II: The Mechanism of Night
The Path Less Traveled
Books and films revel in trilogies because the story follows the accustomed three-act structure. The first stage introduces the characters and sets them on the road to the second act in which they confront the antagonists and finally the resolution where all of the narrative threads are brought to a close. The second act will likely feature some of the best drama and action as the protagonist grapples with seemingly unbeatable odds, but by the same token it also can be the most unsatisfying phase of a story because there’s no resolution. That’s why the ending of The Empire Strikes Back sucks so much (that’s right I said it; it needed to be said).
Music is not particularly strong on narrative so these topics don’t come up often, but it makes a handy conceptual framework for appreciating Body Hammer’s second album, II: The Mechanism of Night, after one-man nightmare master Ryan Page revealed it’s the second installment in a planned trilogy based on Dante’s Divine Comedy. Prior album, Jigoku, Virgiled us through hell as the songs were slowly eviscerated from electronic grind nightmares to free form, more abstract meditations on sin and punishment.
With The Mechanism of Night, the journey into purgatory is far more fitful and fraught. “The Iron Bough” sets the penitent tone from the outset with a flagellating wave of percussion, but unlike its predecessor, The Mechanism of Night gives play to full on grind catharsis. In fact the grind elements are sparse and widely spread out between tidal bashings of electronic waves of suffering and atonement. So that will be the first obstacle for the casual grind fiend looking for a quick blastbeat fix.
The second pitfall is inherent in the very nature of three-part story structure: the middle act is often the least satisfying entry on its own merits. But the nature of narrative, the second act ends with no resolution. Instead, our protagonists are usually left at the mercy of their foes, the promise of victory is still obscured by future obstacles. The Mechanism of Night has a similar shortcoming in that it works best when paired with its predecessor – elements of “Body Blockade” and “Clawing at the Skin of God” nod back to themes and execution of Jigoku’s “The Bystander Effect.” The Mechanism of Night’s best elements are those that build toward tension but fail to release into catharsis such as the coven incantations of “A Presence” or the penultimate nihilistic hellscape “A Foregone Conclusion.” Where Jigoku’s primary musical tendency was from tightly wound chaos to bleeding out into noise, The Mechanism of Night is more sporadic and halting as it lurches from grind to noise.
In the context of Dante’s controlling metaphor of a journey from Hell to Purgatory and ultimately up the mountain toward Paradise, it makes sense. But there’s probably a pretty good argument to be made that having to know all of that context in advance to enjoy a piece of music indicates a failure of execution, but once the connection is made the intention becomes clearer and the journey is rewarding, even if lacks resolution. To be continued.
[Full disclosure: I received a review copy.]