Shackleton – The Scandal of Time album review

On The Scandal of Time, Shackleton closes out a stellar year by drifting back towards the dancefloor on what is reportedly his last solo album for a while.

Listening to The Scandal of Time‘s nearly 9-minute opener, “Eine Dunkle Wolke,” with its Teutonic fairy tale lullabye vocals and mesmerizing locked groove percussion, it’s fairly obvious Shackleton’s last album of 2023 isn’t exactly designed for the club. That’s far from all there is to it, though. For one thing, Shackleton’s work has been closer to sound art or neoclassicism for far longer than his initial stint as one of the first wave of dubstep pioneers in the last 2000s. For another, it actually resurrects many of his initial interests that made him such a compelling, singular artist in the dubstep canon. It’s got the hypnotic middle eastern percussion of Muslimgauze. It’s got the eerie sci-fi drones of Tangerine Dream or Throbbing Gristle. It’s got the layered post-minimalism of Terry Riley or Steve Reich. The Scandal of Time is as much a return to the dancefloor as it is a departure.

It’s more accurate to say that Shackleton is using the tools and techniques of electronic music to tell a story, like Kode9 adapting Swan Lake for drum machine, sampler, and synth. This makes Shackleton’s layered, detailed sound sculptures of shivering post-industrial percussion and walls of sparkling, shimmering phase all that much more compelling. The original dubstep died almost as soon as it was born due to formulaicness and predictability. The Scandal of Time is anything but. You’d have an easier time predicting the wind than Shackleton’s bell tones and scraping metallic resonances.

The Scandal of Time appears to be telling some sort of story, although what that is will largely depend on the listener. It seems to gravitate around the three tracks featuring vocalist Anna Gerth, with her spellbinding enchantments. The nursery rhyme-like vocals, sung auf Deutsch, gives The Scandal of Time a fairy tale like quality, like riding through a snowy Alpine forest eating Turkish Delight. These moments of sweetness and light give way to more menacing, disorienting fare, like the dubby minimalism of “There Is a Seed” into the militant magic of “The Dying Regime,” which sounds like a coven invoking the circle next to old, dead machinery.

The narrative seems to shift every time you listen, much like the songs themselves. It makes The Scandal of Time a fascinating, compelling voyage that you’ll want to take again and again.

Sadly, Shackleton has announced The Scandal of Time may be his lost totally solo record for a while. Let’s try and look on the bright side, though. He’s going out on a high note, for one thing. The prospect of a collaborative career isn’t reason to worry, either. Shackleton released three exquisite collaborative LPs in 2023 alone. Given the importance of Gerth’s vocals on this record, it’s practically a collaboration itself. Given his track record, it’s safe to say that wherever he sails, Shackleton’s next expedition will be every bit as fascinating and compelling as the rest of his work.

The Scandal of Time is out now on Woe to the Septic Heart!

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