The Frogs Who Desired A King

The Belgian label Ini.itu sent us a batch of their final releases in 2017 – it seems they’re giving up production. We did hear from them around 2010-2011 with some of their unusual records, which featured heavily-treated field recordings and an interest in Asian climes, sometimes coming up with conceptual twists to make the package more interesting. For instance, the Mutations LP which teamed up the Swiss noise musician Dave Phillips with Cornelia Hesse-Honegger, a marginal and highly unorthodox entomologist, to produce bizarre sound portraits of insects underpinned by contentious theories about them.

Before us today is the album Frogoroth (ini.itu #1601), which is the very last release on the ini.itu label. It’s themed on frogs. Some years ago we noted Merzbow’s Frog + CD, which came from his never-ending eco-friendly phase, and transformed and amplified the croaks of frogs into his typical blasts of heavy, pumping, noise-action. We’re not too far away from that territory with the opening track here, ‘Frogowrath’ created by Dave Phillips (him again). He’s assembled a large number of frog recordings from his travels in Asian countries and crunched them together in a suffocatingly dense mass, then added some “metal” rock guitar riffs. In places it chugs along like a water-buffalo stuck in neutral, with its frustrating and impotent (though noisy) repeated loops. Serious metal fans will be disappointed by Dave’s cramped, sarcastic take on the genre. But you may enjoy the ultra-swampy textures evoked by these layers of croaks. You can almost feel the humidity of the jungle, so vivid are these captures.

Yannick Dauby also starts out with field recordings of frogs on his ‘Amphibians In The Throne Room’. He did it in Taiwan and added electronic instrumentation to the work. It’s part of a much bigger frog-related project he’s involved in, apparently. No idea what he’s trying to prove. Who knew that these humble croakers could be such a rich source of information? Like ‘Frogowrath’, this one too is overpoweringly thick and clotted, barely allowing the listener to breath as it piles on the croaks by the bucketload. Unlike Phillips, Dauby has no interest in indulging his “power noise” predilections, so there are no chugging rhythms to speed you on your way. Instead, a detailed sprawl spreads out before us like an imaginary map.

Slavek Kwi has shown up on these pages now and again as Artificial Memory Trace. He turns in a lengthy piece called ‘Tasman Firedance In The Brain’. Of all the players so far, Kwi comes closest to putting the frogs in context, by which I mean we can hear more the surrounding environs of these croaking devils. That’s deliberate, since he wants to call our attention to a lesser-known ecological threat, that of a certain fungus which is killing off the frog population around the world. His work, like Dauby’s, is part of an ongoing series which he calls ‘Anouran Protest Songs’. I found this the most approachable piece on the album, it’s got a lot more breathing space, and its strange beauty is undercut with a bittersweet sense of loss for the frogs, if his claim about this deadly fungus be true.

Sylvain Van Iniitu, label owner, closes the set with ‘Fire Burn And Cauldron Bubble’. Did I mention there’s a “witchcraft” subtext to the release? Well, evidently Sylvain wanted there to be one, even extending his concept to the press release which prints a few lines from Macbeth in support of it. Plus there’s the font used for the title, which is a vague nod in the direction of Black Metal genres. Frogs may or may not have featured as ingredients in a witch’s cauldron ever since the publication of Malleus Maleficarum in the 15th century, and Sylvain is not only keen to bring us up to date, he would like us to think his actual compositional method resembles a witch’s brew. He prints his credit list as a recipe of sorts, alluding to the stages of “maceration, putrefaction, and psychoplasmic surgery”. Fine words, in support of some rather ordinary and formless sonic murk. However, he does keep the album more or less on track with his vague sense of malevolence, evil stewing endlessly in a fevered brain. The image of frog skeletons on the cover was supplied by Yannick and have been overlaid with a lurid green film to advance the supernatural aspirations of this release. From 8 May 2017.