Posts Tagged ‘bleak’

29th January 2021

Christopher Nosnibor

My wife detests The Twilight Sad. I love The Twilight Sad, and am prone to crying at their gigs. I’ve also been called a cunt online for suggesting the intensity of their shows may be akin to witnessing Joy Division at their peak (a suggestion I still stand by: James Graham is capable of conveying a rare emotional intensity in his performances that’s compelling, and at times, borders on the disturbing). They’re a band that are divisive beyond Marmite, but elicit a level of devotion from their fans that’s truly fervent.

When it comes to covering a band that inspire such passion, it’s a big, big challenge, and a huge risk – one of those moves that could be absolute fucking suicide, or inspire career-defining awe.

The last time I wrote about National Service, a four-piece band consisting of Fintan Campbell (vocals/guitar), Daniel Hipkin (bass/vocals), Iain Kelly (guitar/vocals) and Matthew Alston (drums) back in November on the release of ‘Caving’, I actually compared them to The Twilight Sad, so this feels like a much a test of my skills as theirs – and it’s perhaps worth noting that this is the last in a series of cover releases from Fierce Panda, which has also featured Moon Panda, Desperate Journalist, and China |Bears.

Now, you should never mess with perfection, but with their glacial, stripped-back, minimalist take on the song, National Service really capture the wintery melancholy of the original. The dark beauty of the lyrics, which blend sadness with a certain distanced, twisted psychopathy is conveyed with a sincerity that transcends the ethereal atmosphere.

The absence of the soaring finale may come as something of an anticlimax, but this is a well-conceived and magnificently-executed cover, and the distinctive, even slightly unusual vocals delivery, with a certain twang on the higher notes, are well-suited to the song, stamping a unique marker on it while accentuating the multifaceted layers embedded within the song’s dark spirit.

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Cae Gwyn Records – 22nd January 2021

Christopher Nosnibor

It’s dark. It’s winter. We’re in lockdown – again / still. Whatever cheer Christmas and the prospect of new year brought – and let’s face it more than cheer, it was a flicker of false hope, or worse still, a diminutive moment of delusional hope – has faded with the return to work (from home) and (home) schooling and the prospect of socialising, pubs, and gigs but a snuffed candle for the foreseeable, meaning that the jaunty Christmas tunes that assailed us last month can well and truly delete themselves while we get back to reality.

‘Doppelgänger’, the debut single from IsoPHeX, aka 19-year-old Cian Owen from Anglesey, it pitched as ‘brooding electronica of the highest order’, and it fits the bill and no mistake.

If you’re expecting – or wanting – more dark ambient, you’ll likely be disappointed, although ‘Doppelgänger’ brings atmosphere in spades, and one that’s cold and dark.

It may only be three minutes an eighteen seconds in duration, but ‘Doppelgänger’ melds an array of styles, incorporating hip-hop and sparse electro to create something that’s simultaneously bleak and dynamic, as chilly synths wrapped like mist around a hectic beat: uptempo hip-hop or downtempo drum ‘n’ bass? Who cares? Despite the urgent pace of the stammering rhythm, ‘Doppelgänger’ is sparse, minimal, and edgy, a twitchy trip through dark alleyways at night, tense and paranoid. Is there something there? Or is it all in your head? Keep one eye over your shoulder. Keep moving. Trust no-one. Apart from me, of course, when I tell you this is a killer tune.

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2LP Editions Mego – Digital release date: 4th December 2020 / Physical release date: early February 2021

Christopher Nosnibor

Initially – and indeed, oftentimes – On Feather and Wire sounds very like so many slightly noodly minimal electro albums, incorporating elements of pop and krautrock to forge some neat synthy moments, fairly light and accessible and propelled by soft but insistent beats and bubbling bass grooves, and it’s pleasant enough, with the darker overtones providing depth and detail. Rivet’s reverence and enthusiasm for the technology is apparent, as is his appreciation for the likes of both Chris and Cosey and Kraftwerk. The invited comparisons to COH are warranted, and if the synthy explorations of the 70s and into the early 80s with the emerging industrial scene is your bag, then the appeal here is clear: there’s plenty to like, but then again, not a lot to distinguish Rivet from myriad other artists of the era or his myriad peers operating in the same field, which seems to be increasingly populous.

‘Glietende Liebe’ has hints of DAF, but then equally of Cabaret Voltaire, and even Depeche Mode with its buoyant repetitive motif. Vocals are limited just the occasional phrase, more shouted the sung, and it seems Rivet – that’s Mika Hallbäck Vuorenpää – is more than happy for the listener to wrestle – or not – with the questions of intention and meaning, as, according to the liner notes, ‘interpretation is flung open as the audience are invited to gauge what on earth is going on here… Are these songs? Are these lyrics? Words melt as beat perpetually takes us deeper into flight. Throughout this trip sharp snares punctuate ghost melodies as vocals rise and vaporise. Shadows hover the walls leaving holographic traces of the duality between fun and fear, the unexpected drifts diagonally across the audio plane teasing and taunting the listener’.

‘Keloid’ is an out-and-out minimal dance tune, and ‘Mag Mich’ is pretty much straight-up EBM, and all of this is fine and neatly executed by largely unremarkable. ‘Sodden Healer’, on the other hand is stark, clinical, dangerous in its detachment. Fragmented vocals cut across one another against a backdrop of grating analogue bass oscillations.

But ‘Coral Spate’ comes as if from nowhere, a standout and standalone, the absolute distillation of every feature of the album culminating in five minutes of claustrophobically gripping intensity, It’s the sound of anxiety, of agoraphobic panic, in ways that are difficult to pinpoint and even more difficult to express. Whereas the dislocated retrofuturism of ‘Ordine Kadmia’ sounds like so much cyberpunk and so many 80s sci-fi movie soundtracks, and is the kind of composition that’s affecting because there’s a certain sense of the unheimlich about its stark robotic repetitions and whipcrack snare sound, it’s precisely the extreme familiarity of ‘Coral Spate’ that’s so uncomfortable – suffocatingly so. And yet the experience of discovering that physical spasm articulated, given a soundtrack, is perversely comforting. It’s a rare and dichotomous sensation that’s difficult to reconcile – but then, art is at its best when it challenges us. The more it makes us feel, however much it hurts, it’s fulfilling that function of taking us beyond the limited boundaries of whatever comfort zones we may have and challenging us to confront those innermost fears by mirroring them back at us.

For this alone, this track alone, I wholeheartedly recommend this album, but maybe should forewarn those of a weaker disposition that it isn’t all breezy grooves.

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generate and test – gt49 – 23rd October 2020

Christopher Nosnibor

I don’t even know what day it is most days. I’m vaguely keeping track of the months and weeks, but a mostly existing day-to-day. Turn on the laptop, check my calendar, dial into the meetings I’m booked into. It’s just mechanical, I’m not really living. I know it’s 2020, by virtue of the fact I don’t know much else: confusion reigns. Time’s meaning has evaporated over the last seven or eight months.

I was drawn by the title, as the two component parts both feel relevant. That may be a personal thing, it may be a more general thing. We’re living every moment of every dystopia ever written, ever filmed, ever imagined, and I’m deeply nostalgic for all things right now, ranging from human interaction to simply feeling as if I have a life. I know I’m not alone in being alone.

I’ve long had an acute sense of nostalgia, but loathe the way nostalgia has become an industry, capitalising in the way the ageing process rose-tints the past. Anniversary edition albums and movie reissues don’t only cash in on that sense of past times, but lock people into a cycle of nostalgia, provoking reminiscences of ‘the good old days.’ Admittedly, the future has never looked so barren and the past more appealing, but generally speaking… we always yearn for the past because things were simpler when we were younger and less burdened with responsibility and emotional baggage.

It looks like this release has been languishing in the vaults for a long time, if my reading of the liner notes is right, they state that this was ‘written, produced, performed, and recorded by Matthew Thomas 1997… mastered by Matthew Thomas 2020’ Apparently, ‘2020 demanded we revisit a 1990s vision of a dystopic future’ – and yes, maybe it did. Or maybe it didn’t. Do we need to be heaped with more dystopian anguish given the pain of living in the every day?

nostalgia:dystopia promises ‘four tracks of dystobeats, placing the human voice within a context of fractured systems’, and delivers something that may be something close, I don’t know. I’m not entirely sure what dystobeats are, but I feel that we’re all living in a nexus of systems all of which are fractured and fragmenting, much to the psychological detriment of many. If lockdown was hard, the fact we’re still living in such uncertain times and under such restrictions and at distance from our fellow human beings is taking its toll. And this… it’s electronic, it’s overloading. Layers of sound collide against one another to forge challenging sound and forms.

There’s a sense of excessive volume and colliding sonic intents on the first track, ‘Pranayama’, where yawning drones like mechanical digeridoos hum and hover amid static blasts and feedback that ruptures from the simmering sonic surface like solar flares. Pulsing rhythms merge from the layers of sound.

In contrast, ‘Within in Orange Sodium Glow’ is thick, deep, and mellow for the most, with squelchy electro vibes coming to the fore: but there’s an eerie undercurrent that’s hard to ignore as lumpy beats lurch and thump amid undulating analogue oscillations, while ‘Sheering Force’ is stark, mechanoid, depersonalised, bleak and ‘Insect’ is a scratchy, buzzing mess of distorted beats and murky gyrations that emanates detachment and dislocation.

Having languished some twenty-three years in the vaults, it does seem as if Thomas had a certain sense of gloomy premonition about the future that’s now here. But then, every year of present feels bleaker than those which preceded, and since the turn of the millennium, it’s felt as though while global warming has been melting the ice caps at an exponential rate, life has been inching closer to a perpetual winter of the soul. With nostalgia:dystopia, Matthew Thomas has created a suitably claustrophobic soundtrack.

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Transatlantic darkwave trio Johnathan/Christian is pleased to announce the release of their new single, “Every Day It Rains” featuring lead vocals shared jointly by lead singer Christian Granquist and North Wales recording artist Marianne Holland.

“Every Day It Rains” is a dark reminder of what we’re all living through in this new world.

Watch the bleak video here:

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Soundtracking The Void – 18th September 2020

Christopher Nosnibor

Before the Magic is the debut from The Incidental Crack, a new collaborative work from Front & Follow and Gated Canal Community’s Justin Watson and Rob Spencer, alongside Simon Proffitt, who also performs as Cahn Ingold Prelog and The Master Musicians Of Dyffryn Moor.

Under the seemingly eternal lockdown and difficulties arising from distancing, which continue to loom large over all things creative and musical where collectivism and collaboration are concerned (live performances are another essay altogether, and their absence will continue to leave an immeasurable void for so many and on so many levels), The Incidental Crack is a project that could only exist thanks to the Internet, which saw, ‘a six month period of remotely sharing atmospheric field recordings, samples and random noise, culminating in studio sessions focused on detailed processing and sound manipulation.’

The album’s four tracks are significantly differing in length, ranging from a ‘mere’ six-minute snippet to an eighteen-minute exploration of the deepest, darkest tunnels

Why are children’s voices always so unsettling? Especially samples of chirpy, innocent calls and singing, when juxtaposed with murky, dark ambient drones? I suppose it’s not least on account of that unheimlich sensation instilled by those quite specific contrasts of carefree naivete and gut-clenching fear. Individually, these sensations can be processed and compartmentalised, but together, they sit uneasily, tapping into a biological parental instinct that tells us that children should be kept safe from harm, and a doomy sonic fog, with connotations of imminent danger, creeping around the ankles is something of a hard-wired trigger. ‘If I Can Do It’, then, is a thoroughly unsettling collage. The voices fade out, but deep rumbles of thunder persist, a different kind of threat as a storm breaks and it reminds us that there is nothing harsher, more devastating, than nature.

‘Skin’ provides some much-needed levity, overlapping myriad snippets of adverts for skin products by way of an intro before drifting off into soft bubble of drifting mellowness. There’s a spoken-word piece, from what initially appears to be lecture on skin but wanders more into the territory of a reflection on skin more generally.

With murky, clunking percussion and inaudible sampled dialogue running throughout its twelve-minute running time, the dark and impenetrable ‘Set free all the birds from your wife’s aviary’ is another level of unsettling, and it’s difficult to settle or adjust to despite the relentless booming plod that hangs in the background.

The sparse, clanging pulsing noises of the final track are hollow, empty, and even when joined by a slow-swelling tide if amorphous, extraneous noise, feels quite bleak and desolate, and the title, ‘We All Feel Happy Now’ feels grimy ironic. Gasping breaths, the sounds of panic, along with slivers of spoken-word narrative (which in passing includes the album’s title is dense and dolorous, and there is no joy to be found here.

And yet the album as a whole feels positive, if only in terms of its fulfilment of purpose as an experimental album with unsettling connotations, and sometimes, you just need a dark, desolate atmosphere to match the mood.

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Sacred Bones – 11th September 2020

Christopher Nosnibor

Regular readers will likely have spotted Uniform featured on numerous occasions here at Aural Aggro, and in may ways, they encapsulate everything that inspired me to start this in the first place – namely that reviewing music that moves and affects me isn’t quite enough, because only half of it’s about the music, and the remainder is about that personal reaction, and that’s more of an essay than a review. To some this may seem indulgent, and maybe it is, but the intention is that in explaining my own personal response, there may be something relatable there for other readers – and also, potentially, something for the artist, namely an insight into how their music resonates with fans, what it means to them.

I’m not dismissing the merit of reviews that endeavour to quantify the quality of a release based on various merits and so on, but when confronted with music that exists to convey the most brutal emotions in a way that almost physically hurts, you just have to go deeper, and pick it apart properly, much as in the way you’re compelled to pick at an itchy, crusting scab until it’s weeping and raw and bleeding once more in some wrongheaded attempt to understand the nature of the wound.

The particular thing about Uniform is the way in which they balance unbridled rawness, a rage so explosive and nihilistic that words cannot even begin to convey even the outline of the sentiment, one so deeply enmeshed with a choking fury that renders words worthless, and a rare literacy.

“Thematically, the album is like a classic hard-boiled paperback novel without a case,” says front man Michael Berdan. “It focuses on the static state of an antihero as he mulls over his life in the interim between major events, just existing in the world. At the time we were making the record, I was reading books by Raymond Chandler, James Ellroy, and Dashiell Hammet and strangely found myself identifying with the internal dialogues of characters like Sam Spade and Philip Marlowe.”

These are all authors I have an immense admiration for, on account of the pace of their narrative, their economy, their capacity to deliver plot at pace, and their writing methods. Writing is one discipline. Writing to deadlines and producing quality and quantity quickly entirely another, and one I genuinely aspire to.

Uniform have demonstrated an impressive work ethic since their inception, and have been cranking out an album a year either on their own or in collaboration with The Body on an annual basis for the last few years. And never once has the quality or intensity dipped one iota, and Shame continues this unblemished record.

They have evolved over time, replaving the drum machine with a human drummer, but this hasn’t rendered them any more ‘ordinary’ and even without the harsh, pounding electronic battery of percussion, they’re still cranium-crushingly intense and head-shreddingly harsh.

Admittedly, I’ve had The Long Walk on heavy rotation for some two years now, with ‘The Walk’ not only defining that raw, aggro, nihilism that IS Uniform, but also being something of a soundtrack to life. Because life is short, cruel, and painful an there aren’t many acts who convey this as accurately as Uniform.

Shame explores all of the pains and anguish of shame and humiliation, the desire to bury one’s face or to disappear, and for all its harshness, all its abrasion, and all its brutality, Shame is an album that speaks on a deep emotional level. Shame hurts. It’s also harsh, abrasive, brutal, and as visceral an album as you’re likely to hear, and not just in clusterfuck 2020, but period.

The singles released online in advance of the album certainly give an idea of where it’s headed, but Shame needs to be heard in full – and at full volume of course – for maximum impact.

It crashes in with lead single ‘Delco’, possibly the most accessible of the ten cuts. It’s all relative, and by ‘accessible’ we’re looking at Ministry circa Psalm 69, with driving guitars dominating mangled vocals pegged low in the mix. The album swiftly descends into the depths of darkness, a murky blur of metal fury that combines the detached mechanisation of Ministry and Godflesh with the screeding impenetrable guitar noise.

The title track is tense, bleak, but there are hints of redemption at least in the intro before it turns dark and self-flagellatory. The refrain ‘That’s why I drink / That’s why I weep’ is another intertextual reference, this time made in homage to Rod Serling’s Twilight Zone episode ‘Night of the Meek’. But it distils a dark intensity that is the essence of an internal pain that can only be soothed by a chemical anaesthetic. It’s so succinct, and so absolutely magnificent, despite being painful and ugly. We’re all fucked up, and personally, I’m more wary of those who present themselves as happy and normal than anyone else. Who are they rely lying to?

‘Dispatches from the Gutter’ is a sub-two-minute blast of gnarly noise that is virtual onomatopoeia, while ‘This Won’t End Well’ is a slow-paced, industrial trudge, and closer ‘I Am the Cancer’ is just horrible, a mess of frantically-paced guitars, mangled to fuck, and vocals, distorted beyond impenetrability, all cranked out fast and hard. And this is how this album would always have to end. It would have to be painful. It would have to be like peeling flesh. It would have to be like murder.

Shame sees no sign of Uniform softening, Moreover, as they try to make sense of this ugly, violent world, their music more conveys the confusion and the pain of being alive. Embrace it or don’t, but with Shame, Uniform captures the spirit and the anguish of life right now.

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4th August 2020

Christopher Nosnibor

In the ever-expanding world of microgenres based on hybrids and crossovers, Montreal-based trio Boar God may be onto something as close to unique as you could imagine, describing their style as drone-punk. That said, drone takes many forms, ranging from the elongated notes that tend to feature in electronic works, to the dirgy, doom sustain of Sunn O)), with the kind of Psychedelic drone of The Black Angels in between.

Boar God’s sound belongs to none of these areas, and as such, does stand apart as different. The EP’s four tracks all sit around the six-minute mark, and blend driving alt-rock with a dash of shoegaze, and amp it all up with a spiky edge that’s as much post-punk as punk, but then I’d always say it’s the attitude that counts more than the sound in defining what’s punk.

Echoed tremolo tones shimmer like a heat-haze around guitars that scratch like sandpaper on the intro to ‘Life Eternal’. It’s a long, gradual build. The tempo quickens as the bass begins to run, faster and faster, the guitars chiming and swirling before everything breaks into a punchy clamour of everything, with Eric Bent’s vocals adding to the urgency. If it’s reminiscent of anything that immediately springs to mind, it’s Trail of Dead.

‘Azrael in Crisis’ goes all-out for the epic, with atmospheric synths swirling and wafting in the background, but still remains tightly-structured and punchy and dominated by a gritty guitar and booming bass. The energy is tempered by a chill, a bleakness, reminiscent of early Joy Division (think the outtakes that appeared on Still). The production is murky, and this is actually a good thing, as its low-budget, unpolished feel gives it an immediacy as well as replicating the late 70s’ / early 80s 8-track recording sound.

The pace and the angst are amped up on ‘The World Set Free’, a pounding amalgamation of Killing Joke and Red Lorry tallow Lorry, and again, it’s the thick, floor-shaking bass that defines and dominates the sound. Things take a twist for the gothic around two-thirds in, and as the fractal guitars glisten, the song acquires a dream-like quality.

Everything comes together at once on the closer, ‘The Tar Pits’, which locks into a motoric groove and drives it home with a searing guitar break and shrieking strains of feedback.

I know I’m a complete sucker for this kind of new-wave stuff, but as dark, angry, claustrophobic and steely-grey musings on loss go, Boar God bring a rare intensity on Near Extinction.

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Modern Technology have unveiled a video for the second single to be released from their upcoming debut long player, Service provider. Featuring visuals every bit as stark and impactful as the bleak ribcage-rattling bass-driven racket of the song, ‘Blackwall Approach’, it’s a belter. Watch it here:

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Human Worth – 25th August 2020

Christopher Nosnibor

Modern Technology crashed the scene hard with their eponymous debut EP in January of 2019. A devastating detonation of thunderous post-punk nihilism that dismantled consumer culture with half a dozen hard-hitting sonic blasts, it was focused and perfectly formed. It also very much captured the zeitgeist, while plunging sonic depths appropriate to the bleakness of mass consumerism and a culture that favours conformity and the erosion of individuality.

The duo – bassist / vocalist Chris Clarke and drummer Owen Gildersleeve gigged hard for a full year off the back of the EP, proving themselves to be a truly formidable live act: with a clear grasp of dynamics, intensity, and the importance of volume, they not only won a proper grass-roots fanbase, but also used their art for social good, donating proceeds from their Human Worth events and the profits from said EP to a selection of charities, notably Mind, Shelter, and The Trussell Trust.

Service Provider finds the duo even more aflame with fury and frustration at contemporary society, and although they seemed pretty well-honed on their first outing, they’ve taken things up another level or three here. The formula – such as it is – is unchanged, with the compositions centred around repetitive, cyclical grooves, pulverizing percussion and anguished vocals swamped in reverb to forge dense capsules of nihilism. The artwork, similarly, consolidates their identity, and the stark monochrome design with its dissolving text is a perfect summary of the stark images of social decay the band depict in their songs. But now, they’ve triple-distilled their ire, and the mammoth production only enhances the effect.

The first of the eight songs, ‘Therapy’ starts sparse, just Clarke’s brooding baritone voice and a primitive thudding drum beat. Those opening bars contain pure anguish, his voice cracked and distorted. Then, in a sharp squeal of feedback, the bass tears in like a whole troop of tanks crashing in, their caterpillar treads tearing at the earth, before locking into a single grinding note that booms out, each simultaneous strike of drum and bass like an explosion. Part Unsane, part Swans, it’s a heavy-hitter, and sets the tone and weight from the outset.

The bass buzzes and rumbles, the drums are understated, thumping away an insistent slow build, and it’s mostly just a scream of feedback like a jet engine that accompanies Chris’ vocal, an edge of distortion on the epic reverb, while he hollers, half-buried in the mix on ‘Blackwall Approach’. According to Wikipedia, ‘The northbound Blackwall Tunnel is a traffic bottleneck with tailbacks. A TfL study in 2009 revealed that the 1.1-mile (1.7 km) approach to the northbound tunnel took around 19 minutes in rush hour traffic, or a delay of approximately 11 minutes per kilometre.’ As such, it makes sense, the band casting a bleak eye over miles of excess traffic and literally tonnes of CO2 emissions. Because this is how we will die, choking the planet and ourselves in our question for exponential growth. And if you think ‘The Great Pause’ will change anything, then while I applaud your optimism, you are completely deluded: lockdown isn’t even over and there are mile-long queues of traffic to access beaches and beauty spots.

‘All is Forgiven’ is an epic grunger, coming on like an outtake demo for Nirvana’s Bleach played at half speed, with Owen’s powerhouse drumming driving thunderously. It’s raw and dingy and hits with serious velocity. The riff on ‘Gate Crasher’ is cyclical, repetitive, gut-churning, ribcage rattling, an intensely physical experience, which captures the force of the band’s live performances perfectly.

Describing a riff as ‘crushing’ may be a cliché, but fuck it: ‘Twitcher’ is a monolithic doom-weight crusher of a beast. A low-slow stealth verse yields to a thick distortion-ripping chorus that is absolutely punishing.

‘Terra Firma’, the album’s shortest song at a mere two-and-a-half-minutes, finds the band explore their more experimental side in a bleepy intro that gives way to a devastating bass blast paired with a squall of treble that calls to mind early Head of David, and serves as an into to the closer, ‘Life Like’, into which it segues. It begins with a spoken-word narrative, a rolling drum and bass almost serene as Clarke hovers around a calm monotone. Early crescendo threats subside and contribute to a simmering tension. But around the four-minute mark the build really begins in earnest, the bass thickening, swelling, and emerging in a tempestuous burst for an elongated outro that takes it to near the eight-minute point.

As a social commentary, Service Provider gets right to the rotten core of capitalist exploitation, and the way it pitches everyone as competition. The upper echelons are competing for supremacy: the majority are competing for scraps and for survival as the divide grows wider. And yet the irony is that the supremacy at the top is predicated on the rest purchasing whatever they’re selling, and all too often it’s shit they don’t need and can’t afford but that’s somehow become essential to contemporary living.

If anyone believes a world emerging from lockdown after the first wave of Covid-19 will be kinder, more accommodating, more humane, the early signs are that they’re sadly mistaken, as businesses slash employees and push even harder to return profits in the wake of a global financial slump.

We’re all fucked, and Service Provider sells it out loud – very loud – and clear, in stark, brutal terms. It’s a pretty punishing set, and what’s impressive is that they sustain the bludgeoning impact throughout, making for an absolute monster of an album. It’s hard to fault service like this.

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