Cruel Nature – CN133

Christopher Nosnibor

It’s not often demo tapes get a ‘proper’ release. Then again, it’s not often you actually get demo tapes these days: cassettes may be making something of a comeback on the underground, but you’re more likely to get a demo recorded on mobiles with the tracks assembled using some smart software than on a four track. I remember my old Fostex X-18 seeming incredibly compact back in ’92. Less true of the X55, but with its double-speed spooling and advanced mixing capability, it was more like having a proper studio on your desk. How times have changed.

But when it comes to black metal, low-grade production is integral to the aesthetic. It’s supposed to be impenetrably murky, the songs emerging from a booming condenser mic recording overloaded with volume, crackle, and hiss.

I was fortunate to catch Petrine Cross virtually live at a Heinous Whining streaming event the other week, and it was devastating: I was blown away by the dark intensity of the performance, and this release confirm this was no one-off or a case of me being carried away with too many cans in my atempt to recreate the gig experience at home.

A solo project for Esmé Louise Newman of emotionally-charged black metal duo Penance Stare (and her resumé is pretty impressive too), Petrine Cross is pitched as ‘Thought-provoking raw ambient black metal, inspired through solitude and literature, that hits hard in all its oppressive glory.’

‘Charred Skirts and Deathmask’ could be read one of a number of was, but it begins with a soft-edged undulating drone, which continues throughout its eight-plus-minute duration beneath a crushing deluge of punishing guitar noise. There are no discernible chords, no clear structure, just a full-on deluge of sludge. There are some vocals in there somewhere, too, I think. I don’t need the details, and that’s perhaps as well, as they’re obfuscated by a dense wall of undifferentiated sound that’s all in the mid and lower ranges.

I’m listening by candlelight and screen glare, and it seems appropriate as the snarling blast of ‘I Beneath a Rougher Sea’ tears from the speakers, a muffled, murky blast of a cyclical chord sequence, overloading with distortion. It takes some time for any form to emerge from the searing sonic wall, and when it does, it’s vague, melting in its blisteringly intense grind.

The recordings may be primitive, but I’m not sure they would necessarily benefit from a more luxurious, layered studio treatment. The context is key: this is black metal – albeit in a stripped-back, ambient form – and doesn’t require polish. These recordings are cavernously dark and dredge the depths of the soul. Search deep.

AA

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