Tagged: dark

Oh What An Atmosphaera!

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Troum & Raison D’Être
De Aeris In Sublunaria Influxu
BRAZIL ESSENCE MUSIC ESS024 CD (2015)

The press release for this meeting of German and Swedish drone overlords poses a rather touching rhetorical question; “ever wondered how a mix of Troum and raison d’être would sound like?” Well, not really, if I’m honest. But maybe I should wonder about these things. The artists are well-regarded in their field, and the music they make together isn’t bad at all.

What we have here, then, is a handsome CD package containing seven tracks of the deepest, darkest ambience. The Latin titles – “Alio Tempore”, “Oculum Mundi”, “Flammae” and so on – get my vote, suggesting as they do arcane alchemical operations or Goetic incantations. Actually, the album title has a fairly prosaic origin, since it appears to be taken from a 17th century medical treatise by Johannes Bohn. It still sounds enticingly mysterious, though.

There are enticingly mysterious qualities in the music itself, which unfolds at a geological pace, perhaps reflecting the fact that the record took four years to make. The vibe is generally heavy and cthonic, if I can get away with using that word, successfully evoking the solid elemental realm “under the moon”. Drones build, sheets of sound coalesce and reverberate, a crackle-glaze of noise is laid over the top to provide a tiny bit of light against all the shade. Admittedly there’s not much to distinguish one track from another, but that’s ambient music for you, I guess.

On the whole, this ticks most of my boxes for this type of venture, taking my head into another space for a while and altering the flow of time to some degree. Music for chymical weddings and subterranean chill-out rooms.

Christ Clad in White Phosphorus: not just another tour-de-force album by Caïna

Caïna, Christ Clad in White Phosphorus, Apocalyptic Witchcraft Recordings, digipak CD APW011 (2016)

Since reforming in 2012, Caïna continues to do no wrong from this listener’s viewpoint as it evolves from Andrew Curtis-Bicknell’s solo project  to a three-member band and the music shifting from black metal / post-BM to a black metal mixed with industrial, dark ambient, noise electronics and 80s-styled darkwave / synth-pop influences. In my little world at least, every new album release from Caïna is an event not to be missed.  Listening to Caïna’s recordings isn’t easy and most of them can be very hard-going, and not just because they can be long or because they can be so unpredictable. There is much emotional pain revealed that can resonate with dark moments in most people’s lives and a listener would have to be either dead, comatose or sociopathic not to be affected by moments in Caïna’s albums to the point of tears.

From the hellish industrial nightmare ambience created by opener “Oildrenched and Geartorn” through intense raw garage black metal filled with rage and a desire to destroy everything within hearing range in tracks like “Fumes of God” and “Entartete Kunst”; doomier and darker melodic pop-song tracks like “Gazing on the Quantum Megalith” and “God’s Tongue as an Ashtray”; the noise / dark ambient soundscapes of “The Throat of the World” … the sonic universe that arises is incredibly vast and varied yet it all crackles with energy and a malevolent spirit. If anything, there might be too much going on here (for a 53-minute album) with Caïna jumping from one style of music to another through songs that are often just 4 – 6 minutes which may not be enough time for many listeners to fully savour the sounds, the emotions, the fury and intensity of one song before they are hurled into another.

Just when you think Caïna has gone past the halfway mark and can do no more, the band goes to another level with pieces like the fusion dark ambient / jazz of “Pillars of Salt” and the harsh blizzard 90s-Norwegian styled black metal of “The Promise of Youth”. These send us to the unreal blinding-white dazzle ambient world of static and white sizzle noise that is “Extraordinary Grace”. Have we all died and gone to Heaven to meet our maker and hear the judgement to be pronounced upon us? In an album already jam-packed with experimentation and investigations into angst and melancholy, this near-psychedelic track, lasting for 12 minutes, is an astounding discovery, the proverbial diamond in a heap of black coal. This quartet of songs ends with the title track which with clean vocals, shrill guitar melodies and pulsing synth accompaniment, sounds like a noisy black metal reworking of a 1980s Goth synth-pop song.

For a band that at one point in its past almost did away with black metal completely, Caïna commit themselves to the black art with the force and aggression that comes from being fully invigorated with the music again. Perhaps bringing on board guest vocalists on previous album “Settler of Unseen Snares” and a permanent vocalist and another musician has inspired AC-B anew. Caïna’s sound is fuller, more blood-red raw and intense than I remember from earlier recordings.

Coupled with excellent production, this album presents a reborn Caïna that is at once experimental and at the same time surprisingly accessible with songs possessed of catchy tunes and beats, all arranged in a way that shorter, more conventionally oriented BM tracks (well, relatively speaking of course – we’re talking about an act whose work has always spanned several genres) come first before the more surreal pieces. It can be a lot to take in and several songs are very uncompromising in their aggression and intense delivery. This is an album that repays repeated hearings: with each spin, you may find your darkest fears and vulnerabilities exposed anew.

At this point, if Caïna never do anything else again, the band will be leaving behind a legacy of great if not always perfect albums. I rate Caïna among Britain’s greatest rock music exports, and that is really saying something even now with so much British pop and rock music in apparent decline.

Roll Up for the Ghost Train

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Last noted Swedish electro-acoustic composer Åke Parmerud of Göteborg with his Growl collection, an album which appealed to some of my darker leanings. Any curious listeners who enjoyed that item may wish to lean a lug in the direction of Nécropolis (empreintes DIGITALes IMED 16137), his new release offering four more pieces which this time around are themed mostly on sleep, dreams, and ghostly voices, including perhaps the voices of the dead. Well, actually very little of that is true, but a mind like mine is disposed to seek out dark themes wherever I can find them. At least the cover art is vaguely nightmarish, depicting a shrieking or grinning skull-faced demon of a supernatural caste. Mind you, you can see scarier images any night of the week on the Horror Channel.

His ‘Dreaming In Darkness’ from 2005 is one of those classic electro-acoustic pieces that slam together different timbres and tones to create strong aural contrasts and a sense of continual forward movement, a movement which comes to a sudden stop with each timbral shift. The piece mostly swims in an unreal fantasy zone, apart from those moments when “real-world” recordings seep in, mostly playing a sound-effect role in this radiophonic drama – footsteps on wooden floorboards, church bells, and doors slamming. The piece almost tells a story and evokes sensations of sleep-walking and delirious consciousness. It’s based on the idea of what a blind person might dream about, and the move “from representative sounds to the more abstract and musical material” in this piece is wholly planned and composed. It began life as a collaboration with Natasha Barrett 1, whose work may still leave residual traces on the finished item.

‘ReVoiced’ from 2009 isn’t really anything to do with these oneiric themes, but it certainly does create a surreal effect. Composers of this ilk love to do treatments on the human voice (it is quite a familiar trope in this field, ever since the 1960s, I make bold to claim) and take spoken words out of context. Parmerud began this piece in 1992 when he conducted a world tour and recorded as many voices as he could from all over the globe, mixing them together in an almighty wodge called ‘Grains Of Voices’. Perhaps he was looking for commonality in the scattered elements of the human race, trying to solve problems which the United Nations cannot. However, not all the recordings made it into the composition, so the left-over segments have been recycled into ‘ReVoiced’. Aboriginals, folks singers and shamans all join in this virtual choir; the entire geography of the world from North to South is represented. I don’t suppose Parmerud was looking for the same things an ethno-musicologist or folk song collector would seek, nor does he strive to represent the original context accurately, but he does weave a powerful magical-realist episode from these sources.

I was hoping for a more supernatural undercurrent to ‘Necropolis – City of the Dead’ from 2011, but it turns out to be a cut-up piece of orchestral stuff, sourced from recordings of famous classical music pieces. Parmerud bolsters his idea by writing a short blurb which casts him as a fictional tour guide or carnival barker, showing tourists around imaginary catacombs where they will see and hear the ghosts of music past, warning us that they are in a state of “decomposition”. Groan, at that pun. Yes, I’ve heard that joke about Beethoven in his grave too. Actually this can be quite thrilling if you experience it as a ghost-train ride through a selective history of classical music, but the technique is not an original one, and listeners of a less conventional leaning are bound to find more satisfaction in the layerings and juxtapositions that People Like Us does so well, with her plundering and subversion of the history of pop music. Parmerud, by contrast, is just a shade too respectful to his sources and the culture of the “great composers of the past”, thus unable to produce anything more than a polite and rather literal-minded collage of sound; like hearing 200 radio sets all tuned to Classic FM at once. From 10th March 2016.

  1. British composer based in Norway; her Peat + Polymer is reviewed here.

Song from a Black House

Promotional image from label website
Promotional image from label website

We’ve got a lot of time for Paul Baran, the modern composer whose work has always posed challenging questions about contemporary society (especially UK society), a verdict which rests on two great releases for the Swedish label Fangbomb – Panoptic (2009) and The Other (2014). Now here he is as one half of The Cray Twins, performing with Gordon Kennedy, the fellow who contributed much to both the above albums (credited with drum programming, though I’m sure it goes much deeper than that). The Pier (FANGBOMB FB025) is ten pieces of highly ambiguous dark ambient music, unleashed to varying degrees of intensity – pitched to raise just the right degree of alarm, tension, or just plain existential doubt in the listener. On first spin, I’d have to say it’s far less varied than Baran’s previous work, and surface interventions such as found sounds and voices are far less noticeable (though they are in evidence). It’s also slightly less distinctive, more anonymised, perhaps on purpose. The delight in subverting the mechanics of composition so apparent in the previous works is conspicuously absent here. The music just blends seamlessly, with near-blank swathes of sounds just hanging there in an expressionless fashion, almost defying the listener to make sense of them.

Both Panoptic and The Other exhibited a heavy dependency on the work of other musicians, contributions which would then be subjected to near-ruthless reprocessing and cutting up, as Baran did his best to stamp his own identity and agenda on the original performances, diverting their directions in his favour, co-opting the sounds, colonising the work. To some extent The Cray Twins do similar, in that a number of collaborators are embedded in the fabric of The Pier, including the avant-saxophonist Lucio Capece; Gerry Kelly, with his field recordings; the voice of Nicky Miller; the clarinet of Tuomas Ollikainen; the saxophone of Ken Vandermark. That he is credited with playing a ‘mutant saxophone’ on his track may clue you in to the vaguely disturbing and radical nature of Cray Twins’ work. BJ Nilsen also appears, remixing one track. Jos Smolders contributes further field recordings on another. Yet somehow, none of these individual voices are allowed to stand out in any way; the album remains all of a piece, posing one dark riddle after another, shaking its head sadly at the state of the world.

The Pier is something to do with going out too far, with attempting to reach the edge of the world and sailing off into the void. Baran and Kennedy propose to probe the “limit of human extent” and find the sweet spot beyond which “space opens up to the unknown, the unheard”. I’d imagine they have spent a long time in the studio working with various elaborate set-ups, which probably involve computers, cables, microphones, recording devices; a long chain of dependencies. They now believe that these “audio systems” they work with are equivalent to human systems, a challenging view which is vaguely alluded to in the press notes. I’d love to know more about what they mean. Any person’s life today is also a long chain of dependencies. But some of them are good dependencies; friends, family, the community, work, play, art. Perhaps Cray Twins are interested in other “systems”, including political and economic circumstances, which tend to involve dark forces and larger unknowns, operating well beyond our control. I am speculating now, but having interviewed Baran by email I have some inkling of his predispositions. If The Pier is indeed setting out to find the weak links, the point at which these systems begin to break down, that is a very intriguing proposition. That aim may not always be fully realised by the doomy abstract music on offer here, but it has resulted in a suitable soundtrack for the questing brain to ponder such imponderables.

I like the subtly disquieting cover photograph. It seems to show the contents of a house (including the kitchen sink) leaking out into the garden, a space which is so open it’s becoming the entire countryside. And there’s an odd visual glitch in the middle of the image, a reflection of something in glass that should not be there by rights. It could almost be a lost still from Tarkovsky’s Mirror. Or a very English take on the back cover image of Trout Mask Replica. From 24th March 2016.

Hurricane Fighter Plane

GOD32-monos

Austrian multi-media performer Opcion might be Nikos Zachariadis, who has previously traded his brand of harsh techno-inflected noises as Ab-Hinc and Canc. Finding a lot to get my teeth into on his vinyl slab Monos/Und (GOD RECORDS GOD32), his full-length debut performing as Opcion, following a couple of short tracks he threw onto the Schiizo Box compilation for Rock Is Hell records in 2014.

On the A side of this platter, he treats us to three solo bursts called simply ‘Monos’ 1-3, exhibiting various aspects of his grim, pared-down and frowny approach to dark ambient electronic noise, sometimes punching home his abstracted messages with nasty fuzzed-up beats and mind-numbing loops. ‘Monos 2’ is the most successful instance here, delivered with a near-merciless approach that will mangle the nerves of any sensitive listener; plenty of razor-sharp tension and dread in every disquieting second of noise. Throughout, it’s interesting to note Opcion’s refusal of conventional structure, and he attempts to break as many rules as possible about form and progression in the space of five minutes.

The B side contains the fruit of his collaborations with three European musicians, duets with Maja Osojnik, Bernhard Loibner and Kurt Bauer. One assumes they improvised together at some point, but it’s hard to tell from the finished works which have been severely distressed, processed, and re-edited to a radical degree. Maja Osojnik recently released the astonishing Let Them Grow, and her versatility with instruments and sound is stretched to the limit on ‘N MO’. Over five minutes of lurching and straining ugliness, driven into a schizophrenic state by Opcion’s over-zealous editing.

Bernhard Loibner’s electric bass is mutated into an alien presence on ‘N BL’, where once again the reconstruction process has been designed for extreme dynamics and maximum shock value, by turns soothing the listener with sweet drones and pummelling us with animalistic roars and heavy poundage to the chest. Kurt Bauer’s violin is likewise twisted beyond any recognisable form on ‘N KB’, demonstrating that the trend of Opcion’s remix strategy leans towards the production of strange and unnatural sounds, with no attempt to realistically capture the voice of any given instrument.

In all these collaborations, Opcion aims for heart-stopping shifts in timbre and tone; it’s as if he’s afraid we’ll fall asleep if he doesn’t activate 18 fire alarms every ten seconds. This guy must be a riot at cocktail parties. To further indicate his aggressive intentions, the sleeve art is decked out with images of fighter planes silhouetted against an uncertain monochrome sky; the planes themselves are cut-outs, visual “samples” if you will, forewarning the purchaser of Opcion’s method and intentions. Very good. From 1st February 2016.

Disabled By Fears

In February this year we noted a couple of CDRs from Emanuele Lago, a highly prolific Italian fellow who makes dark ambient electronic music under numerous aliases, some of it following a supernatural bent, and publishes it on his own Psychotic Release imprint. On 2nd March 2016 he sent three more instances of his craft.

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As Ghastly Marshes, he made Ancient Spirits Of The Fen (PRCD20) around the winter of 2015-2016, aided by the visual skills of D. Finley (Invercauld), who provided the front cover image of stark fenland trees lit up in ghostly white against an uncertain night sky. With titles referring to ghosts, fog, witches, spirits, tears, anxiety and solitude, the listener can be sure of a highly atmospheric sojourn in a spooked-out zone for 60 minutes. Indeed the 15 titles are so elaborate they pretty much tell a story, chapter headings to a chilling ghost story where we can feel ourselves being pursued through inescapable woods by unknown supernatural agents. The sound of Ghastly Marshes is not especially inventive, but I do like the open-ended nature of these ghostly tones which refuse to resolve into recognisable musical chords or tunes, and simply murmur with a mixture of sighs, moans, and eerie winds passing gently through the branches overhead. Ancient Spirits Of The Fen may appear understated and samey, but there is a lot of information and detail packed into these evocative grooves. This is his second release under this name after 2014’s Shallafrost Course And Other Tales, which also appeared on cassette.

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As Kurai Keshiki, Lago’s plan is to work with urban field recordings to produce supernatural ambient vibes, as noted on the earlier Mozaiku. In like manner, Senseeshon (PRCD19) is based on “samples and field recordings taken during real life – home, job and small travels”; there is some electronic processing, but not much, and the discipline here is to keep himself away from the keyboards, synths, and computers, in order to extract the underlying qualities of mystery and sorrow he craves from these mundane aural snapshots. Another understated release, but the nuances of light and shade are quite different to those on Ancient Spirits, and the work is filled with mysterious silences and gaps punctuating equally mysterious events. Real life is subtly transformed into a slow-moving dream, and as we listen we’re walking over pavements and roads like a ghost inhabiting a deserted shopping mall. Unlike the work of “serious” phonographers who have political and social agendas and are quick to point out the ground truths of the places in which they set up their microphones, Kurai Keshiki makes no claims to objectivity at all; the work represents Emanuele Lago’s highly personal (and somewhat introverted) take on his surroundings. As such, I like it just fine.

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Black Mountains Chronicles was another mantle adopted by Lago, I think as a follow-up to his Tombstone alias; the intention here is to mix ambient with industrial sounds, and explore dark gothic horror themes. My Lolly: Or, The Shadow Of Her Former Self (PRCD18) is dedicated to the memory of a black cat, and right away you may think that Lago wishes to project the image of himself as a warlock with his familiar rather than a sentimental animal lover. I’m not sure if it’s as simple as that however, as the printed dedication reads “In loving memory of Lolly” and the titles make many references to the theme of rebirth and revenants, as if by making this music he was weaving a spell which could bring his beloved pet back from the dead. If this interpretation is halfway right, the record represents a compelling set of dark magick rituals mixed with more wholesome and down-to-earth emotions, so that the listener is halfway to being frightened to death by these stern ambient tones while simultaneously welcoming the brief apparitions of the cat; Lolly’s voice, I think, surfaces as a brief sample on at least one track, though its plaintive mew is more like a strange bark, and one imagines the poor creature is much puzzled by its passage through the afterlife. In all, the depressing ambient drizzle here will do much to dampen your enthusiastic mood, yet the clouds are sometimes shot through with glimpses of hope, and there are occasional skewed perspectives showing vistas of the world beyond.

No website; to buy these, email rerechan@alice.it

The Owls Are Not What They Seem

owl rave

Owl Rave’s self-titled LP (INTERSTELLAR RECORDS INT 038) is a set of ambient mood music and slow atmospheric songs, attempting to aspire to the condition of a soundtrack LP. It’s inspired by the David Lynch / Mark Frost TV production, Twin Peaks.

The main creator here is Gregor Huber, an Austrian drum’n’bass DJ by trade from Innsbruck, who occasionally performs as DJ Ego and as a member of Todesstern with his friend Markus Dolp; the Innsbruck scene is probably well represented on the 2011 double LP 20 Years // 20 Songs – Workstation To Workstation, which may contain an intriguing mix of garage rock and avant-garde beats. Huber is aided here by Markus Dolp (see above) on vocals, plus Antonia Steiner who was the singer with The Shirley MacLaines. The other important aspect is the visual work of Anna Ladinig; she did the cover art, but also the photographs and video elements which make Owl Rave a multi-media statement, presumably when performed live.

One is understandably cautious of any artiste claiming inspiration from the films of David Lynch; the adjective “Lynchian” has become over-used in media commentary, and in too many cases the word is lazy journalistic shorthand for anything remotely dark or taboo in its themes. But I’ll give Gregor Huber some credit here, because he’s clearly gone some way into occupying the Twin Peaks territory in a deep and personal way. The imagery and narratives of the TV series, and also the music of Angelo Badalementi, have clearly colonised his consciousness; in these weird fractured songs and this strange droney music, he is living it out, acting the roles, performing the music.

Owl Rave may not advance the ideas of Twin Peaks any further than the original, nor does it represent the work of Lynch / Frost / Badalamenti directly; but it is a strikingly personal work inspired by these sources and taken down its own twisted path of nightmarish despair. Apparently it was driven by Huber’s need to calm himself down in some way, perhaps an antidote to what I assume is the hectic life of a DJ. Released December 2015, we got a copy on 26th February 2016.

The Terrible Comet Salt

Regolith

Four sides of claustrophobic electronic doom-drone from Austria by Regolith, on their double LP I (ROCK IS HELL RECORDS RIP67). When I first encountered this dismal monster I thought it might be coming from the direction of heavily amplified drone rock and have some tangential connections to stoner, doom and death metal. But the team of Christian Zollner and Richie Herbst clutch no guitars in their gnarled fists, and instead do it all with synthesizers and effects, especially the reverb effect, and it may make more sense to align them with The Skull Defekts from Sweden, whose brand of crunchy analogue noise is likewise most addictive if you want a colder, European version of the Wolf Eyes thing.

Regolith don’t have much of a long musical history, although Herbst has played with Fs Massaker Trio, allegedly playing some form of dangerous and anarchic free jazz crossed with confrontational noise, and is connected with the Austrian label Interstellar Records. Regolith have previously dipped their monstrous toes in the swampy lagoon of noise on various split releases on cassette and CD with Kern Quehenberger, Stephan Roiss, and others, but it’s clear that I is intended as a monumental statement of their intentions and craft. The four long tracks have titles such as ‘Platinum’, ‘Comet Tails’ and ‘Star Trails’, denoting a firm commitment to the immutable power of elemental metals, and likening their music to a fatal sojourn in outer space. Neither concept is remotely original. But you’ve got to respect Regolith’s pessimistic take on the outer space thing. They clearly see the cosmos as a dark, cold and lonely zone, from which there is no escape; they anticipate being sealed in a coffin and doomed to orbit the galaxies forever.

Their noise is painfully slow, and development is painfully gradual; but by the ten-minute mark on each of these beasts, you’ll be impressed and horrified at the degree of harrowing pain and creeping menace that has been invoked, putting you in fear of your very life. The total mummification of your mind, body and spirit is Regolith’s plan, bringing you to a point of complete paralysis through a combination of noise and despair. Pretty intense…from 26 February 2016.

The Secret Soul

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I never really heard much from Étant Donnés when they were around in the 1980s and 1990s, apart from perhaps the occasional compilation track, but main man Marc Hurtado has come our way before when he teamed up with Vomir to produce 2011 – a powerful sonic event where Marc really had to shout at the top of his French lungs to make himself understood over the ferocious roar of the Vomster. Given other collaborations of Étant Donnés with Lydia Lunch, Genesis P.Orridge, Michael Gira and Alan Vega, it makes perfect sense that he should team up with Z’EV, that notable exponent of cabbalism, percussion, voice experiments and general controlled mayhem, and their collaboration has resulted in Sang (MONOTYPE RECORDS MONO101).

Both Hurtado and Z’EV are important figures which we can safely say have transcended the so-called “Industrial” genre, and as living breathing entities continue to create unclassifiable music and sound on their own terms. Sang is probably more than just a record, but an integrated artistic statement where the poetry and images of Hurtado form an integral part of the package, communicating in multiple directions. Sang is also a much less noisy proposition than 2011, and Hurtado emits his cryptic, compressed utterances in more of a forced whisper, croaking stark messages out from between parched and cracked lips, like a holy man who’s been out in the sun for 30 days. No defiant hurlements against the cruelty of the world, but a lost and lonely resignation inhabits his voice.

Z’EV’s percussion work is quiet, understated – but still equipped with a steely core of resilience, adding just the right degree of semi-apocalyptic menace to each cut. Hurtado – credited with “instruments” – adds equally minimal interventions using perhaps keyboards, electronics, or any handy method to billow forth clouds of abstract moodiness and uncertainty. In just 15 minutes, the listener will be lost in a fog of existential doubt, with only a few half-understood spoken phrases to use as a compass. Hurtado understands the power of simplicity in his words, that’s for sure…that and the power of repetition. Each piece could be an amalgam of French intellectual philosophy by Debord and Deleuze, pre-surrealist decadence from Baudelaire and Mallarme, the cinema of Jean Cocteau, sound poetry by Henri Chopin, plus the faintest trace of rock and roll sleaze filtered through the bare and bleeding torso of Alan Vega.

Marc and Z’EV never met up for this sonic enigma, but recorded their respective parts in France and London, allowing Hurtado to do the final assembly in his Fire Music Studio. A terrifying red and black exploration into the lower depths of human subconscious…From 21st January 2016.