As We Descend is quite possibly the shortest concept album of all time, clocking in at a svelte six songs and 26 minutes. Veterans Risk Relay have been around the entire millennium, and this is the New York quartet’s fourth record.
As We Descend is based on the 1895 John Uri Lloyd sci-fi story, Etidorhpa. Risk Relay got their start in the university rock/punk rock scene, and have evolved over time into a bit of an awkward post-rock/alt-rock amalgamation.
With only six songs, there’s no time for filler. As We Descend jumps right into things with “The Meeting,” and we are greeted with Risk Relay’s trademark sounds: angular, dissonant guitars, tribal drums, and bass guitar providing counterpoint to the guitar work.
Combine this jarring style with Ed Dailey’s monotonous vocal delivery and you have something eerily similar to Public Image Limited circa the Album era, with a little bit of Slint influence thrown in for good measure.
The overall effect is present in all six songs on As We Descend, and it straddles the line between tedious and luringly hypnotic. The lyrics tell the story of a man kidnapped by a secret society and taken to an alternate setting in the middle of the Earth. Dailey’s delivery of the lyrics certainly paints a picture of a man who is taken on an alien journey and is at once confused, awed, and terrified.
The production adds to the unsettling feel of the album, with huge echoes at times on vocals and a very organic, natural sound and mix on the instruments. “Lonely is the Converted Mind” is an instrumental, but still in the same vein as the other tracks. Variance in sound and arrangement is minimal from song to song, with a couple of exceptions. “My Weight Disappearing” features short bursts of the band’s trademark feedback-drenched guitar effect, and album closers “Healer Revealing” and “Sea of Light” border on catchy with their choruses and propulsive rhythms.
Risk Relay don’t appeal to everyone, and As We Descend isn’t going to change that. It’s an odd, quirky album that nonetheless brings the listener in and compels one to sit through the entire thing. In that respect, the short length is maybe a good idea: with the overall awkward feel of the record, an hour might be too much. As it stands, As We Descend is definitely worth a spin.
(released November 18, 2016 on Nefarious Industries)