Variety is the spice of life, or so they say. So in that vein I’m doing something a little different today and reviewing music. When it comes to music I have a pretty broad spectrum of likes from rock and metal through to ambient trance. The only things I tend to walk away from in the first few seconds are hip hop, rap and the like which fail to grasp me on any sense of artistic or musical level.
So that’s a little about my musical tastes and so now a little bit about the music I’m reviewing. Interzone Inc has been producing music since the 80’s albeit not necessarily as Interzone Inc. If you take a minute to look around the website (http://www.interzones.se) then you will find that it has a lot of very interesting information in the Interview and About sections. Another particular thing I enjoyed about the site was the breakdown given about each album and the creativity behind their creation.
Deciding on Interzone Inc’s latest album, n3Xt, I proceeded to prostrate myself across the sofa, don the headphones and see where the music would take me.
Unlike a lot of the ambient and instrumental music I listen to the tracks on n3Xt are actually quite short. I like how Interzone Inc has altered the standard approach to a 20 minute ambient piece by instead taking multiple shorter tracks and grouping them together to form a kind of mini-set. At first I wondered how to deal with this, was I to consider the first three tracks as a single entity which had been conveniently sliced into more palatable sizes? As the album progressed I decided that wasn’t the case at all. Rather than just carving up a 20 minute piece it is clear that each of the tracks were produced independently but cleverly crafted to interact with each other, being either a compliment or stark contrast. A description of each set is also given by Interzone but I tried to ignore anything mentioned there and deduce my own conclusions from the music that was now seeping into my brain.
Track 1 – A matter of Faith
No sooner had I clicked play than a wave of sound seemed to swoop through my brain. Starting heavily from the right then moving through to arrive in the left side of my hearing; again, and then again the sound seems to literally mimic the movements of an ocean as it approaches and recedes only to be replaced by another wave.
Slowly some electronic sounds puncture the slow waves and the tune begins to take shape and give an inkling that this particular album is going to more places than a single genre such as droning minimalism or constant beats. I recalled the area of the website where Interzone stated that it wouldn’t be pigeon-holed into a specific musical genre and created whatever music the spark gave him the opportunity to create.
About halfway through the first track a solid beat presents itself and held my attention whilst the foreground tune tickled my ears. I couldn’t help but think of rows of marching boots and a militaristic precision with which the clear beats were repeated. This then mellows a little towards the end of the track in preparation for…
Track 2 – So Far
This is a piece of music that immediately thrust me into the stars. If the previous track was a thousand robots marching then this track would be the camera panning across the galaxy. If you’ve ever played the computer game X-Beyond the Frontier, then this track would fit seamlessly into the soundtrack as you drift your cargo ship throughout the stars.
This is an incredibly relaxing track with very rounded, almost bubbly, sounds if that makes sense. Each electronic sound seems to have an aura or shadow of itself that softens the notes. There is nothing jagged, unexpected or harsh in the track at all, it was designed purely with relaxation and calm in mind.
Track 3 – NS-42
This is the first of the more minimalist and dronal tracks on the album (although true minimalist fans would probably disagree with my description) but there are things going on and all the while a constant drip-like sound ensures you don’t get washed away on the elongated dronal sounds. This is actually the final track from the first mini-set and serves to take you from that galaxy spanning conscious state of the second track and re-ground you ready for the next session.
Track 4 – Dunmer
This kicks of a set of four pretty short tracks. It’s a haunting selection of electric synth and tubal chiming sounds. It fills your mind with unease and I couldn’t help but imagine stealthy assassins and beasts up to no good. With plenty of short silences in the track and the odd twinkle of eeriness spattered throughout it sits in stark contrast to what follows…
Track 5 – Dwemer
I found myself comparing this track to some of Aphex Twin’s work. It’s a pretty energetic piece with elongated sounds forming the backing. Frenetic sounds stab at your ears and I conjured up a chase/evade type scenario which as the track ends mellows into the fade as if those being chased finally outwitted the pursuers.
Although a short piece it is jam packed with electronic excitement and sounds. Sampled vocals add something a little different into the background of the composition.
Track 6 – Daedra
As I listened to this track I couldn’t help but think that this is the part of the movie that has the entrance of the ‘Darth Vader’ character. That powerful, unstoppable being against which there is little hope. It’s quite dark throughout with lots of synth and ties in fantastically with the previous track and it’s energy.
Again very electronic and almost dripping with a ‘dirty’ edge, some interesting effects make this tune stand out in my mind.
Track 7 – Conflict
I found Conflict to be the most dronal and minimalist track from the entire album. A constant vibe seems to throb in your ears. It’s a very short track and an odd end in some ways to the mini-set that has been so vibrant and full of energy. I guess it could be interpreted as the desolation that combat leaves behind.
Track 8 – Journey from Eden; Part 1
Kicking off a new set, this is a mellow track. It has hints of sadness or regret, perhaps hopelessness. This reminded me of something similar to the Fellowship of the Ring leaving Imladris. About halfway through the tune shifts and develops a lighter melody. I got the impression of an epic journey with images of rolling hills and sunshine.
The introduction of more organic sounds such as strings and horns really shift the album into a new direction without breaking the flow of the music so far.
Track 9 – Featherfall
Following on nicely from the mellow sounds of the previous track Featherfall provides a very chilled sound with a slight eeriness. Not eery in a menacing way, perhaps similar to that of a deity watching over a forest.
The return to electronic sounds is subtle but bridges the space between the two Journey from Eden tracks perfectly.
Track 10 – Journey from Eden; Part 2
This track picks up the pace with pronounced piano playing and defined organic drumbeats. Although the familiar electric sound warbles in the background it is clear that this stands out from what has come before. It’s almost an organic sounded response to Dwemer and its electric freneticity.
Journey from Eden; Part 2 is my second favourite tune from this album.
Track 11 – Feather
Feather is a stark contrast to the previous track. Another dronal and minimalistic ending to the set with quiet melodic sounds stretched out to give an earthy and relaxing atmosphere. You can’t help but feel tranquility oozing from the headphones and the transition back to purely electronic sounds is subtle. Much like water to cleanse the pallet after wine this cleanses the mind in preparation for the next track.
Track 12 – Sometimes in Rain
Well I have to say the title captures this amazingly well. Use of what I can only presume is sampled wind adds something special to the track while a faint piano gently rises into the foreground. At points the storm almost takes over and reduces the piano to nothing more than a secondary sound as if reversing the roles completely.
Track 13 – Velvet
This is the sunshine and calm after the track before. It is mellow with interesting sounds. Returning to a more electronic and dronal focus the defined sounds of drums and pianos are not to be found.
Track 14 – n3Xt
Following Velvet this descends further into dronal sounds with a desolate & haunting sound. Eerie echos add to the almost post-apocalyptic feel. My mind conjured images of a small child wandering through the abandoned city amongst the thick dust after nuclear fallout.
More sounds are overlaid as the track moves on which becomes an almost choir-like drone. Devoid of the chimes, cymbals and other sounds present in previous tracks this is definitely the longest minimalist track and the one that explores that field well. The track ends on the hint of void or expanse which is minimalist but quite moving.
Track 15- Breathe and Dance
The final track is an upbeat ambient track where background and dronal sounds give way to intricate electronic foreground sounds and melodies. Its very light-hearted and gives the impression of being full of promise, like a new sunrise.
A fitting but subtle end to a nicely varied album.
n3Xt is an album that I have thoroughly enjoyed listening to and one that truly manages to conjure immense imagery. I’ll be the first to admit that I don’t know my Korg from my Cubase and so this was very much a review of the sound rather than any technical inspection of methods used. Nor did I want at any point to try and draw too many comparisons or likenesses to other artists as I feel that lends itself to bias and also stifles the ability of you to truly hear what is going on if you’re too busy searching for a sound like it.
A quick glance and listen over some of the older tracks on the Interzone Inc website makes you appreciate the journey taken to get to this great mix of sounds and I believe that n3Xt is the best album composition so far by Interzone Inc due to its variety and quality of content.