With the arrival of Raime’s debut long player Quarter Turns Over a Living Line, the first album yet released on Blackest Ever Black, both the label and the duo complete a full circle that appropriately enough finds them nearer to their starting point than to the wildernesses they’ve explored together and separately in between. After all, it was here that Raime’s first transmission appeared just over two years ago with a three track, self-titled EP that was as mysterious a piece of vinyl as any that had surfaced in years. Seemingly referencing a great variety of musical traditions – sacred church music, modern drone, UK dance styles, primarily jungle and dubstep, and early ’80s dark ambient and gothic – it was simultaneously reverent to all of these influences but beholden to none of them. The key ingredient was breathtaking austerity, economy, and directness; here was a duo that knew what they were going for and went about it via whatever means necessary, using whatever instruments were at their disposal. The shadowiness of the music coupled with this deliberate execution immediately captured the imagination of listeners looking for something that put aesthetic over functionality; subsequent EPs developed different facets of their ideas while retaining the dark, ritualistic elements that formed its core.
Moving even further into the void, Raime’s debut album finds the notoriously reticent duo both abreast of most of their contemporaries in some ways and even more ahead of them in others. It’s an effective doubling of their previously-released discography (along with a revisitation of one earlier effort, This Foundry), but from their mostly-electronic origins, the album picks up the aesthetic thread where they left off while greatly advancing their grasp on how they reach this end. The introduction of droning, scraping electric guitars, electric basses and live drums brings one obvious reference point – Earth’s increasingly minimalist dronescapes – and to add more fuel to this comparison, Raime has mostly removed the busier rhythmic elements of previous efforts in exchange for slow, methodical, downtrodden barrenness. Listening to Your Cast Will Tire or the finale The Dimming of Road and Rights, the live instruments in the mix first suggest that the pieces were recorded more in a rock format than as some kind of studio creation, but closer inspection reveals loops subtly intertwined and employed, sutured together with reverb and distortion, and then melded with further instrumental performances to create a complex hybrid. However, these are also the two tracks that offer the most clear reference points outside of Raime’s familiarly human-alien(ated) sound world, and they are everywhere recognizably in their own distinct element.
Unraveling their methods is something that takes several listens to accomplish – the first revealed nothing, the second mood and sounds, and only after that did I make much progress – but doing so offers the reward of finding two musicians making use of every tool in their arsenal as well as many new methods to create their most striking, fully-formed music yet. Even played at full volume, with the waves of bass pulsating through the room, the tense drama and minimalism would allow a dropped glass to be heard shattering (I don’t doubt they’d welcome the effect). Their revisitation of This Foundry, here retitled The Last Foundry, best encapsulates the developmental shift of the album: the drum programs have mostly been stripped away, the void filled only with an incessant, thin shaker and irregular snare beat, while dread blasts of bass, distortion, and rattling industrial sounds arise from the nether regions to upset the floating pads. They play this similar strategy expertly throughout, though; sometimes the tracks explode in bleak outbursts of noise, and on others they force the tempo uncomfortably upwards and bring militant, regimented drum patterns to bear. At the end though, this is Raime we’re dealing with, and theirs is a game of subtlety and control, and these are works very much in continuity with what has emerged before from their lair, with the various ideas that were previously only dimly suggested pushed to the fore and differentiated over four sides of vinyl. It’s safe to say that after two years of anticipation delivering any less would be a disappointment, but by effectively further solidifying their sound while broadening their means of reaching that end point, Quarter Turns Over a Living Line stands as Raime’s defining achievement and yet another new high point in their closely-watched career.