Pleasure Ground

(Load; 2006)

By Dom Sinacola | 30 November 2007

A forty-three second high-pitched drone is only cracked after so long by the volume of one's music medium and by a fissure of static; the whirring clicks that adorn each end of this seemingly endless field could be intentional or could just be the dregs of production limits gone totally cold. This is how Pleasure Ground begins, and to call it a warning -- or, more crassly, a test -- is to placate the intensity of whatever grueling, red hot thing is happening. Prurient is from Wisconsin and a guy named Dominick Fernow who runs a black metal and noise store/label out of New York called Hospital Productions, and this is how he butchers you. You, more appropriately, shouldn't be fooled: "Military Road" is just as methodical as it is visceral or, ostensibly, nihilistic, or even hypnotic, because when the throttling rhythm of feedback actually starts to seem familiar, Fernow's jagged screams disappear, and then really disappear some minutes later after they're stranded, sounding pathetic without the chugging noise to help. What's really sad is "Apple Tree Victim," a pattern of descending triads, pianos bruised and patched and buried while Fernow overhead and underneath barks about ending sex and death as he's probably fucking and dying, but however raw it is, the song still sounds careful, careful to avoid complete cliché, and careful to toil so steadily over your entrails.

I'm talking deep purple sad about a record that seems to be judged, demarcated, and enjoyed in negatives. If Pleasure Ground is somewhere between minimal death metal and noise, then Prurient's interested in demolishing any demands beset by song structure, melody, warmth, tone, decipherability, accessibility, by the environment outside of the album, or even by general atavistic respect, instead crafting a helplessly serious set of four mood pieces, bearing down on each simple shadow of an instrument with similarly helpless zeal. I just mean that he's aware of his confines, in both production (Fernow's work is ideally an amp and a microphone run through a four-track) and typical album layout, burdened by and responding antagonistically to whatever it is an "album" defines, but can't, for the life of him and me, find a balance. Not that he necessarily should, and this is par as far as most metal could be, but instead of relying too loyally on perversion or pain or ideas about Satanism and black and war, Fernow succeeds most in his moments of transformation, like when a hollow, distant simmer like "Outdoorman/Indestructible" trips context and brightens, indescribably, into "Apple Tree Victim." Whereas that shift from the third to the fourth track would end up sloppy in less worried hands, Fernow allows the implications of couldbe-shattered scales and wouldbe-chromatic bells in "Outdoorman" to just grow and subvert organically into "Tree's" rhythmic backdrop. Such graceful focus expands Ground's emotive palette, sharpening the shades and layers of ostensible anger or grinding disgust that permeate everything else.

While it's fascinating to witness an artist so in control of something, for argument's sake, so out of control, Prurient's most plaguing problem is how at odds he sounds with both the limits of his medium and the limitlessness of his "genre." Maybe that's curbing the point when the point should be a general malaise over all four pieces, but even when icy guitar stabs emerge from the feral wail of feedback characterizing most of "Earthworks/Buried In Secret," the juxtaposition is staggered and surprising, hinting at a recognizable beauty (especially when compared to the rest of the track), but ultimately too impenetrable to inspire anything but a fleeting awe. As it is with most of Pleasure Ground: you heard nothing like it last year, and will maybe hear nothing like it this year, but this simple relationship can only warrant so many pummeling minutes. Eventually, the intent wears out the means, and the ironic disjunction between artist moniker and artist composition wears the excitement and impact of the record down to a nub.