A Burning Lump of Coal by Remora is the second release in Silber Records’ lineup of 2014 Christmas-inspired EPs that features music by Brian John Mitchell, who also runs the label. The Remora project has been around since the mid-1990s and has a significant number of albums out there ranging across many genres and styles from pure drone and guitar experimentation to self-described post-apocalyptic pop and even a cappella music. Their 2014 Christmas release, like Firetail’s Little Droner Boy EP, takes some of its inspiration from well-known holiday music, but from there, Remora unleashes loud, gnarly guitar work and downright grating amounts of piercing noise, resulting in an album that has sections that are alternately hypnotic and positively jarring.
The album begins with an almost industrial rendition of “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel” that features abrasive, chainsaw-like background guitar, a robotic electronic beat, and bouncy synthesizer melody. This melody only ever goes through one stanza of the familiar melody, making the piece extremely repetitive – and completely pointless by the standards of traditional songwriting. That said, the piece is almost trance-inducing particularly in the way the harsh guitar interacts with and threatens to destroy the ongoing melody. Second track “Ho Ho Ho” sounds almost like the chanted march of the villains in the original Wizard of Oz film, with groany vocals repeating a progression of “o-OH-o” syllables over droning mechanical noise, while “Old St. Nick” is built around -gasp!- discernible lyrics.
Before anyone get too excited about a track here that’s almost song-like, I should say that the hopelessly dark “Old St. Nick” sounds like a holiday tune that Swans’ Michael Gira or maybe even Trent Reznor might come up with. The vocals are extremely low-register and monotonous, the lyrics delivered in an almost emotionless manner over a plodding and unsettling bass part, more grinding and eventually very harsh guitar and odd, metallic sound effects. The album name comes from this track, whose lyrics focus on the the titular character’s attitude towards the not-so-good children on his list. The EP ends with the significantly longer (eight and a half minute) instrumental “Shchedryk” which sounds like a tune emitted from a broken and warped music box. Comprised entirely of jangly and loud metallic tones which blast out of the stark mix, ultimately creating resonating discordant and almost ghostly chords that shriek and wail endlessly, it’s probably too extreme for many people to get into. Still, I rather like the chaotic feel of the piece and the strange atmosphere it evokes.
If Remora’s goal on this EP was to make slightly deranged music that somehow still retained some semblance of holiday mood, they succeeded with flying colors. Vaguely more musical than some of the other releases in this series (especially the one by Mitchell’s other project Small Life Form), A Burning Lump of Coal is probably among the more tolerable and maybe even likable of these releases, yet is bizarre enough to appease those looking for something well off the beaten path. Again, it’s not for all tastes, but those who’ve listened to other series entries will know what to expect. Three and a half stars.