Tagged: dark

Schwarze Riesenfalter: a place of ghostly minimalist soundscapes and huge flying phantoms

Michael Pisaro - Graham Lambkin

Graham Lambkin / Michael Pisaro, Schwarze Riesenfalter, Erstwhile Records, CD erstwhile075 (2015)

Erstwhile Records always seems to be on the lookout for unusual musical duos, and this pairing was obviously too good to resist: Pisaro is a member of the Wandelweiser ensemble with their interest in low-key minimalist improv, and Lambkin’s background is mainly in the visual arts but lately he’s become a musician in his own right. This album whose name translates into English as “A Giant Black Butterfly” is an otherworldly place of dark nocturnal and often sinister soundscapes. The album’s gatefold cover is nearly all black save for white print and a ghostly half-image of something rapidly beating its wings in the utter still darkness. Track titles reference a group of poems “Pierre Lunaire” by Albert Giraud, and dwell on the topic of flying creatures inhabiting the temporal zones of twilight and night.

The music is very quiet if spooky and revolves around one instrument, like piano, holding the track together with repetition of sound or deliberately awkward and clunky tones, or as in “Ein eisiger Wind” a low, barely audible series of digital keyboard drones. The usually unassuming nature of the music has the effect of commanding all your attention, though on track 4 the clumsy piano melody is as brash as the overall minimalist approach allows it to be.

Reviews I have seen of the album mention that it is accompanied by text but my copy of the album did not include the text (or possibly I have lost it somewhere, that would not be unusual). I did find a short text piece by the two musicians at Tinymixtapes.com in which all the track titles are embedded: the piece can be read as six separate scenarios, one complete scene or combinations in-between. There is nothing to say that the six lines have to read a certain way so the listener is at liberty to treat them as unified or fragmented.

Who is playing which instrument, especially the piano, is not clear: for all I know, both musicians could have played it on the tracks where it’s most prominent. (At this point it should be said that both musicians are mainly guitarists yet hardly any guitar appears here.) That Lambkin and Pisaro might have defied expectations as to the kind of album they would create enables them to have some fun, and even in some of the creepiest and most oppressive soundscapes there is always some sound or effect that brings a light-hearted attitude.

The album isn’t nearly as sinister and menacing as it initially promised but then perhaps that was the intention: within each soundscape, something expressing its polar opposite is to be found at the music’s core. Its aspirations to seriousness at times are undercut by a playful attitude. The album could be a whole yet within the whole, something is aiming at fragmenting it.

Contact: Erstwhile Records

Suffering Cats

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Got a couple of vinyls from the Arizona record label King Of The Monsters Records, a label which judging by their shop page is keen to provide the world with all shades of extreme metal, Black Metal, noise and doomy music, many of them decorated with wild pagan / Satanic imagery and issued in limited-edition coloured-vinyl pressings…and to confirm their credentials in the heaviness department, they use a silhouette of Godzilla as their corporate logo. The first item from 29 July 2014 is a split 12-incher (KOTM046), shared between Suffering Luna and Suffer The Storm. On their side, Los Angeles doomsters Suffering Luna are joined by The Astronaut King to belch out just eight and a half minutes of ‘Most High’, an abrasive slice of nastiness replete with shouting-declamatory vocals…Suffering Luna have been doing it since the mid-1990s and there are other split releases with Gasp and Dystopia to be found in their name. Their flirtation with extreme power noise has earned them respect in some quarters, but I have to admit there isn’t much evidence of such experimentation on this rather standard-issue generic-doom track.

Suffer The Storm’s side is somewhat more satisfying. Another Los Angeles band, their 22-minute ‘Squalor’ is a brilliantly insufferable and doleful grind described by the press notes as a “droning funeral hymn”. While there are several moves that are common to the genre, including ultra-slow growled vocals, pounding beats, and menacing power chords whanged out on enormous guitars that resonate forever, at least this trio have some concept of dynamics, and their lurching performance follows a dismal rise-and-fall like the lungs of a dying whale, a rhythm that perfectly fits its underlying messages of despair. The artwork to this release is staggeringly over-wrought, much like the over-cooked music, a collage over-packed with pagan, satanic, and apocalyptic imagery, one visual abomination heaped upon another until it almost becomes a parody.

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From same label comes Gog’s self-titled item – which is of quite a different order to the above. This is mostly the work of Michael Bjella, realised with the help of drummer Josh Bodnar, and he builds a suffocating Swans-like atmosphere across the album, presumably making heavy use of multi-tracking. Bjella executes his blackened visions with a determination and clarity that the other two bands on this page could learn from; no empty power-chord riffing for this fellow, who instead plans an efficient and ruthless scheme for bludgeoning the listener into submission. He does this in service of a “body horror” theme, suggesting all manner of unwelcome transformations that twist and contort the human frame, and endorses it with a sketchy pseudo-scientific thesis printed on the cover, a speculative tract that questions the value and purpose of “evolution”. In going up against Darwin, Gog might align himself with Old Man Gloom and their shadowy tales of animal experimentation expressed as modern heavy metal music, or he could reach even further back to 1980s movies such as Rabid, Scanners, or John Carpenter’s The Thing. The Gira-esque overloaded pounding music is occasionally tempered with more approachable moments, such as the bleak and Gothy song ‘The First Cure’, where guest vocalist Francesca Marongiu contributes some respite, if not any actual compassion or relief. From 16th July 2014.

Croce: obsession with crucifixion, sacrifice and apocalypse doesn’t quite go far enough

Father Murphy, Croce, The Flenser, CD FR54 (2015)

San Francisco-based label The Flenser might just be my favourite label for releasing some mighty odd and eccentric music over the past few years, though I think most of these have been black metal acts like The Botanist. This time here comes an act that initially appears as far away from BM as the nearest galaxy is from Earth, though closer inspection and repeated hearings of this album “Croce” (Italian for “cross”) reveal a dark obsession with death and what lies beyond – a concern not too far from what much black metal dabbles in. Father Murphy may already be familiar to TSP readers though I must admit “Croce” is the first album of theirs I’ve heard. At the time of its recording, the Italian band was down to a boy / girl duo after having been a trio.

The album is split into two sides, “Sacrificio” which spins on the theme of crucifixion, and “Beatitudine” which deals with the aftermath of crucifixion. Intro track “Blood is Thicker than Water” is all harsh distorted vocals, ominous buzzy organ sound and angular melody. “A Purpose” continues with the acid sound and adds a pounding industrial machine rhythm. After a trio of quite deranged songs with frying atmospheres and intense lyrics sung in voices on the verge of hysteria, “In Solitude”, a mostly instrumental guitar-based piece, comes as a bit of welcome relief even though there’s something ominous in its wary melody.

“Beatitudine” takes up where the suffering and the self-sacrifice have achieved their ultimate end and the record enters a state of being that’s not quite oblivion but isn’t resurrection either in “Long May We Continue”, an uncertain doomy piece in which a being might stumble dazed and blinking into some existential twilight zone. “All the People Yelling Fire” is a mix of metallic clang and crash, droning horns and something of a desolate or abandoned mood. The track leads straight into something straight out of US southern Gothica called “We Walk by Faith”, an enervated apocalyptic hymn of drawling zombie vocal, tired horn, a wavering sawn-off guitar whine and lumbering percussion in the background. Benediction comes in “They Won’t Hurt You”, a sort of uplifting yet rather melancholy pipe organ drone that bears a tired and tortured spirit upwards and off into the firmament. Where to, the whole track seems uncertain; there’s a slightly demented quality in the music as well.

The music might be considered a mix of garage / industrial-lite / noise / neo-folk / tribal psychedelia pop with a dark pessimistic air. The singing is either demented or amateurish in a way suggesting backwardness (not-in-a-good-way sort of backwardness) depending on your point of view. Considering the themes it tackles, I think the album is rather short and doesn’t delve far enough into the subject matter, stretching it to its logical ends. There is madness born of religious self-righteousness and arrogance inherent in some tracks and it seems a pity Father Murphy don’t draw that aspect out so much. The Bible-bashing US Deep South connection – if there is one (mostly in my mind to be honest) – is briefly rustled by tracks whose titles say one thing but whose music says something very opposed to what the titles imply. The music itself can be very confounding but after several hearings I realise it’s not nearly as unusual and eccentric as it seemed and the band is actually working with a narrow set of sounds.

Contact: The Flenser, PO Box 31117, San Francisco, California, 94131, United States

Half Moon

Here’s three nocturnal droners sent from Gdansk, Poland, in September 2014. The Zoharum label is certainly resolving itself into a recognisable brand, even if we struggle to discern it through thick clouds of evil-smelling fog. Dark ambient at its most clotted and jet-black.

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On Tajnie I Glebie (ZOHAR 076-2) the duo Tundra do it mostly through use of percussion, acoustic guitar, and wind instruments, and while tapes and loops are involved in their grim little studio set-up, one has the strong impression that digital interventions and post-production techniques are kept to a minimum, allowing us to savour the grain of each resonating cymbal and vibrating guitar string. There may be plenty of long tones and echoes, but you get the sense these sounds are at least 85% organic and naturally sourced. Admittedly, “sound manipulation” is permitted as a strategy in this electro-acoustic-ish glomfest, producing a supernatural and spooked-out variation on this genre that improves on the more sterile end of the INA-GRM academics. To reinforce the sense of claustrophobia, a labyrinth appears as the cover image, suggesting there is no escape from the smothering tones. The team of Krzystek Joczyn and Dawid Adrjanczyk seem to have been self-releasing little slivers of melancholia into the world since 2011, and this is only their third album if you count their team-up with everyone’s favourite Eastern European animal-magick ritualisers, The Magic Carpathians. Slow and solemn processional music for your trance-like midnight walkabouts in the black forests…the single-mindedness of this pair in pursuing their long excursions to the very end is something to admire. Buy now so they can afford a new pair of metaphysical walking boots.

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Where Tundra drone on in pursuit of various non-specific atmospheres and emotions and attempt to capture them in a jam-jar, the unusual Russian troupe Phurpa have a very definite aim in mind on Mantras Of Bön (ZOHAR 075-2), to wit the pursuit of recreating an ancient Buddhist tradition on their own personal, highly ritualistic terms. They do it using carefully selected instruments, but most of the music comes from the voice, and requires a certain form of overtone singing, which produces uncanny vocal drones. The musical effect is just the end result though, as Phurpa insist on a strict regime of discipline and training to push their bodies into the correct tantric state. Much ceremony and solemnity arises from their performances, which somehow (on this record at least) convey the impression of happening in total secret. When track two is described as ‘Live In Moscow’, one wonders if the venue was some remote cellar or mausoleum rather than a concert hall. You certainly can’t hear any trace of an appreciative audience, although whooping and yelling are hardly the appropriate response when faced with this chilling reminder of one’s own fragile mortality. Small wonder that Stephen O’Malley took an interest, and reissued an earlier double LP on his Ideologic Organ label. For listeners wedded to the deep growly chant sound that characterises the “classic” Phurpa sound, the second half of the album will reward you with nearly one hour of mesmerising monotonous blackness. However, the first half is a showcase for the vocal talents of Alissa Nicolai, who is far more “expressive” in her controlled shrieking and creates astonishing and well-nigh alarming effects. While it’s not clear if she too subscribes to the ancient Buddhist methodology, I would imagine her work involves a high degree of commitment and resolution to get herself into the required zone. She is singing from a place of utmost desolation and spiritual iciness.

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Aquavoice is the name taken by Tadeusz Luczejko. His Nocturne (ZOHAR 077-2) is more noticeably digital in its origins than the other records on this page. The album started out promisingly, with a few precious moments when he produces simple, minimal sketches in pure sound, picking out details in his night-time scapes as if using a small penlight torch. It’s also encouraging that he speaks of a personal aesthetic that urges him to pursue sensations of “cold”, in line with some of his favourite film-makers and cinema directors who themselves are no stranger to the bleak. But, as track follows track on Nocturne, there’s less focus and more indulgence as he tries out one half-soaked idea after another. Some are melodically inclined, for instance when he sees fit to lapse into a pleasing mix of evocative chords and ambient sounds. Some of his effects are cloying and familiar, for instance the over-use of studio echo and the constant attempts to force an “atmosphere” onto the grooves. He also makes use of field recordings, distant ghostly voices, and even a slightly skewed attempt at jazzy beats of some sort. On today’s spin, it seems my predilections can only be satisfied by the single-minded darkness of Tundra or Phurpa, so I must sadly reject Aquavoice and his various user-friendly sunlit modes.

Darkspace III I: riding once again into deepest, darkest space

Darkspace III I

Darkspace, III I, Avantgarde Music, CD AV239 (digipak) (2014)

Those of us who’ve been following this Swiss trio for a long time now – OK, I know I’m not speaking for everyone who’s a fan but there’ll be many of you nodding in agreement with me – know that our obsession with Darkspace’s music is not about the quality or the consistency of their music or how they layer it with keyboards, multi-voiced demon choirs or conversations or dark foggy atmosphere that gives the music a thick(ish) sort of ambience; it’s about a definite vision of the universe, whether outside our solar system or inside our heads, that the band’s albums conjure up once the guitars are in full throttle and the bass and synth drums power the music into the firmament and beyond. This vision is an obsessive one, yet one that all of us have to face at some point in our lives, and includes questions like: what is our place in the universe as individuals, what is our place in the universe as a collective (as a species or a community) and does the universe care for us at all? If the universe does not care for us – and Darkspace’s albums suggest that it doesn’t – then is it merely indifferent to our presence or does it even seek to extinguish us? All these are questions that concern one and all, because the answers to them will dictate how we behave towards one another, to our fellow travellers (animals, plants, fungi and all other life-forms) and our own planet Earth which may or may not be the only body in space that has life.

With this album, that view of deep space is still as intense and the music is as epic and majestic as ever with the implied tragedy of humanity’s existence and future heightened and given definite drama. The division into three “tracks” is more for convenience as the music is more or less continuous for over an hour. Everything proceeds at a mad pace, the programmed drumming especially as its speeds are turned up to levels that can only be described as manic and deranged. The screaming that carries on throughout the album is demonic and hateful – I only wish the hazy ambience didn’t soften the edges of the screeching as this deserves to be heard in its full alien malevolence in the context that Darkspace operate. Likewise the drumming (which has always been muted on the trio’s albums) probably needs to be brought forward in the mix more so that its full inhuman mechanical evil can be given the respect it demands.

Within the roaring maelstrom there are occasional moments of serenity and peace (even if this is not the peace that comes with order and hope for a better future) – the start of the second track, with its gothic industrial space tone-wash, is quite a beautiful piece of sound art to behold and to be immersed in. Of course such moments last briefly before the listener is plunged yet again into deluges of acid tremolo guitar storm psychedelia, church organ solemnity, hollow-cave synthesiser wash and banks of motorcycle bass rhythm grind. As the album progresses, the madness that is always present in the music escalates to the point where in the last few moments of the work it completely takes over, holding listeners in a near-catatonic state. The horror is very real and remains even while the album dies down to an ambiguous close.

I understand of course that on purely technical merit this album might not sound all that different from previous Darkspace albums – where “III I” differs from the others is in the details of the music, the human drama is made more explicit than previously – but this is beside the point: these albums are intended as hypnotic and highly immersive personal journeys into inner space and the value we get out of them depends as much on what we bring to the listening experience as our reaction to the music itself.

So with that, what else can I say but to mangle Shakespeare: Once more unto the breach, dear friends, once more … there’s nothing so becomes a man as modest stillness and humility when the blast of Darkspace’s latest blows in our ears …

Contact: Avantgarde Music

Beneath The Foundations

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Ryan Huber is the American solo instrumentalist maverick whose work we’ve been following for many years now, and while he releases many records as Sujo or Olekranon, the Harken (INAM RECORDS 137) CDR is under his own name. None of his trademark steam-hammer heavy rock beats for this release, which is a more restrained and chilling sojourn in strange dark ambient territories. For fans who enjoy his over-loaded signature sound, tune in to ‘Blind Coup’ where the layers of processed abstractoid grind are flung together like ferocious storm-clouds and powerful tornadoes from a lost Norwegian myth, and pressed into a glass jar. Bleak, menacing, thickened and textured drone. Packaged in a hand-decorated brown paper envelope, and only 23 copies were released. From 19th June 2014.

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Equally “encoldening” and freezingly atmospheric is the split album Subterranean Transmigration (PHAGE TAPES PT:208 / ANNIHILVS APEX 2014-02), a showcase for two American solo dark-ambient menace acts Regosphere and Xiphoid Dementia. Both creators explicitly desire to explore “desolate, frozen, psychological landscapes”, according to the press notes which also hint at cavernous spaces in the earth’s lower depths. In fact, Andrew Quitter – the fellow who calls himself Regosphere – captured field recordings from The Devil’s Icebox, which is an underground cave in Missouri, and layers these into his harrowing and grim recordings. His grindey and droney synth pulsations are certainly unsettling, and his surface sound is rich and appealing, but like so many operating in this genre, he seems unsure as to how to organise or compose his materials so that they might have more force. Xiphoid Dementia, i.e. Egan Budd, also brings field recordings into his work, but rather than attempt to capture the ambience of an underground cavern to conjure Saturnine visions, he creates samples of rocks, earth, and metal, perhaps using these natural materials as rough musical instruments, and leans less heavily on his synthesizer set-up. His tracks too are textured and rumbly, and his sounds are equally lush, but he somehow leaves more space for the listener to breath. Consequently, the mind is able to explore his imaginary tunnels and crevices in more productive manner than we are the cluttered soundscapes of Regosphere. Xiphoid Dementia also seems to offer more than one emotional response to the work; at times we feel desolate and doomed, but we also feel intrigued and inclined to probe into this mysterious world, like a latterday Arne Saknussemm. And if the music of either musician fails to trigger the requisite moods, the album photographs should do the job; almost like treated images from National Geographic with additional blue tints added by Photoshop with creepy touches of the supernatural pasted in. From 3rd June 2014, sent to us by A. Foisy of Locrian.

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In same Foisy package we have a full-length (78 minute) broad canvas widescreen epic of solemnity by Requiem, the solo guitarist / musician David Graham from Pittsburgh who’s been recording under this guise since 1996, with many releases on (his own?) label Requiem Recordings.. His Provenance (COUNSOULING AGENCY CAGE0004) is not simply aiming for droney atmospherics, as there are tunes and anthems appearing throughout the glacier-paced music, and a thematic coherence to the work established by the artworks (an insert of a bare tree and its roots) and the poetic text which speaks in a quite heartfelt manner of finality and pointlessness, while indicating that “only ghosts know the truth now”. Stately guitars, synths, and ritualistic percussion all do much to draw us into this fully-realised and haunting world of futility and doom. The vocal additions of Joan Hacker and Melissa Kelly enhance the mood greatly on ‘Abeyance’, almost creating a sort of nocturnal version of Popol Vuh; and there’s a heavy apocalyptic spoken-word section on ‘Addendum Two’ which is enough to make the Book of Revelations seem like light reading. I admire the skills with which Graham builds his textured layers and creates his flawlessly burnished tracks, aided to some degree by a James Plotkin mastering job and the recording skills of Theologian, which ensures that Provenance glistens with the blackened perfection of a subterranean lair of which the walls are pure obsidian. But I struggle to keep in time with the unvarying leaden pace of this portentous release, and am left frustrated by the musical monotony; through the whole 78 minutes, we rarely depart from the one root note and all the tunes are pitched in the exact same minor key. However, this may be a deliberate strategy to bring home the abiding messages of despair. The “petal style” package, with obi and insert, is quite nice.

Four Vinyl Vargos

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Insect Ark is Dana Schechter from Brooklyn, who has lent her skills to Michael Gira’s Angels of Light and Bee and Flower. She’s good with keyboards, sampling, and stringed instruments on her Long Arms (GEWEIH RITUAL DOCUMENTS GRD006) 10-incher, where she uses these to work up three studio-based instrumentals. Things build well, from the uncertain droney beginnings to the more assured drum-programmed middle section, but I’m still sensing a lack of adventure, a scarcity of real ideas, as if she’s not sure what direction she ought to be heading in, or why. Her minimal guitar licks induce a sort of despairing melancholy, but are not especially inventive. She claims to “create her personal soundtrack to the human psyche’s underbelly”, but for me she doesn’t go far enough in her explorations of that underbelly. I’d like a taste of something so dark and occluded it puts me off my morning coffee next day, on account of the disturbing dreams it gave me. The packaging is nice, but even on the cover she can’t decide whether to look like a German expressionist actress or an all-out 1980s Goth, again reflecting the rather undeveloped nature of her artistic ambitions. From February 2014.

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Pretty unsettling cover art and poster insert on Dr Jayne Insane’s LP of grisly Swedish noise, Anti Art Alliance (LAMOUR lamourvin003); the insert in particular has grim juxtapositions of skulls, masks, and wayward dental applications rendered with a precise graphical style that fans of Boris Artzybasheff will dig. But these visuals are the work of Sten Backman. The record was made by Jan Liljovic, who in 2003 made a record for Fylkingen Records as Jan Liljevkist. Like many other distorto-freaks on that label (e.g. Daniel Rozenhall), he’s very fond of over-using the reverb effect, and the whole LP is just drenched in crunchy reverb from head to toe. He might not be doing more than pumping feedback or sequencer pulsations through this studio effect. Consequently what begins as a healthy blast of coruscating, destructive noise guaranteed to destroy the bourgeoisie and sweep away the old order, quickly becomes a repetitious and insufferable bore. The very limited aural range is probably a deliberate strategy too, but it induced tedium in this listener in about five minutes, and I was disappointed to find both sides occupying this narrow strip of sonic turf, defiantly sticking out a big red tongue as a rebuke to the audience. A punishing listen. Arrived 6th January 2014.

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A couple of Greek electro-acoustic items on vinyl which may not be related. The first is the Katabasis (REKEM RECORDS REKEM05) suite by Panos Alexiadis, a musician from Athens who has released many solo cassettes and CDRs as Lunar Miasma and Red Needled Sea, besides appearing in the groups Heavensore and Holefold Diver. This is the first solo record he put out under his own name, and it’s been realised using the familiar combinations of samples, field recordings, and modular electronic equipment. The composition Katabasis itself is all packed onto side one; he uses side two to create a sort-of “dub” version of the A side, stripping away all the field recordings and acoustic elements, and using the same compositional structure to play pure electronic music. I prefer this dubby version to the main event, as it’s somehow bolder and makes more assertive statements in sound than its rather tentative sister. However, there’s a lot to be said for the precision of Alexiadis’s work, which is evident in the clarity of the realised sounds, and presumably extends to his compositional methods. I mean to say it sounds very clean and direct, providing an object lesson that many would-be electronic composers could learn from. The stern cover may suggest the “runic” shapes and emblems that were all the rage in the 1980s after Throbbing Gristle and Current 95, but in fact it’s simply the letter K lying on its side. Arrived 29th January 2014.

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Virilio’s Signature (RECORD LABEL RECORD LABEL RL000) arrived two days before, also from Athens, but on another label and featuring the two musicians Dimitris Papadatos and Corinna Triantafyllidis, who very coincidentally are the label bosses. They have elected to call this private-press venture Record Label Record Label, a somewhat reflexive identity, but these two are no newcomers. They’ve been improvising since 2008, with early efforts appearing under the name Cassettine & KU, mostly as downloadable files. Virilio is something they’ve been doing since 2010, and besides this vinyl release there are also seven CDRs available under that name, released as very small print runs. I must say as a duo they suit each other perfectly. They play a large range of instruments, including electronics, drum machines, percussion, guitars, and turntables, but don’t crowd each other out of the space nor do they over-clutter the kitchen table with an excess of furnishings. Instead, a seamless and quite entrancing drone-noise results, one that envelops and embraces you like a swaddling cloth, or a thick gaseous fog of benevolent, non-poisonous elements. If we compared them with Panos Alexiadis above, the difference is that Virilio are maximalists, embracing a wide range of sound productions into their swarming flock of digital sheep, making Panos appear positively epicurean in his very deliberate selection of aural elements. It’s been a good plan to press this in white vinyl with extremely minimal packaging, allowing us mostly to ponder on the enigmatic drawing of a white curtain or sailcloth, crudely suspended across our field of vision. What puzzling events might be enacted behind this voile? Subtitled “Refraction without the appearance of colour,” this small gem arrived 27th January 2014.

The Summoner: portrayal of grief and loss not as affecting as it could be

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Kreng, The Summoner, Miasmah Recordings, MIACD039 (2015)

Its tracks tracing the six stages of grief from denial to acceptance – though there may be dispute among psychologists as to whether grief can be neatly packaged and presented in a narrow linear structure – this recording is a sombre shadowy journey into an underworld where the realm of the living and the realm of the dead contact and merge imperceptibly. The music ranges from cold soughing ambience, made up of spirits in perpetual itinerant restlessness, to sudden twisted chamber music / orchestral clutter or scramble, to repetitive death doom metal drone. Although the tracks suggest a definite linear narrative that suspiciously mirrors other distinctively Western cultural narratives – one thinks of the product life-cycle that marketers refer to, which I was taught at university – the actual music itself often ducks and weaves, quiet one moment, loud and forceful the next and then suddenly quiet and passive again, as if protesting or mocking the strictures
placed upon it.

The album is not easy to follow as a result of its unexpected twists and turns – not that Kreng main-man Pepijn Caudron has ever set out to make very straightforward music since he started the Kreng project – and listeners might find themselves wishing that he be more consistent and get to the point of whatever it is he’s trying to say. This perhaps is the unfortunate effect of imposing a cultural construct on the music and the phenomenon it’s referring to. Perhaps it’s not until a person has really experienced a profound personal loss or some of the emotions represented on this album that s/he might be able to approach it on its terms. Although having gone through depression myself, and having heard other music made by people who also suffered from depression and who drew on their experience, I did find the track “Depression” not quite as deep or affecting as it could be: there was no sense of deep emptiness, the impression of having a hole punched in the
centre of one’s being or feeling sudden panic that I’ve detected in other people’s recordings and which I can vouch does happen.

Track 5, intended to be the album’s crowning glory and summation, features both orchestral and death metal music, and I have to say I found this piece not very impressive: the dark orchestral music sounds like generic horror-movie soundtrack fluff and there’s no sense of terror or mystery that something profound might be happening. The slow church-organ transition from foreboding orchestral doom to metal doom is beguiling enough; if only it didn’t get shunted aside by sledgehammer-blunt death doom guitar bludgeon, courtesy of guest band Amenra. Again, this part of the track is a disappointment: we get nothing new here that a thousand million other doomy death metal acts haven’t already done, over and over.

After all is said and done, listeners might find themselves back at square one after a trip that didn’t take them anywhere much. The first half of the album was far better in creating atmosphere and a strong sense of dread but it was let down by some very mediocre music in the second half. This isn’t a work I’d recommend for people who are mourning the loss of a much-loved relative or friend unless as part of a general suite of recordings of varied music on loss and grief generally.

Contact: Miasmah Recordings

Hexadic: a new composition method results in something that sounds surprisingly familiar

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Six Organs of Admittance, Hexadic, Drag City, DC616CD (2015)

Ben Chasny’s ongoing solo project Six Organs of Admittance takes a sharp turn into sonic territory of a stark and terrifying kind, familiar to those of us who’ve long followed Keiji Haino and Fushitsusha. Indeed, had I received this recording in a blank jewel CD case with no labelling and I had just whacked it into the player, I could have sworn blind this was yet another PSF label release. There is that dark atmosphere with the slight acid sheen that sharpens the guitar tones and which leaves the listener feeling apprehensive as to what’s going to happen next, whether there will be an excruciating howl from out of the pitch black or a roaring cloudburst of guitar feedback.

Well the latter comes courtesy of “Wax Chance” but the singing isn’t coming from Haino’s tortured tonsils: it’s Chasny’s own tentative fragile voice struggling for a foot-hold in the feedback storm. Those blasts of raw searing guitar noise, burning up the darkness, could have come straight from the stables of Fushitsusha. Coming so early in the album, this is bound to chase away anyone not familiar with Six Organs of Admittance and its forays into folk, heavy psych and noise. For all the relentless noisy guitar clouds, the recording is consistent and focused and actually very steady. Drummer Noel von Harmonson keeps a firm hand on the percussion, the calm helmsman helping to steer the ship of musicians gathered around Chasny as he leads them all into sonic storms and apparent turbulence. Bassist Rob Fisk will sometimes busy himself fingering quiet individual melodies with little interference beneath the howling abrasions overhead. The result is that the music can be at once calm and reflective, and chaotic and relentless in assault.

The contrast between cool, calm and collected on the one hand and on the other, constant roaring sonic violence, going all at once becomes greater as you go deeper into the album and it’s about mid-point that the recording really excels with the sharp attacking assaults of “Hollow River” and “Sphere Path Code C”, immediately followed by the meditative desert-Western blues of “Future Verbs” and the ghostly chimes of “Vestige”.

For this recording, Chasny invented a chance-based composition technique that uses playing cards to determine sets of six notes for each track: the technique applies as much to the rhythms and lyrics that help define the songs. Although the music can sound very formless and takes some getting used to, each track is quite distinct. How such a method of music composition led Chasny on a path that turned his work into a creature of such extreme moods that even Haino and the PSF label fellow might gawp at, not to mention turning the raw material into music close to what Chasny has always liked anyway (heh heh), can only be guessed.

While I like “Hexadic”, the record’s style of strong contrasts and single-minded focus won’t appeal to very many casual observers and might not even appeal to long-time fans.

Contact: Drag City, PO Box 476867, Chicago, IL 60647, United States

From the Dead Villages’ Darkness: post-metal meets Slavic folk ambient

Sivyj Yar

Sivyj Yar, From the Dead Villages’ Darkness, Italy, Avantgarde Music, CD (2014)

Russian one-man black metal projects are a dime a dozen these days; perhaps this phenomenon is a sign of the increasing prosperity of the country, that many people in different parts of Russia now are forming their own bands or projects, writing and playing their own music, and releasing it independently or through various labels. Sivyj Yar is one solo project (based in Vyritsa in the Leningrad administrative district near Saint Petersburg) that has actually been going for nearly decade with a respectable discography, with “From the Dead Villages’ Darkness” being its third full-length release.

Sivyj Yar’s main lyrical concerns deal with Russian / Slavic mythology, past cultural and pagan heritage and pride. On this album though, to judge from the songs’ titles translated into English, the theme is the suffering of rural villages and peasants, as an important strand in the make-up of the Russian character, its stoicism and patience in the face of hardship and disaster. The arrangement of the songs suggests a definite narrative from the initial disaster (perhaps a mass burning?) to its aftermath: all appears to be hopeless and the whole world seems to be shutting down. Listeners might presume that Nature will reclaim the abandoned fields and the fallen wooden houses of peasants either killed or long gone away.

The music takes in many influences from folk to post-metal and features various acoustic instruments such as violin, cello and flute but essentially it is melodic and often pop-friendly post-BM with an emphasis on catchy tremolo-guitar riffs, capable lead guitar soloing and often very good drumming. Bass guitar sometimes follows its own path through the music and in a number of tracks nature-based field recordings like falling water may be used. Songs coast along at a brisk pace and main man Vladimir finds room for blast-beat drumming sequences. Each track is crafted with thought and care, with the result that while there might be a lot of music in each song, it never sounds rushed or confused and each instrument can be heard clearly, though the quality of production might not be great (it sounds a little bleached). Background cold space-ambient synth wash on some tracks gives the music a chilling, despairing effect and there is a strong sense of hopelessness.

There can be a lot to absorb here and I would have preferred the album to be a bit slower to allow the melancholy, the loneliness and the dark atmosphere to make more impression than they do. The singing can be thin and ragged and it has to fight for attention above the guitars and the swirling violin melodies. The odd occasion where one instrument might be allowed to play, to express the despair and hopelessness in the lyrics, would have been very welcome. There are moments where a bluesy-sounding guitar appears and they carry intense emotion. Sivyj Yar could have brought in a balalaika or zither for an even more folk-flavoured rural BM style that would make the music stand out more among his post-BM contemporaries.

In my view, this is a very good album but it could have been much better with a less generic and commercial-sounding post-BM influence and more Slavic folk and ambient elements.

Contact: Avantgarde Music