After Robert Rich’s last release, a seven hour audio DVD called Somnium that lets the listener recreate one of Rich’s famous all-night sleep concerts at home, I had no idea what he would come up with next. But even if I had a clue, I would not have expected Bestiary. Much darker and edgier than a lot of Rich’s work, and more focused on electronic than organic sounds and instruments, this new album reminds me more of his collaboration with dark ambient master Lustmord a few years back on Stalker than any of Rich’s recent releases. If you’re looking for a peaceful, relaxing experience, Bestiary isn’t for you.
What Bestiary feels most like to me is watching the primordial soup boiling and bubbling, spitting out new creatures faster than they can swim, crawl, or scuttle away. On the title track, rhythmic blurps and scratches start out sounding almost like tiny heartbeats; by the end of the track, a whole menagerie’s cacophony is ringing in your ears, dozens of animals calling out in dissonant unison. “Dante’s Anthropomorphic Zoo” lives up to its name, with electronic blips, chirps, and other animal noises sounding like the DNA codes for hundreds of creatures being transcribed at once, scrambling and recombining to form twisted, terrifying hybrid monsters. “Mantis Intentions” does a magnificent job of evoking the alien language of insects, with low ultrasonic thumps, buzzes, hums, woos, chirps, and other strange voices whirring thickly around you, enclosing you in a claustrophobic cocoon of insect chatter. Not all the tracks are dark and disturbing; “Nesting On Cliffsides” has a gentle, electronica-tinged, shimmering space synth vibe that could easily fit on the Musical Starstreams radio show. And the closing track, “Premonition of Circular Clouds,” is meditative and bright, with synthscapes shifting like radiant shadows, gentle electronic percussion, and heavily treated vocals that might sound almost devotional if they weren’t so distorted.
All in all, Bestiary is a compelling exploration of the darker side of Robert Rich’s universe, but probably not the best place to start if you’re not already familiar with his work.