Roly Porter – Third Law (Tri Angle Records, 2016)


“I see nothing”

The final words of the pilot of PauknAir Flight 4101 spoken moments before crashing in heavy fog and killing everyone onboard the plane are a morbidly accurate way to begin talking about Roly Porter’s latest Dark Ambient behemoth Third Law, not least because the opening track is titled “4101”, but also because I hold a few concerns about the thematic presentation of the record; sometimes it can be equally as hard to see through its oppressive sound to find its thematic goal as that damning fog.

Finding a balance between his two relatively disparate previous albums (Aftertime and Life Cycle of a Massive Star), Third Law continues in the same space vein as its predecessor but strips away the scale and grandeur in favour of what could be more emotive pieces. Indeed, much of the record aims to be almost as unsettling as possible; “4101” thrums to life on masses of creepy choral voices that emplace a sense of consistent menace as they evolve into apocalyptic drones and harsh electronic buzzings, which similarly transmute into the ominous silence before the storm as it closes on monolithic bass poundings. It’s a great opener and the perfect pre-release single: atmospheric, threatening and dramatic at every moment, but it doesn’t always give as good as this.

“Mass” turns around the beautiful stringed darkness and electro-mechanical cruising of “In System”, that loses itself in the hummings and bleepings of a ship on autopilot, and instead forges itself in crashing walls of noise and strobing, dub cyclings that feel…pointless and obtrusive, out of place and brash just for the sake of it. A little later “High Places” feels similarly weak too, turning choral chanting into smeared noise that abruptly terminates just to turn the rest of the track into drifting ambient looseness sporadically broken by surges of strings and white noise intrusions; principally it feels strangely paced and slow to act, a weakness I feel a few tracks hold on to, “Blind Blackening” perhaps being the worst offender. Its unassuming beginnings draw admittedly haunting atmospherics but drag on for over three minutes before it finally begins to break the drift with warning shots of heady bass pulses that turn sideways into hurricane force batterings of claustrophobic electronica and glitching discord. It then retreats into a strange, again elongate, ending sequence filled with ethereal voices and aimlessly fragile strings, it’s peculiar and just too long at over 8 minutes.

There are some saving graces of course, and they all happen to fall later in the record from “In Flight” into final two, instigating our more conceptually strong 11th hour tracks with its cinematic roiling Breakcore propulsion, its beats surging through noise fluffiness with the mechanical effortlessness and smoothness of a plane through a cloud; its very sonically close to the Life Cycle style which is probably why I enjoy it so much. “Departure Stage” is my out-and-out favourite followup though, really engaging a sense of excellently established atmosphere in its slowly developing percussive sparsity that reverbs off into swelling waves of anxious, tumultuous drone. It’s another cinematically noir effort as it lapses into these dramatic painted synth lines at its conclusion, welcoming the progression of subsequently departing final piece “Known Space”. Peering over the precipitous edge it looks into the abyss and the abyss looks back, ominously unfolding in comparatively collected and refined ambience as it closes into harmonious synths that lose themselves in trepidative mystery, embracing the unknown that lies ahead.

There are genuinely great moments here; some tracks as I’ve mentioned feel cohesive and valuable as a whole, others while less strong still have precious and informative moments of clarity and strength but this kind of feels like another Aftertime to me: not quite clearly expressed and weirdly paced to make for a bit of a disjointed listening experience at times. I’ve come to enjoy it more with more listens but I get the impression it’s trying to be at least a pseudo-developing story and I just don’t feel that at all except in the final three tracks or so really. Kind of a shame, I was hoping for something more tightly thematic like Life Cycle was but alas; definitely worth a listen regardless.