Posts Tagged ‘album reviews’

Southern Lord – 23rd April 2022

Christopher Nosnibor

Covering multiple works in a single review feels like a major short-changing exercise, and I feel I should apologise to the artists involved in advance. It kind of depersonalises and maybe even cheapens the coverage, and I remember how I felt when the book version of my PhD thesis finally received a review, only to find that it was in an article alongside three other books. It may have been a paragraph of praise, but nevertheless, it was a solitary paragraph in a long article. Nine years of work, 90,000 words and 300 printed pages given a one-paragraph thumbs up… meh. But still, better than a thumbs-down or no paragraph.

A decade on, it’s still not settled with me, and I always try to do better. But sometimes, bundling makes sense and feels justified and this is one of those times.

Having spent many a virtual column inch in recent years bemoaning how Record Store day has made a deep descent from being an event that served to raise awareness of independent record shops to another cash-in for major labels cranking out shitty reissues on limited colour vinyl to wring yet more funds from completists while at the same time driving some of the most shameful scalping activity anywhere on line, it’s a relief to find something positive about RSD 2022.

That something comes of course from an independent label in the form of Southern Lord, who, as a sidenote, had commendably stuck to producing outstanding vinyl releases regardless of trends, fashions, popularity, or Record Store Day, and, admirably have continued to release whatever the hell they please, with a catalogue that’s an equal balance of cult hardcore punk re-releases and cutting-edge works of crushing weight that perpetually push the parameters of metal, with recent releases from Neon Christ and Big | Brave highlighting the polarities of the label’s interests.

This pair of RSD releases exemplify this span to perfection, and while admittedly one is a reissue, the other very much is not – and as such, they represent the label’s standard release scheduling. As the press releases outline, ‘The Catatonics were one of NYC and Syracuse’s pioneering hardcore punk bands…While the band’s seminal Hunted Down EP has remained one of the most highly sought-after releases of the genre, the heightening collector’s price made this 7” inaccessible to most people. Southern Lord has now elected to re-release this EP as a 12”, with bonus tracks.” And, meanwhile, Forest Nocturne is ‘the first full length solo venture of Greg Anderson, under the moniker of The Lord. Inspired by the great horror film composers of the 70s and 80s, Anderson turns his back on the riff worship of Goatsnake or SUNN O))) and instead creates a truly unsettling atmosphere heavy with tension, offset by 90s Scandinavian death metal’.

The Catatonics release certainly gives value for money: the original 1984 7” released on Anorexic Nympho Records featured five tracks: this reissue features a whopping eighteen. Following the bonus intro cut if ‘Descending in E’, the original EP accounts for tracks two to six, while the rest is an almost exhaustive gathering of compilation tracks, early demos and live recordings, all remastered from original tapes. Only two of the eighteen songs run beyond three minutes, with most clocking in under two, and this is rough and ready, ball-busting full-throttle, relentless fury, nonstop-pounding hardcore at its rawest and most furious, and the live cuts are particularly raw and brutal, making this a unique and comprehensive document of another underground band’s short but high-impact career.

LORD000_12inch Standard LP Jacket

The Lord’s debut is a very different proposition: it’s clearly contemporary for a start, although it’s steeped in vintage metal stylings, and driven by an understated and simple but gut-churning bass that digs tunnels beneath your ordinary lives. Forest Nocturne is an album that twists and turns, and more significantly, gnaws like rodents, and like woodworm, at the smooth, flat planes of sonic normal. I say ‘normal’, as if that’s a thing – but The Lord conjure vast aural expanses, broad vistas that invite the listener to bask in the rich density, before tearing it to pieces.

A slow, swelling church organ droned doomily on ‘Church of Hermann’, a piece which is truly awe-inspiring. This is an instrumental album that definitely marks a departure for Anderson and feels more like early Earth than Sunn O))). Then again, it’s doesn’t really sound or feel like either.

Thick swells of strings that build into brooding, megalithic waves, define the power of this instrumental work. ‘Forest Wake’ starts with the wail of a siren, and brings bulldozing bass and power chords wrapped in gut-punching clouds of distortion. Those clouds dissipate for a time, and the atmosphere looms large and heavy as things unfurl, but take a moment to breathe and there’s nothing to see here other than smoke and that absence… It grinds, and it absolutely fucking kills, going full Sunn O))) drone doom on ‘Old Growth’. Forest Nocturne is hard and harrowing, immense, epic, beautiful, and yet at the same time devastating. The last track, ‘Triumph of the Oak’ is a new shade of heavy, an angering mess of thrashing chords that crashes down so, so hard.

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Finally, thanks to Southern Lord, there are releases that are actually worth getting up and queuing for at the weekend.

Black Sun Productions – Toilet Chant / Dies Juvenalis

Christopher Nosnibor

Self-styled ‘artivists’ Black Sun Productions had already established a reputation for themselves in Switzerland and Italy, but found a much wider audience after they were discovered by Coil in the early noughties. Touring their performance piece ‘Plastic Spider Thing’ on tour with Coil, they also engaged in collaboration with the seminal industrialists and were signed to their label, Ekstaton.

These two releases – reissues of albums dating back to the mid-2000s and previously released on CD-R on their own Anarcocks label, are interesting for a number of reasons, with the fact that they are Black Sun Productions albums being an obvious starting point. That they’re receiving their first vinyl and digital releases means this rather clandestine work may begin to filter through to a wider audience and be accessible to fans who’ve simply been unable to track down the originals. The choice of these two albums is a shade curious, in that they represent the first and last of the Anarcocks releases, with four other releases separating them.

Given the range of media they’ve worked in and pushed the parameters of, it shouldn’t come as too much of a shock to learn that they’re fairly challenging. That said, these are not brutal or ugly albums. Musically, they’re certainly interesting, and will hold inevitable appeal for fans of dark ambient, avant-garde and music from the more experimental end of the industrial spectrum. I’d argue that true industrial is experimental by its very nature, in the tradition of Throbbing Gristle, and, continuing that trajectory through Peter Christopherson, Coil. And fans of coil will be keen to note that ‘E2 = Tree3’ on the Toilet Chant album features the vocals of ‘Jhonn Balance’ which will make the first of these two albums of particular interest.

Toilet Chant (2004) may sound as though it should have humorous connotations, but the title track which opens the album, but its haunting whale song echoes are far from ribald. Distant, rumbling percussion lumbers in the murky background. ‘Anarcocks Rising’ works on the interplay between unstructured rhythmic pulsations, heaving groans and rolling, bass-orientated, notes. Synths flicker and scrawl, their sparking electronics bringing a starkly manufactured aspect to the more natural sounding sonic body over which they expand. It’s alien and other-wordly, as is the aforementioned ‘E2 = Tree 3’, as thunderous roaring solar winds blast over exotic, eastern-influenced instrumentation and shards of pulsing analogue fizz. The album builds tension across the six tracks, via the Curesque ‘Yesterday’s Dream’ and the spaced-out wibblesome tones of ‘Glüewürmilitanz, culminating in the thirteen-minute ‘Spermatic Cord’. An extended exercise in creating dark, weighty atmospherics, it’s an uncomfortable, queasy listen. Grating bass drones croak and funnel. It’s a dark, insular experience.

 

 

Black Sun Productions - Toilet Chant

2007’s Dies Juvenalis contains just three tacks, and immediately a different tone is apparent. A swelling organ sound screeds and undulates against pulsating beats on ‘Percettive Riflessioni’. The experimental leanings of Toilet Chant are still in evidence, but the focus here is on dynamics, with dramatic changes in volume and the tonal contrasts adding depth and texture. The presence of definite, regular rhythms also marks a significant change, with elements of Krautrock and psychedelia informing the sound. This was 2007, remember: no-one was digging Krautrock or doing synth-based psychedelia in 2007. Busy xylophones weave the fabric of the title track, while a deliberate, slow, dubby bass beat leads ‘Veneration XXX’ into glitchy, stuttering drum ‘n’ bass territory, while disembodied voices bend and melt over the stammering fills.

Black Sun Prooductions - Dies Juvenalis

 

 

I would lean towards Toilet Chant as being my preferred album for listening purposes, Dies Juvenalis offers a greater push on innovation and musical progression. In tandem, they provide an intriguing documentation of the workings of a unique act.