Posts Tagged ‘Cruel Nature Records’

Cruel Nature Records – 29th October 2021

Christopher Nosnibor

There’s something magnificent about the naming of Oli Heffernan’s project Ivan the Tolerable. It not only places a charming spin on history, neutralising and disarming the fearsome image of ‘the terrible’ with a superbly balanced piece of bathos, but it’s also so very quintessentially English. It’s the weak smile, the stiff upper lip… it’s not terrible. It’s not good either. It’s, you know, tolerable. No-one died. Or only a few people, it could be worse.

Autodidact II is the follow-up to 2018’s Autodidact, separated not only by three tears abut about a dozen releases. Heffernan is nothing if not prolific, and equally, nothing if not diverse.

This fifteen-track behemoth opens with the fifteen-minute ‘Turkish Golden Scissors (Part I) – there are two subsequent, shorter parts, situated strategically about the album. It’s a meandering progressive piece with pseudo-mystical Eastern leanings, a trippy, psychedelic jazz experience that’s utterly baked, man. There’s a trilling keyboard swirling and twirling around in the midst of the sonic sandstorm, and it’s like a collision between a deconstructed Doors track performed by The Necks.

‘Red Throated Diver’, which is centred around acoustic guitar playing a looping, cyclical motif in the style of Michael Gira, paired with some ominous and atmospheric brass and rippling synths, and clocking in at a fraction over two minutes, is a contrast in every way.

The album’s title is perhaps something of a clue to the form, presenting Heffernan as the self-taught experimentalist finding his way as he navigates the sounds in his head and working through ideas and concepts, and Autodiadact II is big on the expansive, rippling Krautrock noodling, with bubbling analogue synth sounds and trilling tones weaving over lower-end oscillations and grind and lay a gurgling, churning bedrock.

Notes chime into space amidst crackling samples and reverberations that connote space voyages – and ultimately being lost in space. It’s appropriate, as Autodidact II is not an album of focus, butt a work that wanders with or without direction in search of… well, what it’s in search if isn’t entirely clear. Not that it matters. The album started life as three separate recording sessions in July and August 2021 as work for a soundtrack to a series of films about psychogeography and North Yorkshire folklore, and as such, if the expanses of North Yorkshire, the moors and beyond, are buried in a sonic fog of otherness, the psychogeographical element reminds us that the end is not the end: it’s all about the journey. And Autodiadact II, while springing numerous surprises and drifting in and out of an array of varied sonic spaces, leads the listener on a unique, if uncertain journey.

AA

a1151846330_10

Cruel Nature Records – 24th September 2021

Christopher Nosnibor

Cruel Nature’s September releases are all about lost classics from Gateshead. Every local scene has those bands who had so much potential to go further afield, and who, given the right exposure, the right breaks, could – and should – have been (inter)national cult icons.

‘Local’ bands so often get a bad rep, as if they’re somehow inferior because they haven’t broken out. Sometimes, it’s misfortune. Sometimes, it’s because of life – dayjobs, family, personal circumstance. And sometimes, it’s simply a lack of ambition to do anything more than make music and play locally, and that’s not reason to judge an act. Not everyone wants to be a global superstar, and of the tend of thousands who do, hardly any make it anyway, so maybe accepting your limitations is a good thing to do, and far healthier than throwing yourself not the rat-race running on the vaguest of hopes of ‘making it’ – whatever that is.

Like turn-of-the-millennium purveyors of brutal harshcore, ODF, R.Y.N. demonstrate a remarkable range and quality of non-mainstream music being played around Gateshead. R.Y.N. was the drone / void ambient project of Gateshead duo Pete Burn and Dean Glaister, active from 2003 to 2011. Like the simultaneous ODF release, Cosmic Death is a retrospective which puts their 2008 albums Astral Death and Cosmic Birth together for the first time as a double cassette package.

Cassette one contains the six tracks from Astral Death, and the eight-minute ‘Conscious Patient’ provides a wonderful introduction into their world of dense, dark, grating dronescaping. Things delve deeper and darker with the nine-minute churning drabness that is ‘The Cleansing’: cleaning is appropriate, and it’s the sonic equivalent of as colonic irrigation. It feels gentle in comparison to the grating metallic oscillations of the third track, ‘Mind Over Mind’. It’s a fifteen-minute thrum, where nothing happens, nothing changes, and it’s not quite harsh noise wall – not least of all because there are shifts in texture and tone – but it’s limited, and a piece that achieves its effect through its sheer relentlessness and lack of variety, the effect of the dense wall of sound being cumulative psychologically.

It’s readily apparent that R.Y.N. had global potential, but for an audience so niche they’d have probably have needed to relocate to Japan to play to an audience of more than fifteen people, unless they’d scored a support with a noise giant like Merzbow or Whitehouse – in which case they may have got to play to 75 or a hundred people on a good night. But quality and quantity are rarely contiguous, and when it comes to creating dark atmosphere, these guys were clearly masters.

‘Cosmic Research Unit’ is still a heavy drone work, but feels softer and leans more toward ambience. It doesn’t get such bleaker than ‘Astral Death’. It sounds like a recording of an engine or a lawnmower, played at reduced pace. It’s like HNW with additional layers of swampsome murk that shift and provide some sense of movement, however slow and lingering.

Cosmic Birth opens with the title track, and picks up where its predecessor left off, with a harsh scraping metallic drone like a machine churning and grating on and on, over which whispering drifts of sonic smoke linger – and it very much sets the tone for the remaining seven tracks, which include two twelve-minute epics in the form of the dank and murky ‘Brain Pictures’, and ‘Creation of Infinity’, both of which lead the listener inside themselves to contemplate those darkest inner recesses, and the fifteen-minute ‘Gravity Drain’, which really pushes the oppressive atmospherics to the limit.

‘Catacombs’ plunges through sonorous and penetrating darkness to arrive, with a bone-rattling percussion way off in the background, at an empty space. And ultimately, the final destination: the somehow incomplete yet equally finite ‘Serpen’, which swirls around ominously and maintains a knife-edge suspense.

After wandering through endless tunnels without light and without any real hope of escape from this claustrophobic aural subterranean, it becomes clear: this is the face of the abyss – from which, there is nothing and no return.

AA

a1776692118_10

Cruel Nature Records – 24th September 2021

Christopher Nosnibor

The lights that burn brightest tend to be the ones that burn briefest, and it’s something of a conflicting pull on the gut that surrounds reflections on this. The idea that acts who quit and artists who died leaving a small but impactful legacy are somehow unfulfilled and that we’ve been deprived of whatever they may have done is counterbalanced by the contention that perhaps curtailing a career at its peak or even still in its ascendency is the best way, and fans will be forever divided on this topic.

What if Ian Curtis had lived, and Joy Division had mutated into New Order? They would have been just another band whose longevity overshadowed that early career, another Manic Street Preachers. Simple Minds should have called it a day in about ’84, and Kasabian’s early promise was spent after just one album.

ODF never lasted long enough to really break out of the locality of Gateshead. As the liner notes to this retrospective observe, they ‘blasted onto the North East’s harshcore scene in 1998 and were gone in a flash three years later; their 2001 split album with Newcastle’s Jazzfinger the only remaining recorded output’. Everything leans toward the attainment of immortal cult status here, and the changes are infinitely more people have heard of the band, or otherwise heard them posthumously than ever did during that brief but explosive career.

This limited cassette, Harshcore 98-00, documents two live shows, both recorded in Gatehead, with the first seven tracks recorded June 2000 at the Floating Cup, Gateshead, and tracks 8-14 recorded June 1998 at the Soundroom, Route 26 Centre, Gateshead.

It’s pretty fucking brutal. Most of the songs in both sets are around the two-minute mark, and it’s as abrasive as hell. The vocals! Rob Woodcock (Marzuraan; Tide Of Iron; Fret!; Platemaker et al) sounds like a zombie from The Walking Dead on amphetamines, snarling and rasping with the most ravaged-sounding voicebox. There’s a lot going on here: ‘Calisthenics’ brings all kinds of jazz and math elements alongside the full-on, balls-out wild thrasher, and the fifty-five second ‘Aggressive Lowbrow’ brings everything all at once in a racket that suits the title.

Despite the close proximity of the sets, there’s a clear evolution here, so it’s a little frustrating that they’re presented in reverse chronology on the release. The ’98 set is less evolved, less detailed, less jazz, less multi-faceted, and more of its time – brimming with samples and songs that are little short of whirling explosions of whiplash-inducing racket, with ‘O.D.F. Will Kick Your Lame Ass Motherfucker!’ being exemplary, but also marking the band’s first forays into different terrains, with hints of swagger emerging amongst the frenzied racket. It’s gnarly, it’s intense, and it’s fucking punishing. And it really makes you wish you had been there.

AA

a1380330890_16

Cruel Nature Records – 27th August 2021

Christopher Nosnibor

Zero Gap is a truly international collaboration between Ryosuke Kiyasu (SETE STAR SEPT, Fushitsusha, Shrimp, etc, aka ‘the Japanese guy with a snare drum’ and WATTS (Lump Hammer, Plague Rider, Lovely Wife, aka that beardy growly bloke) that proves that location is a state of mind. Recorded oceans and continents apart, there is zero gap between the two artists as they hammer out half an hour of sonic abrasion, created, as the accompanying notes explain, ‘entirely from one snare and one delay drenched throat’.

If on the surface the snare drum seems to have only limited potential, then Kiyasu doesn’t exactly disprove that, in that it sounds like snare drum throughout. But the guy finds every conceivable way of rendering that snare sound, from rapidfire hits and rolls and crashes through clattering blasts and builds, and the still finds ways beyond conception to conjure yet more dynamic range from the simplest of instruments.

Against this clattering, clanking, thunderous barrage of percussion, Watts delivers a vocal performance that quite simply doesn’t sound like a vocal performance for the majority of the time. From a whispering moan like a distant solar wind, to a gurgling drain to a chthonic babble, he’s got immense range. It might not quite be Mike Patton’s Adult Themes for Voice, but it’s still impressive – and I mean eye-poppingly wide-ranging and weird. Best of all, Watts grasps when less is more, at times uttering little more than barely audible grunts and burps at long intervals. Snarling and snapping like a zombie in The Walking Dead, one moment, to barking like a rabid dog the next, Watts is wildly unpredictable, and often quite simply doesn’t sound human. Perhaps he isn’t. At times unsettling, unnerving, others plein scary, he snarls, growl and gargles his way through the creation of some quite strange soundscapes.

Everything works well in context, too: at times, Kiyasu pulls back on the battery of beats to taper down to some barely-there hints of sound, and the two not only are incredibly egalitarian in the distribution of the prominence of their contributions, but they seems to intuitively grasp the need for ebbs and flows, crescendos and decrescendos, making Zero Gap a work that feels like a journey, and even if it’s a journey without a clear end point, it’s a journey punctuated by events and variations.

Zero Gap isn’t abstract as such, but it does, most definitely stretch the boundaries of music. It is ultra-niche, but in the global village it’s the kind of thing that has the potential for significant cult reach. The pair deserve it: Zero Gap is far out in the best way. Crazy, inventive, innovative, not giving a fuck for convention, it’s an album that carves its own niche.

Captured as a single track spanning thirty-two minutes, it’s unusually a release that works best digitally (and dare I even say it, it, could make a nice CD), but then this is an unusual release. My advice? Dive into the dark stuff.

AA

cover

Cruel Nature Records – 11th June 2021

Christopher Nosnibor

We’re in eerie electronics territory here. Haunting, creepy. Suspenseful. There’s something of a vintage sci-fi feel to this nightmarish trip, as gurgles and scrapes bibble up through swamps of whistling organ-like drones. It’s a dark record, but not because it relies on heavy drones, low, rumbling, doomy bass, hard volume or distortion: Folklore Of Despair worms its way into the psyche, prodding and poking stealthily into the recesses of the subconscious, gently rubbing and scratching at those small, nagging uncertainties that stem from the fear of the unknown. Whistles and bleeps intermingle with tense violin-type drones and quibbling analogue sounds, spooky, spectral notes and crashing crunches which disrupt the flow and create a different kind of tension, one that feels like things are going out of control and colliding on every side, a catastrophic nightmare where carks skid into one another as every third driver find their steering no longer works or their brakes have been cut. It’s disorientating, and the effect is so strong because everything about the album is so unpredictable.

There are no conventional structures here, or even any clear structures at all. Like the best suspense movies, the unexpected always occurs unexpectedly. The tense build-ups are often false markers, but then again, there’s not much letup in the tension, which they sustain and sustain, and your nerves are jangling because your gut tells you ‘something isn’t right’.

Things get really weird really fast: second track ‘Darkness is Driving the Machine of Debauchery’ is quite headfuck, as glitches and warping sounding like a stretched and buckled tape struggling to traverse over the heads. It squeaks and squeals and sounds as if whatever was recorded on the tape before is bleeding through, like voices from the other side – I’m reminded tangentially of the 7” containing sample recordings of voices from the ether that accompany Konstantin Raudive’s 1971 book, Breakthrough: An Amazing Experiment in Electronic Communication with the Dead (something that would feed into the theories expounded by William Burroughs on the tape experiments he conducted withy Brion Gysin).

An actual voice, murky, muffled, drifts, disembodied and strange through the creeping chords on ‘If the Forest Ate the Trees’, where the notes drift like fog, but there’s more to its being unsettling than that: there’s an otherness, a strangeness you can’t quite put your finger on, as if maybe the drifting fog in the graveyard scene has been filmed in reverse. It’s the fact it’s difficult to pinpoint that heightens the effect so.

Thunderous beats – distant, as if playing in a club three blocks away – pulse, deep, and bassy, on ‘Floral Patterned Gearshift’, and the sound is all but drowned out by the shrill, clamorous shrieking synapse-shattering tweets that flurry like a swarm of bats scurrying and flurrying. You have to fight the impulse to duck to avoid the aural assailants, invisible yet somehow tangible in the mind’s eye.

At times, everything simply collapses into chaotic cacophony. It’s hard to process, and ever harder to digest. Folklore Of Despair is a complex and uncomfortable album, which is nothing the title hints it may be. I’m not even entirely certain what it is, but it leaves you feeling jittery, jumpy and on edge.

AA

a0307778435_10

Cruel Nature Records – 5th March 2021

Christopher Nosnibor

Aiden Baker’s releases have become a regular feature here at Aural Aggravation. His prodigious output, not only as a solo artist, but through innumerable collaborations, often released through Gizeh Records, have given us no shortage of material to contemplate and ruminate over. It’s often hard to keep up with his output,

Stimmt was first released digitally back in 2015 on Broken Spine Productions, and has been was remixed and remastered for its first physical format outing via Cruel Nature in a limited edition of 60 cassettes (as well as digitally again).

Baker is to guitar what John Cage and Reinhold Friedl were / are to piano, with the ‘prepared’ guitar being a prominent feature of his musical arsenal, along with an array of other ‘alternative’ methods of playing, across a genre span that incorporates elements of rock, electronic, classical, and jazz, within his broadly ambient / experimental works

Stimmt sits at the more overtly ‘rock’ end of Baker’s stylistic spectrum, launching with the heavy riffology of ‘Dance of the Entartet’ that’s got a prog vibe but comes on with a heavily repetitious throb that owes more to Swans than Pink Floyd or Yes. The percussion crashes away hard but it’s almost buried in the overloading guitar assault that’s cranked up to the max and is straining to feed back constantly throughout, before it wanders off into ‘Atemlos’, where it’s the strolling bass that dominates as the guitars retreat to the background and sampled dialogue echoes through the slightly jazz-flavoured ripples. It’s here that things begin to feel less linear, more meandering, and the chiming post-rock sections feel less like an integral part of a journey and more like detours – pleasant, appropriate detours, but detours nevertheless – and it culminates in a climactic violin-soaked crescendo.

Veering between hazy shoegazey ambience that borders on abstraction, and mellifluous post-rock drifts, Stimmt is varied, and, oftentimes, rich in atmosphere. ‘Mir’ is very much a soporific slow-turner that casts a nod to Slowdive, but with everything slowed and sedated, wafting to an inconclusive finish.

The lumbering ‘Staerken’ stands out as another heavy-duty riffcentric behemoth: it’s low, it’s heavy, and finds Baker exploring the range of distortion effects on his pedal board, stepping from doom sludge to bolstering shred and back, and there’s a deep, crunchy bass that grinds away hard, boring at the bowels and hangs, resonating at the end.

After the full-on overloading ballast of ‘Quer’ that really does go all out on the abrasion, with squalling guitar paired with a nagging bass loop that’s reminiscent of The God Machine (the track as a while, calls to mind ‘Ego’ from their debut Songs From the Second Story), closer ‘Resolut’ is eight minutes of semi-ambient prog.

It’s a lot to digest, and it’s certainly not an easy pigeonhole, but it’s an intriguing album that stands out as being quite different both musically, and in the context of Baker’s output. Unusual but good, and offering much to explore.

AA

cover

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