Aaron Turner is to experimental metal music as Jack White is to punk blues. If metal weren’t the global network of scattered small clans of faithful followers that it is today, each with their own culture, band loyalties, and hidden symbols, it would be written about as much as people write about Jack White and the impact on modern interpretations of blues that his Third Man Records label in Nashville is bringing about. But metal is more complicated, more multifaceted, more difficult to access. Often its beauty lies beneath its harsh, loud surface. Access doesn’t come easy.
Turner has been a member of at least 10 post-rock bands, including the ground-breaking Isis, as well as Old Man Gloom, Lotus Eaters, and now Mamiffer (with his wife, Faith Coloccia). The comparison to White is apt because Turner is also the founder of Hydra Head Records, a juggernaut of a label with dozens of vinyl and digital releases, and merch aplenty. Since 2011, he’s also been at the helm of SIGE Records, distributed through Thrill Jockey, home for his latest band, Mamiffer, and more than a dozen other experimental metal bands. Turner makes music and makes a lot of music happen. His influence is real and far reaching.
Turner’s latest Mamiffer record, “Statu Nascendi,” released in the fall of 2014, is, as the title in Latin suggests, a song cycle about destiny, or rather a process of arriving in one form and then evolving into another, and it represents one more instance of regeneration in the brilliant career of a recording artist who has experienced many such cycles of musical reinterpretation. With Turner’s lush guitars and Coloccia’s keys and neoclassical dark-wave vocal approach, this record twists genres together in ways that challenge even the most diehard classifiers.
In the center pages of the hand-sewn booklet that accompanies the vinyl LP there’s a partial quote from 1 Peter found in the New Testament: “Their glory is like the flower in the field when all flesh is grass.” The song titles reflect a similar sort of neoclassical cyclical mindset, suggesting we are born from a heavenly source (“Caelestis Partus”), with our destiny ultimately resigned to dying and changing into something altogether different, even opposite (“Enantiodromia”). Throughout the journey, we carry the all-to-human weakness for understanding and hope for compassion in this mean world (“Mercy”), but always knowing that our time is short no matter what happens, no matter how high we ascend in our human endeavors (“Flower of the Field”).
Literal interpretations of song titles is always a dangerous practice, but why not look for symbols in a haunting, timeless record such as this? Nature has always been the mechanism for resetting assumptions about human aspiration. Images of dry grass abound in this album’s artwork, with falling flower petals and candles arranged as for a vigil. These images only restate this album’s pretext: to be human is to attempt to classify everything we see in terms of everything we feel.
There’s almost a monastic intensity to this record, and indeed this couple working as they do as a band. There’s a sense a primacy and inner journey. It’s almost as if the musical notes themselves become literal flowers in their moment of blooming, only to glow for their brief lives and then fade into silence and memory. This is not the first record from Mamiffer, but it feels very much like a new starting point; it’s less pure sound experimentation and more contextual, more meaningful, more searching. The effect is one of longing and sadness, as if the music itself seeks to explain what lies ahead, the infinite and the instant, woven together like breathing or like prayer. We are here, and then we are not. The song is here, filling the space, and then it’s gone. Like the fragmentary quote from St. Peter, there’s a missing piece. Any sense of what might be eternal is left off the page, beyond the scope of any of these songs, and us.