Tagged: dark

The Purge

Another “horror-noise” special from Cold Spring Records, the UK label which does house a number of extreme and monstrous items in its catalogue…the album Surgical Fires (COLD SPRING RECORDS CSR226CD) was created by Tunnels of Ah, and it’s his third release for the label since 2013’s Lost Corridor. Tunnels is a solo project by Stephen R. Burroughs, who was one of the main men in Head Of David – one of my favourite 1980s indie noise-combos who created an almighty obnoxious racket with their guitars and shriekery for the Blast First label, and as such endeared themselves to many disaffected types.

I had no idea Burroughs was pursuing a solo line. On the evidence of this, it involves an intense form of electronic music with plenty of weird processing, nasty effects, vocals buried in a swampy mix…it moves beyond mere dark ambient drone music somehow, perhaps through his close attention to dynamics and studied application of nuanced tones to his ever-shifting howls and murmurs. Needless to remark there’s a highly unpleasant subtext to Surgical Fires, as evidenced in titles like ‘Demonic Forms’, ‘Mind As Corpse Bearer’, ‘Black Air (Exhale)’ and ‘Release of the Burning Mouths’. These do much to trigger the unhealthy imaginative forces of a susceptible listener, and it isn’t long before we’re all sharing alarming visions of a subterranean Hell, not unlike a coal mine, laced with poisonous vapours…death is all around us, and there’s a supernatural dimension to boot, if the “Lordly Cobras” alluded to on track 7 are the demonic entities I suspect them to be.

The record, half-music and half sound effects, does nothing to dispel such tormented visions – nor does the cover art, also by Burroughs, which seems to be applying a decalcomania effect to suggest grim, grey, gruesome caverns of inescapable doom. The printed press release takes us off another tack, alluding to “psychic surgery” (whatever that may mean; in this instance, it probably involves taking slices out of a man’s soul with an invisible scalpel) and a roster of important-sounding abstractions, such as “loss, gain, conflict, resolution, decay and transformation”. I have no idea if these words belong to Burroughs or to the Cold Spring PR department, but they just make the work seem unnecessarily solemn and self-important…it reads more like the agenda of a two-day international symposium on 21st-century urban problems. Nonetheless, the record remains an assured piece of depressing gloomoid filth…from 30th November 2016.

Throne Of Blood

Now for some very grisly and soul-shattering “Horror-Electronics” from the American magus Burial Hex (Clay Ruby) last heard in these four walls in 2012 with the terrifying Book Of Delusions album. A quick glance at this madman’s Bandcamp page will indicate there’s no end to his prolific career in sight, and you’ve only to peruse the images of skulls, hooded figures, night skies, moons and planets, sigils, symbols, statues and magick hex charms to get an index on where his brain-waves are coming from. Ruby – or CLYRBY – still seems hell-bent on creating music that serves a purpose “In Psychic Defence” (to use one of his own album titles), and clearly perceives the world as an extremely threatening place filled with invisible enemies, demons and devils who strive to capture his soul. To keep them at bay, he dare not relax his charms for a single second, and consequently his every waking moment is likely to be dedicated to the production of this sickening, harrowing noise, filled with desolate atmospheres, harsh explosive effects, unpleasant grinding sensations, and ghastly shrieks of despair. The present record Throne (COLD SPRING RECORDS CSR232CD) is the third in a series of reissue albums, bringing together Clay Ruby’s contributions from split records made with Sylvester Anfang and Iron Fist Of The Sun, and other sources. If you missed the original vinyl editions, here’s your chance to catch up. It opens with three shockers of raw noise and yawping nightmare…for my reactions to ‘The Coming Of War’ and ‘Actaeon’, see this post.

‘The Feast Of Saints Peter And Paul’ is a work that in title at least must be understood as evidence of the “eerie religious allusions” noted in the press release; it’s not quite as violent or aggressive as some of the other punch-fests on this CD, and even allows the listener some room to breath in amongst teeming blocks of steel noise…but once you do inhale you will find the air is actually poisoned smog from the chimneystacks of Hades. Buried in this ingenious layered mix of shapeless black noise, we hear the pale echoes (the ghost of a ghost) of a celestial choir singing mangled hymns, as if Burial Hex were striving to portray the utter annihilation of all religious endeavour, yet still mourning its demise, and attempting vainly to reconstruct an entire church from the fragments of a charred and broken icon. A very bitter-sweet 19-minutes of angsty despair, chillingly beautiful in its abject visions…this was the A side of From The Rites Of Lazarus, released in 2010 on the Italian Urashima label.

‘Armagiddion’ was also rescued from Italian vinyl, the 2009 release Bagirwa Hymn on Von Archives. This is even more subdued and atmospheric and with its ambient tones, guitar sketches and exploratory drones, it’s almost like a zero-gravity stroll around what’s left of the scorched globe after a nuclear holocaust…Ruby once again finds a strange beauty in the horrors of the void, staring intently into dark corners where few men dare to peep. The esoteric artwork for the cover is by long-standing collaborator Nathaniel Ritter. From 30 November 2016.

Outrowolf

ZOHAR 128-2 on the Zoharum label is a split release showcasing the work of two contemporary Polish electronica artists. The first, Monopium, presents four tracks under the name Nightclubbing. Monopium is a great name, and his earlier releases Mesmerized and The Goat And The Dead Horse’s Circus both have promising titles, but I found little to enjoy on his four tracks of amateurish bedroom techno. We have the abiding impression of a clueless dabbler murmuring inane chants into a microphone over a weedy beat, as if trying to numb the listener into a state of defeated despair. Calling a track ‘Kraut Rock’ isn’t really a great move in 2017, and this particular track is no more than the sounds of a nightclub crowd overlaid on top of an unimaginative pulsebeat; if this is all that krautrock amounts to in musical history, than Klaus Dinger would be appalled. Only ‘The Other’ succeeds for me, five minutes of grisly textured noise that attempts to efface the world through sheer inane blankness. The label have high hopes for Monopium, and say his work “teeters on the edge of Dada cabaret”; this phrase may mean there’s a sense of fun going on here, to which I am largely impervious.

K. has a somewhat different approach. To begin with his three tracks under the heading Die Wölfe Kommen Züruck clearly are intended to tell a story of a wolfman or Steppenwolf, and he’s got much more of an idea of applied structure, and even a sense of melody. We get the whiff of a gothic piece of German silent cinema from his tracks, and he manages to sustain a plausible atmosphere and sense of drama, even when he’s not entirely sure where he’s taking his tunes. This release has a supernatural vibe, while his earlier releases refer (in title at least) refer to the work of the Devil more than once, and No Longer Trust These Eyes Of Mine is a sentence which resembles the stern utterance of an Old Testament prophet; I’d love to think there’s a part of K.’s psychological makeup which sides with old-timey religious fanatics in some way, as that would enrich his themes enormously, and confirm my suspicion that Poland harbours many hidden enclaves of Catholicism gone mad. From 23rd November 2017.

Any Colour You Like

Ab Intra is the Polish musician Radosław Kamiński, who’s been releasing his brand of dark ambient electronica since 2006. His previous three albums came out on Zoharum, one of them a split with 1000schoen. His alter-ego is a Latin phrase which roughly translates into English as “from the inside”, which may indicate something of the introverted nature of this self-absorbed music; like so many releases in this genre, it doesn’t have much of a life outside itself. Today’s release has a Greek title rather than a Latin one however, and Henosis I-V (ZOHARUM ZOHAR 132-2) uses the Greek word for “unity”. Kamiński’s earliest influence was the French synth big-wig populist Jean-Michel Jarre, and this does show on parts of this album; the second track ‘Henosis 2’ exhibits much of the pomposity and self-importance of the French player, as if announcing to the massed audience some mysterious post-millennial event whose significance has to be bolstered with flashing lights and laser shows. But there’s no real payoff; as with most of the music here, it seems to be all build-up without any actual event, idea or statement at the end of it. Even so, Kamiński’s music does have a well-crafted production surface, and he manages to avoid over-familiar synth settings and sounds, arriving at his own style of dark ambient brooding. A six-panel digipak is required for the artwork, allowing for slight visual variations on the arrangement of equilateral triangles on a black field; it invokes the cover of Pink Floyd’s best-selling album, and some of Ab Intra’s synth drones would have felt right at home, if not on that album then certainly on Wish You Were Here. From 27th October 2016.

Have His Carcase

Danny Hyde is a producer and remix genius known to many as the man behind the console for numerous releases by Nine Inch Nails, and also the Spanish pop-electro combo Fangoria; he’s also been associated with Psychic TV and Depeche Mode. But true cognoscenti of this dark mistico-sex-disco genre know him for his work with Coil, particularly his production work on milestone releases such as Horse Rotorvator and Love’s Secret Domain, the latter being an item that was recommended to me many years ago if I wanted to try and get “into” Coil. It didn’t quite work, and neither their music nor their themes have ever completely clicked for this listener, but I recognise it would be churlish to ignore the depth of the cultish feelings that Coil inspire in their acolytes, pilgrims and followers.

Hyde is also known as Electric Sewer Age, a project which sometimes featured Peter Christopherson from Coil, and the album Bad White Corpuscle (HG1607) has recently been released on vinyl by Hallow Ground. It originally came out in 2014 on the Italian label Old Europa Cafe, in a limited digipak, but this new issue has a bonus track called ‘Redocine (Death Of The Corpuscle)’. Given that all the tracks have the word “Corpuscle” somewhere in the title, one is tempted to read the album as a story of some sort, a day in the life (and death) of one of these micro-organisms that are associated with red and white blood cells. However, given the overall theme and the largely sinister caste of this electronic music, clearly things are going wrong in the body politic, and it might be more realistic to view this as a grim musical interpretation of slow death by cancer, AIDS, leukaemia, or sickle cell disease.

The press notes advise us to listen out for “dark, futuristic environments” and “glacial synth suspensions” on this record. Today’s spin has been underwhelming, though. I kept waiting for something to happen, some musical event or concrete moment to pass before us, then realised I was nearly at the end of side one already. What I mostly hear is rather samey and thin electronic tones, repeated in sloppy and ill-fitting patterns; there isn’t enough backbone in this “soupy” music for me. However, it’s clear that Danny Hyde has spent a good deal of time figuring out how to arrange his various layers and elements into these subtle, shape-shifting globs of sound, and he’s a producer who pays close attention to timbral shifts and tones, working out how he can match them together, along with foreign elements such as voice samples. What he lacks is a sense of shape or structure, meaning that no track ever really develops in a meaningful way, nor reaches a satisfactory conclusion. Call it modernistic mood music for the lonely and disaffected ones…a soundtrack to a rather maudlin bout of self-pity and overwrought sentiment. From 11th October 2016.

Casting The Runes

A true labour of love – some might call it a labour of obsession – is the album Runaljod – Ragnarok (BY NORSE MUSIC BNM002CD), by the Norwegian music group Wardruna. It’s the third part in a lengthy project which began in 2003, where the aim is to create a musical expression of old Nordic runes; previous instalments of the grand plan were released in 2009 and 2013. The work is mostly driven by the ideas of Einar Selvik, who composes the music and plays most of the instruments, but he’s joined here by Eilif Gundersen, a trio of vocalists and two additional guest singers, plus the Skarvebarna Children’s Choir on one track.

In pursuit of authenticity and historical accuracy, Selvik plays antiquated and archaic instruments, such as the taglharpe, the kraviklyra, the goat horn, the tongue horn, the bronze lure and the birchbark lure; these are combined with lots of percussion – depressing martial drumming, mostly – and electronic music. Further, all the lyrics are written in Norwegian, Norse, and proto-Norse, there’s a Nordic rune printed on the front cover, and the record label is called By Norse Music. I’m intrigued to learn that they also managed to recruit the Icelandic composer Hilmar Örn Hilmarsson for their second album Yggdrasil, and the singer Steindór Andersen who sings in the “rimur” epic poem style.

As well as the studio projects, Wardruna have managed to create a performance band out of all this effort, and it’s probably safe to say they created quite a stir when they performed before the 1100-year-old Gokstad ship which you can see at the Viking Ship Museum in Norway. It’s good to see this determined effort taking place to preserve ancient Nordic culture, but while I’m certainly no expert in the field it’s also evident that Einar Selvik has a very personal, somewhat mystical, take on the subject. “In my songs it is not necessarily a goal for me to approach the respective rune from every conceivable angle, nor to cover or unravel all of the different aspects of it,” he writes in the enclosed booklet, alluding to the many scholarly views of this area where, I gather, the meaning, context and origins of the surviving runic evidence are much disputed. “My approach is both of runologic and mystic nature and my focus is on the core of each rune and the qualities that serve the whole concept and purpose of Wardruna best”, continues Selvik, affirming that his “vision” of the band-project always comes first, side-lining most academic interpretations.

While the whole genre of neofolk / pagan music (a milieu in which it might be convenient to situate this music, though the creators might not agree) is a closed shop to me, at least it’s clear that Wardruna are not dabbling in Viking history for some ill-informed white supremacy purpose, and the depth of Einar Selvok’s conviction and commitment to his task is self-evident. I just wish it wasn’t such a wearisome listen; pompous, solemn, relentless hammering drums, unvarying grim drones a-plenty, and shrill hymns sung in an ancient unknown tongue. From 12th October 2016.

Interstellar Low Ways

The record Low (OPA LOKA RECORDS OL16008) by Gintas K is supposed to complete a trilogy, of which the earlier parts were Lovely Banalities and Slow, both of which have been noted in these pages. I have previously enjoyed what I regard as the intuitive approach of this Lithuanian solo electronicist, but today the experiments on Low simply feel unfinished and unsatisfying. Despite care and attention being given to the sounds he makes, there’s a troubling lack of ideas in each tune, such that they fail to engage the listener for very long. There’s also the samey tone and pace to Low, meaning we are never lifted out of this rather gloomy and grey zone which might be a dismal European village on a rainy Sunday morning. Still, the very introverted nature and muffled sound of this album may give it a certain appeal if you fancy a day at home as a lonely shut-in. From 3rd October 2016.

Reinier Van Houdt is a Dutch pianist who has “done” some 20th century composers such as Shostakovitch and Valentin Silvestrov as part of his classical repertoire, and also played works from the New York school including Robert Ashley and Charlemagne Palestine. Paths Of The Errant Gaze (HALLOWGROUND HG1606) however is a more unconventional and experimental record; he concocts studio assemblages of ghostly, spectral sounds, somewhat in the vein of a Nurse With Wound collage, and with similar aspirations to a “surreal” state of mind. Unsurprisingly, Van Houdt plays in recent Current 93 line-ups; I sense he has just the right balance of fragility and occluded, precious details stored in his brain to please David Tibet. The mysterious drifty sounds on Paths Of The Errant Gaze can’t help but evoke a ghostly sailing ship like the Flying Dutchman or H.P. Lovecraft’s The White Ship, and the cover art confirms this “lost at sea” theme. Van Houdt uses these unsettling, nightmarish washes of sound, textures, and found fragments as a platform for his minimal, melancholy piano fugues. I found the mannered style and solemn tone a little off-putting, but there’s a lot of variety here across two sides of the LP, and the listener can’t help but feel the sensations of being taken on a strange voyage to a lost Edgar Allen Poe island in the middle of nowhere. From 11 October 2016.

Dark Carnival (DYIN’ GHOST RECORDS) is the latest release from the team-up of French buy kamagra online review guitarist Michel Henritzi with the Japanese player Fukuoka Rinji. On this occasion Rinji bows his violin to Michel’s lapsteel guitar. They’ve made a lot of records together and while we always enjoy them, I can’t see much significant advance here on any of their previous outings, for instance the relatively recent Descent To The Sun LP. Once they get going the pair just can’t stop, and what characterises their sound is a relentless, aching rain-sodden screech that wears away the listener by sheer persistence. Full saturation is another one of their specialities; barely a space left for anything else in this teeming atmosphere of full-on droning, sawing, strumming, and howling. These recordings were made in Tokyo in 2013-2014 and feature various medieval woodcuts on the ancient theme of mortality and the Dance Of Death, while the title comes from Ray Bradbury. Gather ye rosebuds while ye may…as you are now so once was I…and other such memento mori spring to mind while scoping these images and drowning in this intense music, which really rubs the heart full sore. From 13 October 2016.

The Swiss jazz trio Day & Taxi has been active since 1988 and Way (PERCASO 34) is their 8th studio release. Christoph Gallio, the saxophonist, is their driving force and he also happens to run the record label that has released most of the trio’s records. Way appears to be slightly unusual in their repertoire as it includes three very short songs, sung in German by their bass player Silvan Jeger, and their inclusion may give you a clue as to Day & Taxi’s open-minded musical aspirations – they would like to broaden out jazz forms, include composition as well as improvisation as a strong element, and are not afraid of including “sentimentalities” in their bright, rather melodic music. The flipside to all this user-friendliness is the abstruse sleeve note penned by Berni Doessegger, which attempts to deconstruct the meanings of the word “way”, through speculations on paths through a labyrinth. I found the actual music competent enough in its execution, and Gallio is an extremely fluent player with an exceptionally clean tone, but it’s just too tidy and correct to be mistaken for real jazz; the attempts at swing feeling are laboured and plodding, and even the saxophone screams feel as though they’ve been carefully studied from annotated Coltrane solos. From 2nd November 2016.

Banished from Time: an intense immersion into a particular hell

Black Cilice, Banished from Time, Iron Bonehead Productions, Germany, CD / cassette IBP321 (2017)

“Banished from Time” is a very intense and thundering work, often repetitive, and always frenzied and feverish. The album is the fourth by black metal act Black Cilice, whose home country is Portugal, and about whom little else is known, not even whether the band is just a lone-wolf solo act or a group. The project does boast a huge discography of cassettes, split releases and albums.

From start to finish, the music is constant assault on your senses and consciousness, with a lot of cacophony and howling, but within the noise and non-stop shrieking there are definite melodies and riffing. The sound, flooded with reverb, is noisy and cavernous, all-enveloping until you feel that your head is completely filled up with even more music pushing its way in with all that non-stop intense percussion thudding and you’re in danger of drowning in such overwhelming noise and mental torment. The first track “Timeless Spectre” is a good example of what to expect: high-speed pounding drums, steaming fuzzy vibrato guitars, banshee vocals howling trapped within the depths of the noise reverb, with melodies and actual riffs and rhythms passing in and out. The following track “On the Verge of Madness” has more of the same except that the music seems more streamlined and focused with one constant rhythm banging out its heart and growing more intense and urgent. The third track has a good galloping groove that goes into a hysterical frenzy as the song progresses amid the noise and anguish.

On and on it goes … yes, the music sounds like the proverbial flood that, once set free, never stops pouring and overflowing the levees and plains. Yet there’s actual structure carved out of the sound and noise that gives the album some direction and brings out its message of absolute despair and total alienation. The last couple of songs on the album bring something new to the usual screeching: the fourth song “Channeling Forgotten Energies” has an additional layer of sharp-ish drone and the final track “Boiling Corpses” has as much fury and aggressive, destructive drama as it does desperation and inner torment. For the first time, the anger seems to turn outward away from attacking its owner and towards the source of torment with single-minded obsession. Some signal of hope, of a light shining into the darkness, now becomes apparent and there’s the possibility of inner peace and healing.

This album is more of an immersion into a particular kind of hell than it is a collection of songs or a soundtrack – its intensity will put off most people and only those who may have had similar depressive experiences will appreciate it for what it is and represents. Beneath the layers of noise, confusion and agony can be found music of overwhelming emotion that in its own way possesses unearthly beauty.

Back Beat

Richard Van Kruysdijk produces long, layered, and intricate digital drones on Lumbar Fist (OPA LOKA RECORDS OL160096), performing under his soubriquet Cut Worms. I see that Dutch player Van Kruysdijk is a member of Daisy Bell, a Netherlandish trio who made an album based on the poetry of William Blake, but he’s also been much in demand as a drummer and electronics player with some of the big mamous of the avant-noise domain – members of Coil, Legendary Pink Dots, Swans, Bauhaus, Tuxedomoon and Wire all speak highly of Van Kruysdijk’s instrumental prowess, and he’s trod the stage and studio floor as an in-demand session man for these maestros of the dark noise-drone. This isn’t to mention Richard’s other high-profile band projects which I’ve never heard, such as Strange Attractor, Phallus Dei, Music For Speakers, and Sonar Lodge; he’s evidently capable of working in many contemporary genres, be it latter-day industrial pounding or downtempo trip-hop fusion.

Lumbar Fist contains seven examples of his studio craft, and he built them up in the studio by overdubbing himself several times, using an ARP synth, bass guitars, percussion, tapes, effects pedals, and the “circuit-bent Suzuki Omnichord”, whose name alone is enough to get most instrumental and pedal collectors frothing at the knees. While this album has a rather “samey” surface, there’s much to recommend about the care and attention with which this hard-working creator has built each piece, and there’s a very burnished quality to the sound – a sort of calm inner glow illuminating and suffusing each moment. This calmness however might be quite at odds with the busy and fragmentary technique which he used to construct Lumbar Fist – the press notes refer to “sounds…reversed, mangled, chopped and regenerated”, which strikes one as a rather invasive editing studio style.

His track titles are witty too, adding a human and imagistic dimension to what would otherwise be extremely abstract – ‘Seance Drop’ suggests the trance states these sounds induce, ‘Drum Sloth’ is a very apt description of his studio method and tape-retardation approach, and ‘Halo Ginseng’ is tinged with notions of bodily health and inner spirituality which might well pass on to the listener. However, my favourite title is ‘Crabby Plasma’, a title which could be taken as the subtext for John Carpenter’s The Thing with its horrifying themes of genetic mutation and cell structures going out of control. From 3rd October 2016.

Kutin Edge

Ambitious piece of modern sound art by Peter Kutin (last noted in these pages for a split record with Asfast) and Florian Kindlinger in the shape of Decomposition I-III (VENTIL V0001)…this particular item emerged as a double LP on Ventil in May or June 2015, but for some reason we did not receive a promo copy until 3 October 2016. In one sense this might not matter, as the complete suite of Decomposition has been growing and evolving for a few years now, its separate parts presented at various European festivals and art centres since 2014. This double LP is the best way to get the narrative of the piece though, as it leads the listener through a three-part travelogue of internalisation, self-examination, and alienation, probably leading to some profound form of metaphysical despair by the end of it.

The story is told over four sides with the titles ‘Absence’, ‘Introspection’ and ‘Illusion’, and the plan is to subject the listener to some pretty harsh and bleak environments which they must endure, forging their soul on the anvil of endurance. “Territories antagonistic to human life”, is how they would describe their choice of surroundings. It’s kind of like field recordings, because the basic sounds were captured in places like a desert, a snowy waste, a glacier, and an abandoned mining village with wind blowing a howling blast…in these extreme zones, they find the existential misery they are seeking to capture. But they also argue that “field recording” is a “moribund” genre in any case, and they’re out to change all that with their radical new approach to pushing recording gear and microphones into places they’re not supposed to go. We’ve got to admire rough-tough artistes who are prepared to throw down the gauntlet with this kind of reckless thinking, and Decomposition I-III has a lot going for it in terms of the vivid and stark nature of its sound surface. I also like the very contrasting clashes between nature and civilisation that are reduced here to extremely simplistic arguments, the better to bring home the intended messages about estrangement and the searching questions about mankind’s place in the world today.

Christina Kubisch is credited here too, though she worked only on side four, the 18-minute ‘Illusion’. For this she was commissioned to record “electromagnetic signals” from the city of Las Vegas, later to be reprocessed by Kutin in the studio using just edits and splices. The plan was to use Las Vegas as a gigantic form of synthesizer, the entire city unwittingly participating in a bizarre sound art experiment. The artists speculate on the fact that Las Vegas used to be a desert not so long ago, and presumably this makes it fair game for inclusion on the set, conceptually linked to their other recordings of hostile terrains. That den of gambling and vice certainly sounds bleak and remote here, reduced to a series of clinical robotic pulses and whirrs. Bizarrely, in places, the piece turns into something resembling 1990s glitch or avant-garde techno with its mechanical rhythms, but this may simply be a by-product of the process. ‘Illusion’ won the Karl Sczuka prize for best radiophonic composition of 2016, and well-deserved too.