Tagged: dark

Hirngemeer: a surrealist experimental BM exploration of mental breakdown

Todesstoss, Hirngemeer, Italy, I, Voidhanger Records, CD IVR045 (2015)

I, Voidhanger Records is fast becoming the go-to extreme metal label for underground music on the verge of going alt-mainstream and “Hirngemeer” (a new word coined by the band and meaning “brain sea” in English, suggesting a complete mental collapse) by German BM band Todesstoss (“Death Blow”) might have done so already if it had been a more manageable and tidy record lasting half the length it has. But this trio led by poet / painter / multi-instrumentalist Martin Lang, who does nearly everything here except the vocals, the bass parts and selling the album door-to-door, sure doesn’t believe in doing anything by halves: the second track alone clocks in at a hefty 34 minutes. If you decide to descend down this particular path into someone’s mental hell, be warned: you may not come out psychologically whole yourself.

First track “Verwehung” (28 minutes) has just about everything you fear a nightmare can have: it’s a continuous and meandering stream-of-consciousness piece that includes bombastic vocal declamations, screams and ravings, galloping drumbeats, harmonica, booming foghorn sirens, hysterical guitar arpeggio chords, organ and much more besides. The vocalist seems to be on a stage surrounded by thick black curtains of inner night, assailed by unseen forces that strip him of his identity and his right to exist. The whole thing is deeply unsettling and psychotic, the music unhinged though never chaotic, and the singing is delirious and deranged. The harmonica adds an eccentric flavour where it appears.

“Narbenkaefig” may be a longer track but quieter and more controlled, though perhaps no less dangerous with sinister and malevolent intentions in mind as it takes you through eerie electronic drone ambience, spiky venomous guitar and thumping percussion. The singing is tortured and close to hysteria and insanity. Again there is a feeling of the vocalist being subjected to an inquisition by gruff daemons who sadistically subject him to excruciating torment every time he fails to answer or answers incorrectly. There is definite music on this track which compared to the first piece will be much more palatable, if emotionally intense and unbearable at times, to most listeners.

Perhaps there’s a lot of bombastic padding that doesn’t need to be here. The second track especially treads a very thin line between silliness and overwrought melodrama on the one hand, and monotony and repetition on the other. Atmosphere is at least as important as unstructured noisy BM and other, more melodic elements, and Todesstoss achieves a real feeling of hellish and anguished existence marred by psychotic disturbance and being on the edge of total insanity.

The third and final piece is a merciful 12 minutes in length and features birdsong field recordings in a highly atmospheric scene where the vocalist resigns himself to eternal damnation. The track has a mini-movie soundtrack feel and its beguiling melodies have an evil seductive quality.

I must admit I found the music torturous as it is so long (not because of its general lack of structure) and the singing can be over-the-top histrionic, going over into perhaps unintended comedy. Other people have dealt with issues of depression and fears of going mad just as effectively and in equally surrealist / experimental ways without falling into theatrics and faffing about. Remove about half the vocals and cut out some of the music and you would still have a very good record.

The Spider Spins Again


1997EV is a fairly far-out Italian oddity, whose sole mysterious member began their solo career in 1999 with MicroWhen on the Trasponsonic label, dabbling in a species of mind-expanding psychedelic rock clearly inspired by their own interpretation of Psychic TV’s exploration of “new horizons”…1997EV went on to evolve through post-psych into an experimental electronica act, with recent cassettes Subsirkus Sinus Lille Vega and Strobos Vann for the German Reue Um Reue label. We might be hearing a synthesis of both musical identities on the full-length album Love Symposium Alien Spider (BORING MACHINES), which uses drones, drum machines, heavily-processed weird vocals, and mesmerising doped-out guitar riffs to generate menacing spells and unpleasant impressions of bad trips, or something far worse.

Although some trappings of hippy-music are in evidence (fuzzed electric guitar, acoustic guitar strums, hypnotic drones), in essence 1997EV is an industrial / neofolk musician, origins which I think are detectable in the approach to song form and the construction of the recordings. Every song here is haunted by a terrible sense of things going badly wrong, of unwanted mental and physical experiences that cannot easily be escaped or reversed. In fact the very term “alien spider” seems an apt description of the aggressive effects of LSD, a drug which I gather is extremely invasive and unstoppable when it comes to colonising every part of your consciousness after you’re “dropped” a “tab”. I would liken it to an evil spider spinning its web across your defenceless mind.

1997EV have their origins in an earlier “scene” from Sardinia called Hermetic Brotherhood of Lux-Or, who ran a label called Trasponsonic for a few years, and were noted in 2014 by that self-proclaimed king of weirdness Julian Cope: “chaotic whirlpool of Italian bare-faced, bare-back devilry [which] inhabits the wild free realms of religion’s end” is how he described them approvingly. Given his increasingly loopy anti-authoritarian and libertarian agenda, this seems in keeping. The original Hermetic Brotherhood of Luxor was one of many shady 19th century occultist organisations, even preceding the Order of the Golden Dawn, although it’s far from clear what principles its adherents abided by. I’m surprised Simon Balestrazzi hasn’t immortalised them in sound yet, but perhaps he already has. The Trasponsonic label has left few identifiable traces unfortunately, and even their website domain has expired.

As to this unsettling and dark record, label press describe it as “surreal trance impro style onto subliminal free-pop-folk industrial structures”, if that linguistic pile of spaghetti means anything to you. By me, it’s an uncertain and incoherent release, whose central ideas are not well defined, but through design or accident its distressed and shimmering sound-surface does occasionally manage to unhinge the mind. From 31 December 2015.

All That Fall


Quite nice small-press CDR of noisy electronic Polish angst from Mazut, which is the duo of Paweł Starzec and Michał Turowski. They concocted the music on #1 (BDTA) working together in various basements in Warsaw, and from several hours of rehearsal tapes they arrived at the present edited and distilled hour’s worth of tracks…although we should also stress everything here is a live recording, without overdubs or post-production malarkey. They can produce a lively cluttered noise with a steady drum-machine beat as on ‘The Devil of Jasenovac’ and ‘YOGTZE – Fall’, both of which read like depressive anti-disco tunes; or gloomy sprawls of formless fog-like murk, such as ‘Tucker Telephone’ and ‘The Rat King’.

I expect this grim claustrophobic music isn’t probably much of an advance on any given industrial cassette-releasing obscure band of the 1980s, but it’s convincing and heartfelt; Mazut have a single-minded approach to their work which drives them to keep on pounding away at a single idea, even at the expense of hammering it even further into the ground whence they dug it up. The listener will be numbed into acquiescence rather than pleasantly mesmerised, but once anaesthetised you will be able to face the cruel buffets of life with renewed vigour. I expect this routine is pretty much what Starzec and Turowski go through themselves on a daily basis.

What’s interesting is how they were, at first, almost crippled by a musical form of writer’s block; although they founded the duo in 2013, the first two years weren’t spent making music, but holding conversations about what they should do. Apparently moving out of Wroclaw to Warsaw acted as a catalyst for them both, and for a short time before forming Mazut they both pursued solo projects as Centralia and Suchoty. One of their main inspirations, probably discussed during the period of creative block, was Skullflower (but which particular incarnation?), to the extent that they wanted to be a brutal live bass guitar and drumming band. Instead, they ended up using laptops, old radios, abandoned tapes, generators, toy synthesizers, old microphones, and what have you…insisting on working to a vaguely defined “old is good” aesthetic that allowed them to recycle whatever junk they could find, including old equipment and old tapes, and confining themselves to a “dingy basement in the city centre”.

For some reason I find this “please don’t bother, we’re not worth it” attitude of theirs quite appealing; their modesty even extends to the tentative way they offer this release to the world, 100 CDR and 20 tape copies only. From 31 December 2015.

Coiled Heart


Plaster’s Mainframe (KVITNU 43) is a competent enough collection of dark-ish Techno Noir music, played and assembled with care by Gianclaudio Hashem Moniri. This Rome-based experimental electronica act began in 2008 and has released two albums (Platforms and Zyprex 500) and one EP (Double Connection) for Kvitnu, plus assorted file-based single and EPs. “Complex and deep” is how the label describe these solemn processions through the night-life of Rome, while our unblinking eyes take in all sorts of unknown pleasures and terrors; the mood varies from languid threatening ambient tones heard at 4am in a seedy dive, to upbeat agitated dancefloor antics which are as likely as not to win you a dagger in your flanks. Aye, Moniri’s view of the modern world is rather cold and flashy, as empty as an airbrushed billboard hoarding, with no messy human feelings to get in the way; despite his attempts to take on board effects informed by dub mixing and contemporary beats, his music still ends up sounding like anonymous Euro-disco from the late 1970s. Plaster used to be a duo, but the other half of the act Giuseppe Carlini is currently on extended leave. It’s another sandpaper cover (we usually receive at least one every year), with silver paint printing and a die-cut window. From 9th November 2015.



Homogenized Terrestrials is Philip Klampe, a musician who has also been associated with the Amalgamated collective from Illinois, and indeed been represented on their Intangible Cat label with his solo efforts; in 2014 we noted The Contaminist and enjoyed its open-ended, floaty construction. As I recall that release had a fairly benign vibe and rewarded its listener with uplifting sensations, whereas today’s item Shadows Think Twice (AUBJECTS #6) carries a more unsettling, darker tone. With several non-natural distortions and eerie twists awaiting us around every corner, I feel like we’re being led down a corridor of crazy-house mirrors, to be fed a bowl of unappetising seafood (some contents of said bowl may still be alive) at the end.

Klampe doesn’t go for the all-out glorp-a-thon drip-drip effect that I associate with P.A.S. and Robert L. Pepper (see numerous past reviews), but he does succeed in building an alien bubble-dome all of his own, a Venusian vivarium which the listener can explore quite freely if donned in correct astro-suit – even at the risk of losing one’s way as we negotiate non-horizontal pathways and curvilinear joints. “Dreamy atmospheres and surreal explorations of unrecognized places and events”, is how the press release would have it. Klampe’s firm belief in impossible science and sheer fantasy is carried over into his track titles, many of which invent new words or extend familiar words through the addition or substitution of vowels; and then we have a title such as ‘Astral Projections of an irradiated Caterpillar’, which is a near-perfect encapsulation of everything he does, both in terms of its intellectual reach and its semi-familiar, magical-realist and slow-moving sound.

Imaginative and well-crafted unusual work, in an electro-acoustic mode; available in a luxurious 8-panel digipak. From 29 June 2015.

Grottes Profondes


Here’s another Disques Bloc Thyristors vinyl release in a sturdy gatefold package, abiding to an all-black colour scheme with a moody and disturbing cover illustration by Mika Pusse and titles picked out in embossed gold. This all-French team-up gives us the noisy bass player Kasper T. Topelitz, the drummer Jean-Noël Cognard, and the famed trumpeter / vocalist / King of underground French jazz, Jac Berrocal. The album Disséminés Ça Et Là… (DISQUES BLOC THYRISTORS VINYLE 0190 / trAce LABEL LP 41) captures them doing it one night in 2014 at a concert at La Chapelle in Evreux. That venue is dedicated to Saint Joseph, to whom I expect many patrons were soon praying, in hopes that they would get out alive. Yes, it’s a grisly album…

Maybe the black cover has the power of suggestion, but all the music feels like it’s taking place under a pitch black sky at midnight, or on a near-dark stage with minimal lighting. A dark and grim tone abounds. The mood is set by the opening track alone, which may be just four minutes of Topelitz soloing with his bass and electronic set-up; it’s a wild puke of nasty and ugly noise. I have endured this musician in a live situation before, and I recall the nausea induced by his heavily-amplified frequencies. He’s merciless…sucking all the air out of his room with his blocky, confrontational tones.

The bulk of the album though, as demonstrated on long tracks like ‘Lune Des Grottes Profondes’ and ‘Un Oiseau D’or Aux Ailes Déployées’, shows the threesome playing together in a free-form display of hard-to-pigeonhole music, a queasy mixture of improvisation, noise, punk rock, free jazz and generally formless blathering. The trio do cohere on occasion, but there’s also a lot of negative energy swilling about the stage; you feel that the mud is rising up to their ankles. Berrocal defaults to feeding his every trumpet blast through an echoplex, so one can’t help thinking of electric Miles (Dark Magus would make a great alternative title to this album), but there’s no funk, syncopation or verve on offer from the rhythm section, mostly just evil brooding and aggressive nihilism. A lot of that scuzziness might be down to Topelitz, who has a strong taste for distortion and fuzz. Even the drummer Cognard has put aside his joyful jazz-rock fusion style of playing, and is often heard delivering angry hammer-blows for drumbeats, punishing his snares and toms brutally. I’ve never commented on how close his surname is to “cogneur”, literally “one who hits”; it seems a highly appropriate soubriquet today.


Perhaps the most telling moment here is on side two, where the trio attempt a version of the underground “hit song” ‘Rock’n Roll Station’, which Berrocal made famous with Vince Taylor under the auspices of Nurse With Wound. The original song from 1976 is strange enough, but at least those involved appeared to be having some sort of bizarre fun. Here, the live version is not only desolate and haunted, but also lacking in a steady rhythm or identifiable tune; the dial has been seriously tuned very far away from the original rock’n’ roll station. Berrocal, improvising surreal stream-of-consciousness verbals on stage, seems to be trying to rid himself of the albatross, as surely as John Lydon in PiL. Am I imagining things, or does he mumble “snuff movies” here a couple of times? A ghostly revisioning of a revenant that won’t go away…it’s reassuring that Berrocal refuses to pander to nostalgia, and is as anti-showbiz as you could wish for.

Though sprawling and slightly incoherent, there are moments of grisly punchiness and juicy nihilism that make this a worthwhile purchase…from 23 April 2015.

See here for a better idea of how the front cover is supposed to look; I’ve not been able to successfully photograph the gold embossed lettering the at the top.

X In Circle


Here’s Edvard Graham Lewis from Wire and Dome appearing as one half of HOX, impressively maintaining a very high standard of alienated, unsettling avant-pop music after all this time…he’s doing it with Swedish musician and sound designer Andreas Karperyd, who is famed for a few albums of ambient-industrial music he made as Omala with Mattias Tegnér, in the later 1980s and early 1990s.

At first spin, the nine songs on Duke Of York (EDITIONS MEGO 214) might pass for some species of Cold Wave of darkish electropop, in some ways updating Wire’s guitar sound with sequencers and synths, and at the same time holding on to an evanescent vision of late-1970s and early-1980s electronic angst…and whose chumbering rhythms and mannered vocals are sure to please fans of Tuxedomoon. But there’s something stranger and almost indigestible wriggling under the surface here, which is hard to define…it may have something to do with the vocal delivery, tonelessly uttering its mysterious and allusive lyrics with the resigned air of an exiled man who has seen too much…yet there’s also an insistence to the singing that proves rather discomfiting, causing the listener to squirm in one’s chair.

What makes it odder is the chilling clarity with which each song is presented, with not a single detail fluffed, blurred or disguised under studio effects or ambient murk. Instead each synthesized note stands out with the strength of a stainless steel stamper in the printshop of the damned, ready to imprint its grim message on your forehead. One might almost be hearing a corrupted, long-lost brother of Kraftwerk…but instead of the hopeful messages of a neon-lit future where machines are doing all the work, HOX present a skewed world-view where many things have gone badly wrong, there’s a ravenous hunger in every man’s tone, and survival is tenuous at best. Whatever pleasure we may derive from the quasi-funky rhythms and upbeat tempo of a song is soon undercut by this menacing lurking shadow.

Impressive…this isn’t the first time Lewis and Karperyd have worked together, nor is it the very first Hox album (see 1999’s It-Ness). I’ve got a feeling it’s mostly the work of Lewis (he certainly provided the lyrics, and probably the singing) with Karperyd handling the production and sonic presentation. From November 2015.

Metanous Men


We’ve heard the Polish percussion group HATI a few times now, and their core personnel seems a little hard to pin down…I’ve usually assumed the core duo is Rafal Iwanski and Rafal Kolacki, but they were joined by Slawek Ciesielski for 2013’s Wild Temple, and on Zero Coma Zero it was Darek Wojtas who played with Iwanski. On Metanous (ZOHARUM ZOHAR 105-2), be prepared for yet more confusion as both the Rafals are joined by another player, the droning man Robert Darowski. For clarity’s sake, the label does make it clear this is a “snapshot” of a certain period, 2011-2012, when HATI played as a trio, and we are warned they will never “return in such a configuration again”.

Which might be something of a loss, because it’s clear Darowski added a lot to the bare bones proposal of HATI’s slow drumming and percussion music with his didgeridoos, rain sticks, clap sticks, windwands and PVC pipes. His acoustic dronings add a much-needed humanistic element to this otherwise rather cold music; you can hear Robert’s breath, lips, and breathing patterns embedded in the fabric of the music, which is about as close as the trio will get to have a vocalist or human voice in the equation (which isn’t to say I hope they will consider using chants or choirs or humming – Heaven forbid). Robert Darowski’s efforts also seem to spur the drumming half of the act towards greater accomplishments, and on occasion the music picks up a certain momentum and has more fire in its bones.

To be totally accurate, the drummers also play droning devices – e.g. conch shell, wooden horn, flutes, pipes, etc. – but I will still claim Darowski’s additions are valuable to this specific release. The music remains solemn and dark, though, as most of HATI’s music tends to be for this listener; it leans towards the pseudo-ethnic on its surface, and though one always reaches for words like “ritualistic” and “ceremonial” to describe their earnest tones, the music itself remains non-specific as to what moods, rites, or meanings are invoked. The photographs adorning this six-panel digipak are close-up shots of instruments (cymbals, horns, percussion instruments) that shade into abstract art, further reinforcing this notion of non-specificity. From 15th October 2015.

Mouth and Chance


Here’s a split release (V003) on Ventil Records showcasing a couple of young Viennese avant-techno artistes, Asfast and Kutin…there’s a limited run (200 copies) on vinyl and a limited edition artwork package designed by Eiko Groschl, emphasising the blackness of it all…despite their young years, both these guys take a fairly bleak outlook on life, if these minimal emptied-out statements are indicators of anything.

Asfast is Leon Leder…after a couple of file-only web releases in 2010 and 2013, this is his third known appearance. What he’s doing bears little resemblance to dancefloor music (not that I would really know), though you can just about trace his evolution up from the minimal glitch-antics of the Mego label of 15 years ago. Actually what ends up on the grooves is like a negative image of Tangerine Dream, a slightly threatening Kosmische drone in layers packed with unexpected shifts, and pushed along by a weedy, pulsating beat that barely registers on the hospital monitor. Occasionally these layers coalesce into a chaotic noise-affair, but the beginning and end of this journey is far from clear. I feel like I’ve been kidnapped, blindfolded, and pushed into the boot of a car. “High precision and prominence” are the buzzwords from the press release, along with “maximum efficiency and power”. Is this a press note, or a job application for a chief engineer with an industrial plant?

Kutin is Peter Kutin, whose discography is somewhat more substantial, including releases on Valeot and Karate Joe…he even did a field recording job for the “Soundscape” series in Gruenrekorder’s catalogue, plus he appeared on the second release from Ventil, a double LP showcase called Decomposition I-III. Not much respite from the general “grimness” in his claustrophobic tracks of minimal electronic grind…his opener ‘How To Inhale Water’ is every bit as threatening as it might appear from that title. I’ve now been released from the trunk of the car, but I’ve been thrown into the Wien. The slow rise-and-fall structure of Kutin’s sounds here are a cruel mockery of my attempts to stay alive as I gasp for breath. ‘CMYK’ is another instance of inverted kosmische music, like Cluster replayed in slow motion and printed on reverse negative stock. There’s a dance beat buried in here somewhere, but it’s more like the hung-over memory of a night out on the tiles (not that I would really know). ‘Quodlibet’ is a tad more upbeat and feels out of place in this stern company, and indeed seems like an odd way to end the album…rhythms and beats of a sort are fed through umpteen filters and rendered into a queasy mess, with random voices and noise thrown on top. It’s like struggling out into cold daylight after the general nocturnal, enclosed feel of this album. Perhaps I escaped my kidnapping ordeal alive. (From 23 October 2015).

The Triumph of Ruin: a solid and earnest effort in post-apocalyptic funereal doom

The Howling Void, The Triumph of Ruin, Avantgarde Music (2016)

The Howling Void … now here’s a good name for a band in a metal genre that admits music of an epic nature with plenty of atmosphere. Though I would have imagined it most suitable for a noisy black metal band beavering away in the crowded dark and depressive sub-genre.

“The Triumph of Ruin” is a solid and earnest effort, maybe too solemn at times, and that in itself is a problem. I understand that THV is primarily a funereal doom band but on a recording like this that meditates on a post-apocalyptic world ruined by human stupidity and violence, there should be more than just sorrow and passive resignation at the silence that will soon reign over the Earth. There could (and maybe should) be rage that we are too short-sighted and selfish to recognise that we are ruining the planet and its ecosystems. There could and should be despair that we know the planet’s systems are collapsing yet we party on as if everything’s going to be fine and the planet can take care of itself. Instead we have a recording where the dominant mood seems to be submissive and subdued, and where instead of energy, determination and emotion we get instead lethargy and blankness.

Most tracks cruise along at glacial or thawing-out speeds and with the music being so hard-edged and heavy in sound, the album can be something of a lumbering test in patience and forbearance. In most tracks there are only a few lines of whispery lyrics so they can virtually be considered instrumental. I wish there could be at least one track different from the others in mood, ambience and structure that I could recommend but unfortunately there isn’t very much to distinguish among all six tracks.

On a strict technical level the standard of musicianship is consistent but the vocals are either too distant or too bland to complement the music. Music that is as heavy as this calls for a vocal style that has some substance or body to it, that listeners can believe is capable of expressing a range of emotions beyond listlessness.

I really can’t recommend this album to most TSP followers unless you crave this style of music