Album Review: Fire in the Head, “A History of Obsession”

Fire in the Head - A History of Obsession

Fire in the Head – A History of Obsession

After a lengthy hiatus from the cacophonous power electronics of Fire in the Head (F/I/T/H), during which time Massachusetts-based noisician Michael Page focused on his progressive dark ambient project Sky Burial, Page navigates an impressive return to auditory chaos on A History of Obsession. Nestled in layers of distortion like an orbital satellite awash in a solar storm, ethereal yet futuristic tones and textures underpin Page’s sonic maelstrom, informed by a predilection for cinematic (and particularly sci-fi) sound.

The titular obsession recounted over the album’s nine tracks could belong to a mind born of science fiction: a Frankenstein’s monster, equal parts organic and technological material, driven mad by the paradox of its existence as a sentient machine and determined to destroy all of Nature as revenge for its own abomination. However, considering the album title and art refer to familiar themes in power electronics, i.e. sex, violence, and psychosis, the pathological-cybernetics interpretation is an esoteric reading of the work (Page is a diehard fan of the BBC sci-fi series Doctor Who, and chief among the evil alien antagonists on the show are the Daleks – a race of psychotic mutant-cyborgs genetically stripped of all emotion but for their obsessive hatred of The Doctor. The dark ambient elements on A History of Obsession elicit a sense of persistent calm at the center of a swirling audio maelstrom, which evokes the Dalek’s amorphous mutant body encased in its metallic shell, like a prisoner condemned to a life of solitary confinement. A History can therefore be interpreted as the soundtrack to Dalek psychopathy.)

Each track on History has its own characteristic drone-and-thrum and the listener is often overwhelmed by competing layers of dissonance and resonance. Viewed as the thematic centerpiece of the album, “The Hypocrite’s Manifesto” establishes a simple dirge to backdrop successive flourishes of musical phrases and insectile chittering; after several minutes that evoke deep-space vastness and the dissociative elation of sensory deprivation, Page’s sonically distressed rants puncture the tonal fabric with metallic drones, throbbing pulses, and squalling feedback. Preceded by the vocals-driven interlude “I Am Vengeance”, one understands this “manifesto” as an aural confession that itemizes the symptoms of a diseased psyche, while final track “The Coming Silence MK.II” (excluding “I Killed For You Mantra III”, which appears as a bonus track on the Phage Tapes CD version of the album) is an apt coda: samples from various film and television monologues, interspersed with squalling bursts of death-ray pulse and static, provide a closing commentary on the nature of evil and insanity (and may also allude to the album as a possible final F/I/T/H release, as Page is currently clearing out all of his musical output via Bandcamp.)

A veteran of the noise scene, Page is well-versed in the principles of auditory brutality, and the dark ambience more common to his Sky Burial project adds a welcome dynamic element to A History of Obsession. Taken as a schismatic constellation of razor-sharp power electronics which revolve around a nebulous eye of dark matter, the album successfully lulls one into a hypnotic calm – even as it threatens to tear one to shreds.

Fire in the Head / Sky Burial (Facebook)

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