Tagged: doom

A Gruesome Twosome

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We Will Fail
Verstörung
POLAND MONOTYPE RECORDS MONO074 CD (2014)

Woozy, downtempo beats that gravitate towards a William Gibson future, where potential for redemption or wrongdoing stand on equal footing but remain unrealised thanks to a perpetual disinclination towards dramatic change. Which is not to say the music is unambitious: With cracked palm outstretched, We Will Fail (aka Polish ‘ex-visual performer’ and ‘amateur musician’ Aleksandra Grünholz) demonstrates commendable patience as he rolls his rhythms in subtle atmospherics, one that puts him in the illustrious company of Raime, Senking and Andy Stott, whose penchant for the hiss-overlaid and ponderous somehow manage to elevate their craft above perilous monotony. Individual titles are forsaken for fourteen numbered ‘Verstörung’ or ‘disturbances’, a subordination of identity to the overarching statement that persistence is king, which means yes, a little pugilism aside there’s little stylistic variation beyond dubby/doomy techno pulses and smoggy interludes, but minimalistic components deliver maximum depth, for which we’ve every reason to be grateful. Grünholz is also responsible for all of We Will Fail’s exquisite sleeves, though his illustration style suggests a more naturalistic concern than the doom and gloom pulsations we actually hear.

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Olekranon
danaus
USA INAM RECORDS 115 CD (2013)

Misanthropic snatches of gnarled, growling, gothed-up noise rock, feedback with whiffs of dark wave/industrial techno, though I’m happy to report that nothing merits the common comparison to Russell Haswell (of which I am often guilty). Wolf Eyes and Prurient (hear the flayed atmosphere of ‘Crooked Wheel’) don’t escape mention though, sharing Olekranon’s affection for the raw and spontaneous first take, as well as the odd incursion of dreary drone. Unashamedly gloomy is it for the duration, marching in a mechanised and somewhat grudging manner like black metal teens that have to get up for college. There is however reasonable stylistic variation afoot, possibly reflecting the breadth of Olekranon’s CDR corpus of the past few years, from lead-footed electronica to a decent approximation of ambient black metal anthem in ‘Marionette’ and its anaemic herald, ‘Severed’, which are still but pale approximations of Darkspace’s majestic black whoosh. I’d not be surprised in fact to learn that Danaus was compiled from these years; the lack of cohesion between diverging tracks being the telltale. Still, while there’s a fair measure of the forgettable in between eventful tracks, few moments are really wasted: pieces do end abruptly, which can be pretty annoying, but such lack of ceremony here suggests a pragmatic path clearing for successors. In other words, Danaus pretty much does what it’s supposed to, right down to the nightfall drone in closer, ‘Libertine’. Noise aficionados might do well to keep clear, but the CD could serve to entice curious newcomers into the dark fold.

Through the Fog: a hard plod through black doom music

Though the Fog

Longing and Silence, Through the Fog, Sylvan Screams Analog, cassette (2013)

Originally released independently as a demo in 2013, this debut recording of San Francisco Bay Area one-man band Longing and Silence has been picked up by the up-and-coming Sylvan Screams Analog label and turned into an album with an extra track. Now the full glories of LaS can be enjoyed by audiences far beyond the act’s homeland. Well, admittedly these “glories” might take some time to sink in as LaS happens to be one of the more miserable depressive black doom metal bands. Songs proceed at a slow dejected foot-dragging pace, the drumming is drained of life and energy, and mournful buzzing guitars chug away while the harsh rattling vocals sigh and scrape through the lyrics. The atmosphere is a deep black fug through which living things struggle to move or swim. The odd thing about this album is that the sound seems reminiscent of some of the ambient batty acts of the French Black Legions of the mid to late 1990s but that may be an effect, accidental or deliberate, of the quality of the production on the original recording.

Most tracks are fairly long with the shortest at just five minutes if you disregard the short opening track which is called … “Opening”. (Talk about a grand entry!) After this, the album begins its doleful journey in earnest. Tracks are repetitive to the point of monotony although if you listen to each track quite closely, you’ll be surprised at how much change and variation are present in the details of the music. There can be surprisingly melodic moments though they’re hardly likely to have you whistling or tapping your fingers. One track “Wasted Days” could even be a bit rock’n’roll if it were sped up a bit as the solid-as-steel riffs and melodies have a hard edge and their texture has slight crunch. The bass is dominant throughout most tracks which tends to make the music a bit less black metal in sound if not in spirit and concept.

The B-side of the cassette starts off in a more lively manner with bonus track “Sinking Vessel” placed first instead of at the end as is the normal custom with such pieces. A cold space ambience, courtesy of some discreet background synth tones, helps shape the song and provides mystery and depth. The music still plods but not as slowly as before. During instrumental sections, guitars and synth tones share equal time and the duetting is surprisingly affecting and emotional. “Sinking Vessel” could almost pass as potential singles material as there are some very distinctive slash-guitar riffs and the track is song-like in structure. The title track is another highlight here: it’s a  completely ambient piece done with synthesiser and acoustic-music tones and effects highlighted by wistful raindrop guitar notes.

The album could have been edited for length as the repetition and monotony in half the tracks are more off-putting than immersive. I sense that the artist was striving for something to absorb the listener’s attention completely and, since repetition has (too often) been the standard way of mesmerising listeners and opening up their consciousness, used minimal and repetitive music structures to try to achieve that trance result. If it weren’t for the bonus track, the album would be a dreary affair; as it is, there’s more depth to the music and the listener is led to think that there must be much, much more to this LaS act than meets the ear. I certainly think so. It’s too soon to tell with just this one recording whether LaS is rethinking the musical direction taken with this depressive black doom style or plans to plunge ahead farther into the thick dark clouds of melancholy and repetition.

Contact: Longing and SilenceSylvan Screams Analog,

Modular Synth Doom

ZENIAL

Zenial
Chimera
POLAND ZOHARUM ZOHAR 051-1 LP (2013)

Zenial is an alter ego of Lukasz Szalankiewicz, a Polish composer and sound artist who has been putting out experimental electronic music in a variety of guises since the 90s. Chimera offers us five tracks of modular synth doom composed during a time spent among the Buchlas and Revers at the legendary EMS studio and research facility in Sweden. That distinctive chunky sound permeates these tracks, placing it squarely within this growing sector of the experimental music world.

Nevertheless there are some delights here that make this release stand out from many of the patches and wires gang. The title track is one such beauty, kicking things off with a series of abrasive squiggles and hums. Lacking any forward structure, it is instead a series of sound bursts, an electron microscope bringing quantum particles into brief focus as they fizz into existence for a few seconds before vanishing forever into the void.

The more I listen to it the more I’m entranced by this piece, by its sense of space – rendered even more tangible and clear by Rashad Becker’s impeccable mastering – and its choice of sounds. Around three minutes in a beautiful chattering polyphony fades in, flooding the soundworld with the excited chattering of alien children. A minute or so later, Szalankiewicz builds a delicate collage bleeps and glitches, set against a blanket of cicada-like chirrups in the summer night.

In contrast, ‘unclean/clean’ is a sullen and gritty thing, at crowded with fuzz and static, building to a heaving crescendo of ecstatic white noise.

This album’s final pair of tracks is dedicated to Czech scholar and occult hero Franz Bardon. These two pieces are full of occult dread, dark cloaks of sound building with mesmeric force, hypnotic electronic incantations.

Both pieces deploy a surging, repetitive drone is tailor made to drill into your skull and force you to its bidding. On and on it goes, tension growing to almost unbearable levels. On ‘Rosara 28′, Sza?ankiewicz weaves whirling synth motifs around the monolithic chiming, spinning and glistening like giggling daemons.

Its companion piece, ‘Rosara 28 : wymar 4/5′ is brooding and malevolent, with only the occasional gritty burst of noise to leaven the oppressive effect. After nearly ten minutes, the drone fades. Suddenly the only thing we hear is birdsong. The spell is broken.

Jute Gyte / Venowl: microtonal mayhem and madness

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Jute Gyte / Venowl, self-titled, Black Horizons, cassette BH-78 (2014)

For those who prefer their Jute Gyte in half-hour dollops or less, this split with fellow American noise-maker Venowl might be just the ideal serving. Each act has a side of the release (my copy of the split is on cassette) all to itself. The one thing Jute Gyte and Venowl have in common is their use of microtonal scales in their music: Jute Gyte uses a Fender Squire guitar retro-fitted by Sword Guitars to play 24-tone scales on two tracks and Venowl employ guest musician Troy Schafer on a microtonal violin on their one-track contribution.

On Jute Gyte’s side, the music can be dizzying and demented in sound, seemingly out of tune and slopping all over the place. There are definite melodies and riffs though and after you have listened to this cassette a few times, you’ll realise they’re perfect as they are and can’t be played in any other scale. After a brief quiet introduction, the jagged metal proper begins and JG man Adam Kalmbach takes us on a trip into some very heavy, black near-industrial soundscapes, all chunky with riffs being churned out in solid, hard-edged slabs and with lead guitar tones coming off as large flat shards of metal.

The first track is regular with looping riffs and there are sections in the music where the apparent chaos quietens down considerably. The second track is more relaxed and while the tones can still be weird, the music is not difficult to follow. Kalmbach’s vocals are the sickest, most hellish thing here: never did a denizen of the underworld sound as raspy and bad-tempered as Kalmbach’s voice does. There’s a violin in the music somewhere (or it could be that microtonal guitar in disguise). Plenty of hard loopy (and looping) metallic rifferama abounds as well, much of the time barely keeping together but all grinding and cranking away under that crabby vocal to the end. A highlight of Track 2 is a relaxed section in which watery choirs sing in the background and the atmosphere is pleasant and very balmy. Is Jute Gyte starting to mellow at last?

Venowl’s contribution is a burner of grinding feedback guitar, see-saw violin and some of the most insane pig-squealing vocals you’ll ever hear. The track is structureless and is an odd mix of super-low industrial doom metal, improv and 21st-century avant-garde formal classical (because of that violin) all rolled together. It’s more lumbering than lethargic in pace and threatens to collapse into large slabs of doomy metal tombstone slabs. The texture of the music is rough and gravelly, pitted with lots of holes and sharp edges in-between. Halfway through the music starts to froth and clouds of noise and foghorn bass feedback pass through the speakers in almost pulse-like waves. Voices scream for their life. The music’s single-minded, obsessive intensity increases unrelentingly – compared to this band, Khanate might as well be soft rock.

While Venowl’s track “Snowbed” features some undeniably doomier-than-doom metal, the 27-minute running time can be a hard road to travel, especially with such incredibly heavy and unstructured music. There’s no point in the track where you can pause the music so you can freak out for a while, spend time in a strait-jacket and then undergo psychological therapy before returning to the fray.

I hesitate to compare Jute Gyte and Venowl as each band’s particular brand of hellish scariness derives from very different musical approaches – Venowl going for super-low, super-heavy and super-long, and Jute Gyte preferring a deranged, layered and chaotic sound – so it’s a matter of personal preference as to which of the two you least want to meet late at night before the witching hour. Should these guys unite again for another record, they should play together instead of separately – now that would be a match made in the deepest of hells!

Contact: Black Horizons

Consolamentum: a display of the power and the glory of English doom metal

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The Wounded Kings, Consolamentum, UK, Candlelight Records, CD (2014)

The power and the glory of English gloom-n-doom occult metal is on display on The Wounded Kings’ “Consolamentum”, their second album with their current line-up led by TWK stalwart guitarist / keyboardist Steve Mills and vocalist Sharie Neyland, now an integral member of the band with her banshee vocals and lyric-writing. The album lumbers menacingly in the grimy molten-lava land of thick down-tuned guitar riffs and eerie Hammond organ tones with bass and drums staying in the background as a heavy menacing back-up presence. In the far distance reigns Neyland’s wailing, her voice rendered witch-like by judicious use of reverb, neither too much nor too little, although sometimes I wish for a song where she could be more upfront in the mix and her voice allowed to soar in harsh, high keening tones. Neyland is a very confident singer and she is reaching a point where she should be able to stretch her vocal range beyond what is showcased here and probably does not need any special effects embellishment or reverb to create a malevolent magic around her voice.

A general atmosphere of dark dangerous dread and unease in the presence of a mighty force, hostile to humans and impossible to fathom, is the overall impression given here. Thunderous riffs roll out smoothly: the texture is thick and gritty, and greased with those unctuous organ tones.

The longest track “Gnosis” at 13+ minutes takes its time with a long instrumental prelude, all crushing bass-heavy doom riffs accompanied by stuttery drumwork and a spidery guitar melody, before Neyland weaves her spells and Mills mixes venomous lead guitar solo and organ sprinkles into the burning brew. A grand epic feel is present but the song is not overly heavy and the result is surprisingly spacious. “Lost Bride” picks up the feeling of growing dread and occult magic as it takes listeners farther into the album’s darkling depths.

After a brief retro-1970s interlude, the title track delivers a solemn sermon in emphatic doom drama style. A long instrumental in the track’s second half becomes a study in how to zoom gracefully from acoustic guitar and Neyland’s whispery mutters to a terror-filled climax in the space of several minutes.

We kill time with “Space Conqueror” – ha, bet you all thought that was going to be TWKs’ concession to sci-fi space prog rock! – before launching into the not-very-silent “The Silence” which gets off to a sluggish start and pace and continues that way – this is the one of the few times where the album is a bit patchy – until near the end where it becomes a mighty behemoth of slashing grind and crunch with a mind of its own. The feeling that something must be offered to the giant’s gaping maw as a sacrifice creeps up on you – and that something ain’t one of the band members!

The album is generally consistent right across the seven tracks in musicianship and sense of drama. Long epic pieces are mixed with shorter, slightly experimental all-instrumental link tracks which maintain listener interest: these link pieces are a hold-over from earlier work that TWKs should reserve and expand on in future recordings to enrich their essential occult doom style. Feelings of dread and a sense of oncoming horror steadily rise over the album’s playing time and listeners are ever alert for that inevitable moment when someone gets the chop – yet when that moment arrives, it’s still a shock that leaves you completely gutted.

This work is a very creditable effort for The Wounded Kings who should no longer feel wounded after earlier setbacks with an unstable line-up and having to rethink their concept and themes. “Consolamentum” could well be the band’s breakthrough album. The title itself is a reference to the secret practice of spiritual baptism among heretical Christian sects known as Cathars in southern France, usually performed on people close to death; the album could serve as a baptism for TWKs into a realm far beyond their expectations when they first got together.

Contact: Candlelight Records

Heavier Than Air

Drive My Temple Car

Got the fourth album by Queen Elephantine, a distinctive metal band who are situated at the “experimental” end of the genre, but working hard to martial their forces and weave a potent doomy brew from their massed guitars and two drumkits, while still retaining the iron grip of sturdy “minimalism” – in so far as that term can apply to rock. The band originally formed in Hong Kong in 2006, but only the guitarist Indrayudh Shome remains from that first line-up, and the band now reside in Providence, suggesting that the band now comprises a mix of Asian and American doomsters. Scarab (HEART & CROSSBONE HCB 047) contains four lengthy and lumbering cuts, all of them pushed along by drumbeats as hard as concrete, and where much effort and sweat is expended on summoning up a vague form of “tribal-ceremonial” vibe while still keeping all four of the elephant’s feet planted on the grim and doomoid terrain; it’s as though the religious procession and all its priests and pilgrims were being slowly dragged down into a deep black marsh, to the accompaniment of hammered gongs and the rich scent of incense. If that sounds depressing, remember that they died willingly, for a cause they believed in. Queen Elephantine’s group sound isn’t actually as ponderous as I make it appear; none of that excessive amplification and distorted guitars malarkey for them, thanks very much, and all their notes are uttered with a deathly, minimal precision, much like a slowed-down and less uptight version of Om. If this team were archers, then you’d better be wearing body armour. The presence of the tanpura (played here by Srinivas Reddy) certainly adds an additional exotic / psychedelic flavour to the general unhinged drone, while an uncredited vocalist adds a harrowing plaint from his perturbed throatal zones, paying scant regard to matching the tune or rhythm, just as long as the haunted tone is in the correct area. It’s also mightily impressive how the band maintains their murderously slow processional pace throughout, even in the teeth of pain and suffering; fans of interminable torture-filth like Khanate are advised to check in, and prepare for an endless ride on the Ratha Yatra temple car (or juggernaut, as some will have it). The quasi-mystical cover artworks are by Adrian Dexter. From 01 July 2013.

Fear and Loathing in Stockholm

In the same envelope, we gots a reissue of I, Guilt Bearer (HCB 046), a 2012 album by the Swedish black-sludge death metal combo This Gift Is A Curse; it’s a joint release with Discouraged Records (MMICD19), Black Wave (BWP003), and Ecocentric (E.R. #185), and includes four bonus tracks taken from the band’s self-titled EP. This Stockholm four-piece specialise in serving up large gobbets of hatred and abomination, flailing wildly as they scream out their extreme alienation, disaffection, and mean-spirited contempt for the world and all that’s in it. Even the label (which has a deep love of unlistenable, obnoxious grindcore) admits it’s a pretty “punishing” listen, while revelling in its psychotic qualities, and while most of that pathological evil stems from the constantly-hysterical screams of singer Jonas, the guitarist Patrik supplies a good deal of musical horror and alarm from his pitch-black instrument, veering wildly from full-on paranoia to terror-stricken claustrophobia. You get the feeling he could start a panic attack just by walking into a music shop to buy a new set of strings. I’ve no problem with confronting all of these wild negative emotions running around the room like red and green speed demons, but I still find this album a bit of a monotonous listen; every track is tuned to the same root note, pretty much played at the same speed, and the dynamic range throughout is extremely – erm – limited. It seems churlish to complain on these grounds though, as this is probably largely the point, and I’d imagine that great catharsis awaits any listener with the fortitude to endure to the end of this “hell ride through the disparate sicknesses of mankind”. Cover is adorned with various ritual Satanic imagery, involving bloodshed, flesh piercing, etc. in a forest at twilight. From 01 July 2013.

Godzilla vs The Kremlin

While still partial to the taste of excessive guitars and drumming, I turned with some delight to the Moweton mini-album Guitaroid Vs Megadrumster (INTONEMA int007). This duo, charmingly named as FX’d Ibby R-ock G-uitar and Trashy Soft, manage to squeeze 26 ultra-short tracks onto their 3-inch CD, and perform a strange species of mega-fast experimental hardcore mathrock, tempering the overall mayhem with unexpected jazzy major seventh chords, funky riffs, and avant-garde electronic noise. It defies rational sense how they manage to get away with violating so many musical taboos in such a small space, but they pull it off with gusto and zeal. The listening experience alternates between having six-inch nails hammered into the forehead at great speed, and being force-fed a series of small energy pills about the size of Smarties. A vitamin-enriched painfest it be. Moweton illustrate their work with one of the naffest and trashiest sci-fi disaster movie airbrushed visuals ever created, but don’t let this prevent you from investigating their insanely hyped-up music. This record sent from Russia is packaged together with…

Tickling Valmiera, performed by Astma featuring Edgars Rubenis. Just one track on here, shy of eight minutes in length, performed by the wonderful Alexei Borisov and Olga Nosova, joined by said Rubenis. This strange growling murk, enlivened with multiple swarms of electric bees, was made using guitars, bass, percussion, effects and electronics, and it inhabits a curious zone – a zig-zagging gaseous stormcloud of musical noise, throwing out strange bolts and shimmering like a vast, inedible fruit jelly. Apparently it’s an edited fragment from a concert the trio performed in Latvia in 2011. Why haven’t we got the whole gig? Maybe it was deemed to dangerous for human consumption. Now that I look at the cover drawing by Erik Shutov, I have to admit that his perceptive pen has come very close to illustrating the exact nature of the spiky abrasive sound herein. Very good. From 01 July 2013.

Slow Death

Three more doomy cassettes from Andre Foisy’s Land Of Decay label. Line ‘em up in a row and you have title-page illustrations from three chapters of the most chilling book of horror stories never to have been brought to print. Unlike some, this label doesn’t see the tape as a disposable item and time and money is expended on the production, including professionally printed cover artworks in full colour with foldouts…Gates is the duo of Bryan W. Bray with Pau Torres and they produce exceptionally slow, dense and heavy music. On Eintraum (LAND OF DECAY LOD 026) Bray plays a heap of guitars, probably overdubbed and heavily amplified, and isn’t satisfied until he can clog up the entire room with large blocks of frequencies swaying from his mighty axe. I do like the way Bray manages to arrive at a melody (of sorts) in among the teeming clouds of lead-lined dust he kicks up in slow motion with the hooves of his black horse. Torres’ synth and laptop work might be in danger of being swallowed alive by the gigantic whale of Bray’s guitar, juddering and strumming its way into the cold abyss. That inhospitable terrain would be the destination of this Gates work, since it’s clear they are fixated on transporting the listener to a bleak and depressing land where we must dwell forever under the curse of the Icy Ogres. Trees in wintertime are used on the front cover to assist in this metaphor, unsurprisingly. I say that because the bare trees motif has been, dare we say it, a trifle overused on the artwork in this particular genre (cold / depressive / ambient / bleak / metal, delete as applicable) for the last ten years. Demian Johnston however has also provided some ink drawings for this release, which are original and strong. This cassette edition is sold out, but a CD version is on the way from Storm As He Walks. Looks like Gates are from Toronto and Bray may also be associated with Orca, Gardenia, and Fires Of Mammon.

The Subtraction. have a great title – The One Who Infests Ships (LAND OF DECAY LOD 031). If that sentence isn’t a perfect summary of the original Nosferatu film, then I’ll eat F.W. Murnau’s Homburg hat. Said supernatural theme should clue you into horrifying moody content of this tape, which is as chilling as the heart of an eight-foot snowball. The musicians here are J.Soliday and Omar Gonzales. Jason Soliday wowed us with his Nonagon Knives solo album for the CIP label, and his skillful yet intuitive approach to electronic music is nonpareil. He plays his modular synth here like an animal trainer stroking a wild jaguar, barely restraining the animal on its metal chain, secure in the knowledge that said wild cat could probably shred his arm into a stringy pulp in five seconds. Omar, credited with tapes and electronics, is a Chicago noise guy whose music I have not heard, but he’s also No Dreams and runs two labels called Anabolic Dimensions and Depravity. I think even if he just turned up to the session and stood in a corner, his surly demeanour would still leave some impression on the tapes. Could be he’s curbed his tendencies towards violent and harsh noise for this release, as side one’s ‘Noden’s Breath’ is an intensive eerie driftfest, where the solemn tone and tense atmospheres are enough to paint the inside of your face black. Further grim and plague-infested drone may be dredged up from the B-side, with ‘The Violet Gas’ and the title track. The entire release is very suggestive of disease and poison, and the pulsating music attempts to insinuate itself in your nervous system like an evil invisible host. Notice how this project spells The Subtraction. with a full stop at the end, as if you could bring everything in the world to a close simply by saying their name. Alarming and angsty ambient doom.

Kapustin Yar has the ultra-mysterious Trithemius (LAND OF DECAY LOD 035) to his name, and it’s an intense gloomulating spider of misery. Apart from some short contributions to obscure CDR comps, this seems to be the only full-length work released by Antonio Gallucci under this alias. He certainly has a very original sound – not too overloaded with distorted layers of filth and he occasionally displays a flair for bass guitar riffage of which he ought not to be ashamed. Album was perhaps realised using synths, echoed voices, bass, and lots of percussion, but he’s using his twisted imagination to build very dynamic industrial doom-scapes that speak volumes about his own private terrors. If “darkwave” musicians, or those in similar genres, use insistent drumming in this way, I usually feel obliged to bring in the “ritualistic” word, even if it is a terrible cliché; but your man Kapustin does proceed with a sense of ceremony to his tasks, and is certainly determined to work something quite cancerous and deathly out of his system as he realises these terrifying horror-films in sound. Remorselessly evil and miserable, he never lets up the pressure. I don’t listen to so much Black Metal these days, but this release gets close to one of the forbidden thrills I was always hoping for from that genre, a despairing glimpse of abomination and a taste of the cold fires of Hades. Kapustin Yar delivers: agonising extended synth tones, relentless slow drumbeats hammering away, and obscure voices chanting obscure utterances from out of the pallid background murk. ‘Collapsing Palace’ is one very notable achievement on this album. It’s a blood red tape housed in a black cathedral cover. Recommended!

All the above from October 2012.

Through a Pre-Memory: a heavyweight sound experience of alienation and despair from two musical heavyweights

ÄÄNIPÄÄ

ÄÄNIPÄÄ, Through A Pre-Memory, Editions Mego, CD 175 (2013)

On their own and with other collaborations, Mika Vainio and Stephen O’Malley are formidable players so one might approach this debut recording, representing three years’ worth of recordings made in Berlin, with some trepidation. This is a very solemn and heavyweight sound experience but with some very delicate and deft touches throughout. The album moves at a sure if slow pace giving listeners plenty of time to savour both SOMA’s deep guitar rumbles and Vainio’s icy crystal electronic tone poems, plus the looming space behind the sounds. You’re thrust into a very stark world in which every bit of audio information carries significant import for you personally.

The two are joined by Alan Dubin, he once of James Plotkin’s OLD and Khanate, whose distinctive screech presses out lyrics adapted from the 20th century Russian modernist poet Anna Akhmatova on “Muse” and “Watch over Stillness / Matters Principle”. Akhmatova’s work offended the Soviet state which censored her writings but she chose to stay in the USSR and experienced the pain of oppression (her first husband was killed by the secret police and her son and second partner spent time in gulags). These tracks can be very intense in delivery and have a raw sound. “Watch over Stillness …” has juddery rhythms and sections of slashing tiger guitar growls and active aggression that keep listeners off-side and uncomfortable while the track lasts.

Much of the album might be confronting the issue of alienation arising from forced isolation, even incarceration; the soundscapes of “Toward All Thresholds” evoke visions of deep cavernous labyrinths stretching far, far into Blackness. Fragments of sound, rhythm passages and steely-toned guitar make periodic appearances, as though coming up for air through the dark murk, only to fall back, lost forever. The sound world becomes quite rich as the track proceeds and its mood changes considerably throughout. In a later part of the track, the darkness almost engulfs the music and wisps of sound barely hold the piece together as it slowly disappears.

“Mirror of Mirror Dreams” features a trio of string players (Eyvind Kang, Moriah Neils, Maria Scherer Wilson) providing a layer of forlorn desolation to SOMA’s impassive drone rumbles. One thinks of the vastness of space and humanity’s relative insignificance in the cosmos while meditating on this piece.

It’s a deeply absorbing experience and after hearing this, you will find your perceptions changed: things you formerly took for granted take on a new seriousness and those issues that occupied all your attention before fade away as the superficial fluff they are.

Body Horror: a brooding work of heavy industrial metal dub and ambient dronescapes

From Crucial Blast bandcamp page
From Crucial Blast bandcamp page

Iron Forest, Body Horror, Crucial Blast, CD 020 (2013)

Iron Forest is a fairly new experimental music project by US Midwest artist Brandon Elkins that combines heavy industrial metal rhythms and riffs with drone, dub, noise and doom elements. “Body Horror”, the project’s second album, is a lavish effort: eight tracks of layers of power electronics, digital noise, warped dub, crushing machine rhythms, sharply cut reverb and space atmosphere, and elements of black / death / doom metal. The plastic case is a large DVD-style container with several postcards of pictures of mutant body parts that have a strange if repulsive and disturbing beauty.

The recording revolves around themes of mutation, deformity and transhumanism. Track 1 is a gentle introduction of reverb and fuzz, very spacey with spurts of dub rhythm, and highly atmospheric. Subsequent tracks range from fierce and threatening dub guitar-noise splatter with washes of shrieking vocals to doomy dronescapes set against an ambience suggesting post-apocalyptic industrial wastelands of polluted ponds of water and winds sweeping up fine sand mixed with industrial chemical dust. Although the music can be highly robotic and its rhythms dominated by echoing machine sounds, I always have the impression that here is a world in which biology and technology have become completely fused and to treat the two separately is an antiquated notion. All machine noises seem to come from cyborg creatures with self-awareness and cunning natures.

For music that draws its inspiration from past industrial metal heavies like Godflesh and Scorn who also included very liberal doses of dub rhythms and sounds into their work, “Body Horror” is as much atmospheric and meditative as it is harsh and grinding robot doom machine music. The surprising thing is that the music is very accessible and much less menacing than its title and artwork suggest. (The album is also much shorter than I would have liked – at least an hour would have done for this style of heavy industrial dub.) There’s a lot of murk along with the knife-sharp skittery quicksilver rhythms, the crunchy bass riffs and machine-gun synth percussion beats but the music never sounds chaotic or overwhelming. Parts of the CD remind me more of Keith Fullerton Whitman’s old Hrvatski act with the flighty rapid-fire blastbeat electronic rhythms, though without the playful attitude.

This genre of music has a lot of potential to be a mighty monster and I feel with most recordings I have that the artists are scraping just a thin layer of it. “Body Horror” doesn’t advance the known parts of the territory much but as it is, it’s quite a good work: it has a distinctive airy atmosphere in most tracks and there is a psychedelic trance element as well. Each track has enough in it that could generate a family of long remixed tracks.

What was Once there is Now Gone: desert-Western blackened sludge doom packed into tiny CD-R

BirdOfOmen

Bird of Omen, What was Once there is Now Gone, Hand Hewn Timbre, 3″ CD-R (2013)

Bird of Omen is a recent project by the unknown man who was behind the blackened drone doom metal act Monument of Urns. All the releases by MoU were issued by the artist’s own Hand Hewn Timbre imprint on tiny CD-Rs. Now MoU has been laid to rest for the time being and in its stead is Bird of Omen whose releases so far are also on tiny CD-R discs. The album under review is BoO’s second.

Compared to its predecessor, BoO has a lighter, less oppressive sound. While the music sounds very much like a desert-Western movie soundtrack, the black metal influences are present in the quivering strings and the piano melodies take the place of extended tone drones. The percussion is slow and emphatic with crashing cymbals but the beats are muted and the cymbals merely sound crisp. The result is no less stark in mood and ambience: the desert sun’s rays beat pitilessly on your head and shoulders and all around you is bare ground with only bleached cattle skeletons lying in the dirt. You know there’s only one thing that’s important, and that’s to find water in this baking heat; everything else, such as why the gangsters dumped you in this hell-hole, fades into insignificance.

The second track is the major piece at just over 10 1/2 minutes and is sludge doom in a cleaner, lighter vein than might be expected. Now guitar feedback drones come to the fore in parts of the track while vibrating bass guitar and funeral march percussion carry the music, pallbearer-style. The third track is not much different from the other two except for the vibrato guitars which start to have a more buzzy hornet texture.

It can be very monotonous and sometimes overwhelming music even though it’s not especially heavy and there are light moments where the music reduces to quiet solo piano, a subdued guitar drone and a strange atmosphere of foreboding. There’s no easy resolution and some time after the album ends, the tension and ominous feeling hang in the air like vultures circling about, waiting for their victim to succumb to dehydration.

In a tiny disc, an entire world of desolation and harsh, unforgiving Nature are contained. You venture there at your peril. If the music were any longer than it is, you would be close to an agonising end. The wonder is that the fellow behind Monument of Urns / Bird of Omen can remain incognito; in spite of creating music with such a narrow range of riffing and melody and a small sound palette, he knows how to hold his audience spellbound by changing emphasis now and again, and by subtle variations in the instrumentation, suggests that there’s far more happening in the music than there is.