Mark Lindhout and Joost van Ophem are a pair of Dutch artists who operate under the names AUTAAR & 404, respectively. And just like everybody else on the planet, the pandemic was terribly disruptive to their work. So much so that they brought their brands of drone and experimental ambient together, through a lens of stoner rock, doom and black metal, to audibly lament the limitations they each had faced in those unprecedented and uncertain times.
Right from the outset, there’s something highly discomforting and disturbing about In De Kiem Gesmoord (which translates to ‘Nipped In The Bud’). The record crawls like a mass of horrific tendrils; album opener M.S.I. squirms along, a bed of feedback and digital chatter complete with deep vocal chants and hums. Finely Tuned Abandonment sounds as if it’s stuck underwater, writhing and contorting wildly to escape its claustrophobic grave.
On first listen, there’s a weird dichotomy about In De Kiem Gesmoord. On the one hand, this is clearly an album that needs to be experienced in full; the linear and sensible progression seen from the first track to the last would be sorely missed if you were to dip in and out or play on shuffle. But on the other hand, this isn’t an album that grabs you right away. Instead, it exists as something of a background noise, or like a soundtrack for a scare maze or similar creepy attraction. But the more time you spend with AUTAAR & 404‘s work, the more you get in return. There are so many layers and buried quirks to the ambient drone that those creeping tendrils find their way into your psyche and set up shop for the long haul. Enchanting, bewitching, inviting – you’ll find it hard to step away before too long.
Living Apart, Together is by far the shortest track on offer here, but its rasping spoken passages and crackling gasps see AUTAAR & 404 dial up the discomfort to the max before one final anguished roar bubbles up from under the murky pool of indescribable noise. Van Henk Moest Ik Crypto Kopen is a wash of bendy bass notes and chilling instrumentation that never seem to stay uniform through their mass repetitions. It makes for an enthralling listen that takes you hostage, as if to switch off early would completely end your chance of getting any closure, leaving instead an unresolved melody that will rot away at your patience.
Ending with Wachten Op Mijn Extra-Scherpe Tosti… (yes, that really does translate to ‘Waiting For My Extra Sharp Toastie…’) gives the record a final flourish of saccharine sentiment through a lilting melody that bewitches and ensnares. A whirlpool of screeching guitars and sharp digital bursts prevent you from ever letting your guard down fully, and as everything winds down and fades to black you may find yourself breathing a sigh of relief to be free from the oppressive noisescapes. Just be prepared to come straight back to it sooner than you’d expect for another hit of jilted insanity.
So give this one time. It requires and deserves your attention in equal measure. Though this project may have started as a self-confessed mistake between these artists, AUTAAR & 404 have managed to deliver an ambient drone record that is shockingly catchy for how sparse and unnerving it all is. The best course of action is to just let it happen to you. It’ll sink its teeth in one way or another.
In De Kiem Gesmoord is out now via self-release.
Follow AUTAAR & 404 on Bandcamp.