Archive for September, 2020

Cruel Nature Recordings – 2nd October 2020

Christopher Nosnibor

If ever a band’s name perfectly encapsulated their sound, it has to be Lump Hammer. The Tyneside trio go all-out on sludgy sonic bludgeoning. Similarly, Beast lives up to its name, with nine tracks and a running time of one hour, two minutes and 48 seconds, it’s a monster of epic proportions, and man, it’s fucking ugly.

‘Alarm’ sounds the album’s arrival in the dankest, grimiest of fashions. A downtuned chord, dense and dirty tears from the speakers gradually picking up pace to become a proper riff, before everything gets truly fucked-up and mangled, as if the mixing desk was suddenly buried in a landslide. It sets the bleak, monotonous tone perfectly.

If you’re after variety, you’ll be disappointed: Lump Hammer’s approach to songwriting consists of taking a simple riff and driving away at it until they stop. Sometimes, it’s a long time till they stop, and sometimes it’s a very long time. The eleven-and-a-half minute closer, ‘Gravy (Beef)’ crawls into the space between Sunn O))) and Earth. Each chord is a whirling vortex of overdrive, its colossal density and mass utterly crushing. The pace is very much in the mid-to-low tempo range, accentuating the monstrous weight of the music. And there are probably words, but mostly Watts’ vocals are indecipherable, elongated guttural growls.

There are some quieter, more subtle moments, as evidenced by the first half of the gloomy nine-minute ‘Where’, which carves a trough of claustrophobic isolation – but it’s all just a protracted build-up to the next megalithic deluge of noise.

With Beast, Lump Hammer continue the trajectory of their two previous outings, the eponymous EP from 2017 and February’s split album with Bodies on Everest: you wouldn’t really call it an evolution, beyond the fact that this time they’ve gone one louder, and over the duration of a full-length outing, the cumulative effect of their relentless grinding trudgery achieves optimum impact. Beast is blunt forced trauma manifested in sound.

Beast is their first album for Cruel Nature and is available on 2 October as a limited-edition cassette and digital download, and will be released on CD by Inverted Grim-Mill Recordings. The release coincides with the band’s performance at Tusk Virtual 2020 online festival. It’s available to order from today, but you can stream it EXCLUSIVELY in its entirely now, here:

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Hellripper have released a new single and the title track from their forthcoming album entitled “The Affair Of The Poisons”.

Having revealed the theme of the album through the release of “Spectres of the Blood Moon Sabbath” and their last single “Vampire’s Grave”, based on true life events from Glasgow in 1954,  Hellripper continues to explore the historical dark & insidious underworld of witchcraft and the occult.

James MacBain explains the inspiration for ‘The Affair Of The Poisons’ “the song takes inspiration from a series of events that occurred in 17th Century France. Possession, witchcraft, child sacrifice & poisonings were at the heart of a large-scale investigation conducted during the reign of the Sun King (Louis XIV) after an extensive plot was unearthed within the court of Versailles, targeting members of the aristocracy and the King himself in order to gain power and influence; the scandal exploded when it was revealed that the royal favourite herself was partaking in black masses and had allegedly poisoned a younger rival to win back the King’s favour.

Listen to ‘The Affair of the Poisons’ here:

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Christopher Nosnibor

Sometimes, the full depths of dark ambient works only reveal themselves at a certain volume and this is very much true of brb>voicecoil’s Alms of Guilt. Played at a low or even regular volume, it sounds very much distant, rolling rumbling, and rather low-impact. Turn it up, and it’s a different album and a completely different experience.

The first composition, ‘Cost of Redemption’ is disturbing. Clanking, clattering extraneous noises thud like the boots of troops searching a ruined building against a backdrop of a hovering hum of a nuclear wind. There’s no specific dialogue, and of course, that’s part of the appeal and purpose: it’s very much about the listeners projections, about reception, and from my seat, I feel a growing paranoia. Nothing specific, nothing I can pinpoint, just a sense of awkwardness. What do you do with that?

The nine-and-a-half minute ‘Seven Swords to the Heart’ is dark ad foggy, imbued with a certain sense of mysticism, shifting from groaning drones to clattering yet heavily-muffled percussive sounds like pieces of wood bouncing in a barrel over rapids, over and over and on and on… it’s the sound of bruising, of cracked ribs, of physical battery.

‘Welcome Back to the Days of Book Burning’ is dark, dank, and doomy, a rumbling drone of brooding lower-end dark ambience. It feels almost medieval in its dark, oppressive shadowy tones, but the fact seems to be that we’re so far off the dystopia the title suggests. And it’s here that it hits: sitting alone once again in my little office – what would for most other people be the spare bedroom – it’s dark outside and I haven’t seen anyone socially for days, but news channels and social media are bursting with updates on how police shut down an anti-mask rally in London this afternoon. Anti-intellectualism has reached a new peak in the rising tide of opposition and antagonism toward ‘experts’ and even health workers attending emergencies. This, seemingly, is what we’ve come to. And it’s a bleak prospect. I had previously come to the opinion that, in the age of the Internet, there was no excuse for ignorance, as all information was available at the click of a button. But so is misinformation and propaganda, and these seem infinitely more popular. Such a realisation is painful. He dark sludge-filled wreckage of this track provides no comfort or solace, but an ideal soundtrack to these thoughts.

‘Buried’ is gnarly, a subterranean earthwork of a composition, while the nine-minute ‘The Truth of my Demons’ returns to the basement of gloomy rumbles, muffled bangs of doors, and a swashing swampy gloop and grind hat has no real sense of trajectory.

There is so much depth, so many layers… and so much grumbling, rumbling mid-to-low frequency that bubbles, swirls, and eddies like so much discomfort in the gut. And like so much guilt, this is a noisewerk that nags away without any real sense of direction, or even idea.

Alms of Guilt is the swashing soundtrack to a ship run around, with no sense of space or direction. It may not be explicit about it, but it’s an album of our times. Tense, claustrophobic, oppressive, this is the soundtrack to the world now.

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Cruel Nature Recordings – 16th October 2020

New York’s Lip Critic return with their second album, imaginatively titled Lip Critic II. Now, I have a tendency – and I know it’s spurious – to associate numbered albums with prog and indulgence, ranging from Peter Gabriel to Led Zeppelin. But there is nothing remotely proggy or indulgent about Lip Critic’s second eponymous release, which crams nine tracks into 21 minutes of genre hybridity and maniacal mayhem. And make no mistake: this is intense and crazy shit, all going off in a boiler at once.

The lazy hookline would be that the album’s first track, ‘Why Not’, sounds like The B52s on acid, but more accurately, it sounds like The B52s on acid and meth imitating a fictitious Dead Kennedys / obscure hip-hop collaboration for the Judgement Night soundtrack. But none of this really convey just how frantic, frenetic, fucked-up and actually quite how wrong this all is. Yes, the world of Lip Critic is a bewildering one that absolutely defines the concept of ‘crossover’, and the closest comparison I can think of is Castrovalva, who were ace but niche and probably for a reason. It’s so far into niche crossover it’s hard to determine the level of seriousness behind the hybridized mess of noise that is Lip Critic II: this is an album that goes beyond so many boundaries all at once.

I don’t know what this is, and I suspect it doesn’t either. And nor should it: music should exist for its own sake, free from any constraints of genre. But with Lip Critic, it’s brain-bending and bewildering: there is simply so much going on, and all of it’s incongruous and seemingly incompatible.

‘Dreamland I’ is out-and-out mad, not so much a mash-up or hybrid as a multi-genre pileup with gas tank explosions and flames and wailing sirens and probably some people being cut from cars by fire and rescue and others being abducted by aliens.

‘Like a Lemon’ brings garage, grime, and industrial-strength hip-hop together with mangled beats a punishingly heavy groove that provides a backdrop to a more narrative-orientated approach to the lyrics, describing a guy with ‘A double-breasted suit and tight shorts / they’re so tight they cut off the circulation to his legs / … he said ‘I’m going to fill you up with rhinestones’.

At every turn, Lip Critic deliver mind bombs of every shape and form: sonically, stylistically, lyrically, Lip Critic II is simply an explosion. With every song being so brief, one barely has time to realise it’s started before it’s finished, and by the end, the listener is left punch-drunk, bewildered and dizzy. I think it’s good. I think it’s horrible. I think it’s a mess. But I can’t be sure.

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Cruel Nature Recordings – 16th October 2020

Christopher Nosnibor

While the 90s was awash with obscure bands cranking out gnarly, guitar-driven noise, the last decade or so (alright, I mean two decades, because I’m old and still can’t get my head around the fact that 1990 was 30 years ago and that Nevermind is 30 years old next year) has seen such music emerge only in pockets, with the likes of Leeds’ Blacklisters being prime exponents and one of the few to reach a wider audience – and it’s Blacklisters who probably stand as US noisemongers TRVSS’ closest contemporaries.

TRVSS are very much in the early 90s vein: I’m not just talking Am Rep and Touch and Go, but way further beneath the radar. Listening to the grainy, gritty grind of New Distances, I’m transported back, way back, and while I’m hearing The Jesus Lizard, I’m equally hearing Zoopsia, Headcleaner, Oil Seed Rape. Not familiar? To be clear here: I’m not promoting obscurest elitism here, but trying to give a flavour of just how choc-full of rabid guitar bands the underground scene was at a certain point in time – a time when bands like Terminal Cheesecake and Tar would receive coverage in the national music press, back when there was a national music press. They were exciting times, and that’s not the rose-tinting of a 45-year old reflecting on his youth: things were changing, and fast, and there was something in the air, and in your local record shop, in pub gig venues, and even on the radio

New Distances is a nasty mess of guitars driven by low-slung lurching basslines and drums that thud away in the background, half-buried in the welter of noise. Things are still changing at pace, of course, but mostly venues are closing, and there are no solid channels by which to access new and emerging talent. Where are the equivalents of The Tube, Snub:TV, The Word now? The Old Grey Whistle Test wasn’t even entirely the domain of proggy old farts, and now, we don’t even have Jools fucking Holland. There’s no M on MTV, and 4Music is a misnomer as well, but I digress.

TRVSS would probably never have made TV even back then, but it’s almost certain that John Peel, Melody Maker, and NME would have found a bit of room for some exposure for their raging, demented brand of no-wave / noise mania, and New Distances has no shortage of meat to give it appeal to a niche but substantial audience.

‘Stigma’ encapsulates the album’s rabid grunged-up noise-rock vibe, coming on like both side of the Nirvana / Jesus Lizard split ‘Oh The Guilt’ / ‘Puss’ simultaneously with it jarring guitar riffage and raw-throated vocal roar. ‘The Ventriloquist Always has the Last Laugh’ pitches skewed guitars galore, crash-landing in the space between The Jesus Lizard, Shellac, and the criminally underrated and proportionally obscure Milk.

It’s likely that TRVSS will remain forever obscure, although not on account of lack of appeal or lack of ability: sure, their stuff is dark, driving and ultimately extremely niche but all of this is ok: against the backdrop of blanket mass-media and sameness, such deliberately obscure an anti-mainstream music is essential and invigorating: lap it up while you can.

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Mr. Bungle, who recently announced the Oct. 30th release of The Raging Wrath of the Easter Bunny Demo (Ipecac Recordings), the band’s first newly recorded music in 21 years, have released a second single and accompanying video from the forthcoming album: ‘Eracist’. The dystopian video was directed by Derrick Scocchera with photography by Nicholas Finn Myggen.

Rolling Stone, who included the album in their most anticipated Autumn 2020 releases, said: “The idea of throwing musical curveballs is encoded in Mr. Bungle’s DNA, so it makes sense that for their first LP in 21 years, the NorCal avant-metal weirdos aren’t going the traditional comeback-album route. Instead, they’re offering up a re-recording of their very first demo — the never-reissued 1986 tape The Raging Wrath of the Easter Bunny Demo — with three-fifths of their original lineup and a couple of high-profile ringers: Anthrax guitarist Scott Ian and ex-Slayer drummer Dave Lombardo.”

The Raging Wrath Of The Easter Bunny Demo pre-orders are available now, with the release available as a standard digipak CD and digitally as well as a collection of limited edition offerings (listed below with many sold out upon pre-order). A video for “Raping Your Mind” arrived in late August. The 11-song album was produced by Mr. Bungle, recorded by Husky Höskulds at Studio 606, and mixed by Jay Ruston. Rhea Perlman narrates “Anarchy Up Your Anus.”

Watch the vid for ‘Eracist’ here:

AdderStone Records, the label started by internationally acclaimed composer and virtuoso cellist Jo Quail, have announced the deluxe vinyl reissue of her 2016 album ‘Five Incantations’ on 20th November. Jo comments,

‘With the original CD format being sold out for a few years, I am delighted to be able to now present to you a very special edition of Five Incantations, this time as a beautiful double vinyl with two colour variants to choose from. The detailed sleeve and inserts feature photography by Ake Tireland, and includes a special bonus track of ‘The Breathing Hand’ recorded live with the choir of Cappella Gedanensis and Alicja Lach-Owsiany (cello) in Gdansk. The lyrics of this track are written by Mohan Rana, as a direct response to the original piece of music, and are included in the sleeve in Hindi, English and Polish.’

The origins of the album began to emerge in the spring of 2015 during Jo’s fourth tour of Australia where she felt especially connected at that time to a vital or spiritual source, opening her mind to wonder from both a personal and archetypal understanding. Jo adds,

‘Whether practically this was due to an intense focus on music minus the day to day existence, the remoteness of being a mum away from my family, or myriad other reasons I cannot guess, but I felt swept away by this sensation and immediately began to write what became ‘Five Incantations’. The album is a suite of interlinked movements, each individual yet essentially drawn from one theme. It has been recorded and will be performed at 432hz. Each movement describes a personal reflection on one of the four cardinal points, with the fifth aspect being Spirit.’

‘Five Incantations’ is the 2nd release on AdderStone Records which was originally set up in 2019 with the initial aim of reissuing Jo’s back catalogue on vinyl. The first being a release of her 2018 album ‘Exsolve’ which led to Jo picking up the Limelight Award at the Progressive Music Awards last year.

Over the past few years Jo has been touring extensively across Europe performing alongside the likes of Boris, Emma Ruth Rundle, Amenra, Caspian, God is an Astronaut, Myrkur, MONO, Årabrot, Battles and Winterfylleth. Festival performances include ArcTanGent, WGT, Dunk!, Tramlines Festival, Handmade Festival, Hellfest and Damnation and two separate concerts at the invitation of Robert Smith for his curation of the Southbank’s Meltdown Festival. 

To support the release Jo Quail will perform an exclusive limited capacity live streamed show from The Black Heart on Hotel Radio’s Pay-Per-View platform on 19th November. More info and tickets are available here:

Streaming tickets: www.hotel-radio.com/pay-per-view

Live show tickets: http://ourblackheart.com/

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23rd September 2020

Christopher Nosnibor

Just two days before the release of their new album, Forever on the Road, Healthy Junkies have dropped a cover of Nirvana’s ‘Something in the Way.’

To my ear, the Nevermind version was a shade lacking, and while it works well enough in the overall context of the album, the hard-to-find electric version has not only more bite, but also more passion and, perhaps unexpectedly, more atmosphere, the howling feedback that form the lead guitar line bringing a whole new dimension.

I can’t help but wonder if this was, at least in part, the template for Healthy Junkies’ take on the track, which places a unique stamp on it and adds a whole load of layers – and noise – in comparison to the version everyone knows.

It’s something of a departure for the band: instead of the punky grunge sound that’s their signature, they’ve adopted a decidedly shoegaze style here. The guitars cascade in deep, washing blurs, layered and rich in texture, and Nina Courson’s ethereal, breathy vocal is more Toni Halliday than Courtney Love. The result is haunting and possesses a real depth that draws the listener into the heart of the song. Understated, but strong.

Emma Ruth Rundle (appearing courtesy of Sargent House) and Thou’s groundbreaking collaborative album, May Our Chambers Be Full sees its release October 30th via Sacred Bones. While their solo material seems on its face to be quite disparate, both prolific groups have spent their lauded careers lurking at the outer boundaries of heavy scenes, each having more in common with DIY punk and its spiritual successor, grunge.

The debut straddles a similar, very fine line both musically and thematically. While Emma’s standard fare is a blend of post-rock-infused folk music, and Thou is typically known for its downtuned, doomy sludge, the conjoining of the two artists has created a record more in the vein of the early ’90s Seattle sound and later ’90s episodes of Alternative Nation, while still retaining much of the artists’ core identities.

The visual art accompanying this work was created in collaboration with preeminent New Orleans photographer Craig Mulcahy. The faceless, genderless models are meant to emphasize this pervasive state of ambiguity and emotional vacillation, the images falling somewhere between modern high fashion and classical Renaissance.

Check the single here:

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Album Artwork | Photo By Craig Mulcahy

It was through Children of God that I was first introduced to Swans. It was probably around 1988 or ‘89, so Children of God was their then latest album, and I was starting to properly spend my Saturdays hanging out at the second-hand record shop where I would subsequently land a job. Another guy who hung around / worked there had dark, diverse, and obscure musical tastes, and passed me a copy of the album he’d recorded to tape. This is a perfect example of why home taping didn’t kill music.

And so, while it’s an album I have played a lot over the last – urgh – thirty years – it’s one I’ve listened to without necessarily reappraising. There’s nothing like a reissue to provoke such contemplation.

And even now it’s by turns eerie, chilling, and heavy as hell. Admittedly, it’s not as heavy as the releases which preceded it, and which I would subsequently discover – at that time by plundering racks at record fares, at a time when it was paying £8 for a vinyl copy of Cop or the Young God EP felt like a lot of money but there was no other means of hearing this stuff back then.

There isn’t a lot audibly different from the early 00’s reissue here. For any remastering, the sound is still dense and murky, and that’s to the good, and it’s an integral part of the listening experience.

The first grainy chords of ‘New Mind’ bludgeon hard, and it’s a bleak, oppressive trudge when taken in isolation (by which I mean, without comparison to their back catalogue). It doesn’t exactly scream ‘MTV exposure’, but weird shit was happening back then. And shift didn’t get much weirder than Swans’ foray into evangelism – pitched as an exploration, it adopted the tropes with such a seriousness that it almost felt like the real thing.

‘You’re not Real, Girl’ is dreamy, opiate woozy, sultry, serpentine: Gira croons lazily, drawling, but also hollow, empty, his voice reverberating in a chasm of nothing. It’s hard to articulate precisely how deeply this resonates, and it’s all in the delivery, which rattles and reverberates around the ribcage and the cranium in an hypnotic swoon.

‘Beautiful Child’ is a raging stomp, ‘this is my life! This is sacrifice! This is my damnation! This is my only regret! That I ever was born!’ Gira screams maniacally, over and over, and over and over. Jarboe’s vocals soar like a chorus of ghosts over the ugly march.

My personal favourite track on the album is ‘Trust Me’, with a trilling harmonica intro giving way to a landslide of discord and gut-punching percussion. Against lurching guitars, Gira’s vocal is detached, inhuman, other-wordly, a cavernous monotone

As fans will be more than aware, the Swans catalogue is a shade messy, particularly around their late 80s / early 90s period. ‘Blackmail’ first appeared on the ‘Time is Money’ 12” in ’86, so the Children of God album version is a revisitation and a subtle reworking. With the 1999 compilation Various Failures and the previous CD reissue being long out of print, it may have perhaps been nice for the ‘New Mind’ b-sides ‘Damn You to Hell’ and ‘I’ll Swallow You’ to have been included here, but on the other hand, this release retains the integrity of the original.

The contemporaneous live album, Feel Good Now very much does, though. Recorded on the European tour supporting Children of God, it packs some storming live renditions of songs culled from Children of God performed during a quite specific peak of the band’s live career.

Swans have always pushed the limits live, and taken the songs to new and different levels of intensity and duration, and the eighteen-minute rendition of ‘Blind Love’ on offer here is a prime example. It’s barely recognisable, and despite being led by a simple acoustic guitar, it’s absolutely fucking punishing – and not necessarily in a good way: Gira’s elongated notes and wordless, formless yells are uncomfortable, a raging beast tortured and pained, while the guitar and rhythm section batter away without mercy. The drums are brutal. Having witnessed Swans live post-millennium, I have come to appreciate that nothing short of nuclear annihilation can convey the sheer force and volume of Swans live. However, Feel Good Now definitely goes a long way to capture the intensity of that volume.

The tracks appear in a different order from the original release, instead representing the sequence of the 2002 reissue. As this isn’t an actual concert, but a document of a tour, the sequencing is largely inconsequential, and ultimately it’s about the cumulative, bludgeoning effect. The sawing churn of ‘Like a Drug’ is pulverising, brutal, nauseating, and while ‘Children of God’ may only run for five and a half minutes, the effect is something else, the drumming thumping relentlessly in rolls of pure assault. Gira hollers impenetrably into the void as Jarboe ‘s voice floats effortlessly and with grace and true beauty over the ugly, pounding mess.

‘Beautiful Child Reprise’ is so savage as to be almost unlistenable long before it gets to the ‘Kill, kill, kill’ chant. It will come as no surprise for anyone who’s encountered Swans’ pre-85 live material, but fuck me. If one band could be considered to define excruciating sonic brutality, it’s Swans.

Children of God was a pivotal album, and remains a particular high point in the band’s career on many levels. There is no question that it broke new ground, or that it broke them to a new and far wider audience, although there is no way you could describe it as commercial or even accessible in terms of the common understanding of the term. It also very much stands alone in terms of its sound, defining the crossroads between the crushing basalt slabs of violent loathing which defined their early years, and the almost folksy melodicism of their early 90s releases.

What this edition lacks in terms of additional material and, indeed, any radical audio differences from any other editions through its remastering, it makes up for by simply making the recordings available again, particularly on vinyl.

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