Archive for the ‘Albums’ Category

Ipecac Recordings – 29th April 2022

Christopher Nosnibor

Dälek emerged in the late 90s when hip-hop was transforming in all directions. But while the Wu-Tang Clan and their offshoot projects had a level of dynamism and radicalism about them, it’s no understatement that Dälek shattered through their achievements, and if there was any debate about that, then Precipice really should settle it. It’s felt like we’ve been teetering on the edge of a precipice for a long time, and that pre-millennium tension has, over time, proven justified as the entire world careers into some kind of end-of-days chaos. If this sounds like some hysterical end-of-days paranoia panic, you’re probably not paying attention. The pandemic was just a sideshow, a distraction from global tension, climate change… Trump, Brexit, the war in Ukraine and the threat of nuclear war stepped up to levels not seen since the 80s… Are we still at the edge of the precipice, or have we just tipped – or powered, full-throttle – over it? I’m too dazed and bewildered to know, but Dälek have provided a soundtrack that conveys the sense of confusion and dislocation brought on by uncertainty and tension.

‘Lest We Forget’ is a mid-shade, mid-tempo swell of ambience that swirls around densely before ‘Boycott’ hits hard and heavy. Christ, that booming bass! That eddying noise that drones and warps! The beats! Man, the fucking beats! They’re heavy alright, and there’s no let up on ‘Decimation (Dis Nation)’.

If so much mainstream contemporary hip-hop has been overtly commercial, with Precipice, Dälek remind that hip-hop’s origins were a voice of protest, of antagonism toward the mainstream, against the government, against oppression, against suppression. N.W.A were telling it like it is with ‘Fuck Tha Police’, and fuck shit, nothing has changed thirty-four years later.

Dälek are a whole lot more subtle and less up-front and in your face in their antagonism, but they’re no less aggrieved, and no less political. This means that their impact is just as powerful, albeit in different ways, and sonically, Dälek are devastating. There’s a physicality to their music, and where the lyrics aren’t necessarily so prominent, the weight of the beats, the density of the bass and the murk of the midrange combine to create a force like colliding with a wall of breeze blocks.

‘The Harbingers’ slows things down, and it’s dark, stark, the atmosphere desperate, desolate, while ‘Devotion (when I cry the wind disappears)’ feels almost uplifting as the synths soar and their subtle, sonorous sounds swoop upwards before the seven-minute ‘A Heretic’s Inheritance’ crashes in, hard, cyclical, heavy, an urgent throbbing riff marking the intro amidst a maelstrom of scratching feedback and extraneous noise. It throbs and thrums, and this isn’t hip-hop like you get on the radio, it’s not the shit—hop of the mainstream beloved by the masses. No, this is fucking brutal, and it kicks and punches hard, repeatedly, leaving you winded, breathless, gurgling., while MC dälek repeats the mantra ‘I hold myself to high standards / I don’t give a fuck if the gods are angry’. No doubt that applies to the gods of capital. Fuck them.

The title track is weightier still, and it’s positively skull-crushing, and it goes to show that it doesn’t have to be metal to be heavy, and the final track, ‘Incite’ is stark, tense, and gloomy, rounding off an album that packs a lot of weight and tension. It’s hard to place exactly how it feels as an experience, and how it sits, musically. Precipice is the sound of dislocation, of alienation. It’s real life.

AA

12_GF_SLEEVE

Electric Valley Records – 24th June 2022

Christopher Nosnibor

In my recent review of the new album from St Michael front, I commented on German humour – in a positive way, I should add. So it was with a certain relief that I noted that BongBongBeerWizards hail from Dortmund. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a shit name for a band irrespective of where they’re from. I genuinely thought that Doom/Drone/Sludge Metal had run its course in terms of daft names and gone over the border some time ago, and that Mammoth Weed Wizard Bastard (now MWWB, presumably because they realised the name was daft rather than that they believed it was an obstacle to commercial success) had had the final word in name-generator style absurdity. And they ought to have. But then these buggers turn up with an even stupider name. But at least we can reasonably assume they know it’s a fucking stupid name and are pissing themselves over it.

BBBW may well be hampering their potential audience reach – I’ll admit, I did think twice about bothering to listen – but that would have very much been my loss, because Amprire is an instant classic as a storming example of the genre. With just three tracks and a running time of almost fifty minutes, it’s Sunn O))), it’s Earth, it’s Sleep and it’s Bong in a tectonic collision – more of a slow melt than anything likely to cause earthquakes and mudslides. That said, there are tempo changes galore on the twenty-three minute ‘Choirs & Masses’, a megalithic beast that’s got the lot: heavily reverbed vocals and choral ceremonials that echo from cavernous depths of despair while the guitars churn and growl all around, thick with dripping distortion. At times it’s a raging thrust of riffery, at others it’s a gut-churning crawl, or an ominous organ note that hovers indefinitely, and there are many changes to hold the attention over its epic duration.

‘Unison’ raises an even denser, thicker guitar-driven tempest that’s so thick and sludgy it’s suffocating, and when the vocals are absent, churns into full-on Sunn O))) territory with the gnarly guitar obliteration.

It’s hard to really say that there’s a real arc or progression on an album like this: it may be more of a case of will or projection, but I suppose whether it’s real or an illusion, the end result is the same from a listening perspective, and the perception is that things become more focused and ultimately heavier and denser over the duration of the album. And as an album, Ampire is a beast: epic, ambitious, and for the most part, the changes are well-timed if not always smooth – some of the transitions feel a little bit like stopping one riff and starting another – but it hangs together overall, and it maintains and even increases the weight right to the crushing end. Overall, it’s an admirably solid album. Still an awful band name, though.

AA

a1363458322_10

Fabrique Records – 29th April 2022

Christopher Nosnibor

On her latest project, Jana Irmert shrinks the focus of her thoughts and her music on the microcosmic – although that certainly doesn’t extend to the microtonal. What Happens At Night is an intensely-focused work that places the lens onto textures and tones, and an examination of the relationship between the physical and the cerebral. You may call it a celebration of overthinking, but ‘philosophical’ feels a more appropriate term for her musical meditation on life and death – specifically death and beyond, the part of the life journey no-one has ever reported on and will, one assumes, be forever unknown and unknowable.

The liner notes set out the granular nature of the album’s composition: ‘Like layers of sediment, sounds are being pushed up from underneath, floating away or sinking back to the bottom. At the core of the album lies a question: What will be left of us? While Earth melts, we go on. But eventually, there will be a point in the future where all that will be left of humanity is a thin layer of rock. While this may seem like a deeply gloomy prospect, it also carries a great deal of comfort: the reminder that we are only a small particle in a vast system so big that we can never fully grasp’.

This is the limitation we all live with: the inability to comprehend life without us, what it would be like to not exist. Much of it’s ego, but perhaps it’s also a preprogramed limitation. Everything is dust, and once we pass, ashes to ashes, dust to dust, we become desert, and nothing changes: the world goes on… and on. And that’s a disheartening prospect; for the majority, our legacy won’t extend beyond our lifetimes, and the world at large is unaware of our existence while we’re here, let alone likely to experience any ripples in our wake. But even the world will be finite, ultimately. It will be swallowed by the sun in supernova. But none of us will be here to report on it by then.

What Happens At Night is dark and stark, and with just four tracks and a running time of less than half an hour, it’s perhaps technically only an EP, but feels like an album in every respect.

There’s a dolorous chime of a bell and a shrieking anguish of tortured spirits trailing like comets fading through the sky at the start of the album’s first piece, ‘Particles’, and everything simply floats and drifts. It’s ambient in the conventional sense: it’s background, you don’t really pay close attention while it’s playing, but it does subtly slant the mood.

‘Ashes’ is but a drifting fragment between the megalithic pieces on either side: it’s barely three minutes in duration. If ‘Dust is the Rust of Time’ is sparse it’s also dense, and a sedated heartbeat pulses uncomfortably throughout, amidst shuddering, gasping breaths of panic. You feel the anxiety at the passing of time; what have you achieved, and what will be your legacy? How will you be remembered in a world without you? It’s a tense, dense, gloomy sound, and you come to realise you are nothing, you’re simply here to go, and one day you will be but dust. Deal with it. And yet… It’s not a question of there being something more beyond, as such. And yet… ‘Stratum’ closes, and it’s the splash of waves and the quiet roar of a buffeting wind and the slow sound of the dust settling as incrementally, life returns to earth in slow, sedimentary layers, and each layer fossilises a period in time for all eternity. You may be dust, you may be forgotten, but in some form, are eternal in the earth.

Irmert articulates nothing specifically or directly here, but instead, What Happens At Night provides a sonic backdrop which invites contemplation.

AA

FAB097_front

Season Of Mist – 6th May 2022

Christopher Nosnibor

Sometimes, in this line of work, an album will land – or however else you prefer to phrase it – and you know it will likely mean almost infinitely more to you than pretty much anyone you’ll see or speak to or who’s likely to read the review. As a reviewer, you pretty much live for opportunities like this, to cover bands you’re not only a huge fan of, but have been since you properly started discovering music, and also reading the music press (something that sadly no longer exists, at least here in the UK, which once had a rich range of reportage and critique, thanks to Melody Maker, Sounds, and last one standing, NME. Sure, they had their failings, but like The Word, Snub TV, and The White Room on TV, and John Peel, Janice Long, and even Zane Lowe on Radio 1, they were key for providing exposure to ‘alternative’ music and breaking new acts.

It was via Melody Maker and Mick Mercer’s Gothic Rock Black Book that I first encountered Christian Death, and purchased Sex and Drugs and Jesus Christ on its release in 1988. This in turn not only led me to excavate their back catalogue and purchase each new release, but to catch them live a couple of times. They’re a band I’ve not so much returned to, but never really left, despite not always keeping up to date with new releases.

But here we are: it’s the spring of 2022 and after a significant gap since The Root Of All Evilution, Christian Death return with Evil Becomes Rule, which Valor says is, essentially, a sequel, explaining, “Both Evil Becomes Rule and The Root Of All Evilution are pretty much the story of evil. These songs are generally about “The Evil Within Society,” not necessarily stemming from a demon, or a devil, or a God. Instead, it’s about something concerning the evil within mankind… Evil Becomes Rule is a continuation of this theme. We’re going from the present time into the future. When we started writing this album, we anticipated an event like the pandemic; a disastrous event occurring on the earth. So now we’re asking the question, “maybe this is just the beginning of it?”

Evil – and its opposite – is a familiar theme for Christian Death: The simultaneously released All The Love / All the Hate albums explored these diametric standpoints, and essentially aligned hate with evil, taking this idea of the evil within man to its logical end with songs like ‘Nazi Killer’ and ‘The Final Solution’. As such, perhaps the lineage of exploration can be traced a fair bit further back in the band’s career than the last album.

Evil Becomes Rule is quintessential Christian Death, but as is always the case, it’s different from anything before. It’s heavy in places, a shade less metal than things were around the turn of the millennium (Sexy Death God, for example, felt a bit too metal and a shade underproduced), and they seem to have hit something of a sweet spot in terms of balance this time around.

Opening the album, ‘The Alpha and the Omega’ is sparse, but tense, claustrophobic, and initially finds Valor in his best Bowie mode – crooning, stealthy – and this, is the shape of the verses – which contrast with the explosive choruses, there things get dark and, I have to say it, high gothic. ‘New Messiah’ has a quite different vibe, and is almost swingy, smoochy, but does again exploit the quiet verse and big chorus dynamic, and faintly echoing in the dark recesses, there’s the ‘I feel like my heart is being touched by Christ’ sample from Altered States that also appeared on ‘Mors Voluntaria’ from Insanus, Ultio, Prodito, Misericordiaque. It’s still fucking eerie.

Maitri takes the lead vocal on the urgent thrashabout of ‘Elegant Sleeping’, which harks back to their earlier works more than any other on the album, before ‘Blood Moon’ crashes in and already feels like a familiar friend. It’s as strong as any of the singles they put out during their late 80s commercial peak, as represented by ‘Church of No Return’, ‘Zero Sex’ and ‘What’s the Verdict’, and the production is smoother, too, and it very much works in its favour. ‘Abraxas We Are’ is a heavy rock epic which is equally single-worthy, and features some blistering lead guitar work, and they find their rock stride even more solidly with ‘The Warning’ – bursting into a rabid, ragged, industrial stomp about killing sprees in the chorus, and it kicks arse abundantly.

The songwriting – and attention to dynamics – are very much to the fore on Evil Becomes Rule, and the switch to pastoral chamber music in the intro to ‘Beautiful’ brings a nice contrast – the song effortlessly swings into stonking post-punk and is quite uplifting. The album concludes with the suitably dramatic two-part ‘Who Am I’, that combines Spanish guitar and a surging crescendo.

Evil Becomes Rule is by no means their most biting or intense work, and it doesn’t have the raw impact of Sex and Drugs, but instead harks back to the dramatic style of Atrocities, and it works well. It is, perhaps, their most rounded and well-realised release yet, as well as their most consistent. Oh, and yes – we are indeed ruled by evil. These are dark times, where we really need Christian Death and voices of dissent.

AA

166908

Neurot Recordings – 6th May 2022

Christopher Nosnibor

There’s something about Neurot: as a label, it certainly has a distinct ‘house style’, and if it does seem to be predominantly in the vein of Neurosis, then Ufomammut’s latest offering, Fenice,  is simultaneously definitive and a departure, in that it’s clearly metal in persuasion, and given to long, slow, and expansive workouts, with the majority of the album’s six pieces running (well) past the seven-minute mark. It’s delicately-paced, too: it’s not all a crawl, but the crescendos land a fair way apart and the build-ups are long and deliberate.

Opener ‘Duat’ is an absolute monster, clocking in past ten and a half minutes, and beginning with ominous dark ambience and slow to a crawl electronics, before a surging techno bass grind cuts through and pulses away. It’s three and a half minutes before the guitars pile in, and when they do, everything comes together to forge a piledriving industrial blast: for a moment, I’m reminded of Nine Inch Nails’ ‘March of the Pigs’, but then things switch again with a tempo change, slowing to a lumbering thud. It builds from there, and the final minute hits that sweet spot of pulverizing riffery that is pure joy. Ufomammut may be a ‘doom’ band by designation, but this is some of the most dynamic progressive metal you’ll hear.

Having set the bar so high so early, the challenge is, can they sustain it? ‘Kepherer’ is a dank, semi-ambient interlude that provides some much-needed breathing space. ‘Psychostasia’ starts off gently, but again, builds into a really slugger, the riff hard and repetitive, the vocals half-buried amidst overdrive and reverb, and it’s so, so exhilarating.

It takes an eternity of a slow, nagging cyclical motif, rich in chorus and reverb, before ‘Metamprphoenix’ breaks, and segues immediately into the throbbing behemoth that is ‘Pyramind’, where things do, finally, hit all-out doom grind with the heaviest, most crushing power chords. The bass goes so low that it practically burrows underground, while the guitars soar skyward. Closer ‘Empyros’ is the album’s shortest track, and it’s three minutes of punishing guitars that pick up precisely where ‘Pyramind’ leaves off and just drives and drives and drives, churning, hard, heavy.

If you’re seeking instant gratification, Fenice isn’t the album you want, but that doesn’t mean that it by any means feels drawn-out or like there’s much waiting involved: despite the lengthy songs, and the slow-builds, the textures and atmospheres are remarkable. I have a friend who loves his slow-burning metal and math-rock, but hates Amenra because he finds them insufferably tedious. Personally, I’m a fan, but I get the impatience, and it is largely around this kind of slow, earthy metal where time stalls and aeons pass between events, and the builds take several lifetimes to come to any kind of fruition – but this most certainly isn’t an issue for Ufomammut on Fenice. The compositions twist and turn and continue to not only hold the attention but to tug at the senses, keeping the listener on edge, poised, tense, expectant. And they always deliver on those expectations.

There is a clear and definitely trajectory here, too, building over the last three pieces to a point where the riffs are dominant – megalithic grinds that hit hard. Fenice makes you feel a broad range of things: boredom or disappointment aren’t among them. It does require some work, but it’s amply rewarded.

AA

465952

The Helen Scarsdale Agency – HMS064 – 6th May 2022

Christopher Nosnibor

As William Burroughs said of his collaboration with Brion Gysin, The Third Mind, ‘No two minds ever come together without, thereby, creating a third, invisible force which may be likened to a third mind’. This wasn’t an entirely original concept, as he was referencing Napoleon Hill’s self-help book Think and Grow Rich, published in the 1930s. Self-help books are notorious for dispensing band advice and convincing the incapable that they’re capable of anything, but there’s a powerful shred of truth in this nugget: collaboration can – although there are absolutely no guarantees – throw open portal and new horizons and unlock unexpected avenues and whole worlds of potential. That more or less all of my attempts at collaboration have swiftly ended in failure – or, more accurately, fallen apart without producing anything more than a few paragraphs at best – probably says more about me than collaboration or my collaborators, but then when things have worked out… Yes, they’ve delivered. When it happens, it really happens. You can’t force or predict ‘gelling’: it simply happens, or it doesn’t, and when it does, alchemy ensues. You tend to find that strengths and weaknesses interlock, and all bases are covered, to use a poor assemblage of cliches.

The accompanying text for the third production from the Stelzer/Murray project says that it ‘hits a sweet spot of slippery, industrial occultation that harkens back to an almost forgotten period of music from the late ‘80s and early ‘90s. Think Cranioclast, Arcane Device, Phauss, Small Cruel Party, Organum, and pretty much everything from the Quiet Artworks label… Exquisitely composed and overtly nocturnal without ever falling into the tropes of dark ambient and with plenty of gestures, signals, and threats that allude to any number of allegorically inclined processes (i.e. tape manipulation, time-delay accumulation, electro-acoustic minimalism, etc.).’

No question, despite their apparent absence of recollection of the actual process, Stelzer and Murray are the perfect foils for one another. Alchemy clearly has ensued – but make no mistake, this is some seriously dark alchemy, conjuring thick, black clouds of lung-clogging smoke that drifts, chokes, and suffocates.

On Commit, the atmosphere is dark, dank, doomy. The album is structured over two sides with the two parts of the title track, clocking in at around nine minutes apiece occupying side one before the nineteen-minute gloomfest that is ‘The House is Coming from Inside the Call’ smogging blurrily all over side two. The two parts of ‘Commit’ are darkly intense. They rumble and drone, groan and grind. There ae slow swells of cymbal, and a distant clicking, glitching that pulses time on ‘Commit 2’

is ‘The House is Coming from Inside the Call’ is sparse yet intense, and manifests as a series of movements over its duration. The atmosphere is heavy and oppressive, and the noise builds – and it is indeed noise that builds: it starts off as light drone and evolves into a thundering blast of grinding noise, clattering clanks of machinery and a howling siren that warns of danger, of imminent doom. You want to run for cover, to tale refuge, but there’s no escape and no shelter: thirteen minutes in and it’s built to a gut-churning, punishing churn of industrial noise, with clattering spanners and metal grating against metal.

In the dingy realms of dark ambient, Commit is a strong piece of work. It is dark, and dense, and intense. It possesses an unforgiving density, and it only gets darker and denser as it progresses. It’s an immersive and well-realised work, but Christ, is it bleak.

AA

HMS064_front

Prophecy Productions / Auerbach Tonträger – 13th May 2022

Christopher Nosnibor

Anyone who tells you Germans lack a sense of humour probably doesn’t have one themselves. Many of the Germans I’ve had contact with have been wry wordplayers and incredibly droll. Who could deny the humour of a nation that gave us Die Toten Hosen? And so it is that St Michael Front showcase a certain tongue-in-cheek amusement, and while their debut album revelled in the preposterous, their latest, which also happens to be the first in their native tongue, exploits the disparity between drama and drollery. For a band who play small venues domestically, and with a minimal setup beyond the projection of movie clips, their sound and presentation is very much a cinematic widescreen and 5.1 sound that’s bold and ambitious – and not just a little self-aware of the pomp and extravagance of their songs.

I have to confess that the arrival of ‘Knochen und Blut’, the second single from Schuld & Sühne completely skittled me, and I immediately found myself somewhat obsessed by the song, and its accompanying video. The song is so magnificently poised, balanced, dramatic, theatrical, while the video… the video is weird. Lifting clips from vintage movies is nothing new, but there seemed to be a certain revelling in the brutal here, and it cut a path from the previous video, suggesting that these guys have something of a fascination with clips of people pummelling or shooting the crap out of one another and scenes of destruction by fire and extreme weather. I’m actually reminded a little of Home Alone, and can picture them glued to all the old black and white gangster movies.

AA

Schuld & Sühne seems to revel in being overtly German, in the way that Rammstein are – yes, I know – more German than German (although it was Hanzel Und Gretyl who took this comment on the Jewish community prior to WWII and the label ascribes to architectural historian Niklaus Pevsner for his dubious support of the Nazis as a song title for a technoindustrial banger). St Michael Front are a hell of a lot more subtle than Rammstein, and a lot more fun, too: it’s far smarter than ‘Amerika’, but no less German, and no less bold or steeped in pomp.

There’s more than a hint of Sparks or even Pet Shop Boys here, and St Michael Front clearly ‘get’ the essential dynamic of the quintessential pop duo: impassive, static, stone-faced guitarist Bruder Matthias is the perfect deadpan foil to the subtly flamboyant and vaguely campy trenchcoat-wearing Bruder Sascha, and the interplay between the two across the songs is entertaining. They build drama, and there’s a keen theatrical element to the songs.

It helps that St Michael Front don’t resort to force, lyrically or sonically. Instead of bludgeoning the listener, Bruder Sascha has a knack for an expansive gesture, a raised eyebrow that’s arch and disarming, vaguely absurd, and knowingly so – and it translates beyond the videos – you can actually hear this coming through in the songs themselves. At times incongruously jaunty, at others giving a knowing nod, there’s a dry comedic element to the performance.

AA

Schuld & Sühne is at times brooding, at times breezy, even borderline cheesy (none more so than third single ‘1000 Namen’) – but for all this, there is something aching and beautiful about so much of it that makes it a magnificent and really quite special album.

334843

Sargent House – 29th April 2022

Christopher Nosnibor

If you’re looking for the short version, Helms Alee’s sixth album is a belter – a rich, deep, and intense experience that combines the delicate and atmospheric with thunderous, grindingly heavy riff-driven assaults.

To expand on that… well, it’s hard to know exactly where to begin. It’s not really an album to dissect, because to do so would be to pick apart the magic – and yes, magic is what it is, something conjured from the air and pulling on all of the elements to create something… something beyond, and something bigger. And there are so many great tunes on Keep This Be the Way, too. Yes, real tunes, proper songs.

‘See Sights Smell Smells’ intimates a delicate chime of post-rock that builds to a crescendo, but it rapidly progresses beyond that, into a thunderous blast of tension that leaps out and scorches like a solar flare.

Helms Alee are by no means the first band to combine elements of post rock with a host of other styles and forms – And So I Watch You From Afar and pelican are among the first who come to mind when it comes to post-rock with the emphasis on rock that pack a real punch, but they’re still not particularly close comparisons: ‘How Party to You Hard’ is dreamy shoegaze but hard, like A Place to Bury Strangers covering Slowdive, and ‘Tripping Up the Stairs’ goes all out on the searing racket, explosions of noise that’s every bit as much Nirvana as it is Sonic Youth as they push their way around the dynamic range that flips between heavy and absolutely fucking raging.

Then you’ve got ‘Big Louise’, a soft, gentle, semi-ambient indie wafter that’s nice but unremarkable but for the immense reverb. You can’t exactly complain that there are a couple of cuts that seem to ease off the gas a bit, not least of all because sometimes, it’s simply impossible to any song to really hold its own in such illustrious company, and the fact of the matter is that the majority of the songs on Keep This Be the Way are so, so strong there’s only one way to go.

The seven-minute ‘Do Not Expose to the Burning Sun’ is a slow-burning serpentine twister, building around an insistent and ominous bassline into a dark, hypnotic squaller that calls to mind both The Pain Teens and The God Machine, while the yawning drone of ‘Mouth Thinker’ evokes the spirit of Ride and Chapterhouse, and boasts a breezy melody as well as scorching blasts of overdrive that emerge from nowhere to tower as shimmering walls of kaleidoscopic noise.

These contrasts provide much of the joy in listening to Keep This Be the Way. It’s an album that’s steeped in 90s vintage, and if you were going to pitch it anywhere, it would be in the indie bracket – but to pitch it anywhere, or align it to any one, or even any three genres, would be to sell the album short and grotesquely misrepresent it. Yet for all the hybridization and seemingly incongruous crossovers, Helms Alee manage to melt everything together magnificently, making not just music but pure aural alchemy.

AA

927281

Crónica – 26th April 20222

Christopher Nosnibor

Having seen various videos of Gintas K’s improvisations, involving a keyboard and a dusty old Lenovo ThinkPad running some custom software, it’s apparent that his approach to composition is nothing if not unusual, and it’s matched by the results.

His Crónica debut, Lengvai / 60 x one minute audio colours of 2kHz sound was sixteen years ago, and his return to the label is a very different offering, although as has been a common factor throughout his career, Lėti – Lithuanian for slow – consists of comparatively short pieces – and here, the majority are four minutes long or less. Less is more, and what’s more, Gintas K invariably manages to pack more into a couple of minutes than many artists do in half an hour. Here, we have a set of eleven short pieces ‘created from recording and improvising in studio followed by extensive mixing and editing using software.’ There’s no more detail than that: some artists accompany their releases with essays explaining the creative process and the algorithms of the software and so on, but Gintas K simply leaves the music for the listener to engage with and to ponder.

Where Lėti is something of a departure is in the emphasis on the editing and mixing of the material and the fact that, as the title suggests, the arrangements are a little more sedate. The signature crackles and pops, chines and static are all present and correct, but there’s a sense of deliberation as we’re led through ethereal planes of delicate chimes and tinkling tones that resonate and hang in the air, drifting in open expanses, with time and space to reverberate and slowly decay. With this more measured feel, melodies become more apparent, with simple motifs, repeated, giving ‘Hallucination’ a sense of structure and, I suppose you might actually say ‘tune’.

It isn’t that Gintas’ works lack tunefulness as such, but that any tune is surrounded by froth and extranea, and so much is going on it’s often hard to miss. Listening to Lėti is a fairly calm, even soothing experience, at least for the most part, conjuring a mood of reflection, of contemplation. The album’s longest piece, the seven-minute ‘Various’ brings a dense wave of sound that surges and swells slowly like a turning tide. There’s almost a stately grandeur to it, but then, there’s a rattling kind of a buzz that’s something of a distraction, and a glitch that nags away and seems to accelerate. These little headfucks are quintessential Gintas K, and Lėti isn’t all soft and sweet: ‘Savage’ brings thick, fuzzing distortion and discomfort.

The flurries of sound, the babble of bubbling bleeps and bloops that are his standard fare are slowed to sparse, irregular drips in a cave on ‘Variation’, and the application of reverb is impressively nuanced, to the point that the reverbs almost become music in their own right. ‘Atmosphere’ and ‘Ambient’ are appropriately titled, while ‘Nice Pomp’ would comfortably serve as a soundtrack to a slow-motion film of a moon landing or somesuch, and again none of the pieces are without depth or detail, as the layers and slivers of sound that intersect create so much more than mere surface.

Lėti is a genuinely pleasant and pleasurable listening experience, but is most certainly isn’t straightforward or simple in what it delivers. There are many sonic nuggets to unearth, and so many tones and textures along the way, that what is, superficially ‘less’ is, in actual fact, a whole lot more.

AA

Crónica185_front

Important Records – IMPREC511 – 29th April 2022

Christopher Nosnibor

Merzbow releases are rather like proverbial busses, with this collaborative release with Arcane Device being releases simultaneously with a 20th anniversary reissue of his Merzbeat album and a CD reissue of his 1983 album Material Action, all on Important Records. The difference between Merzbow and busses is that you never have to wait long for a Merzbow album.

Merzbow & Arcane Device is a coming together of two very old hands at this experimental / noise stuff. David Lee Myers aka Arcane Device has been building electronics and creating feedback based electronic music since the late 70’s. Merzbow’s career also began at the tail end of the 70s, and the last forty-odd years has witnessed the release of a truly staggering body of work, with as many as twenty or more albums being released in a single year. It’s a daunting, overwhelming output, and the same is true of the music itself. Perhaps more than any other artist, Merzbow has pushed the boundaries of music – and even the boundaries of noise – to the absolute limits, and then continued to push beyond.

The premise of Merzbow & Arcane Device as a split LP is straightforward: each takes a piece by the other and remixes it, each presenting a longform piece correspondent with a side of vinyl.

The two pieces here are very slow, low, and drony, with the EQ geared toward the mid-ranges and lower, rather than harsh walls of treble. ‘Arcane Device Remixes Merzbow’ is particularly dense, murky, and unhurried in pace. Bubbles and pops blister the crinkled surface of churning sods. There are brief, momentary stalls to the crunching earthworks, filled with swarming hornet buzzes and wippling ripples of analogue synth sounds and skimming laser blasts. A Geiger counter crackle is pitched down and slowed to register around the gut and occasional trills of feedback break through the swampy soup. But for the most part, it’s half an hour of thick, wind-blown drone.

Merzbow’s treatment of Arcane Device’s sound is similarly given to bleeps and drones, but at a higher pitch and faster tempo; the laser bleeps are machinegun rounds by the barrage, and there are wailing siren cries of elongated feedback notes. As the drones drill deeper, the washes of static grow louder and harsher, and as the layers build, so does the volume and the tension. By the eight-minute mark, the tonal separation has become most pronounced, with barelling low-end underpinning a veil of squalling pink noise. Perhaps uncommonly for Merzbow, there are lulls, and they’re most welcome – but when the noise swells once more, the impact is amplified.

In the scheme of harsh noise, Merzbow & Arcane Device is not particularly harsh, but it’s tonally varied and its comparative subtlety is effective, as it gives the album a more considered feel, and it in no way diminishes its impact. The fact the two tracks are different – perhaps not so much for the casual listener, but to a noise enthusiast – the variations on a theme hold the attention, and draw the listener into the details of texture. These works are restrained, respectful, even, but not reverently so, and in offering two sides of a melted, battered, and pulverised coin, Merzbow & Arcane Device makes for a tough yet immersive listen.