We asked friend of City Paper Terence Hannum (who was, full disclosure, part of City Paper's "Blade Runner" discussion at the Windup Space last year), member of Locrian along with André Foisy and Steven Hess (and also one-half of the duo The Holy Circle, and an assistant professor of art at Stevenson University), to break down the doom minimalist trio's latest record, "Infinite Dissolution." Locrian plays the Metro Gallery on Sept. 10 with Barbelith, Birth (Defects), and Curse.
'Arc of Extinction': "The Sixth Extinction" by Elizabeth Kolbert was one of the main inspirations for "Infinite Dissolution." This track is an intro to both the album and the themes in the album: that humanity is destined in our nature to destroy ourselves and that we will carve away whatever ties us to the Earth and other species until all we leave behind is just trash. Locrian began writing 'Arc of Extinction' while on tour in Europe. In our practice we started composing this as a set starter, like the introduction to who we are in a live setting. 'Arc of Extinction' also features our friend Dana Schechter of Insect Ark on lap steel guitar making some hellish noise in the intro and outro of the track.
'Dark Shales': We're really influenced by science fiction and for "Infinite Dissolution," we were talking both about environmental science but also about scenarios in some of our favorite science fiction that troubled us such as "Dhalgren" by Samuel R. Delaney, "Dune" by Frank Herbert, and "Oryx and Crake" by Margaret Atwood. This track is really about the cognitive dissonance between survival and resources. To attain certain resources we have to destroy so many other necessary things. It makes me think we're in this losing gambit with our survival, i.e. fracking and groundwater pollution, mountaintop removal, the myth of clean coal, etc. It's just absolutely sinister. I generated a darker sound here by using a vocoder along with a Mellotron on this track. I've never used a vocoder before this track and thought that how it distorted my voice and made it more unintelligible really made the song work.
'KXL I': If you don't know, KXL is an abbreviation for a proposed extension of the Keystone Pipeline which is a pipeline that runs from Canada to the Gulf of Mexico transporting crude oil from the tar sands out to the world. I think after seeing the damage multiple leaks have caused I wanted to address scraping the bottom of the barrel. This is the "last vein" in our resources and inability to recalibrate our lives. Like a veil of denial about our negative impact on the environment. There are three KXL tracks as a constant theme on "Infinite Dissolution." This one establishes the first part of it. All play similar notes to bring you back to that idea. KXL comes from both our love of progressive rock (we make pretty narrative concept records) and our love of early Industrial music. The metal clanging was inspired by groups like Einstürzende Neubauten and Test Dept. Steven put a contact mic on this giant staircase at Electrical Audio and hammered on it with some metal hardware. This was also probably our noisiest track as well.
'The Future of Death': I recorded the sample that opens this track at the Cahokia Mounds outside of St. Louis when Locrian was on a small tour a few years ago. The pre-Columbian society at Cahokia was a part of the Southeastern Ceremonial Complex (or Southern Death Cult) and it is estimated the city was larger than London or Paris, but it disappeared partially because they overhunted and deforested the area. I recorded the wind at the top of one of the mounds in this system of mounds, you could see St. Louis in the distance. Really I was thinking about how the idea of a society, even as rich and complex as those at Cahokia or our own civilization, could vanish, leaving behind only traces, ruins, etc.
'An Index of Air': Our love of progressive rock rears its nerdy head again, not in how we play but in the three-section song format. We listen to a lot of King Crimson, Yes, and Genesis. 'Watcher of the Clouds,' the third section, is named after a Genesis song on "Foxtrot." 'Divinations,' the first movement, is a lot of noise and droning building up that breaks into 'Air Structures,' which is the name of a sought-after bootleg 2xLP of Brian Eno and Robert Fripp doing live tracks from "No Pussyfooting." The final portion of the track shifts into 'Watcher of the Clouds' and the main vocals are handled by my wife Erica Burgner-Hannum (The Holy Circle) and Dana is on pedal steel again here. This track delves more into how we cannot control all of the elements even if we wanted to, the air is immense and in the end gets the best of us even with our additions. There's a lot about immortality in this song too. I kept thinking of the title of this Damien Hirst sculpture 'The Impossibility of Death in the Mind of Someone Living'—it's a tiger shark in formaldehyde.
'KXL II': We continued the theme from earlier. André had recorded these beautiful birds chirping that we digitized out and let them decay and become noise over my false string section I culled from the Mellotron. It's more of a weird lament that becomes pure static.
'The Great Dying': The Great Dying was an actual extinction event, maybe 250 million years ago, and resulted in something like 70 percent of all life on earth going extinct. This song is more about the indifference of the processes of extinction—a pretty bleak idea—that what if we're set on this path and whatever our good intentions there's not much that will shift it. We've doomed ourselves. I really enjoyed making this track, I used a lot of synthesizers on it to thicken up the mix: Moog Source, ARP Avatar, EDP Wasp (seriously this is the one Whitehouse used when they recorded "Bird Seed" at Electrical Audio), Moog Little Phatty, and Minitaur. Erica joins us again on vocals on this track, she really helped shape the song, and also adds a nice contrast to the thick synth-sludge before it goes more "rock" at the end.
'Heavy Water': There's something satisfying when you know you're challenging yourselves as a band and this was a track we wrote in the studio, based off an improvisation. We really had never done something like this before. It's become something we really enjoy playing live. There's only two lines of lyrics on this track—"Cease to grow, start to dissolve"—and it was borrowed a bit from Elizabeth Kolbert's book. Kolbert discusses how we are affecting water through ocean acidification and these subtle changes in the water. That it changes things on this small level, that then spreads out to a larger level—it's about attrition.
'KXL III': I wanted to close out the record with the common theme, so I played the KXL melody on my kids' toy piano after I got back to Baltimore and layered a lot of other ambient sounds. There's something haunting about the sounds but I really love how it ends abruptly: There's this clunking sound of a mallet in the piano and I caught it going back but it sounds like a lid or small tomb. It felt really final. Although, when we turned the record in to Relapse, one of the production managers sent me an email making sure that was the end. Somehow, I think that's how it will feel when we go extinct. It will get here before we know it and will be really quiet.