Tagged: metal

Iron Vultures

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The Carrion LP by Voltigeurs (SECOND LAYER RECORDS SLR005), a Skullflower side project, is a massive, shining example of something…perhaps an example of care and craft in the genre of juicy, industrial terror-noise metal…every one of these four tracks is brilliantly constructed, like sheets of rusty metal riveted together, to deliver four crushing tromps to the ear. What may at first appear to be a wall of unpleasant feedback is revealed to contain multiple layers of seething sound, said layers equally unpleasant to the sensations if not more so…like peeling back layers of corruption and putrescence to expose yet more rotting flesh. ‘Morning Raga’ kicks in like a dose of aspirin dissolved in coffee – probably how Voltigeurs like to start the day – and the buzzing remorselessness sticks around obstinately, much like the pain I imagine a migraine sufferer must undergo. Imagine a heavy metal LP where all the guitarists are tuning up at the same time, trying to vie for to position with their squealing amps turned up to the “death” setting. Grisly.

By the time we get to ‘Iron Vulture’, we have menacing piano chords rumbling away in the lower register, added to the foul feedback miasma. Somehow it’s still possible to hear these pianos in spite of the continuous free-form guitar noise and amplifier roar. It’s at this point that the ingenuity of the structure does make itself manifest, if being struck in the temple by iron mallets is your idea of a “manifestation”, and a stepladder made out of rotting planks qualifies as a “structure”. What exciting pain…it’s not enough that my tormentor is pulling my body apart in the torture chamber, it seems he also wants me to admire the construction of his metal devices and instruments. If 20 minutes inside the iron maiden isn’t enough for you, then flip over to face further misery in the form of ‘Sirius’ and ‘Gynocide’, the latter being a particularly morbid and horror-inducing racket of sullen monotony, and realise at this point that Carrion is attempting to pass on various states of anxiety to your mind, ranging from panic-stricken terror to all-out, throat-slitting despondency.

The choice of name is highly appropriate; whether it refers to the elite skirmishers who caused mayhem to the enemy in Napoleonic battles, or to the Canadian ice hockey team, it passes on the requisite impressions of violence and pain inflicted by experts at tremendous speed. This scorching LP was created by the team of Matthew Bower and Samantha Davies and released in an edition of 350 copies. From June 2012.

009

Metal, Machines, Music

What is it about modern artists and urban desolation? They can’t get enough of that abject despair and industrial ruin 1. Just give one of them a video camera and they’ll come up with a movie like Entrailles (DAC RECORDS DAC 2018), which was produced by the French artist Gregory Robin, and his subject was the Saint Etienne coal mine in the Loire, which was decommissioned at the end of the 1970s. Natch, even though it’s currently unused, there’s still plenty of amazing sights to be had as his camera enters the installation, passes by the rows of showers, and dips down into the depths via the still-functioning elevator. There he finds tons of fascinating machinery, dials, cogs, and handles, and mining overalls and helmets hanging from a vast ceiling and looking like alien bats with their dirty wings folded up for the night. In the centre of this space he also finds Franck Vigroux, the French electro-acoustic noise guy whose work we love so much, playing his keyboards, mixing desk, or rocking out with his amplified red guitar while surrounded by cast iron, chains, and distressed surfaces. Yes, Vigroux did the soundtrack for this vision of modern abandonment, a symbol of a near-dead industry and a reminder of the complexity of technology that was pretty much based in the 19th-century, but had a long half-life. I can’t get enough of Vigroux’s stern, unsmiling sounds, which are usually enriched with plenty of reverb and other juicy effects; in this electronic drone music, he transforms the idea of “metal music” into something you could chew with your mandibles. The video starts off fairly promising, and does have some nice images in places; but a good chunk of it is just documenting Vigroux playing his setup, dressed in black, stood in the middle of the old installation. He’s a great musician, but in terms of giving off a stately brooding presence, he’s a tad lacking. At these moments, it becomes just like any other naff music video, and quite a dated one at that. From 19 February 2013.

Speaking of “metal music”, we’ve got Daniel Menche and his Marriage of Metals (EDITIONS MEGO 174) LP whereon he offers up two sides of metal-sourced material carefully forged and fused in his personal studio furnace. This project started when he was allowed within handling distance of the Gamelan instruments held at Lewis and Clark College in Portland. After he recorded a bucketload of gong sounds, he ported the results through assorted distortion techniques, and subjected the material to his inimitable cutting and assembly technique. Net result is two side-long episodes of surprisingly gentle and highly compelling murmuring, detailed noise. I say “gentle” in full knowledge of the bludgeoning racket Menche has sometimes been capable of, but Marriage of Metals is far more beguiling and even somewhat musical; root notes can’t help bleeding into the bubbling potage, no matter how much noise, grit and feedback he brings into the stew. Don’t expect much in the way of variation across each side, though; instead, you get a mesmerising and unchanging continuum teeming with strange details, much like metal shavings and iron filings dancing in the air. From April 2013.

While we’re in this vaguely “mechanical” and metal-based mode, we ought to bend an ear to the Offset (DOUBTFUL SOUNDS DOUBT 11 / UNIVERSINTERNATIONAL UI 019) LP by Pali Meursault. When I played this jet-black grindathon with its oil-drenched cover it induced instant visions of a faintly grim mechanised world where old-fashioned robots had all but taken over the world, except they weren’t doing a very good job of it and they needed a lot of oiling just to get out of bed in the morning. Like most of us, in fact. Imagine my surprise when I read the liner notes and found that Offset turns out to be based on field recordings of an old litho press. He did it in two print workshops in Grenoble and Paris, and presumably performed some transformative and editing work on the recordings at a later date. There’s an intention to give us something that’s both a decent sound recording of these near-antique machines working away in hot pumping action, and a suite of composerly electro-acoustic variations on their repetitive chugging rhythms. As Meursault worked on this piece, hypnotised by the insistent back-and-forth motions of the cylinders, feeders and rollers, he started to weave a dream of how the machine has been celebrated and perceived in sound art over the last hundred years. His main plot-points in this cultural schema are the work of the Futurists, industrial music, and techno; hard to argue with that lineage, although it’s not a terribly original line of thought either. No matter, because the actual LP is a splendid listen, never once descending into any of the sonic violence or clichéd manipulation one might have expected from those of the Industrial school. Where some see metal cogs as instruments that will crush mankind’s spirit (or at least mash his fingers into a pulp, if he’s unfortunate enough to trap his hand in the mechanism), Meursault’s cogs are somehow more benign, and the record makes us nostalgic for a time when Newtonian physics still held sway in the world. What he should do next perhaps is make a typewriter record. From October 2013.

  1. I’m thinking principally of Hashima Island, the Japanese ghost town which used to be a mining community. Artists throng to its ruined magnificence, most notably Carl Michael von Hausswolff and Thomas Nordanstad.

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.

Demonstrative

MONST010

On Monstrance (TOUCH TO:88), we hear the inspired team-up of Mika Vainio (from Pan Sonic) with Joachim Nordwall (from Skull Defekts). I say inspired because it’s arguable that both of these death-dealing noise beasts have exhibited a life-long interest in realising highly effective sonic results while using a bare minimum of methodologies – not that I really have any clear idea what these methods may be. Broadly, I associate Pan Sonic and Panasonic before them with a sort of desperate and shrill howlage created out of an electronic saucepan set to simmer, and sustained for long and intolerable periods in a blatant attempt to destroy the listener. Skull Defekts have also wished to crush the audience, but they do it by means of loud amplification and adding illegal amounts of digital reverb to their hideous electric filth, which may either have been salvaged from the garbage tubs of INA-GRM and EMS, or simply generated out of feedback. Given their shared penchant for death and destruction, you’d think they would have collaborated sooner, although it seems their diaries are so full that they only managed to meet for a single day in Berlin in 2010, when these seven tracks were recorded. I think it’s especially interesting that they’re partially going for a “rock” sound on this album – Vainio with the electric guitar, Nordwall with the electric bass. One might be tempted to look for a Sunn O))) resemblance, but Mika and Joachim don’t “riff” like arm-swinging robed monks, not even in slow motion, and instead create a fascinating combination of thick bass throbbings cut with icy steel-like details wrenched from a trebly garage guitar. Of course there’s also a fair amount of feedback droning, perhaps created from the Hammond Organ or general application of electronics and processing to amplified feedback, but once again this mighty dronery is executed with a precision and deathly cold that none of these sludge-influenced avant-metal bands can seem to manage.

We also have the presence of “metal objects” and “metallic percussion” 1 played by the duo, a metallurgic theme which is picked up by most of the track titles 2 – for example ‘Alloy Ceremony’, ‘Live at the Chrome Cathedral’, ‘Promethium’, ‘In Sheltering Sanctus of Minerals’ – titles which suggest our friends are playing the “sonic alchemy” card, and that they see their work as fundamentally transformative. I have remarked recently on the use of this tiresome “alchemy” cliché, but I’ll make allowances when faced with this professionally executed and massive large-scale music, whose attractive surfaces generally ease the pain and discomfort of being smothered alive in a gas chamber while being flattened by a block of lead the size of a house. I’ll concede that some of the tracks do buck this “death by heavy weight” trend; ‘Midas In Reverse’ is a zero-temperature spacey episode with frozen daggers sailing through the air in a very minimal setting; one suspects Mika took control for this part of the session. ‘Irkutsk’ is a metal-hammering classic offset with a mean and moody bass guitar, which is deliciously disjointed even if it lacks the clarity of purpose with which Z’EV might have approached the job. And ‘Promethium’ is so understated it feels like the poor cousin of the other elephantine tracks, with its tentative scrape, slide and rattle effects which don’t amount to much more than skilled doodling. No matter, since more than half of the album delivers the goods – powerful, airless metal drone with expertly burnished surfaces and creating an unforgettable effect on the body and mind. From 01 July 2013.

  1. Natch, Merzbow is one who’s pretty notorious for generating noise from lumps of metal in some way. This Monstrance record is about as un-Merzbow like as could be; the pair of them are far too controlling to let rip with the madness of a Pulse Demon.
  2. And the album title itself, which refers to the receptacle for the host in Catholic liturgy; often this piece of church plate is gold plated and richly ornamented.

Russian Brutalism

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Wozzeck
Act IV

RUSSIA OPPOSING MUSIC OPM013 CD (2012)

Young Russians (previously known to me only via their interview in The Sound Projector issue 21), headed by Ilia Belorukov with a fresh approach to the by now well known if not well-worn grindcore tropes, here mastered by James Plotkin (equally well known to many by now I should think, and quite rightly, too). The unorthodox addition of synthesiser and saxophone to the traditional elements should do much to endear the project to those susceptible to this kind of thing. And a worthwhile piece of brutalism it is too.

It is an unusual album of saxophone-hybrid avant-garde metal which periodically put me variously (and perhaps predictably), in mind of Borbetomagus, Hawkwind and Elliot Sharp’s Carbon on first listen. Plenty of riffage and screamo vocals (not always upfront – sometimes very effectively used as you would an instrumental pad morphing into a saxophone part), as you would expect.

No little evidence of technology (live processing and editing I suspect, plus lots of production, no doubt), on the sprawling single track on this album, but not to such a psychotic extreme as a contemporary like Genghis Tron, say. In fact, this single 39-minute track is surprisingly effective device with a coursing dynamic, space to breathe and some very capable group improvisation dovetailed in. I like to imagine this is a recorded document of a live session but there’s no written evidence on the sleeve to support this impression.

In its quieter moments, Act IV reminds me of (and here I’m showing my age), Gong, Cardiacs, and briefly, even the modulated Roland Chorused guitars of early period The Cure. Somewhat predictably, I feel like pointing out that Lightning Bolt have a lot to answer for when I listen this music (although its authors may not agree). There’s the ever-present grumbling of a multi-effected bass guitar, and the drummer is feral – capable of all the required polyrhythmic tricks one minute and relying on pure power the next – although not as fightening or potentially dangerous as Brian Chippendale or the guy from the Japanese duo FINAL EXIT. I’m making the comparison stylistically and/or philosophically; not literally – the incarnation of Wozzeck here are a four-piece not a duo. They are, in fact, the aforementioned Ilia Belorukov on voice, electronics and alto sax; bassist Mikhail Ershov; guitarist Pavel Medvedev and on drums, Alexey Zabelin.

So, to Act IV itself. Kicking off with strangulated feedback then an explosion of blastbeats, Act IV sets out its blackened and twitching stall without delay. After a short while, screamed vocals cloud over a sudden slackening of pace as digital feedback raises questions (of mortality?) no-one is prepared to answer. Residual traces of processing give way to the entrance of the saxophone at four minutes in. From here on in, the music takes on an aura of relentless, progressive grind allowing all four instrumentalists to shoot off on their own separate internal voyages. By nine and a half minutes, the bluster is replaced by a brooding ambience. Hissing fog tones and rumbling bass coalesce before a sudden and violent return to blast. Hidden in the midst of a typical blitzkrieg at thirteen and a half minutes is one of the brief Gong-like asides – a contrast as captivating and unhinged as any. At around 22 minutes, there is a protracted fatal collapse of all previously well-wrought metal architecture; the digital distortion produced as all the inputs blast into the red left in the final mix, until relief, reprise and reconnection with the melodic thrust of fifteen minutes previous, and then without warning everyone bar the bassist drops out. A bass chord is languorously explored while phantoms of electronics waft here and there. Serpentine long tones that might once have been an electric piano move in and out of focus while the drummer gradually recovers from whatever blow to the head rendered him unconscious in the first place, and turns his attention to his impressive collection of cymbals. From here the Robert Smith-like guitar flange kicks in to ominous and eerie effect. Tom-toms are chucked down a liftshaft and/or reverbed to sound like they are being played in the next town and a ring modulated buzz encourages over-amped guitar (tinges of Alex Lifeson if he was ever capable of becoming truly deranged), finally, to take over for the last three and a half minutes of the session.

Act IV rewards repeated listens, packed as it is with unhinged sonic artefacts; fast moving and restless. There’s been a long list of on trend noise/screamo (if that’s the correct genre appellation – apologies if I’ve got that wrong), bands come up for air in the last few years; Rolo Tomassi, Charlottefield and Bo Ningen spring to mind – perhaps Wozzeck are on their way to joining that list. James Plotkin’s involvement can be seen as an endorsement in a way. Whether that was their intention or whether the opportunity to work with Plotkin was just too good to miss remains a mystery. Either way, I’m glad they did.

Ilia Belorukov
Opposing Music

A burger from Norway with metallic ingredients

STAER2
Staer
Staer
DISCORPORATE RECORDS DISREC20 CD (2012)
Well, I didn’t really know what to expect with this one. Some Pop-Op packaging; “Noise”, says the info, straight out of Norway. So when a guitar/bass/drums racket of lurching bass-driven chunk that sounds firmly in a Butthole Surfers/Flipper sort of lineage (via, more pertinently, three decades of subsequent, related music) erupts when I press play I am briefly taken aback, having braced myself for Merzbow-isms. I guess there are other connotations of noise in other musical circles. Perhaps if a ‘rock’ was appended to the noise the approach would have been more obvious to me. Although (textual) noises also are made about ‘mind-enhancing’, ‘counter-cultural’, ‘new’, ‘forward-thinking’, these prove red herrings, in most respects. The key to Staer’s music lies firmly in a rock mode, more specifically a largely American tradition of ‘alternative’ rock, metal and various ‘core’s. The rumbling bass and choppy guitar recalls hoary alternative rockers of yore, heavily redolent of the 90s, such as Unsane or even the Melvins, sans all vocals. Something I would not particularly consider ‘counter-cultural’, associated as it is with MTV, burgers, etc. Although, curiously enough, the press release does compare the album to a burger-meal from a certain pervasive red and yellow fast-food establishment. Do Noxagt and some Load Records things sounds like this? I’m not sure, for some reason I think they might well. I think there’s perhaps a sonic connection.

Riff based and workmanlike, clad in oily dungarees (not too oily, mind. In fact on closer inspection, this could be hamburger grease…) this is primarily a bass showcase, prominent thundering and grumbling away under everything. It is certainly has some weight, which I understand is important in heavy musics. It’s also very tightly controlled and played, riveted by the monstrous downtuned bass. The fastidiously geometric riffing also contains clear whiffs of that most arithmetical of modes, ‘math-rock’ (or ‘maths-rock’ as it perhaps could be known on our shores, if it has to be known). It’s recorded very nicely, even glossily, although a bit of dirt never hurt anyone in these circumstances. Incidentally, I never did understand the dichotomy in metal (not that this is a metal album, this is only metal in a post-millennial, post-metal way) between the latent distortion inherent in the music and the pristine recording often aimed at when bands had enough money to access a studio.

There are no melodies or hooks or any particularly unhinged moments (moments in the last track, which is a definite highlight, are an effective exception, where a borderline melodious guitar line is allowed to raise its head from sweaty scrutiny of the fretboard and roam free over a steady kick drum pulse), the dedication to furious, knotty, detuned, riff construction above all is paramount. Overall we are presented with something a little like some monumental sculpture involving heavy iron plates and more rivets than you can shake a bass at, all coated in thick, battleship-grey lead-based paint sitting in an exclusive art gallery. It is heavy, unadorned, feels expensive, and involves a lot of metallic ingredients. If it is cleanly recorded, scrupulously-anchored riffage (health and safety would be proud, none of these riffs are going anywhere, lashed firmly as they are with industrial cabling) and growling bass in a reasonably energetic rock idiom that you’re after, then there is more than sufficient chunk for those requirements contained herein.

Staer home
Staer on Soundcloud

STAER3

013

Deliberate Mistakes

Home Service

The latest entry in the Vernon & Burns catalogue sees this Glasgow duo teaming up with Lied Music, the duo of Luke Fowler and John W. Fail. Lost Lake (SHADAZZ SHA.11) is one of the stranger and darker emissions from these talented creatives, particularly if you care to compare it with the sometimes more playful assemblages of V&B, or the deliciously offbeat melodic avant-pop tunes created by Fowler as part of Rude Pravo. At first spin the record is a near-bewildering toasted-cheese sandwich, a concoction which contains at least a zillion ideas apparently thrown together any which way. Faced with such an array, discerning avant-LP listeners may want to reach for The Faust Tapes as one touchstone, but another credible precedent is the unearthly Bladder Flask LP 1, that ne plus ultra of cut-up sound art put together by a teenaged Richard Rupenus as if possessed by some fevered desire to surpass the worst excesses of the lunatic fringe end of the United Dairies catalogue. But the Bladder Flask release had the underlying sinister aim of sending all those who heard it mad, through highlighting the complete absurdity and futility of everything. Lost Lake has a more benign mission, thankfully. The album has been very carefully crafted, using sets of recorded improvisation sessions produced by the four players, aiming to resculpt the near-chaos of that source material into a coherent structure. Within that structure, fractured songs and equally fractured stories emerge; yes, a scrambled form of a radio listening or cinematic experience, which is an effect Vernon & Burns have striven for with a good deal of their work (and have produced many items expressly in radiophonic mode). As to the cinematic, Fowler is also a film-maker. There is a logic to this scheme, but it is hard to follow and weaves its way around in a highly secretive and intuitive fashion, like an errant underground stream full of eccentric fish and darting river-insects stained in unnatural colours. We could account for some of this quirkiness by pointing out that all four creators were involved in the refashioning process, rather than a single editorial hand behind the editing knife; one can imagine the clashing dynamism generated by four powerful personalities, each of them bending the path of events in their favour. Additionally, the source material itself was not exactly straightforward music to begin with, but created using the now-virtually-standard set-up of the modern improviser, that is amplified instruments, toys, found tapes, field recordings, and live electronics. From this rich stew, voices and tunes emerge from amid a varispeeded and highly layered humid aggregation of extremely strange sounds. And yes, like the Rupenus LP, it is quite absurdist, but I like to think it’s a fun and cartoony absurdity, rather than bleak and Beckett-like. That said, this aural bric-a-brac crawls out from a dark attic of the mind, and is as much an unsettling listen as it is entertaining. Corin Sworn’s cover art encodes all the above information quite perfectly. Using collage technique (naturally), it depicts a figure sitting on a sofa surrounded by hideously “tasteful” drapes and furnishings. This image of bourgeois normality is thoroughly disrupted by replacing the outline of the figure with fragments of urban horror and machinery, then further scrambling the visual schema with concentric rings and diagonal bars, suggesting the power of the aural emanations on the record. The album is, we are told, a sequel to a 2006 release called Lied Music vs Boy-Band Tax Returns, which we reviewed in our Vinyl Viands issue.

Pedal to the Metal

A promising experiment in steam-driven innovation is the one-sided 12-incher by DJ Mistakes (PHASE! RECORDS PHR-81). The two creators are Casey Farnum and Elliot Hess, who built a complex apparatus allowing them to power their turntables using bicycles; the cover art and the enclosed drawing, as if torn from the pages of the English comic illustrator Rowland Emmett, give some indication of the set-up and its concomitant paraphernalia. These drawings also reminded me of the sketches Hans Reichel used to include on his early FMP albums (e.g. Bonobo Beach), indicating how he assembled his own hand-built guitars. On the record, we actually hear live recordings of the infernal machine, made in Brooklyn in 2006-07 and also using gongs, microphones, a mixing desk, and of course records on the turntables. The artists may be slightly poking fun at the conventions of DJ culture, but also intend to put more spontaneity back into the artform, and they hark backwards to the time of the hand-cranked Victrola, harbouring a certain intellectual nostalgia for an undefined early modern period when “gears and bicycles were the stuff of aural and physical revolutions”. If I were a writer of the Ken Hollings school, no doubt I could bring forward numerous references to the place of the bicycle at key political moments of the Russian revolution, the First World War, or in the films of Eisenstein, thus making ingenious connections across political and cultural history. Farnum and Hess may even be attempting to begin that undertaking with their front cover collage, which although let down by rather murky printing, does suggest a darkened industrial landscape where the bicycle wheel on the horizon resembles part of a mining operation, and the two men in old-fashioned suits have their heads replaced, John Heartfield style, with objects which I assume are bicycle seats. Unfortunately, the record itself doesn’t live up to much of this promise, and is merely odd and amusing where it could be radical and wild. Some unusual moments can be heard, but it is mostly a lot of wobbliness and speed variations, which is pretty much what you’d expect. This arrived around June 2011.

The Charred Rise

The double LP Atonal Hypermnesia (MEGATON MASS PRDUCTS PIKADON002LP) by French avant-metallists P.H.O.B.O.S. is their third release and arrived here in June 2012. We last noted them in 2009 with their album Anœdipal, and this new release provides an even more remorseless manifestation of their craft. They began life in 2000 using the “conventional” four-piece set up of guitars, bass, drums, keyboards, and vocals, but from the start their driving mission has been to create a degree of sonic intensity that transcends the conventions of the many generic labels that are flung in their direction, including Black Metal, doom, stoner, sludge, noise, industrial, etc. As a matter of fact the principal creators are proud of their “maximal” approach to amplified noise, which while it may use a lot of churning, droning effects is arguably more “eventful” than any given release from the Sunn O))) school of imitators. They also aim to structure their tunes, rather than merely reverberating their Marshalls into infinity. Stefan Thanneur once again provides the cover artworks, but where the Anœdipal record made provocative use of religious icons, the keynote this time is heavy abstraction, a restricted colour range which allows only black (lots of it) and silver, and an allusion in the direction of geological formations, intended to suggest this is music that causes earthquakes or was engendered inside the crater of a volcano. As a listen, it’s very heavy going; treated guitars, much studio fog and choking drone effects, solemn vocal grunts, and relentless hammer-blow drums throughout. In fact I can’t stress enough how inescapable these drum beats are. They strike their way into the very fabric of the music like geologists’ mallets, and serve mainly to illuminate how trapped we are by the cavernous walls of this extreme sound. These drums make the entire sonic environment sound hollow, and start to make me feel hollow inside too. As to the guitar and electronics (if indeed that’s what we hear), they produce endless, clotted clumps of noise, and to endure them is like eating lumps of burnt coal or solidified nuclear waste. Certainly this is very well-crafted music and is quite some way removed from the more primitive end of Black Metal (e.g. Striborg, Bone Awl, and Beherit), and the elaborate titles such as ‘Solar Defrag’ or ‘Necromegalopolis of Coprolites’ point to a strongly intellectual influence on the work, adding additional layers of context to what is already an extremely dense statement.

  1. One Day I Was So Sad That The Corners Of My Mouth Met & Everybody Thought I Was Whistling, originally released in 1981 on Orgel Fesper Music.

The Feather tipped the Serpent’s Scale: album inspired by vivid and unusual concept

Eagle Twin, The Feather tipped the Serpent’s Scale, US, Southern Lord, CD (2012)

Reading the fine print on the gatefold sleeve of this, Eagle Twin’s second album, and seeing ” … This album marks the conclusion of a deep, sometimes dark, shared personal journey for all involved …”, I was, I admit, afraid that this heralded the end of the desert doom metal rockers but from what I’ve seen on the Internet, Eagle Twin are in for the long haul but perhaps in a different, if no less thoughtful and literary direction. Members Gentry Densley and Tyler Smith draw lyrical inspiration from poet Ted Hughes, the Biblical story of Job who had to suffer endlessly and undergo a transformation in his relationship to God, the 20th century Spanish playwright Federico Garcia Lorca and Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry. Compared to the first album “The Unkindness of Crows” which was dedicated to our favourite black birds that fought the sun and were scorched during the battle, “The Feather tipped the Serpent’s Scale” is a cleaner, almost rock’n’roll affair though still very heavy, dark and monumental. Here, the crows burnt by the sun are thrown back to Earth in the form of black snakes and must stay in their reptilian forms until they can be reborn and reclaim their true heritage.

The 18-minute “The Ballad of Job Cain”, cut into two 9-minute halves, is a roiling noisy work mixing quite complex percussion rhythms and beats derived from progressive jazz with twisting and tortured guitar drone chords. The atmosphere is intense, burning and malevolent. There’s a bit of throat-singing at the beginning which unfortunately doesn’t appear elsewhere on the album. Gentry Densley’s vocals still can descend very low to subterranean depths; his deep gravelly voice, as slow as the music is serpentine,  matches the vivid horror of the images of the two birds falling, condemned to crawl on the ground on their bellies. This two-parter is a restless beast, flitting from slow to mid-paced, filled with tension and turmoil, mirroring the agonies that the birds feel as they die and are reborn. (Well, one of them anyway as the other is called Cain and can never die – but of his fate, I remain in the dark as the album concentrates on his mortal brother’s destiny.)

“Lorca (Adan)” is a quieter and more measured affair: a sluggish pace and steady pace carry the almost dirge-like music dominated by long scything chords and Densley’s singing. About halfway through the track erupts in fury and there’s an extended instrumental section of controlled though simmering guitar aggression. The track segues into “Snake Hymn” through a cloud of searing hot guitar feedback noise; this is a major highlight of the album, very distorted in sound and featuring some incredible volume dynamics as the music dives into the quietest of quiet moments only to break out in a loud crash of abrasive guitar crunch and solid sub-bass riffing. Past the halfway mark, the track gets very chuggy with drums providing the driving force that energises Densley’s guitar-playing which sends out forceful flashes of guitar tone and melody.

We’re well and truly in the realms of snake mythology and symbolism by now, epitomised by “Horn-Snake-Horn”, a slow-burning piece on the mystical connections among snakes, fertility and renewal. Track 6 picks up the renewal theme and extends it into a legend of death and regeneration in which the mighty horned serpent heroically gives up its body to become mountains, landscapes, trees and ultimately birds. The epilogue in which he returns to life is celebratory for the most part but still has a dark mood. The bird has atoned for his past arrogance and presumption, and has sacrificed himself for the betterment of his fellow creatures and environment (this means he created of himself the Garden of Eden – what a hoot!); but it seems still that he has hard lessons to learn as a new path stretches before him – and what has happened to his brother in the meantime?

Most tracks are quite long and very busy, and sitting through the album in one hit, even though it’s actually less than an hour long, can be quite exhausting. It is truly an assault on the ears with complex jazz-influenced percussion rhythms and writhing guitar riffs and chords. The standard of playing and the level of consistency are very high; there is not one moment here that is wasted or should be edited for length. Eagle Twin have delivered an excellent album inspired by a strong, vivid and unusual concept redolent of Old Testament Bible absolutism, desert despair, snake symbolism and redemption through self-sacrifice. Aspiring young musicians, take note: all the technical prowess you can muster is as nothing if you don’t have a good theme or subject that can push you to creative and energetic heights.

I only wish – and here my gripes are my own personal preferences – that there was more throat-singing, that sometimes the music could be a bit cold to bring out the transformed birds’ new reptilian behaviour and nature, and that the album could blow out intensely hot and dry desert atmosphere along with cold, sliding leathery scales.

Contact: Southern Lord

Corrupted-Garten-Der-Unbewusstheit

Garten der Unbewusstheit: doom metallers Corrupted at their most elegiac


Corrupted, Garten der Unbewusstheit, Japan, Nostalgia Blackrain, CD cold ashes 002 (2011)

This album might be Corrupted at their most elegiac and wistful: the garden described in the album’s title could be a metaphor for planet Earth and all its natural ecosystems. I like to think my interpretation of the album’s title is consistent with the band’s general aim of criticising current political systems and societies, and standing up for oppressed peoples around the world. “Garten …” serves as Corrupted’s warning of what lies ahead if the world continues on its present path of self-destruction: this is a highly sorrowful and despairing work, epic and majestic in its description of ultimate tragedy.

Opening track “Garten” would appear to have an extremely long and drawn-out introduction of deathly quiet music and huge still space, animated only a little by Hevi’s whispered vocals, but the music then plunges into a near-orchestral passage of crashing percussion and guitar drones that sound like brass horns. Hevi’s whispers become long guttural groans. Interestingly about halfway through the track, there are trilling shimmers of guitar drone, possibly fed through a computer and sculpted into a very atmospheric sound, that might reflect a post-metal influence and which by its tone suggests a glimmer of hope in the devastation so far described. Unfortunately that hope doesn’t last long as the track crashes into another orchestral realisation of horror. As the piece dies down and limps off to a quiet finale, I notice that the music all the way through has a clean and almost smooth sound with hardly any of the crust and abrasive quality that usually appears on Corrupted’s recordings.

“Against the Darkest Days” is a brief track at four-and-a-half minutes of slow, frail acoustic guitar melody, nothing more and nothing less, that serves as a breather and extended introduction to the mammoth 30-minute “Gekkou no Daichi”. The track gradually acquires a darker, deeper, more ominous second guitar melody before plunging into long, pained guitar riffs and extended tones, sporadic use of drums and cymbals, rumbling guitar shower in the background and Hevi’s groaning vocals. The whole atmosphere of the track is of suffering, pain and desolation. As the song progresses, all musicians become more active and the music builds up with extra effects and sounds. It all reaches an early climax about the 12th minute and the music falls back into a coasting instrumental with a mix of clean lead guitar solo and roiling background guitar noise. Hevi’s vocals change to an angry or desperate whisper, depending on the point of view, and progresses to a constant if restrained rant that never quite works up into a full-fledged roar. “Gekkou …” gradually becomes a grand and defiant death cry, the last statement of a dying though still conscious species. Clean lead guitar solo trills and vibrates against the majestic backdrop of emphatic, crashing drums and cymbals, a continuous metal guitar rain and Hevi’s vocals. A sandstorm emerges to swallow up the music gradually.

In spite of the album’s gloomy mood, the style of music throughout has a hopeful, even optimistic and bright edge that rarely appeared on previous Corrupted releases. In the later parts of “Gekkou no Daichi”, the mood can be quite sunny even as the noisy storm conjured up by guitar feedback grows louder and engulfs the music. The album plays like a soundtrack for a prolonged funeral procession; “Gekkou no Daichi” alone certainly would qualify as the accompaniment to a funeral cortege from church to the grave. Admittedly the music is very long and monotonous in parts, and editing could have been applied to the beginning of “Gekkou no Daichi”, but I think the intention here is to involve the listener fully in the music, drawing the attention into the quiet, meditative melody of acoustic guitar and then breaching the consciousness with a heavy barrage of guitars and percussion.

Corrupted may not be a very original band and the guys try to play catch-up with trends in doom metal these days, incorporating a cleaner sound and post-rock elements that give the band’s music an additional dimension. No longer are the guys just glum reporters and commentators on what they see as a world that’s lost its way. They are now detailing its final end and calling on us to decide whether we’ll fade out meekly or make a last defiant stand against a universe that doesn’t care whether we live or die.

Contact: Nostalgia Blackrain

ea-cover

Ea (self-titled): new beginning for mystery Russian doom band?

Ea, self-titled, Solitude Productions, CD SP055 (2012)

I guess when you’re onto a good thing and milking it for all it’s worth, you should stick with it. Especially if you’re locked into a particular groove and the mother lode still promises to yield hidden riches. This self-titled one-track album may signal a new beginning or a change of direction for this mystery Russian band, inspired by sacred texts of ancient civilisations written in languages long forgotten and undeciphered, or it might not. A very brief and delicate piano melody is our entry point into the grand universe of Ea’s ambitions and music: chiming guitars, some with vibrato effects, bombastic percussion and keyboards that lend a rich and warm ambient halo around the gloomy procession. Listeners may feel they’re witnesses to a grand funeral cortege that never ends. Vocals are deep and near-indecipherable beneath the layers of sound (though they’re not thick layers) and there is some death metal influence in the drumming.

These guys have learned something from their last three full-length outings: there is more emotion in this offering and the music’s intense emotion increases, slowly yet surely, with passages where the instruments pause and there is only the afterglow of a heavenly choral ambience bathing listeners in a warm light. About the 17th minute the musicians include a field recording of water being swirled about which is an interesting if pointless touch since the music resumes its onward and upward climb with no change. Spacey quicksilver liquid effects appear later.

Past the halfway point, black metal elements enter with harsh sandpaper vocals, a faster synth drumming pattern and a definite guitar melody leading the way. Clean female vocals, smooth and soothing, enhance the picture. Lead guitar dominates from this point on and while it provides a necessary focus, it’s bland in sound and quite boring in delivery as the track progresses. At various points along the way, the deep gruff vocal declaims lyrics while guitars sorrowfully circle them, going slightly off-key at regular intervals, as if to launch into a different, perhaps more ominous direction.

Save for a brief pause at the 39th minute when the music dies down to trickling water, the track proceeds relentlessly in its own strange, somewhat delirious style towards the end. The music barely changes pace but chugs steadily along,  as if sensing its time is nearly over.

Overall this is solid if not very imaginative music. In its second half, the track appears to flounder under its weight and grandiosity and the lead guitar fiddles aimlessly. Parts of the track could have been edited to tighten up proceedings and give the impression of ever-increasing tension, even a bit of urgency here and there. At least the musicians try to vary the music by introducing some death metal, black metal, electroacoustic and traditional Christian religious musical elements; these never last long nor do they interact much so tensions that might arise from their fusion and help to sustain the track are missed. I get the feeling that at times the musicians are so awed by their creation that they lose control of it and let the music run away under its own massive weight. There’s a self-indulgent and pretentious element in the whole mammoth missive that, with the passage of time, might turn the track into a huge piece of atmospheric funeral doom kitsch.

Contact: Solitude Productions