Use of the word “restrained” in reference to The Flying Luttenbachers is a tenuous proposition at best.
Led by multi-instrumentalist Weasel Walter (who focuses on drums and guitars), the Luttenbachers recorded and performed from the early 90’s until about 2007, pioneering an intense and ear-splitting brand of metal, free jazz, punk, and prog. The adjective “brutal” was often used in reference to their music, with good reason. After a 10-year hiatus, Walter reformed the group with new and shifting lineups, and a handful of albums followed.
Terror Iridescence is the latest, a live-in-the-studio exercise of guided improvisation spanning two 20-minute tracks. The lineup this time around includes Tim Dahl (bass), Katie Battistoni (guitar), Matt Nelson (sax), and Sam Ospovat (drums). Walter contributed guitar, bass, and drum parts, and Nelson and Ospovat joined him on electronics.
Regarding the aforementioned restraint, it appears at a few points, including the beginning of the first track, Meredyth Herold. The dual guitars and sax form a dense and textural basis, with Ospovat providing open-ended drumming atop these structures. Notably, the group included a click track which was initially used to guide their in-studio recording. Its circular nature adds an existentially creepy feel. But as the piece progresses between noisier and quieter passages, it becomes clear that any form of moderation is barely contained and the playing is restrained only in comparison to the Luttenbachers’ more extreme offerings of the past. There are no pounding rhythms or heavy riffing – the approach here is more focused on suffocating drones and walls of sculpted noise punctuated by the occasional clamorous free-for-all. Battistoni and Walter made for a complementary pairing of heavily distorted guitar, whether speed picking, laying down more nuanced chording, or guttural motifs. The last few minutes evolve into a wonderful chaos including heavy processing of the drums and sax.
Tom Smith, the second track, also begins with slow, haunting, textural improv. This evolves into disjointed electronic themes as well as angular (and less dense) constructs. But it is not long before the piece takes on a more “traditional” Luttenbachers approach, with massive walled riffs and something resembling a repeating rhythm. Add in some manipulated feedback and all notion of restraint disappears for a few minutes. But this more extreme approach just ends around the 12-minute mark and is replaced by drum and electronics melodies backed by jagged guitar improv. The interlude is followed by all-out guitar and sax wailing with the first steady drum patterns of the album. The mashed-up character of the track continues to its end, which features another abstract amalgam of skronk.
So is Terror Iridescence truly restrained? Depends on your perspective. Parts of it are, but the contribution that Walter and company provide is restraint within turmoil and turmoil within restraint. Regardless, this is a heady blast that can be appreciated both cerebrally as well as for its stirring visceral nature. Well done.