Whether it’s me or the music, or a combination of both, I can’t really say, but Insect Ark’s compositions always remind me of certain literature. With Marrow Hymns (2018) I had to think of the writing of the Bronte Sisters and of Emily Dickinson’s poetry, while The Vanishing, the band’s new album, reminded me of the American South and of Kate Chopin’s The Awakening.

How did I get to the South? Well, the lap steel guitar brought me there. While Dana Schechter is a multi-instrumentalist who has worked with bands like Swans, Zeal and Ardor and Arabrot, the lap steel guitar is probably her most special instrument. Its wavering sound adds ambiguity and a touch of blues to Insect Ark’s music which, in general, is set somewhere on the intersection of doom, drone and psychedelia.

The album’s title, Schechter says, was inspired by a daydream she had “of disappearing completely – floating out to sea alone, never to return, or walking off down a road, and never being found.” The protagonist in Kate Chopin’s The Awakening does just that.

Whether you connect the band’s music to literature or film doesn’t really matter. It is a fact, however, that the music tells stories, stories without words. But they are not happy stories; they are not stories for the faint of heart. Disturbances and dangers lurk everywhere.

The first track, Tectonic, speaks of an earth-shattering event, employing strong bass lines to do so, the electronics contribute to create a charged atmosphere. The following track, Three Gates, has the drums marching forward in the beginning, slowly but consistently, to complications and possibly choices that have to be made. In Philae I hear someone hitting a wall repeatedly or reaching a border and bouncing off of it in reverberating sounds. The energy from the two earlier tracks, though of a hectic kind, is gone, things have slowed down, the mood has changed. Danube is the closest to smooth sailing and calm the album gets, before the ominous sounds of Swollen Sun signal the doomsday event on the horizon. The final track The Vanishing makes true on this promise and after a complicated web of sounds and silences and a rather dramatic finale ends in complete quiet.

While it is an intriguing listen, The Vanishing probably won’t find fans in great numbers – it is too complicated for that and it demands too much attention. It is no background music. But that should not discourage you. If you are willing to give the album some of your time and listen closely to the music, it can offer you satisfaction, enjoyment and even some tranquillity despite its dark overtones.

In a world of quick fixes, instant gratification, sugar-sweet food and music, and ever-shortening attention spans it is quite refreshing to have someone claim your undivided attention and ask you to use your imagination while providing limited input. While The Vanishing might not be something you will return to often, it surely is an experience and therefore enriching.

(8/10 Slavica)