Dronesyndrome by Kobi (Review)

Soundscapes that transport listeners to surreal, alien, and dark territories.
Dronesyndrome - Kobi

Listening to Kobi’s Dronesyndrome feels like the audio equivalent of attempting an archaeological dig in some blasted, godforsaken land. The group — a Norwegian sound collective led by Kai Mikalsen — has proved quite adept at creating thoroughly affecting and transporting soundscapes that transport listeners to surreal, alien, and dark territories. But whereas their previous album, 2002’s Projecto was rather inconsistent and ran out of steam halfway through, Dronesyndrome remains consistently strong and foreboding throughout its entire length.

Those familiar with Supersilent’s obtuse jazz stylings will find much to appreciate during Dronesyndrome’s early moments. “Faint Echoes Ran Round The Unseen Hall (Part 1)” recalls the spacier, more atmospheric moments on Supersilent’s 6. Clattering drums and brushed cymbals attempt to provide some semblance of rhythm and structure to the roiling drones, shrieking strings, and spectral horns swirling ominously around, only to fail miserably and be blown aside like so much straw.

It’s an almost impenetrable piece, and yet that’s the very thing that makes it so intriguing, the way that it paints a photo of some completely foreign, unexplored place, a territory full of secrets too terrible to know.

Can you tell I’ve been watching too much Lost?

But the disc continues, the listener makes it through somehow, and as “Interspersed With Semi-Conscious Moments” unfolds, one hears the sounds of scraping and digging growing and growing, the sounds of excavation. And yet, the percussion creeping around the song’s edge hints at unseen watchers, ghosts of ancient tribes looking over their lands. Warning, perhaps, that things are about to be unearthed that should remain buried.

But “Anchored To A Central Core Of Saturated Intensity” reveals that the Pandora’s Box has been opened. Spiralling tendrils of sound begin filling the space around, slowly at first, but with increasing speed and volume. And worst of all, ghostly voices can be heard, playing out processions and marches, whispering of longlost ceremonies and rites. The dread begins taking shape on the aptly-titled “The Evening Was Unusually Sultry And Heavy,” as heavy electronics begin playing something approaching actual music, but music full of gloom and portent nonetheless.

H.P. Lovecraft would be pleased.

At this point, given the almost primeval atmosphere that Kobi has conjured up with their music, it might seem odd to hear the sample of some scientist or other narration an ancient hunting ritual. And yet, the events described would fit perfectly within the territory hinted at by Kobi’s dark ambience. Rather than prove distracting, the narration actually lends credence and reality to the dark times and places conjured up by Kobi’s dronework. The narration takes on a life of itself, much like a waking dream, so surreal is it.

Dronesyndrome is not, by any stretch of the imagination, a pleasant recording to listen to. But it is a thoroughly involving one, as Kobi’s use of electro-acoustics, processed samples and synthesizers, and more traditional instrumentation, conjuring up powerful and stirring imagery within the listener’s imagination.

And unlike some artists, who might attempt to assuage the listener with a relaxing, reassuring denouement — perhaps a lovely, ethereal passage that serves a light at the tunnel’s end — Kobi remains fiercely committed to their arcane ways, even if it means leaving the listener in a more alien and uncertain place than where they began.

Read more reviews of Kobi.