Tagged: rock music

Heisser Than Hell

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Fans of Brazilian pop and Tropicalista singers like Gilberto Gil and Caetano Veloso are advised to get their nutcrackers around the album As Plantas Que Curam (OTHER MUSIC OM-008-2) by Boogarins…opening seconds are glorious vision of sun-drenched pop harmony…sounds like it ought to have been recorded in 1968 or 1969…the vocal harmonies worthy of The Byrds or The Monkees, the jangly 12-string Rickenbackers of Roger McGuinn…but of course the duo of Fernando Almeida and Benke Ferraz recorded this in 2012, doing it with the wide-eyed innocence of fresh beginners, since it’s all done with borrowed equipment, recorded in their parents’ basements, and the pair of them were even driven to teach themselves how to make a proper recording set-up, all before they even thought of becoming a “band”, or playing live. All of the songs are about love and sunshine and flying and travels into strange places, almost every song flies like a condor, and the clear-as-water singing voices seem to be streaming direct from the sun. Very psychedelic, but it’s more about the craft of songwriting, gorgeous chords and rhythms and strong vocal harmonies than it is about showcasing intensified fretwork – so no excessive guitar solo freakouts or Hammond organ solos to clutter up the set, just short pop-song length toons to delight. Only a couple of tracks near the end, ‘Eu Vou’ and ‘Cancao Perdida’, get vaguely trippy in a lightweight manner (like that suppressed episode from The Brady Bunch where they drink spiked lemonade), and from the cover art you can tell that richly-coloured hothouse flowers are the only “plants that heal” (this is how the title translates) which Boogarins care about, rather than the hippie’s drug of choice…I hope our young friends can sustain their delicate art, as this remarkable debut has the feel to me of a fragile butterfly, an evanescent dream too fleetingly beautiful to be true. In that respect, it’s almost worthy to hold its head alongside cult favourite Farewell Aldebaran. As I write these lines, Boogarins are just coming to the end of a US tour…wish them well and plenty of hamburgers for all, with plenty of mustard and relish on those burgers…and be sure to purchase a copy of this sunshine item. From October 2013.

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Great to hear the return of Anne Rolfs who knocked the socks off the Sound Projector tootsies in 2008 when she recorded as Allroh…just one woman, a guitar and a singing voice creating much unkempt rock-based avant whoopery through her powerful little amp. If I ever felt myself slipping away from my fundamental rock roots, I felt I could depend on Allroh to remind me of the basics of Led Zeppelin, The Stooges, and The Magic Band. She’s now back as one half of Auf with a record simply called CD (GRAUMANN RECORDS GR-002), 20 minutes worth of hard-driving steel for you to sink into the backs of any passing anacondas or zebras…joined now by drummer Mathias Brendel who also drums in Skew Siskin, the band that once supported Motorhead, but he may be more well known in showbiz for playing in Peaches’ touring ensemble. While this mini-album isn’t as off-the-wall as Allroh’s manic work, we still recommend it for its directed energy, its relentless hammering qualities – it could push a man through the trunk of a tree. Also its monotonous (in a good way) tone, where neither guitar nor vocal stray very far from a single root note, which (as Bo Diddley or Mo Tucker will tell you) is mandatory if you want to create great rock music without actually signing a contract in your own blood with “Mr Pitchfork”. Anne Rolfs drives down the freeway like a manic dwarf behind the wheel of a Greyhound bus. Meanwhile Brendel’s stickwork is filling what’s left of the available space. In fact it’s arguably a little heavy on the paradiddles and clever fills, and just a shade too “busy” for me personally. If I were managing this act I would insist on a drummer who just plays one large tom and a snare in simplistic fashion for that idealised “rockabilly” sound. However, it seems Rolfs spent years looking for the perfect drummer before she settled on this Russell Brand look-a-like, and her decision is not to be questioned. Neither is the decision to dress up like a low-rent version of White Stripes on the cover. At some point after they formed their chops in rehearsal rooms and recorded this, they were enlisted to support Steve Albini’s Shellac on tour. Since this is the same Albini who spotted Anne Rolf’s potential when she was part of Wuhling in the 1990s, this probably proves once again that talent will out. From 17 June 2013.

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Last heard from Necro Deathmort with their 2012 album The Colonial Script, with its memorable “dead astronaut” cover printed in sumptuous shades of black. Their EP1 (DISTRACTION RECORDS DIST29) is six tracks from 2013 pressed as a 12″ vinyl 45 with snazzy artwork by Thomas Neulinger. Mostly because of their name, I always think they ought to be a Black Metal band, but they’re dancefloor types really – this Newcastle duo mostly create variants of Techno and dub music with a vaguely sinister vibe, full of growling and snarling drone effects. I like the heavyweight dub track ‘Titan’, but the remainder is ordinary electro-beat malarkey.

Children of the Sun

You Can See The Sound Of

Within the bounds of space rock, any band aiming to escape Earth’s atmosphere simply can’t avoid the pull of a certain raggle taggle band of Ladbroke Grovers. Their template; where a relentless mulch of rudimentary chord shapes meet a morass of oscillatory gurgle is the alpha and omega of all things kozmik and is still a very attractive/thrilling one to these ears. In other words, when reviewing candidates from this sub-genre, any mention of Hawkwind is surely unavoidable. Starting with In Search of Space, their sphere of influence ranges from Simply Saucer to Chrome to Subarachnoid Space to Nebula to…Electric Moon. A German three-piece consisting of guitarist/synthesist Sula Bassana, fuzz bassist Komet Lulu and drummer Michael Orloff, whose ten inch e.p. You Can See The Sound Of… (SULATRON RECORDS ST1301) is kitted out with all the prerequisite moves – albeit equipment-wise, things have moved onwards/upwards since Del ‘n’ Dikmik’s disparate jumble of noise generators first kicked into action. Of the three tracks, that feeling of having your conciousness fed through a sausage-maker at sub-mach speed is best realised within the hell for leather, imposing motorik thrum of “The Inner Part” instro. I’d expect that by now this release, resplendent in its white vinyl livery, has sold out of its run of five hundred, but… sweet christmas!! E. Moon’s back catalogue space is d-e-e-p (sorry!) with sixteen (count ‘em) albums to their name, waiting patiently in line, to be investigated.

Sore Eros

Staying with the humble ten incher, the Jamaica Plain e.p. (CARE IN THE COMMUNITY CARE006) originally recorded in 2002 and unreleased until now is a mild-mannered clinch between Matador Records’ resident singer/songwriter Kurt Vile and tape manipulator/palindrome Sore Eros (a.k.a. Robert Robinson). A languid and unhurried thread runs through all three cuts, ‘specially so on “Serum” a mush-mouthed, heavy-lidded drifter that nods (off) towards near-comatose balladry in the manner of Faust’s “Jennifer”. The two instrumentals “Calling Out of Work” and the aforementioned “J. Plain” are slightly more alert and focused, The former recalling mid-period Tangerine Dream and possibly U.S. analogeur Robert Rich circa the Bestiary album. The latter meanwhile, magics up images of a John Fahey as a beach bum figure, Hawaiian-shirted, aviator-shaded, string bending and picking from a rather comfortable-looking hammock. Horizontal living at its best!

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Now heading towards the Gyratory System; a name that has surely been chosen for its slight edge of ambiguity. Is it a reference to circular intersections or a series of futuristic dance steps outlining a more violent and flailing version of ‘The Twist’? Their “Harmonograph” c/w “Doodlebug” release (SOFT BODIES RECORDS SBR04) is a bit of a headscratcher and no mistake, inasmuch as the London-based Robin Blick and James Weaver (aka G.M.), have decided to put this out as an MP3 download. Yet perversely, I’ve been sent a cdr to promote it! The ‘a’ side can also be found on the “Utility Music” collection which, again, is a digital download and if you’re of that persuasion…fine. But to a surly curmudgeon of a certain vintage, raised on sleeve art, gatefold sleeves and clarifoil , it doesn’t really count. Nevertheless “Harmonograph” is a sparklingly melodic form of incidental muzak/testcard-derived electro-whimsy which would bear close comparison with The Moon Wiring Club and some of the spectral switch doctors from the Ghost Box imprint. If, like me, you’re a fan of traditional audio; which can be handled, filed and has its own atomic structure, you may be spurred on to investigate the tangible side of the System with The Sound Board Breathes and New Harmony c.d.s on the Angular label; both of which could still be available (?). And here’s one for ‘coincidence corner’…”Thorney Island”; a track off of “Utility Music” lies one mile to the east of me. A former RAF base, once home to the Argosy and the Hercules. I wonder if G.S. were originally from this area?

A Gruesome Twosome

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

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

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Olekranon
danaus
USA INAM RECORDS 115 CD (2013)

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

The Drid Machine Turns You Up

So, in October 2013 I reviewed the cassette from Clifford Torus – a maniacal avalanche of raw avant-rock boulders from threepiece Horacio Pollard, Kjetil Brandsdal and Anders Hana, released on the label Drid Machine Records. That same month I received another copy, this time sent by Kjetil himself in Stavanger, plus five other goodies on this label. Note the sumptuous screen-printed covers, many with eyeball-rattling graphics and imagery. If you’d found tapes like this on the shelf of Rough Trade Ladbroke Grove in the late 1970s, they’d have been snapped up like hot lobsters. Let’s peruse said rotary ratmeisters from Norway and find what noises we can.

Noxagt live tape Kill Yr. Ego, Oslo 13.08.03. (DMR9) is a fine black bat of violence flying in the urban night. Noxagt have been Norway’s premier Underground power trio since about 2001 onwards, but all I’ve got to show for it personally is a seven-incher from 2000 which is in fact not the trio but an earlier incarnation of the “project” when it was simply a showcase for Brandsdal’s solo work. Boy, have I been missing out on some seriously poisonous rock. Here the trio is in fact a four-piece – drummer Lauritzen and Nils Erga on the viola joined by vocalist Anderson, and as title may indicate they’re keeping the spirit of Sonic Youth aflame on these 2003 recordings. Actually they’re a lot punchier, more compressed and determined than Sonic Youth have ever been, and on this blistering tape when you’re not being physically scorched by gasoline-fuelled feedback, you’ll be pounded repeatedly in the mush by the remorseless percussive attack of bass guitar and drumming. Once you get past a little audience banter at start of tape, it’s a non-stop assault course from then on. Commandos only for this ride, slugger, and be sure to bring your bulletproof helmet.

DMR8 is a split venture where Freddy The Dyke and Blodsprut cleave the cassette in twixt, doing so under a beautiful collage artwork created by Yasutoshi Yoshida. Visually it’s one of the finest realisations to have been printed in this genre (i.e. decapitated / mechanised heads with blood and veins laid bare). Freddy The Dyke is known to us for their solo LP which came out this June on Skussmaal, one track spun in these quarters though not yet reviewed; they’re a guitar and drum duo from Stavanger, name of Bendik Andersson and Gaute Granli. Here on ‘Hamenikashe’ and ‘Tambacounda’ they produce a hugely entertaining row where the frequent whoops of joy from their vocalising indicate the degree of illicit fun that was had by both during the sexed-up, sweaty, orgasmic session. Unlike MoHa!, the “other” Norwegian drum-and-guitar pairing 1, these grinning gorks don’t propose to pummel us alive with an excess of flatulent noise, and in fact most of the energy comes from the intense drumming and the singing rather than amplified blooey. A sort-of stripped-down version of Boredoms with elements of Lightning Bolt thrown in. I only regret the brevity of the tape, wanting more of this.

Speaking of MoHa!, here’s Anders Hana from that combo who is also one half of Blodsprut along with Patrick Petterson. Unashamed “grindcore” is their trade, which in this instance means very short tracks, devilish screaming, and drumming that defies belief with its intensity and speed. There may be a guitar or bass or synth in here too, but it’s so tightly locked-in to what the drummer is doing that I find it hard to credit a human being with “playing” an instrument at all. Blodsprut’s fiendish brand of grindcore takes the “genre” into another century and another dimension, seeming truly to have been spawned in Hades – at any rate, a very efficient and mechanised region of that diabolical kingdom. After this ultra-violent episode, you’ll be only too glad to return to Freddy The Dyke for their brand of “fun”.

Can’t find out much about Abuseman and his Greatest Hits (DMR10), but from cover blurb it suggests this puzzling collage of electronic tunes and samples was created at Banan Studios by Mr. Bernaise. Not that that’s very informative. Unlike what we’ve heard so far, this is not a tape of guitars and ferocious drumming, but instead a fun-loving concoction using synths, drum machines and studio ingenuity to produce highly entertaining instrumentals, with a high degree of professional polish in the production. The creators here play with pop-art “weird” sounds and 1960s exotica in a way that clearly indicates they have no small love of a certain strain of library music – anything by Piero Umilani from the 1970s probably floats their boat – and the only thing it shares with our remorseless rockist friends above is the same sort of driven quality, where some of the tunes proceed with an airless intensity that only well-programmed machines can deliver. High production values, sharp editing, upbeat tempos and melodic treats galore make this item the poppiest lollipop in today’s envelope…

Now we have my favourite marginal loon-boon of DIY weirdness and noise, the one and only Horacio Pollard. The cover of his Frequencies of Seizure (DMR11) first fries your lids with its ghastly dayglo orange tones, then opens out to reveal overprinted images of the Korg DD1, which I gather is one of the more coveted pieces of 1980s drum machine hardware. Pollard here offers two suites of non-stop electronic zaniness, characterised by looping rhythms, chugging beats, and scads of grotesque noises smeared into the mix like so much melted cheese scooped from the top of a five-day old pizza. Pollard as ever manages to be absurd, entertaining and repulsive all at the same time – it’s frequently hard to position yourself as a listener in the face of this much great / ridiculous music, and you won’t know whether to guffaw or groan. Who can resist the fun-charged pull of these primitive patterns and primitive, near-ugly sounds? Pollard is one of the few creative people on the globe (Romain Perrot is another) who understands that “good taste” is the very death of art, and as such he needs to be cherished like a Siberian Tiger, albeit one whose pelt is made from artificial dayglo blue fur.

Last item of the batch is second live tape by Noxagt, Checkpoint Charlie, Stavanger 08.03.03. (DMR7) This time the Sonic Youth quotations are again made explicit by opening track title ‘Thurmaston’, followed by further titles which do more than hint at rampant group sex and violent perversions – Norwegian style! The band is back to trio formation here, and I for one find this a lot more enjoyable without the shredded vocals of Anderson spitting on my parade. There’s more opportunity to savour the remarkable string work of Nils Erga with his melancholic, depressed viola that scrapes out the inner chambers of the heart as surely as David Cross did in 1973 King Crimson. Meanwhile Brandsdal and Jan Christian Lauritzen turn in exemplary performances of dynamic, heavified slugging with the bass and drums, and each song works away obsessively in its narrow frame. A very harrowing attack is the trademark of Noxagt on this performance; the trio won’t rest until the operation, one involving much blood-letting and painful organ replacement, is fully completed whatever the cost to themselves – and to the patient. Labour-intensive rock at its hardest; Noxagt never short-change their audience.

  1. I’m about half-right here; they use electronics as well, but you get the idea. Manic noise is the dominant characteristic.

Vestiges / Panopticon split: two portrayals of epic black metal grandness

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Vestiges / Panopticon, self-titled, The Flenser, LP (2013)

The phenomenon of split recordings where two or more acts in the same or similar genres release an album together – often in the form of vinyl LPs with one band on the A-side and the other band on the B-side – is common in underground metal circles, especially black metal, and the USBM act Panopticon has done his fair share of such recordings with other bands. Here he (or rather A Lunn, the sole member) teams up with Vestiges, a black metal / post-rock fusion act hailing from Washington DC. After the attention he gained with the release of “Kentucky”, one might think Panopticon doesn’t need to be paired up with other, maybe lesser acts to promote his music but there’s also something to be said for encouraging other acts to come forward with their work by joining it to his and sharing the expenses of production and recording.

Vestiges lead off with two tracks titled “VII” and “VIII” which are intended as two episodes in an ongoing narrative that started with their first album “The Descent of Man” and continued with a split recording with Indonesian sludge metal band Ghaust. “VII” begins slowly and majestically with quiet but insistent guitar twang riff loops, deep bass drone and soft ambient background wash. Gradually adding percussion that itself speeds up as the track goes along, plus ghost voices and a raspy vocal, the track constantly piles up volume, energy and emotion. The music quickly goes into “VIII” which breaks into a mix of rapid-fire tremolo black metal guitar with sometimes choppy drumming and of clean-toned melodic post-rock guitar flow that may take in influences from blues and sludge doom metal. The mood on this second track is sorrowful and tragic as it alternates between the two musical extremes of black metal and doom, both with a post-rock sheen. As “VIII” continues, the music becomes ever more intense, working in dark space and the volume dynamics within to create a mighty edifice of tremolo guitar scaffolding, a thumping bass / percussion foundation and towers of tone and drone that reach skyward and beyond. The music ranges over a wide territory of emotion and atmosphere and there is plenty of epic drama in the two tracks.

After Vestiges’ contribution, A Lunn of Panopticon has his work cut out matching the other USBM band’s effort in creating immersive ambient BM opera. “A Letter” begins well with a dark bluesy sound touched with reverb and a bit of distortion that add extra urgency to an already fast track. This sounds quite a different band from the Panopticon I know from “Kentucky”. The vocals rage continuously throughout, wrapped up in a swift-moving maelstrom of music. The bass / drum rhythms are powerful and drive the song with a lot of force. The mood of the track is oddly uplifting and even triumphant for the most part but mixed with a streak of longing and sadness. “Eulogy” is a surprisingly happy little piece with a definite pop vibe, though the harsh singing in the far distance gives the song bite. The slight echo and washed-out ambience bring enough gloom to give the track a complicated emotional nature: it’s as if it wants to skip through summer fields but then reminds itself that life isn’t always sunshine and bright skies, and greyness and depression could be just moments away.

Panopticon concludes its side of the split with a cover of the Suicide Nation song “Collapse & Die”, a suitably cheery piece to end on. The song is played as a straight black metal song save for a folksy section in the middle which features mandolin and a sing-along chorus.

After hearing this split a few times, I’ve got to hand the greater glory to Panopticon who might not aspire to epic grandeur as Vestiges does but who can certainly handle atmosphere and sound in ways that suggest more emotional depth and complexity than that act has a right to possess. There certainly has been considerable development after “Kentucky” where the music could be sometimes monotonous. That’s no longer a problem here for Panopticon. Vestiges give the impression of laying out all their cards upfront and not having much in store left to give while Panopticon keeps dishing out one surprise after another right to the end. It’s a mighty tall order to share a split with Panopticon and Vestiges do their damnedest.

Contact: The Flenser

No Stars, Only Full Dark: a self-assured release of black metal fusion

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Windbruch, No Stars, Only Full Dark, Canada, Hypnotic Dirge Records, CD HDR-037 (2014)

On first hearing this album, the second by Russian one-man band Windbruch, hailing from Nizhnevartovsk in the Khanty-Mansi region in western Siberia, I get an impression of  raw and sometimes angry music, ragged and sharp in tone with a full bass backing, shaped into actual songs edged with delicate ambient sounds and tones that add touches of ice coldness.

Lone Windbruch member Iluzii Optice brings skill and imagination to craft an album of self-contained and clearly defined songs that feature as much cold space-ambient synth, field recordings of nature and what might be termed “soundtrack music” as they do raw suicidal black metal. The path “No Stars …” takes might not sound different for the most part from what other one-man or two-men BM projects have done but it’s perhaps ideal at this early stage in his career for IO to get the balance between a more commercial style of BM rock pop and his more abstract experimental tendencies right, and to gain the support of a loyal fan-base, before he starts stretching the formula to his own ends.

The album begins strongly with “No More Entry, No More Exit” (taken together, the track titles suggest an arc of being enticed by the city, ending up being trapped there, reaching one’s nadir and experiencing a crisis) which is actually the second track, the first being an extended introduction. The music is robust and hard-hitting; as the album progresses, more ambience, especially at the start and end of each track, and melodic keyboard are brought in, and the album becomes more post-BM in style. Vocals, where they appear, are upfront in the music and are deep and gravelly, almost death-metal in style. The tension builds up through each track and flows into the next; ambient passages relieve some but not all of the tension so the suspense and momentum are still present.

Later tracks like “A City on Fire” and “Only Full Dark” are ponderous and include cold, forlorn space-ambient melodies and spoken-voice recordings. There is a definite urban-blues / post-rock feel which might seem surprising for a Russian BM band, especially one so far away from Europe and North America. The latter track throws away actual music and becomes entirely experimental in most of its second half; its reliance on near-inaudible drone rumble beneath a Russian-language radio monologue is daring. “Neswa-Pawuk” has a dreamy shoegazer atmosphere, a bit like a harder version of Alcest. From this moment on, the album has a sunnier and more positive outlook even if its central protagonist is still stuck in a grim urban environment.

The album is very self-assured and demonstrates confidence in its combination of BM / ambient / post-rock. Most songs are well-defined with some allowance for experimentation. There is something to please most people here.

Contact: Hypnotic Dirge Records

Lake of Solace: black metal and rock meet Chinese pop culture influences

Deep Mountains Lake of Solace

Deep Mountains, Lake of Solace, Pest Productions, Digipak CD PEST046 (2014)

Deep Mountains is a Chinese black metal band and “Lake of Solace” is the musicians’ first full-length release (after an EP released in 2010). The band’s existence and the presence of other Chinese black metal bands in a small scene are testament to the spread of the music across the world since its emergence in Norway 30 years ago: in spite of being ignored or avoided by the commercial music industry, black metal can truly stake a claim to being an international music phenomenon.

The music mixes elements of epic melodic post-BM and what might have been called blues and hard rock in decades past. It’s almost as if Deep Mountains are compressing the history of rock and metal, stretching right back to the 1960s almost, into one package for the benefit of their audience. Black metal is just one of several influences that add flavour to the overall mix: it adds toughness and a sharp steely edge to the music and the raspy BM vocal brings harshness and aggression. The songs tend to flow into one another with barely audible breaks. An early track, “Wind and Stellar”, combines typical BM tremolo noise guitar and spidery BM voice with passages of lilting melancholy acoustic guitar music, desert-desolate lead guitar solo yodel and clean-voiced singing with some Chinese melody structures.

The guys do not forget that they are playing to an audience eager for foreign Western cultural fads: “Detachment” includes English-language spoken-word recordings about rebelling against being dumbed down and maintaining personal integrity and honour, and the music features pop-friendly riffing and melodies and some very pretty moments of introspective ambient post-BM guitar tremolo tremble. To Western ears, having to concentrate on the music rather than the lyrics (I can’t read Chinese), the song can seem very ordinary, almost as if a couple of musicians were sleep-walking through their parts.

The second half of the album, consisting of four songs, seems to be a unit in itself. “Lake of Solace (Part 1)” is a meandering, mostly acoustic-guitar instrumental with birdsong and other nature-themed field recordings: very pretty and pleasant to hear but at over 7 minutes in length, it’s too long and needs pruning here and there as there’s not a lot done in 7 minutes that couldn’t be squinched into 3 or 4 minutes. The second part is more bearable as it includes BM vocals and guitar-work but again there are long sections where the music seems to lose focus and dog-paddles aimlessly, and near the end the song descends into sappy syrupy music territory. “The Ballad of Nai River” seems to be an adaptation of a traditional Chinese song as the female vocal follows a Chinese melody and the only contemporary aspect is the acoustic guitar backing and the field recording of water drops.

For me the album doesn’t have much BM teeth and the band’s style is now better described as a rock and blues mix with some BM influence. The latter part of the recording emphasises more melodic and clear-toned music. While the album isn’t bad, it could certainly be improved with some editing for length on most songs. In the later sections of the recording, a bland quality is creeping in. I earnestly hope this isn’t a sign of DM bowing to pressure to satisfy the faddish demands of their home audiences.

Contact: Pest Productions

La Mort du Soleil: a highly emotional and intense depressive rock album

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Sombres Forêts, La Mort du Soleil, Sepulchral Productions, SP035 (2013)

I reviewed the debut album “Quintessence” by Sombres Forêts for TSP several years ago and since then this Canadian act has had quite sparse output with follow-up albums released in 2008 and 2013. “La Mort du Soleil” seems an introspective, contemplative effort with a strong emphasis on atmosphere and intense emotion. Melody and riffs dictate the nature of the songs with less busyness and more space within. SF main-man Annatar allows the mood and subject matter of each song together to dictate its direction.

The music has a soft edge and a deep cavernous echo effect gives it a three-dimensional sculptural feel. Annatar’s singing is fairly dominant in the mix although his voice can be thin and a bit ragged. There may be post-BM influences in some of the music – certainly the BM tremolo guitars seem less constantly noisy though they are always present. Montreal’s famous children Godspeed You Black Emperor may be one source of inspiration. Sometimes the pace is relaxed, allowing for plenty of emotional drama to burst out. Lead guitar solo break-outs appear but don’t usually dominate the songs where they are present.

By themselves the songs are quite good but bunched together on the album they tend to sound very similar and could just about run straight from one into another; you would not notice much difference between one and the next. Riffs and melodrama are packed into each song densely and considerable anguish and agony are expressed as well. Over 52 minutes, so much unhappiness and personal torment delivered can either be exhausting or a complete turn-off depending on listeners’ mood. Very few songs let rip with explosions of BM anger and rage at an unforgiving and indifferent world that looks askance at individuals’ pain as they struggle through life. There is more melancholy and passive acceptance of dire fate it seems than there is of fury against so much unfairness. One stand-out is “L’Ether” which includes a thumping drum introduction, clear guitar melodies as well as tremolo BM-string texture streams and passages of acoustic guitar wistfulness. Other instruments prominent on the album include piano (especially on one of the middle tracks, “Au Flambeau”) and possibly violin and mandolin in some parts.

All tracks are long – quite a few go past the 9-minute mark – and arguably they could have been edited for length as within them there’s not that much escalation of emotion or other conflict that would result in a dramatic and memorable climax. The songs bang on the turmoil straight away and the emotion stays much the same from then on. Entire tracks are pretty much ongoing purges of sorrow and intense feeling.

For Sombres Forêts, this album builds upon previous work and extends the act’s range much farther into melodic post-BM territory. However many BM acts have progressed from depressive BM to depressive melodic post-BM rock in similar ways so this move for Sombres Forêts doesn’t come as a surprise. I think though if Annatar wants to stand out from the pack with Sombres Forêts and not give the appearance of following the herd, he must now consider sticking his neck out into musical territories far from BM.

Contact: Sepulchral Productions

Red Dust

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Bizarre skull-laden item from Romain Perrot, here performing under his Roro Perrot alias. This diminution of the Christian name is for me one of the more endearing traits of French culture; the way Henri becomes Riri, Estragon becomes Gogo, and so on. I think it’s the way a French mother shows affection for her children. As to that, you may think that only Romain Perrot’s mother could love a ramshackle album like Musique Vaurienne (DECIMATION SOCIALE), but you should bend an ear to this far-out item of disjunctive amateurish guitar noise and unearthly caterwauling and decide for yourself. An electric guitar is mangled and shredded, producing awful tuneless noises and formless shapes, with no attempt made by the player to disguise the clumsy, lumbering manner in which his paws clutch and tug at the metal strings and leaving all “mistakes” and duff notes as part of the finished work. Occasionally the guitar-playing is either fed through a clunky antique reverb unit, or else recorded as though Roro were playing in a deserted chicken coop at four AM – there’s that strange feeling of “distance” that recording engineers try their best to eliminate, and in places this is like hearing a live bootleg of The Magic Band recorded through an old sock. Then there’s the hideous singing, which lurches wildly from nauseating groans to primitive animalistic grunts and strange obsessive repetitions of dumb phrases, much like the mutterings of a raving loon. In all, this is an endearing and very human attempt to bring “rock music” right back to its radical beginnings – assuming those beginnings are aligned, not with Elvis Presley, but with the earliest days of Neanderthal Man. I realise that most listeners will lose patience in about five seconds with these broken non-musical outbursts, but Roro doesn’t care – the insouciance is shown not just in his music here, but also in the titles, which taken together in translation amount to “So what…fuck off…who gives a shit…nothing”. How much more Punk Rock do you want? It’s not the first time that Perrot has picked up a guitar, but this is a great example of his unique craft, simultaneously reinventing and parodying rock music on his own terms.

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The album Love Song for Broken Buildings (QUIET WORLD FORTY THREE) in fact contains no songs, nor even any industrial-style noise sounds you might associate with wrecked buildings or demolition sites, but instead a suite of charming electronic instrumentals concocted by Kostoglotov, the alias of Daryl Worthington from London. Label boss Ian Holloway was impressed enough by Kostoglotov’s two previous releases to find a home for this one, and he praises the painterly qualities of the music (light and colour) while also situating it stylistically in a general Kosmische / Cluster / Sky Music milieu. It might be apt to imagine Kostoglotov wheeling his camera down a boulevard of derelict houses, and drinking in the visions of solitude and urban decay. There’s a human side to it also; certain tracks suggest that broken buildings are a sanctuary of sorts for him, a place he can retreat in search of solace or meditation, even inviting like-minded friends into the shared space. Personally I like the muscular qualities of the openers ‘Nervous Things’ and ‘Broken Buildings’, whose brevity (two minutes apiece) I would also commend; and the sub-bass throbs of ‘Cement’ have a brooding minimal inscrutability which I enjoy. But I’m afraid I found the rest of the work drifts off too easily into meandering, ambient drones, whose overall sound is just too familiar and user-friendly for my tastes, tuneful and pleasant though it be. From September 2013.

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Another fine piece of retro-prog played in the 1970s style on The Papermoon Sessions (SULATRON RECORDS st1303-2), where the Copenhagen trio Papir jam it up with Electric Moon, the German duo of Komet Lulu and Sula Bassana. For this 2012 session they produced just three tracks, two of which are lengthy star-struck freakouts worthy of their Hawkind and Grateful Dead antecedents, and Mogens Deenfort (from Mantric Muse, Øresund Space Collective and The Univerzals) with his synthesizers has brought additional electronic freakery to the echo-drenched party. ‘Farewell Mr. Space Echo’ is sixteen minutes’ worth of hard proof that the Pink Floyd album Ummagumma continues to hold more sway than the Book Of Kells across certain strains of unreconstructed European hippiedom. ‘The Circle’ is even longer in duration, but less effective somehow; wallowing around in vaguely jazz-tinged soloing for its first half, then sinking slowly into a miasma of one-chord pounding thereafter. The sound is just a shade too cluttered, but I suppose that’s a danger when you bring two long-hair bangle-wearing bands together in the room. Even so, all of these Sulatron releases are recommended if you already have a huge collection of 1970s prog and krautrock, and want to hear it re-expressed even more emphatically than the original creators of the genre could manage.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Contact: Candlelight Records