Music Reviews
No. 2: Abyss in B-Minor

Serena Maneesh No. 2: Abyss in B-Minor

(4AD) Rating - 6/10

No.2: Abyss in B Minor. Interesting title. In more ways than one, it seems to recall Johann Sebastian Bach’s Mass in B Minor, a dark, somber baroque piece that came to life a year before his death. Though not related, both pieces of work seem to interweave in context - while Serena Maneesh seem to be on the verge of a creative breakthrough by creating their most unruly statement, Bach’s variety of compositional devices and progressions proved to be, at the time, a tour de force of natural ambience. They both achieve complexity through a lucid, spiritual state of mind.

It was five years ago that Serena Maneesh re-sparked shoegazing elements into their sound, expanding its scale with very heavy instrumentation. Though they did map out visceral, ethereal dreamscapes with effervescent harmonizing, it was also destructive, menacing, and fuzzed out to the core. This was mainly due to leader Emil Nikolaisen, a young prodigy with an appreciation of so many genres that he didn’t want to abandon any of them, carving his way past death metal and progressive influences into lush compositions. It was sort of the equivalent of how Alice in Chains shocked their way into the grunge scene; instead of being punk, they decided to go metal on us with their dense, dissonant riffage.

If Serena Maneesh’s debut was a contradiction of sounds, then Abyss in B Minor is a mindfuck of sorts. Recorded with meticulous perfection (reportedly taking a week to record each individual track) by producers who’ve worked with the likes of Can, Led Zeppelin, and Primal Scream, there’s a chance that these tracks will go through a controlled force of demonic proportions. Surprisingly, there’s no coercion involved. Abyss holds no punches when it comes to its vast presentation. A testament to such freeing creativity is seven minute album opener Ayisha Abyss, a psychedelic, multilayered seven minute epic of rambled, distorted vocals, delayed guitars, and even a few bongos thrown into the pot, which suitably brings to mind Primal Scream’s Kowalski.

After such a self-important, technically proficient opener, Abyss follows with its strongest moments, which curiously enough, are the most brief and restrained. They hit the right notes with I Just Want to See your Face, a noise pop track with thin wah-wah guitars and constant, pounding drums, an adequate throwback to past track Un Deux. Reprobate! follows with a squall of industrial stomps and twee vocals. Behind that wall of noise, there’s an almost imperceptible jam of furious guitar wails that gives way to a passive, blurry culmination.

The middle half proves to be more challenging, categorically dividing the Serena fanatics from the casual listeners. Melody for Jaama is a slow paced, acoustic bout accompanied by formless, amped up guitar distortions, endlessly dragging to no good end except for giving a fitting salute to the Reid brothers. Honey Jinx, though interesting at first, also falls into unremarkable territory with it’s befuddled, terrorizing guitar screeches, bored vocals, and more pedal abuse, distancing the listener with such ambient nonsense. In Magdalena (Symphony #8), they try to end on a lighter note, pushing some chilled out sonics with acoustic chords and a funked out flute, bringing to mind a fitting soundtrack to a blaxploitation flick. 

If Serena Maneesh had waited a little longer to release Abyss, they would’ve perished into the deep end, like that unfathomable spell many shoegaze/neo-shoegaze acts fall under in taking years to release new material. Even if it took them a little over five years, we’re still waiting for Autolux to release Transit Transit, and we've pretty much given up on My Bloody Valentine except for gagging over their live shows. Though not quite evolutionary, Abyss isn't a failure -  their audacity to upend themselves, contriving each and every step of the way with an expansive sound that masks away the more attention-grabbing arrangements is worthy. Props to them for sounding like everyone else and no one else at the same time. That was probably the intent.