OK let’s start the review with a bit of honesty. When RMFTM announced the Subversive trilogy I was absolutely mad for the idea. I had been fully convinced by their first two albums, and Subversive I hit me straight away to the extent that it made the ‘Essential‘ list in 2015. However, when the second album of the trilogy came out I just didn’t strike a chord with me at all and kind of passed me by, as did the band’s collaboration with Gnod earlier this year as ‘Temple ov BBV’. Not bad records… it was just that I didn’t get them.
I guess that I’m making this point to emphasise that I haven’t made any assumptions about RMFTM (and try not to do with any band for that matter), which is why the release of this absolute stunner has caught me completely by surprise. In one sense this narrative should not be surprising because in putting together this trilogy the Dutch collective have set out to explore their sound in three contrasting ways, of which the second was arguably the least experimental. So it’s quite likely that not everybody would like the whole work… but I’m going to stop this apologist tack and get on with telling you why I like this album so much.
Perhaps part of the appeal of this album is because it marks such a break from the RMFTM’s previous output. In developing the sound the members of the collective have effectively gone back to first principles by taking on new technologies and experimenting with them over the course of a year before alighting on what we find here. They also used as a starting point the subtitle of the, meaning ‘The Playing Man’, as they explained to The Quietus recently:
The album is named after a text by [Johan] Huizinga called ‘Homo Ludens/De Spelende Mens’, literally translated as ‘the playing man’. For Huizinga, the playing man lies at the base of all culture; ‘playfulness is what happens when people have satisfied their primary needs, thus forming the basis of all cultures’. There are conditions attached though – the act must be a free act, for it is art born out of pure imagination that manufactures whole new worlds.
This freedom is clearly apparent in this album in which RMFTM, more than ever, seem emancipated from the strictures of their previous music to develop something that, to my ears, sounds to be both sonically challenging and relevant to the milieu in which it is being formed.
There is an intrinsic darkness to this record, a bleakness that surpasses anything that RMFTM have put out before. It’s not by accident that the cover this time round comprises of greys and blacks, in contract to the far brighter blues and reds of the first two parts of this trilogy. This is a record that is marked by struggle, by the monotony of life. At every turn there seems to be something lurking below the surface just waiting to grab you and drag you under. Where there are lighter moments, such as in the more up beat ‘Beeldenwereld’ and ‘Spectacle Prey’, these are fairly quickly extinguished; in these cases respectively by ‘Abstractions and Society’ and final track ‘Black Canvas, Dark Majesty’ which, incidentally, is everything you would expect it to be from the title.
Musically and culturally this feels post-industrial. A further fragmentation of some of the industrial sounds of yore. At varying points in the set we find ourselves coming back to those heavy industrial sounds of the 1970 that were so fundamental to the likes of Black Sabbath and those Krautrock bands that emerged from Ruhr Valley, and then subsequently taken up by so many other bands. As such there is certainly the heavy repetitiveness… a constant heavy repetitiveness… to this album. There is the Kraftwerk idea of replicating sounds of the everyday into music, but here it seems to be more psychological… more innate. Here the sounds somehow seem to be more internalised, less a reflection on the world around us… more reflective of our state of mind.
As such the tracks on this album seem more visceral than anything that RMFTM have done before… this to me is the non-rational created from the synesthetic sonic elements of the past re-contextualised for the dystopian twenty-first century head-fuck that we are currently in the throes of.
There’s no easy way round it… from the alarming first few bars onwards this is not an easy double album to listen to. It requires time and patience to get into. When you do get inside it though it is clearly a substantial piece of work that is in many ways set outside of even the experimental. This is the subversive album of the trilogy, the one where RMFTM have really hit the psychological nail on the head again… and again …and again. This is not something to be taken lightly, but does seem to me to be a free expression of a collective who have managed to let go of something and set a new benchmark.
‘Subversive III: De Splendede Mens’ by RMFTM is available for pre-order now at Fuzz Club Records here.