Category: Current listening

Third Wave Holocaust: blackened noise industrial soundscapes too muddy to be truly scary

T.O.M.B., Third Wave Holocaust, Black Plagve Productions, CD (2013)

One of a recent generation of black metal acts that combine BM, noise and industrial, this Philadelphia-based one-man band treats urban environments as his natural territory, perhaps more so than most BM bands treat nature as theirs. The tracks on “Third Wave Holocaust” have all been recorded in various locations in Pennsylvania and New Jersey that have some historical or emotional significance either to T.O.M.B.’s main man Jack Gannon or the people in the areas surrounding those venues: derelict buildings, decaying churches, places where people have died or have been murdered or places that for some reason emit negative vibes or have a dark and horrible history. Whether these places have good acoustics is another thing however – from what I have been able to find out about this project, it seems that Gannon chooses particular venues to record and gather field recordings of their sounds so as to imbibe something of the spirit or mood of that place and transmit or release that spirit and its energy through his music.

The result is an album of bleak cavernous space from which strange murky and often frightening sounds emerge. The album is best heard as loudly as you can stand to get the full sonic effect of all the sounds that come streaming (and often screaming) through the headphones or speakers. Sound quality varies a great deal and often the noises are muddy and blunted. Though the music is divided into 10 tracks, it’s actually best heard as one continuous work: there are no vocals, no melodies or rhythms so you might as well just let it all rip from Track 1 “Antagonizing the Unknown” onwards.

You can let your imagination take you where it will with this recording: “Electric Exorcism” is a journey through a vortex of harsh grating junk metal sandstorm noise while “The Great Venerat Insult” pops you into a slowly simmering and bubbling cauldron of initially cold liquid metal that will soon overwhelm and dissolve you molecule by molecule. Though Track 3 is a relatively quiet piece, the background is constantly alive with unknowable malevolent forces. A ritualistic element is introduced with sonorous chanting in “NA LA GORE NA” and for many listeners this might be the most terrifying track of all as the echoing disembodied voices are accompanied by a storm of withering, scraping noise drone that steadily erodes even the most solid granite and basalt. The rumble that is “Vulgarity” sounds like something the Japanese noise musician Merzbow might serve up with its crumbly textures that roam about looking for human victims to crush and gobble up, along with a foghorn sound effect and occasional sharp screechy skidding-brake tones.

Titles of the last four tracks suggest a celebration of a sinister ceremony with mass human sacrifices to dark deities as its culmination. The title track combines a repeating loop of washed-out ambient slash and a deep subterranean rumble. Later tracks bring more horror but very little that listeners haven’t already heard.

As albums of this genre go, “Third Wave Holocaust” is not bad but it’s a bit disappointing: while the sounds may be interesting and the darkness hinted at in several tracks is very deep and terrifying, those of us familiar with noise terror acts like Yellow Swans, Hair Police, Mammal, NRIII and Sutekh Hexen don’t hear much new that those and other bands and projects haven’t already delivered. Some listeners may even anticipate the ritualistic aspect hinted at by titles like “Electric Exorcism” and “VOM VOODOO”. The cavernous echoing ambience that’s present throughout has the effect of not only muddying sounds but distancing them from listeners and the album is not nearly as confrontational as it could have been. A record such as this needs one or two moments where the sounds become absolutely clean, sharp and close in a way that listeners only have to extend a finger out a little way and the noise could chop off the entire arm. Later tracks become quite monotonous in their samples and atmosphere. In a genre that I predict will soon be jam-packed with blackened scrap-metal industrial noise terrorism projects started up by every kid and their dog, T.O.M.B. (the name stands for Total Occultic Mechanical Blasphemy) needs to create much more distinct soundscape works than what it has done here.

Contact: Black Plagve Productions

Negativ Psykotelepathi Surveillanz: for those nostalgik for old-school industrial noize terrorizm

Klinikal Skum, Negativ Psykotelepathi Surveillanz, Chondritic Sound, cassette CH-287 (2013)

I’m not sure that the cassette format is really all that suited to recreating the sound and ambience of old-school industrial music from the days when the likes of Throbbing Gristle, Nurse with Wound and SPK among others dominated the scene. Oh of course, TG did issue about 100 sets of 20 cassettes each, of which the vast majority were apparently sold to Japanese customers. Klinikal Skum’s name alludes perhaps to SPK’s deliberate misspellings and various acronyms for their title (among them Surgikal Penis Klinik and Sozialistische Patienten Kollektiv); the cassette’s title might refer to the darker visions of Psychic TV and the artwork to the more unsanitary cubicles and rooms of psychiatric hospitals whose photographs graced covers of a number of industrial music recordings of the 1980s.

Sound quality issues aside, the actual music on the tape captures the paranoia and hellish dystopian visions of 1980s industrial: bursts of electrical static, stuttery drone, brain-scouring plumes of noise texture, Black-and-Decker surgical trepanning drills and aeroplane drone among other noisy, buzzing texture layers can be found here. KS man Ryan Oppermann allows the sounds to range freely where they will and imposes no external structure or other restraint – or none that I can discern anyway though I know the music is in fact divided into six tracks – upon the music other than what is dictated by the cassette format. The result is a work of shifting moods and atmosphere that explores sound, texture and space. We can expect that the music will be violent and searing in parts, and highly confrontational, and there is plenty of such music here but there are also moments where the music zooms off on its own tangent, not caring what people think of it or where it takes them. Oppermann also drops in snippets of found sound radio monologue recordings in parts; of course in the spirit of the genre, these recordings bear little relation to the surrounding music and might say something about the atomised and fragmented nature of the society, dependent on trivia that lack a context (until we give them one), that we live in.

Side A of the tape tends to be more harsh while Side B, especially in its later half, features more spacey atmospheric mood work that can be surprisingly melodic, intentionally or unintentionally.

The dominant sound is a crackling, electrical static flow not unlike the more high-pressure water-hose treatments on some of Merzbow’s digital recordings and Merzbow fans enamoured of their hero’s earlier digital work might like to give Klinikal Skum’s work a listen as should also devotees of bands like Mammal, Hair Police, Yellow Swans and Burning Star Core. This is dark and menacing music that may be obsessed with death in parts.

Contact: Chondritic Sound

Falls of Rauros / Panopticon split: a fine pairing united by a love of and inspiration by nature and Norwegian BM

Falls

Falls of Rauros / Panopticon, self-titled split, Bindrune Recordings, vinyl BR020 (2014)

The background to this split album is that A Lunn of Panopticon and the members of Fall of Rauros had spent time in Norway together for various reasons: among other things, Lunn was studying zymurgy (the science of fermentation) as preparation for opening his brewery in Minnesota. The album is inspired by the bands’ visit to Norway and the Norwegian countryside, and their love of Norwegian black metal.

Fall of Rauros contribute two tracks in a melancholic, almost post-metal vein. “Unavailing” is the major track at nearly 12 minutes in length and an epic piece it is too with rapid-fire tremolo guitar and equally hurried percussion alternating with passages of more thoughtful and very insular melodic acoustic guitar melodies. The thin screechy vocals are something of a let-down here as their limited range fails to match the scope and depth of the meandering guitar music. The later part of the track becomes infused with deep dreamy atmosphere and is a deeply intense passage. “The Purity of Isolation” is a calm remedy of almost country or folk post-rock to the intensity of its long sibling and its lyrics suggest a post-apocalyptic healing for humanity through deep contact with and absorption into nature. Here are hope and optimism for a brighter future in which humans accept their place in the natural order of the cosmos, learn true humility and give up their former arrogance and self-destructive illusions.

Panopticon changes musical direction in favour of a more strictly old-school style of raw and furious, all-out attacking black metal with four tracks. “Through Mountains I wander this Evening” practically erases all memory of the previous band’s music with roaring guitars, clattering drums and a seething, menacing vocal all prowling and charging continuously. Having taken total control of your attention, Lunn relaxes a little on the next track with a slower pace and a darkly bleak and mournful ambience with droplets of bluesy raindrop guitar tones among the distorted guitars. After what seems like a (deliberate) near-collapse in the middle of the song, Lunn rallies with a burst of frenzied tom-tom battery and squalling guitar buzz.

“Gods of Flame” is a very war-like track, surprisingly close in parts to commercial melodic heavy metal in the sedate pace and in structure with an emphasis rhythm guitar riffs and melodies. A piano background ambience in the slower sections provides a clean-toned contrast with the constant buzz. There seems to be a strong Burzum influence on the riff loops and guitar trills in the last track “One Cold Night” which is a deeply cold and forbidding conclusion to the album.

Both acts on the split strive to do their utmost but for me Panopticon win out easily for changing its style to a straightforward Norwegian-inspired BM one with none of the bluegrass or other country / folk music elements from previous albums like “Kentucky”. This is quite unexpected for an act of its current stature and with several releases under its belt. Each song in Panopticon’s arsenal is different from the last with parts of “Gods of Flame” not at all much like what I would have expected from Lunn. Falls of Rauros do a good job with their two songs but the one thing that makes their music less than perfect is the vocal: it’s too thin and lacking in variety and range to do justice to their music. Here’s hoping that both bands have gained much from this collaboration in the way of pleasure and new insights about their own music and the other’s music.

Contact: Bindrune Recordings

Through the Fog: a hard plod through black doom music

Though the Fog

Longing and Silence, Through the Fog, Sylvan Screams Analog, cassette (2013)

Originally released independently as a demo in 2013, this debut recording of San Francisco Bay Area one-man band Longing and Silence has been picked up by the up-and-coming Sylvan Screams Analog label and turned into an album with an extra track. Now the full glories of LaS can be enjoyed by audiences far beyond the act’s homeland. Well, admittedly these “glories” might take some time to sink in as LaS happens to be one of the more miserable depressive black doom metal bands. Songs proceed at a slow dejected foot-dragging pace, the drumming is drained of life and energy, and mournful buzzing guitars chug away while the harsh rattling vocals sigh and scrape through the lyrics. The atmosphere is a deep black fug through which living things struggle to move or swim. The odd thing about this album is that the sound seems reminiscent of some of the ambient batty acts of the French Black Legions of the mid to late 1990s but that may be an effect, accidental or deliberate, of the quality of the production on the original recording.

Most tracks are fairly long with the shortest at just five minutes if you disregard the short opening track which is called … “Opening”. (Talk about a grand entry!) After this, the album begins its doleful journey in earnest. Tracks are repetitive to the point of monotony although if you listen to each track quite closely, you’ll be surprised at how much change and variation are present in the details of the music. There can be surprisingly melodic moments though they’re hardly likely to have you whistling or tapping your fingers. One track “Wasted Days” could even be a bit rock’n’roll if it were sped up a bit as the solid-as-steel riffs and melodies have a hard edge and their texture has slight crunch. The bass is dominant throughout most tracks which tends to make the music a bit less black metal in sound if not in spirit and concept.

The B-side of the cassette starts off in a more lively manner with bonus track “Sinking Vessel” placed first instead of at the end as is the normal custom with such pieces. A cold space ambience, courtesy of some discreet background synth tones, helps shape the song and provides mystery and depth. The music still plods but not as slowly as before. During instrumental sections, guitars and synth tones share equal time and the duetting is surprisingly affecting and emotional. “Sinking Vessel” could almost pass as potential singles material as there are some very distinctive slash-guitar riffs and the track is song-like in structure. The title track is another highlight here: it’s a  completely ambient piece done with synthesiser and acoustic-music tones and effects highlighted by wistful raindrop guitar notes.

The album could have been edited for length as the repetition and monotony in half the tracks are more off-putting than immersive. I sense that the artist was striving for something to absorb the listener’s attention completely and, since repetition has (too often) been the standard way of mesmerising listeners and opening up their consciousness, used minimal and repetitive music structures to try to achieve that trance result. If it weren’t for the bonus track, the album would be a dreary affair; as it is, there’s more depth to the music and the listener is led to think that there must be much, much more to this LaS act than meets the ear. I certainly think so. It’s too soon to tell with just this one recording whether LaS is rethinking the musical direction taken with this depressive black doom style or plans to plunge ahead farther into the thick dark clouds of melancholy and repetition.

Contact: Longing and SilenceSylvan Screams Analog,

I’m Lost: losing and then finding oneself in five expansive sound dramas

tarablost

Tarab, I’m Lost, 23five Incorporated, CD 23five 019 (2014)

Well if Eamon Sprod is lost in this album, what hope is there for the rest of us as we try to follow him about on this set of field recordings all chopped up, fragmented, distorted and amped up to an extreme? – but no matter how far the soundscapes take us, we somehow find our own points of reference in recognisable sounds. The album’s seemingly modest and low-key title turns out to be deliberately layered: “I’m Lost” could be interpreted in a narrow physical sense but it could also be read in other ways. There is the loss you feel when you lose loved ones or your relationships break up either intentionally or through neglect or simply because the other people have moved on. There’s the loss you feel when your youth becomes a distant memory and familiar objects, cultural and technological items associated with your generation and knowledge are superseded by other cultural ephemera and become obsolete. There is loss on a greater scale as well: buildings are demolished to make way for new ones, industries change and certain kinds of work become redundant, valuable history and advice are forgotten, countryside is submerged under cables and concrete, and the world is soon brought to the brink of another global war by yet another lot of incompetent politicians and their unseen puppet-masters. (Well at least one thing doesn’t change!) Through this work of five meditative pieces, Tarab demonstrates that the concept of loss contains within itself an openness and potential for creativity and inventiveness as new associations, directions and goals are free to form and connect.

The album is at once quiet and noisy as scraps of unrelated field recordings of industry, the natural world, domestic life and urban environments are pashed together with no thought for how they blend (or not) together. Of course the more you listen to this recording, the more your ears and brain start to accept the unusual and random juxtapositions for what they are, and structures and links arise spontaneously in the music that are unique to it and to your ears. Other listeners will make their own associations. In this way, you’ll find your own supports in the music but they’ll be unique to you as a listener.

Listeners become aware of the environments in which they live and the detritus they unthinkingly leave behind. The lost and forgotten, the things that seem innocuous at first but which have serious consequences for us later on (things like plastic rubbish left on the ground, scooped up by the wind or washed through stormwater drains into the ocean where it might choke a sea animal that swallows it), the things we try to ignore or forget but which have a habit of annoying us and demanding our attention … Tarab scoops all these up into these five expansive and highly absorbing sound dramas.

Repeated spins of the album do eventually result in your finding yourself as a unique being, free of all past associations and structures. Isn’t that a paradox, that to know and find yourself, you have to be lost?

Contact: 23five Incorporated

Vestiges / Panopticon split: two portrayals of epic black metal grandness

vpcover-600x595

Vestiges / Panopticon, self-titled, The Flenser, LP (2013)

The phenomenon of split recordings where two or more acts in the same or similar genres release an album together – often in the form of vinyl LPs with one band on the A-side and the other band on the B-side – is common in underground metal circles, especially black metal, and the USBM act Panopticon has done his fair share of such recordings with other bands. Here he (or rather A Lunn, the sole member) teams up with Vestiges, a black metal / post-rock fusion act hailing from Washington DC. After the attention he gained with the release of “Kentucky”, one might think Panopticon doesn’t need to be paired up with other, maybe lesser acts to promote his music but there’s also something to be said for encouraging other acts to come forward with their work by joining it to his and sharing the expenses of production and recording.

Vestiges lead off with two tracks titled “VII” and “VIII” which are intended as two episodes in an ongoing narrative that started with their first album “The Descent of Man” and continued with a split recording with Indonesian sludge metal band Ghaust. “VII” begins slowly and majestically with quiet but insistent guitar twang riff loops, deep bass drone and soft ambient background wash. Gradually adding percussion that itself speeds up as the track goes along, plus ghost voices and a raspy vocal, the track constantly piles up volume, energy and emotion. The music quickly goes into “VIII” which breaks into a mix of rapid-fire tremolo black metal guitar with sometimes choppy drumming and of clean-toned melodic post-rock guitar flow that may take in influences from blues and sludge doom metal. The mood on this second track is sorrowful and tragic as it alternates between the two musical extremes of black metal and doom, both with a post-rock sheen. As “VIII” continues, the music becomes ever more intense, working in dark space and the volume dynamics within to create a mighty edifice of tremolo guitar scaffolding, a thumping bass / percussion foundation and towers of tone and drone that reach skyward and beyond. The music ranges over a wide territory of emotion and atmosphere and there is plenty of epic drama in the two tracks.

After Vestiges’ contribution, A Lunn of Panopticon has his work cut out matching the other USBM band’s effort in creating immersive ambient BM opera. “A Letter” begins well with a dark bluesy sound touched with reverb and a bit of distortion that add extra urgency to an already fast track. This sounds quite a different band from the Panopticon I know from “Kentucky”. The vocals rage continuously throughout, wrapped up in a swift-moving maelstrom of music. The bass / drum rhythms are powerful and drive the song with a lot of force. The mood of the track is oddly uplifting and even triumphant for the most part but mixed with a streak of longing and sadness. “Eulogy” is a surprisingly happy little piece with a definite pop vibe, though the harsh singing in the far distance gives the song bite. The slight echo and washed-out ambience bring enough gloom to give the track a complicated emotional nature: it’s as if it wants to skip through summer fields but then reminds itself that life isn’t always sunshine and bright skies, and greyness and depression could be just moments away.

Panopticon concludes its side of the split with a cover of the Suicide Nation song “Collapse & Die”, a suitably cheery piece to end on. The song is played as a straight black metal song save for a folksy section in the middle which features mandolin and a sing-along chorus.

After hearing this split a few times, I’ve got to hand the greater glory to Panopticon who might not aspire to epic grandeur as Vestiges does but who can certainly handle atmosphere and sound in ways that suggest more emotional depth and complexity than that act has a right to possess. There certainly has been considerable development after “Kentucky” where the music could be sometimes monotonous. That’s no longer a problem here for Panopticon. Vestiges give the impression of laying out all their cards upfront and not having much in store left to give while Panopticon keeps dishing out one surprise after another right to the end. It’s a mighty tall order to share a split with Panopticon and Vestiges do their damnedest.

Contact: The Flenser

T.R.A.S.E. (Tape Recorder And Synthesiser Ensemble): early 1980s UK teenage outsider synth-pop (yes, really!)

T.R.A.S.E.

T.R.A.S.E. (Tape Recorder And Synthesiser Ensemble), self-titled, UK, B-Music / Finders Keepers, CD BMS050 / FKR067 (2013)

Here’s a recording where the history of the artist and the equipment used is so unusual and engrossing that it threatens to overshadow the music itself. The group’s name might seem twee and antiquated to us jaded sophisticates today but in 1981 the concept behind the name and project was just slightly ahead of the trends prevailing in the commercial pop music industry in Britain. The astonishing aspect of T.R.A.S.E. is that it was actually the music project of a 16-year-old boy who started it as an extension of both the work he was doing at school, in class and in extra-curricular activities, and his own interests in pop and rock music. Even more amazing is that the youngster, Andy Popplewell, built his own synthesiser (the Elektor Chorosynth), a 6-channel audio mixer, a phaser and a fuzz box using instructions from electronics magazines and the school woodwork and electronics skills he gained. With money earned from delivering newspapers, Popplewell built all these himself (his father having died years earlier), acquired and assembled a drum machine kit, and off he went, experimenting with composing and playing his own music, some of the results of which have now been released on vinyl and CD.

Admittedly if you were to hear the music and you didn’t know that this was all the work of a young teenage boy with some help from his guitar-playing kid brother, you’d swear that the artist behind the various rhythm texture pieces making up the bulk of the recording was a bit conservative in the way he coaxes sounds and melodies out of his machines, with very few sounds hitting the extremes of the instruments’ capabilities and burning up the wires. The drum machine beats anchor the music rigidly and apart from a couple of instrumental tracks near the beginning and the end, there’s hardly any experimentation with basic elements like sound; the music is driven by repetitive melody loops held in place by fixed beats. Sometimes the music is so slow or monotonous that you almost fall off your seat in slumber. On the other hand, there are some good tracks that show music composition potential (“Electronic Rock”, “War Machine”, “Unrequited Love”) even if very little is done with them. There are some beautiful ambient mood pieces like “Harmonium”, a radiantly sunny instrumental that includes a trilling melody and plucked warm-summer guitar tones. That a school-kid was able to progress as far as he could building his own equipment and writing and playing his own music within fairly commonplace artistic and musical conventions of the time might say something about his middle class upbringing in early 1980s Britain and how much (or how little) exposure children had to music, art and other avenues of creative intellectual enrichment.

In the booklet that accompanies the CD, Popplewell lists among his musical influences acts like Kraftwerk, Giorgio Moroder, Jean Michel Jarre, Joy Division, Ultravox, the Human League, Gary Numan and John Foxx and his own music certainly reflects those inspirations. (The booklet also mentions his interest in Cheap Trick, Led Zeppelin and Motorhead but their influence, if any, can’t be discerned, perhaps for obvious reasons: their music was dominated by guitar and was not minimalist in structure.) Some tracks have a melancholy air as well as a definite pop orientation and the deadpan singing style Popplewell employs might owe as much to his heroes as to his own inexperience as a singer. Although in the booklet he states his suspicion of being close to having Asperger’s syndrome, I detect in the music he may have had something of a talent for picking sounds and tunes that conjure up particular moods.

I don’t have many favourite tracks on this CD but the one I like best is one I might treasure for the rest of my life and that’s “War Machine” for its delirious slightly off-key and dazed synth tones and the clicky mechanical rhythms. Probably by the time Popplewell composed this song, he’d already had considerable experience writing, playing and polishing his music. The singing is frail and boyish and the whole track sounds a bit like a cross between early Depeche Mode and The Cure. A solo lead guitar turn by little brother Phil Popplewell adds a soulful blues mood. The song is crowned by the sort of abstract early-Kraftwerkian experimentation, here simulating machine-gun fire and falling bombs, I’ve been dying (err …) to hear all through the album.

The value of this recording lies mainly in the circumstances in which it was conceived, the DIY culture that existed in the UK in the late 1970s / early 1980s and the fact that it was made by an artist still at high school and what this suggests about how much Western society still underestimates the creative potential of adolescents. Some of the songs may well grow on listeners over repeated hearings.

Alas, Popplewell did not follow up his early precocious start as an experimental electronic pop musician; he became a BBC radio broadcast engineer (though he curiously manage to miss falling into the BBC Radiophonic Workshop) in the 1980s and has held other technical and engineering positions since. It may not be too late for Popplewell to resurrect his music career if he so wishes, though I doubt that the novelty value of his having been a child musical prodigy would last long; advances in music technology and electronics have been so great over the last 30 years that audiences born after 1980 might well be mystified by the music and instruments used, and several tracks really are just not much more than rhythm texture studies.

Contact: Finders Keepers, www.finderkeepers.com

Valonielu: a steady ride into the black metal psychedelic universe

oranssi-cover

Oranssi Pazuzu, Valonielu, Svart Records, CD SVR 226 (2013)

This Finnish five-piece is on its third journey through the psych black metal cosmos and reaching out to the very edges of the known universe and possibly beyond, as suggested by the album cover art which might (just might – I’m guessing wildly here) have been inspired by the style of famous 1960s comic-strip writer and artist Robert Crumb. “Valonielu” is a very confident work refining the style set by debut recording and album “Muukalainen Puhuu” which was a real humdinger for its enthusiastic and colourful if sometimes demented music. Our citrus-loving demons wisely don’t try to top that album in excess but nevertheless the ride here is as mind-blowing and expansive in its own way.

The opening track is a tough rocker dominated by Jun-His’s inhuman croaking vocals barking in deranged Finnish while droning synths and effects heighten the sense of unreality and the impression that chaos and other dreamworlds are just a breath away. The psychedelic space journey proper really launches with the next track “Tyhja Temppeli” (“The Empty Temple”) with a thumping percussion accompanied by squiggly guitar chords, flashes of guitar tone and synth wash. Tension and suspense created within the song builds up. The band opts for a more relaxed, spacey, trippy ambient approach with “Uraanisula” rather than continue with the near-hysterical escalation of foreboding generated on the preceding song but “Uraanisula” has its own sinister charms, especially in those instrumental passages where guitar solo competes with ascending and descending space gurgle noises. It’s a fairly long track but with a riff that more or less runs right through its length, the song is distinct with a strong focus and direction.

There’s time for a breather and a look around the alien vistas with “Reika Maisemassa” (“A Hole in the Landscape”), a trippy little instrumental with tribal-sounding drumming and a sense of wonder and awe. The difficult second half of the album – this is where filler is most likely to be found – is negotiated well before “Ympyra On Viiva Tomussa” (“A Circle Is A Line In The Dust”), a monster track of atmospheric trance immersion, blackened rock-out glory and mind-blowing consciousness-altering space psychedelia, takes us on the final lap around the edges of the cosmos, always on the verge of falling right off and over into another (and perhaps more malevolent) universe. A war to dominate our minds is waged between a battery of tremolo guitars and death rays of while Jun-His sings over the battle. The sound is evil as though the forces of darkness are winning and the spacecraft carrying us listeners is doomed to fall into black void forever.

What makes this blackened psychedelic trance record stand out is a calculated attitude that drips with evil intent; the voyage to the stars and far beyond is a one-way journey into a cosmos that is indifferent and maybe even antagonistic and hostile towards those humans who dare to forget their place at the bottom of the cosmic hierarchy and venture out from their Earth prison. The album’s energy and focus are directed towards dropping us all into emptiness: the answer to humankind’s quest for meaning to life. As cosmic jokes go, this is devastating and “Valonielu” might serve as a warning to us all about human hubris. Whereas on the band’s first album, interstellar travel was fun, now on this trip the fun has been replaced by uncertainty and foreboding that we might be in for an unpleasant shock.

While the first half of the album is a tease with songs going off on different tangents from previous tracks, the second half pulls the strands together and from then on the ultimate aim is imminent. Early tracks can stand alone as potential singles (due to one riff or melody dominating throughout) which might explain why as a group they don’t seem unified and a bit of momentum is lost from one track to the next. The musicians keep monotony at bay with synthesiser melodies, atmospheric wash and effects which help give songs their distinct ambience and identities.

The whole recording works like a horror sci-fi movie in sound: all that’s needed are the visual backgrounds and maybe some stills of actors, and we’ve got ourselves a complete package.

Contact: Svart Records

Wargthron (Demo 1): channelling the spirit of primitive raw kvlt black metal

10171840_248730265319380_3414356846289306947_n

Wargthron, Demo 1, Sylvan Screams Analog, cassette SSA018 (2014)

Channelling that good ol’ primitive super-raw kvlt black metal vibe here is a mysterious horde (of maybe one guy? or a couple?) hailing from the wintry ice-scapes of … Atlanta, Georgia, in the southeastern subtropical realms of the US. We-e-ell, I guess them folks down there experience a real light dusting of overnight winter snow in mebbe a hunnerd years. Thrumming steamy BM super-hornet guitars, barely-there percussion and deeply buried rasping ghost vokills along with monotonous rhythms and the most skeletal of riffs and melodies recall the early years of the French Black Legions or Norwegian BM legend Ildjarn on this debut offering from Wargthron.

The recording divides into two parts and repeats on the B-side of the cassette (so you never have to rewind it if you prefer one part over another). “An Ancient Fortress of Blood” – how kvlt is that?! – is a slowly menacing shadow creature, grimmmer than grimm, glacial yet unrelenting in pace, the percussion counting down to that moment when ice tendrils, making their steady and stealthy way, penetrate into the deepest parts of the listener’s brain and freeze it forever. The blood runs cold, the heart stops beating, skin turns an icy-blue colour and anyone foolish enough to touch the victim might suffer severe frost-bite in the finger/s that make contact. The music becomes more hellish and unbearable as it creeps up on you: guitars slash away repeatedly, demons roar and gloat in anticipation of possessing yet another human soul, and the atmosphere is so overpowering it leaps into another dimension to continue the torture.

“Bless the Heavens with Darkness” turns up the pace and intensity early on but ends up mixing the faster parts with slower music that might almost sound like a continuation of the first track. The guitars lollop faster and at a more shrill tone but the steaming buzz texture and dark murk are still present. The malevolent monster voices growl and roar continuously.

According to the sleeve notes, the songs were recorded in “utter darkness under shadow of the dead moon” on Christmas Eve in 2013 which might explain their repetitive nature: obviously if you can’t see what you’re playing, it’s best not to stray too far from the most essential chords, rhythms and beats in case you want to return to them but have forgotten the correct fingering positions. The Wargthron man definitely was not expecting or wanting any toys, games or the latest version of Grand Theft Auto from Santa Claus; this music would frighten the reindeer so much they’d bolt right out of the solar system and the fat guy in the red suit would be lost among the galaxies forever. The atmosphere reeks of ancient and evil corruption, the black void from which Wargthron appears and then disappears into comes across as infinite and gravid with deep hostility towards humanity and intent to wipe out this upstart anthropoid species forever. The music hums with a deep and intense power and this force, hungry and brimming with deep hatred, leaves a lasting impression in the imagination.

There’s only a very limited print run of 44 copies and I already have No 43 so you have to be really fast to get the last copy!

Contact: Sylvan Screams Analog

Zo Rel Do: a curious and intriguing mix of drone folk and electro-acoustic improv

2064600

Mohammad, Zo Rèl Do, Antifrost, CD AFRO 2064 (2014)

Mohammad is a Greek trio employing cello, contrabass and electronics to create a curious fusion of drone folk and electro-acoustic improv. “Zo Rèl Do” is the first part of a trilogy exploring the music and sounds of the musicians’ homeland and immediate neighbouring areas in western Turkey and parts of Bulgaria and Romania.

We start off with some field recordings dominated by a solo flute melody and conversations that might have been recorded in a market-place. These are swept aside by low booming scrapey string instruments, deep and rhythmic, with a very minimalist melody loop: the music is a bit like an acoustic doom folk version of Sunn0))) at times. A scratchy spitting drone accompanies the raw and sonorous dirge-like march. The track seems very serious and solemn although there are moments when it appears not to be taking itself too seriously and almost parodies itself.

“Kabilar Mace” takes up the repetitive circular structure, applying it to a drunken seesaw melody and torments it with a nagging grinding string accompaniment. The two opposed melodies can be very amusing to listen to as one tune insists on going its own sedate way and the other buzzes around it like a jumpy pooch. The music steadily escalates to an extreme intense and quite deranged level with the odd pause or two to let off steam.

Subsequent tracks stick to the minimalist template of repetition (with variation), building up to an almost hysterical climax, and the sound lurches about clumsily as if in an empty and dark room feeling for the light-switch. One later track gives the impression of nearly falling over in a heap. “Samarina” in particular sounds a bit like the aforementioned hooded ones playing unplugged after having gone on one or two too many benders; this is probably the most memorable track in spite of it not sounding quite as accessible melodically as the others – it does have a certain mournful grace. The album concludes with what could be a barely audible recording of night crickets that might be overlooking a secret nature ritual.

While this is a fairly short recording, “Zo Rèl Do” has a massive sound and a clear ambience that emphasises the rough-hewn texture of the music. The mood alternates from bleary-eyed somnambulist slouch to solemn and serious to something suggesting a wry sense of humour at work building up the music to a near-insane, mind-transforming level. Though the music does not vary a great deal, the mood and humour behind it keep this listener transfixed, wondering what surprises these Hellenes might pull out next from within their instruments.

The thought has just occurred to me that Mohammad’s objective is to bring listeners deep into their world of native folk and other influences and to take their audiences right to the edge of infinity by mixing serious solemnity and playful teasing in equal measures. Beyond that edge, we become merged with the fabric of the cosmos itself and are at one with it.

Contact: Antifrost,  Mohammad