Tagged: dark

Politics of Madness

dec2015142

Recently noted Andrew Liles for his contribution to the unusual single The Glottal Allowance. Since I’m not as familiar with the work of this prolific and well-respected soundster as I ought to be, I’m not sure what to make of the A-side to his ultra-wacky single Monster Raving Loony (dotdotdot016v), released on the Irish noise label dotdotdotmusic. It plunges us into the depths of grotesque hilarity and insanity from the off, with a creepified vocal muttering lines from Lewis Carroll in the sputtering wheezy tones of a disturbing, wizened old loon. Musically, there’s a cheesy rhythm and organ melody which you’d expect to hear in some nightmare reimagining of 1970s Saturday TV, along with the carelessly-strewn TV cartoon sound effect samples which punctuate it like playful barbs. But there’s a vague nastiness underpinning Liles’ nonsensical jabbering vocal, even as he blows his raspberries at the grotesque farce that is the UK General Election (they had meant to get it out in time for 7th May this year, or 1st April – whichever comes first. Either way a carnival atmosphere of zaniness was intended.)

The B side, ‘Loony Monster Raving’, is supposed to blacken the air with a more “sinister” take on mental illness and insanity, but it still seems overly wacky to me, with its speeded-up voices a-cackling, its unexpected drum machine silliness, and an out-of-context recit that makes it resemble a bad dream from daytime Radio Four. Nurse With Wound (with whom Liles has worked) has done does similar jokes which I don’t quite get, in the form of easy-listening record cut-ups which are intended to be both mirth-inducing and darkly subversive in some way that eludes me. Jake Blanchard did the cover art of a psychotropic head explosion, and it’s pressed in orange vinyl limited to 300 copies. Arrived 6th July 2015.

Sergeant Throat

006

On The Glottal Allowance (PERIPHERAL CONSERVE pH-23), we hear the voice and throat of Jean-Michel Van Schouwburg doing his creepy thing in front of the microphone for one side of this seven-inch single. This Belgian voice improviser can be heard on various marginal records on INAudible, DUNS and Improvising Beings where he’s doing it in the company of other international musicians, but he’ll be more well known to the select few who saw the movie Berberian Sound Studio, the unusual psychological thriller directed by Peter Strickland. Strickland is a great Englishman of genius who happens to run this label, is a respected film-maker, well-connected with the Bohman Brothers and was also the main man in the Sonic Catering Band. In said movie, a psychologically disturbing narrative which revolves around an ingenious reimagining of the Italian exploitation movie industry, Van Schouwburg played the part of a voice actor providing some hideous “goblin” sounds. These circumstances provided the basis for the present single. Stickland put him behind the mic and the entire work was completed, including edits and overdubs, in less than one hour.

Van Schouwburg could be classed in the Phil Minton school of vocal improv. His ugly wordless growls, groans, and wheezes are full of spit and saliva, and the other juices of human life. If you see the human frame as a sack of viscera, we’re practically hearing it on display on this record, along with many bodily fluids brought into play. Where Henri Chopin celebrated his own lungs and phlegm, Jean-Michel Van Schouwburg plays his entire anatomy like an orchestra. He squeezes his diaphragm like an accordion player, abuses his larynx like Archie Shepp over-blowing his sax and shredding eighteen reeds.

009

On the flip-side, fittingly called ‘Down Neck’, Andrew Liles was called in to create a “remix” – a word which normally sends me running from the room in search of an axe, but on this occasion Liles has managed to transform the source into something even darker, more surreal, and horrifying. He’s extended the bitty, grunted fragments into a palpable echoing drone, sound events which leave a permanent stain on the mind. A bloodstain, no doubt. Liles was involved in sound design for the movie, so in many ways this release is a fitting conceptual addition to the film soundtrack album issued by Warp Records in 2013. 1980s veteran Liles has associations with the English Industrial bands Nurse With Wound and Current 93, and his work has appeared on hundreds of records.

The cover art is gorgeous, but seems at odds with this record. The images are light and precisely rendered, with heavy crisp outlines showing precise stylisations of human faces; while the music is ugly, dark, lugubrious, and vague. Arrived 15th September 2014.

Path Through The Forest

dec2015114

Freaky Polish neo-folk from 23 Threads on their Conspicuous Unobstructed Path (ZOHARUM ZOHAR 093-2) album…this marginal Polish combo first surfaced in 2001 with a record called Magija, which had been recorded in 1995. At that time, the band were effectively the duo of Marek Marchoff and Dorho Marchoff, with guest players appearing under mysterious aliases such as Animal’94 and Industry AW. The resulting CDR appeared on the obscure Furia Musica label in Poland, home to other intriguing avant-rock acts such as One Million Bulgarians, Mannequin and Serpent Beat.

Some 20 years later, they managed to get this new album recorded in New York. Core member Marek remains, and appears to play most of the instrumentation himself, joined by Rafal Janus with his upright bass and djembe, and the band’s new secret weapon – the chanteuse Ingrid Dawn Swen. I’m assuming, just by looking at her photos on the cover and hearing her voice, that she has quite a strong personality. She doesn’t exactly dominate the album, but when her creepy breathy whispers and implacable utterances arrive on the tape as if by stealth, all cats in the neighbourhood arch their backs and their fur stands up on end. She isn’t really singing, either – it’s more in the nature of a poetry recit, half-sung half-spoken pronouncements, with every turn filled with hidden significance. The lyrics are derived from the writings of MJ Caroline Rider, and Swen’s contribution to the project has involved a certain amount of editing to deliver only the choicest nuggets of mysterious fate.

dec2015115

At this point, it may not surprise you to learn that 23 Threads have an interest in the esoteric – Marek Marchoff is photographed wearing an Egyptian medallion across his bare chest, holds a rooster (a symbol persisting from their first album) in an ominous way, there’s the mystical number 23 in the band name, and the album apparently abounds in “references to esoteric tradition” as it endeavours to tell the story of “a woman moving through mysterious forests”. The genres of pagan, neo-folk and dark folk are a closed shop to me, and my interest in the works of Current 93 or Tony Wakeford is virtually nil, but 23 Threads still holds a good deal of interest even to the non-initiate. Marchoff is very skilled at creating, and sustaining, a genuinely unsettling mood with his very subtle musical arrangements, eschewing cheap drama and theatrics, and does it mainly through acoustic means – his mesmerising acoustic guitar becomes an instrument of dark magick, and each track ripples with understated atmospheres.

Further esoteric thrills to be found with the inside photos of the band posing with various symbolic devices (and hats); Ingrid certainly looks very pleased with her ceremonial dagger. For those of you intending to delve further, you may be pleased to learn the label has also reissued their debut album this year. From 5th May 2015.

Ashen Light: leave out the vocals and this doomy depressive BM album is very good

taiga

Taiga, Ashen Light, Russia, Satanath Records, CD SAT067 / METALLIC 030 / LCDS 180/42 (2014)

First of all, let’s deal with the weakest aspect of the debut album for this depressive BM duo from Tomsk, a city in western Siberia in the Russian Federation: this is the vocals which are ragged and shrieky and kept some distance back in the mix. Monotonous and limited in range, yes, and annoying in the way your neighbours would be annoying in their screaming if you played this music really loudly. And this music does deserve to be played very loudly as it’s unexpectedly heavy, grinding and doomy for depressive BM. I half expect a lower growling Godzilla vocal to come in any minute to complement the screaming (the disc’s own screaming, not the neighbours) and the tombstone juggernaut. Unfortunately perhaps this doesn’t happen but this melodic doom melancholy doesn’t suffer for the lack of suitable voiceovers.

“Ashen Light” offers very intense and highly emotional soundscapes expressing utter hopelessness or states of mind in full-blown breakdown and rapid descents into pits of hell. The guitar sound is chainsaw buzzy and constant with sparks flying everywhere, churning deep into the brain cells, leaving broken bone and plasma devastation in its wake. The synth drums, thick with reverb, are hard-hitting and deep, with a good balance of machine rhythms (which may have some death metal influence) and lumbering beats. The musicians work field recordings, spoken voice snippets and acoustic music into the thick layer of grind and the result is a more complex body of sound texture, atmospheres and emotions. The overall impression is of extreme despair, an utter lack of hope and resignation in the face of implacable forces driving one to madness or suicide.

Apart from the first track which consists of field recordings of crying (and which I found very cloying after a while until the pistol shot came), the music is very good and quite moving in parts. The album would work well as a series of eight instrumental movements (instead of eight songs) in which listeners could immerse themselves and allow the music to carry them to dark territories of the mind. The production enhances the bleak nature of the music and allows the bass guitar to be heard very clearly above the crushing guitars and percussion. The temptation to pile on melodrama in each track must have been strong but the band sticks to a minimalist approach by letting the guitars and drums do all the talking and walking, and by using effects and recordings very sparingly.

It’s hard for me to single out any one particular element in the music that stands out: the music composition is excellent, with a lot of flow and intense emotion; the drumming is powerful and varied; and lead guitar, when it appears, has a dark and sinister sparkle. The sound can be very raw and deep.

Altogether this is a great debut for a young band which should garner a lot of attention and interest from fans of doomy depressive BM / post-metal and labels alike.

Crève Mais L’ombre

007

French maverick Franck Vigroux has long been a favourite at TSP on account of his gloomy paranoid caste, his do-everything approach in the studio, and his penchant for churning out ugly, crunchy studio noise by the yard. On Ciment (DAC RECORDS DAC1973), I’m happy to note he’s finally realised a solo guitar album, which is apt considering how often I’ve personally likened him to Fripp and Pinhas (two of our favourite art-guitarmeisters). Through 10 jet-black tracks of home recordings, Vigroux explores various solo possibilities, including as near-perfect an imitation of “electric” Derek Bailey as we’ve ever heard, and the use of a slide for an occasional dabble into 21st-century Tarotplane swamp blues – evoking The Magic Band, after they wake up in the middle of a grim Parisian banlieue. There are also passages of understated guitar-noise, where the amplifier hum itself has a useful part to play, but Franck restrains his normal carcinogenic tactics in favour of exhibiting a profound melancholic emotion, a sadness that seeps into every track regardless of how good a job the roofer did with the Polyfilla. The time is ripe for Vigroux and Michel Henritzi to make an album together. The other thing to note on this release is its superb sound quality; the presence of a musician in the room is palpable, the details of the instrument are larger than life, and it’s great that for once he stepped away from the studio console and curbed his tendency towards applying excessive reverb processing, just so we can appreciate what a strong guitar-player he is. From September 2014.

Fashion Police

nov2015091

Two grisly episodes of slow-burning torture noise from Jeff Surak on his cassette tape Dillhole And Fashion Delete (ZEROMOON ZERO164). On side one he passes the subject through an experience resembling a body-scan device of some sort, except that this infernal machine is not for medicinal healing purposes and instead inflicts the victim with germs, diseases, and corpuscle-destroying entities. Once completed, you’ll be a ghost of your former self, lucky if you can shake hands with your own reflection. An exquisite low-key whine of sinister proportions, for sure. One side two we’re in a distinctly urban-industrial outdoor scenario, involving what may be a fruit-canning machine that’s in the business of parcelling what’s left of our bodies into food for the remaining populace. This side undergoes many changes presenting several ingenious nightmares of minimal electronic Hell, presenting an impassable facade of grim, unknowable horrors. Last heard from this Maryland stern-faced noisedroner in 2014 with his supernatural tapes Skull Cloud and Harmonium Bacterium; we always enjoy his restrained yet unwavering approach, fearlessly exploring dark zones of implied violence and subdued terror.

Inversum: a dark droning sludge doom trip into a downward spiral

Dark Buddha Rising, Inversum, Neurot Recordings, NR094CD (2015)

As surely as the sun rises in the east and the fishes swim in the sea, so a Dark Buddha Rising album will feature extended trips into dark and expansive doom metal trance space. This latest heavy psychedelic venture contains two tracks, “Eso” and “Exo”, each clocking in over 20 minutes of sprawling hypnotic music. The tracks usually develop quite slowly, with atmosphere prominent in its evolution upfront while the music gradually assumes more definite forms through repetition of riffs and the drumming takes on a ritualistic role to encourage full immersion and profound changes in consciousness. Chanting voices coalesce into definite forms in the background.

The first few times you listen to the two tracks, you may not find much to distinguish between them – they’re both minimal in their presentation, the instruments being limited to guitars, background ambient effects and drums, and the structures of both tracks rely on repetitions of series of riff and rhythm loops. It’s with repeating hearings that you realise the two tracks contrast and complement each other in music and mood. “Eso” has a definite mood, one of dread and even of pain and bleakness at some points during its journey, and the track feels claustrophobic and suffocating. The music is very brooding and inward-looking. It is very monotonous and it only picks up speed, energy and force quite late in the piece. Then it takes on a relentless machine-like aspect as it climbs higher and higher towards its kismet, with demon voices shrieking in the background and guitar riffs grinding endlessly.

Passing from one level of existence and reality to the next, the music of “Exo” starts cautiously and hesitantly, like a newly born creature finding its legs in a new unforgiving world of harsh and stinging light. The murmuring riffs give the track its uneasy brooding quality but there is a new feeling of urgency in parts as well. This track tends to stress drone – and lots of it, all very over-stretched – and listeners may think of droney doom bands like Sunn0))) and Spain’s Orthodox during their early periods. There are fewer vocals and what you do hear of them isn’t always easy to detect. The sense of dark and malevolent ritual is strong in this track and parts of it are downright spooky. Guitars are deep and rumbly in their sound, almost to the extent where you can imagine them standing sentinel over the track to shepherd listeners into an entranced state that demands their total absorption. The track becomes interesting halfway through when it slows right down and becomes very fragmented with only drone stretched thin holding the music together. Suddenly it explodes into a mighty monster, with looping, surging riffs, anguished voices crying and howling at the point of point, and a feeling of rapidly growing tension that can only resolve itself in an abrupt climax. Beyond this, where enlightenment might be expected to exist, there is the realisation that the soul’s journey has but completed one circle and there are more circles to be traced …

Both tracks can be understood as mirror reflections of one another, and each links to the other in a never-ending cycle of repetition that might lack purpose or meaning. Of the two tracks, I think most listeners will find “Exo” to be more interesting and varied but the variety is in the latter half of the track rather than spread out evenly across the entire piece. To get value out of DBR recordings, listeners need to be very patient!

The music is good but my feeling is that it’s a bit too controlled or restrained, and needs to be more deranged than it is. For this kind of dark droning sludge doom whose message might be that life might be meaningless and that seeking enlightenment or meaning may spell danger, the music needs some hysteria, some feeling that life is close to chaos, to succeed.

Fin: a stunning collection of bleak and darkly beautiful soundscapes

Jabladav

Jabladav, Fin, self-released CD-R (2014)

This one-man ambient black metal act was very quiet for a few years after the 2011 release of “Trostlosigkeit” but in 2014 he stormed back to attention with an EP, “Gail”, and two albums, “Maj” and “Fin”. At 29 minutes, “Fin” is much the shorter of the two full-lengths, and it’s an ideal introduction to the range of music that Jabladav works in: starting from buzzing noisy BM with a Burzumesque pop feel, “Fin” delves into trance and abstract drone tone soundscapes. Everything happens in an environment that seems blacker than black, pained and utterly bleak, yet there are moments of serenity and utter bliss.

The first few tracks are straight-out black metal songs that almost verge on pop, yet have a keen, sharp, crackly sound and a background echo that keep this listener on edge. Rasping reptilian vokills add to the sense of unease on “De sista viskningar till min alskade” and the song quickly pulls into a short acoustic coda that leaves me feeling uneasy at what may come next. The second track starts off as an acoustic post-rock effort with clean-toned though haunting and spooky singing but its dark underside of crispy crackling noise guitar, demonic howl and noodling bass soon claim dominance. The sounds can be jangly, unearthly and beautiful but there is always an air of unease, even bleakness. “Dod Spell” is a jagged stuttering instrumental where the bass takes the lead over guitar noise clouds.

We continue through acoustic guitar meditation, expansive space ambient / guitar jangle drift psychedelia (that turns into a crazed technical guitar-sizzle spasm) and a fusion BM noise-lite / jazzy post-rock piece shot through with trebly guitar howl. The last two tracks, the clearly related “Before the Frost” and “After the Frost”, with no hint of anything in-between, are Jabladav at his most experimental and abstract: the former track features layers of space ambient tones and drones travelling together in a cool neutral space, and the second piece seems to be drawn-out low piano rumble that grows mossy and vague and which almost disappears into the deep black space.

Several tracks are very short but the instrumental pieces are minimal and easy to follow, and they manage to say all they need to and no more, and there they end. The more pop-oriented BM-dominant tracks are notable for their austere style and have a strong sense of utter isolation and aloneness. You might expect with such short and musically varied pieces that the album might be something of a travelogue through different sonic landscapes: a bit rushed and not delving very deeply into each. It turns out though that each song or instrumental piece has such a strong individual identity, that it makes a very deep impression on you and you can find yourself playing this album quite obsessively. This is a stunning collection of sketches of utter bleakness and dark beauty.

All of Jabladav’s 2014 releases are available in limited print runs of 50 copies each; contact Aquarius Records to see if they still have any.

Wrap Music

dave philips
…a dead body re-incarnated with the grace of black magic…

Dave Phillips
Homo Animalis
SWITZERLAND SCHIMPFLUCH ASSOCIATES SHA 01 2 x CD (2014)

Dave Phillips is a sound artist, vocalist, musician from Switzerland; he crosses performance, sound and field recording. Listening a few times to this double CD, despite the dark side to its aesthetics : the subject is quite dark in itself : the humanimal, mutation and violence of an impossible mutation, we are left wondering why a young artist such as Phillips (relatively young but still in his forties) need to re-release some of his works on a CD. It would probably be more convincing to release some unreleased early works rather than works that have been produced only a couple of years before their “re-releasing”. I suppose what we are trying to understand here is what is the point of this double CD release of the work of an artist on his own label of his own recently released music? Perhaps it’s for his personal archive! Great, but give us something we haven’t heard already!

Apart from this little irk, the music is absolutely beautiful! Bassy, breathy and “animal” noises made with voice, well-composed in his relation to the mutation of human and animal and landscape using voices, sound poetry and field recordings: pitched groans and rocky super male crooners turn into a rather dodgy bull which is about to explode in millions of little insects, like a dead body re-incarnated with the grace of black magic, of a dead science everyone forgets. Dave Phillips is a master of bringing you to where dark magic and trance prevails, in a kingdom of suffering and transformation.