Some are drawn to noise by the urge to socially subvert, others by the need to empty their guts, but, for Dominick Fernow, the motivator is a meaningful compound of those intentions: the pursuit of total independence. Between founding and running Hospital Productions, playing synth for darkwave outfit Cold Cave, and leading his infinitely respected solo career in harsh noise as Prurient, Fernow has charted a course that's fiercely individual. Despite his near-saintly status in an insular albeit influential scene, he's always pushing the boundaries of his art, tying the loose ends between historically distant but emotionally close forms of music.
His politically charged industrial techno project Vatican Shadow is no exception in this fist-clenching resistance. His latest under the moniker, and his inaugural release for his brand new, electronica-friendly Bed of Nails imprint, September Cell is the project's defining work thus far. By reigning in the overt Mid-east war-zone song titling and instead evoking his rich imagery by way of careful composing, Fernow has crafted an ominous, paranoid, and completely thrilling slab of gothic electronica that's just as conceptually confrontational, but far more enthralling of a listen.
Previous efforts, like the quintessential full-length Kneel Before Religious Icons, were heavy on atmosphere; at best, they could hypnotize you into Jarhead delusions that were intense and maddening. But it always felt like the personality of each song consisted mostly in its extramusical design. The repetitive drum programming and static song progression was always skating the fine line between horrific, disciplined psychedelia and oppressive discomfort. The skillful development employed in ghostly opener "September Cell (The Storm)" and its more abrasive alternate version, "(The Punishment)," toes that same line in a way that's faithful to the intended frightening state of mind while building a more fascinating momentum. First the listener is drawn in; then the deathblow is struck.
Understated little touches-- like the off-beat claps and last-minute trails of reverberating missile echoes, or the distorted acid bass pulse shortly into "(The Punishment)"-- sketch in new scenic details in a classically minimalist way. You sneak sweatily through the enemy desert territory, and just as you've reached your queasy comfort zone and prayed to make it home safe, the beat drops out like a grazing sniper shot that barely eluded your jugular. The angelic melancholy of the upper-space synth pads seem to glide on infinitely when Vatican Shadow returns to his favorite city in centerpiece "Cairo Is A Haunted City," but Fernow keeps it fresh with wrist-flick pattern alteration-- a polyrhythmic metallic clang added here, a bass line inverted subtly there. We arrive at a spacious root-note/drum machine suspension, holed up behind a shot-out column waiting for the right exit strategy.
By the time the aching reveille "One Day He Heard The Call" comes around, begging us to walk with bated breath to our destined duties, it's become clear that September Cell is the essential Vatican Shadow release. Though he's a proven master of his craft, Dominick has a set of pieces that is musically equal to the project's intriguing mystique and ripe concept, managing to push himself to new heights in this opening statement for his promising new imprint.