Archive for the ‘Albums’ Category

21st June 2021

Black Angel emerged four years ago, and released Kiss of Death in July of last year – an album that brought together Matt Vowles’ years of experience from being in and around the goth scene to recreate the spirit of 1985.

This time, Vowles and co have come out with a concept album for their third outing, which is ‘inspired by cinematic classics such as ‘Dracula’ (Gary Oldman-1992) and ‘Interview with a Vampire’ with contemporary inspiration on tracks like "Alive" and "Give It To Me’" from the modern aristocratic sophisticated vampires in ‘Underworld’.

The album’s concept, the blurbage explains, is ‘to take you on a journey. The record starts out with an introduction to set the tone and to put you in 10th century England. As our protagonist embarks on his pillage through the town, we hear screams from the villagers as they run for their lives. He’s the Prince Of Darkness and causes chaos and mischief wherever he goes’.

There’s a fine line between artistry and pretence, theatre and corn, and despite the concept that veers towards an amalgamation of all the clichés of goth distilled into a dozen tracks, Prince of Darkness once again nails that vintage goth sound, with ‘Alive’ melding the energy of early Mission with the mechanised drumming of The Sisters to create a swirling cyclone of tripwire guitars and gloom with a glint of joy.

The energy is sustained across the bulk of the album, and the vibe is very much a muscle-flexing dominance, delivered with a big, ballsy swagger: there’s a hefty whiff of testosterone and a barrel load of rock god posturing going down here, but it’s delivered with a knowing nod ‘Live to Love’ is a proper old-school rock ‘n’ roll stomper with a smoky vocal growling and grizzled over a piston-pumping beat and a wonderfully insistent bassline that nags away at a repetitive motif. It’s got that level of grab that immediately makes you want to stick the whole album on repeat, especially after ‘Turn Around’, which pushes the quiet / loud dynamic with a searing guitar line that’s right in the vein of The March Violets – it’s that flangey reverby chorus thing.

Vowles has some depth, and range, too – on some tracks, like ’Call the Night Part II’ he showcases a grainy croon reminiscent of Mark Lanegan, and it’s heavy timbre is well-suited to such expansive epics, and then again, on ‘Secretly’ we see a more soulful, even tender side, and ‘My Love’ goes all out for the heart on sleeve grand gesture. It’s theatrical, but at the same times feels emotionally sincere, and while the melody bears similarities to ‘The Scientist’ by Coldplay, it sounds like it’s being sung by James Ray, and it’s quite moving in a brooding, gothy way.

Throughout, the songwriting is solid, with guitar hooks galore and a taut rhythm section that forges that classic goth groove. There’s a clear lineage from its predecessor in that Prince of Darkness is very much old-school goth delivered with a subtly contemporary twist, but it sounds and feels more confident, more ambitious, and not just on account of its embracing an overarching concept. Prince of Darkness is the sound of a band really hitting their stride, and achieves the perfect marriage of concept and execution.

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Nefarious Industries

Christopher Nosnibor

Less than two years after the release of the ambient avant-jazz oddity that was CCXMD (that’s not some random Roman numeralisation, but Cinema Cinema X Matt Darriau (The Klezmatics), the New York duo return for round two of their collaboration with the astutely-titled CCXMDII.

Let’s get the spoiler out of the way up front and early: they couldn’t have shifted further from their noise roots, and there really isn’t an overloading guitar riff in the whole album. If CCXMD was avant-jazzy and ambient, CCXMDII is avant-jazzier and more ambient. Having laid the foundations previously, it’s not so much of a shock, but anyone hoping for a return to their riffier roots will be disappointed by this weirdy, spaced-out experimental work.

It contains but seven tracks, although three of them are over ten minutes in duration, including the eighteen-minute opener ‘A Life of its Own’, which was unveiled as the album’s lead single a couple of weeks ago. And here, Cinema Cinema push further still than on their previous album, with those seven tracks bleeding together to forge one, vast continuous piece.

It begins tentatively, with tremulous, trilling woodwind and some scratchy strumming. Sounds echo and reverberate and voices mumble in a blurred, slowed, hallucinated state that’s most unsettling, and slowly transitions from some shilled, chiming new-age desert vibe into an increasingly bad trip as unintelligible jabbering spits and slurs angrily against the warping backdrop and swelling percussion – and that’s before the crazed jazz horns begin to bray and parp.

There are definite ebbs and flows, but not necessarily correspondent with the transitions between the tracks, and ponderous guitar and trepidatious woodwind teeter precariously through ‘Continued’, which is less of a piece in its own right than a bridge toward the nine-minute ‘Bratislava’. Guitars scrape and the drums stutter and test the waters and levels, and it actually sounds like a band checking their levels between songs during a live show than anything. There are some exploratory post-rock moments, but they’re fleeting, and even when the rhythm section finds a groove, it’s but for a short time and ultimately frustrating and unsatisfying, chopping and changing in a mathy fashion – which is fine in itself, but for the lack of a resolution, a crescendo, a finish. Instead, it peters out and squeaks and toots into the next piece.

The trilling woodwind – pan-pipes or similar – are all over the meandering piece and while the percussion rolls, the guitar is pegged back to providing mere texture, and there is no question that the band have shunned pretty much all ‘rock’ trappings here. The raspy, chthonic vocal whispering and manic hollering returns, before it trickles down into ‘Crack of Dawn’ with its stop / start arrhythmic percussion, hovering drones and eerie formlessness.

It’s not until the penultimate track that we get power chords. There is silence, briefly, before ‘Trigger’, which is unexpectedly led by a stop/start drum and hesitant bass groove that eventually emerges as a core motif. Imagine Shellac with brass instead of vocals, and you probably get the idea. It locks into a motoric krautrock groove – but that freewheeling wild horn action is something else. It brings chaos, it brings discord, riding wild all over some wild improv.

CCXMDII isn’t an easy album, and it’s not the punk or guitar-led set some may have expected. But it is a bold, daring work, one that sees a band who don’t give a fuck about conventions or expectations demonstrating that lack of fucks musically. Every band says they’re making music for themselves, but hardly any mean it. These guys do. CCXMDII is also a wonderfully odd abstract soundscapes that drifts and meanders and entertains and perplexes. CCXMDII is the work of a band in continual evolution, and long may that evolution continue.

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Roman Numeral (US) / Wolves And Vibrancy (EU) –13th August 2021

Christopher Nosnibor

Linear narrative can be so dull, so predictable, or otherwise lacking in intrigue and imagination. There is so much more challenge – both as a writer and a reader – to a work that doesn’t follow that standard beginning / middle / end convention. There’s nothing predictable or obvious or linear about Fawn Limbs’ their third long player.

‘Day three. I woke up in a bed made of hay and roots. For a brief but fleeting moment, I couldn’t recall the incidents of the past days…’ This is how we arrive in Darwin Falls. It’s a sparse country vibe, a bit True Detective. It’s hazy, hot. The dry, cracked voice of Lee Fisher narrates the scene, and we’re as lost and bewildered as he is. Where are we? Why are we here? What the fuck happened? The picture gets darker as it unfurls, and it’s a slow, languorous build… and then, unexpectedly, everything erupts and shit spews forth as if from a volcano bursting from the very molten pits of hell. It tears with a burning fury at your guts and at your organs, and this is punishment. And then, this is calm, this is tranquillity. This is schizophrenic, unpredictable. It’s too much to process.

How you do describe Fawn Limbs? Odd and experimental is perhaps a fair starting point, and the first track in this is both. ‘Nesting Lumens’ is abstract and ethereal, a shade abstract, but it’s also raging chthonic demon-noise metal and all the brutality delivered with a razor-sharp technicality. It’s perhaps most interesting when the rage dissipates and we’re left with expensive post-rock tropes, and these extend into the majestic

The Transatlantic trio describe themselves as ‘avant-garde mathgrind’ and that seems a fair summary of the blistering hellfest that is Darwin Falls.

We’re still struggling to find orientation amidst the slow-twisting post-rock smog of the opening segment of ‘Wound Hiss’ when things suddenly turn brutal, a battering sonic assault that’s brief but so violent as to cause concussion.

It’s the extremity of the contrasts that render these songs so staggering in their impact. As a post-rock band, they’re outstanding at forging delicate, graceful pastoral pieces, musical passages of delicacy and grace – but instead of breaking into breathtaking crescendos of cinematic beauty, they rampage into howling blasts of anguish that explode on the most frenzied slabs of extreme metal. There are moments of eerie spaciousness, as on ‘Caesura’, a short piece which appropriately provides a moment of respite, and mellow interludes such as the still waters of laid-back jazz at the start of ‘Twitching, Lapsing’ which jolts into life with a haemorrhage-inducing blast of rampant noise and only becomes more impossible as the brass collides with a nuclear storm and a tsunami of noise.

If Justin Broadrick and co successfully combined free jazz with slow, industrial grind as GOD, then Fawn Limbs push the concept to another level, and the spoken word sections provide a fascinating counterpoint to the roaring, blazing sonic blasts that come in between. But ultimately, comparisons simply don’t hold up here. True innovation is rare, and we’re unaccustomed to it: it’s difficult to respond to it appropriately, somehow. It phases us. Shuddering, bemusement, bewilderment. A lack of comprehension. How do you measure it, and how do you process? Darwin Falls is a remarkable album, a sonic supernova, and it’s no mere hybrid: it is truly unique. Prepare to have your mind – and eardrums – blown.

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Sargent House – 23rd July 2021

Christopher Nosnibor

Alexis Marshall is an interesting figure, and no mistake. As front man and lyricist of Rhode Island makers of noise, Daughters, he’s emerged as an artist with a rare poeticism matched only by his fierce intensity as a performer. Anyone who caught them during their comeback album, You Won’t Get What You Want – which saw them reconvene after an eight-year hiatus and harness the sheer mania of their previous phased into something with a rather broader appeal without remotely selling out – would likely have been blown away by his manic energy, not to mention self-abuse with a microphone. One got the impression that this wasn’t just performance or for show but a man living every moment with visceral power.

In interviews, he’s said he considers himself a performer first and foremost, although 2017 saw the publication of his first collection of poetry, A Sea Above the Pains of Our Youth, and it’s clear he’s got artistic range and is more than just some lunatic who shouts.

On the release of his book, Marshall was interviewed by Lucas Anderson of No Echo, and said, ‘There are so many guilty pleasures, and mine is combing through bad Instagram poetry. There are so many terrible, terrible, terrible poets on Instagram with like 15,000 followers, just writing fucking garbage. Just absolute souless things you would find on like a doily in a tea room, or a fortune cookie, its just bullshit self-help stuff under the guise of poetry. They use things like hashtags #poetsofinstagram and all this shit.’ This is something I can completely relate to as a writer. This is the reason I don’t even dabble with poetry competitions and the reason I more or less quit as a spoken word performer. It’s not even the lack of reception to anything different: it’s the turgid shit you’d have to sift through that would receive rapturous applause while thinking ‘seriously? But that was crap?’ Yes, art is subjective, but sometimes a turd is just a turd. Thankfully, there is nothing turd about House of Lull, House of When.

August 2020 saw Marshall release ‘Nature in Three Movements’ via Bandcamp, and yes, it sounded a lot like recent Daughters, but that was as much on account of his sprechgesang style, a combination of spoken work, hollering, and manic yelping. Marshall has a rare capacity to convey anguish, and no mistake, and if this first foray into solo work was intense but brief, his first solo album sees him fully explore the space a long player affords, and it feels like a very different kind of beast overall – And came about via a very different process, with Marshall convening with Jon Syverson (Daughters) and former tourmate Evan Patterson (Jaye Jayle, Young Widows) in the studio with absolutely no plan whatsoever. The result is cacophonous, unpredictable, often dark, often percussion-dominated.

House of Lull, House of When is an album of spontaneity, born out of chaos, and out of collaboration – the kind of collaboration where nothing is preplanned or predetermined, and this gives the album a rare immediacy and a sense of unpredictability. Marshall has a distinctive vocal style and a predilection for noise, but embraces all inputs and sets no parameters.

There are some long songs with some sparse instrumentation here: the first, ‘Drink from the Oceans, Nothing Can Harm You’ is a spartan piano piece that’s over seven minutes in duration. With some creeping eeriness and a distant, clattering industrial beat, Marshall’s spoken word is slowly swallowed in the mists and he fades out as he hollers psychological torture into an increasingly murky sonic sea.

‘Hounds in the Abyss’ finds Marshall lunging, lurching, seemingly lost and disoriented as he lunges through a thumping beat and elongated screeding drone, while ‘It Just Doesn’t Feel Good Anymore’ is heavy grind and repetition reminiscent of Swans circa 1985-6, and this is perhaps the closest and most fitting comparison I can reach for here: many of the lyrics take the form of barked instructions, particularly on while ‘It Just Doesn’t Feel Good Anymore’, seems to be a dissection of corporate and covid life, the endless repetition and ordering for compliance that has dominated our lives for the last year and a half, nearly.

‘You are responsible / stay where you are / you are expected to meet your obligations / Don’t get up / don’t touch anything / don’t touch anyone’ he bellows repeatedly like a government press conference or other outlets. It’s painful punishing, and all the more for the avant-jazz horns shrieking shrilly throughout, and that thunderous, grating repetition dominates and defines ‘Religion as Leader’ too. One suspects that religion is a far deeper, more divisive topic in the States than here in the UK, but it’s a global reality that religion is war – and ultimately, we need neither.

The monotone delivery of the reflective ‘Youth as Religion’ is a magnificently measured piece of spoken word, pitched against sparse organ drone and minimal guitar pickings, and it’s a world away from the whirlwind of noise that is Daughters. This is the intrigue and appeal of House of Lull, House of When: the title is obscure, and so is its formation, and there are no overt structures which tie the pieces here to the conventions of ‘songs’ with verse / chorus repetitions. As such, it’s ‘music’ in the broader sense and won’t appeal to many, even fans – but that’s no denigration of its artistic merit. Creatively, in terms of both vision and execution, House of Lull, House of When is special, and doesn’t sound like any other album – and all the better for it.

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Cleopatra Records

Christopher Nosnibor

As a label, Cleopatra has arguably established itself as the home of goth and dark music, with leanings toward the vintage period where goth emerged from post-punk – alongside some classic 80s acts, old-school punk, and some weird shit, of course.

Belgian ‘band’ Controversial – the vehicle of Bart Coninckx – mines a largely industrial seam in the vein of Wax Trax! – early Ministry, KMFDM, Skrew, blending stark synths with grating guitars and thumping programmed beats.

It’s a bleak, barren start to the album with the eerie dark drone of ‘The Trauma of Birth’ that ruptures the haunting, ethereal choral sound with dirty guitars and grainy samples, before things get 80s motoric with the cyclical synth groove of ‘With a Vision of Death’: plinking videogame laser sounds give way to the heavy chug of a metallic guitar, and, low in the mix, a distorted, Al Jourgensen style raspy roar that growls and spits and snarls its way through a cacophony of tortured howl.

Having done birth and death, we’re into the myriad shades of pain of the human condition, from recent single ‘Violence’ – an absolutely relentless riff-driven pounder – to the brooding piano-led ‘Is This the Best’ via serene theatricals of ‘Crying’ that swerves into an epic prog guitar solo. You couldn’t accuse Controversial of being predictable or one-dimensional.

Over the course of thirteen muscular cuts (plus a couple of bonus remixes courtesy of Die Krupps and Laether Strip) dominated by some brutally heavy, hard-edge riffage, Controversial tears through modern society like, like a typhoon, like a forest fire, like a juggernaut with the brakes cut.

‘Commercial Breakdown’ blasts its way through pandemic control mechanisms and leans heavily on both ‘NWO’ and ‘Psalm 69’ but works because of it rather than in spite of it – because if you’re going to be overt, best to take a solid source of influence, and while much of the album is geared toward the grating guitar sound, a handful, like ‘Suffering Unseen’ (which nabs the drum fill from Cabaret Voltaire’s ‘Nag Nag Nag’) go all out technoindustrial / aggrotech. The songs tend to be centred around heavy repetition, both with circular, repetitive riffs and motifs, and looped samples, pitched around the optimal 120 BPM to render them instant grippers.

No two ways about it, Second Genesis is a solid album with plenty of attack paired with an unexpected range.

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Khatacomb – 7th July 2021

Christopheer Nosnibor

Some artists clearly thrive on collaboration, throwing themselves fully into the possibilities and potentials ideas from other quarters offer. Ukrainian experimentalist Kojoohar, aka Andrii Kozhukhar, is clearly one such artist, with the self-explanatory Split– a collaboration with fellow Ukrainian Acedia and New Zealander Acclimate – is his second release of the year so far.

Split is something of a celebration of darkness, and a coming together of artists with fundamentally divergent styles, and its finding a home on Ukrainian label / webzine Khatacomb is no coincidence, given its commitment to ‘covering various manifestations of Ukrainian post-industrial music, from dark folk to experimental electronics, and art in general’. It’s an immense departure from anything Kojoohar has done before, with his 2019 and 2021 collaborations with ködzid goo exploring the realms of industrial and avant-garde hip-hop.

The way Split is split is interesting in itself, with four solo Acedia pieces, one Acedia and Kojoohar composition, and a brace from Kojoohar and Acclimate, making it very much an album of three segments – and as such, split.

In context, the vocal element of Acedia’s contributions come as something of a surprise: against minimal, stark electronic backing, with snaking percussion and strong snare sounds that cut through, Acedia delivers a vocal that’s glacial yet warm in its human vulnerability. Ugh, comparisons feels like lazy journalism, but serve their purpose: Depeche Mode, Ladytron, and New Order’s Movement coalesce in the tone and style on these chilly tunes.

‘You’re already dead’ she intimates in a blank monotone on the cold as ice ‘Cocoon’, and the insularity closes in as each song progresses: ‘Slaughterous Game’ is as dark and dangerous as it gets, so cold that it strikes chill to the very marrow. It’s bleak but bold, and the four Acedia cuts feel like an EP in their own right.

I can’t help but feel that this release would work best in physical format, either as n album with the Acedia tracks on one side and the rest on the other, or as a pair of 12” to give each segment clear separation.

Acedia with Kojoohar conjure some darkly dreamy drone with ‘Forget my Name’, with its rolling, woozy bass and whipcracking snare that slashes away at a slow pace, and dark gets darker with ‘Enwomb’, the first of the pieces jointly forged by Kojoohar and Acclimate. It’s nearly ten minutes of ambient drone that billows and rumbles while treble bubbles and bounces eddy this way and that amidst the grumbling mid-range fog. Sparks fly and stutter incidentally but without effect, and the horizon grows broader in the face of this vast vista despite the grumbling discomfiture and whispering in tongues. It’s unsettling, a squirming, churning, twisting and turning with no breaks in which to find a position that’s comfortable. The same is true of the final track, the second Kojoohar and Acclimate cut, and it’s a cut that cuts deep: serrated edges burr and saw away, and tribal percussion thuds away insistently against subdued but wince-inducing trails of feedback.

None of this is comfortable; none of this is easy. But it’s a contrasting set that strains the edges of convention to create something quite, quite different.

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Vinyl Eddie Records – VINED006 & VINED007 – 9th July 2021

Christopher Nosnibor

Opposites and opposition – and the way in which those contrasts are core to our understanding of the world and our place in it – have been key points of exploration in art for centuries. The concept of either / or, light / dark, heaven / hell is the foundation of Judaeo-Christian religions and those polarities became the core tropes of Elizabethan poetry, at the dawn of modern literature. Sir Thomas Wyatt’s ‘I Find No Peace’ cements these tropes that have come to define both internal conflict, the turmoil of love, and the fundamental dichotomies of the human condition.

And yet it’s Earth’s Angels Of Darkness, Demons Of Light, released in two parts that comes to mind when presented with Soma Crew’s new offering, a twin vinyl release capturing two days’ intensive recording to collectively forge one monumental document of the band’s creative work since the release off 2019’s F for Fake in 2019.

I know, I know I always say the same when writing of Soma Crew – which I have done often since they formed under the guide of Muttley Crew back in 2013 – that they get better with every release, with every show. But that’s the simple fact of the matter. They tend not to deviate far from their psychedelic drone style that’s most reminiscent of Black Angels, but that isn’t to say they don’t push their limits in the execution. But most importantly, they know how to batter away at a riff for an age and whip up a psychedelic haze.

Out Of Darkness / Into Light is a slow-burner, and marks something of a shift, and on first listen, I was a shade concerned by the lack of motoric beats and shimmering walls of distortion and delay rippling over cascading riffs. But this is the new direction: the beats are still motoric, but simply more minimal and subdued, and the emphasis has shifted toward a more understated and minimalist sound.

The first track, ‘Phantom’ starts off simple, plugging away at a four-chord riff with a hint of swagger that’s almost Primal Scream. The guitar sound is clean, shimmering, and Si Micklethwaite’s vocal is pretty low in the mix, meaning everything blends together gently. There are heavy hints of early Fall about the six-and-a-half-minute ‘You’re So Cool’ – the easy-tripping clean guitar with its naggingly repetitious riff is straight off Live at the Witch Trials or Dragnet. It’s simple, it’s immediate, and the fact it was recorded on the spot only accentuate these qualities.

Soma Crew don’t do short songs: of the twelve here, only two are under five minutes, with the majority clocking in around the six-minute mark. There’s plenty of throbbing bass runs and repetitions and spacey slide guitar going on here, and these qualities are integral to the Soma sound. They’re not a ‘chorus’ band, but a band who create a hypnotic atmosphere through their endlessly cyclical riffs and the plod of the percussion – by no means a criticism here, as drummer Nick understands that less is more – using a setup consisting solely of snare and floor tom for the duration. This minimal ‘Bobby Gillespie’ setup works well, meaning the instruments occupy the space – or don’t – instead of the conventional sound whereby crashing cymbals fill the sound the a load of top-end mess that so often sounds crap.

‘There’s a Fire’ steps up the urgency eight songs in, but instead of going all guns blazing with distortion and a blast of cymbals and snares, Soma Crew hold steady. The slow down again for the forlorn country meandering of ‘Broken Matches’ and counterpart ‘Machines’ with some nice lap steel work, and there’s no question that Out Of Darkness / Into Light is a more ponderous, reflective set of songs, and rather than being a set of two distinct halves, it’s very much a coherent and unified work.

If anything about Out Of Darkness / Into Light intimates production values that eschew slickness and polish, that’s one of its real selling points: recorded live over two days in January 2020, this is a band at work, and it’s an album that captures what they actually sound like, rather than a studio-based tweaked and fiddled fantasy version of what they might sound like if they were another band entirely. Hearing them stripped back and sparse, they sound musically confident even while Micklethwaite’s plaintive vocal navigates seams of self-doubt and introspection through the lyrics, and this album shows that plugging away at simple, cyclical chord structures is as effective and hypnotic without the deluge of effects as with.

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Room40 – RM4143 – 9th July 2021

Christopher Nosnibor

This cassette release’s liner notes are prefaced with an epigraph from Fredric Jameson, one of the preeminent writers on postmodern theory. It reads, ‘It is easier to imagine the end of the world than it is to imagine the end of capitalism.’

One of the most profound things about Jameson’s writing is that much of it seems more true and more relevant now, than when it was first published. Postmodernism, or, The Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism appeared in 1991, with the rather more succinct The Cultural Turn, which collected his writings on postmodernism form 1983-1998 distilling his critique of the era. The present feels like postmodernism on steroids, a relentless blizzard of media, technology and consumption progressing at a pace that evolution simply has no hope of keeping abreast of. The worst spins ever faster, but our bodies and brains aren’t equipped for the environment we’ve created. And it’s capitalism that drives much of the pace, perpetually reinventing, recreating, reselling to milk the market dry. And any suggestion that the pandemic would cause a rethink is already proving to have bene but wishful thinking. Capitalism has made off the situation, even when high-street retail and hospitality has been dying, and now the race is on to get everyone back to work, back to the office, and to supply those ever-growing demands.

This, then, is part of the context for Robert Gerard Pietrusko’s new album, and the press release provides a more granular and specific level of context, explaining how ‘On Elegyia, Robert Gerard Pietrusko reflects on notions of accumulation and decay, calling specifically on his memories of the demise of the Soviet Union. The sudden collapse of the USSR shocked the world and in that moment came an intense and wholesale reveal, that spoke to the impermanence of all political and social structures, no matter how fixed they might appear. Using this as a compositional metaphor, Pietrusko creates an edition of muted sonics, rich saturation and submerged low energies.’

The album and the compositions it contains are highly structured, ‘based on five piano motifs that are repeated with constant variation and extrapolation across the album’s nine tracks. In structure, harmony, and timbre each piece attempts to capture the contradictory condition of a macro-level stasis versus a tumultuous interior, rigorous movement but no progression, and a threat of its own undoing’.

Indeed, the greatest threat to capitalism is always capitalism itself, and it’s the endless recycling and regurgitation of ideas that keeps it alive: each revival is a reimagining of the past that exploits the ache of nostalgia, which grows ever stronger the worse the present becomes.

And so it is that Elegyia mourns the passing of the past through its subtly-sequenced movements of droning ambience and slow-turning mellifluous aural abstractions. The nine-minute ‘Perishing Red Skies’ sets the tone and is formed from slow-turning waves and the most gradual of movements. The motifs are often buried beneath broad washes of sound, and twist and warp further out of shape as the album progresses – but they are, breaking through the waves, at times discernible, bobbing around in eddying flows. Sometimes, the feel is quite light-hearted – but then, at others, it feels vaguely threatening, while at others simply contemplative. How I miss those periods of quiet introspection, before work, family, and simply life took over.

Dark clouds build on the two-parts of ‘The Lost Seasons’, the second occupied by a stammering oscillation of slow disruption to a smooth, soft surface. It’s soothing, but is it real? Postmodernism is all about surface, about deception, about appearance, and so one must inevitably ask how much of Elegyia is art, and how much is artifice? take the sepiatone cover image. It’s an evocation of a bygone age – but it’s simply a shortcut, a signifier – rather than the signified.

And these are the questions to ponder as you cast away on the drift, and without expending too much energy on what lies beneath the surface.

Elegyia is a delicate and finely-balanced work, with expansive sweeps and fine detail coexisting, layering atop of one another, reforging its own reality in the moment.

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Gates of Hypnos  – 4th July 2021

Christopher Nosnibor

This is a split release by, as the title suggests, Sado Rituals and Mass Grave, who each bring approximately twenty minutes of harsh noise wall to the dark, antisocial party.

Sado Rituals’ ‘Funeral Pile of the Nameless’ is a murky cloud of tearing, rumbling devastation.

As I listen, I contemplate whether they mean pile or pyre, but conclude it maters little, especially not least of all to the couple of hundred people who will even ever hear it. We’re in ultra-niche territory here, and no mistake. But it’s a niche filed with a truly hardcore following.

It’s deep, dark, dank, a rumbling morass of formless darkness that billows and rumbles, and over the course of its precise twenty minutes, it sucks the fucking soul from you as it churns away at the guts without shift and without mercy. It feels like standing beneath the rotors of a helicopter, or on the edge of a cyclone spiralling down and drawing all matter into the pits of hell, the sonic equivalent of a black hole. A vortex of bleakness, of dense matter without form. And then, bang on the twenty-minute marks, it stops.

As purveyors of self-labelled ‘blackened noise wall’, Mass Grave’s nineteen-minute gut churner sounds like the tail end of a piano being rolled down a flight of stairs, a rolling crash of dissonance. It’s even darker and dinger than Sado Rituals’ contribution, a low rumble reduced to a slow, low drone that gradually warps as it billows like smoke from a fire on a wrecker’s yard, all types burning and cars slowly melting in the suffocating black smog.

The lack of treble on these two pieces tempers the harshness, in many ways: it’s a real gut-rumbler but neither track feels particularly attacking or abrasive: it’s a noise wall, and no mistake, but one which is more designed to smoother and suffocate than penetrate the flesh and the psyche with its harsh intensity. It’s still punishing, and it’s still gnarly as fuck, and its power lies in just how oppressive, stifling, the two pieces are.

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Editions Mego – EMEGO305 – 28th June 2021

Christopher Nosnibor

BJ Nilsen’s focus has long been the ‘sound of nature, the nature of sound and the effects these have on humans’, and his exploratory collages and soundscapes tend to draw of field recordings and myriad other sources to create often contrasting, and dissonant works, and Irreal is very much dissonant and contrasting, with moments of tranquillity and subtle, quivering elongated drones disrupted by battering blasts of difficult noise.

The liner notes outline how ‘Irreal is a selection of recordings from different situations encountered in Austria, Russia, South Korea and The Benelux. The range of sound is as wide as is the emotional impact which slides from the unnerving to the shimmering and gor- geous. Doors, bells, birds, wet snow falling from a tree, hacking of wood, water dripping in a cave are all exquisitely captured and moulded into vast landscapes of sound. Human voices, string instruments, descending trains, oceans, winds, grass, trees. These diverse sonic elements are grafted around and upon each other to create a rich tapestry of sound. Electronic embellishments harness the whole to create a singular expressive canvas. The 3 part suite concludes with the Beyond pebbles, rubble and dust, a grand glacial work which serves as a masterclass in extraordinary transcendental drone.’

I’m instantly primed for some challenging scraping drones as the first few seconds of ‘Short Circuit of the Conscious Thought’ build tense, treble scratches, and am immediately puzzled when it halts and there are just clicks in silence. It’s as if the file has inexplicably glitched. From the quiet, a trilling, rippling drone emerges and hangs like a haze – but that smooth stillness carries a tension, which ruptures with distortion and bands like a dozen car doors slamming simultaneously, and at the most unexpected of times. In the final minutes, it evolves into a slow-pulsing minimal ambient Krautrock sequence reminiscent of Tangerine Dream.

Rumbling thunder cracks and crackles all around at the start of ‘Motif Mekanik’, and it booms and grumbles all around a low, ominous drone, and the track is a tumbling tempest of amorphous noise like a raging storm circling and hovering, drifting back and forth, and it’s unsettling. The contrast of the sounds of the elements and the metallic scrape of the eternal drone is perhaps the most obvious way in which Nilsen highlights the relationship between nature and humans, the man-made and the organic. It also intimates the tensions at the heart of that relationship, as strains of ear-splitting feedback cut through the murk and mumble, and it segues quietly into the expansive final composition, the monumental thirty-eight minute ‘Beyond Pebbles, Rubble, and Rust’ – and I know ‘immersive’ is a word I probably use excessively, but it’s entirely appropriate as I find myself swimming amidst the thick, slow—moving sounds of the piece.

Lazy bleeps, like R2D2 on a low battery or the Clangers on ketamine bibble into the mix, before fading out to a drifting mist of dark rumblings that present not immediate routes into the heart of dark mass, only an impenetrable mass of sound, like a mountain rising to the heavens, its summit hidden by a low cloud base. A low bass registers almost subliminally, a single note repeated slow and regular, booming out dolorously. Not a lot happens over a very long time, but the effect is cumulative, and as you sit and stare while the drones and spectral wails of ambience envelop, you find yourself in contemplation and searching for the meaning.

There are all shades of reality, spanning the unreal and the hyperreal. But the irreal is not real. However, where the irreal is distinct from unreal lies in the perception – not just something unreal, but estranged and otherly. In drawing on so many found sounds and field recordings, Nilsen’s album is in fact rooted in the tangibly real, bur recontextualises it, shifting the axes so as to present that reality through the filter of human intervention and incongruity, and as such, distorts that reality to present an interpretation which in turn becomes a fiction and therefore not real, or irreal.

As the rain hammers outside on this early July night, following a day of heavy storms, it occurs to me that what Nilsen articulates through his sonic juxtapositions, is that the relationship between human and nature is precarious: we, as a species, are not nature’s friends, and that progress is disruptive and often damaging – and it’s the human way to command, control, and harness nature for our own ends. But that superiority is an illusion, a delusion, and humanity will always be at nature’s mercy. The relationship is not interdependent or symbiotic, and we need the natural world , whereas it does not need us. In time, we may reach a point where our planet is uninhabitable to us, and to many other species, but it will exist long after we have ceased to, just as it did before. Darkness descends, and at the close, the album tapers to silence – and this is as it will be.

AA

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