Posts Tagged ‘Album Review’

Gizeh Records / Consouling Sounds

13th September 2019

Christopher Nosnibor

A-Sun Amissa’s fifth album promises to build on ‘the foundations of previous record Ceremony in the Stillness (2018), incorporating some of the heavier, distorted, guitar oriented themes but this time fuses them with broken, crumbling electronic beats and primal drone movements’.

Perhaps one of the most impressive things about how Richard Knox has steered A-Sun Amissa in recent years has been his systematic approach to producing new output: following a gap of fur years between 2013’s You Stood Up for Victory, We Stood Up for Less and The Gatherer (2017), with the assistance of an array of collaborators, he’s released an album a year. This has likely proved integral to the steady evolution and the sense of progression across the last three albums. And this album being almost a completely solo effort (Knox wrote, recorded, and mixed the entire album, as well as providing the artwork) has really focused his energies on pushing himself in all directions across the album’s two longform compositions

The pieces on offer here are underpinned by vast ambient passages that are drenched in distortion and reverb, slowly unfurling before more industrial, kinetic sounds are introduced and heaving guitars come to the fore. As ever, there’s a melancholic dissonance that resonates throughout, repetition is key and moments of dread are paired with shafts of light as these two monolithic pieces unravel themselves over the course of forty minutes.

‘Seagreaves’ begins as a distant howl of dark, whirling noise, scraping, screeding, creating a dark, simmering tension and a sense of foreboding, of disquiet.When it fades out to be replaced by guitar, the atmosphere shifts from menacing to melancholy. There are hints of Neurosis, and also Earth Inferno era Fields of the Nephilim in the picked notes, gradually decaying in an organic reverb. The cyclical motif is pushed along by a plodding rhythm, forging a slow, lumbering groove that builds primarily through plain repetition. Petering out to almost nothing around the midpoint, we’re left with a vast, open and almost empty space. It’s around the sixteen-minute point that everything surges back in for a sustained crescendo, a cinematic post-metal climax that finds the guitars soar while the rhythm thunders low and slow.

‘Breath by Breath’ is subtler still, elongated drones and whispers of feedback echo as if a long way away, before a piano ripples somewhere on the horizon. The atmosphere isn’t strictly tense or even dark, but shadowy, and it’s difficult to attribute a specific sensation or mood to it. When the strolling bass and sedate percussion roll in, layers of metallic guitar noise filters in – quiet, backed off, but harsh. Voices echo from the underworld, almost subliminally. And then: a momentary pause. It’s barely a heartbeat, but everything crashes in with the driving yet deliberate force of Amenra. And from hereon in it’s incremental, but also cumulative in its growing volume and impact.

Knox describes For Burdened and Bright Light as ‘a more immersive, ambitious, adventurous record of conflicting emotions as the theme of the work tackles the contradictions of being human and explores the duality of light and dark, hope and despair’, and not only is the ambitiousness clear, but those ambitions are fulfilled. Dare I – once again – describe a work as ‘epic’? Yes: the scope of For Burdened and Bright Light is vast in every sense, and it does engage the listener’s senses and provokes contemplation through it’s shifting movements, moving not only between mods but also genre forms. The result is not only unique, but powerful and captivating, holding the attention and rewarding patience over the expansive pieces.

AA

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Distortion Records DIST15 – 30th August 2019

Christopher Nosnibor

The blurb: ‘Beatmatching Metalogue’s cinematic industrial with the dark sci-fi visions of d&b/neurofunk, Decentralized Coercion deals in the threats of mass surveillance, decentralized social control, totalitarian manipulations of trust, runaway artificial intelligence and the addictive mechanisms of the attention economy. The resulting sound is that of Big Data multiplying exponentially, sucking us down in digital whirlpool.’

As well known for their remixing as their own output, and having been featured on a fair few compilations, Metalogue – the vehicle for electronic musician, programmer, and sound designer Robin Fencott – has amassed quite a substantial catalogue in a short time, with an approach to performing that lends itself well to live recordings, of which they’ve released several EPs.

However, the studio work is perhaps the medium through which the details are most discernible, with skittering synths and hectic cymbal stutters providing layers to the stark soundscapes shaped by thumping techno beats. The album’s first track, ‘New Era of Trust’ begins with sonorous atmospherics and a slow, jittery beat, before a woozy bass rolls in. It evokes Bladerunner-esqe images, conjures monochrome city scenes, dark alleys and rusted fire escapes, and 80s sci-fi. It has a certain Nine Inch Nails vibe, but the sounds are crisper, cleaner, and therefore somehow more inhuman and more detached.

Stepping up the tempo and the attack, ‘Spectral Froth Annealment’ clatters and clanks and pounds hard while whirring electronics fizz and grate to forge a bleak, paranoid space, and bleeds into the nine-minute ‘Shadow Text’, which maintains the pace. It’s not the subtle shifts in emphasis that are where these pieces appeal: it’s their relentlessness, their consistency, their clinical sharpness. The treble on the snare sound, the metallic edges, all imbue the album with a coldness that somehow reflects the zeitgeist: we’re surrounded my machines, we’re assaulted by information 24/7, and despite mankind’s unwavering belief in its superiority and capacity to control its environment, it feels increasingly s if that control is being relinquished and handed over to automation. I’m not talking about the way the industrial revolution brought us mechanisation, but that more insidious encroachment whereby Alexa is listening in and Facebook throws adverts having decided what you want to buy based on a conversation or status update from the other day, and your FitBit tells you how far you’ve walked and how many more steps you need to walk in order to burn off the packet of crisps you had mid-morning. We think we own our lives, but that sense of control is illusory. Your employer knows how long you’ve been away from your desk for the toilet, and with cameras every 30 yards (I personally pass no fewer than 13 CCTV cameras on my 23-minute walk to the bus stop on the way to work each morning, and the busses are installed with cameras as well), there is nowhere that’s private, and there is no hiding from the machines. You’re bot paranoid: you really are having your every movement watched or tracked.

Decentralized Coercion is a soundtrack to this harrowing but inescapable fact.

‘Extraction Imperative’ is bleaker, more stripped-back still, the stuttering drum ‘n’ bass rhythms twitchy and tense, and there’s little levity in the trajectory towards the album’s close, ending with the pumping yet magnificently empty ‘Behavioural Surplus’. The beats are whiplash-fast and hard as, but everything else is backed off, distant, creating a distinctly disquieting sensation.

By the finish, I’m left drained, punished, pounded, and pulverized. It’s a microcosm of life. Decentralized Coercion boils it down to a succinct sonic statement that encapsulates that life. It’s harsh, but it’s real.

AA

Metalogue

Panurus Productions – 27th August 2019

Christopher Nosnibor

When I lived in Glasgow, I was perplexed by the use of the word ‘links’ to refer to sausages for quite some time. Being from Lincolnshire by birth, I assumed (erroneously) that they were saying ‘Lincs’, but at the same time was aware that there was a certain logic gap in my thinking. It wasn’t until after about a year I discovered that ‘links’ were actually just what anyone else would call sausages, and the term was used to differentiate these from the ‘square’ sausages, or Lorne sausages, used in breakfast baps north of the border.

I hadn’t thought about this in years: after all, I left Glasgow in September 2004, and being vegetarian, never tried any square sausage – or delicacies like deep-fried back or white pudding as served by my local chippy, which also had deep-fried pizza, Mars Bars, and Crème Eggs on the menu. But despite the fact that unlike this album, it didn’t offer deep fried cash, the title of Territorial Gobbings’ latest reminded me.

The liner notes state that ‘Sausage Chain is yet more fresh, amorphous meat drippings from the Territorial Gobbing mechanical reproduction unit. The most disappointing member of Thank gives up on music, instead smearing tape up the wall, wailing into a dictaphone all while gnawing on a skip-salvaged record player… Bodyless body horror. Idiot-savant-garde. Daft ambience. Sausage Chain tries and fails to keeps it together, unravelling and scattering across the stereo field over its anxious run until only trace sausage grease remains.’

It’s a fair summary and sets reasonable expectations for the discordant hash of sound that the album contains, its five pieces not so much compositions or even sound collages, as a semi-random assemblage tossed together to create maximum disorientation and discomfort. Assuming that’s the objective, it succeeds.

‘Machine Learning to Scowl’ is as irreverent as the title suggests, and at the same time is a mess of bleeps, crackles, fizzes, tweets, and twitters before it bleeds into the primitively-captured scrape of mic feedback and distortion that is ‘Painted Teeth’. It’s only a couple of minutes long, but it’s a howling racket of the highest order, making no pretence of structure or anything other than being a noise for the sake of being a noise.

‘Caressed to Smithereens’, with six minutes of haphazard pings and thunks provides a more than adequate build-up to the album’s feature track, the eleven-minute ‘Unusual Achievements in Human Rights’, which fizzes and crackles in a grizzling hum of sparking electrodes and swampy circuitry meltdowns.

It’s a welcome addition to the rapidly-expanding catalogues of both the prolific TG (and yes, this set definitely contains as much gristle as it does meat, and probably a fair amount of rusk and fat) and the eclectic tape label Panurus Productions – and this is reason enough, surely, to check out their York show at the Fulford Arms on Thursday

AA

Territorial - Sausage

Opa Loka Records OL1904 – 14th September 2019

Christopher Nosnibor

Seeking a vehicle by means of which to explore the more ambient and experimental aspects of industrial music, Fire in the Head’s Michael Page began recording as Sky Burial in 2006. Thirteen years on, The Forcing Season: Further Acts of Severance is his sixteenth album under this guise. Owing more to the gnarly noise of Throbbing Gristle than the mellow sonic swathes of Royksopp, The Forcing Season isn’t what many fans of more populist contemporary ambient would consider ambient. The subgenre classification of dark ambient, with its industrial connotations is perhaps a closer demarcation, but it’s still not entirely accurate, as there are extensive passages of levity and tranquillity within the album’s ten tracks, simply titled I through X.

Progenitor of the ambient music, Brian Eno said that ‘Ambient music must be able to accommodate many levels of listening attention without enforcing one in particular; it must be as ignorable as it is interesting,’ and The Forcing Season certainly meets this criteria: its strength lies very much in the exploration of contrasts. There are stretches where it is extremely easy to zone out, and the lack of clear structure accentuate the drifting, amorphous nature of the compositions. ‘VII’ and ‘VII’ are exemplary, as slow-turning crystalline drones eddy in a rarefied air form smooth, soothing sonic expanses that somewhere along the way build levels of turbulence or otherwise jolt the listener out of that fugue-like state with jarring tonal incongruities. In short, it’s also interesting, imbued with a sort of suspense over when the next unexpected turn will come, when next there will be a sudden switch from background to foreground, from comfortable to uncomfortable and challenging.

‘I’ opens the album gently with soft waves of sound, but soon takes a turn for the more attacking, with smooth, chilly synths layering down over abstract washes and muted beats consumed by juddering bass undulations and wailing mid-tone pulsations that rub against one another at differing frequencies and echo in different times to disorientating effect.

‘II’ moves into more murky atmospherics, with a low, throb providing the backdrop of incidentals that scrape and scatter like breaking glass. There are flickers of discernible melody in the conventional sense for a brief moment on ‘IV’, as tinkling keys ripple tunefully and offer a certain relief. But this isn’t about relief, at least not sustained relief: The Forcing Season is an album built on turmoil.

The final track is the definition of ‘sprawling epic’: twenty-seven minutes of dissonance, as flickers and whistles of bat-pitch feedback and twitters flutter around dank low-end drones, clunks and a mid-range hum that hovers like mist in a graveyard. Over time, a grating, grinding swell of sound grows in volume and density and immense thunderous crashes punctuate the sustained surge… before it too tapers away to be replaced by an ominous hum rent with thumps and crashes. And from hereon it gets darker, denser, more unsettling as difficult drones with serrated edges eddy around beneath dungeon door thuds and whip-crack explosions of noise. And gradually the tempest abates, simmering down gradually to spacey waves of cinematic spaciousness that ebb and flow.

Because it’s truly ever-shifting, The Forcing Season: Further Acts of Severance is difficult to place and difficult to digest – which ultimately renders it an artistic success.

AA

ArtiosCAD Plot

Bohemian Drips – BD10 – 30th August 2019

Christopher Nonsibor

January 2017: I was introduced to Microtub on receipt of their album Bite of the Orange.it prompted all kinds of tangential associations, few actually or specifically related to the album’s sonic contents. But then, that’s s often one of the great pleasures of music for me – the ideas and images it has the capacity to unlock. And while more conventional musical forms – especially lyric-orientated works – resonate on a more direct level in that sound and sentiment combine to connect with given emotional states, more abstract works have greater potential for far freer associations.

July 2019: I’m reintroduced to Microtub and reminded that I still don’t really grasp what a microtonal tuba is, and remain amazed by the idea of there being three microtonal tubas in existence, let alone musicians to play them. Because, yes, as the press release informs / reminds us, ‘Microtub is the world’s first and only microtonal tuba trio, exploring Just Intonation and the rich harmonic potential of the tuba. In collaboration with bohemian drips and Ace Tunes they bring us their new release Chronic Shift, featuring recorded material from the stunning “Großer Wasserspeicher” (large water tower) in Berlin-Pankow, mixed with analog synthesizers’.

It gets a bit technical after that: ‘Carefully recorded in binaural audio by the bohemian drips engineers, this unlikely combination of tubas and simple synth pitches provides a meditative and immersive experience, and an auditory glimpse into a truly unique acoustic space. By using Kunstkopf stereophony and the perspective of a so-called dummyhead microphone (Neumann KU-100), the acoustical scenary of the tank was captured in 3D-audio, relocating the listener into the actual recording situation’.

More usefully, we learn that ‘the title track ‘Chronic Shift’ is a rework based on the piece ‘Sonic Drift’, a Robin Hayward composition written specifically for Microtub. Not that I’ve heard ‘Sonic Drift’ to compare, or know if I’d be able discern the connections.

Still, the two pieces on Chronic Shift are yawning longform experiments in organic hum and drone that sound nothing like anything involving an actual tuba. Which is probably for the best.

BD010_front

Neurot Recordings – 2nd August 2019

Christopher Nosnibor

The best collaborations are greater than the sum of the parts, and transcend 2 + 2 = 4 equations of artists playing to type while rubbing up against one another in a predictable fashion. We often hope for more, but artists seldom really deliver.

The self-explanatory Neurosis & Jarboe, originally released in 2003, now fully remastered and with entirely new artwork from Aaron Turner, and available on vinyl for the first time sounds neither like Neurosis nor Jarboe, nor 50/50 Neurosis and Jarboe, but something that draws on the best elements of both to forge something very, very different.

The lugubrious slow grind of Neurosis is present in the low bass churn and the more ethereal elements of Jarboe’s vocals, which have brought grace to Swans since 1986 and her own solo work over a good two decades now. Both artists’ work has a certain timelessness about it.

In context, this is both noteworthy and, if not exactly ironic, a point of cognitive dissonance. In my head, 2003 is recent and this reissue is shockingly close to the original release. But this is the point at which the passage of time and its acceleration comes screaming in my face to remind me that 2003 was sixteen years ago. There are kids who’ve been born and are now of a legal age to raise families and to vote since the album was first released, and yet Swans calling it a day the first time around in ‘96 with Soundtracks for the Blind still feels quite recent. How is this album sixteen years old? Nostalgia isn’t what it used to be, and Neurosis & Jarboe has very much stood the test of time, largely because it doesn’t sound quite like anything else.

‘His Last Words’ is perhaps the most overtly ‘modern’ cut on offer, and after a slow guitar grind, hits a groove that straddles dance and psychedelia. But there’s a deep, dark atmosphere that creeps over this and the album as a whole, with the majority of the tracks stretching out beyond seven minutes and pushing repetitive motives which worm their way under the skin and penetrate the skull by means of sonic bludgeoning.

The nine-minute ‘Erase’ brings some heavy, emotion-wrought doom-country with a distortion-tinged vocal that alludes to a dirgy Come, with Jarboe sounding more like Thalia Zedek in the song’s early minutes before the anguished howl emerges, culminating in a throat-tearing, raw-spewing roar by its uncomfortable climax.

Then, ‘In Harm’s Way’ recreates the woozy two-chord grating attack of early Swans when they were at their most gut-churningly jarring and abrasive, and it hits hard.

So why remaster, and why now? What does it add? According to Steve Von Till, ‘We recorded this ourselves with consumer level Pro Tools back then, in order to be able to experiment at home in getting different sounds and writing spontaneously. The technology has come a long way since then and we thought we could run it through better digital to analog conversion… This new mastered version is a bit more open, with a better stereo image, and better final eq treatment’.

And because they got Bob Weston of Shellac, and engineer at Electrical Audio to work on it, it does sound bloody great and lands with maximum impact. And the new artwork’s rather nice, too.

AA

Neurosis and Jarboe

Svart Records – 30th August 2019

Christopher Nosnibor

The Portland two-piece described as purveyors of ‘noisy metal’ haven’t wasted time on naming their third album, which lands five years on from 2014’s Here in the Deadlights, and have instead focused on the contents and rendering it as maximalist as possible. There are a fair few duos around at the moment who manage to conjure a full-band sound. It’s impressive, but how do they do it? Big amps and lots of pedals is the usual answer, but with these guys, there’s got to be something more. I mean, the sound is huge. In fact, no, it’s way bigger than huge. Alchemy. It’s gotta be.

The album’s five songs are all at least seven minutes long, and are, without exception, hefty as hell riffmongous monsters, the noisy metal style being very much of the sludgy stoner persuasion, with Melvins being the most obvious and appropriate touchstone. But they’re no half-arsed style appropriators: there’s a lot going on here, and there’s a slew of other elements in the mix. Punk and psychedelia may sound like an awkward combination, but they pull them together effortlessly, along with a dose of really gritty thrash.

‘Caveman Waltz’ doesn’t sound like it’s actually in waltz-time, but steps up from a lumbering knuckledragger of a riff to doubling the tempo halfway through and thrashing out an uptempo throb with spiralling lead fretwork weaving a sonic mesh over the thumping percussion as the vocals go full-throated holler mode.

And they’ve got tricks galore up their (wizard’s) sleeves. The twelve-minute ‘Funeral of the Sun’ melds black metal and prog to create an expansive piece that rages and snarls but also features moments of rich atmosphere and strong melody.

Closer ‘V’ drives in hard with the most overtly thrash riff, but the vocals go all psych and the lead line is mathy and then… my head’ spinning with all of it after just a minute and a half. Nine minutes in and it’s all over.

You’ll likely often read that metal is running out of ideas, and that doomy / stoner / sludge has become a predictable parody of itself. And it’s not entirely untrue. But then an act like Wizard Rifle will present themselves and completely smash all preconceptions with a blend of killer riffs and wild innovation. Here, Wizard Rifle prove that there’s still a lot of ground to be explored through permutation and hybridity, delivering an album that’s solidly rooted in familiar territories, but at the same time explores new ground and doesn’t sound quite like anything else. At least, nothing I’ve yet heard.

AA

Wizard Rifle – Wizard Rifle