Earth starts well, with a delicious, unsettling, mechanic whir punctuated by creaks and dissident guitar plunks. Black to Comm, otherwise known as Marc Richter, produces what is at first a perfectly good dystopian soundtrack. Then the vocals of David Aird (Vindicatrix) come in, full and warbly–even clownish, as if in parody. The mocking tone is especially prevalent when going into the lower register, rambling like a madman (or Eddie Vedder). “Awake, awake, awake!” he moans haphazardly over “Stickstoff II.” “Entropy!” he continues in a long, drawn-out drone, adding nothing of note to the experience.
Earth originally served as a live score for the Singaporean film of the same name by Ho Tzu Nyen, which was in turn at least partially inspired by paintings of bodies that have been disrupted in some way. Indeed, stills of the film appear soft and beautiful as they are unnerving. This makes Black to Comm’s release noble in concept: art inspiring art inspiring more art. One hopes that maybe more of the apparently numerous live scores will become available as studio albums, perhaps with a release of the film. (As a side-note, a search for a screening of the film Earth in the U.S., or some clips of the film online, proved fruitless at the time this was written.)
This particular score is amazingly arranged and perfectly, hauntingly unsettling, but the vocals are like babies crying at the symphony. No matter how beautiful the rest of the performance is, they just ruin it. The case is the same here, no matter how well Aird’s vocals work for his own purposes as Vindicatrix.
“Water,” despite the omnipresent crackle, takes a slightly more traditional and relaxing classical guitar tone before, switching between calm, major intervals and diminished tones. The vocal work isn’t as bad here, but the piece still would’ve been more effective without them; any attempt to pull back on the vocals is not only permanently tainted by the previous work, but is punctuated by a distracting, wackier-sounding harmony a few moments later. Although they do leave one intrigued as to whether lines “great fortress melts from the inside” and “scent of twenty carcasses” have narrative relevance to the film, or whether it’s just insular rambling.
Perhaps Aird couldn’t just leave well enough alone. “The Children”‘s first two and a half minutes sound like a circus organ through a meat grinder with heartbreaking high-tone accents and a droning low-end sludge as a base. It grabs your brain in a vice-grip from both ends for an overwhelming and satisfying, if a bit sloppy and trite, experience. Then the warbling begins again — sounds like something about Satan — again becoming unlistenable, as masterful as the arrangements can be underneath.
Last song, “Mirror,” implies a hopeful or redeeming ending to the film; pulsing organ with slow, simple, repetitive piano creates a calming effect that would make it the number one reading track of 2012. As it stands, it’s the best piece on the album, perhaps because of a lighter-handed use of Aird.
Perhaps, if he’s given the opportunity to score Earth again, Richter could bring in a different guest for vocals, and undoubtedly he could expertly weave those with the rest of his sound. Black to Comm’s current product is distracting and grating, to the point where it’s hard to write a review while listening to it. That could have been Richter’s intention, of course, but one can’t help but feel he threw a wrench in what could have been a rich, disconcerting, immersive venture.