Alex Durlak
Lowing EP






Toronto-based guitarist, Drone artist and runner of the Standard Form label Alex Durlak is best known for his processed electric guitar sounds and the Shoegaze roots his concoctions inherit. There is one particular work by him that is truly frightening and awe-inspiring, but for different reasons. I am talking about his Lowing EP which has been released in October 2010 on the Audio Gourmet netlabel in MP3 form. In the meantime, it is also available for free under a Creative Commons license via this link. Lowing is a Dark Ambient brute of 15+ minutes which is held together by three sections. As lame as the genre name may sound in this decade, Durlak does many things very differently. Four attributes come to mind: firstly, he plays this piece live, and post-editing procedures were kept at a strict minimum. Secondly, there is no post-processing involved, no additional hall effect, ring modulator or cut-off knob is ever used in the studio. Thirdly, Lowing is actually a very minimal piece in the given prospect, for there are only guitars used in the recording session, nothing else. The minimalism, however, is unnoticeable. Durlak camouflages the fact with incessantly morphing textures. And finally, Lowing is not your typical Dark Ambient piece due to its movement and pace. One might imagine that the record builds slowly, with soft fade-ins, harsh cusps and a mellow closure. Well, it turns out that Durlak does not want to waste his time with this formulaic approach. Instead, he decides to turn up the amount of toxin and flies off the handle right from the get-go. Read more about one of my favorite Shoegaze-fueled Drone-traversed Dark Ambient works below. It will be worth your while!


Lowing (Section 1) is the spawn point of the murkiness that is so deeply entangled in this EP. Creepily pulsating acidic droplets are unleashed by Durlak who uses nothing else but his electric guitar. The permanently pumping effect does not create a crestfallen aura at all, but presents the terrifying notion of being haunted. It is a hair-trigger situation, especially so when additional strings enter the scenery; they glow in ashen colors and boost the pernicious feel of the song to a new height, all the while the bass guitar is bubbling in the background, somehow mimicking an ulterior demonic laughter. All layers now invoke a sense of pure evil, of a devastating hopelessness. The staccato waves, the machine-like brazen atmosphere is of a rusty-red. Industrial meets Drone. Section 1 finishes with the expected fade-out phase of the elements, but Alex Durlak has one final surprise to offer in this piece, namely an overdriven, hyper-modulated guitar layer which whirrs over the arrangement like a blight and blends right with the next section. This opener shows the power of Durlak’s skills. Everything is played live, no post-processing has been applied to any of the layers. The mood is potentially soul-crushing and it is all the more surprising to me that the Toronto-based artist does not start things in a slower fashion, but goes all-in and creates a frenzy that is strangely balmy and entrancing, as if ferocious forces create malevolent delusions. A superb start.


Lowing (Section 2) continues in the pressing staccato way which was so typical for Section 1. But the textures and color palettes change when a brighter, more powerful guitar shifts between soothing sections and sudden gargantuan outbursts. This shock-and-awe tactics and the ever-shifting surfaces of the guitar layers cause bewilderment at best and sheer terror at worst. It is never clear to the listener which timbre or tone pitch the following section holds ready. The pattern get more stable and aggressive after two and a half minutes, still wonkily warbling and bubbling, but now expanding both the bass and the gunmetal traits. It resembles a helicopter rotor, but one with an immensely forceful impetus. The rotor gets blurrier and hazier when it fades into the final section of Lowing. Whereas Lowing (Section 1) was already danger-evoking, hazardous and baneful, Section 2 fortifies the malignity with the constant mutations of the staccato layers. There is no time for adjustment, the feeling of pressure and tension rises yet again. This one remains my favorite section of this 15+ minutes long piece. There is not even a fraction of gloominess in there. It is all about an impressing virulence.


Lowing (Section 3) is the longest portion with a runtime of over six minutes. The intrinsic sound shifts to clanging and pawing particles which are, as usual, all created by a guitar. At times, these vesicles sound hollow and iron-like, but never are they overly mean-spirited. These devices are accentuated by the most balmy passage of the whole EP: brightly shimmering guitar strings drone in adjacency to the bubbling staccato swamp of static noise and chopped splinters. I would have expected this kind of arrangement as an opener since it is way less tense and seems to build up a thrill which is overly harmless in comparison to the first two critters. After approximately four minutes though, the misery shortly continues with an elastic guitar drone which bounces up and down, followed by the ultimate conclusion of the piece, a gelid and unexpectedly thin guitar stream with admixed electric buzzes. Both fade out for good. Section 3 underwhelms, sounds tame and genteel. This could well be the closest example to a Drone track, but then again, it is missing the spectacular pompousness, the heart-crushing demonism that held the brighter moods hostage in the first two sections. What Section 3 lacks in evil spirits, it offers in flustered strings; the aura is still shady and contrastive, but more luring and perversely languorous.


What I have neglected thus far is the title of the EP. Lowing refers to the brutish noise of cattle. A curious referrer in regard to the given sounds, but not totally warped, for some of the guitar twangs really sound like the snoring of beasts. Whatever led Alex Durlak to the title, the three sections themselves are much more important than their name. Such being the case, the Lowing EP succeeds with an adamant bale and harsh energy right from the beginning. This is Dark Ambient music, but certainly not of the symphonic or synthesized kind. (At least) two guitars are used, and that's about it. There are no field recordings, samples off sound libraries or other ornaments. It is a proper Shoegaze record. The most remarkable element is the constant rotor stop-and-go notion of the guitars. These dizzying, bedazzling sound aesthetics stand in contrast to the mellower drone infusions of Section 3. You can only do so much with guitars without software-related tweaks, but Alex Durlak twists and turns them around, mangles and meshes them aggressively. The result is all the more impressive if you take the live setup into account. Any kind of post-processing is strictly forbidden, a self-imposed limit which allows the artist to fathom out the boundaries in adjacency to the guitar-fueled approach. The brutal tension and the omnipresence of terror and doom are superbly transferred into music, actually so overly successful that the final section of the piece sounds lackluster in comparison. This changes once again if you see Lowing as one piece of 15+ minutes, an impression that is further suggested by the inclusion of a fourth track in the downloadable archive: it is a piece of equal length… the whole track stitched together.




Further listening:

You can download the Lowing EP for free via this link, or listen to the whole composition at Soundcloud.




Ambient Review 179: Alex Durlak – Lowing EP (2010). Originally published on Feb. 6, 2012 at