Experimental and expansive Barst are one of many Belgium artists that refuse to be pigeonholed taking on a huge range of styles in this sprawling two track musical odyssey inspired by William S Burroughs The Western Lands. Ideally I had planned to track down and read the novel as an accompaniment to the musical canvas but realising it is the third part of a trilogy and with time against me I decided it probably wasn’t the best idea. After all, the writer isn’t the easiest to get to grips with in the first place. Knowing that the background of the narrative takes us into the arid land of Egypt and summons up hallucinatory visions from within the Book Of The Dead is probably enough context anyway and it is not ultimately necessary to combine the two artistic forms together. Having said that, it is definitely on the cards for a later time. Barst is actually principally the work of Bart Desmet and although active in several groups previously, he has gone solo in order to “break out of the prescriptive and normative song structures, and tear down the walls between all sorts of genres, inviting the listener to create its own imaginary worlds.” There’s plenty of chance to do just that and let your imagination wander with this fill length debut, make no mistake.
Divided into a side A) and B) and further explored in chapter form we enter as we no doubt should at ‘The Threshold.’ Over the course of this journey other musicians from artists such as Rosetta, Inwolves and Treha Sektori join in but here things are organically uncluttered and near minimalistic as things slowly ebb in and build. I guess I would label this as post-rock and as it expands it is very cinematic with it, taking shape and projecting a near widescreen vista as it unravels. Hypnotic and mesmerising it swoops like an eagle over the desert and perhaps all that is missing is narration from David Attenborough. It could equally work as a replacement to Philip Glass on Godfrey Reggio’s Qatsi Trilogy, or even Pasolini’s Arabian Nights. One gets a sense of comfort listening to this and side A in general. Even despite thinking that with a section entitled ‘The Rite’ it’s a calm coming of age ritual that unfolds in the spaces between our ears, numbing and gentle as it drifts and dreams along. There are some strange vibrating tones within it which I found really throbbing out the speakers at volume and making me wondering where on earth they were coming from. Eventually it all builds and unveils a sense of drama that’s on the verge of intoxication having drawn you in with hand tapped drums and even mantra like vocal chants and then a crunch of guitar as the full force of things finally impacts. It’s a bit of a tease though as we move to third segment ‘The Passage’ and enter another dream state, perhaps our author has indulged in narcotic pursuits to travel over the bridge between worlds? Guitars strum there’s a slow brooding drum beat and thick bass line to ease us through along with ethnic chants giving this a real World Music flavour.
These foundations are totally developed upon as we fully explore ‘The Western Lands’ on the second side. With a gorgeous harmony slowly introducing itself things build into a nomadic trance-like rhythm with roaring vocals clamouring in the background and some excellent tribal drumming beats pulsing away. I am actually finding different sections of my CD collection within this rather than the normal ones. Material who I was similarly drawn to due to a Burroughs affiliation is prominent as are the likes of Leftfield. It’s an excellent section and one that I found has to be played at the sort of levels that shake the very foundations. Flowing between slow ambient drifts and huge rhythmic thrusts this and the corresponding final segment ‘The Fields’ a solemn dusky guitar part really hit the mark and this exploration has been both fascinating and completely involving.
There’s no need to take my word for it though as it’s all up on Bandcamp so grab a comfy chair and take a trip to the unknown yourself; this is music to totally transport you to another world.
(8.5/10 Pete Woods)