I’ve come to learn that a new release on Testtoon Records is always something to get excited about. Following a flurry of outstanding albums from the enigmatic Oubys, last year we were also treated to Michael Fahres’ Tibataje LP. It can be hard to weave a narrative through all that the label releases. Tibataje was an oddball sound experiment exploring the natural echo of a mountainside on the Canary Islands. Oubys by contrast is best known for his bedroom synth noodling. Testtoon’s sound is at times aggressive, at others it can be pious and sorrowful. Still, despite vast disparity between every release, there is an odd glue that seems to hold it all together. This is especially true in 2016, which sees Testtoon with their most cohesive record yet.
The Sova Stroj project is Michel Flammant’s first venture away from playing in a collective. Improvisation and chance are integral to his recording and playing style, and it comes through loud and clear on Silent Earth. It’s hardly surprising that Flammant has a history in playing black metal. There are points on Silent Earth that feel like a Krautrock band covering Sunn O))). Deep and moody drones stretch out over four long meditations, sinking the listener into a deep trance.
But Silent Earth is far from gloomy. To the contrary, there are points, like the album’s second piece, ‘As Days Grow Silent We Love Each Other’, that come through clean and distinct. Here, Flammant plays with the resonant frequencies of what sounds like an accordion. We are not in black metal territory anymore. But where we are is also uncertain. Flammant’s emphasis on live playing is crucial. You can almost hear him tracing the contours of every tone, steadily bending each note out of shape. By the albums close, there is nothing but harsh static and the dull hum of wind.