The Poisoned Glass is belated spin-off from the dissolution of Seattle doom metal band Burning Witch, in which The Poisoned Glass’s Edgy 59 and G. Stuart Dahlquist played alongside Stephen O’Malley and Greg Anderson.
When Burning Witch split, the latter went on to collaborate in Sunn O))), and Anderson also joined Goatsnake – both big deals in the doom arena. Dahlquist briefly played alongside Anderson in Goatsnake, then went on to form the dark-art-metal band ASVA. Edgy 59, meanwhile, formed the shortlived electronic/industrial group Sinisstar, and has since worked on projects that mostly remain obscure or undocumented.
In 1996, Edgy 59 and O’Malley collaborated on the harsh noise SARIN project, and in 2005 Edgy 59 recorded vocals for a song intended for ASVA’s What You Don’t Know is Frontier (2005), but the track was dropped when WYDKIF became an entirely instrumental album. Edgy 59 says he “felt out of place in the context of ASVA” anyway: “My identity did not fully blend with the overtly modern and full-formed music. That is when Stuart and I decided to start something different for us both to be involved in.” Cue The Poisoned Glass (the group name being “a reference to Socrates, and his mode of death”).
The dread atmospheres of 10 Swords, with its unsettling blend of electronics, field recordings, organ, racked vocals and deep, gnarly bass, is actually more “overtly modern” than the ASVA sound.
“Plume Veil” starts as Psycho-ambient drone before Edgy 59’s vocal comes in. Then the music tracks the lyric, a plume of bass unfolding as “Vapour is rising / From the lips that you part.” The subsequent slow drag of the bassline contrasts high-pitch sonambient chimes and fractured electronic treatments.
There’s a lot of dark drama compacted into each of these tracks. As Dahlquist’s electric bass tolls through the occluded atmospheres of “Toil and Trouble”, and Edgy 59’s nasal singing turns torturous, The Poisoned Glass’s sound is broadly comparable to that of another post-Burning Witch project, Khanate, in which O’Malley played alongside OLD’s Alan Dubin. But a swell of organ dispels the murk, and unaccustomed light pours in.
The following cut, “Eels”, an instrumental, works a throb of organ drone and increasingly penetrating overtones into an unsettling ambience. Then they fold in a field recording of raccoons fighting, and that really sets nerves on edge.
“The Still Air” is a chant, with Edgy 59 singing, in fairly melodic voice, against a spartan floor tom beat. But again there’s a twist, as electronic treatments muddy the increasingly turbid waters, only to be swept away by a long, deep blare of horns.
As the album progresses the duo explore ever subtler atmospherics. “Verbatim” begins in near silence with dolorous piano, abstracted mutterings and obfusc animal noises, all brushed aside by irregular, aggressive irruptions of bass drone, a strangulated vocal and percussive electronic noise. The end product is visceral and primal-sounding, strikingly original and evidently meticulously crafted.
“Silent Vigil”, the album’s longest cut, is also its most structured, with a core of chordal bass drone creating a foreboding atmosphere even before Edgy 59’s dread incantation: “Underneath the night you dream of your maker, all caught up in Time and Progress”. His semi-oblique lyrics are true to doom form throughout, but more poetically allusive than the sinisterly evocative run-of-the-mill.
Having settled on “Silent Vigil”, the album ends with “Low Spirits”, bass reverberating in pallid murk before melding with organ harmonics and Edgy 59’s muted shriek—”How low can you go before you disappear?”—in a more-or-less dramatic climax.
The queasy brooding of The Poisoned Glass holds up a mirror to the overblown riffage of Sunn O))), and shows us a darker, subtler corollary that’s been burnished over time.
10 Swords has enough dread menace to appeal to any fan of doom music, and anyone with even a passing interest in the Burning Witch diaspora should lap it up, as might those whose tastes extend to folk, drone, Indian raga, noise or electronica.
G. Stuart Dahlquist bass, reed organ, Allen organ, drums, guitar; Edgy 59 voice, electronic treatments, field recording.
Edgy 59 quotes from a 2010 interview by The Sleeping Shaman.