Review: Count to Altek - "Sestina"

Count to Altek - Sestina
(2017 Self-Released)

Something's brewing. 

In the percolator with your ritual Folgers. In the creek bed, stirring up the caked moss. In the knotted shadows of the forest thicket. Bird calls cut through the cracked window like phone notifications in your pocket. As you butter the sacramental toast in remembrance of warm winter sleeps beneath layered blankets, you let the coffee cool a bit for the first time in months. Spring rises from the divoted lawn as a mist, and the forest creatures that live just beyond its borders know this. Somewhere in the woods, The last cool drafts of the year groan through matted branches, bleak and damp as the scurrying of small mammals forms a vast polyrhythm against the foliage. Nature spits out its spoken-word poetry in swiveling stanzas. These riffs rotate like phrases tacked on the ends of a sestina's formulaic construction: each repetition is a re-contextualization. No two reverb-laden tones are exactly alike in nature's liturgy.

Recorded deep in the woodlands of Northeastern Ohio, Count to Altek's latest EP effort is a notable departure from the project's back catalog of avant-black-metal. Though still quite spooky, Sestina trades monastic drones for introspective jazz riffs that recall the early work of A Grave with No Name. Opening tune "Adeline" drapes its limp piano chords atop the half-hearted clatter of a splash cymbal: an offering culled from the band's scarce crop of enthusiasm. It wriggles lifelessly like the arm you've accidentally slept on, attempting to gingerly shake out its pinpricks. Keening glossolalia bubbles at the surface of this stagnant puddle of sound, never getting the chance to come up for air. 

Though barely held together by any sort of beat or repetition, "Adeline" is able to envelop the listener in its bold nothingness. It is as incidental as a scattering of fallen leaves or knotty tree-roots. The music spreads itself to where it needs to be.

Sandwiched in the middle of Sestina, "Ripples of Gemstone" flirts with structure, leaning its glistening keyboard improv against a simple 4/4 beat. There's a surface sense of magical whimsy evident here - the sort of sun-refracted warble that accompanied Mr. Rodgers' imaginary trolley excursions to the Land of Make-Believe. Booming pulses of kick drum frighten Count to Altek's arrangements into being: this is the voice of springtime genesis.

Sestina's final track, "Animal Statue", is climatically creepy, borrowing its minimal-jazz cues from Bohren and der Club of Gore. The interplay between instruments is at its most dissonant and clustered here, emitting a sinister residual ambience that crawls across the surface of the listener's skin like a slug. The track's drums gradually grow louder as they begin to devolve into an arrhythmic jumble of snare hits. The piano fades to black. Night falls on the forest. 

Though untamed and free-form, Count to Altek's new record isn't too challenging or imposing to listen to casually. In fact, it seems more suited to passivity than it does deconstruction. Sestina is the ideal soundtrack to the creative process: an amorphous rush of mystic inspiration, injected straight into the brain.