Tagged: dark

The Owls Are Not What They Seem

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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.

The Revenant

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The record by L’Eclipse Nue was sent to me with one of the most elaborate press packs I’ve ever clamped my nerveless digits around, including a business card, two handouts, and an A4 art print of the project’s logo. The outside of the plastic wallet has been hand-speckled with drops of blood, to usher in the Grand Guignol themes of this CD of violent and grisly noise. Plus there’s a full colour photo of Daniel Sine, the sole perpetrator of this release, resplendent in his mascara and black lipstick, chains, tattoos, and studded wrist band, projecting an androgynous vibe. The bloody intravenous tube attached to his arm is an especially decadent touch. So far I feel surfeited under the weight of these Goth clichés.

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However, Negative (DOREI RECORDINGS DOR-021-CD) turns out to be a very good record, an engaging and inventive piece of heavy industrial noise with a horror-movie theme, performed with conviction and great attention to detail by said Stine. There’s a lot of dynamic changes, twists, and effects; it’s not simply a blasting wall of hellish harsh noise. I like the way the whole album manages to sustain a mood (a suffocating mood), and even tell a story of sorts, proceeding through its inexorable course with the logic of a nightmarish piece of cinema; one might almost call it quite mesmerising, exerting strong effects on the listener with a pull that is hard to resist. L’Eclipse Nue does it all with synths, samplers, and lots of vocals, treating everything with tons of effects; the vocals are one of the strongest elements, in fact.

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It’s clear that lyrical content has some meaning to Sine, and he’s not just out for terrifying screech and shriek to alarm the listener; he even seems to be playing the parts of the various doomed characters in his 11-track three-act play, acting out the storyline. Even if many of them don’t do much more than howl in anguish or pain, at least they do it distinctively. The fragments of the story, if indeed there is one, can be gleaned from the very narrative track titles such as ‘Heart Scrambles Futilely To Escape’ or ‘Facing the Gaping Jaws Of Infinity’, and the press notes confirm “it is the story of a model who, after being exploited and murdered, returns from the grave for her revenge”. Presumably a well-worn copy of I Spit On Your Grave is the cornerstone of this guy’s DVD collection, then…

The cover art (by Christian Weston Chandler) was the first part of the project to emerge in this instance, and Sine decided to concoct Negative as a soundtrack to this vividly-imagined image of a vengeful revenant. Impressive; no wonder that Sine feels himself somewhat apart from the Tokyo noise scene with what he regards as its “rather conservative genre boundaries”. If interested to learn more, other releases on his own Dorei Recordings label exist from as far back as 2011, and while he occasionally does split albums and collaborations, he’s clearly a solo flyer with his own personal visions to follow, and many inner demons to purge. Arrived 28 January 2016.

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

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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

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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

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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.

Liquifold

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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

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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.

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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.