At a glance, my sister-in-law said that the self-titled debut of Mirrors For Psychic Warfare sounded like the soundtrack to a haunted house, and dubbed its unique flavor of dark experimental noise “haunted house music.” To be clear, this nomenclature makes no connection to the actual genre of house music. On this release, Neurosis singer and guitarist Scott Kelly and producer Sanford Parker, previously collaborators on doom metal project Corrections House, communicate the essence of a cold and empty void so much more tangibly than absolute silence could ever hope. Excruciating in its minimalism, Mirrors for Psychic Warfare presents an atmosphere of dread and despair that I found oddly comforting. Droning and dissonant guitars, spaced-out vocals, and casually-yet-deliberately sequenced drums communicate an existential suffering so satisfying that I can’t help but feel compelled to see it through to its 45 minute completion on every listen.
The opening track, “Oracles Hex”, sets the record’s dark and unnerving tone. The alien twang of a reverberated guitar rings across a dead and frozen landscape. Kelly’s cool and confident vocals slur freely like the icy lamentations of the ghost of a drunken Morrissey. Just before the song’s four minute mark, the cold tectonics of this dead planet spring to life like the eruption of a Plutonian cryo-volcano. The song concludes with two minutes of chest-rattling drums rippling through a sludgy wall of guitar that very nearly collapses under its own weight.
The first sounds of the next track, “A Thorn to See”, is a drum beat that reminds me of the intro to Bauhaus‘ “Bela Lugosi’s Dead”, as heard from just outside of the gravity well of a supermassive black hole. Orchestral pads set the stage for a dark ritual in which Kelly summons forth and pays his respect to the classical elements of nature. Soon after the halfway point of this nearly 15 minute nightmarish ode to nihilism, a blistering guitar riff of pure fire consumes the scene, leaving only a tumultuous ball of molten iron behind.
“Cnn Wtz” is a 9 minute Sisyphean crescendo of guitar, reminiscent of Monster Magnet‘s “Goliath and the Vampires.” Much like in “Goliath and the Vampires”, Kelly’s vocals appear on this track as a tortured and largely unintelligible wail. This track sears the listener’s senses in a four and a half minute orgy of blistering pain before fading off into static.
“I’ll Try You All” returns the icy tone of “Oracles Hex.” The fiery guitars are reduced to watery echoes, and Kelly’s pained insomniac cry competes for the foreground of the track with a desperate guitar solo. While “Cnn Wtz” is this album’s painful climax, “I’ll Try You All” is its deepest trough of despair.
“43” signifies the end of the ordeal. A choir of keyed instruments usher in a dawn that brings the listener small relief, but the damage is done. A painful guitar riff, reminiscent of “Cnn Wtz”, joins the movment of synth brass and piano. All that remains of Kelly’s vocals are a strained echo, his psyche another sleepless night weaker.
Mirrors For Psychic Warfare is an unsettling examination of the emotional toll of an episode of insomnia. I instantly recognize the imagery it conveys. For 45 minutes, this album locks you into the tumbling anxiety of a restless night, with the merciful salvation of a pause button at your disposal. The experience of listening to this album is more draining, both intellectually and emotionally, than nearly any album I can recall. This album is a must-listen, but I would advise not keeping it in heavy rotation.
Best Track: I think “Oracles Hex” is the only track on this album I could listen to with any frequency without risking my sanity.
Worst Track: It’s not fair to call any of the tracks on this album the “worst”, but “I’ll Try You All” is the track I felt most uncomfortable hearing in the multiple times I’ve listened to this album over the course of writing this review.