Ossia – Devil’s Dance

A wild ride through the Bristol artist’s darkest musical impulses.

The first few minutes of Ossia’s debut album, Devil’s Dance , seem to portray a moment of inner conflict, or what one 16th century mystic called "the dark night of the soul." "Concrete" opens with a desolate landscape of noisy surf and demoralised chords, the sort of music you might associate with defeat or deep contemplation. When orchestral strings rise into earshot, "Concrete" swells with a solemn, self-satisfied resolve. But accompanied by hiss and feedback, they’re also weighted with something like regret. Whatever this conflict was, pride seems to win out, so what follows—naturally—is a fall. You hear a faltering wing flap, then a platter stop that sounds like a tailspinning aircraft.

Clearly, a title like Devil’s Dance implies a descent that doesn’t stop at ground level. In a famous encounter with Satan, Max Romeo braced himself to face evil by " putting on an iron shirt " and promised to send the devil to outer space. Romeo’s "Chase The Devil," and other songs like it, dramatised a familiar, centuries-old fight. The tritone, an interval known as "the devil in music," had troubled the clergy since the middle ages, but it’s now a comfort to anyone who has memorised The Simpsons theme tune. Hell preoccupied the music of Liszt, but also Meatloaf. We’re pretty numb to it by now. How might Devil’s Dance keep the underworld from getting stale?

Devil’s Dance may nod to the duel between good and evil, but it’s more useful to think of it as the stage design for that struggle. The atmospheres across the album are incredibly immersive and involving. Take the title track. Its marching-band drums, brought to life by intricately deployed delays and reverbs, walk us past gunshots, screams and a siren. But something about the scene doesn’t feel entirely earthly—the sounds are oddly distant, and eventually make way for a menacing drone. Once we’re led into "Slow Dance," the feeling is of detachment, of not being quite here or there.

Ossia, AKA Dan Davies, runs a web of Bristol labels. Through each one, he’s presented serious and silly musical ideas alike. A few examples: the rootsy dub of Seekersinternational and Gorgon Sound, the dubwise dark ambient of last year’s Spiritflesh LP, " Pulse Marley ," a 50-second pisstake of shallow reggae and grime DJs, and the subby jungle techno of " Anybody From London ," as in: "Anybody from London in this tent— fuck off out !" Though Devil’s Dance draws mostly from the serious, experimental end of this network, it remains remarkably expressive.

On "Radiation," throbbing, reverberant bass and Ollie Moore’s sinister sax lines recall the post-punk band Tuxedomoon. "Slow Dance" and "Inertia" are occult ambient pieces of opposing shades (the latter’s smudged vocal harmonies suggest a glimpse of the divine). "Dub Hell" and "Hell Version" reimagine dub techno as being from Bristol, not Berlin—instead of sleek, subliminal momentum, we get tectonic shifts and volcanic eruptions. Midway through "Dub Hell," the bassline does a diabolical jig—a different kind of devil in music.

The last track, "Vertigo," is Devil’s Dance ‘s most unhinged. We come across fairground screams, electrical hums and forest life amid long stretches of formless sound. We’re everywhere and nowhere. "Vertigo"’s 23-minute length amplifies this feeling of limbo, to which zoning in and out seems the most natural response. We hear Moore’s sax again, but from there Davies leads us so deep into the fog we’re past ready to leave. Devil’s Dance has dragged the listener through "hell," but of a particular kind—not the same old fiery pits, but a vivid theatre of the mind.

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