Tagged: dark

Planet Echo

Rara
W//\TR
POLAND ZOHARUM ZOHAR 125-2 CD (2016)

Formerly known as Przed Państwem Rara, Poland’s now-truncated Rara are a trio who purvey (apologies in advance) a kind of ambient folktronica (sorry again) that weaves acoustic guitar, percussion and low-key electronic textures into moody dreamscapes – both oneiric and nightmarish – which are well-suited to the gothic whims of the Zoharum label. While their new album, W//\TR, is generally warmer and more emotive than the black metal ambience hinted at by the cover, the 10-minute opener ‘Echo Planety’ leaves us little the wiser. This, the longest of the otherwise intermezzo instrumentals, is a runway taxi of echo pedal-drenched shoegaze guitar with all the glory of the first yawning in millennia of dawn light across a distant moon. It’s a fine scene-setter for the epic theatrics that subsequently emerge from subterranean strata of crisp, ornate finger-picking, bubbling synths and deep, droney undercurrents that add drama to ambivalent chord progressions.

While much of this is to seemingly simple pastoral effect, Rara also know how to throw a ‘country’ shape or two, whether it’s affecting the slow southern drawl and wild west mise en scene of Angels of Light’s no country for old men (‘Gen Planety’) or the more rustic charms of a fair-voiced maiden (one Kuba Ziolek) singing to the night (‘Przynieś To Z Nocy’). All nice enough, though there are unsettling anomalies like the risible electro-goth segue halfway through ‘Pasaźerowie Wiatru’ or the moist male whispers that follow a plangent guitar into the ear canal in ‘Szepty W Głowie Elly Brand’. Mood killers both.

There is ear-balm aplenty however: ambient interludes that provide recovery time, and the more soothing female voice that dovetails with itchy guitar lines, recalling some of Stine Grytøyr’s plaintive contributions to Ulver’s Marriage of Heaven & Hell. In fact, W//\TR shares a good deal of that album’s mannered and musically omnivorous gothicism: primal undercurrents of tethered frustration beneath ornamented structures (and the odd power-chord pyramid), suggestive of a reservoir of archetypal power that gives form to all physical appearances. Some might find W//\TR‘s stylistic shifting a tough swallow, but Rara’s musical blending is an accomplished one, lending W//\TR a sense of fractured identity well-suited to their recent change of name.

Sleep No More

The album II: Music For Film And Theatre (DEKORDER 081) is credited to Felix Kubin Und das Mineralorchester. The bulk of the record is Macbeth – or a remix of Kubin’s soundtrack for a Polish theatre piece, directed in 2010 by Robert Florczak. 11 tracks of quirky instrumentalness, darkness, and black humour result, all played by Felix’s “virtual” orchestra, which may mean he plays all the parts himself.

Far from Felix’s usual happy self, this is attempting to be alarming, grim, music, often very suggestive of the doom and chaotic fate that Macbeth leads himself into. ‘Wojna’ is highly charged, atmospheric ambient doom music. ‘Hexen’ is likewise unsettling, using backwards tapes to suggest the supernatural eeriness of the witches. I have no idea why this piece turns into a disco tune though. ‘Banquo’ is another good example of dramatic “scary music”, delivered in a more conventional manner.

Although all-electronic, the music feels old-fashioned somehow, and could almost have come from a mid-1960s experimental film or a Svankmajer animation. The terse semi-whispered voices of actresses and actors add compelling tension. However, it’s also witty and zany to use Nintendo game effects to illustrate Macbeth’s defeat on ‘Game Over’. ‘Menuett I’ is more like the Kubin we know and love, showing his Schubert prowess on what amounts to an electric harpsichord.

The next major piece included is ‘Somnambule’, for an animation film of this name made by Anke Feuchtenberger, a German illustrator from East Berlin. It includes all the sound effects as well as the music. I think I can see how her stark drawing style and idiosyncratic take on Freudian-inspired dream symbolism might appeal to Felix. I found my attention wandering through this ten-minute piece though, as there’s no sense of a story unfolding or any clear musical themes I can sink my ears into; just a series of pleasant cues and effects. That said, there’s a strong conceptual link between Macbeth and sleep-walking (“out, damned spot” and “Macbeth hath murdered sleep”) which could be said to join the two parts of the album together. From 31 August 2016.

No One Deserves Happiness: an adventurous sludge / doom progression into songs of love and loss

The Body, No One Deserves Happiness, United States, Thrill Jockey Records, CD digipak THRILL 047 (2016)

I admit I haven’t followed The Body’s progress in sludge / doom metal much since the duo released “All the Waters of the Earth Turn to Blood” several years ago. In that time, the band relocated from Rhode Island to Portland in Oregon and released heaps more product (mostly collaborations, splits and EPs) than I can keep up with even if I were to commit myself to listening to nothing else. The band’s fifth album would have passed me by too if I hadn’t stumbled across it while looking for something else (that always happens, doesn’t it?) on Youtube.

Even a casual first hearing tells me how much The Body has grown in the range of music and subject matter they’re keen on covering: this album is very song-oriented, even inclined to rock / pop thanks partly to frequent collaborator Chrissy Wolpert who lends her larynx to a number of songs, and to vocalist Maralie Armstrong on “Adamah” and “Shelter is Illusory” who comes across as an underground metal answer to Adele. There are plenty of influences from genres like industrial, noise and hiphop, and electronic instruments and effects are present across the album. But at heart The Body is still a sludge / doom beast with Chip King managing an astounding act of playing guitar in time with Lee Buford’s drumming and the other guest performers while screaming his lone-outsider-prophet-in-the-wilderness shrieks in a way at variance with whatever his hands (and everyone else) are doing.

The Body (Chip King and Lee Buford): hunting for more interesting musical collaborators

The best tracks are those where The Body incorporates influences from other genres into the sludge / doom template to produce a very layered, unique fusion that simply couldn’t exist if any one of its parts were removed. “Shelter is Illusory”, combining swooping and snapping electronics, doom grind, a thumping tribal-drum percussion rhythm roll, a siren’s voice in the background and frying noise, is one such track; “Two Snakes”, including hiphop rhythms and sound textures along with guitar and a gritty drum machine, is another. “The Fall and the Guilt” is a beautiful song whose structure relies entirely on sung lyrics by Wolpert over disjointed piano chords, a lazy violin and a running gritty industrial drone texture layer.

On the other hand there are too many songs that repeat over and over without coming to a definite resolution of their ideas, or where King’s hollering and whooping carry on endlessly without much change from one track to the next. One gripe I have also with the album is that there are many good and varied tracks that are too short and could do with a longer treatment and development of their musical themes and ideas that might lead The Body into even more interesting and offbeat detours.

As it is, even with its repetitions, this album is very brave and adventurous, taking its creators and their fans far into new worlds musical and non-musical. On one level there is plenty of discovery and the joy of creating incredible musical combinations yet at the same time this is a highly accessible recording with themes of doomed love and loss. It may be heavy going for a lot of listeners but I’m sure most people will be very satisfied, even over-sated with musical richness, after the last song has played.

Boa / Cold: a mesmeric fusion of droning desert Western doom and cold heavy industrial techno dub

Earth / The Bug, Boa / Cold, Ninja Tune, ZEN12394 12″ vinyl (2014)

I sure did not see this collaboration coming at all and I was surprised to discover this release by Dylan Carlson (Earth) and Kevin Martin AKA The Bug from way back in 2014 … but on further reflection I really shouldn’t have been astonished. Both Carlson and Martin have been exploring, pushing and redefining the limits of their respective genres over the past 25 years, and among many other things Martin is known for his work with Justin Broadrick (of Godflesh / Jesu fame) in Techno Animal, so it was really a matter of when, not if, Carlson and Martin’s paths in out-there extreme underground and experimental music would cross. “Boa / Cold” grew out of The Bug’s recording sessions for his album “Angels & Devils”, in one of which Carlson was originally one of several collaborators.

This recording is unlike anything most of us will ever hear. “Boa” stands somewhere in a futuristic industrial sci-fi shadow zone between Desert Western Country Doom Guitar Melody Wander and Arctic Cold Heavy Hiphop Dub. The two genres sit side by side rather than try to blend into one fusion style. The contrast / tension between the two and the comment each style of music makes on the other make for a daunting and very sinister listening experience. The sound wash, the rhythms and beats (with occasional break-beats) are massive and the feeling can be overwhelming and hellish, as has often been my experience in dunking my head in Techno Animal’s sonic worlds. For all that, “Boa” is a short track and the actual playing by the musicians is as gentle, slow and relaxed as can be.

“Cold” is more of a fusion between Carlson’s guitar rambling and The Bug’s beats and rhythms that writhe around the guitar melody and the drone echo wash that follows in its wake. This seems a more structured piece than “Boa” if much colder, industrial and inhuman, with a shambling tribal feel. I have always had the impression that in their own ways Carlson and Martin have always been interested in music of a hypnotic shamanistic nature for the trance effects it can have, and this track certainly has a mesmeric, consciousness-altering effect on this listener.

If only both “Boa” and “Cold” were longer – at least 20 minutes each longer and more! – such an album of continuous serpentine droning doom / industrial techno dub would hold me spellbound forever.

Self X-Amining

Wolfram’s name seemed to strike a chord in the corners of my brain, but in checking I found I was confusing him with the free jazz trio of the same name from Stavanger, whose CD for Va Fongool nevertheless featured a cover of a demonic dog with mad staring eyes, an image which might have appealed to this fellow, the Polish Wolfram. Dominik Kowalczyk kicked off his dark ambient drone career in the early 2000s with a couple of small-run CDRs for Polycephal, then kind of fell off the map and went under radar, unless you count his Thinking Dust album for this label in 2005; he got involved in some side activities involving music for cinema, theatre, and sound installations, and may have surfaced on some compilations too.

Today he creeps back into the public consciousness with a highly effective album of atmospheres, rhythmical drones, warm pulsations and uncanny textures, simply called X (MONOTYPE RECORDS mono102). The record company are delighted with it and invoke the familiar terms such as “disturbing” and “hypnotises with subtle structures”, “anxious”, and “ascetic”. I’d also like to point to track titles such as ‘Introspektiv’ and ‘Secret Humans’, both of which indicate a predilection for strangeness and mystery, while insisting on one’s own mind (and all its secret maze-like pathways) as the centre of everything – a trend which began, I suggest, with his very first record, 2001’s Mind Locations. I have no doubt that Kowalczyk finds solace and expression in his very internalised, self-examining music, and that it’s a form of therapy that keeps the men with butterfly nets at bay. We’ve heard Dominik before as one third of the trio Komora A, but personally I much prefer this solo material…seems purer, more single-minded. From 12th July 2016.

Age Of Enlightenment

Image sourced from http://fangbomb.com

Imaginary Forces last came our way in March 2016 with the unsettling and implied violence of Corner Crew, a record he made for the Sleep Codes label. With the Visitation EP (FANG BOMB FB026), we’re back on the shadowy ground which we know and love him for ever since his 2013 Begotten cassette for the same label, and here are four tracks of grim and slow avant-techno laced with diabolical repetitions, mercilessly loud and heavy bass thumps, and joyless beats that are intent on propelling the listener down a slow but sure slide into oblivion.

London player Anthoney Hart projects a low profile in his music and image, a strategy which I admire heartily, and every release seems to be an attempt to undermine our collective certainties, using stealth and invisible means…each beat is a hammer blow delivered with the surgical skill of a geologist prising loose a keystone from a pyramid of power…the temples of the Establishment are sure to topple, but not before our masked hero has long made good his escape under cover of night. The A side contains ‘Preternatural’ and ‘Enlightenment’, both hugely effective pulsation and throb experiences that can sap the vitality from a hundred civil servants in just ten minutes.

The B side includes the unusual ‘(A Drift)’, a version of a Closed Circuits track which is even more skeletal and bare-bones in its arrangement (if that’s conceivable), where the beat is unprocessed and raw, arriving like the knocking of a hammer on an empty wooden crate (or coffin). Chris Page intones a dark and defiant lyric in a resigned tone of world-weariness, while around him strange minimal electronic tones dart about like small birds.

To complete the package and its tone of strange despairing symbolism, we have the excellent cover art: a troubling image of a man with a head split in two, blood trickling down his nose, yet wearing an impassive and calmly accepting expression. His striped shirt and jacket might almost mark him out as a businessman or other enemy of society. The half-tone printing employed on this monochrome image adds to the weird mood; you certainly wouldn’t welcome a “visitation” from this menacing apparition with his grey, clay-like features. From 19 May 2016.

Well, Hardly Ever

Pretty intense slab of vinyl ominous doom-noise produced by an eminent and talented duo…Kasper T. Toeplitz and Anna Zaradny get their gloom-suckling nozzles together for a feast of grim heavy-set droning on Stacja Nigdy w Życiu (AUSSENRAUM AR-LP-005), a title which is helpfully translated into French as Station Jamais De La Vie, and (less successfully) into English as Station Never In Life. Grammatical infelicities aside, the word that’s relevant here is “Never”, and to bring home the point “Never” is printed on both labels in full capitals, underlining the sheer, brooding negativity of this humming and suffocating noise that passes between the duo like waves of pure hate.

Actually it’s not that bad; the job is fairly manageable from the listener’s point of view, the sound adopting the same caste of grim forebodingness for both sides, and adhering to a simple structure of gathering intensity and evil-ness as the work progresses. Matter of the fact the vinyl seems to reach the same high point of insufferability at around the same notch, where the ghastly and unpleasant effects hit their crescendo and seal your fate. It’s rather like being read a lecture about the imminent end of the world, or at least receiving unwelcome news from the utility board about your next bill. “A perpetual reconstruction of a crushed architecture,” is how the press release would have it. Also on each side, when the pain is at its most agonising and the nettles of torture have woven into a thicket, there instantly follows moments of blessed relief where the music audibly drops its temperature and enters a more acceptable form of numbed, rhythmic droning. This may be intended as a balm; the effect for us is like inhaling a mouthful of ether.

Toeplitz continues his aural assault against mankind using his bass guitar and a computer, although the latter can probably be discounted to some degree as just about everything has a chip installed in it somewhere these days, even the doormat to the local newsagents. The main connection here is Poland, a surreal country renowned for its plumbing fixtures which release black ink instead of water, and where the clouds bring fish to all who wait under that fearful canopy of hardened sky which offers no possibility of release or escape. Toeplitz may live and work in Paris, and indeed owes his compositional credibility to some of the foremost musical institutions of France, but his origins are Polish. The same goes for Zaradny, who uses the saxophone (and computer; see previous remark) to make her music, and the record was recorded in Warsaw. I do seem to recall seeing Toeplitz perform at the famed Meltdown of Noise event in London, where he made a lasting impression with his bass, and ever since then I’ve tended to think of him as a bludgeoning man, using sound as a weapon. How handy it would be to have him next to me in a fight. He could open up his instrument case like Django opening his coffin, and bring out two heavy ball-peen hammers. With one of these babies clutched in each fist, he’d make short work of my opponents.

Stacja Nigdy w Życiu is probably much more nuanced than this fanciful account might suggest, and the subtle variations in textures, timbres, and range will make this a rewarding listen, and it manages to pull off quite a balancing act between the heavier dub-like bottom end and the more delicate surface effects, which are unusual. As to Anna Zaradny, she’s a formidable creator who runs Musica Genera (a label, a festival, a home brew) and is renowned as composer, improviser, and visual artist. And the “nihilism” I may perceive in use of the word “never” is very far from the actual intent; it’s more to do with a “cry for freedom” and an absolute position of no compromise… “you can torture me, don’t feel the pain, don’t even care” is probably meant to be heard as the resolute howl of the political prisoner or defender of belief whose defiant words are etched in blood on the handout. From 31 May 2016.

Morphic Resonance

Got a bundle of goodies from Portuguese fellow Fernando Cerqueira, sometime member of Ras.As.Ghul, who seems incredibly active and productive in the remix-noise department as well as running the Thisco label and publishing a book/magazine venture called Antibothis. He is sent sound sources by prominent noise artists around the world and remixes them under his Rasalasad alter-ego. One such item is a split cassette in his THISOBEY series, featuring Irr.App. (Ext.) on one side and Smell & Quim on the flip. Irr.App. (Ext.) – American antibiotics online, player Matthew Waldron – has been steadily maintaining his own stream of marginal noise releases since 1997, and what snippets have crossed my personal brow I tend to recall as baffling and vague, but he did manage to insinuate himself into the good graces of Nurse With Wound, so there you go. Under the editing tongs of Rasalasad, what results from the collaboration is 16 minutes of menacing digital drone, with an undercurrent of slowly-chattering non-Techno rhythms; I get the feeling Cerqueira is making maximal use of his time-stretching tools, and creating four pounds of musical pulled pork.

Smell & Quim are an English phenomenon whose members may or may not have included members of The A Band, who have released a trail of unpleasant slime stretching back to 1988, and are masters of the Anglo-Saxon penchant for toilet humour and vile sex jokes in their titles and covers…I bet their music’s great, though I never got sent any during the glory days of the 1990s when this sort of anything-goes collective noise was still new and exciting. I was certainly hoping for something more abrasive, offensive and lively on their half of the THISOBEY tape, but it’s simply more solemn digital drone, with a clonky loop-rhythm counterpoint. In places, we might as well be hearing a slightly darker version of a Vangelis album. Not impressed.

The CD Thismorphia (THISK075) showcases Rasalasad remixing sound sources from both of the above, and a further 9 artistes, including Emil Beaulieu, Merzbow, Antonym, Wildshores, Jarboe, and French 1990s industrialists Von Magnet. This is a slightly more successful proposition than the above, and it may be that the shorter durations make it more appealing. For instance, ‘Astellar’ with Irr.App. (Ext.) is a dramatic slice of gothic drone-menace with bold electronic squoops painted on its surface, and ‘Value’ allows Jarboe to chill the listener instantly with her ghostly whispering voice. ‘Spectre’ with Emil Beaulieu contains a health dose of unpleasant abrasiveness, which contrasts nicely with Rasalasad’s more polished-sounding digital drones; this formula also works brilliantly on ‘Axx’ with Merzbow, where Rasalasad leavens the Japnoise-assault with his symphonic synth keyboards. ‘Stellar’ featuring Antonym also intrigued me, and made me want to start seeking out a copy of Native Dystopia, his 1990 cassette. Some nice moments on this CD with its drab grey cover, but I’m not feeling the collaborative aspect much; Rasalasad’s default setting is gloomy ambient digital drone, which he tends to overlay with whatever sound source he’s sent. It’s a basic cut and paste job with neither side paying enough attention to each other.

No denying though that Fernando Cerqueira has won his spurs as a significant figure in underground culture. He’s been publishing print and music since the late 1980s, through his magazine Atonal and his label SPH records, which released some primo tape / noise / industrial materials of various shade of darkness in the 1990s, including Brume, The Haters, Merzbow, Lieutenant Caramel, Crawling With Tarts, Smersh, Another Headache, and Maeror Tri. Many of these continue to be associated with Thisco, whose roster of artistes is impressive. There’s also the book and CD anthologies released under the Antibothis imprint, which continue the traditions of magazines like Headpress with their fixation on the bizarre, the extreme, and the transgressive. From 23 June 2016.

Luminiferous Aether: cosmic space black metal stretched too wormhole thin

Mare Cognitum, Luminiferous Aether, Italy, I, Voidhanger Records, CD IVR064 (2016)

Album title “Luminiferous Aether”, meaning the sky air that transmits light, flows smoothly off the tongue which, to be frank, is far more than can be said for this album of overstretched dark-space atmospheric black metal. By now, one-man Californian band Mare Cognitum has racked up a solid discography and “Luminiferous Aether” is his fourth album so listeners might be wondering where he is taking his music and whether it has advanced very much since he founded the project.

The album is a well-crafted effort from start to finish though for its genre and aims the music is very thin and needs more substance and power. It’s possible that with this album Mare Cognitum man Jacob Buczarski wanted a more raw and harsh black metal sound to help emphasise its cosmic space themes. I don’t fault him for wanting to do that but the songs are very long and a thin sound stretched over more than 10 minutes without some solidity in parts is going to sound very one-dimensional and under-powered. As well, melodies, riffs and rhythms will have to carry the music more than they would if this lacks power and sonic texture; and again with long songs, these structural elements need to provide backbone and unity to their respective tracks. As it happens, most tracks on “Luminiferous Aether” carry so many different melodies and riffs, few of them with their own flavour or individuality, often going at different speeds within the same piece, that the very idea of having separate tracks with their own titles becomes unnecessary. The entire album could have been one single work broken up into movements or chapters.

The music rarely varies in mood, key or instrumentation from one track to the next, and the atmosphere – always cold, remote and spacious in an airy way – is always the same. The sound quality is always very sharp and clear so that all instruments can be heard distinctly – but it also means the thin sound seems even more skeletal than it is. I wonder that Buczarski doesn’t see fit to add another instrument, even if in a minor way or in the background, to songs to differentiate them from one another and perhaps give a sense of direction, of purpose to the whole album. The percussion is very whippy-thin even on some later tracks like “Occultated Temporal Dimensions” where a scathing grinding guitar demands strong percussion to challenge it. While the level of musicianship on display is always good and consistent, there is the danger that without a clear sense of direction the music ends up being a long exercise in self-indulgence. It’s one thing to let yourself be carried away by the music for short periods but for a major part of an album going for 50+ minutes, the exhilaration resulting from being inspired by the music can, if taken too far, end up looking too self-indulgent and the freshness and edge are lost.

This recording could have worked so much better if each song had been pared down to a few essential riffs and melodies, the overall sound had been thicker and the production perhaps a bit muddier. Here is a case where a clear production doesn’t always make for a better recording than a more ragged or distorted approach. This is a pity as there is some very good music on offer here. Less emphasis on technical chops and more on an original style of music with more atmosphere and punch, and this album might be going a long, long way across the universe and beyond.

To Kingdom Come

Motherland (NO LABEL) is a fine cassette of songs by the singer-songwriter duo Hanging Freud from Sao Paolo in Brazil. The team of Paula Borges and Jonathan Perez turn in six songs of a quite chilling nature, filled with dark symbolism and doom-laden accusations, bleak scenarios of conflicts and encounters where nobody is left off the hook and everyone comes out a loser. Each song appears to be pronouncing judgement on an entire country, the failure of successive generations to nurture its children, and Paula Borges intones these cold statements in a precise, matter-of-fact fashion, making her the ideal Greek chorus for these apocalyptic visions of catastrophe. “Every name will be consumed, we will never hear the truth”, she wails on ‘Lost Children’; and “I never expected these eyes to see so many horrors” she observes, like some latterday Dante, on the song ‘The South’. Clearly it’s taken years of bitter disillusionment to think herself into this particular spot.

There’s also much to recommend in the performance and arrangement of the songs; most of them may start from a simple acoustic guitar or piano framework, but there’s just the right degree of studio echo added to enhance the gloomy aspects of each ice-cold song. The production adds foreign bodies, samples, spare minimal noises thrown like lumps of grit into the wind. Each song unfolds with a relentless quality, rarely varying the chord or the rhythm, until the listener is hypnotised under the glare of a vengeful cobra. Taut, paranoid, tense; not an ounce of waste.

Motherland could be read as a successful update on the first Leonard Cohen album, itself a masterpiece of lugubrious singing, a wealth of “sad mysterious symbols” (copyright Momus) in the lyrics, and beautifully spartan musical backdrops. If you enjoy this despondent set, be sure to check out the other albums by Hanging Freud, Sunken (from 2010) and No Body Allowed (from 2015). This arrived 6th June 2016.