Maximum volume yields maximum results.
—sunnO))) proverb, tried and true
It starts with a low-frequency buzz moving at a glacial pace. You pray for release, but it never comes. The sound grows louder, lurching forward in sloppily syncopated waves. A few high-tech squeaks ripple across the vast soundscape. It's all frozen, fractured noise, held together ever so delicately by a low-range drone, designed to bleed even the most durable ears into acquiescence. Then it happens: still slow, but there's a faint spark of life now. The drums begin, fiercely primitive and repetitive. The white noise fades, paving the way for Andrew Morrill's savage growls.
Argentinum Astrum, a post-metal/noisenik project that's no stranger to the mad science of pure sound, was originally designed as the heaviest band in Knoxville. "For the first few months," Morrill says, "the lineup was Chris [Damron] on guitar, Derek [Martin] on drums, and then I did all the electronic and noise stuff....The whole idea of it, we really wanted it to be loud and shaking your insides. But none of us had the equipment to really do that. We'd find that we'd play shows and it would start to get boring, because it wasn't getting the point across."
That point, an apocalyptically powerful wall of sound, never really came into being. Argentinum Astrum is still loud, of course, but their monolithic drones are now tempered with a new philosophy of sound, borrowing riffs from classic doom and pure sludge metal.
"I use my laptop to do some noise stuff in between parts," Morrill goes on, "but other than that, it's just a normal four-piece." With the addition of bassist Andy Kohler, who handles drums for Sadville and fronts the morbidly powerful trio known as Imp, Argentinum Astrum has come into its own, following in the wake of other experimental metal outfits in East Tennessee such as our own Generation of Vipers, Cookeville's Fissure, and Chattanooga's Hoth.
"I love all those bands. We hook up shows for each other, it's really great," Morrill says. "We all know each other." It could be the beginning of a new community of metalheads, as more bands form in an attempt to push the mayhem as far out as possible.
"When we started doing actual songs and what-not, I started doing a lot of white-noise stuff and more ambient things," Morrill continues. "There's some pretty interesting stuff in there."
For a 20-year-old, Morrill is just about as levelheaded as they come, unless he's talking about what he wants his music to do. He's almost giddy when he talks about the possibilities of sound. He was schooled in grindcore during his high school days, recording a few fast, 20-second songs while he continued to tinker and experiment with electronics.
"I want it to be an experience," he says. "A lot of improvisational free noise....I'll just sit in my room and figure out a basic backbone of what I'm going to do."
His other project—Brain Lesion, a dark, industrial/avant-noise one-man band—has been around for about a year. These arrangements of disparate frequencies and musique concrète, similar in structure to what Argentinum Astrum is doing, build into a harsh, earsplitting crescendo. (If that's something you're into, Brain Lesion will play a set on Saturday, Dec. 8, at the Longbranch Saloon on Cumberland Avenue.)
"I wanted to make music that would make people feel as uncomfortable as possible," he says. "Really awful stuff that's low-frequency, and really high-pitched, too, just squealing and creepy stuff. I don't think I've played a show when people don't go, ‘Oh, my god, that hurt.'"
Not a bad philosophy of sound, especially when playing with some of the heaviest bands in the region.
"I do like it a lot better now," Morrill says of what he's doing with Argentinum. "I definitely like what we were trying to do in the beginning, but there's a good 10 minutes of the set that's just Sleep-esque, just stoner rock. I think that's one of my favorite parts of the set."
Still, there's a certain ping of regret when he remembers the early days of the band, and what it tried to accomplish: "We knew what we wanted it to sound like. But to everybody else it was kind of...." he stops in mid-thought and adds: "Not loud enough."