Dial ‘M’ for Metal
“Anemic Cinema: not for the faint of heart, but top quality contemporary jazz.”
-Peter de Backer, de Standaard
For a long time, the jazz community turned a blind eye to the existence of heavy metal. With its propensity for brutality, various occult themes and raging volumes, the genre had to deal with prejudices for years, but things have changed. Contemporary jazz/improvisation heavyweights such as Craig Taborn, Matt Mitchell and Hilmar Jensson have not only expressed their love for heavy metal, but also incorporated some of it into their adventurous music practices.
Not surprisingly, really, as the much maligned genre has expanded into an embarrassment of richness, with bands not only vying for extremity, but also working with striking polymeters, exotic textures, genre-defying dynamics and even some improvisation. Also for Belgian guitarist Artan Buleshkaj, metal is a source of inspiration, and while some of that already seeped into his playing in other bands, Anemic Cinema is where he gives himself free reign.
“It is well known that baritone guitarist Buleshkaj possesses a merciless virtuosisty when it comes to heavy metal. The same can be said of Banken and Delannoye on alto and tenor saxophone. The crux of the matter is that these gentlemen just as well have mastered delicate compositions, which are seamlessly inserted in between the more violent sections.” -Bart Cornand, Knack
A self-titled EP released in 2021 already proved this was no fluke. Buleshkaj took a rather original approach, disbanding with the bass and incorporating two reed instruments and drums. This peculiar line-up not only breaks with traditional instrumentation, but also creates new opportunities to approach the music from different angles. Moreover, the color palette of the clarinets and saxophones not only enables the band to experiment with tone color, but also to incorporate ideas and sounds from chamber music, modern classical and other sources.
It helps that Buleshkaj surrounded himself with a bunch of highly skilled free-thinkers that have already made their mark on the Belgian jazz scene. Youthful renegade Rob Banken (leader of the equally combustible HAST) was a natural choice, but so is the presence of Steven Delannoye, who interprets Braxton and standards with equal inspiration. And then there’s drummer Matthias De Waele, whose stylistic range stretches from traditional jazz ensembles to jazz-rock and the avant-garde. On Iconoclasts, these four once again bend the rules and come up with striking results.
“This quartet knows no boundaries and they really squeeze every possibility out of all the compositions. And the playing is really fantastic too, often with strong twists and breaks. Because in addition to Buleshkaj, Banken, Delannoye and De Waele also are outstanding players. What a fascinating musical unit.” -Dick Hovenga, Written in Music
The band name was taken from a short film by über-Dadaist Marcel Duchamp. Opening track “Oneirophrenia” refers to a dream-like state in which you start to hallucinate from a.o. exhaustion or sensory deprivation. It somehow fits the crushingly heavy music, in which Buleshkaj’s baritone guitar sounds as if he’s throwing thick slabs of meat into a grinder. There’s a massive growl in there that goes well with the unpredictability of the reeds and the surprising nimbleness of De Waele’s playing.
Further on it becomes clear that Anemic Cinema not just thrives on extreme or sudden contrasts, but concocts a true merger of seemingly disparate genres. While some tracks veer explicitly towards metal or jazz, both genres somehow keep transforming each other. Not just because of the instrumentation, but with combinations that never settle for an easy formula. That’s how technically complex ‘metal’ parts can switch to more improvisation-based detours without sounding forced.
Just check out the juxtaposition of “Tessellate” (hectic, with rapid-fire turns and accelerations) and “108” (acoustic, almost pastoral). Because of what came before, the different colors and temperaments make sense, become parts of an overarching vision and mission. As such, Iconoclasts offers not just a collision of disparate worlds, but a forceful merger that combines the excitement and freedom these genres are capable of. The result is creative and hard-hitting, pointing towards the future without remorse.
Text by Guy Peters.
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