. issue I : ii .

by barathron

. artist : rosetta .
. album : wake/lift .
. year : 2007 .
. label : translation loss .
. grade : a minus .

Rosetta -- Wake/Lift
Rosetta’s Wake/Lift is, as the name implies, a dialectical and emergently convolving album in which a microstructural tapestry of mechanical and ambient traction (with gouges, screaks, transmissions, stuck gears, struck anvils and drippy caverns) clarifies a textural richness in an otherwise obtuse scaffolding of guitar squalls. This is post-metal that piquantly evokes metal and, even, metalworking, transcending its peers with this complex and immersive edifice of an album. The packaging itself well encapsulates the objective and yet qualified tensions that this album accomplishes for the listener: like these electrical cenotaphs in the flavor of a warm autumnal squall, this album is both a built, fortified construct and a richly evocative experience — its tight corners and keen edges extrovert a ripe eloquence. Comprised of seven tracks at a range of lengths (12, 5, 3, 6, 9, 15 and 14 minutes, respectively) and with vacillating moods via adroitly dynamic composition, these songs are rapt in progress (or, with smith and mason metaphors, hammering and quenching, burdening and alleviating) — even ‘bent upon themselves’ — but with a structural tenacity. There resides a clouded indeterminacy where components are meshed bluntly, comprehensive in their experiential totality without needing to be ‘hooky’ or appetitive; rather, they are holistically entrancing. Like a skeletal machination animated in phasic, upwelling currents, the cyclical nature of this album is recurrent — not redundant — rather, dispersing weight throughout; it is balanced well, cultivating an immersion that is carried with as the weight shifts. With its industrious, sententious guitars, fervid, sober screams, and viscous sonic ambience, Wake/Lift conjures an intent and intense architecture far beyond comparable post-rock (Mogwai) and metal (Isis) outfits. In terms of sound fabrication, this is sophisticated work — more like an installation than a trending ‘band’ in the ‘metal’ genre.

“Rosetta exert themselves with an immanent drama, yet Wake/Lift seems autochthonously summoned and, only subsequently, wielded.”

Album opener “Red in Tooth and Claw” sounds much less like the unfortunately en vogue Hobbesian tribute (re: The Receiving End of Sirens) that it is and much more like a present Leviathan. The aural environs are a hollow spring cavern with drippy footfall echoes, and atmospheric nuance saturates this track: tones like an alarm paired with soothing instrumentation, a high screak in a spacious part of the song (emerging later from a partial interment under layers of signal), little electronic groans, and extended ‘transmission’ fuzz. The mood intensifies with soaring, soothing guitars, paced drums, and a barrage of insistent screaming; midway, the song assumes a triumphal tone, with a comfortable guitar that entwines into a duet; then wet bass, like a heartbeat; a dense well of sound; and a flushed, febrile fortitude as Armine yells “for ever!” Remarkably, Rosetta allows minutes for “Red in Tooth and Claw” to dysregulate and derail itself. Wake/Lift deliberates in this way, the band respecting the most organic evolution of each musical extrapolation, and the listener must pace to comport with this. The music-box ‘wound-up and wound-down’ process is straightforward enough, but beyond the half-life decay point, a candid tension is provoked between musical expectations and the frustrating sentience — even will — of these compositions in playing themselves to the end.

The “Lift” series is an intricate atmospheric placeholder, sprawling over three temporally-concise but experientially-protracted movements. Despite the post-metal vehemence of “Red in Tooth and Claw,” the listener will question the generic precedent of Wake/Lift when confronted with the ambience of the “Lift” series. Is this post-metal or contemporary sound? Though finally revealed as a potent combination, by the close of “Lift 2” the balance has tipped toward the ambient. As reticent, aloof, dissociated drums collude with submersive and pressurized vocal plunges, “Lift 1” feels like the most glorious waterboarding session. As noted, Rosetta’s pacing choices exact each song upon the listener — here, an elastic tempo traipses and is pulled taught in starts, a meteoric solo cranks down, retains an orbit, and launches off again, and a poundingly articulate guitar lays into a melody both phrase-based and non-linear. At an innocuous plateau, a spindly treble guitar presides in a wash of sound that lifts above … and then retracts into “Lift 2,” with the natural appeasement of a sigh or the end of high tide. “Lift 2” establishes an atmospheric gradient between a one-dimensional (analog) gear-clank and expansive, viscous, and strangely draining soundscapes (with its brooding and abiding mood, this song evokes a sort of cold magma). The foundational ingenuousness of the texture (like a vat underneath) is undone each time this ‘faked’ gear sound appears. Thus “Lift 2” is an uncanny dialectic between a hypertrophic, generative landscape and a poorly replicated interruption. And just as the listener has adapted to atmospheric pieces, “Lift 3” returns to metal with a clarifying jolt; the chiming, positive guitars and agile drumming remind that Rosetta is, in fact, a band! “Lift 3” accumulates its energy slowly but with optimistic build, then splits into a deconvolved, slightly detuned reprise, manufacturing a dimensionality (as though a layer is peeled away, rather than added, and the listener apprehends something behind the previous melody). Armine’s full-throated voice fills in a lonely space, cathartically enveloping, and the guitar staggers into mighty solo runs of its own. Again, this song slows intractably, frustrating the listener and forcing restraint. A silent space (following logically from the inchoate collapse of the “Lift” series) like an insistent rest, remains, extended.

“Wake” begins with a metal bass, full-bodied guitar runs, and crisply precise drum clusters. These clusters are reprised throughout, tumbling out their controlled chaos against the delicacy of guitars and the warison of vocals. In blasting screams, Armine exhorts himself, “WAAAKE! / GIII-AAANT / ARRR-MIIINE!” in, apparently, an orchestration for apocalyptic mecha. Yet the listener takes it seriously; even where Rosetta’s ‘metal’ kitsch and drama should be hokey, the listener is so impressed upon by the musicianship that assessment doesn’t enter in.

“Combining artisanal decisiveness, the compositional long-view, and the dank hummings and clatterings of a sound installation, even these ‘grownup Yu-Gi-Oh’ moments become something Bartokian, a tremulous, tremendous sound in a breathless album.”

An eerily sliding echo transmigrates “Wake” into “Temet Nosce,” or ‘know thyself.’ Though Rosetta often evokes footfalls from drumming, “Temet Nosce” is the only track on Wake/Lift that finds form for this impression and exhibits narrative permanence. From a bright, alveolate guitar, a melodic overlay crests and hushes as instruments redact themselves. The listener is returned to a replete spaciousness. Then, a shift: paranoic anticipation manifests in drumbeat waves and a sinisterly restrained application of cymbals (as though deliberately tamping down panic). “Temet Nosce” elucidates a sort of frontier-vigilance, and the listening experience is not merely of surveying, but patrolling. Choral echoes pervade and infiltrate the nervousness, precipitating a sort of sonic clearing — a rippling and bubbling sanctity– over the space of six full minutes. The listener listens, anticipating. The drums are a haunting emulation of huge footfalls, methodic and hunting, and the dire cry of an owl punctuates the dangerously devoid conclusion.

“Monument” lands with a jolt, subjecting the listener to deep vocalizations that bore down; surprisingly, a hopeful, clean reprise at the one-minute mark relieves the stress. The listener is beset again as Armine proclaims something unintelligible except for a repeated “we” — ludicrously, ‘we’ take him at his word. “Monument” dwells in sonic nuance, with piercing guitar solos and lavish fuzz on the held notes. Armine’s vocals become insistently militant (in a Third Reich broadcast way — and it’s frightening), yet are heard through a translucent curtain of guitars, cordoned off with instrumentation, and the oblivious guitar wends a melodic line of its own. Another unsettled pairing of shimmery textures and bombastic orchestration is rounded off by a remarkable two-minute shut-down. The guitar patters, at the close irresolute, and, dispersing slowly, like fraying threads, “Monument” falls apart.

Rosetta is a post-metal outfit comprised of Michael Armine (vox, sound), David Grossman (vox, b-g), Bruce McMurtrie, Jr. and Colin Martson (d), and James Matthew Weed (e-g, vln). Wake/Lift is a potent and perspicacious post-metal masterpiece, finely-crafted with a mature meticulousness. Highly recommended!

by Brittany Tracy