Posts Tagged ‘Cruel Nature Records’

Cruel Nature – 18th September 2020

Christopher Nosnibor

Meyer Huthwelker is Helge Meyer and René Huthwelker: these are new names to me, but they seemingly have pedigree as emerging from ‘the hydra-headed experimental noise and ambient scene of Hamburg’. Meyer is also part of the band Ex-Kopf together with Scheich In China, and Huthwelker lately released a great solo tape on Phil Struck’s Stoffe imprint.

As Meyer Huthwelker, the liner notes inform us that ‘they play slow moving electronic music, using various modular and semi-modular synthesizers as weapons of choice.’ These words are chosen as carefully as their weapons, and reflect the way the duo’s sound has a strong attacking element to it, which is showcased perfectly here.

Purdue Generator contains two tracks, corresponding with the two sides of an audiotape, and Cruel Nature are releasing this one in a limited edition of 65 copies – which is an indication of the duo’s appeal given that their tape runs are often considerably smaller. It’s nice, it’s cult, but it’s without doubt respectable.

Purdue Generator contains a lot of heavy drone. Heavy drone. And a lot. Purdue Generator is one of those albums where you find there really isn’t much to say. It’s ambiguous, vague, somewhat formless. It drones on and on… and on. It oscillates and undulates. Slowly, gradually, like so much burrowing and tunnelling and meandering from hither to thither… but nothing happens. Wait, here’s the good bit… Actually, that is the good bit: the lack of change or specific ‘bits’ is entirely the point – it’s an elongated, continuous piece, unpunctuated, defined by protracted sameness that has a cumulative effect. The dronier, the less eventful, the more resonant, the deeper the impact, a little like exposure to radiation, I suppose: the more frequent and prolonged, the more effect on the system.

And so, with the first side, ‘Oxy’, where the elongated pulsations last for aeons, eternities, trickling into the second, ‘Hundo’, there’s a continuity and constant buildup. This being 2020, that buildup is one of tension and resembles less a buildup of excitement than a buildup of plaque. It’s something more to pick at than to actually learn major lessons from.

The low, slow, oscillations hum and thrum at a pace and frequency that settles around the lower thorax, and the reaction is as much physical as mental: Purdue Generator blossoms and blooms with questions over answers as it inspires the listener to step back from the tumult of everything external to meditate in one’s own internal rhythms. The higher, trilling notes that sometimes enter the mix bring levels of discomfort, as do the shifts into lower, grinding throbs. Fading out over a long, deliberate gradation, it doesn’t leave us with very much other than an empty space and room for contemplation.

AA

a3041477711_10

Cruel Nature Records – 28th August 2020

Christopher Nosnibor

It would be a flippant cliché to describe this offering by the insanely prolific Whirling Hall of Knives (this is their fourth release of 2020 and their thirteen full-length album) as an album of two halves, split as it is across two sides of the cassette release – but it would also be a valid assessment of its musical contents, also. For while it is consistently atmospheric and droney throughout, the six tracks, which bleed into one another to create the sensation of two longform tracks (the digital version is even mastered as such) consisting of a number of passages, they each bear a distinct character, if not necessarily form.

With such a daunting back catalogue, it’s difficult to know where to begin both on terms of exploration and comparison, but it’s probably fair to say that being neither as harsh as some efforts, or as ominously oppressive as others, Sabre is representative while siting at the more accessible end of their output spectrum.

These compositions are loose, transitional, and while they do lead the listener on a sonic journey of sorts, it’s meandering and non-linear in its trajectory.

The clattering rhythm that marches in the opening bars of the first track, ‘Laid to Rust’, immediately reminds me of the intro to ‘Breathe’ by Ministry, although perhaps a shade dubbier. But the percussion soon fades out and leaves, not grating metal guitars, but tapering whistles of feedback and drones like damaged woodwind. But this is very much a percussive album, at times verging on experimental dance music… and so in fades ‘Those Tracers’, the lead single, accompanied by a video we’re immensely proud to premiere here at AA. This is very much a work of abstract freeform dance music that bumps along in a vortex bubble.

Side A closes off with the altogether more attacking ‘Gutterpressed’, a gritty industrial grating through which bleak winds howl desolately.

Side B’s three cuts are lower, slower, dronier. Before sliding into a sepulchural reverence, ‘Olde Slice (Edit) is ominous and sparse. When the beats do emerge on ‘Ring Dialog’, they’re swampy and backed off, some indistinguishable robotix vocals echoing into a murky mass. The final track, ‘Barkd’ drift and hovers for so long, but suddenly, from amidst distant chords that reverberate hints of the sparsest, most minimal desert rock , percussion rises and drives away at a heavy beat and pulsating industrial bass throb to conjure an intense and oppressive atmosphere as the album inches toward its finale.

Sabre isn’t easy to categorise, and at times, it’s not that easy to listen to, either. But that’s what makes it.

Preorder Sabre here.

AA

art_whok_sabre_tape_outer copy

Cruel Nature Records – 3rd July 2020

Christopher Nosnibor

On the face of it, Newcastle has a conspicuously large and thriving scene devoted to all kinds of noisy / experimental metal shit, until you realise that about 75% of the bands feature James Watts and a number of his mates. Ultimately, that’s col, because Watts is a versatile vocalist – maybe not Mike Patton, but more than adept at affecting all kinds of low-throated metal, as well as anguished elongated notes and monastic incantations, and, as the last song evidences, human didgeridoo.

The band are described as ‘a unique weirdo blend of improvised doom with a drunken psychedelic vibe which is anywhere between THRONES to The Melvins to a very pissed off Butthole Surfers.’ The blurb also goes on to detail that ‘They normally play as a 3 piece, with bass, drums, a little sax and vocals which sound like they are coming out of someone’s mouth who has been trapped in a basement for 20 years and staying alive by licking the mould that grows on beer barrels.’

It’s a fair summary, although there’s more than a little sax here. But no violins. For all the sonic assault, they’re very much pacifists.

There’s nothing like easing the listener into an album gently, and the twenty-three minute opener, ‘Ioniser’ is absolutely nothing like easing the listener into an album gently. An overloading crackle and buzz churns and distorts like hell. It eventually settles into a Shellac-like groove, hectic Todd Trainer-esque drumming driving a grungy low-end grind that provides the backdrop for a display of vocal contortions that celebrate all things tortured and guttural.

Christ, that bass! It’s so low and grindy it could relieve constipation within a matter of bars, and against a jazz-influenced rhythm played with explosive force, ‘Shan patter’ is an absolute beast. The vocals are barely audible and as low, if not lower, than the bass, a chthonic gurgle

‘Shenanigans’ has the looping structure of a dance track crossed with the nagging circular motifs that defined Therapy’s sound on Nurse – only it’s a twisted jazz-funk odyssey, and it’s a complete contrast with the ultra-slow, ultra-minimalist drone-plod of ‘Wallow’ that crawls into a droning boom of repetition, a single chord ringing out for an eternity, the sustain twisting to feedback. Any Sunn O))) comparisons are entirely justified, although the percussion has a certain swing that lifts it from the domain of sludgy doomy drone and into that of something more jazz/low grunge in style.

And if the title of the final cut inspires references to Derek an Clive, the thirteen-minute ‘Horn’ is less to inspire a rush of blood to the penis than a crawling sensation over the skin as another lumbering bassline strolls, battered, bruised, dust and dirt-covered from amidst a fizz of noise before a heavy-hearted brass brays, wails, and honks all over.

While the freeform elements of the pieces give them a sense of looseness, or non-conformity, of spontaneity, of disarray, the way they come together so tightly and intuitively on the extended riffy segments is indicative of a real musical competence and a high level of intuition. It’s special and it’s rare. And it’s a defining feature of an album that’s properly heavy, and at the same time, way jazzy without sucking.

AA

a0908613782_10

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.

AA

a1432357693_10

Cruel Nature Records – 19th June 2020

Christopher Nosnibor

Much as I love living in York because of The Fulford Arms, and the ease of access to limitless gigs in Leeds (without having to actually live in Leeds), I’m starting to think that Newcastle is the place to be.

Cruel Nature’s roster is reason alone, and this latest offering from full-throttle noisemakers Ballpeen is exemplary. Three years on from their first live show and, the band have established themselves, ‘through releases on premier DIY punk label, Serial Bowl Records’. As the press release recounts, ‘2018’s ‘Loose Knot’ with its wry nod to Black Flag in title and excellent artwork, rapped five across the listener’s brow from the get-go, with its attention-grabbing power and undulating groove, coursing through the 6 tracks, leaving you thirsty – but not miserable – for more’.

In attempting to capture the energy of their live performances, Pachinko is a relentlessly balls-out, up front amalgamation of all things post-hardcore, with a big, bold 90s slant that evokes the spirit of Touch & Go and Amphetamine Reptile, as well as contemporaneous little UK labels like Eve Recordings and Jackass.

At times, it feels like we’re wading through endless indie sameness, and even so much alternative music, spanning metal, hardcore, post-hardcore and whatever else you’ve got simply fails to hit the spot, and I’ve felt listless, uninspired many evenings while reviewing these last few weeks. And then Pachinko slams in with a proper smack to the chops and I’m instantly reinvigorated and reminded of all of the reasons for music. Pachinko is distilled excitement. The album’s eight tracks are packed back-to-back and are all the guitars, spasmodic, jolting, big distortion. The fact it’s a mere twenty-one minutes in duration indicates the density and hell-for-leather pace of the album, which last less time than it takes some bands to tune up, or in the case of Sunn O))), to strike the first chord.

Pachinko isn’t pretty: it’s direct, and drives straight for the jugular. Following the lurching drive of ‘One Man’s Opinion’, a thorny mess of Killing Joke and early Therapy? with a dash of Milk, ‘Flipper’ brings a downtuned churning riff assault, before ‘Ornate Coleman’ slugs out a messy morass of guitar-driven abrasion.

Blending Trail of Dead and Blacklisters at their most attacking, or to pluck lesser-known but perhaps more accurate reference points, Tar, Guzzard, and Hora Douse all spin into Ballpeen’s sonic blast.

‘Kancho’ goes full-on Bleach era Nirvana with a driving, circular riff and sprays of feedback bursting from the halts in the crushing percussion. It’s heavy in a relentless, churning way. Some songs, like the closer, ‘No Mark’ are straight-ahead hardcore punishers that are Black Flag and all the hardcore releases Southern Lord have released in the last five years rolled together and deep-fried in breadcrumbs that stick in the throat simply to choke you.

No prisoners. No respite. Just full-on fury. The best.

AA

ballpeen outer

Cruel Nature Records / Sapien Music – 6th March 2020

Christopher Nosnibor

This is one of those releases that doesn’t piss about: ‘Mambo’ blasts in with a squall of discordant guitar and shuddering bass that immediately calls to mind Shellac and The Jesus Lizard, and it’s one of those ‘holy shit!’ Moments where you remember why coming into this kind of stuff in the early 90s was such a revelation. It’s the combination of power and unpredictability that was exciting them and still is now, and Tankengine have both in spades, zooming off every which way on the crash of a cymbal.

It shouldn’t come as a surprise: two members of Tankengine were previously in Yourcodenameis: milo, and the disparate elements that defined their work are abundantly in evidence here. And so as not to confuse this, their second EP, with their eponymous debut, they’ve named it twice. Consequently, I no longer quite so strongly feel the urge to form a band and name it Minotaur, with a view to the first tour being labelled the Minotaur Tour, the tour in support of the eponymous album the Minotaur Minotaur Tour, and the tour supporting the stop-gap EP before the second album the Minotaur Minor Tour. I also digress spectacularly.

The point I’m coming to is that Tankegine live up to the connotations of their name from the opening bars of opener ‘Mambo’, which twists and winds its way through a succession of sections that sound like completely different songs smooshed together yet somehow find a flow in some perverse mathtastic way. It’s all topped off with vocals that sound a bit like Jello Biafra, and it’s punk to the max. Hard on its heels, ‘Giant’ is everything all at once, a driving grunge beast with moments that sound like Talking Heads emerge between proggier segments, while there’s more of a John Lydon intonation in the vocals

‘Swagger’ sounds like it’s going to be a ballad, and it maintains a lower tempo, but shifts from being introspective and reflective, into a roaring inferno of anguish and overdriven guitar, and ‘Banshee’ combines post-hardcore aggression and shouting with a heavy goth hue, with a throbbing bass groove and chorus-coated guitars and a baritone croon.

On paper, it portrays as something between an identity crisis and a breakdown, but in the ears, it’s an identity crisis and a breakdown that resolves itself with a strange cohesion, and it’s all manifest in the six-minute closer ‘Flicker’, which begins low-key and strolls along and takes it time with some mellow melodies before finally delivering a squalling crescendo worthy of such a tumultuous, tempestuous EP, climaxing in a deafening roar that can only lead to stunned silence.

AA

Tankengine Tankengine

Cruel Nature Records – 9th March 2020

Christopher Nosnibor

Cruel Nature clearly aren’t going for a major cash-in with this release, a 12-years-after-the-fact album containing the final recordings of a band who, while building a cult national following during their existence between 2002 and 2008, were predominantly a local phenomenon in their stomping grounds around Gateshead. Which means you may be forgiven for not being entirely au fait with Marzuraan and their work, of if you haven’t been o the edge of your seat and dripping with anticipation for this limited-to-75-copes cassette compendium.

For those not up to speed (and I’ll include myself here), the potted history of Marzuraan is that they started out as the duo of Pete Burn (guitar) and Lee Stokoe (Culver) (bass) before evolving into a full band with the introduction of Rob Woodcock (drums) and Stu Ellen (voice). ‘Taking their cue from bands such as Melvins; Black Flag; Harvey Milk; Earth; Godflesh and Loop, they soon cemented themselves as a pivotal band in the North East’s burgeoning Drone-rock / Trudge-core scene. Revered locally with a strong cult following nationally, they released 3 studio albums, appeared on countless compilations and split records influencing bands such as Bong and Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs, before disbanding in 2008’. The title, therefore, is on point and self-aware to the max. But t’s never too late, right?

The recordings here – apart from two tracks which featured on an obscure compilation and split 7” back in the day – represent their final cuts, dating back to 2005 and 2006, and they’ve lain neglected in the proverbial vaults ever since.

But if anything, the timing couldn’t be better: what goes around comes around, and heavy music is very much enjoying a renaissance right now, and the north-east scene is also thriving thanks to various acts associated with microlabels represented by Cruel nature and Panurus Recordings.

It’s the seven-minute ‘Morphine Waterfall’ from the Mare Nero compilation that introduces the release, and it’s a dislocated, angular dirge of a tune that plods and trudges disconsolately through barren territory that alludes to early Swans and 90s Touch and Go, along with peer obscuritants like Oil Seed Rape and Zoopsia: it’s grunge distilled and chilled to sub-zero and as it builds toward the end, the guitars become increasingly discordant, while the snarling, rapping vocal becomes increasingly desperate.

It’s Tar and Girls Against Boys that come to mind through the low-end murk of the chunky riff grind of ‘Golden Roman’, and everything is there for a killer tune but the recording, despite having been remastered last year prior to release. It’s as muddy as hell. It doesn’t actually detract, for what I’s worth, and in many ways is integral to the gritty, lo-fi charm.

It very much sets the level: ‘Muckbucket’ and ‘Blowin’ Cool Breeze’ are built around thumping, repetitive riffs, but the guitars are trebly and skew off at divergent angles.

The final track, ‘Moneybox’, which previously featured on a record split with SINK is a doomy trudge that pushes the influence of early Melvins to the fore as it crawls in a sea of howling feedback and a 23bpm percussive trudge that’s paired with a gut-quiveringly downtuned bass. It’s ace. If you can cope with infinite suspense between drum beats and the striking of a single chord, that is.

Ten Years Too Late shows that Marzuraan were both a band of their time, and a band ahead of their time, sounding utterly contemporary now. Maybe it’s time for a reunion…

AA

bandcamp

Cruel Nature Records – 23rd November 2019

No release by a band called corpse tWitcHer was ever going to be pretty. But Bring Your Dead is next level.

The album contains only four tracks, the shortest of which, ‘Opening: The Bird’ is over eight minutes long and pitches some dark atmospherics with low, dank rumblings and mid-range scrapes that twist and taper into a soft fog of ambience with tempered chiming notes ringing out into the mist. It is but an opening, an extended introduction, which paves the way for the speaker-shredding, Sunn O)))-like devastation of ‘Of Bones & Head’ that lands the crushing low drone of guitars like a cement mixer on slow speed, blended with shrieking howl of feedback. This swirling mass of amorphous sound on sound surges and swells for a full eighteen minutes, and while its form is impossible to take a hold of as it shifts and twists, it’s a fully immersive experience. It’s possibly the closest thing to Earth 2 I’ve heard since, well, Earth 2. This is music that packs a suffocating density, and rattles the ribs as well. It vibrates the molecules while crushing the skull. It’s a painful joy, and a joyful pain.

‘A Thorough Necropsy’ grinds out a quarter of an hour of relentlessly heavy, percussion-free sludge that crawls from the speakers and wraps itself around not just your ears or body but your very soul, strangulating and suffocating with its tarry black mass. It’s in the territory whereby guitars melt into a grating morass of noise: struck chords don’t hit but instead billow into a cloud of noise so dense as to choke. There are some anguished, guttural vocals buried beneath it all, I think. It’s the sound of pain beyond words, a charred snarl from the underground. The tempest builds louder and darker around halfway through, and it’s around this point we slip off the face of the planet into another dimension. It’s bleak, but not like death or dying: this is transcendental and bleak and we’re floating in another sphere, buoyed by a sound denser than the Dead Sea.

The final cut, ‘Closing: Sutures’ sews it all up nicely with an expansive rumble of dark ambience that swirls and eddies and billows around in a formless morass of sonic fog. It rumbles around the bowels, the lungs, and the spleen. It sends shivers down the spine and a shudder over the skin. It resonates on a biological, physical level.

Bring Your Dead is heavy, intense, and unsettlingly dark, it doesn’t so much hit the mark as consume it in blackness.

AA

cover

Cruel Nature Records – 17th November 2019

Christophe Nosnibor

Nathalie Stern made her solo debut with Firetales in 2010: almost a decade on, she delivers a follow-up in the form of Nerves and Skin. The album promises to ‘builds on the experimental folk traditions of her debut, awash with vocal harmonies, synth loops and drones but with the maturity of an artist who knows their craft and is top of their game’.

Although now resident in Newcastle, Stern’s roots are Swedish, and it’s traditional Swedish folk which informs her music. While I have precisely no knowledge or experience of Swedish folk music, the compositions here, as the title suggests, conjure a sense of the barest essence of human existence. Nerves and skin the components essential to the senses, especially touch, are here exposed and highly sensitive. As much as anything it’s the organic feel that permeates the album that renders it so subtly affecting as it drifts and melds to form a sort of biological symbiosis with the listener’s internal mechanisms while it plays.

Stern’s voice is the primary instrument here, and she builds layers of harmony, often by unconventional means, with breaths and short, wordless sounds looped to form cyclical motifs atop sparse synth drones

‘Luchdora’ brings low-impact, lurching beats that thud soft and there’s a heartbeat thump on ‘Then You Talk of War’, which delves into darker territories with moody bass oscillations over which layers of choral vocals build majestically.

‘Deep Sleep’ wheezes monotonously, a lugubrious drone: Nathalie’s vocal is barely a whisper, haunting, ethereal, the melody a sing-song lullaby with an uncanny, shadowy twist that may not exactly be Chuck Palahniuk, but is still moderately unsettling. ‘Moderately unsettling’ is a fair summary of the atmosphere that creeps across the compositions as the album unfolds. Although fear chords creep all over the gloomy ‘Stig in Lucia’, it’s not overtly dark, but the disembodied vocal echoes evoke a certain cognitive dissonance.

And for all its oddness and otherness, it’s on an instinctive, human level that you experience Nerves and Skin: you feel it, somehow, almost subliminally, and it touches parts rarely reached and in ways that are abstract and indefinably, but nevertheless real.

AA

cover

Cruel Nature Records – 29th July 2019

Christopher Nosnibor

Sometimes, social networking really works. When Facebook isn’t about infighting, trolling, bitching, pissing and moaning, and people accept contact from strangers based on mutual friends and mutual interests, good stuff happens. I can’t exactly recall how I came into contact with James Watts, who runs Newcastle-Upon-Tyne based tape label Panurus productions, but some months after, I ended up performing in London alongside Lump Hammer, one of his numerus musical vehicles, thanks to another mutual friend with a penchant for big, noisy guitars who found me via Aural Aggro reviews. And so it came to pass that said mutual friend – Owen, from Modern Technology – introduced me and Steve Strode, who’s also in a bad and who also runs another Newcastle-based tape label, Cruel Nature Records. Fret! happen to feature Strode on guitar (twang), alongside Rob Woodcock (credited with ‘flails / screams’) and Cath Tyler (‘thrum / la’). And with cover art by Tom McCarthaigh, the design/layout is courtesy of none other than James Watts. It really is a small world. Especially in Newcastle.

This is lo-fi, low-budget, scuzzy. The production is proper rough, the guitar sound fuzzed-out and unpolished – we’re in home-recorded four-track demo quality here, with crackling at the edges and needles pushing the top ends of red, and opener ‘Belly’ comes on like early Fall with its repetitive riffage played rough ‘n’ ready. It seems fitting, not only because this is a cassette release, but because this is underground in every way.

On the lumbering slow-pace riff noise of ‘Hucknall’ (pretty much all of the titles are indecipherable one-worders), there’s a hoarse howl all bit buried in the mix, by accident or design, countered by a drawing monotone counterpoint. ‘Davy’ goes for the all-out screaming racket that not quite metal but is unquestionably all-out in its frenzied brutality, but most of the album favours the frenetic but contained blistering squall of 90s alternative. By which I mean bands like Fudge Tunnel, Terminal Cheesecake, Helmet, are all viable and appropriate reference points, and by which it should be apparent that this is a monster riffageous racket of the highest order. ‘SUSD’ sows it down, grinding away at a repetitive cyclical riff that’s as messy as hell, wash with distortion, reverb, and tremolo, while ‘Cowboy’ piledrives into got/psychobilly/hardcore/crust-punk territory with obliterative fury.

Is there an element of nostalgia in the appeal of this, as a 43-year old fan of grunge and more subterranean 90s alternative? Well, naturally, but that really isn’t the primary appeal here. What appeals about A Vanity Spawned By Fear is the simple fact that it’s raw and uncompromising and blindingly intense. It isn’t pretty or nice, and isn’t supposed to be. It wouldn’t work if it was.

The last track, ‘Country’ is a slow, hesitant cross between early Pavement and Shellac. But A Vanity Spawned is most definitely not derivative, and there’s nothing remotely lifted or directly referential here. Instead, they amalgamate a mass of influences and condense them in a mould of their own making. It’s hard, heavy, and difficult. Stylistically, it isn’t any one thing, but it’s completely ace.

AA

Fret - Vanity