Posts Tagged ‘Cruel Nature Recordings’

Cruel Nature Recordings – 27th August 2021

Christopher Nosnibor

Grunge isn’t dead. Not by a long way. Although, the trouble with grunge is that even at its height, most of the bands weren’t that impressive, and the ones who were achieved the widest success were the weakest, most accessible of the crop. Without the polished and ultimately marketable Nevermind, Nirvana would have never achieved global domination, although both Bleach and In Utero were, and remain, far superior albums, while the like of Tad and Mudhoney are the true sound of grunge, and capture the gritty, sweaty toil of blue collar labour channelled into aural catharsis. These bands never set out to change the world, but to vent their frustrations and ultimately their sense of powerlessness through music.

Perhaps it’s an age thing, but being in sixth form when grunge exploded it felt like not only an exciting time for music, but that this was a wave of music that actually spoke both to and for my generation at the time. In a way I feel rather sorry for the Millennials and Gen Z; the blandness of contemporary music speaks of nothing but surface. Even when addressing genuine issues, there feels like not only an absence of depth, but an absence of real emotion, of soul. Perhaps it’s just that the mainstream industry, represented by the mainstream charts, dominated by mainstream artists on major labels is simply giving the entirety of its focus on monetising slick sonic wallpaper. It seems odd that generations so riven with pain and angst (and who can blame them?) should find solace in this kind of anodyne slop. It can’t just be the numbing effects of antidepressants: something is clearly awry. Small wonder, then, that some delve into their parents’ collections in order to find music that contains what’s missing for them.

New York’s Cronies formed in June 2020 by brothers Jack and Sam Carillo, the press pitch describes the project as ‘the creative offspring of Covid and isolation’. Creative is the word: having pulled in a couple of mates to render this a full band, they’ve already banged out a brace of Eps in the last year ahead of this, their eponymous debut, which Cruel Nature are releasing on another Bandcamp Friday, with Proceeds going to charity.

It’s a bowel-shaking bass note that strikes first, and the sustain is something. And then in lurches a grimy guitar that’s welded to a stumbling rhythm section – and it’s heavy. Then the drawling vocal rips into a fill-throated roar that’s pure Cobain. These guys have taken the relentless battery of Bleach and the nihilistic squall of In Utero as their template, with a dash of thrash and some of the grimy heft of Tad in the mix (‘Slush Fund’ even leans on the riff from Tad’s ‘Behemoth’ but chicks in some stun synths and some manic hollering that’s more reminiscent of The Jesus Lizard), and ‘A Slippery Slope’ throws all of these in at once, along with a sudden change of pace and direction two-thirds of the way in. On ‘Ritchie from Lebanon’ they build a massively dense bulk of noise, the guitars and bass churning, overloading at great volume.

What Cronies have that their peers lack – well, there are many things, if we’re analysing (and of course we are: that’s the purpose of music criticism). But first and foremost, it’s raw passion and energy. There’s nothing slick or ultra-processed about this: Cronies are unashamedly ragged, and really embrace the grunge ethic of the time when most of the bands from Nirvana to Mudhoney were still on labels like Sub Pop. It’s perhaps because of the band’s origins – confined, trapped – that the songs on Cronies teem and seethe with abject frustration. Sometimes, words simply cannot articulate those feelings, and all there is to do is scream and unleash howls of feedback instead of neat chords. And this is what Cronies do, and this is why they speak to us: it’s accepting the limitations of articulation and unleashing a primal howl. It’s powerful because it’s real.

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Cruel Nature Recordings – 5th March 2021

Christopher Nosnibor

Live performances of experimental electronic work, particularly when involving an element of improvisation, can be somewhat hit and miss, and what’s more, sometimes, much of the wonder and appreciation is derived from witnessing the performance itself, as much as the sound.

This album was recorded live at Cave 12 in Geneva in 2019, when Stuart Chalmers and Distant Animals shared a stage is a document of a moment in time, and is one that explores differences and similarities. Each act occupies one side of the limited-edition cassette (of which there are just 45 copies) and naturally, a track each on the digital version, and each track contains a full performance from each artist.

Chalmers’ set is a sparse, minimalist affair. Clanking chiming notes – partially atonal, and entirely arrhythmic plink, plonk, clatter and clink every which way. It is detuned strings? Is it a glockenspiel, xylophone, or similar? Whatever the sonic source, it increases in speed and urgency, but not in musicality, and a flat chord shreds and mangles as though strumming a washboard with relentless frustration. While the performance is brimming with energy, there’s a purposeful tonal flatness to this.

At times a clattering clang, a monotonous chang of deadened notes, and a tension-building thrum that grates away relentlessly, Chalmers’ set is never comfortable, never easy, never really breaking into the realms of melodic. The relentless scrapes and scuffles scratch away for twenty-three troublesome minutes. It’s rhythmic and does build in a certain way, but it’s slow progress that’s uncomfortable. One suspects that this uneasy sensation would only be heightened during the actual performance.

Distant Animals’ set is more overtly ambient, a twenty-minute piece that centres around twisting dronescapes and elongated crawls. The layers ripple and rub against one another to create not a dissonance as such, but a vibration of frequencies.. but suddenly, around the mi-section, the storm breaks and dissipates… there is a calm. Soothing synth waves of something that borders on electroprog crossed with chilled-out electroambient. Its trajectory is very different from Chalmers’ – instead of a single, linear trajectory that works its way to a specific end point, they navigate a series of passages and movements that segue into one another to form a meandering journey, which eventually tapers to a fade that leaves you wondering if it was all a dream, and wishing you had been there.

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Cruel Nature Records – 5th March 2021

Christopher Nosnibor

I know next to nothing about Fast Blood beyond the brief biographical info that accompanies this, their debut EP, which follows a brace of singles.

Apparently, the members of the foursome are stalwarts of the Newcastle-upon-Tyne DIY scene, but as a unit they only came together in 2019, performing together for the first time in April of that year. They managed to amass a decent resume of support slots in the eleven months before the world ended for live music, and announced their arrival in November 2019 with the hooky as hell ‘You’, which is featured here as the EP’s second track.

They trade in short – three minutes or less – poppy punk tunes, and for all their ‘nods to 90’s Midwestern indie/emo, hardcore and garage punk’, what actually comes through above anything is how they hark back to a more classic female-fronted punk vintage. That isn’t to say they sound like X-Ray Spex, or Penetration, or Blondie, but there’s certainly something of that vibe infused within their driving, guitar-driven songs which are big on energy.

‘Why do I keep doing this to myself? / I keep telling myself I’m not worthy’ Abigail Barlow sings on ‘Milo’, which was released as their second single in January last year, and while the delivery is accessible, and very much driven by a sense of ‘song’, and ‘melody’, and there’s nothing that’s overtly dark about their songs, there’s an emotional honesty and a sincerity about the lyrics that runs deeper. In this sense, it’s the best of both: a vintage style with a contemporary edge – without the crap connotations of punk-pop dragged along by the likes of shit like Panic! At the Disco, New Found Glory, and All Time Low – they balance bite with something altogether more easy on the ear. Kudos.

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Cruel Nature Recordings – 2nd October 2020

Christopher Nosnibor

If ever a band’s name perfectly encapsulated their sound, it has to be Lump Hammer. The Tyneside trio go all-out on sludgy sonic bludgeoning. Similarly, Beast lives up to its name, with nine tracks and a running time of one hour, two minutes and 48 seconds, it’s a monster of epic proportions, and man, it’s fucking ugly.

‘Alarm’ sounds the album’s arrival in the dankest, grimiest of fashions. A downtuned chord, dense and dirty tears from the speakers gradually picking up pace to become a proper riff, before everything gets truly fucked-up and mangled, as if the mixing desk was suddenly buried in a landslide. It sets the bleak, monotonous tone perfectly.

If you’re after variety, you’ll be disappointed: Lump Hammer’s approach to songwriting consists of taking a simple riff and driving away at it until they stop. Sometimes, it’s a long time till they stop, and sometimes it’s a very long time. The eleven-and-a-half minute closer, ‘Gravy (Beef)’ crawls into the space between Sunn O))) and Earth. Each chord is a whirling vortex of overdrive, its colossal density and mass utterly crushing. The pace is very much in the mid-to-low tempo range, accentuating the monstrous weight of the music. And there are probably words, but mostly Watts’ vocals are indecipherable, elongated guttural growls.

There are some quieter, more subtle moments, as evidenced by the first half of the gloomy nine-minute ‘Where’, which carves a trough of claustrophobic isolation – but it’s all just a protracted build-up to the next megalithic deluge of noise.

With Beast, Lump Hammer continue the trajectory of their two previous outings, the eponymous EP from 2017 and February’s split album with Bodies on Everest: you wouldn’t really call it an evolution, beyond the fact that this time they’ve gone one louder, and over the duration of a full-length outing, the cumulative effect of their relentless grinding trudgery achieves optimum impact. Beast is blunt forced trauma manifested in sound.

Beast is their first album for Cruel Nature and is available on 2 October as a limited-edition cassette and digital download, and will be released on CD by Inverted Grim-Mill Recordings. The release coincides with the band’s performance at Tusk Virtual 2020 online festival. It’s available to order from today, but you can stream it EXCLUSIVELY in its entirely now, here:

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Cruel Nature Recordings – 16th October 2020

New York’s Lip Critic return with their second album, imaginatively titled Lip Critic II. Now, I have a tendency – and I know it’s spurious – to associate numbered albums with prog and indulgence, ranging from Peter Gabriel to Led Zeppelin. But there is nothing remotely proggy or indulgent about Lip Critic’s second eponymous release, which crams nine tracks into 21 minutes of genre hybridity and maniacal mayhem. And make no mistake: this is intense and crazy shit, all going off in a boiler at once.

The lazy hookline would be that the album’s first track, ‘Why Not’, sounds like The B52s on acid, but more accurately, it sounds like The B52s on acid and meth imitating a fictitious Dead Kennedys / obscure hip-hop collaboration for the Judgement Night soundtrack. But none of this really convey just how frantic, frenetic, fucked-up and actually quite how wrong this all is. Yes, the world of Lip Critic is a bewildering one that absolutely defines the concept of ‘crossover’, and the closest comparison I can think of is Castrovalva, who were ace but niche and probably for a reason. It’s so far into niche crossover it’s hard to determine the level of seriousness behind the hybridized mess of noise that is Lip Critic II: this is an album that goes beyond so many boundaries all at once.

I don’t know what this is, and I suspect it doesn’t either. And nor should it: music should exist for its own sake, free from any constraints of genre. But with Lip Critic, it’s brain-bending and bewildering: there is simply so much going on, and all of it’s incongruous and seemingly incompatible.

‘Dreamland I’ is out-and-out mad, not so much a mash-up or hybrid as a multi-genre pileup with gas tank explosions and flames and wailing sirens and probably some people being cut from cars by fire and rescue and others being abducted by aliens.

‘Like a Lemon’ brings garage, grime, and industrial-strength hip-hop together with mangled beats a punishingly heavy groove that provides a backdrop to a more narrative-orientated approach to the lyrics, describing a guy with ‘A double-breasted suit and tight shorts / they’re so tight they cut off the circulation to his legs / … he said ‘I’m going to fill you up with rhinestones’.

At every turn, Lip Critic deliver mind bombs of every shape and form: sonically, stylistically, lyrically, Lip Critic II is simply an explosion. With every song being so brief, one barely has time to realise it’s started before it’s finished, and by the end, the listener is left punch-drunk, bewildered and dizzy. I think it’s good. I think it’s horrible. I think it’s a mess. But I can’t be sure.

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Cruel Nature – CN132 – 25th May 2020

Christopher Nosnibor

Mike Vest happens to be in several noisy bands I really, really rate, notably Ozo, Bong, Blown Out, 11Paranoias and Drunk in Hell. And now, while I’m wondering if the guy has somehow mastered cloning and not told anyone, you can add to that staggering list Lush Worker, his solo project.

Cruel Nature, one of two Newcastle-based cassette labels who represent the city’s tight-knit but remarkably prolific and outstandingly strong underground scene, which is a melting pot for all shades or nasty noise and dark metal-orientated music, here serves up a whopping portion of Lush Worker, with three albums bundled onto a limited-edition double cassette spanning nearly two hours of what they describe as ‘heavy shockwave drone and dream guitar noise overload, perfect to bliss out to’.

The first of half a dozen Lush Worker releases from 2019, Cruise was first released digitally last February, and essentially comprises the twenty-eight-minute title track, a long, swirling guitar drone that straddles shoegaze and ambience, with a brace of shorter (sub-two-minute) ‘sample’ tracks, omitted here presumably for space, continuity and purpose. Because while this may be three albums, it may s well be one monster album, and is perhaps best approached as such.

Admittedly, no-one is likely (alright, I’m making a substantial assumption here) to listen to this either an album at a time, or as a whole in a single sitting. Not because it doesn’t flow perfectly as a single-sitting piece, but because even in lockdown, does anyone have that kind of time?

So ‘Cruise’ cruises on, slowly, a spiralling cathedral of guitar that simultaneously drones and soars in a mess of wailing feedback and misshapen chords. There’s some distant beat in the mix, but its submerged beneath an undulating tide of treble.

The five cuts of ‘slow burn guitar’ from the appropriately-titled Uplift, released in October 2019, with the exception of ‘Flatliner’ are all around the nine-minute mark, and are more rhythmic, if not necessarily overtly structured: ‘Sub-Ether’ is a heavily psychedelic shoegaze swirl, centred around a repetitive, cyclical motif overlaid with layer upon layer of FX-soaked overdrive, with the album tapering to an elongated buzzing drone on ‘Frozen Egypt’, where it’s the slow-melting bass trip that makes it.

Somewhere in the haze of dubby desert rock, there’s a soaring experimental psychedelic drone on ‘Slow Zone Design’, and howling lead guitars duel against one another, occasionally colliding in a smash of metallic sparks.

Although presented here out of sequence (and the cassette sequence is different again from the digital release), with Hb1c MkII having been released in May, it makes sense for its two half-hour behemoth efforts to round off this release, mirroring its opening counterpart. However, ‘Hb1c MkII’ is a much mellower piece, a near-ambient drift of echo and delay, the chiming notes floating and fading into a rippling haze, before ‘Sobek 110’ delineates things further, a twenty-eight minute single-note drone at heart, it’s a meditative, medicated, soporific experience.

Collectively, these three albums demonstrate different but connected and complimentary facets of Vests Lush Worker output. Dim the lights and explore.

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Cruel Nature – CN133

Christopher Nosnibor

It’s not often demo tapes get a ‘proper’ release. Then again, it’s not often you actually get demo tapes these days: cassettes may be making something of a comeback on the underground, but you’re more likely to get a demo recorded on mobiles with the tracks assembled using some smart software than on a four track. I remember my old Fostex X-18 seeming incredibly compact back in ’92. Less true of the X55, but with its double-speed spooling and advanced mixing capability, it was more like having a proper studio on your desk. How times have changed.

But when it comes to black metal, low-grade production is integral to the aesthetic. It’s supposed to be impenetrably murky, the songs emerging from a booming condenser mic recording overloaded with volume, crackle, and hiss.

I was fortunate to catch Petrine Cross virtually live at a Heinous Whining streaming event the other week, and it was devastating: I was blown away by the dark intensity of the performance, and this release confirm this was no one-off or a case of me being carried away with too many cans in my atempt to recreate the gig experience at home.

A solo project for Esmé Louise Newman of emotionally-charged black metal duo Penance Stare (and her resumé is pretty impressive too), Petrine Cross is pitched as ‘Thought-provoking raw ambient black metal, inspired through solitude and literature, that hits hard in all its oppressive glory.’

‘Charred Skirts and Deathmask’ could be read one of a number of was, but it begins with a soft-edged undulating drone, which continues throughout its eight-plus-minute duration beneath a crushing deluge of punishing guitar noise. There are no discernible chords, no clear structure, just a full-on deluge of sludge. There are some vocals in there somewhere, too, I think. I don’t need the details, and that’s perhaps as well, as they’re obfuscated by a dense wall of undifferentiated sound that’s all in the mid and lower ranges.

I’m listening by candlelight and screen glare, and it seems appropriate as the snarling blast of ‘I Beneath a Rougher Sea’ tears from the speakers, a muffled, murky blast of a cyclical chord sequence, overloading with distortion. It takes some time for any form to emerge from the searing sonic wall, and when it does, it’s vague, melting in its blisteringly intense grind.

The recordings may be primitive, but I’m not sure they would necessarily benefit from a more luxurious, layered studio treatment. The context is key: this is black metal – albeit in a stripped-back, ambient form – and doesn’t require polish. These recordings are cavernously dark and dredge the depths of the soul. Search deep.

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