For over a decade, Dominick Fernow, aka Vatican Shadow, has helmed Hospital Productions, his own label of noise, black metal, and techno releases. Although possibly best known as a forerunner of uncompromising noise through his Prurient project, Vatican Shadow sees Fernow stretch some muscles in the arena of techno, leading his oblique political undercurrent to a more ritualistic, admonishing sound. Ghosts of Chechnya, his fifteenth release in three years, is a surprisingly accomplished addition to a ghoulishly reflective catalogue that, as if possessed, appears to be frequently updating itself.
Opener “Encryption Nets” announces the ambient, dub qualities to be found throughout, clearing the gangway for reverb-chamber “The House Of The Followers,” and “Peace Rage,” which distantly recalls the thrashy pop of Prurient’s Bermuda Drain. “The Hamburg Cell Was Born In Chechnya” introduces a Mars Black palette that arouses memories of Sandwell District’s “Svar,” before “Chechnya’s Ghosts Loom Large In Death Of Former Spy,” much the strongest track, with its syncopated rimshots and distorted kickdrums serving as bass lines, suddenly turns into an advancement of cubist noise that would not have been out of place on Prurient’s Arrowhead, before retreating.
“Chechnya’s Ghosts” has the feel of a seance or solemn march bolted down by the reality of war (the Second Chechen), a sensation of wandering through a landscape of rubble and public graves. But it’s not all hauntings: many of the tracks, such as “Peace Rage,” are uptempo balancing acts, measuring forceful, danceable beats with a cold, indistinct mist of strings, or playfully ironic imagery, such as the jovial handclaps of “Voices Came Crackling Across A Motorola Hand-Held Radio.” In essence, Fernow successfully dwells on violence with an insistent, impervious atmosphere; there is a narrative at work built into the structure of the record itself not unlike Drexciya’s Journey Of The Deep Sea Dweller, the suggestion of an external fictional scaffolding. This certainly isn’t electro, or techno of the Chain Reaction obsessive-compulsive ilk, but if anything, Ghosts embraces its imperfections and comes off all the better for it.