Original published: Virgin
Rearing their head from the underworld with the release of their much-lauded eponymous debut album back in 2006, followers of Oslo’s hotly-tipped Serena-Maneesh may be excused for thinking that they had dropped off the face of the earth prior to this, their follow up ‘S-M 2: Abyss In B Minor’. It turns out that the five-piece’s disappearance was not down to some gravitational anomaly that sucked them into a vacuous ether of misplaced hyperbole and critical acclaim (see: The Pigeon Detectives, MGMT shit second album syndrome); instead, the Norwegian’s evanescence was down to them returning to the underworld: more precisely, a cave on the outskirts of their hometown. Go figure.
“Studio environments often get on my nerves,” explains the group’s bellwether Emile Nikolaisen in the press release; “and I love the underworld, you can silently head down there and do as you please, leave the world behind. So we found this huge cave with stone walls, it looked like a refugee hideout from World War II, with a huge, undiscovered sound.” As far as artistic twaddle goes, you’ll have to a good way to find another band that will choose the undiscovered sound of a dank crypt over the safety of a cushy sound booth and a working toilet nearby.
But that’s the extent to which Serena-Maneesh went, and the undiscovered sound that they realised as refugees from our modern day dystopia is of mixed appeal. What is one man’s heaven is another’s hell, and as the album title suggests, you’ll already know by now if you are ready to listen to the contemporary equivalent of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony from the bottomless depths of an underground chamber or not.
Their choice of recording environment weighs heavy upon their sound. Opening with the eerie ‘Ayisha Abyss’, an apparition of white noise slowly focuses amid a breeze of chimes in the intro. But once all the unworldly sounds settle and the listener is comfortable, a penetrating rhythm section begins to resonate and reprise over swirling synths and gasping vocal sound bites. It all amounts to the aural equivalent of waterboarding as an unsettling twist of electronic bleats ends their first of eight movements.
There are lighter, downier moments to the industrial dirges that swell from its bloated Krautrock balls. These tend to align themselves with the more docile, smack-saturated sounds of the Velvet Underground, such as the softened, water coloured washes that encapsulate the beautiful ‘Melody for Jaama’ and ‘Honey Jinx’, making aspects of ‘Abyss’ actually listenable – especially the static-infused pop melody of ‘I Just Want to See Your Face’, recalling a more coherent ‘All Tomorrow’s Parties’.
Often noted for their similarities with My Bloody Valentine, the likes of ‘Reprobate!’ and ‘Blow Yr Brains In The Morning Rain’ stare straight into the naval-gazing underbelly of 1991’s ‘Loveless’ in an attempt to revitalise or draw clarity upon sound that divided music fans first time around.
And that’s the overriding problem really. In their attempt to source and invent new sounds, Serena-Maneesh either stumble into territories that have already been excavated or show no concern for what is actually being produced at the end of it – an album that is full of inspiration and influences that fail to add up in the darkness in which they were born. ‘Abyss’ has been tailored for but a few to enjoy.