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Posted on May 13th, 2011 (1:00 pm) by Michael Cirigliano

As a musician, I see the human voice as a commodity that needs to find the right balance between adding much needed timbre to a band’s overall sound while creating moments worthy of the entire spotlight. After all, there already exists hundreds of years worth of instrumental music that provides a fingerprint to mankind’s cultural evolution; so if a musician is going to eschew the power and necessity of the human voice in modern music altogether, then the music itself has to be pretty damn good.

Unfortunately for Belgian artist Mathieu Vandekerckhove’s latest work under his new moniker Syndrome, he doesn’t bring enough depth or diversity to the table in Floating Veins, his debut album for ConSouling Sounds. Vandekerckhove, guitarist for the Belgian thrash-core band Amenra, constructs an instrumental album that boasts [according to the press release] “droning riffs” and “apocalyptic drums”, but hardly delivers on the latter account. Sure, anyone can stretch drones and static sound into minutes upon minutes of experimental noise, but the listener ultimately needs to be met with rhythm and changes in texture in order to feel like a musical journey is occurring. This is usually where the voice comes in—providing natural articulation and internal rhythm while simultaneously adding new colors to the instrumental sound. Vandekerckhove lacks energy in this regard, with very few of Floating Veins’ tracks providing rhythmic interest and moments of climax, let alone anything approaching “apocalyptic drums”.

Opening track “Clot” begins with an unwavering electronic pulse, sounding much like a sine wave. What would normally be a moment of atmosphere for most musicians is stretched out to three minutes in length in the hands of Vandekerckhove. The texture doesn’t change at all until sparse bass drums shake the listener for the first time. Later laced with cymbal and snare fills on the weaker beats, the main rhythm remains unchanged. The musical landscape is barren, cold and steely, and although a crescendo does attract the ear by helping to grow the level of intensity, the track abruptly stops—and silence is met head-on after a final death knell in the bass drum. The music is effective in creating an empty sense of terror and, much like Angelo Badalamenti’s music for David Lynch’s film projects, there is a lot to be said for creating tension and dread out of a limited palette of sounds. However, what is initially intriguing on Floating Veins ultimately becomes tedious: later tracks like “Wolf” and “Absence” continue along the same path, creating static sounds with small moments of rhythmic interest.

Where Syndrome is successful is his approach to melody, in the moments when he decides to use any melodic elements at all. The title track, definitely the highlight of the album, is able to convey a great sense of melody by bending high-pitched guitar scrapes into a series of pitches, creating an eerie theremin-like sound as a result. The electronic elements in “Floating Veins” work well when slowly layered throughout the track: ghostly choirs float through the texture with echo and distortion adding to the sole use of a vocal element, crunchy guitars signal a funereal march forward, and eventually a balloon of guitar sound envelopes all of the previous elements until the sound, once again, abruptly halts. Although there is no sense of finality or completion to the composition, there was at least a sense of contrast provided, with Mogwai-esque heights of prog-rock catharsis momentarily achieved.

There is a sense of ambition to Floating Veins that made me want to like the album more, but where Vandekerckhove ultimately falls flat is his inability to diversify his textures. There are enough terrifying elements to the soundscape to attract the listener enough to make it through the entire disc, but there isn’t a presence of rhythmic vitality to want to listen to the album all over again, let alone repeatedly. For a musician that has created such primal scream-type music in Amenra, it is both admirable and frustrating that Vandekerckhove would want to make such an introspective album. If he had been able to flesh out the layered effects he achieved so well on the title track, we might have had a powerful musical statement on our hands. Alas, Floating Veins just ends up flatlining in the end.

Track List:

1. Clot
2. Floating Veins
3. Project 5
4. Wolf
5. Absence

Purchase at: Amazon | eMusic

Our Rating

58 / 100
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