Side-projects often struggle to escape living in the shadow of their artist’s more prominent musical work, but for Benjamin John Power, who records under the Blanck Mass moniker as a solo artist, this has seemingly not been much of an issue. Power is a well-known contributor to some of experimental electronic music’s most notable output in recent years, and not merely with his Blanck Mass pseudonym, but also as half of the Bristol-spawned electronic duo, Fuck Buttons, along with Andrew Hung. Despite Fuck Buttons being one of the most critically acclaimed groups amongst modern experimental artists, courtesy of their abrasive and menacing sound that is instantly recognisable, Blanck Mass has certainly not been resigned to a mere ‘side-project’ status, and has seen admirable success, both critically and commercially. The project’s track, Sundowner, was even played at several pivotal moments during the Opening Ceremony of the London 2012 Olympics, including when the Union Jack was carried into the stadium by members of the Armed Forces. Seeing as Power started releasing material under the Blanck Mass label only three years after the release of Fuck Buttons’ 2008 debut LP, the two artists have seemingly grown alongside one another, with Blanck Mass being regarded with more recognition than other side-projects are usually afforded. Of course, it also helps that, under the Blanck Mass name, Power has taken the noisy and textured approach to electronic music featured on Fuck Buttons’ material and applied it to some different musical stylings, most notably drone music and post-rock. What’s more, with Power’s first exploration into the world of music production being on Blanck Mass’ debut, self-titled record, the musician seemingly tailored a production style that complements his approach to electronic music perfectly. This became most evident on the project’s previous studio album, 2015’s Dumb Flesh, which married the dark electronics of Power’s previous work with some more accessible songwriting and instrumentation that led to some genuinely danceable moments. Whilst I personally had my reservations for this album, I nevertheless recognised that it seemed impressive on paper, so I thought that, with a more realised execution, another release in this vein could go over far better with me. I therefore expected Blanck Mass’ new album, World Eater, to expand on the stylings found on Dumb Flesh, but instead, this album marks another slight stylistic shift for the artist. The dance-heavy aesthetic of his previous album has given way for a release that pursues the dark moods of Power’s previous projects, but with an incredibly vibrant use of instrumentation and production that makes for a remarkably textured, detailed and arguably dichotomous record. As the album cover seems to suggest, World Eater is an album that may seem more approachable and affable on the surface when compared to Blanck Mass’ earlier material, but the listener should nonetheless not let their guard down, as it most definitely has a fierce bite too.
The opening track, John Doe’s Carnival of Error, despite being by far the shortest cut on World Eater at around two and a half minutes in length, establishes the change of pace between this album and Blanck Mass’ last, whilst also alluding to some of the recurring musical themes that appear later on in the tracklisting. The track abruptly opens with an eerie, swirling synth melody, as some static lurks in the background and, although there is a definite creepy vibe to be heard in these music box-like chimes, the bright and delicate production makes for a light texture that is almost uplifting. Nonetheless, as the track creeps into its final minute, this dainty atmosphere is breached by an erratic vocal sample before bursting into a glorious arrangement of rattling rhythmic flourishes, gleaming crashes of noise and even some beautiful string melodies that seep through the walls of chaos. Despite such a tumultuous collision of various sounds, everything seems to have its own designated space in the mix. The vocal sample, for instance, although having been chopped up and scrambled about to sound hectic and disorganised, occasionally lets loose a whisper of a smooth and soulful melody in the midst of the noise. The string arrangements too carry some beautiful melodies that are only revealed to the listener should they fight their way through the bubbling dissonance. Indeed, World Eater requires a lot of perseverance from the listener, with nothing resembling a breather being offered in between John Doe’s Carnival of Error and the following track, Rhesus Negative. This track lays out this album’s modus operandi and demonstrates what is surely Power’s most impressive and detailed songwriting to date. From the buzzing synths to the glistening guitars and from the stuttered, rap-flavoured vocal snippets to the black metal shrieks, it seems that no stylistic stone is left unturned on this monster of a composition. Perhaps monster is not the right word. Chimera seems more fitting, given this piece’s epic intertwining of so many different musical sensibilities, all masterfully moulded to suit Blanck Mass’ eccentric aesthetic. Once again, Rhesus Negative displays a conflict between dark and light textures, creating another track that boasts many accessible features, whilst also being constructed in such a way as to challenge the listener. The frantic beat that blisters its way throughout the entire cut seamlessly accommodates the plethora of sounds and atmospheres that are built on top of it. During the opening passage of the piece, this groove accompanies the spacey guitars and swirling synths as to evoke a feeling of high-octane energy, whereas the following section, which makes use of borderline industrial electronic squeaks and clangours, stirs up a sensation of pandemonium. The bright arpeggios and almost angelic choral vocals offer a sense of hope, but this feeling is ephemeral, with these uplifting sounds being overthrown as the harrowing howls enter. Indeed, Rhesus Negative triumphs as a mammoth exploration of more musical styles than Power has ever delved into on a single track before, but the end product is one of his most superbly crafted and thoroughly executed works thus far in his career.
Following Rhesus Negative, Please offers the first real respite from the frenzy that World Eater has conjured up thus far. The synths on this track are more meditative, displaying discipline compared to the erratic explosions of noise featured up until this point on the record. Please sees the return of the jumbled vocal samples that Power uses all over World Eater, but here, they appear like at no other point on the record. Despite being cut up and disarranged, the female singing on this track is nevertheless rather soulful, conveying a marriage of melody and rhythm that makes for a smooth and expressive tune. Although the singing is in the form of miscellaneous mouth noises, the melody that is being carried is so clear that Please feels as close to a ballad as an experimental electronic composition can get, with the vocals reaching anthemic highs at certain points throughout the piece. Silent Treatment employs an equally impressive use of vocal effects, with the layered singing that establishes the piece being organised as to sound like some sort of spiritual chanting. Indeed, as the ravishing synths enter into the glistening production, the resulting blend of beautifully textured instrumentation could certainly be described as heavenly. Nonetheless, the enlivening aura of tracks such as Please and Silent Treatment exists in direct dichotomy to the droning, industrial clatter exhibited on The Rat or Minnesota / Eas Fors / Naked, both of which are more typical of Power’s previous material, but still demonstrate a heightened reverence for a more subdued, intricate and contemplative approach to arranging and developing these pieces. Indeed, this is something that can be taken away from every track on World Eater; Power has not so much altered his usual songwriting style, rather he has added to it, and considerably so. The breadth of Power’s reach on his latest studio effort is truly astonishing, spanning across all manner of previously unexplored territory for the artist. Yet, he follows through with such finesse and ingenuity that one may be fooled into thinking that World Eater is the result of years of experimenting with and refining the approach utilised by the artist on this record.
Ultimately, World Eater is not merely a summary of everything that has made Benjamin John Power’s past material such a spectacle within the contemporary experimental electronic scene, rather it takes all of the best elements that have developed a reputation for the musician and added to them significantly. The result is not one bit cluttered, rather it is incredibly cohesive, demonstrating a meeting of myriad ideas executed with masterful precision. Indeed, the success with which all of Power’s diverse ideas come together on World Eater is astounding, even more so considering how inherently oxymoronic some of these pairings may seem on paper. This album is also a great testament to Power’s dexterity as a producer, with much of this album’s atmosphere being elevated to inspiring and moving heights courtesy of the artist’s keen ear for vibrant, expansive and generally ravishing production techniques. The ground covered on World Eater is immense and reflects far too many emotions for the listener to not resonate with the music on here in one way or another, but, above all, it’s a record that has the power to submerge its listener in its waves of gorgeous textures and blissfully versatile atmospheres.
The Vinyl Verdict: 9/10