I know what you’re thinking. You clicked on this cover art, read the name The Poisoned Glass, and licked your lips for a delightful rip at some dime-a-dozen metal or goth band. Well, think again, pal - you’re in the company of two seasoned harbingers of doom, both formerly of the short-lived Seattle cult Burning Witch. This shadow-shrouded duo wears the hooded cloaks of Sunn O))), yet wield the staves of artists that subtract rather than add. With only Stuart Dalquist’s ominous bass and organ drones, the chilliest of chilly synth stabs, and Edgy 59’s demented tenor, 10 Swords plunges the listener into a pitch-black vacuum. There are no Halloween bogies here, no pagan rituals, no fake or real blood.
Nothing – no matter how many ways I describe violence, blackness, or ice – could prepare listeners for the ice-cold shock that await them. I could mention John Cage, and point to the gaps in skeleton sonatas. I could refer, again, to Sunn O))), and the eternal drone. But works like 'Toil and Trouble' and 'Silent Vigil' don’t just stagger or drift into void – the synthesizers jab like well-placed needles, piercing the eardrums so deeply the first time that each reiteration will make the listener flinch. That force alone inspires awe enough – but then Edgy matches that with an eldritch cry that shatters the stillness, like if David Lee Roth were singing for his own funeral. That violence disrupts the smooth obsidian surface, lending bite to the bass’s growl.
Now, with this constant pull toward the abyss – a pull as unrelenting as gravity – some may fear suffocating in the prolonged stranglehold. And indeed, listeners can easily lose their sense of direction down here. But the Poisoned Glass leave enough sign posts to stave off monotony, especially the electrical storm that ravages 'Verbatim' and the unnerving jungle screeches on the already eerie instrumental 'Eels'. But the strange glow that spills into the second half of 'Toil and Trouble' stands out the most, namely for shining so brightly in a world otherwise bereft of light. That one moment of glory leaves me wondering what other non-void territory the Poisoned Glass could’ve explored – or, perhaps, what they might explore in a second outing.
Admittedly, words rarely count for much in these types of projects – the velvety black texture usually speaks for itself. But Edgy’s incantations lend a universal context to the sacrificial pyre, often lamenting man’s lust for power and war. “You made me warlike / like your father / and his before”, he spits on 'Verbatim'; “mothers make and fathers destroy”, he muses on the brooding opener 'Plume Veil'. Yeah, the male/female and death/life dichotomies have kicked around in our collective consciousness for a very long time, but the invocation of such in 10 Swords suggests a sort of reckoning that transcends the usual maledictions. Granted, there are some regrettably cheesy lines, too – such as the wincingly gothic “Silent vigil / so go to sleep / forever” in 'Silent Vigil' – but otherwise, a timeless and impassive perspective reigns.
In short, 10 Swords won’t be the laughably satanic feud you were hoping for. If anything, the Poisoned Glass draw their hair-raising terror more from Bernard Hermann than Sunn O))) – like Hitchcock’s celebrated composer, the duo can craft suspense with the precision of a chef. And just as Hermann hammered himself into public memory with the likes of Psycho and Vertigo, so the Poisoned Glass will etch scars onto the skulls of whoever dares descend into their lair.
8Lee Adcock's Score