Category: Current listening

Flesh Cathedral: a daring if daunting adventure through ruin to redemption

Svartidaudi, Flesh Cathedral, Norway, Terratur Possessions, CD VOICE033 / DWP024 (2012)

“Flesh Cathedral” remains Svartidaudi’s sole album to date which may surprise a lot of people who listen to it the first time – I certainly was, because it sounds so accomplished and meticulous in its technical crafting. It certainly doesn’t sound like a first album but more like a second or even third album: the songs are part of a concept that’s taken time to develop (and for that reason the album is best heard in one sitting) and the music’s execution sounds well balanced, tight enough but not too tight. The band’s preference for dissonant chords does mean the music sounds superficially similar to famous French black metallers Deathspell Omega and these Icelanders may well have taken inspiration from DSO in their song-writing and concepts. Everything else they do here though is different: Svartidaudi don’t go in for avant-jazz rhythms, theirs is a more doomy style of black metal.

Intro track “Sterile Seeds” sets the stage musically and conceptually: this track introduces us to a post-apocalyptic world ruined by wars and pollution, or to a body wrecked by addiction and abuse of all kinds and that has passed the threshold between life and death. The track’s style is epic and monumental in many ways, with layers and layers of grinding or fluttering tremolo guitars, a cold atmosphere and harsh stentorian vocals. The drumming isn’t especially heavy or remarkable but doesn’t need to be – the guitars and bass shoulder most of the responsibility for building up and carrying such a massive edifice of music, mood and ambience. “The Perpetual Nothing” brings the listener to confront an utterly empty and bleak universe with stuttering rapid-fire rhythm thunder, tom-tom rolls, sinister spider lead guitars and the most dreadful death-rattle vocals that sigh resignation in the face of nihilism. This song is a mighty monster of machine-gun blast-beat and tom-tom punishment and wailing guitar, relentless in piling riff upon riff, and nearly drowning out the vocals.

The title track builds on previous songs with a huge deep cavernous atmosphere, a complex mix of thunderous drumming, flippy blast beats and shifting rhythms, monstrous grinding bass grooves, sinister winding guitar riffs and melodies, and above all those dry wraith vocals drifting overhead. “Psychoactive Sacraments” is a roller-coaster ride through highs and lows in mood and music with portentous doom, malevolent black metal and hellish dark ambient elements used where appropriate to create a dramatic shape-shifting sonic architecture that floods and overwhelms the senses. While darkness and despair reign, there also appears a glimmer of hope, of brightness, of potential renewal and access to a higher spiritual plane.

Each song is very long and structurally elaborate with new riffs and melodies coming in almost right up to the end, and drastically changing rhythm or direction about halfway through as well, so tracks probably aren’t as distinctive or memorable as they could be. No one track is typical of the album and all songs need to be heard together for them to make sense, not only as a whole, but as parts in the whole. For this reason, hearing this album is a daunting adventure in itself and several rounds with the album might be necessary at risk of feeling punch drunk after each listen. But those of us who’ve heard the album a few times can at least say it’s an adventure worth taking.

The one thing I think that would improve this album is a higher quality production that brings out more of its subtleties and highlights its sonic extremes and many moods and atmospheres.

Circle of Light: a low-key abstract soundtrack of beauty and imagination

Delia Derbyshire and Elsa Stansfield, Circle of Light, United Kingdom, Trunk Records, JBH061CD (2016)

From the deft fingers of Delia Derbyshire, the British electronic music pioneer who gave the world the original spooky version of the Doctor Who TV series theme music, comes this soundtrack to a half-hour film made in 1972 by photographer Pamela Bone. When first released, this film “Circle of Light” appeared in a number of film festivals around the world and was noted for Bone’s photographs placed on glass transparencies which were arranged in a slideshow structure to conform to a narrative detailing themes of nature favoured by Bone. These days the actual film itself is secondary to the abstract music soundtrack composed by Derbyshire and Stansfield, not least because the music is said to be the longest sound recording known to have been made by Derbyshire.

After a brief introductory description by film director / art collector Anthony Roland of Bone’s work and Bone’s artistic statement, the music launches on a journey that’s remarkably ethereal, controlled and restrained, and eerie and spacious. There are various spacey and alien effects and much is made of musique concrete recordings using nature-based sources, all of which contribute to the music’s strange and sometimes sinister qualities. Birdsong occasionally adds a cheerful mood in some parts but otherwise the soundtrack is a serene and steady work.

One definitely has the impression of being absorbed into a world of weird yet beautiful and quiet stately landscapes populated by exotic birds and animals that might have escaped from an imperial menagerie of unimagined rich strangeness. Long-lasting wind storms sigh through misty regions where life may be glimpsed through clouds of water vapour and thick bush. Insects sing their complex rhythmic songs. In the second half of the album the music drones become more threatening and the mood is sombre but tension eventually dissipates.

There are few recordings like this one where the music allows, even encourages listeners to run their own abstract art films behind their eyes and between their ears. This must be part of the genius of Derbyshire, that however strange or abstract her music is, her ego never dominates but instead allows the listener’s imagination to take her music and make something of it particular to that person.

Astromusic Synthesiser: a lively work travelling far beyond the zodiac

 


Marcello Giombini, Astromusic Synthesiser, Fifth Dimension, FD5008-CD (2015)

I admit I did have an attack of the collywobbles after buying this CD, that it might turn out to be mostly twee New Age hippie synthesiser pop kitsch fit only for church yoga classes. Imagine my astonishment when the music turned out to be robust and lively, bubbling with light-hearted zest and joy. What makes this recording a stand-out from its period (it was first released in 1981) is Giombini’s skill and experience as a soundtrack composer and his imagination in working his synth – and only his synth, there being no other instrument on this release – to its full range of sounds and capabilities, and beyond. The tunes his fluttery fingers generate give rise to an astonishing spectrum of moods from surprise to wonder and pensiveness. The synthesiser’s limitations force the music into pure melodies that tumble from their source and race through the atmosphere like silver-winged sprites. There may be a slight manipulative element at work but the spirit behind it is of wonder and curiosity.

As you might expect from a recording about the twelve signs of the zodiac, there are twelve tracks each corresponding to a different sign and named after it. From then on though, any connection between the eponymous signs (and what they represent) and their respective tracks seems merely coincidental. Thus the track “Aries”, to take one example, seems less fiery and more melancholy than perhaps it ought to be. You quickly realise that the best way to listen to the music here is to forget its astrology inspiration and just hear it for what it is: a lively and playful creation rejoicing in its sudden being and existence, eager to fly out and explore its horizons to its very limits.

Marcello Giombini (1928 – 2003) is better known for scoring movies of various genres, mainly spaghetti / paella Westerns, horror, crime thriller and sword-and-sandal epics, in the 1960s onwards but his work in electronics and the use of music computers from the 1970s on is gaining more attention and new respect.

Hate Yoga: a wacky black metal noise homage to legendary French Black Legions scene

Vergreuvbre, Hate Yoga, Australia, Australibus Tenebris, cassette (2016)

About 23 minutes long, this wacky exercise in cacophonous black metal noise hell seems inspired by the more obscure and demented projects of the French Black Legions / Les Legions Noirs from way back in the mid-1990s. (The band’s name itself hints at LLN worship.) Gosh, can it really be 20 years since that little scene set the black metal world on fire with the werewolf baying, the gurgling vocals, the suspicious snuffling sounds, the junkyard approach to composing and playing music, and the in-fighting that led to the scene’s dissolution? This album – Vergreubvre’s third apparently – barrels along at a solemn pace while ghouls and ghosts yowl, gibber and complain loudly and groaning-grinding guitars chung-chung-chung along half-heartedly.

While the tin says there are five tracks – and one doesn’t know what it wants to be, so it’s just called “Untitled” – the practical reality for most listeners is that one track bleeds into the next so you’re pretty much looking at a solid slab of near-industrial raw guitar grind and percussion bashing, accompanied by some of the most bat-shit strait-jacketed groaning and bleating you’ll ever find on this side of the nine circles of hell. Even those Americans calling themselves the Black Twilight Circle appear sane and restrained compared to this lot. At least the crazed lead guitar scrabbling in some parts of the cassette anchors the rest of the band to this physical plane of material reality.

With such a lo-fi presentation, the music is gritty and raw with a crunchy noisy low end and the vocals sound even more savage and rabies-infested than they might actually be. The torture is solid and relentless, and the sound is massive in parts. At the risk of sounding like a masochist, I hazard the band probably could have added some reverb effects to get a monstrously steamy, hellish steel mine-shaft ambience and a muddy sound. Towards the end the lunar mayhem starts to tire and would probably have fallen apart if the multi-voiced screaming hadn’t started up to keep the torture going. Everyone collapses in a hail of cymbal smasherama and croaking death-rattle. If you’re not feeling drained by this point, you either are not human or (more likely) you collapsed far back during the recording.

If you’re a self-respecting music fan willing to try anything once, you definitely have to try hearing this recording.

Chimie du Son / Stoeien Met Geluid: a treasure chest of obscure home recordings

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Francis Jeannin / Various Artists, Chimie du Son / Stoeien Met Geluid, Australia, Creelpone, 2 x CD CP195-196 (2016)

In his quest to cram as many riches into this limited series of double-CD releases (to expire with the 200th release), the Creelpone collector has packed this twin-barrel treasure chest with all the known recordings made by Swiss sound engineer Francis Jeannin; this set includes the entire compilation “Stoeien Met Geluid, 25 Jaar Amateur-Geluidsregistratie 1951-1976″ on Disc 2 of musique concrète recordings made by various amateur sound artists, among which can be found a piece by Jeannin which turns out to be an extended version of an original work on Disc 1.

Disc 1 itself is made up of a private-press 10” vinyl release Jeannin made in the 1950s, followed by a second 30-minute recording “Mah Jong II” by composer / choreographer Emile de Ceuninck on which Jeannin contributes electronic doodlings. The longer work was created for an ensemble featuring soprano singer Adrienne Biet, jazz piano and percussion, and is quite pleasant (if of course very long!), but Jeannin plays a minor part providing some electronics and tape manipulations. The 10″ vinyl release is much more interesting and brisk, and is essentially a lesson in which Jeannin takes his audience through his techniques and methods of speeding up or slowing down sounds and chopping and cutting them up into the raw material to create music or recreate popular ditties of the day. He lets fly tunes like “Silent Night” in the most wondrous tones, so delicate in their sound and etching yet so redolent of the memories of everyday objects and their associations, of which so many have become redundant and passed into history. The sounds of car horns, screeching tyres, aeroplanes, jazz drums and other paraphernalia from the background fabric of post-World War II European society are all rich raw material for Jeannin’s tinkering. His chatty lectures (in French) give way to his amazing little musique concrete offspring who spring into our world and flit and zip joyfully through the air from the loudspeakers.

On Disc 2, amid a mind-blowing collection of the oddest of oddball home-made “amateur” tape collages and electronic dabblings from various European sound artists (and one South African fellow), an extended version of one of the “Chimie du Son” tracks, “H2O”, appears smack bang in the middle and is quite a relaxing piece with a laid-back lounge lizard tune (which I know I’ve heard elsewhere but I can’t remember the title or the original artist). If you’re really curious about this “Stoeien Met Geluid …” compilation, the real dubious glories are elsewhere on the disc: there’s a strange number “Sink Symphony” by Britisher R S King which is devoted to the sonic marvels of British hotel plumbing; and a jolly German dance tootle called “Pipsy” by Gerd H Nieckau, whose compatriot Jurgen Sprotte has an obsession with playing another ditty several different ways on “Das Tanzende Pausenzeichen”. Much later on the disc comes Manfred Eichler’s Exercise with Soundgenerator and Coffeetin” (sic). I must advise though that there are several tracks on the compilation that will make you cringe and squirm in embarrassment for their creators. But we lovers of strange music must embrace the clunky and the kitsch, the jaw-dropping what-the-f***-were-they-thinking? creations along with the quirky, the charming and the eccentric, as context changes along with the passage of time, and what is shunned during one period may become a classic in another.

Altogether these collections provide a fascinating snapshot into those aspects of popular Western culture and technology that intrigued people like Jeannin and others of his time to want to sample, shape and reproduce the sounds of this new technology, to revel in the opportunities it offers and to share what they find and create with others. The music that results becomes a historical document of the popular culture of its time and what it says or implies reflects the hopes and desires of its society.

I haven’t been able to find out very much about Francis Jeannin himself but this link to an article dated 1999 about a clockwork phonograph player made by someone of the same name living in La Chaux-de-Fonds looks promising. The same dapper gentleman inventor is also featured at this link, and is mentioned as having passed away in 2013.

Exile: tough and desperate raw BM songs with an individual flavour

The cover artwork is based on a photograph of Arnold Bocklin’s “The Isle of the Dead”; the artist himself painted five versions of the work from 1880 to 1886. Four versions still exist, the fifth version (on which the cover art is based) was destroyed in Berlin during a World War II bombing raid and only the aforementioned black-and-white photograph of it remains.

 

Vrag, Exile, Germany, Schattenkult Produktionen, CD SKP076 (2017)

“Exile” is a very fitting title for Vrag’s most recent recording: in case your name is Rip van Winkle and you’ve just woken up after a very long sleep, Vrag is now a trio who moved some years ago from Sydney to Hobart in Tasmania. Those of you who’ve never heard of Tasmania, it’s an island state of mysterious misty Ice Age landscapes, exotic temperate rainforests, weird animal species that might be extinct or still alive, and a history of European genocide against the original Tasmanian hunter-gatherers, being an island prison for the most hardened criminals and host to Australia’s worst mass murder incident in which 35 people were killed and 23 injured by a lone shooter. Living on an island with such a history and an odd reputation for insularity – it’s the butt of Australian incest jokes, same way as parts of Appalachia are the target of incest jokes among Americans – should suit Vrag with their focus on darkness, alienation and isolation, madness and the band’s contempt for mainstream Western society, its corrupted institutions and the conformity these foster in people.

The band has always served up some of the most raw and aggressive old-school BM with a vicious edge, yet always with an ear for distinctive and punchy rhythms, strong bass lines and the most infectiously catchy melodies. At the same time, they don’t hesitate to use synthesisers and ambient effects like reverb or a cold atmosphere where these can add nuance and an individual flavour to the music and they’re not averse to nicking elements from doom, death, hard rock or folk where these might suit. On “Exile”, Vrag show no signs of flagging or mellowing in this respect: though their overall sound is still a bit thinner than it could be, the songs are still very individual and able to stand on their own as singles if need be, and have a cold, frosty ambience that gives them a rounded, slight three-dimensional feel.

For those keen on raw full-throttle attacking BM aggression there are tracks like “Cold Air” and the ragged, almost punky anthem “Youth Against Christ”. Other tracks have more emphasis on melody, riffs and sometimes a distinct groove. The most interesting songs though are later ones starting with “In the Cold Light of Solitude” where atmospheric BM, hard rock or melancholy doom elements join the raw BM to create fairly complex music pieces. Bass guitar sometimes takes a lead role on “Death Fetish” and staccato guitar riffs and clappy percussion beats appear on the title track. It’s details like these that make “Exile” and other Vrag recordings worth repeated visits.

The album does sound like a collection of songs more than it does a whole work of tracks that might share a common definite lyrical or musical narrative. The fact that most of “Exile” (the album) was recorded way back in 2009 and 2010 may partly explain the anthology nature in which half the album sounds like the work of young hungry musicians with nothing to lose and the other half is more considered and conserves the aggression of quite long songs. While I still think Vrag need a thicker, boomier sound that suits the tough music, there’s plenty of raw savagery and a ragged desperate edge to the self-contained songs.

These guys could be leading comfortable lives writing pop pabulum for reality TV shows claiming to find the next big singer but no, they follow their inner muse where it leads – isn’t this a path more worthy of pursuit?

¡Ahora! – a welcome reissue of wild experimental electronic music

Ivan Pequeño, ¡Ahora!, Creelpone Records, CP 203 CD(2016?)

¡Hola! Here’s a welcome reissue of a rare recording of musique concrète / experimental electronic / spoken word agitprop monologue made by Ivan Pequeño way back in the mid-1970s. The recording was released as an LP in 1977 by French label Eleven Records. Pequeño was originally from Chile and this work includes political content by famous Chilean poet Pablo Neruda, parts of Fidel Castro’s 1962 speech “Second Declaration of Havana” and excerpts of Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s novel “The Autumn of the Patriarch” which were read by Sara Bourasseau and Francisco Zumarque for the original LP recording.

While Spanish speakers inclined towards socialism will probably best appreciate how the music and the actual spoken word recordings complement each other, the rest of us gringos can thrill to the most amazing and zestful electronic music blow-outs this side of Popocatepetl. Clear siren drones zing through the air and through your head like the sharpest of laser beam cutters. While there is plenty of room for quiet, be aware that the most restful periods can be suddenly punctuated by the most impertinent squiggle effects. The most astounding aspect of the album must surely be the way Pequeño composed and assembled the music, the various sounds and the monologues into one self-contained whole that keeps your ears and brain riveted to the speakers from start to end. Even the most terrifying moments, which come late on Track 2 (this being the B-side of the original LP)  and in which the musical soundtrack cheerfully simulates shooting and machine-gun fire, will arouse as much awe and excitement as fear and horror.

The Creelpone reissue includes a bonus piece in which Pequeño duets on synthesiser with American saxophonist Oliver Lake. This is a fun little number where the Chilean peppers Lake’s melodies with little trills and pops and the two end up hammering away at each other with sounds you’d swear synths and saxes just don’t make!

Don’t let the recording’s politics put you off: “¡Ahora!” shows that musique concrète / experimental music can be impassioned, lively and above all fun even in the service of social and political justice. For his three-year effort in finding and reissuing this work along with the only other known recording made by Pequeño, the Creelpone man deserves a great big chocolate cake to eat all by himself.

HØST: a wild ride into the most deranged realms of acid BM fury

 

Holokauston, HØST, New Zealand, The Dark Thursday, digital album TDT71 / Ukraine, Depressive Illusion Records, floppy diskette FNR218 (2017)

As debut extreme / experimental albums go, “HØST” by Holokauston, a one-man BM project based in India, is as mind-destroyingly extreme and bleedingly raw as any I’ve come across before. The music ranges from melodramatic synth-orchestral soundtrack music to primitive punk BM throb and pummel, all shot through with a demented and disturbed genius. As far as I can tell, the album is the work of Holokauston head honcho (and sole member) Arjun Somvanshi who produced it as well. I dunno what conditions Arjun S played under and what the studio was like but whatever, wherever it was, it must be one helluva hellfire-n-brimstone hellish place to be where churning guitars are chopped up into brain-destroying metal shuriken slivers that cut every nerve and every cell connection, the chainsaws wheeze with demon minds of their own, the drums throb and pulse in response to an unholy life force and the entire recording ends up a juddering, broken, psychotic beast on the rampage. Guitars spew industrial-strength liquid acid that corrodes and melts down machinery. Amazing how the fluttery pounding drums quickly take over your own heart beat and force your head and body to judder in time to the insane outpourings as well. The vocals range from angry crabby groaning and demented mutterings to screams and howls.

There do exist moments of the most astonishing clarity in which acoustic guitar melodies flow easily and breathy clear-toned voice sighs but these times are very brief and highlight the unhinged nature of the songs. In these moments, the production is clear and sharp, much better than what I would have anticipated for a self-produced album, probably made at home, in a country (India) where electricity isn’t always reliable and blackouts occur most days. After the album’s halfway point, the songs become much louder and sharper, and a lot more frenzied, so I assume the recording wasn’t all done in one hit. The riffs and melodies are much clearer and the racket turns out to be much more ordered and less chaotic than you might think. Arjun S really does play guitar and drums well and the more I listen to this album, the more cohesive the songs actually are in spite of their looseness.

All the way through you’re treated to a wild and exhilarating ride in sheer crazed acid BM fury but the craziest parts turn out to be the intro and outro title pieces which are truly bat-shit exercises in experimental synth keyboard / piano retarded noodling. I really had a great time with this album – the only downside is when it all ends and I have to readjust to the real world.