Tagged: doom

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

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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.

Dakhmandal: a solid slab of droning sludge doom occult psychedelia

dark-buddha-rising-dakhmandal-2cd

Dark Buddha Rising, Dakhmandal, Svart Records, SVR206CD (2 x CD) (2013)

Dark Buddha Rising: it’s an excellent name for a band that performs long doomy occult-themed sludge trance ritual music and the sinister logo with the thick lava-like letters matches the band’s intent, style and preference for staying in the shadows. These publicity-shy guys shun Facebook and other social networks and I consider myself lucky for stumbling across an earlier album of theirs on Youtube. “Dakhmandal” is the latest of DBR’s massive missives of darkly ominous and unsettling doom.

For this album, the band expanded to a quintet and five guest musicians also appear on various tracks. Disc 1, featuring three tracks labelled D, K and H, ranges from fairly soft and mellow music on D to hard-hitting repetitive loops of thick raw guitar slab, deep bass roar, shrill lead guitar drone solos and some rather strange gabbly gravel-toned Popeye vocals on K. Tension accumulates slowly, inexorably and unbearably on this long piece as the musicians conjure up the strange mystery ritual through the rhythms, the momentous pauses and the incantations. Release when it comes turns out to be no relief. Track H seems superfluous at this point but by itself is an imposing if sometimes relentlessly monotonous blunt-edged piece.

On Disc 2, also featuring just three tracks (this time labelled M, N and L), M is a mellow and quite trippy journey in inner space with woozy whirl-about space effects and less sludgey though still lumbering rhythms and melodies. The vocals can be more robotic than must have been intended originally and the music could be a bit softer and more subtle; at this point the repetition is quite hard to bear. Track N is heavy-going in its first half but explodes into a chaotic jam session later on. Final track L has a jazzy approach in combining irregular drumming, a repetitive rhythm and multi-tracked vocals shrouded in echo.

On the whole this double set is solid and consistent: some songs can be too repetitive and monotonous and in a couple of tracks the best part is saved for the second half or the last third of the piece after never-ending loops of head-bashing guitars-n-drums chunk. The general tone is very orderly, perhaps too much so for this kind of music which is supposed to promise release beyond the physical limitations of this world. There is plenty of space in the music which allows all individual instruments to be heard.

I’d have liked to hear more experimentation and improvisation throughout the album; a slightly more chaotic approach, teetering on delirium, would have suited the ritualistic nature of the music and added a transcendental element. As it is, DBR’s approach puts it in the same camp of psychedelic doom drone music as bands like Bong, Bongripper and early Electric Wizard.

Contact: Svart Records, info@svartrecords.com

Abrahadabra: a dark black metal / shoegazer pop album of despair and foreboding

Circle of Ouroborus, Abrahadabra

Circle of Ouroborus, Abrahadabra, Kuunpalvelus, LP (2012)

One of my favourite Finnish bands, the black metal / shoegazer post-rock duo Circle of Ouroborus has been prolific over the last several years and in 2012 alone released two studio albums, several EPs, a split album and a compilation album. “Abrahadabra” is the second of the two studio full-lengths; the title is a reference to the musicians’ interest in the occult and magic, the word being made up of one vowel appearing five times and six consonants, making a total of 11 letters. (In 2011, an album “Eleven Fingers” was released.) The recording under review sees CoO in their melodic dark depressive black metal pop mode with plenty of despair expressed in the lyrics. The band’s style just about bleeds melancholy and a dark feeling of foreboding: the music is often very doomy, vocalist Antti Klemi half-sings / half-chants like a lone Cassandra warning of trouble ahead and the texture of the music and instrumentation has a forlorn air.

The sound of the album is less muddy and steamy than some of the band’s previous work and the drums are actually very crisp to the extent of dominating the music at times. Klemi’s voice, touched with reverb as ever, still sounds awkward but he hits the notes spot-on. The guitars have a slight buzzy sound but the clouds they form are light.

To be honest, no great melodies or riffs hit me on the first hearing and it’s with subsequent repeats that the album’s charms start to dawn on me. “These Days and Years to Kill” is a cry for understanding and empathy if not for help, and on this song at least Klemi finally finds an emotional depth and range in his singing that took a long time over the band’s career to coax and nurture. “Remembrance” is a slower, heavier, doomier track and might be the most metal-sounding song. “Six Hands” has an otherworldly air: Klemi’s voice is dreamy and almost floating away, and the entire song, starting with the beguiling long introduction, is urging listeners to drift away into a trance with it. For once there is a backing vocal as though Klemi’s soul has split into two and a part of it is already advancing into a realm of non-existence.

A couple of reviews I’ve seen rate “Like Silent Meadows” highly and it has a good riff in parts but otherwise it seems no different from the rest of the album. “Dementia Praecox” is the album’s longest track at 9 minutes and it’s more distinctive than the others in its rhythms and beats

I’d rate this album as fairly good but not near the band’s best. Klemi’s singing is sometimes monotonous across songs and the minimalist style of music basically serves as backdrop for the singing and lyrics. The dark melodic post-BM music rarely ventures away into another music genre. Still, CoO followers are nothing if not a devoted bunch and the band’s releases always sell very well so if TSP readers are keen on buying this album, they had better hit the Kuunpalvelus link quickly. The album cover artwork has a dreamy, mystical appearance that might have a secret message behind it.

Closing Chapters


Book Of Delusions (COLD SPRING RECORDS CSR166CD) is a sepulchral item which we’ve had here in the lobster pots since April 2012. Burial Hex is the solo “project” of Clay Ruby, a manifestation he’s been working under for quite a few years since exchanging his cowboy hat and studded boots for the starred cape and pointed hat of a magus or warlock. Even so now I look back at the Davenport, Zodiac Mountain and Hintergedanken records I love so well (I have only heard a small proportion of this American wildman’s prodigious output), I suppose there has always been a streak of morbidity and magickal charms in the lyrics, cover art, and general demeanour of the oddly anguished and twisted music, even when he and his team-mates were exploring good-vibes trancey psychedelic workouts. No good vibes on Book Of Delusions however, which is as black as tar on a black road under a midnight sky in the Black Hills of Dakota. If we can believe the hyperbole and rhetoric surrounding the back-story to this release, the music here was woven to serve as an aural amulet, a protection charm to help Clay Ruby stay alive. He was personally beset with so many demons and shape-shifting devils of deception 1 that his only possible response was to make this highly ritualistic album, and he was compelled to draw an elaborate musical chalk circle around his endangered soul. For this task, he recruited the aid of collaborators Nathaniel Ritter, Troy Schafer and Lliam Ian who contributed guitar, electronics and percussion to selected tracks, but what we hear is mostly the work of Ruby, writhing inside his studio-based wizard’s den with many a cry of “curse go back” and “aroint thee, witch”. Voice samples, moaning choirs, throbbing and mean-spirited synth burbles, and harrowing shrieks of pain are the abiding hallmarks of horror, with all the terrifying music proceeding at at agonisingly slow pace. Whether it was effective as a charm against his personal demons, only Ruby could tell you; for us listeners, it’s one of the most cathartic and visceral experiences available to you, short of throwing yourself into (a) a smouldering volcano (b) a deep vat of acid, (c), a crocodile-infested swamp or (d) all of the above. The CD is a reissue / compilation, which includes the original limited press LP which came out on Brave Mysteries in 2011; and adds four bonus tracks, namely ‘Go Crystal Tears’ and ‘Temple Of The Flood’, Clay’s two contributions to the 2009 split LP with Zola Jesus; plus ‘God Of War & Battle’ and ‘Storm Clouds’ from the Vedic Hymns split LP with Kinit Her. While it’s possible to align Burial Hex with many strains of bleak apocalyptic / extreme industrial / power electronics music, I feel strongly he is making a very distinct and personal mark on the genres, as potent an inscription as any rune or sigil. This even extends to the way he renders his alias and his name, all capitals with no vowels, presumably as another strategy to conceal his true identity from his persecutors. Strong wine in these barrels! (23/04/2012)

Now for another item from the Copy For Your Records label. Mites is Grisha Shakhnes, who recorded Passing Resemblance (CFYR010) as a home experiment, leading off with a 16-minute exploration of machine-like rumbling tones called ‘You Can Come and Shake My Hand’. One might almost overlook this subtle work as a simple process piece, derived perhaps from the motors of electrical equipment, except for the fact that it evolves with clever dynamics into a more generalised and threatening rumble that increases in brooding snarliness with each passing moment. The genius has been to accentuate the roaring growl with small celeste-like notes, which shine like tiny raindrops against the all-black background. Severe sound-art sweetened with a tiny taste of melody…it’s as though Mites were saying to the listener, “You want music? OK, I’ll give you some (sneer) music, bub…”, in a snarling tone laced with heavy sarcasm. I read it as a quite ingenious parody of modern musical composition, laying bare the futility of all our endeavours. The main event on the album is the 34-minute stretch-a-thon called ‘Why Elephants Are Not Allowed To Cross A Bridge’. In title, this could be a lost chapter from Kipling’s Just So Stories; in sonic terms, it’s Samuel Beckett at his most unforgiving, a bleak and testing excursion into minimalist tones, a misty journey that starts out deliberately undefined and as hazy as a misty morning in the alps. The mid-section is suggestive of wooden timbers being assembled and hauled into place by pulleys, yet that enterprise is starkly devoid of any human presence whatsoever. Then, following the same trajectory as the hand-shaking companion piece above, this elephantine track grows and increases in complexity, thickening the texture with yet more abstractions, layers, and wholly unidentifiable off-cuts of aural murk. A true head-scratcher, Passing Resemblance could probably pass muster as an inclusion in the excellent winds measure recordings catalogue, although it seems to have a vaguely sinister intent lurking behind its inscrutable tones which means it surpasses most formal experiments in treated field recordings or sound art transformations. An understated gem. (09/08/2012)

Wolfram‘s self-titled CD (VAN FONGOOL VAFCD001) fits into the theme of this post mainly because of the cover image, which features a slightly demonic dog with glowing eyes, probably the sort of astral which bedevils Clay Ruby so much. As it turns out this album is in fact a set of invigorating free jazz from Stavanger. The Wolfram trio are experienced jazzers and, according to label boss Eirik Tofte, “have evolved out of the environment around the new young Norwegian jazz scene, based around the great schools in Oslo and Trondheim…they’re getting more and more acknowledgement for their new thinking and creative ways of playing music.” I’ll add my voice to that consensus. Saxman Halvor Meling is, to my great relief, not one of these overblowing types who like to honk and screech into their instrument, and although he may lead off the album with a bit of atonal wailing that may put off civilians and squares, he soon reveals his talent for inserting his snakey, undulating lines into the wayward grid structures built for him by bassist Fredrik Luhr Dietrichson. There are many beautiful invented melodies on the album, which vanish as quickly as they appear. Meling can create a gorgeous tone of astringent sweetness when he wants to, and it’s not all about high-energy sqwawls and angry barks, though the trio can do that too when the situation requires it. Honest and warm music that contributes much to the free jazz genre, without ending up as an empty pastiche; and on occasion, the trio manage to edge close to a species of scrapey metallic noise, aided in no small measure by the drummer Jan Martin Gismervik, who can grind his cymbals with such determination you’d think he could squeeze fresh coffee from their burnished surfaces. As such, portions of this album ought to appeal to many disaffected Norwegian youths who find themselves in need of a good blast of genuine acoustic din made by humans, instead of all that lazy table-noise garbage spewed out by machines. The first release on this newish small label, which hasn’t put a foot wrong with its releases so far (four to date, all very spicy items); they plan to bring us “new, challenging music within the free, improvised and noisy parts of music.” (30/08/2012)

  1. A doom which awaits anyone who elects to work in the music industry, methinks.

Cold of Ages: a grand and epic black metal / doom fusion recording

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Ash Borer, Cold of Ages, Profound Lore Records, CD (2012)

Ash Borer’s second album could very well be their breakthrough release: it’s at once highly atmospheric, cold, dark, incredibly focused and energetic. After a brief lilting introduction, the music springs full-bore into all-out aggression and depressive darkness. If Ash Borer were strongly associated with the Cascadian black metal scene in the past, they’re moving away from it with a strong and distinct style that plumbs deeply into darkness and nihilism. There is still a nature ambience near the album’s beginning but increasingly it’s being replaced by melody and riff, speed and a song-writing and playing approach that emphasises a huge range in sound dynamics.

Opening track “Descended Lamentations” is a heady combination of melancholy doom grandeur, black metal chaotic fury and ominous Gothic ambience. Trilling lead guitar lines are mixed up with sharp buzzy riffing and the vocals are equally varied, ranging from reverb-cloaked monster growls to phantom cries and howling. The heights and depths of this fusion of black metal / doom / psychedelia are mined for their riches in melody, tone, mood and atmosphere to produce an epic music mammoth – and still there are more treasures that Ash Borer offer up.

“Phantoms” initially runs on a slower track but picks up energy and speed very quickly. Before you know it, it’s careening madly about the joint as if trying to find an escape and discovering none. The tones are less bright and the mood is urgent. On and on the piece goes, raging against everything hurled against it by an uncaring universe. Defeat is at hand however and the mood becomes more sullen and despondent.

“Convict All Flesh” might well be the best track here – it’s truly an example of how to write and play an operatic work of black metal doom existential melancholy. Spider guitar riffs spin into an arching glittering network over sludge drum thunder and slavering vocals. The grand edifice falls away before an interceding choir of sweet-voiced angels but the Lord of Chaos charges in to claim what’s owing to him and the track thrashes about in hopeless frenzy. Guitars blaze away, drums bang and crash and those phantom voices groan and growl in the distant background.

The band could be forgiven for a forgettable and lame closing track but “Removed Forms” does not do badly at all. Beginning as a muted minimalist piece performed on a solo guitar in the manner of a Japanese koto being plucked to the accompaniment of sorrowful female ghost voices, the track erupts into a hysterical race against the encroachment of annihilation.

Parts of the album could have been edited for length: “Convict All Flesh” does overstay its welcome in its latter half and the coda to “Phantoms” could have hurried up a little so that “Convict …” comes sooner rather than later. A section of “Removed Forms” is clunky and lumbering. All four songs are similar in their structure, beginning slowly and coasting for a while before blasting into frantic and furious BM chaos. Hardly any time to take a breath at all! Arguably also the album manipulates listeners’ feelings and emotions in the way all four songs roller-coaster through quiet and loud sections.

Overall though this is a grand and epic recording, and the Ash Borer members give the album everything they have in energy, musicianship and inspiration. The music brims with urgency and a sure knowledge that life is brief and filled with pain, and death does not necessarily bring relief.

Contact: Ash Borer, Profound Lore Records

Walking Woods


Composer Daniel Stearns freely owns up to the peculiar mental state of “dissociation”, which manifests itself as unusual occasions or experiences in his life from time to time, strange visitations which have descended upon his psyche since as long as he can remember. He takes heart in the fact that other mystics, scholars, writers and musicians in history appear to have been subjected to similar episodes, among them William James, Emerson, Charles Ives, Sigurd Olson and the Outsider artist Adolf Wolfli. Now on Golden Town (SPECTROPOL SpecT 03), he attempts to find musical expression for the semi-visionary outlook he receives in his detached states, and fourteen tracks of decidedly strange and distinctive music are the result. From the first track onwards, the music evokes mental detachment and an uncanny sense of world-going-wrongness before your very ears. Stearns was encouraged in his project not only by Bruce Hamilton but by the composer Steve Moshier, whom he met through online social media. The CD appears to be linked quite strongly to Stearns’ visual effluvia, a tack which leads us to consider his interest in lo-fi photography (typically using cellphones) to create singular images that appear to be suffused with more meaning and hidden depths than their original subject matter ever contained. Reading the compelling sleeve notes on this release does start to engender a not-unpleasant mind-sapping sensation, as though the layers of reality are starting to flake away and small chinks appear in the fabric that separates us all from the Great Beyond. The music / sound art on the CD is likewise quite unsettling, a queasy mix of semi-identifiable field recordings with wobbly electronic music and some intensive post-production techniques. At its best Golden Town does indeed come close to ushering the listener into the private world of Daniel Stearns, which he describes metaphorically as “an insular place at the far end of a dark wood” which he arrived at after “walking down a mountain I never knew I’d climbed”, with its extreme disorienting methods and highly dreamlike, somnambulistic tone. The label praises the “trance states” and “hypnotic pattern layers” of this unusual record. From 13 June 2012.

The lovely Dan Peck is the New York radical artist who has found the missing connection between jazz music and doom metal. He expresses this discovery using the tuba, playing in a trio called The Gate who we first heard on the 2009 LP Acid Soil with its great zombie skeleton cover. Now here they are again on Destruction of Darkness (CARRIER RECORDS CARRIER 015), Peck with his brass beast, the bassist Tom Blancarte and drummer Brian Osborne. Three lengthy tracks of depressing, intense and slow-moving sludge are created, almost unbelievably, through acoustic methods. I say “unbelievably” because in form and surface, this music is uncannily close to heavy sludge rock made with guitars and amplifiers. Stephen O’Malley had better look to his laurels! This micro-genre has been dubbed “doom jazz” by the experts, a fitting nomenclature, and The Gate do it far more convincingly than The Mount Fuji Doomjazz Corporation, even though the latter have the musical style embedded in their name. 1 If you like deeply resonant bass and sub-bass tones that can slough the skin off a Burmese python at fifteen paces, with enough presence to flatten a mountain range into Play-Doh, then this is the record for you. Peck’s method, which incidentally is composed rather than improvised and partly indebted to the work of Hungarian composer György Kurtág, is horrifyingly effective when set to a relentless march beat as on ‘Aeons Of Decay’, but also doubly fatal on ‘Frozen Gods’ where for the first half of its 23-minute stretch, the tuba just sits there and growls menacingly in jet-black rumbling tones, its bad-tempered sighs sometimes joined by the equally disgruntled upright bass sawing out snarls and grunts from the lower depths. It’s not just the glorious sound of this record that’s so compelling, but the way it contains all the nuances of improvisatory rapport and compositional structure that makes it so satisfying a listen. I suppose ‘Buried Blasphemy’ is the liveliest cut here and is the one to spin to your extreme metal-freak friends with their strange haircuts and pieces of metal embedded in their noses and lips. 2 If they arrive at the party clutching their boring records by Cult Of Luna, Neurosis and Mastodon in their heavily-ringed fists, then give ‘em a dose of this monster and watch ‘em drop dead. From 23 April 2012 and highly recommended.

When not working solo as TL0741, Pat Gillis is one half of Northern Machine with the bass player Bill Warford. The duo poured most of their energy into studio-based records for a while, until they found they could wreak their droning noise on stage and made a leap into releasing live recordings, staring with 2004′s Staalhertz. In Front Of The Crowd (HC3 MUSIC HC3NMCD9) is also live music, a compilation of ten examples of their craft made in the period 2005-2009, realised using keyboards, percussion, tape loops and various electronic effects; all the individual voices of these instruments, most especially the “singing metals” of Warford, do tend to lose some of their definition in the overall droney murk, sometimes resulting in rather nightmarish effects as the frequencies swirl together like nine types of liquid glue. I get the impression the pair are very good at working their way intuitively through the twin swamps of aggressive noise and effects-drenched drone, but the intention in the live work was to introduce some repeatable elements and a tad more structure to the enterprise. Unfortunately these good intentions appear to have succumbed to the compelling effects of loud amplification, and while the record has its moments of good solid assaultive chunkery and mysterious sojourns in a dreamy dark-ambient state, the music becomes quite samey and dull towards the end of the album. Despite the often compelling surfaces, I just don’t hear enough risk-taking or moments of real danger in the playing. One title at least, ‘Circuit Parasite’, seems indicative of their approach; one often has the impression of electronic equipment simply feeding off itself. From 13 June 2012.

  1. Sadly they are an example of a band who cannot possibly live up to their own name.
  2. I of course have many such acquaintances in my coterie, to a man all named Zach and covered with so many tattoos that their arms resemble walking museums of scrimshaw work.
Cicadan, Mother

Mother: ambient raw black metal in a vast and ancient landscape of flat plains, dry heat and the threat of fire

Cicadan, Mother
Cicadan, Mother, US, Eternal Warfare, cassette (2013)

Cicadan is a recent black metal act based in Cobram, located on the Victorian side of the Murray River in southeast Australia. Helmed by Shamus Toomath, Cicadan plays doomy black metal with ambient, drone and experimental / abstract music influences. “Mother” is the debut album, featuring three tracks whose titles suggest a description of a 24-hour period  somewhere in Australia during a time when European settlers were yet to arrive and change the landscape forever.

Cobram’s Wikipedia entry says its climate is a Mediterranean-type one with hot dry summers and cool wet winters averaging 300 days of sunshine a year. This balmy background would hardly favour the rise of black metal bands, let alone one as intense, powerful and sullen as Cicadan. Yet this first recording is a dark and smouldering one. The album is a creature of its surroundings: each track is topped and tailed with field recordings of the natural environment of Toomath’s home town. Chittering birds and insects like cicadas, from which the project obtains its name, and the deep stillness of the Australian bush form the underlying inspiration for the music. Something of the flat expanses of the Australian continent is captured in the album’s more meditative moments. Lyrics in all three songs hint at the endless cycles of life and regeneration of nature in a long history.  Something about the lyrics reminds me of Al Cisneros’ writing for Om: it’s a bit hypnotic and a little remote, and there’s a hint of change that leads to a heightened awareness of nature’s connection to the cosmos.

“Day” has a hot and dry start of insects chirping loudly and birds sheltering in the tree canopy. The acoustic guitar introduction is lethargic under the weight of the heat. It soon weighs into the steely acid grind of the black metal guitar which falls like heavy rain across the sonic landscape. The pace is slow and majestic with powerful droning doom guitar and an ugly chanting BM vocal. “Dusk” is similar to “Day” in its basic structure: a soft melodic guitar introduction builds into a shimmering and malevolent piece with spiky lead guitar solo melody and muttering demon voice. Droning riffs add some variation and tension to the music. The track is creepy with a regular loop of reverb-touched clicks appearing early and gradually coming to define the song’s structure and atmosphere. It all becomes post-rock in a way reminiscent of the Cascadian black metal scene with a choir of ghostly voices and the sounds of nature following a melancholy lead guitar tune.

The real glory of the album is “Night (Dendronic Pessimism)”, the shortest of the three songs but the most varied and atmospheric. It’s very powerful in its long booming drone riffs against a background of burning black metal rhythm guitar. Quiet acoustic banjo or mandolin-like strings with night-time ambience and a spoons percussion rhythm feature for a brief time. The piece fades into crackling fire.

With a sound palette that includes BM-guitar rain showers, huge deep sonic bass booms and competent drumming that doesn’t appear to be programmed, Cicadan has a rich foundation for his music to really soar. At present the songs here aren’t greatly different from one another in their basic elements and structure, and their differentiation lies in the field recordings and the quieter, more introspective acoustic music sections attached to them. There is huge potential for Cicadan to become much bigger and more well-known outside Australia but he needs more music composition practice. Writing music in conventional song structure formats might be worthwhile to enable him to understand more about building up tension and emotion to maintain listener interest, and to appreciate better the freedom and limitations that unconventional music structures have. Sometimes in order to break the rules, you have to know and obey them first. A couple of tracks on “Mother” don’t have very obvious climaxes and the music starts to tail away too soon with the result that endings seem to take forever.

If Cicadan can improve his music composition skills and gain experience playing the music live, he will be an unstoppable force in Australian black metal, the equal of acts like Elysian Blaze and Striborg in their intense and idiosyncratic approaches to the genre.

Contact: Eternal Warfare