Archive for the ‘Albums’ Category

SPV / NoCut and ADA / Entertainment One

24th January 2020

Christopher Nosnibor

And we’re back once again in the divergent and varied field of what’s come to be goth in the 21st century, and it’s a very far cry from its post-punk roots. The late 70s and early 80s saw the emergence of Siouxsie and the Banshees, Bauhaus, The Cure, The Sisters of Mercy, The March Violets, Christian Death and a slew of bands who would subsequently be labelled as ‘goth’, and who were subsequently joined by the likes of Red Lorry Yellow Lorry, The Cult, Fields of the Nephilim, The Mission, etc., etc. The fact of the matter is, there was little commonality between these acts, and that goth was something of a media fabrication. What about the fans? Let’s not confuse the fans and the artists, or a subculture with its icons. So what was a scene that never was morphed into an evermore diffuse group of subcultures, with an ever-broader range of bands who had little or nothing in common beyond their shared fanbase. After metal, there can be few labels that provide an umbrella for a greater range of styles.

So here we are, presented with The Book of Fire, the eleventh album by German goth-metal act MONO INC. And while it’s goth, it’s not really my kinda goth, and couldn’t be further from the dark post-punk or art-rock stylings of the first wave of bands. Is this evolution, or dilution, cross-pollination and contamination? I suppose that’s a matter of perspective.

The album’s first song, the title track, is over seven and a half minutes long. It begins with a slick guitar that almost manages to sound like a harpsichord, and then it glides into some kind of Celtic folk metal and it very soon starts to become uncomfortable. Uncomfortable because such buoyant energy is more the domain of the hoedown knees-up. The folk-hued power-metal of ‘Louder Than Hell’ brims with positivity about strength and stuff, and explodes with crisp synths and choral backing vocals and it’s fun enough, but it’s also pretty cringy: it’s the kind of thing Germany might enter into Eurovision.

Then again, ‘Shining Light’ has such a massive chorus and a hook so strong that it’s hard to resist even when you’re hating it: it has that uplifting surge that lifts you and carries you away on the tide from the inside.

The euphoria swiftly dissipates with the next song, ‘Where the Raven Flies’, which is the definition of theatrical cliché melodrama. And herein lies the problem, which I accept is entirely personal, at least on a primary level. In short, I think it’s cheesy and naff.

On a secondary level, and one which is more objective, what The Book of Fire represents is very much a commercial take on the genre; theatre and drama don’t necessarily equate to an absence of depth, but this is good-time party goth, and any emotional sincerity is polished away under a slick veneer of pomp and overblown production. In this way, it’s as credible as examples of either folk or goth as Ed Sheeran’s ‘Galway Girl’ or Doctor and the Medics’ rendition of ‘Spirit in the Sky’. It displays all the trappings, but none of the authenticity. For all the theatre, there’s a woeful absence of substance, the brooding is third-rate thespianism rather than the anguish of tortured souls.

Elsewhere, ‘The Last Crusade’ is riven with choral bombast, but is little more than an obvious ‘This Corrosion’ rip-off, that once again leans heavily on Germanic folk tropes, and ‘The Gods of Love’ similarly brings together Floodland-era Sisters with Rammstein. I’m sure plenty will view this as a good thing, but they’d be wrong, so wrong. ‘What have we done?’ they ask repeatedly on the final and suitably epic finale track ‘What have We Done’, and it’s a fair question: whatever it is, it’s not good.

In fairness, it’s not quite ‘Rocky Horror’ bad on the spectrum of play-goth, but it’s not far off, and while it’s sonically ambitious, creatively, it’s depressingly derivative.

AA

MONO-INC.-The-Book-Of-Fire-1500x1500px

Tensheds Music – 6th December 2019

Christopher Nosnibor

Having caught Tensheds live back in 2018 and been impressed by their gritty yet flamboyant sound, the arrival of an album in the form of Deathrow Disco promised to be good news. And it really is.

No guitars. No synths. No bass. Just a Rhodes organ. And some drums. Written in three days and recorded in three more, Deathrow Disco packs an immediacy without being lo-fi in a way that’s detrimental. However, everything is upfront and direct and cranked up, delivering maximum impact with a sense of urgency.

Everything fits together perfectly, and it all serves to showcase Matt Millership’s distinctive voice. The guy’s got more gravel than Jewson’s. And while that sand-blasted larynx is used to growl out mangled blued-based songs, he’s no predictable Tom Waits rip-off like so any others. Lead single and opening track ‘Youngbloods’ packs some flamboyant keys of a grandeur worthy of Muse or Yes, but pins the trilling tones go a stomping rhythm.

Second single cut ‘Gold Tooth’ is a grainy glammy blues boogie, but sonically, it’s a collision of The Doors at their swaggering badass baddest with Suicide, mining a relentless groove with a swirling Hammond that’s been mangled and

Then again, ‘Slag’ is more like a synth Mötörhead, only with some piano thrown into the mix. ‘Deathrow Disco’ combines immense theatricality with full-blooded rock ‘n’ roll, and elsewhere, ‘Black Blood’ goes prog and at the same times reveals a softer, more sensitive side, and ‘Troubleshooter’ inches toward lighter-waving anthem territory, or maybe would without the bitter heartbreak lyrics.

Deathrow Disco is varied, and largely uptempo and big on boppable grooves, but make no mistake, Tensheds have a highly distinctive style that works well, and makes optimal use of minimal kit.

AA

Tensheds - Deathrow Disco

Sound In Silence – 9th January 2020

Christopher Nosnibor

Fifteen years on from initiating worriedaboutsatan, Gavin Miller resumes work under the moniker as a solo performer once more. During that time, there have been lengthy breaks, solo releases and side projects, and five albums along the way, all of which featured Thomas Ragsdale. As a duo, it was always apparent that each of them brought something very different to the table, and on paper, the differences probably just shouldn’t work, with Ragsdale’s more beat-centric style seemingly at odds with Miller’s introspective post-rock / ambient stylings. But work it did, and incredibly well. The sound evolved over time, too, from the stuttering microbeats that characterised Arrivals to the up-front booming dance grooves particularly prominent in their later live sets, worriedaboutsatan developed, but remained distinctive.

So what impact Ragsdale’s departure to focus on his solo endeavours?

Pleasingly, Crystalline still has that je ne sais quoi that’s uniquely worriedaboutsatan, despite the contrasts being less pronounced, as Miller pursues the more ambient direction that defined Revenant and Blank Tape. The eight pieces coalesce as a whole to create an album that’s mellow and subtle, with reverby guitar notes chiming out into soft washes of ambient synth. It is predominantly background in its positioning: Crystalline isn’t an album where anything leaps out and grabs the attention, there are no peaks or troughs, and the whole thing more or les drifts by on a certain level that registers low on the concentration meter. That’s not a criticism, but a personal observation on its function as a musical work: it supplements the mood and occupies a space in an understated fashion, and is something that can be played while you’re working or reading. By the same token, that doesn’t make it ‘forgettable’ or mean it isn’t worthy of attentive listening: Miller has constructed some magnificently layered compositions, and while the overall sensation emanates from broad washes of sound that could be described as impressionistic, there is considerable detail beneath the surface.

The forms are vague and vaporous, the individual instruments indistinct, but this changes on penultimate track, ‘Secretly’, where the guitar becomes clearer and more ‘guitary’, and judders as the echoes take over the notes, creating a doubling effect as the picked strings stop and stutter against a heartbeat pulse of a beat.

The album closes with the mournful drones of ‘Switching Off’: sparse, spaced out, blank in their connotations before a swell of overloaded feedback begins to rise in the loudest, most abrasive moment on the album, before it’s suddenly cut dead. Thank you, and good night.

The suddenness of this ending is unexpected, and breaks the suspension of time that the preceding half hour of amorphous sound punctuated by barely-there beats has created. It’s a jolt, and you’re back in the room.

AA

worriedaboutsatan – Crystalline

Christopher Nosnibor

Two Acorns – 2A16 – DL release date: Out Now / CD release date: 6th March 2019

Celer’s Future Predictions is a vast and ambitious work: spanning four discs, it’s an ambient exploration on a truly grand scale. Each disc contains a single longform track, each running at around half an hour, with the shortest, ‘No Sleep in Medan’ clocking in at 27’30”, and the longest, ‘Nothing Will Change’ 42’36”.

According to the write-up, the compositions are made with ‘tape loops, from digital and acoustic instruments, field recordings and foley sounds’, and ‘with a focus on introspection and imagination, each piece begins with all layers playing, with minimal additional long-term structural development in order to maintain a state’. There’s a conceptual lineage here, if not an auditory one: Future Predictions is the follow-up to 2018’s Memory Repetitions which was based on memory and the interpretation of it over time. Future Predictions, we learn, ‘is instead based on the idea of future situations, and should be seen as a meditation on future events’.

While the various elements of tape loops and various instruments are indistinguishable, combining in their simultaneity to create soft, supple sonic washes, hovering drones interweaving interminably, the overall effect is incredibly immersive.

The first of the four, ‘Merita’ is light, drifting like mist over dewy expanses of grassland at sunrise, and while I initially find myself waiting for some progression, expecting some transitional shift, after a time the stasis becomes the end in itself.

‘No Sleep’ inches into darker territory, with deeper, rumbling low notes but after a few minutes this sense of difference dissipates in the drift of elongated notes that have no clear definition, no forward trajectory, no overt sense of movement, but instead hover and hang in the air for all time. ‘Quaraous’ brings new layers, new tones, new, shades, a shimmering light and swell of organ to the proceedings, and for aa time it again feels different, but again, that difference fades over the course of half an hour of sameness.

The effects of Future Predictions are cumulative. It’s true that on a purely practical level, few, if any, are likely to listen to all four discs or digital files in succession, although it’s in this context of continuous play that it works best. Admittedly, this is not music to listen to, but to allow to drift by. You don’t listen: you feel it and on a subconscious level as you drift, and you let life happen and continue as normal. I read and replied to texts and emails, while the sound swelled and hummed in eternal undulations. They didn’t transport me anywhere, they didn’t ‘do’ anything. And yet, inducing a certain sense of sedation, of slowness, of tranquillity, they achieved everything.

AA

Celer

OUS – OUS027 – 7th February 2020

Christopher Nosnibor

The accompanying text reports that Bit-Tuner’s seventh album, EXO ‘marks a milestone in his work’ and tells of how this ‘widescreen and beatless opus focusses on musical storytelling and atmospheric depth’.

EXO is unquestionably cinematic, with synth washes that are simultaneously soft and cloud-like, but achieve a density by their layering, and they conjure a breadth of sound, too, that evokes vast vistas that stretch from horizon to horizon. This isn’t ambient in the conventional sense, and while ‘beatless’ is a largely accurate description, it’s by no means formless, without rhythm, or without a certain sense of sensory attack. There’s a deceptive amount going on across the album’s eight pieces, and EXO is an album that doesn’t simply require attention, but demands it. This is not all wimpy, wispy sonic contrails that hang in the air: EXO has a certain solidity, depth, force that renders it anything but background. You can’t settle down and chill out to this, and while the musical storytelling may not be immediately apparent, the atmospheric depth is all-encompassing.

The prefatory single ‘Passage’ very much sets the tone, and on revisiting the piece here, it’s apparent just how much the mewling top-line, that semi-resembles a lost, plaintive seagull lost in the sweeping swathes provides a contrast and focus: this is an ambient work with intense focus, and, despite the absence of beats, a strong focus on rhythm. Then, ‘Valve’ pulses and throbs and crackles with distortion and decay around the edges and while it’s expansive, it’s also probing inwards toward the depths of the listener’s psyche. This isn’t music you can just leave running in the background: it continually grabs you and draws you in, demanding attention. And at times, it’s downright difficult and edgy.

‘Disbander’ pulses and grinds, low-end hums undulate and swoop into subsonics while mid-range interference collides against thumps and crackles and upper-frequency skitters and flits. There’s a lot going on, and while it’s anything but dark, it is incredibly tense: if you equate ambient with gentle, soft, and soothing, think again. ‘Ghost Light’ hits something of a Tangerine Dream stride, and electronic blips approximating beats coalesce to create a rhythmic structure that pulsates and throbs.

So is this ambient? It certainly doesn’t conform to the notion that it’s unobtrusive, or in an way calming, or soothing, and any contemplation encouraged here is rent with challenges. How does it make you feel? Ambience is so often geared toward the cerebral, but there’s a physicality to EXO, however subtle and subliminal: there are textures that make your skin crawl, tonalities than make you twitch, tense, and tingle.

AA

OUS027_front

KSCOPE – 7th February 2020

James Wells

Inescapable is Godsticks’ fifth studio album, and on it, the central focus is emotion. The accompanying blurb reports how the band ‘found themselves wanting a definitive theme running through Inescapable, without turning it into a concept album, of being more open, more personal and ultimately one that shines an inquisitive light on Charles’s struggle with inner demons which gave the songs a new level of intimacy’.

The first and most striking thing about Inescapable is its range. Opening with lead single ‘Denigrate’ which features TesseracT’s Daniel Tompkins, Inescapable announces its arrival in strong style, and not for the last time am I reminded of Alice in Chains – not because they sound like them so much, as the way they weave their melodies and vocal harmonies, the drawling, elongated vowels, and squirming darkness in the chords themselves: metal that’s not metal.

The nine-minute ‘Change’ slows the tempo and ups the angst, before the pairing of ‘Breathe’ and ‘Time’, both of which are altogether more succinct, counterpart one another nicely, the former being delicately wrought, the latter packing some punch, with sinewy lead guitars and chunky riffage that drive the album to dynamic straight-up rock finish.

AA

Godsticks – Inescapable

Potomak – 31st January 2020

Christopher Nosnibor

hackedepicciotto is Alexander Hacke (Einsturzende Neubauten) and Danielle de Picciotto (Crime & The City Solution), and The Current is their fourth album It’s pitched as being ‘their most powerful album yet,’ and the press release explains that ‘after composing desert drones for their previous album Perseverantia and dark foreboding melodies for Menetekel, their new album moves forwards, gaining in speed and energy’.

The energy is abundant, but it’s dark and flows in subterranean currents. Recorded in Blackpool, of all places, there is little sense of illumination in a work that’s dominated by shadow, although that’s by no means a criticism.

‘All people / are created equal’ de Picciotto announces in a stilted monotone which echoes out across a bleak and solemn soundscape of atmospheric, picked guitar and dramatic strings which glide and swoop over a swirl of electronic crackles, indistinguishable voices and dolorous bells. Over the course of the piece, she utters various permutations of the phrase, revealing new meanings with each arrangement.

There is very much an exploratory feel to The Current: this is not an overtly linear work, or an album comprised of songs in the conventional sense. These are eleven distinct ‘pieces’ which are more spoken word / narrative works with music than anything, although this misrepresents the fact the words and sounds are very much equal in their billing. And yet there is a sense of progression, as the rhythms become stronger, more forceful, and more dominant as the album progresses.

‘Onwards’ plunges downwards with a grating bass pitched against a relentlessly rolling rhythm; ethereal, choral vocal harmonies and cold, cold synths forge an unusual juxtaposition, and the result is powerful, stirring deep-seated emotions that swell in the chest as the energy rises.

In contrast, ‘Metal Hell’ goes post-industrial with metallic clattering an scraping disrupting a choppy, processed guitar riff that cuts a murky path over an arrhythmic mess of percussion, and the title track thunders a slow martial beat to build a grandly epic piece that conjures images of sweeping vistas dominated by rugged mountains and dense forests.

Things take a turn for the unsettling on ‘Petty Silver’, which finds de Picciotto writhe and wheeze in a sort of little girl lost voice against a backdrop of chiming xylophone and a heavy synth grind that’s pure Suicide. The penultimate track, ‘The Black Pool’ opens with a cluster of samples from news soundbites or similar about ow ‘the UK is fucked’ (fact, not an opinion) over some swirling ambient drone and a Michael Gira-esque monotone vocal trip

When the pair share vocal duties, Hacke’s cracked, grizzled growl is the perfect contrast to de Picciotto’s clean, airy yet tense and high-string delivery. And it’s the contrasts that make The Current: it isn’t any one thing, but a number of things simultaneously and while the rhythm section resonates deep and low, there’s lot going on at the front of the mix, and it’s this dynamic that gives the album a constant movement. To dissect it beyond this would be do damage the effect: The Current is an album that possesses a subtle force and brings submersion by stealth.

AA

hackedepicciotto – The Current