a sense of occupying a vast, derelict space; the beginning inspires thoughts of the wind through a disused factory's broken skylights. The organ-like electronic drones, accompanied by more heavy, fuzzy guitar drones, add to the sense of wandering alone through a deconsecrated cathedral of industry, the ghosts of machines gradually materialising from the darkness. Towards the end, it's as if the building itself is collapsing under the bass-rich vibration of the phantom machinery. Play it loud enough, and that mightn't be entirely fanciful.

I must stress that this isn't kiddie-goth music, wallowing in pretentious angst and self-pity. It's very, very dark, but not merely for effect and not in a melancholic, depressing sense; if anything it's a little sterile. In context, that's a good thing; one could interpret it as going beyond the futility of mortal emotion: everything dies, as exemplified by the majesty of large, empty spaces which were once hubs of intense activity, so why mope about it?

As with the first album (indeed, like most Bass Communion releases), a little more attention has been paid to the packaging than is usual. The CD comes in a DVD-format digipack designed by Lasse Hoile, with three postcards instead of a booklet (there's little to say about the musical production). The artwork is somewhat similar to Hoile's work on the first 'Blackfield' album: very dark processed photographs, predominently red (on black) and subtly degraded. This time the subject matter is coastal: seaweed holdfasts on rocks, pitted pebbles and a barnacle-encrusted whelk shell. The effect is of specimens from the collection of a macabre Edwardian gentleman scientist.

Again like the first album, 'Continuum 2' is a limited release, with only 2,000 copies available from Soleilmoon, Headphone Dust and vidnaObmana (collectively, not 2,000 each). The first album sold out fairly quickly, so if you're interested, order it now. You will not find it in your local record shop, nor at Amazon, etc. That said, 'Continuum' (a limited edition of 1,000 copies) was so popular that it was reissued on iTunes.

Four minutes and three seconds. Remember that. You've been warned.

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