The Hissing of a Paper Crane
Primal Architecture Records
When last we checked in with the duo of Zohra Atash and Joshua Strawn they had skeletonized their sound as Azar Swan, stripping away much of the melody that had defined their first two darkwave LPs in favour of tense, livewire electronics. New LP The Hissing of a Paper Crane continues that trend, perhaps to an extreme degree; Azar Swan’s new music bares little resemblance to their original run of material, bordering on drone, noise and power electronics.
Contextually that works quite well for Atash and Strawn. The anxiety apparent on 2017’s Savage Exile feels fully realized here, the waste and destruction it anticipated laid bare across every track. Opener “The Next Great Dying” is layer upon layer of synthetic noise, and vocals from Atash that are both guttural and chanting. It’s funereal and hypnotic, an evocation of the scorched earth the say inspired the album – not necessarily for its harshness but for the sadness and loss it implies. Follow-up “Sahara Dust” amps up the saturation and distortion and adds a beat; reverse engineering rhythmic noise by way of wasteland techno.
It’s on the title track where Azar Swan feel their most present in the vast and empty deserts the album conjures. Starting with a straightforward recitation of the words “I am the beggar of the world”, Atash recounts a litany of horrifying environmental crimes as washes of noise rise up around her, burning her away like acid until she becomes a ghost, alternately lamenting and accusing while white noise and distant horns blast the song to oblivion. It’s only a short sprint from there to closer “The Vengeful Sun”, where the black metal vocals of Doug Moore from Pyrrhon gnash as Atash shrieks and wails and the electronics sizzle and burn. The power of the track and indeed the record comes from how Azar Swan position themselves within that extinction, and what that annihilation of self says thematically and creatively about the record.
The Hissing of a Paper Crane isn’t necessarily the new standard for Azar Swan – in a recent interview with Grammy.com the band pointed to their funky, techno-tinged 2019 Adult Swim single “Empire Grave” as a signpost for future releases. Perhaps then this LP is the slashing and burning of the fields, clearing the debris and preparing the soil for what might come about in future.