But Listen: 139: Seeming – Madness & Extinction

Reviewing music is sometimes an exceptionally difficult task. On some occasions, the words will flow immediately, and the whole review can be completed quickly (something that actually I find easier with bad albums). On others, it might sit on the back burner for a while while I listen again and again trying to find the right words, be it positive or negative.

Madness & Extinction

Buy from: Storming The Base

Seeming: 2014 Interview

But it has been a while (in fact possibly a first) since an album stunned me into silence, stumped for some time on what an earth I’m supposed to say about an album this good. So thanks, Seeming, for making me think. A lot.

But really, what should have I expected? S. Alexander Reed and his bandmate Aaron Fuleki have history in their previous, long-running project ThouShaltNot, while Reed is also a music academic who released probably the finest book about industrial music yet (the absorbing and fascinating Assimilate: A Critical History of Industrial Music ) – and my recent interview with them suggested a much deeper well of influences and reference points than any peers. Combichrist-style dancefloor fodder this is not.

The interview also mentioned a sense of ‘shedding of skin’ from ThouShaltNot, and the lead track from the album is key to understanding this and the general theme of the album. Because The Burial, when it appeared before Christmas, was a genuine bolt from the blue. It sounded like nothing else around, and still doesn’t. It is a grandiose, stately, electronic symphony crammed into little more than three minutes, with a chorus that only appears the once (ok, repeated a bit) – and it contains a gigantic, emotional hook before surging into an even more staggering middle eight…which having made it’s point, the song then just fades out, it can’t top that.

All this and it’s a song about the inescapable nature of death. Oh yes, a cheery subject that has had all too much resonance of late (this track was my Track of the Month for January with unfortunate or apt timing dependent on the way you look at it – the same week that we learned of the tragic and unexpected death of a friend), but with the academic background the band, this matter-of-fact way of dealing with life’s tragedies seems apt. As Reed sings, he’s just stating a fact. We all die, whether we do good things or bad things, we just have to accept the fact, deal with it and then perhaps do our bit to make the world a better place our time here.

One unexpected omission from the album – it had been online as long as The Burial – is Silent Disco, a wonderful, upbeat electronic track about the joys of losing yourself to your favourite music on headphones without the distraction of the outside world. But the more I listen to the album, the more I realise that it just couldn’t possibly fit.

A single listen to the epic opener The Eyes of Extinction, if you haven’t already got it, reaffirms the heights they are striving for. Huge synth-orchestral sweeps, thundering drums, and Reed pushing his voice to hit the right level of gravitas. In the wrong hands, this would sound astoundingly contrived, that’s for sure. New Year that follows takes a similar line, and contains the kind of lyrics I’m going to need to sit down and read, to fully understand the allusions made, but I think at it’s core, it’s a plea to digest the lessons of the past to deal with the future. And it sounds glorious doing so.

The pretty, piano led quasi-futurepop Celestial sounds like a dreamy trip to the stars, and clever programming means that it comes as a shock to realise there haven’t been any beats when they at last kick in for the final minute. Other clever touches abound – like the glorious, multi-tracked, multi-layered vocal coda that closes out Everything Could Change, or the thundering climax to Goodnight London that bursts like an overdue summer storm. Or the unexpected, near-baroque mid-section of Come Back.

The other thing, as if this wasn’t already obvious enough, is that this is not an album that has been written with the dancefloor in mind. Yeah, so The Burial might work with an open-minded, adventurous crowd, and the deceptively bright, anthemic-sounds of the end of the world fantasies of Goodnight London might also work at a push…But this is an album to be absorbed, to be obsessed over, not disposably tossed away on inattentive dancefloors.

And the one time where the paces really picks up? It’s not a conventional rhythm, instead it is one driven by an increasingly panicked, breathless vocal as Reed deals with the uncertainty of The Shadows, before closing with a shocking blast of white noise that confirms the battle was lost.

There is at least one moment, to my ears, of quite indescribable beauty, too, in the form of the post-punk styling of Beautiful for the Last Time, apparently about preparing for the meeting of death. The sweeping melody is elegant and affecting, once again avoiding any of the mawkishness that in some hands this kind of thing could drown in. The album closes with the sound of pouring rain and ominous stabs of synths, and ghostly samples of music from another era bubble up through, perhaps invoking a time when the future didn’t seem quite so bleak.

Saying that, though, much of the world has been preoccupied with the fear of it’s own destruction in one way or another now for some considerable time. It isn’t just war, of course, add global warming becomes more of an issue, and natural resources get squeezed even further, what then?

These are the kind of questions Seeming are asking on this extraordinary album. Does the human race sleepwalk it’s way to it’s own destruction, or does it rouse itself from the slumber and do something about it?

Either way, pondering the end of the world as we know it never sounded so brilliant.

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