Tagged: industrial

Thought of Two: a successful launch of dark minimalist techno on a long journey

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Black Hat, Thought of Two, Hausu Mountain, CD HAUSMO13 (2014)

I believe this is the first full-length recording from Black Hat, a dark electronica project by Seattle resident Nelson Bean. Seattle is famous in the music world for many, many reasons but so far minimalist darkened techno with a bit of psychedelia and industrial influence hasn’t been one of them. One day that may all change and Bean is to be commended for bringing that happy day closer. “Thought of Two” is a short effort with just three tracks but these are long ones with the third clocking close to 20 minutes.

“Imaginary Friends” sounds innocuous enough until you start spinning the disc and long groaning tones crawl out of the speakers and drift through the air with echo dragging behind and sinister feathery whisper percussion shifting and shuffling along. The track transforms constantly with drone, skittery effects, a hollow metal rattle and eerie high-pitched metal whine together giving the impression of a black claustrophobic worm-hole tunnel unravelling itself as we explore deeper inside. It’s at once creepy and ominous yet some of the rhythms offer reassurance and comfort on our journey. There are no big shocks or surprises and that in itself can be heartening for listeners.

“Portrait in Fluorescent Light” is an amorphous entity of shifting metallic wash and shimmer. This is a highly hypnotic and cosmic piece with a lush beauty and radiance. However Bean saves the best for “Memory Triptych”, a tapestry of very warm shining rhythm loops, muted industrial scrapings, dreamy drone and lots more besides, all bathed in a soft radiant ambience. This is a very dreamy trancey track, reminiscent sometimes of old Vladislav Delay recordings in their seductive quality though those VD releases had a much cleaner sound and were more emotionally neutral. Flotsam and jetsam from various musical genres seem to drift in and out – at one point, we seem to have a repeating jazz horn, calling perhaps for a lost brass instrument companion, intruding apologetically on proceedings – making the track difficult to describe: it encompasses ambient trance, industrial, techno, cosmic space and musique concrete among other genres but reaches far beyond any of them. Near the end, the track adopts a contemplative mood as if brooding on its telos and what it might mean.

It’s a bewitching recording, smooth and beguiling, at times a bit melancholy and wistful. In spite of the tracks’ formless nature, the music can be very accessible and almost poppy in orientation. The sounds are very absorbing and for once I don’t mind that they can be repetitive and monotonous in parts as the soundscapes never stop evolving. For a recording lasting no longer than 35 minutes, this album really does take its listeners on very long expansive journeys.

Contact: Hausu Mountain

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

Distrukt Fragment Zero

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Here we are with CD four from the P16.D4 box set Passagen (MONOTYPE RECORDS mono58). Head P-sixteener Ralf Wehowsky seems quite proud of the fact that the band had been asked since 1982 to contribute to compilations issued around the strange murky globe of industrial noise friends and neighbours. Matter of fact they were doing comps before they even released their first proper LP in 1984. Tionchor gathers together a bunch of these tracks…did someone say it’s a compilation of compilation tracks? Maybe not far from the truth, although it’s just the tip of the iceberg 1 as far as RLW is concerned, and represents a “best of” of submitted tracks made from 1982 onwards. They decided to gather the material for Tionchor in 1986 and it came out as a vinyl LP, although when it got reissued on CD in 1997 they added three bonus cuts, and now there’s one more additional bonus track for this release. How many of you can dip that deeply into your reserve barrels? These tracks originally appeared on records with such tremendous titles you can imagine they’re not only ridiculously rare 2, but if you ever played them you’d probably go completely insane. Dry Lungs, Mail Music, Anthems, Hate’s Our Belief, Bad Alchemy, Cadavres Exquis, and Magnificent March of the Dead Monkeys. The years 1982-83 musta been a great time to be alive, assuming you were an alienated pariah weirdo who loved ugly sounds on records with hideous cover art and wanted to kill yourself in the first place…

Musically, this CD kicks off with some six or seven short tracks that in P16.D4 terms are almost like pop music; a lot of bass guitar, electronics, and drums, treated voices, and plenty of that abrasive scratchy noise which sends hackles up the neck of a white rat. There’s plenty to savour; innovative mischief in the editing and assemblage, and the fact that the performances are pretty fundamentally crazed to begin with. ‘Setebos’ is one particular gem of completely wacked gibberish, on which a chair and percussion loop feature heavily, and the combination of harsh hostile voices (one shouting, one giving very strict commands) has rarely been bettered by RLW and his crew. ‘Inkubationskreise’ is another monstrous burst, which in places achieves the ultra-heavy distorted rock beat that Faust strove to master in the 1970s; this one’s a live version of their own (as PD) song ‘Progressive Disco’, recorded in 1980 and rejigged in 1983 with extra elements mixed in. Needless to say their idea of “progressive” in this case is a force that progresses both the genre of disco music, and its listeners, over the edge of a cliff.

Some other standouts: ‘Bürgerliche Illusion’, two minutes of dark illogical madness featuring a heating system and a tuba; a classic example of wild cut-ups somewhat typical of “that” period, creating delicious shocks for your ears with its timbral clashings. ‘Strauchlende Saulen’ which is historically the first recorded example of their “Improvised Musique Concrète” approach, using lots of radios, percussion and live electronics to startle and sicken the listener. ‘Okay She Said…’ which is a rare appearance of the P16.D4 rock trio playing drums, bass and guitar, but sabotaged and recut into two minutes of sarcastic, pointless absurdity. It not only makes you question the point of rock music, but makes you question why you’re even alive. And the astonishing sound of ‘Virtuell Ausgemerzt’, another of the band’s excursions in combining concrete noise with conventional musical instruments; a drippy electronic organ does battle with angry sawing teeth, and may not come out a winner. This track had a long life, recycling-wise: it uses the same basic material as that found on the Nichts Niemands Nirgends Nie LP, and appeared in some form on two separate compilations (both on the German Dom label), on one of which it was mistakenly pressed backwards. Even this version has been “restructured”.

With this constant insistence on remaking and restructuring work, RLW must be intent on making it impossible for future archivists to retrace his steps; his own personal “audit trail” is complex to the point of bewilderment 3. Who knows who did what, and where the original music began? I suspect this profligate creativity is all part of the disorienting master plan; after a while, even the fabric of reality itself is called into question.

  1. An iceberg formed of grey toxic sludge rather than ice, that is.
  2. Just search for some of them on Discogs when you’ve got a few hundred pounds to spare.
  3. That said, he clearly has a handle on it himself, as his concise but detailed sleeve notes indicate.

The Kryptokontur Factor

Here’s the third CD just prised out of the P16.D4 Passagen (MONOTYPE RECORDS mono58) box set. The story of Nichts Niemand Nirgends Nie is quite involved; originally released as a double album in 1986, it was a collaboration between P16.D4 and S.B.O.T.H.I., the latter of course being Achim Wollscheid who was the co-founder with Ralf Wehowsky of the important and seminal Selektion Records label. On this CD, we’re only getting the tracks from that double LP which were directly attributable to P16.D4, a selection process which thus excludes those tracks explicitly “composed” by Achim. However, since Achim transformed a lot of the original sounds on P16.D4’s studio tracks, it’s not always crystal clear where one man’s input leaves off and another begins. This amorphous and rather “blendy” quality seems to have permeated the whole of this record of 1985 recordings; somewhere, we seem to have lost a few rough surfaces and sharp edges, and the music / sound is generally less “prickly” than the two cactus plants I have impaled my ears on previously. However, the radical and rugged experimentation that characterises P16.D4 is clearly still in evidence. There are lots of conventional musical instruments being played, apparently – the track notes list them meticulously – but virtually nothing sounds familiar to our ears, bar the occasional moment of church organ which makes its way into the strange sonic minefield of ‘Virtuelle Altare’. Everything else – piano, double bass, synths, guitars, piano – has somehow been refashioned into various concoctions of evil, swamp-like gloop, pulsating with the life of a million teeming insects from Hell, and glowing with an eerie incandescence which we can only attribute to nuclear irradiation. One swallow brings the Spring, or at least a fatal ingestion of Plutonium.

As to “concept” and “realisation” of the music, RLW and Stefan E. Schmidt are responsible for the lion’s share of the studio tracks, although Roger Schönauer gets a credit on the highly memorable ‘My Last Words Will Be…’, a somewhat bleakified and ambiguous journey through a slow-moving fog, a yellow fog that thickens and coagulates the more we press on. It’s from the original side C of the double LP, so it’s live recordings – this particular project deploying pre-recorded tapes, played by two separate groups of participants. The use of the swimming pool as an instrument here is commendable. You could use ‘My Last Words Will Be…’ to induce a cheese-infested dream that would alarm any one of Windsor McCay’s Rarebit Fiends. This process-heavy album culminates in the only way it can – by recycling elements from the rest of the double LP in an orgy of reprocessing, and accordingly we get the pre-programmed chaos of ‘The Other Cellophane Upsurge’, where in just 8 and a half minutes RLW and Schmidt manage to make even the most solid of everyday objects appear doubtful, ambiguous and unfamiliar. If they’d been architects, they would have constructed a block of flats with disappearing floors that drop the dwellers to their doom in a pit full of bones, and ceilings that flip over 180 degrees to release a colony of live tarantulas into the room. NNNN – as RLW refers to it, for convenience – is superficially easier on the ears than the fragmented and reassembled rubble we’ve heard so far in the box, yet that sense of safety is a complete illusion. The record is in fact made even more subversive by dint of its smooth corners and gently sloping pathways; it’s a dose of strychnine concealed inside a chewy caramel. The CD release includes a 1991 piece, ‘Ephemeral March of the Dead Monks’, which was selected because it reused some of the live material from the original 1985 project. It’s coming from the same dark corner of the brain as ‘My Last Words Will Be…’, may even have some of the same content, yet is more extreme, spooked-out and ghastly than its brother, an intensified re-experiencing of that dream, only with a stronger brand of cheese.

CD1 reviewed here
CD2 reviewed here

Upset Twilight

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From 12 March 2013, fabulous cassette in a mostly black package from the swell Fang Bomb label of Goteborg. As you may know Fang Bomb is a personal favourite of mine for some reason. Maybe we share the same sense of the macabre. If they were a printing or engraving workshop, they would etch their lines deep and use a black ink of the deepest hue, resulting in evil tomes which, when opened, would give the reader forbidden glimpses of an ashen world and induce nuclear-holocaust strength headaches. Imaginary Forces is the London composer Anthoney J. Hart, who comes to us from a background shaped by 1990s drum and bass music, and whose Begotten (FB022) is a very rich piece of complex dark ambient music, with multiple layers – “environmental field recordings, the chug of train on rail, percussive chatters, insect song and whipping wind” all fed into its creation, selon thequietus.com. The fact that he was approached by Anthony Di Franco for a collaboration may also help you to situate his work. That and the fact that Begotten is based on his own personal obsession with a movie of the same name. I expect he’s referring to the 1990 experimental horror film made by E. Elias Merhige, which looks like it could be a mind-searing experience. Ironically, Hart spent a lot of money getting hold of a copy of this deleted item, but for the non-squeamish among you it can be viewed on YouTube now. The music of Imaginary Forces is compelling, not quite as “bleak” as much emptied-out dronery I’ve heard in this area, where the creators insist that we accept and participate in their sense of futility, and endure the aural equivalent of sub-zero temperatures that numb the brain. By contrast, Begotten gives us a lot to listen to and in its subtle layering often appears to be spinning in four directions at once, its elements shimmering and shuffling apart like decrepit tree limbs slowly withering away before our eyes. Yet it also retains an insistent and mesmerising power. Hart seems to have found a way to suffuse and disguise his pulsations so that they have the same impact as an entire week spent in a club with high-volume dance music, yet remain almost imperceptible in the mix.

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Here’s CD 2 of the mammoth P16.D4 box set Passagen (MONOTYPE RECORDS mono58) which we broached some weeks ago. For Distruct, the trio of Ralf Wehowsky, Roger Schönauer and Ewald Weber were joined by Stefan Schmidt, Gerd Neumann, Thomas Memmler and Peter Lambert, for these 1982-1984 recordings which were released by Selektion on LP in 1985. RLW had been given the idea – by Harry C. Poole of Smegma – to do a remote collaboration; Poole proposed to send across tapes from America for P16.D4 to complete, without having to meet up. Apparently the American found the idea of a thousand-mile distance extremely appealing. This kind of thing is fairly commonplace nowadays, especially since file-sharing has been made easier by the internet, but I suppose it was an innovative and bold step in the early 1980s. Although Smegma don’t actually appear on the finished item, RLW went ahead with the idea anyway, and with his characteristic productiveness organised collaborations with numerous international names from the “noise” and “industrial” music areas. Consequently, you can hear contributions from Bladder Flask, DDAA, De Fabriek, The Haters, Merzbow, Nocturnal Emissions, Achim Wollschied and Nurse With Wound, plus many others. Even an anonymous submission was used for this ambitious postal project; on ‘Aufmarsch, Heimlich’ you can hear a choir from a tape sent to the band from somewhere in Eastern Europe. Said tape has of course been severely mangled by RLW’s unusual treatments and deep slices as he wields the scissors of truth. Impossible to summarise the intense and wild music on this release – every track seems to exhibit a different approach or inhabit a new sound-world – but one thing they all have in common is that they produce very disjointed, broken and difficult listens. The rubble and bracken of unpleasant noise is jumbled and rehacked every which way, resulting in an extremely uncomfortable ride. Truly radical deconstruction techniques at work here. While admirable and important, it’s not much fun to listen to with its general air of nihilism and misery, although I found some respite from the grimness on ‘Les Honteuses Alliances’, whose success might be attributable to the fact that it’s a multiple collaboration: Merzbow, Bladder Flask, Nocturnal Emissions and Phil Johnson all supplied elements to the work, although once again it’s mostly Wehowsky putting the materials into the frame. A very clever and elaborate frame it is too, one made of robust wooden struts and held together with dovetail joints and screws. The CD release includes a couple of related bonus tracks, which have only been available previously as part of a subscription-only Vinyl On Demand box set.

Great Invisible Crashing

We’ve got this six-CD set Passagen (MONOTYPE RECORDS mono58) which is a “career-spanning” box of the undefinable work of the German combo P16.D4. It’s been lurking in the cannisters for many a month, but today I’m just going to try and look at the first CD. It’s called Kühe in 1/2 Trauer and was (sort of) the first proper LP put out by the team of Ralf Wehowsky, Roger Schönauer and Ewald Weber. This album wasn’t released until 1984, but the band was started in 1980 and had been steadily recording all that time. Even then Ralf (or RLW) was terrifyingly prolific, as his solo career will demonstrate. In fact this album contains a jumble of live and studio recordings mostly made between 1982 and 1983, and often we’ll find two recordings from different dates or actions, spliced together to make an unholy lump of gnarled noise. Before the release of Kühe in 1/2 Trauer the band put out various single tracks as contributions to cassette compilations. Did I mention the band were originally called P.D.? Their Inweglos LP from 1980 under that name is a real gem. I haven’t got an original LP of course but the later CD reissue on Absurd Records. Real tasty minimal electronic rhythms and analogue blattery. I seem to recall it as somewhat more tuneful than the hateful, depressing noise I am enduring today. Which isn’t to say I’m not enjoying it or appreciating it. This music is staggeringly original and innovative, and while it’s possible to locate it in a chain of circumstance that links it to “industrial” music, P16.D4 indulged in none of the empty cliches associated with the genre, worked incredibly hard, and seem to have been aiming at a form of sound art that was much more profound, varied, subversive, and potentially dangerous.

You can be impressed just by reading the printed credits for each track, which indicate their radical approach to making music: lots of improvisation, lots of live electronics, extensive use of tape loops, some conventional instrumentation, and much that isn’t – like the milk churn on ‘Paris, Morgue’ or the use of baking tray and washing machine elsewhere. Even when guitars, drums or keyboards are used, they’re played very weirdly. It’s not even made clear who was doing what; the main credit is “Concept”, which I assume means that one of the three devised the framework in which the noise would operate itself, and while RLW gets the lion’s share of these credits, a lot of the cuts are evenly divided among the team and (without reading the history in the booklet) I have no doubt that the group operated in a very democratic or libertarian manner. None of this prepares you for the insane and troubling sounds that reach your ears, composed with scant regard for conventional logic and following an exciting, absurdist path, especially in the matter of tape edits and juxtapositions of recordings. Take a simple three-minute song like ‘Rückplötzlich (Scheitze)’ – it clashes a group improvisation played with organ, drums and guitar with some unsettling tapes of screams, voices, laughing and radio noise; in less than three minutes presenting an unhinged and distorted view of society’s follies that George Grosz would’ve applauded mightily. The musical instruments are played with a ferocious amateurish attack, making a nonsense of “musicianship”, yet producing the correct degree of angry, hideous malevolence and seething discontent. At this juncture it’s hard to escape making comparisons between P16.D4 and This Heat, but P16.D4 seemed to have gone even further; it’s as though the whole band were at the level of Gareth Williams, the musically-untrained trickster in the This Heat pack. P16.D4 may also share some of Charles Hayward’s troubling ideas about the impossibility of communication; at one point in his life, Hayward despaired of human beings ever communicating anything, and it informed just about every song he wrote for that band. P16.D4 seem to take this state of affairs as a given, and are constantly striving to find expression in the most desolate and God-forsaken zones possible. They speak in desperate, blocked growls and fowl buzzing tones, defying anyone to make their way past this palpable membrane of alienation. Powerful!

Another abiding impression I have from today’s spin is one of broken-ness, a deliberate attempt to realise a broken and fragmented music; the music itself is shapeless, abrasive and lumpy. That milk churn image just won’t go away for me; the music itself might as well have been made by a churning process, and that’s reflected in the semi-mechanical churn of the sound. And it usually produces a sour coagulated whey, music that is virtually indigestible by the human system. Tracks are contrived to begin and end in the middle of nowhere, resisting conventional form, often breaking off just at the point where you think you might want to hear more of it. It’s hard to fathom the sensations of “beautiful ugliness” which this music induces. We’re left stranded in a world governed by absurd and incomprehensible rules; not much fun to listen to the unholy noise they make, but it’s even worse when it stops. “Funny, the more you eat the worse it gets,” said Estragon in Waiting for Godot. “With me it’s the opposite…I get used to the muck as I go along,” replied Vladimir in Beckett’s play.

Besides the entire Kühe in 1/2 Trauer album, this CD also contains the three Masse Mensch tracks from 1982; these were released on a Selektion LP of this title that year. I think it was the first vinyl release on this label, which Ralf operated with Achim Wollscheid. These items are no less chilling than the preceding work, but they also have a starkness in their realisation, often comprising not much more than a ghastly bass guitar riff with a layer of angst-ridden guitar noise growling on top. On one track, tapes of crowds shouting are manipulated to nightmarish proportions. On another, a saxophone and piano are added to the minimal set-up, but no sense of joy is imparted by this quasi-jazz instrumentation, and a very forlorn conversation ensues. The sound of the saxophone alone – a ghostly inhuman and echoing wail – will induce an instant melancholy, which can only be cured by the suicide’s noose. Most grotesque of all is the five-minute ‘Halbmensch’ where the treated voice stutters, moans and wails over a fragmented backdrop of tapes produced from kitchen utensils, along with the desultory minimal bass-guitar murmurations. The voice is struggling to make itself understood through a mouthful of dough. This stunning aural portrait of a “half man” is for me a particular highlight of the set, a penetrating observation on the human condition that imparts many uncomfortable truths.

I’m looking forward to digging into the other five CDs, and reading more from the booklet with its history, photographs and critical essays; a fitting showcase for this massively significant band.

Decollate: going headless again with the thinking person’s favourite black metal horde

Source: http://clothbodies.blogspot.co.uk/
Source: http://clothbodies.blogspot.co.uk/

L’Acephale, Decollate, Black Horizons, Canada, cassette (2013)

L’Acephale‘s latest release “Decollate” is a short five-track set on cassette that includes two original songs and three covers of songs by Emperor, Darkthrone and Current 93 in that order. For less than 30 minutes in total, Set Sothis Nox La and his merry musicians deliver some of the most militaristic, sabre-rattling, operatic and bombastic music this side of La Scala Theatre in Milan. Plenty of industrial, folk and ambient music elements abound here without the band’s essential black metal style floundering under so many different genres.

First up for the headless horde’s treatment is Emperor’s “Ye Entrancemperium”, a thumping martial folk beast with savage rhythms and riffs, a venomous gabbling vocal and super-bombastic percussion. Multi-layered at various points, the song is complex and murky. L’Acephale’s rendering of the track sticks closely to the original with details in the vocals and percussion being different and the production distorted. Then follows one of two original songs, “Sleep is the Enemy”, a seething sinister beast, laidback yet doomy, lurching into view with subliminal swamp-monster groans and growls and rhythms that slouch from somnambulist soldier march to frenzied blast-beats and chaos, and back again. And again. It’s a simple song to follow though with much of its emphasis on the quietly creepy atmosphere that envelops it.

Flipping over to the B-side, we find Darkthrone’s “As Flittermice as Satans Spy” given a dramatic neo-folk reworking that makes the song supremely sinister and inhuman. Militaristic horns, severe marching percussion, jittery mandolin tones and crabby misanthropic grim vocals render the track an implacable juggernaut experience. My complaint is that it’s not long enough to drive a listener totally deranged. “Passing into Sleep”, the second original track which might be a continuation of “Sleep is the Enemy”, is another quietly malevolent and oppressive piece with samples of droning vocal chant combined with operatic singing, percussion experimentation, guitar drone and piano punctuation. Again the atmosphere is the most important element here, more so than the previous original, allowing L’Acephale the opportunity to experiment with tone, space and texture.

Last up is a Current 93 cover “Allons vior si la Rose” (“Let us go to the Rose”), dressed Burzum-style in folk melodies and a lead guitar playing over a steady repeating rhythm and a basic drum beat. The ambience is a curious mix of not-quite summer folkiness and sinister blackness. The song ends all too quickly after a minimalist delivery and listeners are likely to feel a bit cheated that the cassette ends much too soon.

Thirty minutes for a recording, even if it’s an EP, are just too short and cramped for an ambitious and maximally inclined band like L’Acephale who like throwing everything they know or can reference into a big pot just for one song. The individual tracks go by far too quickly and, though some songs can perhaps sound overdone and overwrought, they all seem to need more development to become mighty huge structures of black metal evil.

One problem with covering other people’s songs and including them with your own work is that the song covered can show up deficiencies in your own song-writing and arrangements. This is true with particular bands whose work you’re covering and which happens to boast complex musical structures and arrangements – like Emperor for example. But I should think SSNL and company would have been well aware of the scale of ambition and ability needed to tackle Emperor’s work and what they needed to do to make their version succeed. The cover is very good indeed but L’Acephale’s own compositions on the cassette pale in comparison as a result.

As always, L’Acephale make no concessions to first-time listeners who have to come prepared with sufficient general knowledge worthy of ten university doctorates to understand the references the band tosses into its music. Fans will find this cassette an essential addition to their collections, as long as they realise it’s not likely to deliver to their high expectations.

Strata: documenting sound worlds within nooks and crannies of urban landscapes

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Tarab, Strata, Unfathomless, CD U18 (2013)

For years the Australian artist Eamonn Sprod, working under the project title of Tarab, has been collecting field recordings and turning them into albums that explore and document the secret audio histories of vacant spaces in and among urban landscapes where ecosystems of plants and animals arise and thrive unseen and unnoticed by the dominant human inhabitants. His most recent album “Strata” focuses on the sounds of vacant and deserted lots and their surroundings in an area in northern Melbourne. Factories and warehouses back onto these forgotten areas on one side and on the other there is a small creek. A highway overpass runs overhead. Photographs, admittedly treated, of these places in the album sleeve design show a forlorn, almost post-apocalyptic desolate landscape in which feral grasses threaten to cover over evidence of a past human civilisation. The detritus of culture, discolouring and rotting and reverting slowly into scraps and dust, lie strewn over the ground, lacking any function and meaning for whichever life-forms still survive in this barrenness.

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The album has a very dark and foreboding air and the sounds therein intimate that the natural world is biding its time until such time as when it can reclaim the city-scape for itself again. There is a sculptural and dynamic quality to the noises that appear: among other things, we hear wind, the crackle of dry leaves, rusting industrial machinery ambience, distant thunder, aeroplanes buzzing in the distance, the vibrations of pylons and of what cables may be found beneath the concrete epidermis. The border between man-made and natural dissolves, everything inanimate takes on an animated quality and aspects of the natural world seem as machine-like and forbidding as does the traffic on the roads and in the sky. The microphones used to record the sounds are themselves featured on the album as they were often dragged around the ground and over the garbage and rubble or buried within pylons.

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It feels quite intimate and the entire tone of the recording for the most part is very soothing with few abrupt or jarring moments (one major exception occurring about the 22nd minute when a hail-storm suddenly erupts).  The production is clear which allows the sounds, even quite distant ones such as a choir of barking dogs, to be heard with great and precise clarity. The album has an amazingly polished feel without seeming to be precious. Even though individual field recordings are carefully spaced apart so you tend to hear one or maybe a couple of things happening, the album seems very rich in terms of texture, mood and volume dynamics.

This isn’t simply a collection of sounds from a particular small set of forgotten or spurned locations in Melbourne; “Strata” is as much an artistic composition as it is a document.

Life Cycle of a Massive Star: a grand operatic work that falls short of great wonder and drama

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Roly Porter, Life Cycle of a Massive Star, Subtext Recordings, SUBCD005 (2013)

At just over 35 minutes in length, how does a short recording like this recent album capture the immense magnificence and sheer scale of such a topic as the birth, life and death of a supernova? If your name is Roly Porter, you use the topic to explore what it means to be alive as a human, to be a tiny and insignificant speck living in a massive universe where such phenomena can exist yet experience the same life cycle as you do.

The music is split into five tracks that trace the upward trajectory from disorganised helium cloud into concentrated masses of cloud that soon reach critical mass and begin to draw other particles into them. Masses take on definite form and substance, generating internal heat, gravity and other forces, and from there evolution and growth begin and accelerate. The album gets off to a brisk start and rarely lingers for long on sounds, melodies, rhythm structures and tone wash for their own sake. There is plenty of dark void in and around the sounds, suggesting the vastness of space and our own lonely condition on a tiny blue planet in a small star system. The music combines elements from industrial, dubstep, formal acoustic composition, symphonic music and dark ambient.

For all the solemn beauty that passes our ears though, there’s something rather too controlled, steady and unemotional about the music – it’s very grand but it evokes no sense of wonder or drama in the way that the music selected by Stanley Kubrick for his sci-fi masterpiece flick “2001: A Space Odyssey” does. True, the clever director chose a wide range of music and musical styles, some stretching as far back as the mid-1800s, to emphasise the visual action or vistas portrayed – and that in itself points to a problem with Porter’s work: for much of the recording, there’s no sense here that he was reaching for the utmost in the genres of music he chose to work in for this album, no sense of risk or exploration. Only with the final track “Giant” do we arrive at a state of terror and awe as the star in question achieves super-giant status and engulfs some of its inner planets but the musical drama only goes so far. We are not even allowed to hear and visualise the star’s full glory and extent as it reaches its maximum size and development just before it begins to collapse in on itself.

It’s a beautiful work, grand in its own way, yet in my view not quite reaching the heights and depths that beckoned. Perhaps if Porter had extended his vision of the star’s life cycle to include its inevitable descent and death, a connection between the most incredible physical phenomenon and our own lives would have been established, and we humans would find comfort in knowing that even the mightiest things to exist must eventually die. Something really grand, intense and quite emotional could come out of that.

Contact: Cargo Records

Rubbed Raw / Volume IV: deranged outsider noise electronics skating close to madness and chaos

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Rubbed Raw, “Volume IV”, Ormolycka, cassette (2013)

Wacky sped-up chipmunk vocals and glitchy rubber electronics herald this collection of often creepy electronics that almost verges on noise, isolationist dub and Whitehouse-styled power electronics. I have no idea who Rubbed Raw are and what connection they have to a character called Big Daddy Nugg who died in his early 40s in 2010, whether this person was a member of the band, a friend or a major inspiration. The A-side of the recording early on is dominated by a pounding percussion, wobbly watery sounds and deranged guitar feedback drone in parts, followed by a vigorous rhythmic stroll of more blaring industrial-sounding noise electronics with just a dash of techno thrown in. A later track consists of a spoken-voice recording overlaid by shimmering echo that renders the voice alien and sinister, and a quivering guitar feedback drone solo, leading into what sounds like a peculiarly sanitised exchange of gunfire as imagined on laptops and PCs.

Side-B is no less weird or abrasive with occasional rhythm loop forays into something quite funky and almost worthy of admission into dance clubs without fear of being thrown out by bouncers. Blasts of industrial-strength steel noise, searing guitar feedback drone and effects that fly in and out hold you spellbound. This is quite a short side compared to the A-side.

Although this recording seems very lo-fi, the composition, arrangement and execution of the sounds, rhythms, beats and field recordings are excellent and suggest the musicians, amateurs though they might consider themselves, have quite a long history of performing original music. The music is very edgy, skating very close to the jagged point of a sheer drop down into machine noise chaos. There’s a sense of the music being very deranged due to its extreme isolation from familiar music networks; that deranged attitude elevates the sounds into feverish paranoia territory. It can be terrifying to hear and it’s sure to warp your brain the more you listen to it. How can I get more of this stuff?

Contact: Ormolycka, PO Box 649, New York, NY 10163, USA