Terra Sancta – Exile

Malignant Records (TumorCD69), 2014

First things first:  I consider Terra Sancta’s 2004 album Aeon to be the best example of layered noise I’ve ever heard.  On that album, Greg Good somehow breathed life into static, giving birth to a living, breathing, beautiful synthetic animal that moved through the speakers with a majestic and awe-inspiring sense of presence.  Subsequent releases left me a little cold, I’m afraid, as I felt Good was trying to fit Aeon’s organic atmosphere into frameworks that didn’t quite fit.

With Exile, Good has struck gold once again.  This new album – his first proper album since 2008’s Disintegration – amplifies the drama and buries the noise, and the results are starkly and immediately stunning.  Terra Sancta has always dealt with desolate wastelands and ominous storms as its foundation – which makes sense, as Good is from the primal and mysterious continent of Australia – and Exile is no different.  “Empire of Ashes” takes Good’s trademark thick swaths of distortion and adds minimal melodic synths with such delicate power, the two often seem inseparable.  For all of Terra Sancta’s seeming chaos, the sounds here are carefully planned, given shape, identity, and character; Good has always had the talent to make his machines sound alive.  The track adds layers of keys as it evolves, and everything slides through the landscape as one.

“Kingdom of Dust” uses a looped bass drone that instantly reminded me of the closing moments of Aeon’s “Black Sun,” but here, it’s used with increased style and flair.  Exile carries the definite bent of cinema, and it’s perhaps best embodied in “Kingdom of Dust,” which follows powerful but gentle keyboard chords as the ever-present storm hisses in the background.  Aeon hurled us into the depths of sandstorms and hurricanes, showing us their power and beauty; Exile reveals what is inside the storm; the identity and character of what has been left behind.

“Celestial Extinction”, previously available on Kalpamantra’s 2013 The Black Plague compilation released with Malignant Records, was done in collaboration with Rasalhague, and is a joint effort that doesn’t sound like one.  Whispers and creaks fracture the beautifully drawn-out chords; for all its interstellar reachings, the track is as grounded and dust-choked as the rest of the album.  “The Desolate Land” brings back the structured distortion-laced walls of Aeon and Disintegration in all their chaotic glory, flowing through the speakers like the wake of some vast unknown beast.  The sense of presence that Terra Sancta is lauded for is so thickly done, you can almost taste the dust coating your throat and clogging your nostrils; we’re made witness to something unseen, but worthy of awe.  What it is, or was, is left to our imagination.  The land is desolate now, perhaps, but it hasn’t always been empty; great shapes once moved here, and great deeds once were wrought, and Good gives voice to their shadows and history.

“Descent II” is a reworking of a track previously released on 2012’s Malignant Antibodies compilation from Kalpamantra/Malignant.  Might I point out that both this track and “Celestial Extinction” fit perfectly onto Exile, showing the sense of identity and flow that Good is so keen at maintaining.  “Descent II” is an expansion of the previous track, and is given additional room to develop as we fall headlong into the depths of the earth, accompanied by more slow dramatic keyboard work and the huge echoes of our careening plummet into the unknown.  I loved this track before, but now, it’s improved exponentially while holding on to what made it a standout on Malignant Antibodies in 2012.

After two more brilliantly haunting excursions – the gradually building seethe, drone chords, and dissolving palette of “Vanishing Point,” followed by the brief finality of “End Path” – Exile returns us to whatever safe haven we occupied when we began this journey, but we are not the same as when we departed.  We’ve seen the storms, braved the depths of swirling ash and dust to find what was hidden in its choking embrace, and beheld the yawning chasms at the bottom of the world, and lived to tell the tale.

Terra Sancta focuses on the shadowed beauty of chaos, and this theme is on full display on Exile.  Good’s best album since Aeon, Exile appears to mark a crossroad for the project, taking the oceans of distortion and giving them shape and purpose.  Good takes his time with his releases, and it’s easy to understand why:  he has a certain vision, and will not rest until it is given sound the best he knows how.  The best thing about this, from a fan’s perspective, is simple:  as mesmerizing and immersive as Good’s work has been to date, it’s getting better.  The new emphasis on melodic elements have urged Good’s compositions to a new level, and the results are just as organic, but more dramatic and powerful, with a stronger sense of character.

Inspiring, meticulous, evocative, sprawling, and overflowing with awe, Exile is an absolute must-listen.

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