Negative Gain Productions
Jamie Blacker’s now long-tenured ESA has held a particular tension for at least as long as Blacker’s imposing growl has been a central part of the power noise project. Those vocals, glass throated and generally unhinged, exemplify the primal rage and unrest which often sits at the heart of ESA’s releases (as a quick glance at earlier cover art and track titles can attest). But at the same time as Blacker’s been putting more of his wildman persona into ESA, his technical chops as a producer have improved, resulting in an increasingly crisp and granular execution of power noise that would seem to be at odds with the former. But time and again Blacker’s shown himself capable of walking that line, as new LP Burial 10 continues to demonstrate.
Opener “Relapse” puts across this combination of controlled production and unbridled rage. Far-off vocal howls which sound like they’re coming from the other side of a mountain sit in sharp contrast to Blacker’s primary vocals sitting just an inch away from the ear as they read off a litany of failings. Sharp kicks thread through grimy bass which flips between staccato stabs and worming sustained passages. ESA’s rep as dancefloor catnip often belies just how much consideration goes into arrangement: time and again, even on the most seemingly straightforward four on the floor numbers, Blacker knows exactly when and how to throw rhythmic variations into the mix to keep the dancefloor fresh, as on the satisfying builds and drops on the title track, or the midtempo grind of “Hold Your Tongue”.
Guest spots remain another way ESA keeps things moving, and on the whole Burial 10 finds the right spots for the talent assembled. Jo Hysteria of Massenhysterie flits between English and German and trades off with Blacker on “Cloak & Dagger”, bringing extra colour and mystery to an already busy arrangement of tumbling clockwork and roughly textured pads. Caitlyn of UK electro rock outfit Corlyx wails through “You Are Safe Here”, ensuring that the anxiety sitting beneath the comparatively approachable club bounce of the track doesn’t go unnoticed. The MCing of Lecture on “Heavy Is The Head That Wears The Crown” doesn’t fare as well: its monarchical braggadocio is technically sound but feels a tad dated.
At 76 minutes Burial 10 is a bit of an endurance test, but given the baptism by fire feel of most of the tracks that’s not exactly a drawback. As much as club-friendly material like this is often talked about in terms of release or catharsis, I think the real power of ESA lies in its ability to get under one’s skin and stay there. High-def production and skillful arrangements are the instruments through which Blacker injects the bile and venom that is his stock and trade, and it can’t be worked out in just one listen.