Can I mention I never really “dug” Test Dept. at the time, nor any of those 1980s acts who hammered bits of salvaged scrap metal in the name of industrial music (such as Tools You Can Trust), with the possible exception of Faust (although I was a latecomer to their music anyway). You have my permission to treat me with the requisite scorn for this, one of my many blind spots in musical tastes…I say it because I’m now faced with a CD by Paul Jamrozy, apparently a co-founder of this seminal industrial combo, here appearing as C.3.3. on Ballad Of Reading Gaol – The Cacophonietta (COLD SPRING RECORDS CSR255CD). On it, he attempts to paint a picture in sound of the UK prison system, from the Victorian era to the present day; the main signpost for the work is Oscar Wilde’s famous poem (which is also where Jamrozy borrowed the C.3.3. pseudonym).
Jamrozy plays everything (percussion and electronics) and also provides the intoning voice which sometimes creeps into the mix like a revenant, with the help of Roz Corrigan on piano, keyboards and samples. A remorselessly grim portrait emerges, the heavy air of oppression is there from the start and never departs, and there is no relief whatsoever from despair. The inexorable grind of the wheels of justice (although I have no doubt that Jamrozy would dispute the validity of that word) is conveyed by expert rhythmical playing and a mechanical deathly grind in the music. The percussion playing alone should please fans of the original Test Dept (I would assume), and indeed was a pleasant surprise to me – far less weighty than I supposed it was going to be. Where I remain unclear is understanding what the actual targets of this lament are supposed to be; if this is indeed some form of trenchant social commentary, as the press notes imply, then what is the problem, and who is the enemy? I might be looking at this from the wrong angle, of course, as I suppose it’s in Paul Jamrozy’s interests to keep this “personal” essay somewhat ambiguous as to its theme. However, the cover artworks – archive photos of prisoners arranged in a grid layout, and architectural plans of the gaol emphasising the separateness of the cells – tend to point to a critique of prisons as a metaphor for our current state of self-imprisonment, where we all monitor each other as our own guards. I say this simply because the last track is called ‘Panoptix (Vermin Mix)’ – and the concept of the Panopticon developed by philosopher Jeremy Bentham is one that very much resonates with me today.
While I found the poetry segments melodramatic, for the most part this album generates and delivers a sustained mood with great success. This originally came out in 2011 as a CDR on Satellitic Productions; this edition is a remaster with two extra cuts, which may or may not feature other members of Test Dept. From 11th July 2018.