Ground Control to Major Parkinson … actually, that’s not so inappropriate as “Blackbox” has a cosmic, cinematic feel. It is the Norwegian band’s fourth album, and comprises a collection of eerie sounds. It is the most experimental of experimental works. As the drum beats hypnotically, the synthesiser creates a mystical aura, and the vocalist whispers in shadowy fashion. “Night Hitcher” is exactly this, and belies its almost understated appearance with patterns, which signal drama and tension. This is before the short and menacing “Before the Helmets”. The menace is invariably achieved in a quiet way.
Strangeness takes on a new level with “Isabel – A Report to An Academy”. The drum shuffles along regularly enough, but that’s where the regularity ends. Stringed sections mix with shadowy structures which manifest themselves in a song which gravitates somewhere between dream, nightmare, childhood, horror and insanity. An angelic sounding female juxtaposes whispering the now familiar voice of whispering death. It’s distorted and dark, ending in a frenzy. Horns now emit sinister tones, before an eerie distorted tune strikes up. I can only describe the short interlude “Scenes from Edison’s Black Maria” as incomprehensible. It just adds to the nightmare. All change again as a darkwave synth rhythm provides the backdrop for another menacing cop – angelic cop vocal performance on “Madeleine Crumbles”. The effect is other worldly. There are moments when I was reminded of Tiamat and even Leonard Cohen, but this is so entrenched in experimentalism that it can’t sound like anyone. The only way to deal with it is to go with the flow of musical sound and images and presentation styles. “Baseball” is so oddball as to be brilliant. Psychedelic and obtuse in nature, there is no apparent pattern. Horns appear like “Sergeant Pepper” but the whole thing seems to revolve round some progressive, drug-infused chaos. “You breathe the fragrance of your purple cigarettes”, sings the sultry lady. This doesn’t seem to fit with the chorus “I’ve got his baseball” but then nothing makes sense here. “Baseball” is possibly the strangest track I have ever heard. Then “strange” covers the whole of this album. Is “Strawberry Suicide” a macabre ballad? Probably. Move on, but to what? “Blackbox, blackbox can you hear me?” sings the lady in childish fashion. A deep symphonic tune and darkly whispered words about substance abuse disturb what equilibrium there never was. Hypnotically this mind-altering yet highly inventive and addictive song rumbles on.
This is a hard album to like, partly because it switches in mood so much and partly because it is so abnormal, which also makes it so interesting. “Blackbox” is anything but comfortable as a listening experience. It doesn’t assault us with violence and the music is recognisable in most of its constituent parts, but so offbeat as to be both intriguing and engagingly incomprehensible. Tip: have your psychiatrist handy to unravel yourself from this one.
(8.5/10 Andrew Doherty)