Archive for July, 2016

Christopher Nosnibor

It’s the hottest day of the year so far: the mercury’s teetering in the top twenties and I’ve had a hectic and predictably crap day at work. The train from York to Leeds is fucking rammed, and I almost melt as I make my way from the station to the little underground space that is Leeds’ primary dedicated rock venue, The Key Club. At least I can attribute my heavy perspiration to atmospherics rather than anxiety over interviewing full-throttle sludge metal masters Raging Speedhorn. The simple fact is, I don’t know what, or who, to expect.

In the event, tour manager Jim is as welcoming and affable guy as you’re likely to meet, and while I’m amazed just how busy it is backstage – it seems the entire world ants to interview Raging Speedhorn tonight, and the press are out in droves for video interviews and other kind of features – things are simultaneously organised but laid back. It’s not surprising it’s busy: the release of their first new album in nine years, which also sees Frank Regan return to the fold, has reignited interest in the band.

I’ve been booked in to chat with drummer Gordon Morison, and I’m reminded of the first interview I conducted with a ‘proper’ band, (the local bands I shot the breeze with for the local paper back in the 90s really don’t count) when I waited an age outside The Well in Leeds to interview Rolo Tomassi and was given some five minutes with drummer Edward Dutton. In the event, he was cool and eloquent, while I was shamefully anxious and anything but cool.

Settling into some big leather sofas at the back of the venue’s extended backstage area – really, the backstage area is bigger than the public space, but then, there’s a lot of kit in for these bands, and I expect that’s not uncommon – I immediately feel at ease: there’s no pretence or celebrity bullshit here. Nevertheless, I promise a quickfire Q&A, not least of all because I like to get in and out as efficiently as possible, and without outstaying my welcome. Besides, I have to transcribe the exchange afterwards, and wading through over half an hour of audio is a real chew. And so, with the thunderous drums of By Any Means soundchecking, we quickly get down to business:

AA: You’re back on tour: how have the shows gone down so far?

GM: Really good. It’s just been really nice to get back out and play some more shows. This is the longest we’ve been out, probably the longest tour since we’ve been back together, so it’s hard – we’re not used to it any more – but…

AA: Does it get harder as you get older?

GM: I think it does, but…

AA: Everything does?

GM: Yeah… I think the alcohol numbs the pain until the next morning, and then you’re feeling it again but yeah, it’s been really, really good.

AA: You’re playing some pretty small venues this time around, but you’ve also played some big festival sets since returning to the live arena. Do you enjoy the intensity of the more intimate shows, getting up close and personal with the fans?

GM: Yeah, we’d rather play the small venues, to be honest. But sometimes it’s not really up to us. We’ve got to work with our agent, and it’s got to be about the fees and stuff.

AA: Well, you’re not going to turn down a major festival show.

GM: No, I mean, the major festivals, we’ve been blown away by what we’ve done… headlined a stage at Sonisphere, headlined a stage at Download this year… So it’s moving in the right direction of where we want the band to go. We’re getting back to where we want the band to be now, and it’s better now, because we’re in charge of the whole situation. There’s no-one telling us we have to do this, or we have to do that. We decide as a group if we want to do it or not.

AA: Your new album, Lost Ritual, was crowd-funded through PledgeMusic and smashed the target. How does that feel?

GM: Awesome. Amazing. I mean, it was just a little idea, like ‘should we do a new record?’ and it just… It took a while to get to the target, and we were a bit nervy about it, but then as soon we get to the target, and then it went ‘Boom!’ and it went crazy. I think the crowdfunding this is the best way, especially for our band, because we’ve been signed to these big major labels and sometimes it’s not all that it’s cracked up to be.

AA: There’s no question that the Internet has revolutionised the music industry? A lot of people – a lot of them major artists and industry people – complain about it, but you’d say that for some people, like yourselves, it’s a change for the best?

GM: Yeah. I think that PledgeMusic is the best way for bands to do it. It’s quite stressful, and if you’ve got a manager it’s easier, but me and Jim manage the band, so we have to deal with day-to-day stuff. And it’s great, because you actually see the product from nothing to having it in your hand, and that’s amazing.

AA: And the end product is amazing. Lost Ritual is a belter, one seriously intense record. Historically, you’ve a reputation for songs about nihilism drugs of various kinds. What was the inspiration and driving force behind the new album?

GM: The only thing we really wanted to do was go back to our roots, like the sound of what made the band successful in the first place, the first two records. Especially ‘cause Frankie’s come back into the band.

AA: What was it like being back in the studio with the original twin vocal assault reinstated? Was it a powerful feeling?

GM: Yeah. To be fair, I love Kev, and he’s still one of my best friends now, but it was never Raging Speedhorn without Frankie being in the band. And I think he needed the break, and I think we needed the break, not from him, but other things were going on at that time. It’s just the best thing we’ve done. we all got in a room and practiced, and finally thought ‘this is gonna work’. So yeah, it’s great.

Raging Speedhorn

AA: You emerged from the Nu-Metal scene, but were never actually a Nu-Metal band. How do you think the metal scene, particularly in the UK, has changed since you first started out?

GM: It’s changed a lot, definitely. I think it’s changed… I don’t know if it’s changed for the better. I think it’s a lot better for the UK bands now because they seem to be getting out there a lot more than when we first started, it was all American bands coming over here.

AA: It also seems a lot more grass roots now, with bands emerging from local scenes with bands getting up and doing things for themselves.

GM: Exactly.

AA: So the drive has changed, with things moving from the bottom up. And I think in the current climate, people are angry, and metal is a response to that in a way.

GM: Certainly, especially with what’ going on. I think it’s going to turn out some fucking bangin’ bands. There’s amazing young bands coming out, not only in the metal scene, but in the rockier scene as well. I see it a lot because I work with bands, I tour manage bands. I have my own splitter van company [vanmorisontours]. So I see it first-hand, seeing bands going from no-one really giving a shit to being quite biggish bands, and it’s great. There’s a band called Milk Teeth now, they’re more grungy, and they’re fucking great. I work with them quite a bit, and it’s just so good to see these bands just doing it on their own.

AA: What do you think it is about Raging Speedhorn that sets you apart, and has been the main factor in your enduring appeal?

GM: I think it’s just because we’re completely different. I mean, there are bands around like us, but we’re just lucky we got through the mainstream and had that for a while, I think it’s just that in this scene, there’s no one-one really sounds like us. I don’t think I’ve ever heard a band that sounds like us.

AA: And perhaps the ferocity gives you the edge?

GM: Yeah, I think it’s the attitude. I just don’t think people get what we’re all about, and I don’t think we know what we’re all about. We’re just a bunch of six guys out to have a fucking good time. But then, I read an interview the other day that said we’ve got a ‘yobbish’ attitude, and it made me laugh because I’d never thought of it in that way. Basically they said that we were like six chavs playing metal. I suppose it could be seen as yobbish ‘cause we don’t really care.

AA: Who wants middle-class metal?

GM: Exactly, and that’s just it. We’re all from complete working-class backgrounds, so we’re just who we are, and we don’t really care if anyone likes it or not. But luckily people do, so I think that must be the appeal, I think it’s ‘cause we’re just normal people. When you go to these big festivals, you see bands going backstage and they won’t go out front and don’t hang out with people, we just go straight out, we’ll go and see our mates in the camp, we don’t really care. The only thing that’s different between me and the people watching us is that I’m up there playing drums, so why the fuck shouldn’t I go and speak to people? It’s stupid, really.

AA: Your Facebook page describes the band as a ‘12 legged, beer fuelled hate machine’, which I’d take over an 8-legged groove machine any day. But what’s your beer of choice?

GM: Oh! There’s too many now. I’ve really go me and James, our guitarist, really into ales now. It’s unbelievable. I love it all, to be fair. There’s not really many beers I don’t like. I love Brewdog stuff. I live in Wales, so there’s loads of really nice ales. I like more pale ale kind of vibes. But I just love it all. We were drinking white Russians last night till five in the morning. Frank literally hasn’t stopped since we got out, so the last five days…

AA: Got to keep the momentum.

GM: Yeah, you’ve got to, ‘cause if you don’t then you crash and burn. This morning I was thinking ‘I’m going to be fucked today’, but I feel alright again now. But they’ve just been drinking. Jim, our tour manager, and Frank, came with these big stein glasses. We’d stopped at Morrisons earlier on, then they had a bottle of… something, and poured it into these steins, and then orange juice, strawberries, in the van. Fucking hell. They’ve already started smashing it. Idiots!

He laughs. I applaud the band’s commitment to living the rock ‘n’ roll lifestyle on the road. It seems a good time to wrap up, not least of all because it’s sweltering and all this talk of beer is making me all the more thirsty for a pint of something fresh and hoppy.

The show was a barnstormer.

Lost Ritual Artwork

Lost Ritual is out now.

Front & Follow – F&F043 – 26th August 2016

Christopher Nosnibor

Kemper Norton’s previous releases, Carn and Loor were respectively located in specific rural locations and the city. In contrast, Toll heads off-shore, and it begins with a swell of sound as grand as the ocean, but very far from an attempt to recreate the sound of the tide, a vast, grating, rolling buzz. It soon becomes clear that this is neither an ambient album which strives to recreate and convey the kindness and cruelty of the sea, and nor is it an ocean-inspired drama (I would contend that The Christmas Tree Ship EP by I Like Trains is pretty much the ultimate in this field).

Toll is a complex work, which is inspired by – and interrogates – two very different pieces of history – specifically the lost Cornish kingdom of Lyonesse, and the 1967 sinking of the Torrey Canyon oil tanker. Both are stories set in the same geographical space, a stretch of ocean off the west coast of Cornwall. To bring together what could be considered a mythological disaster – and thus in the literary, classical sense, a tragedy – with a modern-day disaster, is a bold and ambitious project, and it’s the duality of ancient and modern which finds Toll pulling in different directions. And yet this is not an album built on conflict, but an attempt to reconcile very different histories, united by location.

Although a broadly ambient album for large segments, Toll deviates from this or any genre category frequently, and widely. Toll’s preoccupation is more with narrative and themes than with atmosphere alone, although this is not to say it isn’t a deeply atmospheric work. To this end, the album does not restrict its form to any one musical mode, and ‘The Town’ takes the form of a lyric folk song, but performed as a sonic wash that’s a cross between folktronica and ambientgaze. Meanwhile, the echo-blasted vocal of ‘Black Silk’, accompanied by a drone and distant percussion owes more to Suicide and Massive Attack than anything from the worlds of either ambient or folk. The instrumental passages hover and hum, sometimes intimating trepidation and others tranquillity, but oftentimes with darker undercurrent eddying beneath the surface.

Two-thirds of the way though the album, ‘Agnes and Louisa’ forges a deep, rumbling, rolling rhythm, a swell of sound which grates and wheezes, with electronic interventions, while the sparse, lilting electronic folk of ‘Coming Home’ is quietly menacing. The final track, ‘The Tide’ brings the album to a perfect conclusion: a magnificently balanced synergy of folk and electronica, traditional and contemporary, it builds a haunting surge of sound and emotion.

What Toll ultimately conveys, by oblique means, is a sense of the intrinsic nature the relationship between human geography and physical geography, community and place. History is every inch as integral to the shaping of a location and those who reside there as geography: past events etch themselves into the landscape and the collective conscious, however discreetly, and similarly legends are imprinted in the backdrop of local life. Toll is not an easy or immediate work, but it is one which is deeply evocative and highly thought-provoking.

 

Kemper Norton - Toll

Room40 – RM487 – 20th May 2016

Christopher Nosnibor

Location is a state of mind. The abstraction of the cover art – an image of clouds with the colour balance altered to give it a greenish hue – and a conspicuous absence of any text provides an indication of the contents it houses. In fact, it’s a nice-looking package overall: the back cover contains ink with only the words ‘New Rome’ and the simple but distinctive Room40 logo, both in small type. Embossed, white on white is the album’s title. It’s larger, but still easy to miss in the wrong / right light. And just as the attention to detail is what renders the initial engagement and the tactile experience special, so it is that the tactile elements of the music – the tone and texture and the significance of details all too easy to overlook while observing the bigger picture – make this album what it is.

To give some background: New Rome is the latest project from the Polish composer Tomasz Bednarczyk. He merged in the late 2000s with a succession of albums which proved somewhat groundbreaking, combining pastoral tonality with ‘grainy smears of pulse and rhythm’ and heavily imbued with a personal quality which was melancholic yet lilting in tone. Having explored other avenues with other projects, New Rome marks something of a return to this earlier territory.

The album’s ten tracks are comparatively brief, and in some respects have a certain sketch-like quality. But the fact they are brief and fade out where so many other artists would extend the pieces out for an eternity means that there’s a freshness about Nowhere: with each track presenting a different shade, texture and tone, there is a rare sense of movement about the album. Many of the soft and delicate, nebulous cloud-like drones which drift and turn are what one might call ‘conventional’ within the field of ambient and chillout music, but the undulating, interloping synth motifs and small but twitchy little rhythms give the pieces an underlying energy. ‘Venus’ hums, the note hanging for an age before flickering beats and extraneous sounds, like the wash of waves, disrupt the stillness. And yet, while the notes swell and sink, an air of tranquillity remains. ‘Dive’ is much dense, the deliberate, pulsating beats more pronounced, dominant even, but above all, Nowhere is defined by balance, with no one aspect of the sound taking primacy. And this is ultimately the most important detail of all. The bigger picture only exists because of its symbiotic relationship with the constituent parts, rendering Nowhere a magnificently realised work.

 

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Monotype Records – mono102 – June 2016

Christopher Nosnibor

It’s been eleven years since Wolfram last released an album. But the gap between albums no longer seems to be such an issue as it was: the industry has changed and now that, beyond the mainstream, at least, labels have significantly less power, artists are generally free to release material when they’re ready. Or when they can find an outlet. Or when they have the time outside the day-job, or the funds to do it. There’s no long-winded explanation for the space between Wolfram’s releases, and ultimately, it has no bearing on the simple fact that there’s an album.

Said album begins with a long wash of sound which resembles the sea, swelling and swelling to a wash of fizz with ‘W:X:swarm’. From amidst the pink and white noise frequencies emerge small sonic details: a buzz, barely audible and yet distracting. In a sense, the importance of minutiae and detail is a key theme of the album. Small and seemingly insignificant in themselves, these features become impossible to unnoticed once they’ve caught the attention. So, the fact each track is a minute longer than the one before may not be significant in itself, particularly given that the tracks segue into one another to create on continuous track, Yet the designations of the individual tracks to correspond with sonic shifts between each passage and the increasing running times are indicative of an internal logic which overarches the album as a whole.

Beyond X (the album) being part of ‘a wider project consisting of miniCD-R, CD and audiocassettes on a special box, produced in limited runs of just 25 copies (budget is a factor, but there’s also a cult appeal in rendering work clandestine and unavailable to the masses), the significance of the album and individual track titles is not clear. But then, mystery is also part of the appeal. And of course, X is that unknown, indefinable quality.

‘exploded view’ is perhaps the strongest example of Wolfram’s interest in contrast and his ability to forge tonal conflict. Crackling static first brings light interference to tranquil drones, slowly but surely growing in intensity and volume, until an angry, angular, sawing buzz all but engulfs the soft tones beneath. ‘N:xizhe’ is a dark, sinister piece which rumbles and groans, distant inhuman sounds evoke fearful sensations as they rise and fall to silence again over a sustained, low drone. And, indeed, there is a definite progression and trajectory through the six-track sequence, with each piece being darker and more threatening, culminating in the bleak ‘Secret Humans’. Insect skitters flit across a low, undulating drone, straining mechanoid hums and grinds labour amidst the seething swarm. It isn’t human, but alien, burrowing into the brain through the ears and disturbing the cranial cavities and the ravines of the mind by pouring doubt and discomfort into every channel. It’s far from simple, but it’s highly effective.

 

 

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26th July 2016

Christopher Nosnibor

Puntastic pork punkers Kleine Schweine were one of the highlights of Live at Leeds for me this year, and several of the tracks featured in that set appear on this, their latest EP. Being angry political polemicists, keeping things current is important, and I’m pretty sure ‘Our Ex-Prime Minister Stuck His Dick In The Mouth Of A Dead Pig’ had a different title prior to release.

No doubt The Sun and The Mail would rail against these guys of they’d heard of them, vehemently rejecting their ‘hard-left’, ‘socialist’ and ‘communist’ politics and sneering at their yobbery, but in a climate where opposing racism is sufficient to see one branded a Trotskyist, context matters more than ever before. Kleine Schweine are pissed-off working-class punks from Leeds / London, and their music is the music of discontent, of frustration, a mans of calling out injustice. It seems almost unfathomable that in Britain in 2016 I should be writing about the voice of the repressed. But then, our current government have worked hard to quiet the collective voice of dissent not by appeasing it, but simply closing it down, not least of all with the help of the media who have simply ignored most major protests. If they’re not reported, they didn’t happen. And if they didn’t happen, then everyone’s happy. History is being fixed right under our noses.

If there’s one positive to be pulled, desperately, from the wreckage of a culture that’s resembling the bleakness of the early 80s, then it’s a resurgence of music that reflects the rage and pessimism of the times. Punk and post-punk inspired music isn’t just a stylistic affectation: it means something again. ‘There’s bodies, here’ bodies in the water!’ Neil Hanson hollers urgently on ‘If We Close All The Borders Down You Can’t Go To Benidorm’, exposing the hypocrisy of the Brexit brigade. If there’s any doubt, the minute and a half of thrash and feedback that is ‘Referendofdays’ should clarify their position.

Porcine of the Times – the EP’s title operates on at least three levels – offers six frenetic, kinetic tracks ablaze with fist-pumping ire. It’s fast, a hell-for leather explosion of gritty guitars, and raw – the production is more about replicating the immediacy of the live performances and preserving the integrity of the songs than polishing them – and as such, it feels like proper, authentic punk. The majority of the songs clock in at under two minutes, and the snarling lyrics are primarily vitriolic rants against the Tories, against the rich and privileged, the selfish and the ignorant. It’s sad, politically, that we’re back in the late 70s, but not so bad that at least the musical landscape offers some solace. This is the authentic voice of the people the not-so-silent half of Britain who stand for equality and justice. Britain needs Kleine Schweine right now.

 

Kleine Schweine - Porcine of the Times

Cara & Mike Gangloff release their new album Knock On Life’s Door with the Great American Drone Orchestra on August 5th through MIE. Giving a flavour of the unusual rthyms and idiosyncratic approach to arrangement which define the album, they’ve unveiled a video for ‘All of Me’, which you can watch here:

 

My Proud Mountain – 22nd July 2016

Christopher Nosnibor

It takes a while to get going: the first minute and a half is simply drifting sound, like the distant sea. But Lash Back is an album that takes it time to build atmosphere. Parker may be the lauded producer and electronics wrangler behind some of metal’s more intriguing contemporary acts, but Lash Back is certainly not a metal album. But it is dark and as innovative an album as you’re likely to hear this year.

Stammering snare drums add an element of unpredictability to the sedate and solid bass-led rhythm on opener ‘Psychic Driving’. As the layers of sound overlay one another, forming a towering sonic cathedral, one is increasingly moved to awe. The stark industrial electronica of ‘Knuckle Crossing’ hangs over a slow, deliberate beat, shifting shapes and textures shading shadows and conjuring an air of coldness and dislocation, while ‘Slow Children’ broods ominously. Parker’s compositions, and their execution, show extreme restraint, the emphasis very much on building tension rather than looking to grant its release. Just as the invisible monster is always scarier than the one which reveals itself, the undefined threat and menace that lurks on, and beneath, the surface of the tracks, is more powerful than their realisation.

There are sustained sonic attacks, and plenty of them for those who relish the blistering noise assault: the aforementioned ‘Slow Children’ does eventually burst into a steely crescendo, and the slow surge of all-engulfing noise that is ‘Low Gaps’ is breathtakingly dense, with heavy hints of Prurient in its tone and the juxtaposition of synth sounds more commonly found on commercial dance albums, with mangled industrial noise, and the sonorous mechanical grating of ‘Sheep Slaughter’ is every bit as abrasive as the title suggests; it’s a soundtrack of pain, of death, of mass-scale killing.

Lash Back is by no means an accessible or easy album, but then, it isn’t meant to be, and Parker has produced something that is unusual and unsettling, and which conforms to precisely nothing.

 

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