Sunday, 1 February 2009

Hands of Ruin - Subterranean

A little while back, I reviewed my cousin Colin (who records as Hands of Ruin)'s first EP, Falling Light. More recently a second has been released, entitled Subterranean. One big difference is that this is released under a Creative Commons licence, meaning it is freely downloadable, and, so long as credit is given, can be remixed, if your in to, or up to, that. Given the obvious conflict of interest, this review carries the Shameless Plugs tag.

Before tackling the new disc, I want to address some comments in my earlier review which serve to underscore a fascinating distinction in how the two of us think about music. I'd described things in terms of instruments, there was one comment in particular about a bass guitar, assuming that the track had been electronically synthesised in that manner. However, this isn't the case, rather he works in terms of sound waves - starting possibly with a sine wave, distorting it, interrupting it, filtering it, stretching it, or something else, and then layering these things in order to put the sounds together. Coming mainly from the classical sphere, I instead think much more in terms of instrumental sounds (though I've been helped in relearning the trombone by thinking of the physics of the instrument).

At first listen, it seems rather different to Falling Light. Less vivid, and arguably darker. Thinking, still in classical terms, what I would call the orchestration, or instrumentation, seems sparser. There is something barren about the musical landscape he is evoking, but in a good way.

The disc begins with Entering and a series of interrupted and distorted chords. This short track seems to serve mainly as an introduction to what follows, which is Subterranean Flames, intriguingly titled as the second version. This is built upon a similarly altered series of chords, and yet with a more spacious feel.

Track three, entitled Earls Court, starts and, indeed, seems dominated by a musical jumble of static. Behind this a Martin Luther King speech seems to have been added (at least, I think it's King, it is hard to be certain with the distortion).

The final track, The Long Hour, is very nearly as long as the rest put together. This opens with a sound not unlike strange electronic rain drops falling on a strange electronic tin roof. Big echoing chords are then built atop this, though as the piece progresses these become darker and more confined, more underground, before fading away to nothing.

Interestingly, it doesn't feel all that Subterranean to me. Evocative of a desolate place, certainly, but more open than enclosed.

These tracks don't appear to be built up in the same way as Falling Light's felt as though they were. There it often felt like elements were added throughout the track with the scaffolding then being removed at the finish; here the forms seem much freer (Subterranean Flames being an exception to this).

Again, however, it is a fine effort and one which rewards repeated listening. And, this time it's free to boot, so what have you got to lose? Pop over to the Hands of Ruin site and download it, and if you like it, why not pick up Falling Light, if you haven't already.

Where's Runnicles eagerly awaits the next instalment.


  1. Thanks, Tam. I really appreciate your taking the time to listen and give your thoughts on my music.

    As for the speech, though, it's actually from the other end of the political spectrum: it's Oswald Mosley. Not a figure I have much love for, but if you want a bit of shouty oratory then he's a good place to start. The fact that what he's actually saying in that speech is, I believe, mostly nonsense is part of the reason why I distorted it to unintelligibility. (The other part of the reason was simply that I needed some more noise in the high frequencies.)

  2. Ah, couldn't have been much further from the mark there could I!