Russian Brutalism

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Wozzeck
Act IV

RUSSIA OPPOSING MUSIC OPM013 CD (2012)

Young Russians (previously known to me only via their interview in The Sound Projector issue 21), headed by Ilia Belorukov with a fresh approach to the by now well known if not well-worn grindcore tropes, here mastered by James Plotkin (equally well known to many by now I should think, and quite rightly, too). The unorthodox addition of synthesiser and saxophone to the traditional elements should do much to endear the project to those susceptible to this kind of thing. And a worthwhile piece of brutalism it is too.

It is an unusual album of saxophone-hybrid avant-garde metal which periodically put me variously (and perhaps predictably), in mind of Borbetomagus, Hawkwind and Elliot Sharp’s Carbon on first listen. Plenty of riffage and screamo vocals (not always upfront – sometimes very effectively used as you would an instrumental pad morphing into a saxophone part), as you would expect.

No little evidence of technology (live processing and editing I suspect, plus lots of production, no doubt), on the sprawling single track on this album, but not to such a psychotic extreme as a contemporary like Genghis Tron, say. In fact, this single 39-minute track is surprisingly effective device with a coursing dynamic, space to breathe and some very capable group improvisation dovetailed in. I like to imagine this is a recorded document of a live session but there’s no written evidence on the sleeve to support this impression.

In its quieter moments, Act IV reminds me of (and here I’m showing my age), Gong, Cardiacs, and briefly, even the modulated Roland Chorused guitars of early period The Cure. Somewhat predictably, I feel like pointing out that Lightning Bolt have a lot to answer for when I listen this music (although its authors may not agree). There’s the ever-present grumbling of a multi-effected bass guitar, and the drummer is feral – capable of all the required polyrhythmic tricks one minute and relying on pure power the next – although not as fightening or potentially dangerous as Brian Chippendale or the guy from the Japanese duo FINAL EXIT. I’m making the comparison stylistically and/or philosophically; not literally – the incarnation of Wozzeck here are a four-piece not a duo. They are, in fact, the aforementioned Ilia Belorukov on voice, electronics and alto sax; bassist Mikhail Ershov; guitarist Pavel Medvedev and on drums, Alexey Zabelin.

So, to Act IV itself. Kicking off with strangulated feedback then an explosion of blastbeats, Act IV sets out its blackened and twitching stall without delay. After a short while, screamed vocals cloud over a sudden slackening of pace as digital feedback raises questions (of mortality?) no-one is prepared to answer. Residual traces of processing give way to the entrance of the saxophone at four minutes in. From here on in, the music takes on an aura of relentless, progressive grind allowing all four instrumentalists to shoot off on their own separate internal voyages. By nine and a half minutes, the bluster is replaced by a brooding ambience. Hissing fog tones and rumbling bass coalesce before a sudden and violent return to blast. Hidden in the midst of a typical blitzkrieg at thirteen and a half minutes is one of the brief Gong-like asides – a contrast as captivating and unhinged as any. At around 22 minutes, there is a protracted fatal collapse of all previously well-wrought metal architecture; the digital distortion produced as all the inputs blast into the red left in the final mix, until relief, reprise and reconnection with the melodic thrust of fifteen minutes previous, and then without warning everyone bar the bassist drops out. A bass chord is languorously explored while phantoms of electronics waft here and there. Serpentine long tones that might once have been an electric piano move in and out of focus while the drummer gradually recovers from whatever blow to the head rendered him unconscious in the first place, and turns his attention to his impressive collection of cymbals. From here the Robert Smith-like guitar flange kicks in to ominous and eerie effect. Tom-toms are chucked down a liftshaft and/or reverbed to sound like they are being played in the next town and a ring modulated buzz encourages over-amped guitar (tinges of Alex Lifeson if he was ever capable of becoming truly deranged), finally, to take over for the last three and a half minutes of the session.

Act IV rewards repeated listens, packed as it is with unhinged sonic artefacts; fast moving and restless. There’s been a long list of on trend noise/screamo (if that’s the correct genre appellation – apologies if I’ve got that wrong), bands come up for air in the last few years; Rolo Tomassi, Charlottefield and Bo Ningen spring to mind – perhaps Wozzeck are on their way to joining that list. James Plotkin’s involvement can be seen as an endorsement in a way. Whether that was their intention or whether the opportunity to work with Plotkin was just too good to miss remains a mystery. Either way, I’m glad they did.

Ilia Belorukov
Opposing Music

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