Archive for the ‘Albums’ Category

Cruel Nature Records – 29th October 2021

Christopher Nosnibor

There’s something magnificent about the naming of Oli Heffernan’s project Ivan the Tolerable. It not only places a charming spin on history, neutralising and disarming the fearsome image of ‘the terrible’ with a superbly balanced piece of bathos, but it’s also so very quintessentially English. It’s the weak smile, the stiff upper lip… it’s not terrible. It’s not good either. It’s, you know, tolerable. No-one died. Or only a few people, it could be worse.

Autodidact II is the follow-up to 2018’s Autodidact, separated not only by three tears abut about a dozen releases. Heffernan is nothing if not prolific, and equally, nothing if not diverse.

This fifteen-track behemoth opens with the fifteen-minute ‘Turkish Golden Scissors (Part I) – there are two subsequent, shorter parts, situated strategically about the album. It’s a meandering progressive piece with pseudo-mystical Eastern leanings, a trippy, psychedelic jazz experience that’s utterly baked, man. There’s a trilling keyboard swirling and twirling around in the midst of the sonic sandstorm, and it’s like a collision between a deconstructed Doors track performed by The Necks.

‘Red Throated Diver’, which is centred around acoustic guitar playing a looping, cyclical motif in the style of Michael Gira, paired with some ominous and atmospheric brass and rippling synths, and clocking in at a fraction over two minutes, is a contrast in every way.

The album’s title is perhaps something of a clue to the form, presenting Heffernan as the self-taught experimentalist finding his way as he navigates the sounds in his head and working through ideas and concepts, and Autodiadact II is big on the expansive, rippling Krautrock noodling, with bubbling analogue synth sounds and trilling tones weaving over lower-end oscillations and grind and lay a gurgling, churning bedrock.

Notes chime into space amidst crackling samples and reverberations that connote space voyages – and ultimately being lost in space. It’s appropriate, as Autodidact II is not an album of focus, butt a work that wanders with or without direction in search of… well, what it’s in search if isn’t entirely clear. Not that it matters. The album started life as three separate recording sessions in July and August 2021 as work for a soundtrack to a series of films about psychogeography and North Yorkshire folklore, and as such, if the expanses of North Yorkshire, the moors and beyond, are buried in a sonic fog of otherness, the psychogeographical element reminds us that the end is not the end: it’s all about the journey. And Autodiadact II, while springing numerous surprises and drifting in and out of an array of varied sonic spaces, leads the listener on a unique, if uncertain journey.

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Hypershape Records – 22nd October 2021

Christopher Nosnibor

Chronology can be a real bitch sometimes. Linearity is incredibly overrated. How can it be that even now, the world can be so far behind William S. Burroughs’ concept that the conventional novel in its staid, conventional, linear form is passe, and ultimately fails to represent life as it’s lived? Iron Speaks is a release that may trouble some sequential obsessives, as it was in fact recorded before 2020’s Deathless Mind, the fifth album from Stephen Āh Burroughs, formerly known as Stephen R. Burroughs of heavy makers of noise Head of David. Since 2013, he’s pursued subterranean channels of darkness via the medium of fundamentally ambient music, but with an ancient and spiritual undercurrent.

As the press release explains, ‘Iron Speaks has become known as the ‘lost’ Tunnels of Āh album since it was abandoned as the fifth album release due to it sounding ‘unengaged’ to writer Stephen Āh Burroughs; until now. After reworking the original material, Iron Speaks emerges as a rediscovered official sixth album release.’

This is perhaps to overstate the album’s mythology – being shelved for a time is one thing, but to attain ‘lost’ status within three years another. Nevertheless, fans who’ve been keen about this album’s development will likely be happy with both its eventual emergence and its content, which is predominantly a dark whorl of bleak, churning ambience laced with a ghoulish shriek of feedback and general top-end tension. And tense it is: the six pieces bleed together to forge a continuous work that offers no respite and continually works at the psyche and the gut, twisting and gnawing at both. Time stalls, and you find yourself sucked into a subterranean space that’s dark and disorientating.

According to the accompanying blurb, ‘The material deals with the transitional stages of life and death, and it’s an ominous possessive piece of work. As ever though, the darkness of Tunnels of Āh’s output stems from and towards a place of infinite light.’ None of this is so readily apparent on listening, with any light feeling particularly distant as Burroughs leads the listener deeper and deeper through tunnels that rumble and surge with dense walls of noise – and sometimes, it hurts as the weight of it all bears down on the listener. It’s a rich, dense, elemental sound, born of earth and minerals.

We’re told that ‘The title, Iron Speaks, is a reference to the chapter in the Koran which states that iron emerges from the heavens as a gift to mankind. This is often graphically depicted as a blazing ball of molten fire approaching its earthly target, and that image perfectly encapsulates the sonic dynamism of this album. This album is a consuming experience as it slowly enters its intended orbit to its chosen point with inevitable crushing impact.’ The tile track does indeed pack that crushing impact, an oscillating tumult of treble atop layers of rhythmic squalling; in contrast, ‘Every Hour Wounds’ inflicts a different kind of pain as the lower-end notes bounce like oxygen bubbles in murky water in a deep, dark pool. Ominous drones and hums hover before an industrial slash of sheet metal strikes.

The album’s six pieces all sit around the seven- or eight-minute mark, and are densely-textured, and often quite oppressively heavy works. The first, ‘Wardens’ is a smog of bubbling murkiness, where the sound churns ad churns, like dense cloud and uncomfortable gut churning. Long strains of feedback scrape out over a barren wasteland, and ominous hums and drones hover over heavily-textured earth-shifting grind. It’s ultimately not really about ‘engagement’, but about tone texture, and atmosphere, and this is bleak, dense, and uncomfortable, and in a way that draws the listener in. Thunder rumbles, and the experience is quite discomforting. It’s more than that: it’s claustrophobic, suffocating. ‘Terminus Est’ clanks and chimes and booms out dolorous, depressing notes that offer no space to breathe or to reflect. It leaves you feeling compressed, and if not necessarily anxious, then far from relaxed or soothed, but instead on edge and unsettled – and this is why Iron Speaks is a strong work: it has the capacity to have a palpable effect on the listener.

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Neurot Recordings / Gilead Media – 8th October 2021

Christopher Nosnibor

Less is more. This is something that few bands appreciate or understand half as well as Kowloon Walled City. And less doesn’t have to mean less intense: if anything, it’s a major factor in the ‘more’ element of the equation. Instead of hitting the listener with hard volume, relentless drumming, and gnarly distortion, Kowloon Walled City distil emotional pain into something simple and direct, and in doing so achieve optimal impact.

Their last album’s crushing weight derived not from its pace or even its volume, but its sense of space. Instead of filling the air with big noise, each chord crashed down hard and rang out into silence. In that space, Singer/guitarist Scott Evans’ vocals conducted pure anguish and blank nihilism. No throaty metal stylisation or posturing, just a kind of shouting – a shout of pain, of psychological torture – the torture of existence.

It’s the space between the sound that they’ve explored in the evolution of their fourth album, Piecework – their first output in six years. Make no mistake: Piecework is fucking heavy. It packs some utterly gut-punching, seismic riffs that drive hard, and when they hit, they’re utterly pummelling. But it’s the bleakness, and the blankness, that’s most affecting, that really hits the hardest. In the first instance, it’s simply so raw, so unprocessed. With the vocals clean and up-front, it’s the humanity that’s at the fore.

Not that there was any fat on Grievances, but with Piecework they pare it right down to the bone, and then scrape away a little more. Whereas most of the songs of its predecessor sat around the five or even six-minute-plus mark, Piecework packs seven songs into around half an hour. In cutting back so hard, the effect if heightened as the grey walls close in tighter, faster, more likely to bring a crushing end. The effect is cumulative, and there are no clear standouts on Piecework, only a sustained slug driven by a low, lumbering bass. It’s a bass that really churns the gut, and it has a physical force.

The production captures this dark, dense force perfectly, conveying a sound that feels live, that feels real. Wish you were there? Hell yes: we all need a bit of fortune, and Piecework is both beautiful and harsh. When they bring it down to nothing but a single note hanging in the ear, I’m reminded of latter-day Earth, and it’s clear that space and time matter.

As the press notes tell us, ‘Evans was dealing with the loss of his father during the writing of the album. He found strength in the women in his life, especially his maternal grandmother, who worked at a shirt factory in Kentucky for 40 years while raising five kids. The album name (and title track) is a nod to her line of work—and her quiet resilience.’ The lyrics are at once abstract and packed with images. There are no specifics, only scenes, and they’re bleak ones, of claustrophobic confined spaces, of deathbeds.

And it’s no criticism that this feels like an album of graft: the rhythm section ploughs on, and on, relentlessly, as if their duty is pure graft, digging, digging, digging. In the same way that early Swans was the sound of punishment, so Piecework is a soundtrack to the brutal reality of production-line capitalism.

The album’s predominantly slow pace is not the sound of rapid mechanisation, but of soul-sapping drudgery, the crushing weight of negative progress. There is no respite, no detours to bathe in moments of human kindness, the idea that for everything, there are glimmers of light and optimism. No, Piecework is an album with no let-up, in the way that Unsane are unrepentant, unremittingly grey in their outlook and execution. It hammers and bludgeons away at the senses and prods hard at the frayed nerve endings, the space and dead air speaking to the emptiness that hits us when the noise stops. Life is short and life is cruel, and Piecework is the perfectly merciless reminder of that.

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Human Worth

Christopher Nosnibor

Since their formation in 2002, Enablers have forged a career that has truly defied categorisation, and they’ve maintained a steady output, delivering eight albums – occasionally in flurries, sometimes with longer pauses between – each of which has pushed different directions and different boundaries.

But while their debut saw them showcase a sound that was different, it was their second album, released on Neurot in 2006, that really made a definitive statement that set Enablers in afield of their own creation. 2006 is now a whole terrifying fifteen years ago, and so, just as the time is right to reflect and reappraise the feat that is Output Negative Space, so the time is also right for a magnificent reissue courtesy of Human Worth. And being a Human Worth release, 10% of the proceeds plus Bandcamp cut going to charity – on this occasion, Sounds of Saving, who aim to improve mental health and reduce suicide rates by celebrating the power of human connection to music and directing people to the resources they need before it’s too late – in respect of drummer Joe Byrnes, with this release also marking the tenth anniversary of his passing.

The album features the lineup of Joe Byrnes (Drums), Pete Simonelli (Words ), Kevin Thomson (Guitar), and former Swans bassist Joe Goldring (Guitar & Hammond), and they really do cohere as a unit: the interplay between the four is outstanding; everything flows, so fluid, so natural, so intuitive. The chemistry and the electric vibe is immediate from the opening track, ‘Five O’Clock, Sundays’, which touches so many areas, crosses so many boundaries, and yet belongs to no one genre.

Simonelli’s delivery certainly isn’t rap, but then, it’s not singing either; it’s spoken word but with a sort of poetical, beat slant, with rhythm and a wonderful cadence that’s calm, even, but dynamic, too. The instrumentation is a bit jazz but it’s not jazz, it’s a bit mathy but doesn’t have quite that cutty, choppy, angularity, instead meandering and noodling, but without ever hinting at indulgence, and then there are crests and waves and low-level crescendos.

Most spoken word with backing feels very much like that – spoken word with fumbled instrumentation or otherwise awkward and juxtaposed. Not so Output Negative Space. This feels like a band, a complete collaboration, where each contributor is fully cognisant of the bigger picture, that their part is just that – a part of a whole, where nothing works unless everything works. And everything does work. There isn’t a second that doesn’t hit a sweet spot in terms of the performers coming together.

Output Negative Space is a stunning journey, and it’s wildly unpredictable. And yet it works.

There are moments when riffs break out and things get as almost conventionally rock; elsewhere, as on ‘Mediterranean’, everything happens all at once and comes in from all angles, and there really isn’t a moment that’s predictable – but at the same time, it’s not unduly jarring, and it doesn’t feel disorientating or chaotic. What it does feel is remarkably balanced; all of the elements combine to forge a real sonic synergy, and the music is so, so sympathetic and intuitive in the way it provides an understated backdrop to Simonelli’s nonchalant, world-weary vignettes, brimming with observations, details, and aa palpable sense of humanity.

Fifteen years on, it still sounds fresh, unique, and absolutely amazing.

With a small and selective roster and a keen focus on quality, Human Worth have done a super job, to, producing a limited edition run of heavyweight 180g vinyl, packaged in a gatefold sleeve which includes a hand numbered booklet featuring writings by vocalist Pete Simonelli and friends of the band remembering drummer Joey Byrnes 10 years after his passing, accompanied by rare tour photography by Owen Richards.

In all, it’s pretty special.

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A Front Recordings – AFR01

Christopher Noosnibor

A paroxysm is either a fit, attack, or sudden increase or recurrence of symptoms, or a sudden violent emotion or action, an outburst.

This paroxysm – the act – consists of Werner Dafeldecker (double bass) and Roy Carroll (electracoustic media), and between them, they forge a paroxysm – the work – which is a sustained sonic spasm consisting of two longform compositions that each extend to around the twenty-five minute mark.

This is one of those works that doesn’t really feel or sound like the sum of its parts – partly because it’s difficult to disentangle precisely what the parts actually are. Especially when it comes to ‘electracoustic media’. That’s not a criticism, so much as a passing critique: this isa collection of soundscapes forged from sounds of non-specific origin. Ominous hums and drones and scrapes and hesitant feedback loops all toss and turn together to conjure an ever-shifting expanse of amorphous, mellifluous sound. Clunks and thunks and clatters provide a percussive element of sorts, but again, these sounds are non-specific in their origins. As notes hang, quivering, or otherwise scrawl and hover around certain frequencies, the way they resonate and rub against one another becomes the listening focus. Listen closely, and some notes just nip the side of consciousness, and they’re bearable until there’s a friction against other frequencies, other rates of resonance. Upper-frequency chimes and tinkles collide with lower-end clanks and thuds, the swing of heavy bells decay slowly over shivering, shuddering extranea. It’s a slow creep, and while the sound never settles, over time one grows accustomed to the whistling, the how, and the hum.

If side two’s ‘Basalt’ contains all of the same elements as ‘Tendencies’, that’s because Paroxysm is a work that’s very much focused on detail, and progressively delves deeper into it with cumulative effect. As such, ‘Basalt’ is starker, sparser, sonically harder in every sense – but particularly tonally, and as an experience. Around the mid-point things get really dark and murky, before the percussion dominates the final minutes of slashing, crashing, difficult sounds.

And this – THIS – is the point of paroxysm. For most of the album, it feels drony hummy scrapy, but it emerges climactic, dense, a physical force that is longer merely background. It comes by stealth but hits by force. Boom. Never underestimate the subtle, slow build.

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Bearsuit Records – 15th Octoberr 2021

Christopher Nosnibor

I strongly believe that the most potent writing encapsulates the foibles and unpredictable nature of life itself, be it ‘credible’ dialogue that makes no sense, or seemingly inexplicable sub-plots and character deviances that seem incongruous. For all their irrationality and incongruity, these things seem more relatable, more real, than the artifice of linearity. Because life isn’t linear. Life is unpredictable. Life makes no sense. And life isn’t only what happens while you’re making other plans, but life exists in the detours and dead-ends, in the swerves off-piste and the unexpected diversions.

So, to begin with a detour, it seems like a reasonable place to begin by confessing that ‘invalid’ is a word I struggle with. It seems somehow wrong that ‘invalid’ as in one who is incapacitated by illness, injury, or disability, is a homograph of ‘invalid’ as in ‘not valid’, faulty, expired, of no worth. If coincidental, it feels like a particularly cruel linguistic twist. If not coincidental, if feels all the crueller.

This is relevant, because with next to no biographical information available, I find myself trying to picture Bunny & the Invalid Singers while listening to their latest offering, the idiosyncratic Flight of the Certainty Kids. It’s been a full sixteen years now since I first encountered the quirky Edinburgh act – ensemble? Collaborative project? – reviewing second album The Invalid Singers back in the summer of 2015. A lot has changes since then, but Bearsuit Records pursuit of oddness has remained undiminished, and so has Bunny’s.

Prefaced by the single release of ‘The Certainty Kids’ b/w ‘None of This Happened’, Flight of the Certainty Kids delivers on the promise of something that’s a bit retro, a bit kitsch, a bit Stereolab. It’s a bit everything, to be fair: a bit lounge, a bit calypso, a bit whimsical, a bit glitchcore bit microtonal, a bit of fun – and totally unpredictable, an eye-popping swirl of hybridity.

There’s nothing noisy or harsh about this, there’s nothing difficult about the sounds or the structures, and Flight of the Certainty Kids is very kind to the ears. And yet it’s this proximity to something accessible that renders the album all the more uncomfortable. I suppose you may call it uncanny or unheimlich.

Just as things are settling into a mellow drift on the first track, ‘A Sniper’s Heart’, a deep bass throb and thumping beat crash in and take things down a completely different, and altogether darker, alley. There’s a dash of East Asian influence on the aforementioned ‘None of This Happened’, while ‘Buckled & Bleeding’ melts ambience and prog into some kind of dystopian elevator music. Shuddering beats stutter and tremor like palpitations on ‘The Certainty Kids’, rupturing the surface of summery synths and in turn setting an uneven surface for the soft acoustic guitar that subsequently emerges.

For every element of ease, of tranquillity, there is one of jarring otherness, from the stealthy orchestral strikes of ‘There’s More Conjuring to be Done’ – which suddenly yield, albeit briefly, to some monumental riffing, before spiralling into some ultra-noodly synths, and then again transition into some delicate pastoral folk. How do you reconcile these elements?

It certainly shouldn’t work, and I’m scratching my head as to why it does while the trilling woodwind of ‘This is Happening’ drifts over me, then suddenly slaps me to alertness as it switches to an indie disco stomper. And here we are: this is an album that doesn’t even agree with itself? How are we supposed to know what’s happening, if it is or isn’t? Maybe we’re not supposed to, or otherwise it’s best if we don’t.

In a mad, mad world, the crazy world of Bunny & the Invalid actually seems pretty rational – lose yourself in the mania, and things seem a whole lot better. Don’t question it, don’t overthink it, just delve in.

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Panurus Productions – 1st October 2021

Christopher Nosnibor

It’s a cliché to say ‘I don’t know where the time goes’, and it’s often, if not an outright lie, then at least somewhat disingenuous. Between dayjob work, school runs, cooking, other domestic chores, gigs, occasional TV, and writing reviews, it’s pretty obvious to me and most people who know me where my time goes. I know where my time goes. This doesn’t make it less of an issue. The fact I’ve been chipping away at this particular review for days, even weeks, adding a few words here and there, is testament to the time-deficient lifestyle. I can’t even quote remember where I was going at the start of this by the time of the finishing point, but ultimately, I suppose the point is that time is something that is ephemeral, fleeting, something of which we’re all too often acutely aware and are in thrall to and yet at the same time, it is simply a construct by which to structure our existences.

This split release on Newcastle cassette label Panurus Productions promises ‘two sides of bleak catharsis on this transatlantic split from Petrine Cross and Tower of Filargyria.’ And that is precisely what it delivers, with three tracks from each artist, both of whom scour the depths of darkness in contrasting and complimentary ways.

Black metal may have relatively modern origins in musical term, but its murky invocations speak of something altogether more ancient, and Petrine Cross has a way of transcending time and genre, taking the standard tropes and merging them with atmospherics so dark and dank as to blur to near-ambience. The muffled production values which are core to the genre are something not only embraced here, but utilised to create a distancing and a sense of ‘otherness’: this isn’t drums, guitars, vocals, it’s a dense wall of sound that envelops your entire being, and smothers the senses, stifling, suffocating, like a cloud of mustard gas.

There’s a point near the end of ‘Sobriquet’ where everything simply erupts into an explosive crescendo that hits like a bomb, and the sound is like mud, dirt, rocks and splintered body parts – being splattered in all directions from an immense crater. You’ve no idea of the song’s lyrics or real meaning, only the impact of this devastating moment. But there’s light. The third and final PC cut, ‘The Grecian Bend’ seems to offer glimmers from amidst the murk, with some delicate wisps and washes of sound. There’s a rare subtlety and delicacy about this that resonates on a subconscious level.

Tower of Filargyria, apparently referencing ‘the medieval term meaning love of money or silver, rail against their monumental namesake, produce three tracks of sample laden anti-capitalist black metal’. We have to take this on trust, of course, as what this manifests as is a blistering assault of guitars so trebly they hurt and snarling vocals with so much reverb everything clangs into a mesh of noise, the drums thumping away somewhere low in the mix like a pillow thwocking around in a washing machine.

Samples of lectures and speeches dissecting the beast of capitalism abound, and the semi-ambient opening to the third and final ToF track, the eleven-and-a-half-minute ‘Capitalfascist State Apparatus’ (no question about the sentiment / agenda there) works particularly well in the way it draws the listener in – which makes the ‘metal’ section all the more disappointing, being quieter, and of a very different sound quality. It feels more like a demo than a finished take – but for that, it’s true to black metal production values, and it’s one of those songs that gets better as it goes on, and builds and builds to a roaring crescendo of howled, raw-throated vocals and thundering percussion amidst a squall of guitars and feedback. It’s a real whorl of noise and comes on full-throttle, and this – THIS – is the release. It’s been a long time in coming.

Catharsis is hard to beat, but the downside is that it’s often hard to know how to manage the drop, the slump which follows – and it inevitably does. This split release is all the catharsis, and it’s one the listener can project onto and draw inwards from. It has immense (dark) force: the only slump is for the listener on the realisation that after forty-five minutes of immersion in the gnarliest, most painful depths of anguish, it’s over.

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Cruel Nature Records – 24th September 2021

Christopher Nosnibor

Cruel Nature’s September releases are all about lost classics from Gateshead. Every local scene has those bands who had so much potential to go further afield, and who, given the right exposure, the right breaks, could – and should – have been (inter)national cult icons.

‘Local’ bands so often get a bad rep, as if they’re somehow inferior because they haven’t broken out. Sometimes, it’s misfortune. Sometimes, it’s because of life – dayjobs, family, personal circumstance. And sometimes, it’s simply a lack of ambition to do anything more than make music and play locally, and that’s not reason to judge an act. Not everyone wants to be a global superstar, and of the tend of thousands who do, hardly any make it anyway, so maybe accepting your limitations is a good thing to do, and far healthier than throwing yourself not the rat-race running on the vaguest of hopes of ‘making it’ – whatever that is.

Like turn-of-the-millennium purveyors of brutal harshcore, ODF, R.Y.N. demonstrate a remarkable range and quality of non-mainstream music being played around Gateshead. R.Y.N. was the drone / void ambient project of Gateshead duo Pete Burn and Dean Glaister, active from 2003 to 2011. Like the simultaneous ODF release, Cosmic Death is a retrospective which puts their 2008 albums Astral Death and Cosmic Birth together for the first time as a double cassette package.

Cassette one contains the six tracks from Astral Death, and the eight-minute ‘Conscious Patient’ provides a wonderful introduction into their world of dense, dark, grating dronescaping. Things delve deeper and darker with the nine-minute churning drabness that is ‘The Cleansing’: cleaning is appropriate, and it’s the sonic equivalent of as colonic irrigation. It feels gentle in comparison to the grating metallic oscillations of the third track, ‘Mind Over Mind’. It’s a fifteen-minute thrum, where nothing happens, nothing changes, and it’s not quite harsh noise wall – not least of all because there are shifts in texture and tone – but it’s limited, and a piece that achieves its effect through its sheer relentlessness and lack of variety, the effect of the dense wall of sound being cumulative psychologically.

It’s readily apparent that R.Y.N. had global potential, but for an audience so niche they’d have probably have needed to relocate to Japan to play to an audience of more than fifteen people, unless they’d scored a support with a noise giant like Merzbow or Whitehouse – in which case they may have got to play to 75 or a hundred people on a good night. But quality and quantity are rarely contiguous, and when it comes to creating dark atmosphere, these guys were clearly masters.

‘Cosmic Research Unit’ is still a heavy drone work, but feels softer and leans more toward ambience. It doesn’t get such bleaker than ‘Astral Death’. It sounds like a recording of an engine or a lawnmower, played at reduced pace. It’s like HNW with additional layers of swampsome murk that shift and provide some sense of movement, however slow and lingering.

Cosmic Birth opens with the title track, and picks up where its predecessor left off, with a harsh scraping metallic drone like a machine churning and grating on and on, over which whispering drifts of sonic smoke linger – and it very much sets the tone for the remaining seven tracks, which include two twelve-minute epics in the form of the dank and murky ‘Brain Pictures’, and ‘Creation of Infinity’, both of which lead the listener inside themselves to contemplate those darkest inner recesses, and the fifteen-minute ‘Gravity Drain’, which really pushes the oppressive atmospherics to the limit.

‘Catacombs’ plunges through sonorous and penetrating darkness to arrive, with a bone-rattling percussion way off in the background, at an empty space. And ultimately, the final destination: the somehow incomplete yet equally finite ‘Serpen’, which swirls around ominously and maintains a knife-edge suspense.

After wandering through endless tunnels without light and without any real hope of escape from this claustrophobic aural subterranean, it becomes clear: this is the face of the abyss – from which, there is nothing and no return.

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Cruel Nature Records – 24th September 2021

Christopher Nosnibor

The lights that burn brightest tend to be the ones that burn briefest, and it’s something of a conflicting pull on the gut that surrounds reflections on this. The idea that acts who quit and artists who died leaving a small but impactful legacy are somehow unfulfilled and that we’ve been deprived of whatever they may have done is counterbalanced by the contention that perhaps curtailing a career at its peak or even still in its ascendency is the best way, and fans will be forever divided on this topic.

What if Ian Curtis had lived, and Joy Division had mutated into New Order? They would have been just another band whose longevity overshadowed that early career, another Manic Street Preachers. Simple Minds should have called it a day in about ’84, and Kasabian’s early promise was spent after just one album.

ODF never lasted long enough to really break out of the locality of Gateshead. As the liner notes to this retrospective observe, they ‘blasted onto the North East’s harshcore scene in 1998 and were gone in a flash three years later; their 2001 split album with Newcastle’s Jazzfinger the only remaining recorded output’. Everything leans toward the attainment of immortal cult status here, and the changes are infinitely more people have heard of the band, or otherwise heard them posthumously than ever did during that brief but explosive career.

This limited cassette, Harshcore 98-00, documents two live shows, both recorded in Gatehead, with the first seven tracks recorded June 2000 at the Floating Cup, Gateshead, and tracks 8-14 recorded June 1998 at the Soundroom, Route 26 Centre, Gateshead.

It’s pretty fucking brutal. Most of the songs in both sets are around the two-minute mark, and it’s as abrasive as hell. The vocals! Rob Woodcock (Marzuraan; Tide Of Iron; Fret!; Platemaker et al) sounds like a zombie from The Walking Dead on amphetamines, snarling and rasping with the most ravaged-sounding voicebox. There’s a lot going on here: ‘Calisthenics’ brings all kinds of jazz and math elements alongside the full-on, balls-out wild thrasher, and the fifty-five second ‘Aggressive Lowbrow’ brings everything all at once in a racket that suits the title.

Despite the close proximity of the sets, there’s a clear evolution here, so it’s a little frustrating that they’re presented in reverse chronology on the release. The ’98 set is less evolved, less detailed, less jazz, less multi-faceted, and more of its time – brimming with samples and songs that are little short of whirling explosions of whiplash-inducing racket, with ‘O.D.F. Will Kick Your Lame Ass Motherfucker!’ being exemplary, but also marking the band’s first forays into different terrains, with hints of swagger emerging amongst the frenzied racket. It’s gnarly, it’s intense, and it’s fucking punishing. And it really makes you wish you had been there.

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Hallow Ground – 10th September 2021

Christopher Nosnibor

Breathing is important. If this sounds flippant or facetious, well, perhaps it is a little, but there is a more serious undertone. It’s something we do subconsciously, and something we take for granted will just happen as our brain keeps the bellows pumping. We only really notice breathing when something disrupts it, it becomes laboured, or we’ve exercised hard.

And yet the importance and benefits of controlled breathing as part of meditation, for managing anxiety, and for dealing with panic attacks is widely documented and promoted. But even for those who have been taught the techniques, how often do we remember to deploy them at moments of peak crisis? Moreover, beyond those specific settings, breathing properly is something that’s chronically neglected as we slouch over our keyboards, taking short, shallow breaths that fail to fully expand the lungs and oxygenate the blood stream.

The ever-innovative and ever-intriguing Lawrence English’s Hallow Ground debut finds the composer working ‘exclusively with an organ for four compositions that are exercises in »maximal minimalism,« as their creator himself notes in a nod to Charlemagne Palestine, who coined this term.’ The liner notes explain further that ‘While it seems somewhat fitting that those four pieces based on a steady flow of air were conceived and recorded in a situation of accelerated standstill caused by a respiratory disease, the Room40 founder is not so much concerned with capturing the zeitgeist than rather incorporating the spirit of time itself. »It is a record about presence and patience,«’.

Patience is indeed required when listening to Observation of Breath. It stands to reason that there is a concerted focus on elongated, quivering drones, and the first of the four pieces, the ten-minute ‘The Torso’, with its dank, dark rumblings and extraneous interference carries sinister allusions, particularly when reflected upon in context of the album’s cover art. The torso may well house the lungs, the system of breathing, but all too often finds reference in stories of murder and dismemberment, and we’ve all wanted to strip off our own skin at some point, right?

The theme continues its trajectory in the titles of ‘A Binding’ and ‘A Twist’ which follow. These are short pieces, both sparse, droning works that are overtly organ, with the latter in particular taking the form of a gloomy funereal church recital. There’s nothing like a funeral to make you contemplate your breaths, and to consider how many you may have left in your body. Perhaps this is one of the reasons we ignore and avoid thinking about breathing: the moment we notice it, be it short or irregular, we worry, in the same way as we panic about palpitations. To become cognisant is likely to observe an irregularity, a difficulty, in a most fundamental function, and rightly or wrongly, doing so reminds us of our mortality. We hate to be reminded of our mortality: it terrifies us half to death. The irony.

In context, the album’s finale, the twenty-minute title track, which occupies the entirety of the album’s second side, on which all elements of the previous three compositions coalesce and distil into something monumental and epic. Not a lot happens: it’s simply a quavering continuum of sound that undulates and eddies slowly, unfalteringly, less like a stream than a crawling flow of larva. But to go with the flow is to fully engage with the album and its slow-shifting textures. It’s perhaps around halfway through ‘Observation of Breath’ that I finally realise I am becoming aware of my breathing at last. Conscious, I slow it, inhale to full expansion through the nose, hold, then equally slowly release out through the mouth.

Observation of Breath is a well-realised exploration of expansive territory in altogether smaller detail, and one that offers more the more you allow it to become a backdrop.

AA

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