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Experimental Experience: Coral Cross Invigorates Minds with “Coral Cross 002″

coral cross

It’s rare to get a record that is honest-to-god experimental. We toss the term around a bit, and partly because, like “prog” and “avant-garde” before it, it has accrued certain historical meanings that aren’t the literal definition. In the case of experimental work, especially in metal, we tend to heard ambient, pop, and art-rock influence creep in, using the more avant-garde wing of contemporary classical and pop music as influence where heavy blues, older classical forms, and the stiffness of heavy rock are the typical foundations. Coral Cross, thank god, are experimental, in a manner that is exciting even when particular tracks are less cohesive than one would like them to be.

The project consists of music producer and songwriter Jorge Elbrecht and drummer Lev Weinstein (Krallice), with visual artist Max Hooper Schneider contributing the artwork — stream their latest album Coral Cross 002 below prior to its February 12 release date.

Coral Cross 002 has a wide and wild variety of sounds: from retro prog/ambient synths to thick art-pop choirs like Son Lux churned through a black metal haze to the kind of dislocated and disintegrating post-post-black metal of a group like Pyramids. And there’s no reason they shouldn’t: the duo of Weinstein (also of Anicon and Geryon fame) and multi-instrumentalist Elbrecht (who’s worked with non-metal artists ranging from Japanese Breakfast to Ariel Pink) casts a wide net over sound. And it is this outsider view that Elbrecht specifically brings to black metal, delivering the same kinds of esoteric and expanded thoughts in the idiom that groups like Liturgy strive for but are here delivered better.

The album satisfies so much precisely because it is presented with joy and not pretension. There is nothing wrong with a good manifesto, and stridency in art is no great sin, but Elbrecht and Weinstein are confident enough in the material here, which fuses esoteric post-punk and proggy synths and art-pop choirs and 1980s metal guitar theatrics with a bed of surreal post-black metal, that no greater narrative is needed. This, too, is why the record goes unnamed save for a number; these are sonic experiments, presented plainly, to be evaluated by the audience for their success. They are invigorating, perhaps covering less brand new ground than one might expect (the late 1990s were a fertile ground for this kind of avant-garde/industrial/electronic approach to black metal, and the form has never truly died), but it’s a form of experimental black metal that now no longer has claim to the “post-black metal” title and so becomes fresh again.

But if the record were a mere curiosity, it wouldn’t be nearly as satisfying. What matters here are three things: 1) the playing is inspired and the chemistry between the two players (as well as the monumental technical virtuosity of Elbrecht) are plain in their display, 2) the compositions are thrilling in their inventiveness, displaying an equal compositional virtuosity with the sheer variety of ideas, decayed electronic textures, and haunted soundscapes, like a computer undergoing digital decay in some ghost world, and 3) most importantly, the songs are pleasurable to listen to.

Coral Cross 002 is a gorgeous record, more often beautiful than haunting or heavy. This is, technically, perhaps its greatest failure as a metal record, but also is the seeds of its success as a musical project.

If the intent of Coral Cross is to appeal to black metal fans, it’s easy to say the project is a failure. But for producing gorgeous music deeply rooted in black metal but expanding sideways out to other pastures, it is a stunning triumph, one that can comfortably sit next to similar experiments by groups like Dodheimsgard, Pyramids, Blut Aus Nord, and Mastery. This, along with Krallice’s likewise excellent Wolf EP, also show that Weinstein is on a tear, and his habit of working with bands that nail the delicate balance between being cutting-edge and producing satisfying, long-lasting records is still sharp as ever. His presence here is a co-sign; the compositions Elbrecht put forward deserve to sit next to Krallice, Anicon, and Geryon as excellent progressive, avant-garde, experimental extreme music.

Coral Cross 002 releases next Tuesday. Follow the project on Bandcamp.

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