A Madison thing we're listening to: Mahr's "The Wretched" EP

The electronic producer and vocalist takes a darker turn.

Detail from the cover art of "The Wretched."

Detail from the cover art of "The Wretched."

Electronic artist Nicole Wilson, aka Mahr, said earlier this year that she wanted her love of black metal to play a bigger part in her music. This makes the Madison-based producer's new EP, The Wretched, a departure from the self-titled EP she put out in 2016, one of Tone Madison's top 20 records of last year. That previous release had some dark moments, but let a distinctive blend of techno and ambient influences come to the fore.

On The Wretched Mahr uses gloomy synth patches, her own rasping wordless vocals, strings from Troy Schafer (of projects including Kinit Her and Devotion), guitar from Philippe Gerber, and the occasional burst of distorted noise to create a ghostly and sinister sound. (Wilson says she'd like to incorporate still more live instrumentation into her work in the future.) Even the percussion samples here sound a bit more rock-oriented and raw.

Mahr.

Mahr.

That said, the best tracks on the EP are the ones with the least prominent drums. "Hollow" uses richly layered strings and a patchwork of both clean and retching vocal sounds to place the listener somewhere between comfort and despair. "The Watcher" has the most flat-out menace of any of the EP's five tracks, but even here, Wilson is more interested in slowly varying textures and harmonics, keeping her ambient wits about her.

"[This EP] was focused more on natural sounds such as instruments as well as a new avenue for my vocals, with a more raw outcome," Wilson says. After last year's self-titled EP, she says, blending atmospheric black metal into her sound "seemed to be the next natural direction for me," and she also explored those influences earlier this year on Wounds Of Awakening, a collaborative release with Finland-based artist Utu Lautturi.

The Wretched is available on Bandcamp. Mahr does not have any live shows booked currently but is hoping to announce more dates soon.