Tagged: dark

A Sanguine Disposition

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Scarlet (HELEN SCARSDALE AGENCY HMS030) is a most excellent cassette in which Jim Haynes, up to now widely perceived as the “Jon Anderson” of unobtrusive sound art, at last discovers the power of supernatural noise…well, almost. Scarlet is pretty much a continuous listen of compellingly strange, eerie and (in places) loud and disturbing noise, divided into eight sections with descriptive bloody titles such as ‘Mordant Red 15’ and ‘Racine To Vermillion’ which prime the listener for a session of decadence, blood-bathing, and grand guignol. What follows is pretty much the haunted TV screen effect of the Poltergeist movie to the power of ten…unsettling, tense, inexplicable waves of sound. The notes here tell us it was derived from hot-wired strobe lights and shortwave radio (hacked using wire-tapping devices), but also “psychic disturbance…within the Helen Scarsdale Agency’s shipping container”. Intriguing…while I have no idea what this “shipping container” may be (unless it’s simply the mail room for this Californian label), the notion of capturing psychic disturbance on tape is always a popular way to go. Just look at the large number of YouTube videos uploaded under the rubric “ghosts caught on tape” (or aliens, ditto). On the other hand, don’t do that.

Jim Haynes has always created beautiful sound art, and he has always left it largely unexplained, undetermined, with no explanation of what he is pointing the microphones at (if indeed there are any microphones) or what if anything he is doing in the way of editing, post-processing, filtering. This deliberate ploy usually invites the baffled listener to simply listen harder (rather than forcing us to do so, like some more aggressive types do). Haynes’ second triumph is the “humanity” as I would call it of his work, by which I mean he doesn’t generate dull process sound-art for its own sake, but always manages to discern the spirits of things, the ghosts in the machines, or perhaps he can clearly see the chain of life that connects everything in the world, using the gifted vision that is somehow hard-wired to his ears, however anatomically strange that may seem. His patient, sympathetic methods always yield fascinating results, where the human being can always find something recognisable that strikes a chord deep within. He is never out to alienate, nor drive the listener to distraction with boredom.

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“I’ve made attempts at rhythm in the past,” says Haynes about this release, “but here I throw caution to the wind with numerous variations on the noise-pulse theme.” He describes the results as “jagged and torn electronics” and feels that a cassette release is the best medium for the statements. Fans of John Duncan and Candor Chasma are advised to check in a.s.a.p. to hear this “study in scarlet”…Haynes doesn’t go quite as far as Duncan into the dark, sensory-deprived realms of psychological despair, nor does he seek to spin supernatural yarns like Candor Chasma, but this release is (for me) a clear departure from the more understated and slow-moving material that I am more familiar with. If you want more, there is a ninth recording which exists as a video piece, part of the 18 Films Of Ted Serios project. From February 2015.

Interference Patterns

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Last heard from Pat Gillis under his TL0741 alias with the 2012 release Held To Account, although he also released a Northern Machine record that year. Got a couple of new albums from him 5th January 2015. With all of his electronic music, his avowed aim is to liberate electronic sound from what he sees as the “traps” of harmony and rhythm, intending thereby to arrive at an ideal, perfected, “pure” sound. On Circulation (HC3 MUSIC HC3TLCd5), he does it through a series of experimental schemes and actions, of which the opening cut ‘Vapor Turns To Mirrors’ is among the strongest – the piece goes twisting and weaving through strange manipulations in a highly convincing fashion, seeming to circumscribe a sort of airy labyrinth in the clouds. The title track ‘Circulation’ is another winner, with its disrupted, semi-mechanical patterns struggling to transmit their simple robotic messages across fields of toxic post-nuclear murk and solar winds. And ‘Lives Of Breathless Ecstasy’ should appeal to all listeners who miss the work of famous Polish experimenter Zbigniew Karkowski – it has a very similar vibe of “sternness” and cruelty, a relentlessly advancing slow drone of metallic, reverbed horror. The rest of the album is interesting, even if some of these other tracks feel like unfinished sketches or half-complete ideas; but there’s a palpably dark and pessimistic tone throughout, giving the album a strong iron-like consistency.

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Before Waking (HC3TLCd4 / ZERO 144), a joint release with Jeff Surak on his Zeromoon label, continues to carry that dark and menacing aura, through a combination of sheer alienation and unfamiliar electronic noises. ‘Accelerant’ is an example of what I think Pat does best; a mesmerising sound-picture of futuristic jet-black nightmares, achieved through layers and manipulation of pulsating synth tones, never succumbing to the temptation to switch to “automatic pilot”, and instead consistently applying subtle and nuanced variations and filters to the pumping slew of thick oil-like music. Discipline! ‘Mycelia Open Fire’ is another triumph, a 16-minute gem which in places feels uncharacteristic of this creator’s work. Firstly, it’s got more use of quietness and dynamic range, instead of trying to smother the listener with unpleasant grim tones; and secondly, it’s got a vague sense of forward-movement to the extent that it’s almost telling a story. I expect a lot of electronic musicians wish they could have scored the electronic soundtrack to Stalker (a trope that keeps coming up on this blog, as a matter of fact), but here’s a piece of music that comes close to winning that coveted crown.

Be sure to see TL0741 at the Sonic Circuits Festival in Washington DC this year.

Slow Dancing

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Gabriel Saloman (former Yellow Swans) returns with another ultra-lugubrious droner after his superb gloom-a-thon Soldier’s Requiem from 2012. Movement Building Vol. 1 (SHELTER PRESS SP051) comprises ‘The Disciplined Body’, a two-part work created with guitars and percussion and mucho patient studio layering. This time we don’t sensate the sort of half-suggested wartime narrative that we got from Soldier’s Requiem, but the attention to structural resilience is right there in the sequencing and construction of these 34 minutes, even if everything does unfold at a dismally slow pace. The general massed-guitar droning through multi-processing effects is shifted to match the changing themes, sometimes like an icy cold wind, sometimes a warmer tone, like a strangely comforting blanket of muggy misty weather. Snare drum blasts arrive like unwelcome guests, perhaps as harbingers of war, plague and famine; while the entire epic sweep finishes up with a long and protracted howl of pain. While segments of this record may sound a little over-familiar, Saloman’s compositional skills, and evocation of poignant emotional states, help this record reach catharsis. Vinyl pressing. From 22nd September 2014.

Wound Empire: a blackened sludge doom soundtrack with which to serenade our final days in the Apocalypse

Abstracter

Abstracter, Wound Empire, 7 Degrees Records, 12″ vinyl (2015)

Abstracter: what an intriguing name for a band of any description and genre, let alone one that plays a fusion of black and sludge doom metal. You can imagine all distinctions between black and doom dissolving into a formless black monster of sheer power. With a name like that, the group would also have a pessimistic view of the world as it is, and look towards a collapse of present-day structures, beliefs and ideologies into one void. Melancholy and gloom would constitute their default outlook as everything around them in daily life falls into a downward spiral, just as they – and the rest of us, in fact – predict.

“Wound Empire”, the band’s second album, conforms as we expect but the band does offer a few surprises. “Lightless” rises out of the deep murk slowly, steadily and most emphatically with pounding drums, cavernous guitar drone echo, bass grind and deep vocal groaning reverb. There is a definite bass groove that might surprise a lot of listeners just by its pop-friendly presence which imparts a feeling of unease and sense of impending misfortune as well. Our misgivings are rewarded when the song takes a turn onto the blackened path and the vocals become more definite and raspy. Equal parts churning-grinding sludge doom and catchy black crust thumping groove which gets thicker and grittier as it goes along, this song deserves every moment of its nearly 11-minute duration in the sun.

There’s not much change from the first song to the next, “Open Veins”, but then the album (probably) isn’t so much about the songs as it is about generating a particular mood and outlook that suffuses the whole recording and engulfs listeners, drawing them into the universe that beckons within the music and which sustains it. “Open Veins” may have a slightly cleaner sound and a faster, more urgent pace but it has just as much power and anger, and the inhuman force that lurks beneath the music is coming closer and developing a definite presence and form. Bass melody introduces a questing feeling in the despair and angst. The song opens up beautifully with trilling lead guitar in its later moments and though it’s the shortest track (at just under 10 minutes), it seems so complete and contained that it’s neither too long nor too short but just Goldilocks-right.

As the album continues, the tension and power build gradually and relentlessly, leaning more on the musicians’ sludge doom inheritance than on their black metal tendencies. They’ve obviously got something in store for us, something dark, bleak and powerful at least, if not life-changing and thunderous. As it turns out, “Glowing Wounds” has something from each of the preceding songs and more besides: an even more downbeat, anguished outlook, an extra layer of crust, filthy inhuman vocals and strong surging music of clean lead guitar, bass rumble and bluesy rhythms. The song bears its listeners along on swelling rhythms that become choppy and takes them into another dimension altogether.

The album lasts about 40 minutes but these may well be the best 40 minutes you’ll spend this year. The album may not be perfect and you’ll probably come out of it feeling groggy and disoriented, needing another 40 minutes to return to Earth – but for sheer mind-altering effect and mesmerism this recording is hard to beat. There is so much power and feeling here, and so much despair as well, it’s just so overwhelming. When eventually we must all descend into a mass nuclear bunker or are rounded up into concentration camps, I’ll have to take this album with me as a soundtrack for my final days.

Contact also: Vendetta Records

City of the Dead

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Great news, another Nick Hoffman solo record of dismal, unsettling noise called Necropolis (ORGANIZED MUSIC FROM THESSALONIKI t26) …about which the first thing we notice is the near-absence of imagery on the cover artworks…front cover is a plain grey-green field which might as well be a slab of marble with his own named carved on it, since this is clearly another ultimate “death” record, judging by the title…inner gatefold, if we can call it that, could be an extreme close-up of bricks and mortar, suggestive of the mausoleum’s walls…and that’s about it, apart from a rare photo of the artist himself included as an insert. Label owner Kostis Kilymis did the visuals for this one, and he’s also justifiably excited about the “extremes in volume and texture” of this release, and its “strong conceptual framework”. I think this both indicates Hoffman’s ongoing commitment to creating very considered, carefully-composed releases, even when the uninformed civilians of the Anti-Noise League can’t perceive much more than walls of harsh noise.

Frightening away such non-participants in its early moments, Necropolis sets up an initial barrage of evil noise that is the first barrier we have to pass…a death trap involving barbed wire, scalding acid, and unscaleable walls. Once inside the Necropolis, what do you find…alternating passages of mysterious quiet grumbling hiss layered with sudden and terrifying explosions of electronic noise, a carefully prepared schema that freezes the cadavers on one side, while roasting them in the crematorium on the other. Gradually, this strategy starts to settle down and the sounds we encounter become more mysterious, intangible, inaudible, fleeting…some of them are like little worms munching away at our coffins, our bones and our decaying hair. By the time of track 4, we’ve reached a certain stability in the music (perhaps a resignation to our fate might be a better way of putting it), and the previous disjunctiveness is replaced by continuity, a map which (however illogical) we might use to find our way around this palace of death, the passageways lit by the fitful beam from a firefly…

Then there’s the final track which we hope might raise us from the burial chamber back to the light…over some 16 minutes of agonising slowness and insufferable crackly low-key noise, you might discern a gradual forward movement which you can interpret as you will. You hope the promise of rebirth of the Egyptian Pharaohs may come to pass, but you’ve got layers of two thousand year-old wrappings to dispense with first. No wonder he named this track ‘The Scent Of Ground Teeth’; there’s a man who knows how his audience reacts…

Speaking of titles, this one and two others – ‘The Rotten Core’ and ‘Den Fuss Im Nacken’, a German phrase which roughly translates to ‘Foot in the Neck’ – are redolent of various stages of bodily decay. The other two titles ‘Eros’ and ‘Love Triangle’ I would take as evidence of Hoffman’s bid to articulate these Freudian drives – ‘Eros and Thanatos’ was how that 19th-century bearded fraud identified them – in terms of abstract electronic noise. Net result, an experience that is far more bleak and cathartic than anyone could expect, least of all Dr Freud himself with his prissy Viennese tea-cakes and soppy women wearing silly hats in his consulting room. If you are seeking art that goes into the furthest realms of the dark and the unknown (but not doing so simply to violate taboos or shock your bourgeois values) then Hoffman is currently one of the most intelligent and thorough explorers we have in this area. From 15 December 2014.

Night Blooming Flowers

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Nice hour-long dark ambient drone CD called Najas Flexilis Exequiae (ZOHARUM ZOHAR 082-2) from ForrestDrones, who is Robert Skrzynski, who also records as Micromelancolie, no_signal and Yellow Belly, and may sign himself “Cough Serenade” in correspondence, said correspondence taking place by candlelight and through hand-written letters using a quill pen. Actually that last part is wishful thinking on my part as Robert probably has email like everyone else. But I bet he has a supernatural leaning too. The forest has, after all, been a powerful and deep archetype in world-wide culture for about as long as anyone can remember, particularly in Germany, infamous as a location for unknown terrors and inexplicable events…off the top of my head I would cite Grimm’s Fairy Tales and German Romantic painters, and the archetype was even misappropriated by the National Socialists, in “Volk” propaganda films such as 1936’s Ewiger Wald. We could probably trace a line from this that leads directly to the enormous number of Black Metal albums that feature forests, now so significant that I gather there’s even a sub-genre explicitly called “Forest Metal”.

This may all be a red herring when dealing with the work of Robert Skrzynski however, as he’s Polish and an experimental film-maker. His interest in forest lore takes the form of using botanical etchings taken from old books as visual decoration for his music, especially when publishing his tracks on the internet. And of course in creating this eerie CD, itself a very elusive and fleeting aural experience…without doubt a “nocturne”, the whole suite seems to be taking place on a dark moonlit night, unless that’s simply the pre-emptive influence of the dark moonlit cover art taking over my keyboard as I write. Some over-familiar ambient tones at the start soon give way to the body of the work, which is extremely understated with its light crackling sounds and barely-perceptible half-musical episodes, which feel more like light organic stains on a canvas rather than brushstrokes applied by an artist’s hand. Indeed if he was a painter I suppose Skrzynski would feel more at home burying his canvasses in a dank secret place underground and letting nature (mould, decay, algae, insects) do most of the work. A strangely compelling listen. The lovely cover art by Mateusz Wysocki features phases of the moon, a blurred out-of-focus owl peering at you with empty black eyes, and simple brushstrokes suggesting trunks of trees…an affair in black, white and grey…arrived 24 November 2014, November being an ideal month for listening to such a dark droner…

Predatory Light / Vorde (split): pushing instrumental black metal to extreme levels of hellish machine madness

Predatory Light Vorde

Predatory Light / Vorde, self-titled split, Psychic Violence Records / Fallen Empire Records, PV-XIV / FE-20 12″ vinyl (2015)

Predatory Light and Vorde have some shared history with both bands having at least one member who has been a member of or played with fellow USBM band Ash Borer. Members of the two bands have also recently collaborated in a new project, Vanum, playing a more melodic and slightly more old-school black metal style. So it’s no surprise – indeed fans of both bands could even have anticipated it – that the two should have joined together to release a limited edition split vinyl album through Psychic Violence Records and Fallen Empire Records.

Predatory Light lead off with two instrumental pieces based around continuously squiggly tremolo guitar melodies that expand into seemingly never-ending torrents of harsh rawness and shrill lead guitar shriek. Percussion gives able support and banshee vocals snarl and howl in the background. The music tends to be quite slow for this style of extremely harsh and blizzard-like music but it does start to speed up considerably in the second track “Death Essence”. By the end of PL’s side of the split, your head will be going round and round deep in the hellish spirals that the band has charged and drummed up, and it’ll be a long, loooong time before you return from the pitch-black universe where you were left.

Vorde boast a much buzzier, faster and more whippy style of music with noisy guitar, constantly clattery cymbals and speed-machine rubbery percussion rhythms and heavy, almost martial beats. The singing is deep and inhuman, sounding something like the bizarre offspring of Attila Csihar and Njiqahdda at their bleakest and most dirge-like. The music can be very melodic and atmospheric in an experimental, almost deconstructive way, as though Vorde were pushing particular riffs and melodies, and playing with mood and emotion, to their utmost extremes. The result can be a sudden realisation or a new awareness of another level of conscious being that until now was unknown and unknowable. If the first of the two Vorde tracks is weird, the second (and shorter) track is stranger still and even more deranged, with tribal rhythms, a dark hellish psychedelic guitar howl and an angry growling vocal leading listeners into a deep realm of restless guitar noise, spasms of stuttery machine-drumming, anguished yell and black emptiness. (Why don’t more people make music like this?)

Both bands push instrumental BM to extreme levels: Predatory Light’s side is very hypnotic but Vorde have the edge in deliriously demented, insane avant-garde industrial blackness. Your biggest problem with this split vinyl release is in deciding which side to play first as both acts’ music will rearrange your brain cell structures and networks into something resembling primoridal protoplasm and you would need another 500 million years’ worth of evolution to return to a state where you can listen to the other side. If you can’t afford all that time and more, and you think the planet might be swallowed up by the sun first, then I suggest you hear Vorde first.

The Night Door under Lock and Key / Laocoon: bleak expressions of warning, chaos, loss, emptiness and despair

Night Door under Lock and Key

Jute Gyte, The Night Door under Lock and Key / Laocoon, Black Horizons, cassette BH-95 (2015)

If you are yet to discover the delights of this prolific one-man electro-industrial BM act and you find his discography rather formidable, what with all the Renaissance-era artwork covers, not to mention hearing all those layers of see-sawing guitars, you are best advised to start with short cassette releases Adam Krambach / Jute Gyte has done, like this “The Night Door under Lock and Key / Laocoon” release. The cassette is styled like a single with each side dedicated to one track – the catch being that each track is at least 20 minutes in length. Although the two pieces “The Night Door …” and “Laocoon” are very different from each other, they are representative of Jute Gyte’s work in being very dense, mostly unstructured and highly immersive microtonal guitar soundscapes with an overwhelmingly hellish and nauseating ambience.

For the most part “The Night Door …” is a hard chunky piece of drunken discordant guitars, two of them at loggerheads with each other when going on extended solos, and two duelling vocals, one shouty death-metal grunt and the other more grisly black-metal rasp. Quieter sections are interspersed with the more delirious and demented racket, and these reveal a very dark and uneasy world on the edge of chaos. Late in the piece there is an all-ambient pause through which field recordings, special effects, buzz and drone zing through, and an underwater zombie voice mumbles through the thick fluid of murk. According to the cassette sleeve notes, the lyrics are derived from a poem by Egyptian-French surrealist poet Joyce Mansour (1925 – 1986).

“Laocoon” recalls the Greek legend of the Trojan priest who tried to warn his fellow citizens not to accept the wooden horse provided by their Greek enemy as a gift and bring it into their city, and who ended up being punished by the gods for his bravery. It is a very downbeat mournful mood piece of long drones and desolate space, and the guitar microtones bring a bleak desert-blues fatalism. Loss, emptiness, despair and regret (at having lost an opportunity to do the right thing perhaps) seem to be the dominant themes and that is pretty much all that can be said for the track as it is heavily repetitive and ends up spiralling around in circles of darker sorrow.

I find this a very uneven recording, the first track keeping this listener on edge and throwing out a surprise experimental climax, the second track a monotonous dirge retreading the same riffs and emotions over and over. (I appreciate the point being made, that sometimes all that people can do when they lose everything through their own mistakes, is to wring their hands and replay the fateful incident over and over in their hands – because there really is nothing else they can do to rectify it or change things.) The cassette format being what it is, with both sides of the tape being equal in length of course, I think the way to go should have been to edit “Laocoon” for length and let it dissolve into a continuous blur of white demented static to drive its lessons home. At least though, listeners get to hear another, more highly expressive and even bleaker side of Jute Gyte.

Blood in Outer Space

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Blood Bright Star
The Silver Head
USA KING OF THE MONSTERS KOTM043 LP (2014)

Another sumptuous vinyl package from Arizona label King Of The Monsters, who we last noted with their release of the split LP by Suffering Luna and Suffer The Storm, plus the sombre self-titled album by Gog. While neither of those albums quite gelled for this listener, I’m planning to award a full five “golden pentagons” to The Silver Head, which is all the work of Reuben Sawyer, a draughtsman whose painstaking pen-and-ink drawings are dazzling in detail; if you wish to take a peep, some images might be found by Googling his nom de plume, Rainbath Visual.

What I like about his music here is the simplicity; the single-minded pursuit of a concise, pared-down perfection to express an idea, which in final form is executed with tremendous precision in the playing – especially the guitars – and a hypnotic monotony in the vocals, and the drumming. As Blood Bright Star, Reuben confirms his intention is to blend death-metal with Krautrock to arrive at something he calls “Death Motorik”, and the results are indeed like a pared-down deep-frozen version of La Düsseldorf as fronted by the evil two-headed mutation offspring of Nick Cave and Ian Curtis.

Like Gog’s Michael Bjella, Sawyer also has a Michael Gira fixation which he wants to work out of his system like so much snake venom, but with every note on this unfussy record he is also carving out a niche for his own personal voice to flourish. No interest is exhibited in flailing guitars, excessive distortion, or even in self-gratifying solos; the vocals neither screech nor rant, but instead patiently unfold their chilling message of doom. All of this is performed as if by stopwatch to an unfailing rhythm section, swaying in time to the compelling movement of 18 merciless cobras which have suddenly appeared on the floor.

When I read the pretentious press release for this one, with its references to “dreams, revelations and trance states”, “Qabalistic lore and alchemical symbolism”, and something that “guides its star through the body of the infinite”, I was primed to expect some unholy blend of Jung, Maya Deren, Z’EV, and The Dead C, but I suppose a little rhetoric is permissible under the circumstances. From 13th August 2014, pressed in clear / silver vinyl, and recommended.

Descending Order

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Fine spooked-out harsh-noise-drone-o atmospherics from Rogelio Sosa on his daturas (BOCIAN RECORDS BC-ROG) album…I particularly like those moments when he shamelessly creates a miniature horror-movie in sound, even to the extent of using sound effects to help propel the vaguely-outlined story, on such tracks as ‘Diablero’ or ‘Visiones’. As well as boldly embracing narrative themes, Sosa is not afraid of using a melodic element if the situation demands it, adding a grotesque organ flourish to certain moments, and before long you too are sharing his nightmarish visions of gothic mansions populated by tall, creepy old people with gnarled hands and sulphuric makeup plastered over their craggy visages. Plus, he’s an A-1 noise guitarist; there’s his heavy-metal guitar slung over one shoulder, fed through a fair few distortion and grubuloid effect boxes, the better to induce grisly shocks as needed, juddering the spinal cord of listener.

Born in Mexico City, Sosa is an accomplished sound artist and composer with an impressive CV of awards and festival-curation actions to his credit, has won several prizes for electro-acoustic composition and found a niche in the professorial-academic strain of computer-composition as a taught subject. Daturas exhibits a masterful attention to detail, textures, and surface, and Sosa puts effort into making his frequencies work in a co-operative and contrasted way, to avoid the usual quagmire of blended, overworked, soggy drone music that so often emerges from a digital environment. His titles also suggest an interest in assorted dark ceremonies and ritual invocations, a “vibe” which is something of a cliché nowadays, but again Sosa is adept at avoiding the traps which ensnare more solemn and self-important droners. Pressed in clear vinyl, arrived 3rd September 2014.