Artist: Dirk Serries aka Fear Falls Burning
Occupation: Guitarist, composer, producer, improviser, sound artist
Album: Frenzy of the Absolute
Originally released in: 2008
If this review of Fear Falls Burning's Frenzy of the Absolute piqued your interest, you can obtain a copy at the official Fear Falls Burning bandcamp store.
For more information about Dirk Serries and his current work, visit the website of his label New Wave of Jazz. And make sure to check out our previous interview with him about the topic of improvisation.
Some albums draw you in slowly. Frenzy of the Absolute hit you over the head. “Play at Higher Volume”, Fear Falls Burning's Dirk Serries had recommended to his audience on an earlier release. Those who followed his advice were in for a shock.
The opening statement is brutally naked and concrete, Tim Bertilsson simultaneously hitting the kick drum and cymbals so violently as if trying to obliterate his drum set. Behind the brute force, however, a sweet hum rose from the silence; sweetly, slyly, and yet with a barely concealed threat. It was an opening that felt like an announcement, a moment of pure suggestion, a promise of big, dangerous things to come.
It would only take a few more minutes before, in fact, they did – washing over you like a tsunami and turning this into an album that changed the way I think about music.
Serries, known prior foremost as the mastermind behind ambient outfit VidnaObmana, almost literally put everything he had into this music.
Between introductory tour-CD First By A Whisper, Then By A Storm and Frenzy of the Absolute – a mere three year span - he had unleashed ten albums, including a 5 LP vinyl box set bringing together the cream of the crop of the international drone scene (Once we all Walk Through Solid Objects). It was a manic release schedule, which, looking back, could potentially have been trimmed down just a little. But Frenzy of the Absolute was his only release for 2008, and, bizarrely for this intense and powerful work, a moment of rest and respite. It made it possible to give the music one's entire attention – a dedication which it repaid in full.
As with previous FFB efforts, part of the success of the work lies in its clarity of focus. The concept was simple enough: Each piece here is a collaboration with a different drummer:
Tim Bertilsson of Switchblade, itself a pitchblack guitar and drums duo, on the title track.
Dave Vanderplas, whose bowed cymbals and razorsharp shards of percussive noises turn “He Contemplates The Sign” into a hallucinating dark ambient centerpiece.
And finally, Magnus Lindberg, who bares his progressive metal roots on "We Took The Deafening Murmer Down", the only track here which is based around a recognisable riff.
The latter gives the album the majestic release it had been holding back for so long, Serries's harmonics circling higher and higher towards a bloodred sky while Lindberg pounds away in a tribal frenzy as if playing with human bones for sticks.
Frenzy of the Absolute fell into an era marked by a general embrace of metal music in all its shapes and forms, a sudden widespread feeling that guitars and grunts, amplifiers and distortion were deserving of more love. And so, Serries's vision did not appear from a vacuum, nor did it drop into one. There were clearly reference points, as much as there was an audience for this kind of radical sound art.
And yet, it felt daring. I remember very well experiencing a sense of confusion and conflicting feelings for Bertilsson's contribution, for example. His muscular displays had an air of sonic sculptures with plenty of breathing space between each erruption. And the recording captured them so pristinely that it felt as if you were standing right next to him.
It was a boldness which worked in the music's favour, giving it an unmistakable sound, a monumental defiance of anything anyone might consider appropriate, well-proportioned or cool. Frenzy of the Absolute was raw and yet refined, a soul-bearing, almost fragile statement and at the same time proud and unwavering. It was dreamy, delirious, out-there and right-here all at once – I'd never heard anything like it.
Of course, for Serries himself, there must have been moments of doubt. Fear Falls Burning had originaly been all about purity.
As he explained in our interview with him, “I always have been a control-freak, especially during the vidnaObmana period”. Fear Falls Burning had been an attempt to break free from refining pieces with the digital chisle, and enjoying the bigger picture again. The project was to be just him and his guitar, an instrument which he had “initially detested” and on which he was by no means a virtuoso in the traditional sense.
On the debut album He Speaks in Dead Tongues, he had followed that path as far as it would lead him, resulting in a collection of nine ambient drone epics spread out across two CDs, some of which expanded to more than half an hour. A year later, thw DVD audio publication The Infinite Sea Of Sustain compiled several live performances, which were even more boundless in scope and more stringent in execution. Neither of these felt as though the approach had already been exhausted.
And yet, Serries could not deny who he was as an artist. What still captures my imagination, almost 15 years later, is the idea of an artist wanting to stick to a self-imposed vision, but ultimately surrendering it when faced with the possibility of greatness. You could, if you wanted to, simply subtract the drums from Frenzy of the Absolute and it would still be a remarkable album – one, which would seamlessly fit into the catalogue of the project so far while still moving forward.
And yet, inside his head, he heard something else, something so powerful that his entire instinct told him to follow it. And at the risk of destroying what he had so carefully built before, he committed to it entirely.
Eventually, the decision was both brilliant and self-destructive at the same time. For after this impressive achievement, Fear Falls Burning had, in a sense, run its course.
It's not as though there was nothing left to say. Rather, there was no way of going back to the innocence of the early days. And so, what followed were more collaborations into yet more uncharted territory, and a more introspect, almost wistful third album (Disorder of Roots) with a full-fledged trio constellation, and a performance in Antwerp so overwhelming and adrenalising that no microphone was able to capture it adequately for posterity.
Frenzy of the Absolute hasn't been forgotten by those it hit hard at the time. But it has never been acknowledged quite the way other, remotely comparable releases of the time have been. As a missing link between Godspeed You! Black Emperor and SUNN O))), this album could probably have sold tens of thousands of copies. It is a testament to his conviction in local ties and remaining independent that Serries chose to release via local record label Conspiracy, with all the freedom and limited outreach this entailed.
Fear Falls Buring later returned in yet another constellation, this time as a trio of guitar, drums and saxophone, creating a bridge between its old metal roots and Serries's current passion for free improvisation. It was a most welcome and intriguing re-invention and a sign that the project will probably continue to live on as a concept.
Which is great, but for one majestic moment in time, it was more than that. Play at a higher volume was a well-intended piece of advice. But really, I don't think you can play this album loud enough