“It’s so fucking cool,” I remarked casually while recommending Insect Ark’s upcoming record Marrow Hymns to a friend. As I said it, I immediately became aware of how spot-on that statement is, and how rarely I’d use it with no irony whatsoever to describe a metal (or, in this case, metal-esque) record. Brutal, sure. Sick, possibly. Heavy, crushing, fierce, we’ve all been there. But with this Brooklyn-based duo, everything about their new full-length bleeds a detached yet very much temporally aware coolness, from its severely minimalist philosophy to the stunning breadth of its sonic landscapes.
Insect Ark’s music on Marrow Hymns is all about textures, and how these textures are layered and manipulated to evoke specific moods and colors within the listener’s mind. Of immediate note is Dana Schechter’s lap steel guitar, and one develops a healthy respect for both her choice in implementing it as well as her skill in wielding it so effectively. It’s no easy challenge to escape the instrument’s cowboy connotations, but there’s nothing cliché about Schechter’s approach. Her melodies, and her compositions at large, writhe and breathe organically with the exotic agency of sentient alien life. Her guitars swell, ballooning with mounting anticipation, then sigh deeply in a rush of catharsis.
Setting the foundation for Schechter’s melodic wanderings are warm, reverb-drenched chords and decisive, dominant bass. Schechter handles all three with equal aplomb and majesty, bringing to each an unmistakable sense of purpose. The album comes across as a live-in-the-studio recording by at least four people — such is the richness of the music and the depth of the duo’s organic bond.
Though the steel guitar is the obvious focal point, much of the band’s creative success can be attributed to the masterfully subtle drumming of Ashley Spungin. Each iota of negative space is cradled and nurtured with utmost care. Her playing is fluid, nuanced and sparse, where even the barest hint of a half-open high-hat makes all the difference. Every time a snare hit cuts through the murkiness, it matters. The languid drumming is an ideal complement for the slide guitar, and the combination of these playing styles yields a distinct oozing slinkiness — Insect Ark’s music undulates and flows amorphously.
Spungin manipulates time and disorients listeners with cunning snare placements, while always maintaining control of the beat. This approach is showcased particularly well on “Skin Walker”. When she brings out a tom groove on “Sea Harps,” the effect is multiplied exponentially, while the delayed crashes on “Slow Ray” hit with all the gravitas of a dying sun. Spungin plays to the moment, always holding back, and when she chooses to commit, the music explodes.
Marrow Hymns is an ode to minimalist composition, fiercely avant-garde while immediately accessible, always deeply atmospheric and dripping with character. The songs embark on meandering journeys, unconcerned with formal structure, steady meter or predictable chord changes, yet each decision made by the duo feels right in its context. Songs end when they seemingly shouldn’t, and go where another composer wouldn’t take them, but it all makes so much sense thanks to Insect Ark’s gift for mood creation and storytelling. If your favorite Zeppelin song is “No Quarter,” you won’t want to miss this record.
Insect Ark will release Marrow Hymns on February 23rd with Profound Lore. Pre-order the album now on the duo’s Bandcamp.