“What is the utility of pain? Can it do anything but fester?“ These words appear at the beginning of In Ferneaux’s liner notes, the newest album by Blanck Mass. More than any other album in Benjamin Powers’ discography under this name, In Ferneaux is an encapsulation of pain that combines into the perfect balm for our trying times.
Blanck Mass’s music has always felt like the soundtrack of self-isolation. An aural universe where introspection becomes an expansive and explosive experience full of ebbs of calmness followed by harsh darkness or vibrant color. Having said that, In Ferneaux stands out because it was conceived and delivered in a world halted by a pandemic.
Recorded in 2020 when lockdowns were happening around the world due to COVID-19, Powers was inspired by his inability to tour and reflected on past treks around the world, undusting field recordings made throughout the years as inspiration for the music he was working on, which resulted in two lengthy tracks — or “phases.”
The result is an eclectic album that flows from one emotion to the other in order to provide us an abstract narrative with which to make sense of our new normality.
Take the opening moments of “Phase I.” The intro could easily be mistaken for a tribute to Tangerine Dream or Vangelis with droning synth pads and arpeggiated chords racing through the stereo field. This builds up until feedback announces a beat drop and it becomes an ecstatic trance-influenced raver, and then it returns to evocative score mode before dissolving into a drone.
The also-member of Fuck Buttons has shown a talent for transcending his influences to make something special, from drone noise or ambient to death industrial and experimental techno. In Ferneaux reflects it more than any other entry in his catalog.
Each of the two tracks is composed of various movements — crescendos descend to droning valleys and transitions are made via field recorded dialogs — drawing comparisons to similar arrangements by Godspeed You! Black Emperor; however, unlike the post rock nonet, Blanck Mass doesn’t build to bombast. At different points, distorted drones are held only to fade, while harsh electronic noise passages confront the listener. Sometimes the contrasts from one piece to the next are quite extreme, while other times they flow in a more organic manner. These transitions are employed with a novelist sensitivity, it helps build a narrative world in the listener’s head. When In Ferneaux hits this stride, it becomes transcendental.
If there’s a theme behind In Ferneaux, it’s about an abstraction of the world to which it has been delivered to. Considering the liner notes, perhaps the album represents a way for us to reflect on what we’re going through at the moment, something that we’ve been urged to ignore since day one by authorities, jobs, social media, etc.
In Ferneaux demands your commitment to journey into harsh soundscapes, abrupt mood shifts and the surrendering of your senses to acknowledge what surrounds in isolation: fear, anxiety, anger over society’s faults, and ultimately death. By interpreting them with sound, Blanck Mass invites us to take the time to let this sink in and deal with these emotions through masses of contrasting, brilliant music.
Prerequisites: Blanck Mass’ World Eater, Tangerine Dream’s Phaedra and Godspeed You! Black Emperor’s Slow Riot In New Zero Kanada