Ultimately, "noise music" is as tricky a genre tag as the much-debated "indie rock." Critics and fans use "noise" at least as broadly as "indie," and in some ways the generalization has an even greater leveling effect on the music it describes, considering that "noise" can be traced back to avant-garde classical music — in particular the musique concrète developed by Pierre Schaeffer in the late ’40s and ’50s. Stretched to its limit, though, the term encompasses all music that focuses on texture to the exclusion of traditional music markers: harmony, rhythm and melody. An umbrella term like "noise," however, can only begin to point us in the direction that Prurient’s Arrowhead takes its listeners.
Made up of three tracks and clocking in at just over a half hour, Arrowhead is, much like Prurient’s other releases, an ultra-concentrated blast of high-frequency feedback, gurgling screams and ominous percussion. The fact that the album is released on Peter Rehberg’s Vienna-based Editions Mego label seems to confirm what many listeners already suspect: that there is something oddly refined and suggestive about Dominick Fernow’s music that sets it slightly apart from the straight-up terror antics of units like Hair Police and Wolf Eyes.
From the first two minutes of piercing mike feedback, Arrowhead sets a measured tone that never goes for all-out, hysterical assault. Fernow’s focus is on implication and concentration, leaving behind the graphic lyrical imagery of his clearest influence, the English power-electronics group Whitehouse, but preserving their unyielding hardness and their S&M aesthetic.
Beginning with "Sternum" and progressing through "Ribcage" and "Lungs," the album gradually gains distortion, thickening across the audible spectrum as it progresses. The range of frequencies and textures explored on Arrowhead, and particularly on "Ribcage," draw a link, appropriately enough, with Rehberg’s work as Pita, in particular his path-breaking Get Out album, recently reissued Editions Mego. Arrowhead represents a kind of conscious step forward for Fernow: Although it lacks the thematic consistency that Pita flirts with, its focus on process over sheer power comes closer to narrative than he has in the past.This is unusual in a scene that is generally hostile to both rock and avant-garde expectations of progress. Surprising, too, given that the basic tracks were recorded in 2004, when — thanks to Thurston Moore’s championing Wolf Eyes, Magik Markers, et al. — extreme music seemed like it might have some slight commercial potential.
Listening to the album, I was struck by how little gestural content it has: Fernow is known for his frenetic, mike-jabbing live performances, but it’s very difficult to attach the sounds from the album to any sort of physical movement. Feedback modulates up and down unexpectedly, sometimes frothing, sometimes not, and the percussion that punctures “Sternum” and “Lungs” constantly subverts its own momentum instead of resolving into a propulsive rhythm. Even Fernow’s howls are buried under a thick patina.
The recording as a whole is crystal-clear — as far as noise records go — and the album’s sense of micro-dynamics are often riveting. Coming out on the other side of Arrowhead, I felt as taxed emotionally and physically as if I’d sat through a three-hour-long Tarkovsky movie: Unsettling and unexpectedly ravishing in equal measure, Prurient’s latest is as accomplished an album as his followers have come to expect.