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The Night Terrors - Back To Zero (2009) review


The Night Terrors "Back To Zero" (EXO Records/Trendkill Recordings/Homeless, 2009)

Following on the heels of two highly lauded EPs Back To Zero marked the beginning of what has been an extremely well deserved rise to prominence over the past few years for The Night Terrors.  Recently culminating in the release of Spiral Vortex and a commission from the City of Melbourne to compose an album of music with the southern hemisphere’s largest Grand Pipe Organ which was performed at the Melbourne Town Hall on Friday the 13th June, and released on October 31st 2014 under the title Pavor Nocturnus by Twisted Nerve, The Night Terror’s first full-length album Back To Zero is where they really started gaining momentum.  It’s seen release on three separate labels in CD format and recently a much deserved and lavishly produced gatefold double-LP by the geniuses out at Homeless.  And it’s no wonder the album has received so much attention when you listen to it.  While completely at home in the synth horror and giallo movements that have gained so much traction in the past few year, The Night Terrors not only escape the trappings of those genres but transcend simple classification or labeling, refining and perfecting a sound born of many places but culminating in a wholly unique and original voice.  Opening the album, “Human Hair” has a mesmerizing almost 8 or 16-bit sounding keyboard progression, the keys laying down a hypnotically infectious rhythm teaming-up with almost impossibly airtight drums to pave the way for Miles Brown’s mind-blowing Theremin work, which pierces the air with it’s hauntingly beautiful siren’s song and carries the melody to fruition. “The Dream Eater” follows on the heels of “Human Hair” and while it retains all of the power and catchiness of the opening track, “The Dream Eater” is also much more ethereal and gentle at points, expanding the sonic pallet of the album almost immediately.  “The Dream Eater” makes it apparent why you hear so many comparisons to, and probably why the band ended up playing with, both the legendary masters of horror Goblin and the psychedelic juggernaut known as Hawkwind over the past few years.  Crushing waves of fuzzy bass wash over the tumbling drums that spill and tangle in the choral chant of Brown’s Theremin, the keys dancing in the background the entire time, oozing and spewing an understated growl and chant throughout.  The next track, “Glass Eye” allows Ianto Kelly’s drums to take center-stage a little more, opening with a slow droning synthesizer and Theremin almost alone in the mix with the drums, everything else but a subtle whisper.  Eventually the sounds begin to conglomerate, layer and build upon themselves until there’s a shimmering wave of vibrating energy that cloaks the music, enveloping it along with the listener like a protective cocoon.  There’s a calm inviting feeling that comes over you, swallows you up in an endless void of noise and transports you away to some inter-dimensional limbo.  When “Glass Eye” again fades and recedes back into the nothingness from whence it came, “Blood And Bone” quickly snaps the listener back to a definitively more horror based soundscape, the keys again taking a more prominent role and really showcasing the full breadth of what they’re capable of, as well as simultaneously opening up the way for Brown to unleash the Theremin’s true power and potential, bombarding the listener with a furious tag-team attack of croaking and bellowing synthesizers and howling Theremin radiation.  “Saturnalia” opens with the same menacing vibes as “Blood And Bone” but brings the bass into the mix prominently, it seems that just when you feel you’ve got a hold on what The Night Terrors are going to do next, they throw you a total curveball and completely change things up.  “Saturnalia” begins innocuously enough, but quickly erupts into a shimmering comet tail of electronic sounds and frantic drumming about a minute-and-a-half into the song, before again receding like the waves of a foreboding fog riding the tide and dragging the doomed crew of the Elizabeth Dane back out to the icy waters and rocky shore of Spivey Point in Antonio Bay.  The reprisal of several different themes or sections that build and grow, ebb and breath, are what make “Saturnalia” so interesting; everything seems to step up in the mix at one point or another, intermingling and finally becoming an amalgamate being of single-minded path and purpose.  A seemingly ram-shackle collection of noises, dissonant beeps, whistles, feedback and a brew of various other things start “Sesquipedalian” before the bass slowly begins to peek through the veil of noise and chaos, secretly constructing a song beneath the fetter of madness and guise of apparent discombobulation.  The farther you get into “Sesquipedalian” the more concrete and discernable it becomes, and yet somehow, the weirder and stranger it also becomes.  There’s an otherworldly feeling that’s exuded from “Sesquipedalian”, an undeniable sci-fi aesthetic that’s not only seriously strange, but equally as entertaining and appealing.  After the bizarre beauty of “Sesquipedalian”, “Epithet” brings the energy back down a little bit, sounding like a funeral song from some alien world that man has yet to visit.  The synthesizers are deep and heavy, sighing with the endless breath of the cosmos and carrying a never-ending drone of thunderous bottom-end.  After “Epithet”, strange ephemeral sounds dance above the opening melody before giving way to the all out rock ‘n’ roll of “Existential Revelation In The Circle Pit At Slayer”, which just as it’s name would imply, sounds like it was summoned up from the bowels of some lost 80’s horror soundtrack.  Heavy electric bass trundles and crashes through a harsh cacophony of blaring dissonant keys, building to a complete devolution of sound that fades into a single note of reverberated noise and glimmering electronic smatter.  Falling into a much calmer groove “Existential Revelation In The Circle Put At Slayer” finally becomes discernibly recognizable as a Night Terrors song just before giving way to a single pulsating loop of feedback signaling it’s end and transitioning into “Righteous”, which is definitely one of the most beautiful songs on Back To Zero without question.  The spectral sounds that open “Righteous” grow and blossom into a cathedral of sound, an almost heavenly chant spills from Brown’s Theremin calling out to the old gods that most men have long since forgotten, in the most primal and powerful way possible, music.  A tranquil passage through the realms of alternate realities and directly into the infinite passages of the mind, “Righteous” shows the unbridled power and majesty of an unfettered Night Terrors at their finest.  It’s fairly stripped down, everything has a distinct and discernable audible purpose from the get-go, and while it might clock in at almost seven-minutes long “Righteous” is truly a journey to be savored, a spiritual baptism of sound.  Slowly winding down and finally giving way to nothing but the sounds of a ticking clock echoing through empty space, the twenty-minute title track “Back To Zero” auspiciously begins.  Recalling the almost sound-collage like feelings of the earlier “Sesquipedalian”, “Back To Zero” allows itself to dwell in that territory a little longer, slowly building tension and sound for several minutes before regrouping in a pulsating tunnel of synthesizers, writhing and squirming up from their point of singularity to the surface of the mix.  “Back To Zero” is distinctly more psychedelic than much of the rest of Back To Zero and definitely stands as testament that The Night Terrors pull as much from the untraditional sounds of psychedelia as they do from the horror, industrial or prog genres.  The preceding five or six minute labyrinth of sound breaks and gives way to what I can only describe as laser beams and then finally, a truly discernable rhythm is born out of the dirge of droning electronic sounds around thirteen minutes in.  “Back To Zero” feels almost like a suite at times, presenting several different movements of music assembled into one functional soundscape for a soundtrack or something.  It’s a really interesting piece of music and represents the outer boundaries of all that The Night Terrors are capable of extremely well.  Out of the murky darkness ominous and foreboding synthesizers flutter and wheeze an unnerving melody folding to a point of singularity before slowly lurching back to life, keys echoing and jumping out of the inky blackness finally bringing “Back To Zero” to it’s conclusion.  Having grown up on a steady diet of 80s grindhouse, exploitation and a shit ton of Z-grade flicks from the 50s and 60s I’ve been obsessed with the Theremin since I was a small child.  That’s been some thirty years at this point and though I’ve always loved the instrument, I think I’ve had very little idea what it was truly capable of until I heard The Night Terrors for the first time.  Brown’s work with the instrument has pushed it into completely new territory for this writer, finally cementing it as an instrument which is undeniably hypnotizing as a main component of a band, proving once and for all some sixty years later that the Theremin doesn’t have to sound like a bad science-fiction movie soundtrack after all!  Despite the number of releases that Back To Zero has seen, the double-LP on Homeless is limited to only 500 copies and it isn’t going to be around forever, the colored edition of 300 copies is long since gone.  If you’re a longtime fan or casual Night Terrors fan you probably already own Back To Zero, but if not, now’s your chance.  Don’t hesitate while you’ve got the chance, I know I didn’t.  Buy the album, take the trip, and for the love of all that’s holy, watch that first step - it’s a doozy!

Review made by Roman Rathert/2015
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