- How abstract can you make techno and still call it techno? How noisy can you get before it's all washed away in a torrent of fuzz? These are the kind of questions Bristol duo Emptyset pose with their second album, Demiurge, a pulsating storm of distorted frequencies that occasionally takes the shape of intelligible beats. Demiurge is a move, conscious or not, towards outright accessibility even though it mostly abandons their eponymous debut album's more distinctly beat-oriented structure.
The pre-album single "Altogether Lost," released on techno label CLR and represented here in instrumental form as "Point" is the best indication of Emptyset's new sound. "Altogether Lost" played backing track to a frantic sermon from Underground Resistance MC Cornelius Harris, but it remains electrifying on the album as "Point," becoming more fierce with every intensifying bar. Remixed by Chris Liebing and Ben Klock among others, the techno connection becomes more obvious. The momentum and energy that characterized "Altogether Lost" wasn't just a fluke, and it powers Demiurge from the inside, creating a surprisingly propulsive album in the process.
Techno isn't the only reference point. The low-end bombs in "Tangent" are redolent of Scorn and early dubstep, and the way each track methodically repeats in odd formations with unremitting focus owes something to dub music as well, territory both Emptyset members are no doubt well-versed in. The determined cycling of each "chord' progression numbs the pain of serrated frequencies. Even when the pain threshold is crossed—as on the harsh tunnelling of "Monad" or the white noise screams of "Plane"—the tracks simply burn themselves out.
For territory that would usually be so unapproachable, Demiurge seems designed for easy consumption: songs rarely breach four minutes and the album registers at a scant forty minutes. It's allows the duo to be as abrasive as they need to be without sacrificing an audience. It's simultaneously cohesive—keeping the same palette of sounds across the board—and refreshingly mutable for this kind of conceptual conceit, with more melody and variation than you might expect from your typical noise album. And while it's hard to pick out individual highlights, that's part of the album's unique success. Demiurge is a song-based album with no real songs. Those attracted to recent strains of techno aligned with early industrial—Perc Trax, CLR, Ancient Methods—will find as much to love in Demiurge as those more inclined to extreme sound design.