Dustin Terry and Tim Risher, composing as Unearthly Red, offer up their soundtrack fragments for a nonexistent film on Purgatory. In 18 short tracks covering an hour, the work skews toward the dark and experimental. Atmospherically speaking, it’s spot on, rusted through with industrial clamor and the glitchy grind of faulty hardware. It gurgles at you in throaty, indecipherable tongues that leave you uneasy at having heard them. The pieces are short, so they hit, leave an impression, and run. The tone of the album overall is guided by its proto-cinematic viewpoint, ensuring that even though its components come in bursts, we don’t end up with a scattered musical mindset. As is often the case with Risher’s collaborations, Paragaté, for example, what you get here is two composers offering up their own pieces along with a few that where they’ve come together. The differences stand out, and help to make the album work. Risher’s tracks tend to be the floatier of the two, as with “Before the Storm,” which pairs long drones with jarring metallic clatter. Comparatively quiet compared to other tracks here, they’re still dark and shot through with a sense of being ill at ease, designed to leave you with a sense of dread. Well, in most spots. Late in the album, when the story is headed toward resolution, we get the almost oddly upbeat “Under the Skin.” I like this track, but it sounds like Risher held onto some of the techno-based rhythms from the last Paragaté release, Pattern of Light, and repurposed them here. Terry, who records as Void of Axis, is the more directly visceral of the duo, serving up deeply dark offerings like “Quiet Springs” and “In Sickness,” two pieces that use a somber minimalism to firmly ping your discomfort buttons. He also gives us the roll-the-credits piece, “Remorse.” Belying its title, it pulls in bright chords and a cool beat, providing the listener (and, ostensibly, the viewer of the non-existent horror film) a respite from the heavy darkness of the last hour. When the two come together, things can get grittier and more experimental. “Dissonance” should test your tolerance levels a bit, with its repetitious snarl of electronic noise. On early listens, I was ready to hit the Skip button on this. But give it a few minutes, because when the sound drops out, a thick wash of pure atmosphere will roll in, and it works.
Purgatory was not an easy album for me to get into. The heavy industrial wallop of the early tracks threatened to put me off, as they sometimes seemed a little gratuitous. (They’re not.) It was the rich environment, dark and unpleasant as it is, that kept bringing me back in to have another viewing of this imaginary film. You’ve got to like things a little on the creepy side, but it wouldn’t hurt you to spend some time in Purgatory.
Available from Bandcamp.