Kevin Drumm

Kevin Drumm

Sheer Hellish Miasma


Perhaps one of the most practiced principles in minimalist music has to do with gradual change. It makes for the almost frightening realization that the most static things in life are in motion, that even as you’re listening to the record, your hearing is gradually deteriorating, the record is wearing away, and ultimately, despite however many times a composer like Terry Riley will repeat a musical phrase, time is passing.

What makes Kevin Drumm’s Sheer Hellish Miasma so strong is that it posits where that time is going. In the tradition of musicians like Tony Conrad and Merzbow, and perhaps more than anyone, himself, Drumm’s Sheer Hellish Miasma is a surging, violent, electrical whirlwind, and one of the most fully realized works in his catalog.

Take the brittle sounds from Drumm’s albums of prepared guitar noise on Perdition Plastics and Erstwhile, the commanding drone and brief electronic intermissions that constitute the Comedy album on Moikai, and maybe even a bit of that sweetness touched upon by the masterful Triangles album, and you begin to get an idea of what Sheer Hellish Miasma has up its sleeve.

Structured in inversion to Comedy, two short tracks bookend the mammoth middle section drones of “Hitting The Pavement” and “The Inferno.” The first of which, “Turning Point” works as something of a prologue, with several introductory beeps immediately ambushed by the sound Drumm has concocted for the album, a souped-up, heavily processed version of his past experiments.

The bulk of the album is invested in “Hitting The Pavement” and “The Inferno.” Both are meant to be played at an extremely high volume, and simultaneously abrasive and hypnotic. Where Tony Conrad’s recordings made over 40 years ago might pack a slightly less caustic punch to listeners who grew up listening to industrial noise, I imagine thatSheer Hellish Miasma contains the combinatory horrifying shock and lull that a piece like “Four Violins” first had in the 1960s (granted, “Four Violins” is still a pretty unsettling piece; the first time I heard it, I didn’t leave my room for nearly two days, and even then, only with headphones playing it). The sounds are frustrating and electronic, the drones that are produced are only achieved by the enormous amount of conflicting whirs and muddied tones. The two pieces are more than a drone, more than a dress rehearsal at LaMonte Young’s Theatre of Eternal Music, they are a distilled from monitors humming, voices carrying on, florescent buzzing, and phones ringing. Sheer Hellish Miasma is about your life, your job, and your friends.

The final piece, “Cloudy,” relieves the overdriven onslaught, uncharacteristically beautiful, composed and almost optimistic. Only a short note on a dense, massive album, “Cloudy” functions as a reward, holding a sense of closure and repose. Only then does the scope of the full album seem completely clear; Drumm’s work has rarely contained moments either as brutal or as sweet, and Sheer Hellish Miasma, more than just a demonstration, seems to be an exorcising.

This album is the obliterating apex of Drumm’s thoughts on music, thus far. With perhaps the exception of a future album that refines these ideas and sounds, Sheer Hellish Miasma forces Drumm to be faced with the enormous challenge of going in a miraculously different direction, so as not to repeat himself. I have no doubt regarding his future success.

Mego Records:

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