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Darkthrone - A Blaze in the Northern Sky Music Album Reviews

Each Sunday, Pitchfork takes an in-depth look at a significant album from the past, and any record not in our archives is eligible. Today, we revisit a tense, beautiful, lo-fi landmark from the second wave of black metal.
In the fall of 1971, a child is born in a remote village in Norway. He will one day rechristen himself Fenriz, after the Earth-swallowing wolf, Fenrir, who appears in Norse mythology and the Satanic Bible. But for now, he is Gylve Nagell, being raised by his grandmother, spending inordinate amounts of time alone. The pivotal moments of his childhood occur while listening to records, music introduced to him by an eccentric uncle named Stein. Pink Floyd catches his ear; a few songs by the Doors hold his attention; but it’s the English progressive rock band Uriah Heep that blows his mind. He’s entranced by the heavy organ sound, the cryptic lyrics, and the mysterious men with long hair who appear on the album’s cover. He cherishes the triple-fold LP like an heirloom from…

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Carl Gari/Abdullah Miniawy - Whities 023 (The Act of Falling From the 8th Floor) Music Album Reviews

Three years after their debut collaboration, the Egyptian singer/poet/trumpeter and the German electronic trio reunite for six haunting tracks of socio-political despair and existential dread.

Early in 2016, Will Bankhead’s eclectic electronic label The Trilogy Tapes dropped a thrilling run of club-melting 12"s from Rezzett, Four Legs, and Call Super’s Ondo Fudd alias. Slotted among these was an eerie, queasy release credited to Carl Gari and Abdullah Miniawy, with a stark photograph of Tahrir Square and the scorched exterior of the former parliament building in Cairo. The music matched that smoldering, post-revolutionary scene; the heavy atmosphere of the country and the bitterness of the military dictatorship resonated in haunting drones, ominous throbs, and a voice incanting in digitally processed Arabic. Despite what the credits suggested, it was not a duo, but rather a spontaneous collaboration between the German electronic trio Carl Gari and Egyptian singer/trumpeter Abdullah Miniawy. Three years on, Carl Gari and Miniawy emerge on another trailblazing English imprint, Nic Tasker’s Whities, again offering a bewildering, heart-shaking detour from normal club fare.

The Act of Falling From the 8th Floor is a harrowing and desolate listen that captures the mood and mindset of Miniawy and numerous other Egyptians living under the brutal oppression of the Al-Sisi regime. Miniawy only escaped by fleeing to France. The move makes for a less hurried collaboration than the group’s debut, which the musicians recorded in Cairo after their first meeting; these recordings took place at a remote house in the Bavarian forest. Even if the meaning of Miniawy’s lyrics escapes non-Arabic speakers, Carl Gari amplify their poetry with bleak, turbid electronics bringing to mind Joy Division and post-industrial soundscapes transported from Europe to North Africa.

The dread-filled throb of “Haj” recalls the Scott Walker-penned “The Electrician,” from 1978, which itself put the brutal right-wing regimes of Chile and Argentina into song form. But where that song pressurized until it finally burst at the chorus, here Carl Gari and Miniawy make the atmosphere more leaden, the pressure inescapable. In a broken voice, Miniawy’s words suggest volumes in only a few lines: “I beg you, man who ploughs/If I left after being a witness to the accident/Please don’t erase its traces.” With its sluggish drum machines, minor-key synths, and heavy guitar reverb, “Zawaj” suggests the dour gloom of early Portishead emanating from a more desperate time, Miniawy’s voice pushing through the morass and soaring over the rubble.

The centerpiece of the six-track release is “B’aj بعاج,” pairing metallic drones with a poem by Miniawy that follows a man’s fall from an eighth-floor window. Against a beat like an electric wire scraping against corrugated metal (echoing the sparse, desolate percussion of Joy Division’s “Decades”), his delivery is straightforward as he details how he plunges past each floor of his building. His downward path charts a microcosm of Egyptian society, everyday scenes that take on a fraught aspect; as the facade of home life slips, despair surges to the surface. There’s the fleeting image of a skipping rope that turns into a hangman’s noose, the tactile feel of fingernails against metal, a vertiginous succession of slides. All these details, these little failures, add up to convey a broader sense of dread, depression, and societal collapse.

But rather than offering the release of final impact, as the narrator reaches the end, Miniawy howls the kicker: “High diving from the first floor/Taking you again to floor number nine.” It’s a damnation worse than death, the very act of falling turned into its own Sisyphean hell. The Act of Falling From the 8th Floor is a gripping soundtrack to the inner despair not only of Egyptians, but anyone feeling bereft of hope in the modern world—a sound that keeps growing louder.

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