Tagged: despair

Silence: plenty to say but a better and more powerful form of expression is needed

Official pack shot from http://depressiveillusions.com
Official pack shot from http://depressiveillusions.com

Echo of Emptiness, Silence, Depressive Illusion Records, CDR cut 1061 (2013)

For an album titled “Silence”, this recording turns out to have plenty to say over some 49 minutes. This is atmospheric and creepy black metal from Russian duo Echo of Emptiness. It can be an ideal record to play late at night if you’re in the mood: it has a very dark and intimate feel and you can easily think yourself the only human existing on this tiny planet as you listen to this music of melancholy and loneliness. The band’s sound is distinctive: the guitars seem to have a very compressed shrill and steel tone almost reminiscent of very reedy woodwind instruments even when playing tremolo. The texture of the music is furry and crispy at the same time. The vocals are a mix of grim BM style and clean-toned and the members sing in English.

The album consists of seven tracks but the ones that will be of most interest are tracks 2 to 6 as these are a mix of black metal and ambient. The other tracks are purely ambient tone pieces: wintry, cold and minimal, with no more than a bass melody or ominous sub-bass drone being audible, they perhaps take up more space on the album than listeners might like but I suppose their length is in keeping with the album’s themes of hopelessness, depression and shuffling off the mortal coil.

While they have a good sound, the black metal tracks tend towards slow and plodding in pace. There’s not much energy in the songs and for a good part of the album they drift in the grey zone between comatose and barely sitting up. A big part of the problem is the limp drumming, thin and soft in sound and not featuring much variety in playing, let alone power and speed. The vocals carry all the emotion and anguish and veer dangerously close to melodramatic hysteria. Songs like “Melancholy” resemble mini-operas in the way the voices alternate between BM and clear, as though a conversation in a dark cave is in progress. The band’s potential is revealed on “Exhausted by Life” when at long last the music speeds up but even here this has the unfortunate effect of revealing how much EoE misses out on not having a strong, focused and driving rhythm section.

I realise the album aims to recreate the feeling of suicidal depression, the lack of energy and motivation that accompanies it, and the fragmentation of identity but EoE have a lot of work to do to convince us listeners that their work is worthy of our time. The guys have atmosphere down pat and a good sound, and they show ability in experimenting with sound and mood. They need to work on developing a more powerful sound with forceful percussion that pushes the rest of the music and inspires them to create and play urgent music with a large range of emotional expression.

I don’t get much sense of the angst and pain of living with depression, and the torment it causes to sufferers. That is something the album should have tried to capture.

Contact: Depressive Illusions Records


Condensing Clouds

From Göteborg in Sweden 1 we have a package of tapes produced by the label Native Parts Records which arrived 1st June 2012. The DIY collage covers looked promising and the website follows a similar aesthetic, configured so that the scrolling takes place on the horizontal plane instead of the vertical. Skugar is Johannes Brander and his solo tape is Magic / Khands (NPR02) which is quite pleasing although I found the first track wittering on for too long with its dreamy synth runs and rather pointless droning. What don’t I like? Hmmm…maybe the root note is a bit too ordinary and the overall tone is a shade too nice, as if the music were trying too hard to please an audience. However the B side (if indeed that is correct since the sides are unmarked) is darker and more engaging. Fairly sinister edge and lots of unknown quantities. I find myself being gently pulled into a bewildering maze of slightly distorted rumbling and keening noises, a faded jungle of imaginary plants and wildlife. Skogar seems to work best when he allows himself to meander in this echoey electronic murk, a gaseous entity which is almost beyond being abstract, so lacking in definition it be. Yet there is a core of some living matter within the cloud. Pulsate! Pulsate! Skugar also exhibits some interest in psychedelic or proggy tunes, as suggested by his cover of a Bardo Pond piece, an American band whom we would associate with that early 1990s upsurge interest in “space-rock” and latterday psychey droning with guitars. Skogar works well for me when his inner skeleton is acting sullen and weird, and he should force himself down that path of incommunicative obscurity more often, perhaps by putting his head in a cloth sack 2. Also we like his interest in malfunctioning or broken equipment which was used to make the record. Strange cover art shows men in sun hats like 1930s Mexicans or Paraguyans, being dwarved by enormous plants, maybe some form of gigantic sugar beet or other local crop. There is also a luxury art edition of the release which comes with a unique painting on wood. It’s an old-ish release from 2010 but is still available.

Brander’s an able painter as shown by the symbolist cover art 3 he produced for Verfver‘s tape which is Animi / Animus (NPR24). A solo tape by Johan Gustafsson who is also associated with Tsukimono, Blessings, and Scraps of Tape. We like him well as Tsukimono, under which name he produced the memorable title ‘Moan Jar’ for a compilation. This tape doesn’t quite produce the desired chilling / pessimistic / bleak visions however. Distortion and lo-fi recording are the guiding lights behind this scrapbook of musical episodes, pages and cuttings torn from the eyes and mind of a restless soul. Verfver does manage some pleasing moments in this eclectic array of ambient, drones, tunes, piano fugues, and rhythmic avant-rock tunes, but there is too often a deficiency of conviction or weight behind his musical utterances. I’m sure there is a way to turn these wispy tones into the sort of plangent and heartfelt melancholic wails to which he aspires. He has certainly managed as much in his Tsukimono guise.

Lastly we have Crystal Crypt‘s II (NPR21). Crystal Crypt is another alias for Johannes Brander, and again the package is adorned with clippings from National Geographic magazine to form the collage cover art. The titles here certainly indicate a more “cosmic” Pink Floyd type outlook on man’s existence, with ‘Beyond’, ‘Worlds Apart’ and ‘Future Past’ pointing to his aspirations to journey into the metaphysical zones. Realised I think mostly with an electric guitar, feedback and an echo unit, though there is also percussion and other things going on. Works best when it wallows in maddening repetition and remorseless exploration of raw guitar tones. The music he makes here can also appear lonely and isolated, so perhaps at one level these tunes and their ponderous titles are metaphors for an inability to communicate 4. Although still formless, woolly and self-indulgent in places, this cloudy and clanging music does have the same sort of “Roman wilderness of pain” vibe as the Skogar tape, a mental state which Brander would do well to cultivate and explore even more fearlessly on future experiments with his psychological axe. A 2011 recording which the creator wishes to associate with ‘Heart of Darkness’, the Conrad novel which was one of the texts which fed into Apocalypse Now, still the movie of choice for all dark-hearted outcasts and pariahs of society. I often think a lot of these musicians wish they could remake the soundtrack for this film, and this tape may represent another entry in that ongoing catalogue.

  1. Also the home of Fang Bomb Records, our favourite label of angsty and grating Swedish noise.
  2. I make this suggestion simply as a cheap and practical way to achieve sensory deprivation. More sophisticated methods are available.
  3. It depicts a cathedral blighted by a witch in the guise of a black spider with multiple arms.
  4. At times the music put me in mind of another Göteborg depressive, Dead Letters Spell Out Dead Words, who likewise despairs of making himself understood by the rest of humanity. In that instance the creator suffers from borderline personality disorder.

A Cursed Figure in a Bleak Landscape

Fine package of alienated spew from LF Records in Bristol which we registered in the packing bay on 4th January 2011. LF013 is a split C30 tape by Betty and Little Creature. The Betty side starts out with some unbelievably fine chaotic, fractured electronic and collage monstrosities, after which it settles for dishing out nightmare drone chords cut open with distressing samples of agonised human shrieks. Little Creature proposes that we swim in large vats of tension-filled electric sound on their side, and also delivers some examples of lo-fi acoustic outsider-rock in the mode of Sebadoh, which is pretty testing listening; a shade too attenuated and incoherent for me, but it effectively limns a portrait of strung-out urban desolation. An unsettling little monster of a tape decorated with a picture of a black bat spinning to its doom in among a collage of magazine texts and pictures of the streets. “A couple of my favourite droogs in UK noise today,” claims label owner.

I found more substance for my shredded eardrums on the self-titled “double-album” (LF012) released by Menschenfleisch, two long cassettes of ugly grind produced by the trio of Anton Maiof, Greg Godwin and Nick Talbot. Hot weather, alcohol, sweat and vomit all seem to have played a part in the realisation of these four scorching sides of abrasive electrical sewage, where the pumping devices are working overtime to dredge foul substances up from below the surface of the earth and numerous crystal radio sets are tuned to inhuman stations on planet Mars that are fit to disrupt clear thinking. Fuzz, distortion, shrieks and feedback are clogged together in such thick clumps it’s a wonder they were able to breath in that foetid swamp of a studio. However, it’s not a totally remorseless set, as the simpatico trio have found inventive ways to give each other space to unleash their respective table-top horrors, and the music offers strong dynamics while still remaining true to the chosen aesthetic of the coarse and stinky. Ian Watson (Phantomhead Recordings) drew the visceral cover art of a flayed man stoically accepting his intolerable situation; a visual motif which has been inseparable, it seems, from industrial and noise records since about 1980 onwards.

Greg Godwin (who also happens to run this excellent label with its tiny hard-to-get editions) also records as dsic, whose corrosive noise records have never failed to elicit enjoyment in this writer’s neural capacitors. His Roman Birdhouse (LF016) is a mini-CDR packed with five short stabs from his acid-filled fountain pen, and the hyperactive and tuneless noise delivers such weight and volume that it’s hard to conceive these grumbling beasts were put together inside a computer. Maybe they weren’t, and instead he uses his laptop in magical ways to subdue supernatural forces (semi-human imps and demons) which beset him as he seals himself inside his private performance space to realise these growly scrawls. There’s a plausible theory about prehistoric cave paintings that suggests they could have been executed by artists retreating into a private, visual world of their own and conjuring visions; which is why many of them are located in very hard-to-reach places, such as at the back of a narrow cave. On recordings like these, dsic resembles a modern cave painter wedged in just such a tight space. Will he emerge alive?

Similar sympathies are elicited by the self-titled CDR by Sixteen Fingers (LF014), which exists in an edition of 20 copies only, and is deliberately intended as a prime example of irredeemably hopeless electronic despair. Some tracks are angry and fragmented, like a blind and infuriated teenager smashing his head into a television set, but my favourite tracks are those which exactly resemble the thought processes of chronic desperation, all interiority and inevitability, where sheer futility is all that can be gathered in one’s mental fingertips as you feel your very brain unweaving itself like rotted fibres. Whoever made this ultra-edgy record is seriously up against the barriers; proof that noise like this can be truly therapeutic if left in the right hands. Let’s hope the creator exorcised at least some of his two thousand inner demons. An essential blast of true mental sickness!

Gnar Hest is Matt Loveridge, crediting himself with synths, programming and “muck”, always an essential ingredient in the compositional process. His Tracts On How Severe I Welcome Nonexistence As Harsh As Is (LF 017) is another mini CDR, and oddly enough turns out to be the most “melodic” of this batch. Sequenced layers, drones, rhythmical throbbing and restless knob-twiddling coalesce for twenty minutes to create a very thick wodge of analogue electronic meat, which Gnar Hest slices into huge hefts with his sword while ladling heavy gravy from his free hand into your slop bowl. I’m sure it wasn’t his intention, but this comes across as a kind of wonky and drunken Rick Wakeman record, or some forgotten out-take from the Mo Wax vaults fed through a fourth-dimensional blender. The creator is apparently quite young and fresh-faced and the label is touting this record, partly tongue-in-cheek, as a species of avant-garde underground dance music. Expect to see a heavy 12-inch slab from Gnar Hest in BM Soho any day now.