As classical musicians become increasingly interested in playing styles outside of what is traditionally taught in conservatories, we are beginning to see more and more recordings that interact with multiple genres in dynamic and original ways. On vice-corpus, cellist and composer Eden Rayz does not content herself with oscillating between the two musical extremes of death metal and contemporary classical music, she mixes them in a completely original sound universe that extensively comments on climate change and oligarchy. Rayz also performs in bands Angel Grinder and Scaphism, and with Corpus Vice, she created a fully realized sound experience from start to finish – the release date (May 16, 2022) coinciding with the recent total lunar eclipse and blood moon.
Opening of the album, the first minute of Saint Anthony’s fire is a kind of microcosm that represents much of what Rayz explores through vice-corpus: music that simultaneously references the wider contemporary classical world in the context of a dark metal album. It is music that has each foot rooted in different musical universes at all times, creating a fascinating stylistic back and forth between improvisation, drumbeats, complicated rhythms and noise.
Saint Anthony’s fire begins with a wash of percussion – three drum sets plus a brake drum, all recorded in the studio by Austin Birdy – which leads into Rayz’s amplified and distorted cello. vice-corpus contains music that can and should be performed live, but also deliberately uses the recording studio as an instrument; three drums playing in phase, two double-tracked flutes, and so on create the impression that this is a musical world the listener has fallen into, not just a depiction of something happening in a concert hall.
The use of recording as a creative medium is also Threnody n°1, which was improvised in a cathedral using the natural echo of space. This piece would be difficult to replicate in a different space, as the physicality of the piece is integral to the dramatic arc of the work. A threnody is traditionally a memorial for the dead, and the dense, jagged sonic world created by Rayz’s detuned and amplified cello low range with the lyrics “Did you rip it out of the ground?” seems to be a memorial for a dying planet.
The centerpiece of the album is the eponymous work in seven movements. Written for two flutes (double track on this recording by Antonina Styczeń), clarinet (Shannon Leigh), bassoon (Grant Bingham), percussion (Austin Birdy), electric guitar and bass (Will Ponturo) and amplified cello (Rayz), vice-corpus uses techniques ranging from slow drones and unrestricted noise crescendos to minimalist soundscapes.
The first movement, “Awareness”, begins with a long build that eventually morphs into unstructured noise and ambient guitar chords, creating a texture that continues through the majority of the multi-movement work. In “Vice”, the tension established by guitar and flute drones interrupted by loud, unpredictable percussion entries never quite pays off in the huge climax we might expect.
In “Resist”, the bassoon and marimba develop the initial guitar idea introduced in “Awareness”, although the musical space becomes denser and more complex. The vibraphone replaces the marimba in “Ascension”, again building on the tension that has been established for the previous three movements. Rayz sings in an otherworldly black metal snarl as the guitar and percussion thumps make the whole movement feel like it could erupt into chaos at any moment.
In “Acceptance”, the drums establish a steady rhythm while the guitar layers feedback and noise. Between some of the strongest moments are hugely evocative soundscapes of whispering and strumming strings. The final movement, ‘Devotion’, finally delivers on the promise of a final noise climax, reflecting the beginning of the work but not necessarily coming full circle. Whether vice-corpus is a commentary on climate change, so surely a possible reading of the ending is that climate change is a problem that builds on itself, ever bigger, stronger and more terrifying.
After vice-corpusthe album ends with Threnody No. 2, described by Rayz as a “silent meditation on the destruction of the oceans”. Performed in a single take by flautist and vocalist Antonina Styczeń, the piece is the only purely acoustic performance on the album, but finds just as many opportunities to explore new sounds. The melodic figures are augmented by Styczeń’s simultaneous humming and singing, which gives way to scooped, curving notes. The final moment of the piece is a quick inward breath, placing sharp punctuation on a piece that mostly explores longer tones.
vice-corpus may be a tough sell for those unfamiliar with growling and screaming vocal styles, but shouldn’t deter anyone from listening to the album. There are so many beautifully composed moments throughout that explore timbre, melody and rhythm in a way that really highlights the incredible possibilities for cross-genre experimentation. vice-corpus makes it clear why composers should study as diverse a selection of music as possible, and hopefully we’ll have more albums that push musical boundaries in the same exciting way.
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