The Cathedrals of Ice is a doomgrind band, formed in 2008 by Norwegian Canadians Knut Pettersen and Solveig Anneland from Simon Fraser University in Burnaby, British Columbia.
Both on electric guitar, Pettersen and Anneland utilize an impressive array of equipment. When I saw them play last year, their onstage set-up included over twenty effects pedals, most of them handmade (the duo dropped out of their audio engineering program to take their band on tour). Throughout the performance, Anneland, whose first project, at sixteen, was a jazz trio, switched improvisationally between jerry-rigged pieces of tech, overcompensating for his partner's slightly more sedate approach. Contrary to Anneland, a veritable honey-bee running through pedals like so many flowers, Pettersen idled in the forestage, occupying himself with a single loop pedal and layering his riffs over and against each other with mounting baroque complexity. There is nothing improvisational about Pettersen's technique. "My work is informed mostly by mathematics," he told me when I ambushed him after the show. "Musical set theory has hugely influenced my aesthetic, and, ideally, it's the visual experience of viewing a fractal that I'm trying to translate — sonically — to my audience."
These two very different approaches fuse schizophrenically, but the effect is more exhilarating than unpleasant. There is something oddly satisfying about the two performers working in opposition to each other, chaos and order incarnate, each of their tracks a jousting match between rival ideologies. Sometimes there is a clear victor; Inksled, their self-released demo, begins with Pettersen's Bach-inspired drone harmonies, but ultimately devolves into an anarchic free-for-all as Anneland seizes creative control. Inksled's various tracks evince this artistic shift:
The Weak Pipe and the Little Drum (7:19)
The Haunting of Marie-Sophie Germain, Mathematicienne (13:11)
Considérations générales sur l'état des sciences et des letteres aux smalahove (2:29)
Warm Smalahove Sitting on the Stovetop (1:04)
Mother Tore Her Stockings on a Smalahove One Night (0:39)
Two Vagrants Fighting Over Smalahove By The River (0:20)
Sma olo (0:15)
Notice that, as well as their titles, the lengths of the songs reflect the album's degenerative transformation. Pettersen's longer pieces, timed to prime numbers, are a far cry from Anneland's tracks, which were all recorded at exactly three minutes but compressed down to fit randomized durations.
Since Inksled, The Cathedrals of Ice has released two full-length albums, both with the underground label Maybe Pile. These are Settlers of Catatonia and Charybdis, but are notoriously hard to track down, having only ever been distributed at live events. I picked up Inksled at the show I attended, but, as they usually appear with little fanfare or under assumed names, I haven't been able to catch them since and have only heard short, poor-quality bootleg tracks from these more official releases.
The duo performs almost exclusively in Canada, from what I understand, although they've supposedly made some minor New York appearances. Tending towards basements and community centres over more traditional venues, they mostly rely on word-of-mouth to attract their audiences, an approach made viable by the intimate and interconnected nature of the underground noise scenes in Toronto, Vancouver and Montreal. The show I attended took place inside an industrial space in Toronto's East End, the unlikely and brutal environment adding to the rawness of the experience and instilling in the gathered crowd a definite sense of eclectic occasion. Do not pass up a chance to see these guys. Even if they run far afield of your usual fare, they're unforgettable.