Though the title paints a grim-enough picture, the actual contents of The Further I Get From Your Star, The Less Light I Feel On My Face, the debut from Lee Bartow’s Theologian project, use conventional metal misery as merely a springboard. The ends form the expected stew of claustrophobic suffering, but the means show Bartow to be a most cunning doom practitioner.
Almost entirely void of conventional (or even unconventional) instruments, The Further I Get… uses noise patterns to form a collage that moves beyond doom metal and space metal, almost aiming to score doom and space themselves. But it’s not just the instrumentation where the disc strays, but also in form: verses, choruses, riffs, and even notes are tossed aside in favor of audio collages almost too subtle to even be called soundscapes. This absence of structure gives the album’s scant moments of vocalization and melody that much more impact, with the listener having spent so long (the songs average just over 10 minutes) alone in Bartow’s near-silence.
As a case in point, “In Times Of Need, We All Go Against Our Nature,” the disc’s nominal centerpiece, kicks off with a simple rumbling pad. The track gradually introduces dissonant static and waveforms, until an extremely simple minor-key chord progression and broken screams carry the assembly into full-on agony. In most doom or ambient contexts, this wouldn’t be anything special, but Theologian stretches the experiment out over the course of 24 minutes, turning conventional methods into a sort of audio staring contest.
And throughout, the disc follows this pattern, becoming less a statement of any specific idea that Theologian may posses and more a test of the listener’s endurance. The outright ear-shredding of “Bearing Bitter Fruit” attacks the senses, and the title track weaves a constant, menacing roar across its 12 minutes. By speaking to primacy as it unfolds, rather than to learned sensibility, the mood and atmosphere of The Further I Get… ultimately become musical, even while not being easily classified as music. The noise and abrasiveness try their best, but no amount of dissonance or distortion can hide Bartow’s plaintive screams as they echo into the great beyond.