Stian Westerhus is a Norwegian guitarist and sound manipulator with a long and varied CV in esoteric avant jazz and electronica circles, and amongst many others has worked with Jaga Jazzist, Supersilent, and Motorpsycho. Stian has released many critically acclaimed albums on the highly respected Rune Grammofon label. Amputation is his first release on fellow Norwegians Ulver’s House of Mythology label.
Arriving from out there on the fringes, twitching and fraught with nerves, Amputation is an unsettling maelstrom that swirls in thick dust clouds around deft melancholic melody at its core, should you care to hold your breath and jump in.
Surreal and extreme in equal measure, the dark mirror held up to the psyche of the protagonist reflects a dislocated and fractious soul cut off, perhaps willingly from anything that may be considered “normal” society. The cacophony that is the two-part title track, and indeed the ambience of the whole experience, will chime with us odd folk who gleefully observe Scott Walker’s ongoing attempt to escape the gravity pull of mainstream musical and lyrical conventions.
The album opens with Kings Never Sleep, a battle between Stian’s multi-tracked harmony vocals bravely attempting to bestow melodic order on the electronic looping and scratchy cut up that forms the soundtrack beneath. Eventually, Stian’s howling and distressed guitar takes over, frying everything in its wake.
Examining the nature of the beast, Stian explains “To know what you have, and to give all of it up – even if you know that it’s going to keep haunting you for the rest of your life. Phantom pain. Diagnosing what is the best of two evils – is what this album is about”, and “It’s music I’ve dropped to the floor repeatedly, maybe even on purpose. It’s music in a cracked mirror portraying the time it was created…This is for everyone who is thrown into the great unknown.”
Ghost ships vanish into the mist on the atramentous but ethereal Sinking Ships, and the fabulously eerie How Long is an electro-ballad for the doomed…and then it just gets nicely weird…
Stian’s angelic voice at the centre of the track Amputation cries out like a lost waif in the eye of a hurricane passing through Hades, the rhythmic heartbeat at its conclusion thrumming with nervous tension. This and Amputation II are fractured and disjointed, yet lumbering with intent and a black heart to a traumatic conclusion. The removal of the protagonist from sanity is not gentle, for he or she or it is torn away from perceived reality without anaesthetic. Yes, this is a dangerous place.
Between the two episodes of visceral mental trauma, the heartbeat continues through Infectious Decay to mournful harmonies and electronic scratchings and weirdly manipulated melody, wrought out of synths and possibly guitars. This is a pop tune for the diseased. It is also the most normal thing on the album, recalling Radiohead at their most willfully obtuse. The gapless plunge into the juddering cut up of Amputation II jars the listener out of any complacency, it being the stuff of nightmares.
The terrifying noises Stian rips from his guitar have probably been an inspiration to David Kollar, another highly unconventional guitar wrangler. Added to this a weave of modern classical inspiration through Stian’s unearthly noise and you get a musical vision that is quite unique.
If you are still reading you will no doubt have realised that this is not music for the faint-hearted, and it is not an album that one would return to often. However, much like Mr Engel’s latter works, it has its place in the firmament, speeding in a huge orbit at the far-flung edges of the musical galaxy, a thing of terrifying beauty.
01. Kings Never Sleep (7:11)
02. Sinking Ships (4:39)
03. How Long (8:29)
05. Infectious Decay (5:27)
06. Amputation Part II (4:08)
Total time – 39:45
With no PR sheet to refer to, it is proving difficult to track down who does what on the album, but I strongly suspect Stian does everything.
Record Label: House of Mythology
Catalogue#: HM 04
Year of Release: 2016