A few ghostly breaths announce the punishing wall of guitar noise that opens Viscera, a collaboration between ambient-guitar duo Byla and experimental vocalist Jarboe. Sounding like a symphonic black-metal epic without the drums, synthesizers or rasping vocals, the fifteen-plus-minute first track (titled “15:35,” natch) barrages the listener with impregnable sound for its entire run-time. Even when it settles on deafening Loveless-style beauty, the density never flags.
More than anything, Viscera is a love letter to the guitar. Byla’s Kevin Hufnagel and Colin Marston (also in Behold . . . The Arctopus) stack their six-string textures to produce hanging sonorities and overtones on the three lengthy “wall of sound” pieces; two shorter, acoustic pieces — “2:28” and “6:41” — draw us in to their delicate arpeggio brambles with the mesmerizing weight of steel strings.
Jarboe’s wordless vocals range from keening moans to guttural death growls. As expressive as they are, her contributions are ancillary gusts, adding little to the overall feel of the album. Likewise, a cameo from avant-guitar superstar Mick Barr (Orthrelm/Ocrilim) goes undetected on “19:45.” But that’s probably the point: individual musical personalities ceding to the sonic gestalt. That would make the concept behind Viscera the polar opposite of the “lookie-here!” approach that Hufnagel and Marston employ with their ultra-technical prog band Dysrhythmia. And yet, in its own way, Viscera is just as complex, just as breathtaking.