BLANCK MASS- ‘Animated Violence Mild’
Benjamin Power pushes buttons. I mean that literally of course- he writes experimental electronic music and performs live behind an array of machines – but figuratively too. Since establishing the Blanck Mass moniker almost a decade ago, Power has navigated from experimental alien ambience into increasingly challenging sonic territory and taken what feels like every opportunity to engross, but also test, and perhaps even antagonise his audience. If you need any more evidence of his penchant for provocation, he used to be in a band called Fuck Buttons.
With fourth full-length, ‘Animated Violence Mild’, though, Power might have pushed too far. Oh, the eight tracks here are made of familiar ingredients- techno synths, distorted beats, eerie ambience, industrial churn- but on first listen it feels like every single one of them is punched up, maxed-out, and in-the-red. Much like that cover art, it makes my stomach turn.
‘Death Drop’ is the sound of a twisted carnival taking a tumble off a cliff. ‘House vs. House’ roars into life like some blood-soaked mutant Pac Man soundtrack and proceeds to become more disjointed and unplayable as it goes. And ‘Love Is a Parasite’ aims for a bright white, euphoric, hypnotic vibe but ends up sounding like a too-loud too-close blown speaker buzz instead.
Things make slightly more sense with further reading. Where before Power has been inspired by themes like the flaws of the human form and man’s inner beast, ‘Animated Violence Mild’ is an audio response to the runaway consumer culture and wanton greed of our modern age. In Powers’ own words from the mission statement accompanying the album, “In this post-industrial, post-enlightenment religion of ourselves, we have manifested a serpent of consumerism which now coils back upon us. It seduces us with our own bait as we betray the better instincts of our nature and the future of our own world.” If 2017’s ‘World Eater’ was the sound of bared teeth and radio static, now bleached dentures and television commercials have taken over.
Repeat listens reveal more form, and a few small spaces to take a breath. The bright, bouncy ‘Hush Money’ is perhaps the most digestible thing here, although it still sounds like three A-ha tracks playing at once. And the opening deadly drone of ‘Creature/West Fuqua’ gives way to lush harp strums and ear candy vocal samples. But moments of true beauty, moments that Power previously seemed to conjure up with ease, are fewer and further between.
This is a relentless affair then. It’s a massive, imposing, rare feat of volume and tension and terror. It’s certainly one of the most in-your-face albums I’ve ever heard. And, while there truly are few other albums quite like it, I won’t be in a hurry to hear it again. Consider my buttons pushed.