Do you like a little bit (okay, a whole lot) of metal in your jazz, or jazz in your metal? You’re not alone. The sound of the world being destroyed appeals to many, and it can take many forms. During the mid-1990s, there was a mini-wave of harsh, noisy, bass-obsessed stuff around that rattled, rumbled and throbbed like a furnace on the brink of exploding, with screaming saxophones (or farting bass clarinets) providing tenuous links to Mingus, Ayler and/or Brötzmann, and occasional outbursts of dissonant post-metal guitar. A list of the essential documents of this particular sub-sub-subgenre would include the following:

God‘s Loco and Possession
16-17‘s Gyatso
Paul Schütze‘s New Maps of Hell, The Rapture of Metals and Site Anubis
Borbetomagus‘s Zurich, Live in Allentown and Buncha Hair That Long
Naked City‘s Leng T’Che
PainKiller‘s Execution Ground
Peter and Caspar Brötzmann‘s Last Home

The sixth and latest disc from Combat Astronomy fits right in alongside these earlier monoliths of skronk and listener punishment, and adds a little bit of Meshuggah‘s stuttering, off-time brutality to the mix. Main dude James Huggett is the bassist and producer. He’s joined here by Mick Beck on tenor sax and bassoon; Mike Ward on tenor sax, bass and concert flutes, reindeer horn and drone flute; and Martin Archer on organ, electronics, zither, tambourine, sopranino, alto and baritone saxes, Bb and bass clarinets, and bass recorder. The drums are all programmed, but don’t sound it. They’ve got a tribal thump that’s very reminiscent of God, especially when the horns are surging around and the bass is creating wave upon wave of distortion and sludge. Unlike some of the band’s earlier work, there are no vocals. This is a good thing. Music like this should—and in this case does—come at you implacably, like a tank rolling over an endless road paved with human bones.

Not everything here is based on the formula of massive bass + tribal drums + wailing horns = awesome. “Zona” features ritual flutes and jarring, post-Cecil Taylor piano, alternating with massive bass and tribal drums. But the heart of the album is a terrifically God-like suite, “Inverted Universe” parts 1-4, that sounds like whales surfacing and preparing for combat with man. The horns blare in repeating, hypnotic figures somewhat reminiscent of the fanfare sections of John Coltrane‘s Ascension, before the thundering beats and endlessly grinding bass throbs take over. Other albums by Combat Astronomy have been compared to Magma, but that group never did anything 1/16 this heavy. This is music designed to be played through speakers the size of walk-in freezer doors. And it’s viscerally gripping in a way very little music is these days.

Flak Planet is available directly from the band via their Bandcamp page. Highly recommended.

Phil Freeman

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3 Comment on “Combat Astronomy

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