Posts Tagged ‘Dark-Ambient’

Christopher Nosnibor

Coldwell’s own notes which accompany this – truly epic – album explains and articulates it best, when he writes ‘This new retrospective is certainly not your typical album. Each track is almost an album in its own right! The material sees CC at his most experimental, stripped back, noisy and immersive. Following on from last year’s Music for Documentary Film, this collection gathers together some of Michael C Coldwell’s sound art work and music written for exhibition and gallery contexts.’

This is very much one of the benefits of the digital format: there is no restriction of duration on account of data capacity. Time was when physical formats restricted the running time of a release, with a vinyl LP optimally running for around forty-five minutes but having the capacity to squeeze in about an hour, with CDs being able to hold seventy-two minutes and while a cassette could – precariously – take two hours, no-one released a two-hour single cassette.

Conflux Coldwell’s collection of installation works is immense, and with a running time of around two-and-a-quarter hours, it’s in the realms of recent Swans albums. While it’s by no means a brag, I’ve endured longer, notably Frank Rothkamm’s twenty-four-disc, twenty-four-hour Werner Process, and am also aware of Throbbing Gristle’s legendary 24 Hours cassette box set, but the point is, Coldwell has really made the most of the space available to him here.

I sometimes differentiate albums as being foreground or background, and Music for Installation is very much background, the very definition of ambient. That isn’t to say it’s uninteresting or unengaging. It’s simply a vast set of field recordings and sound collages that make you feel as if you’re in a certain environment. Unlike the aforementioned Swans albums, which I find are difficult to listen to because they require a commitment of time to sit with them and focus, to actively listen, Music for Installation is a very different beast which works while rumbling on while you’re doing other things. And as an experience, this very much works.

The fifty-five minutes excerpt (!) of Remote Viewer is exemplary. Passing cars, scrapes, drones, the sound of metal on metal, clanking, indistinguishable muttered dialogue, and extraneous sounds that range from – possibly – the rush of wind to the sound of feet gently passing on creaking timbers, all sit side by side and overlap in various shapes to create a latticework of real-life founds the likes of which you probably would ignore if you even noticed them at all under normal circumstances. Of course, if this is an excerpt, where’s the rest? It’s the kind of immersive soundwork that could run for hours and that would be perfectly fine.

The live performance of ‘Dead Air’, which runs for an album-length headline performance is superb. It’s testing, but it’s also magnificently executed. The sounds and textures are balanced, but the overall sound is gloopy. The result is a piece that’s creepy, evocative, and dissonant, and built around wailing whistles and pulsating drones that coalesce intro their own organic rhythms, drawing together elements of Kraftwerk and Throbbing Gristle to conjure a dark, dingy soundscape.

‘Dismantle the Sun’, running for fourteen minutes feels concise in comparison. It’s barely there for the most part, the most ambient of field recordings. It’s hard to identify any of the individual sources, but again, there are rhythms that emerge from the rumble off passing cars and the whisper of the wind, and the piece transitions both sonically and spatially as it progresses, at times evolving from a whisper to a howl. One feels a sense of movement, which in turn creates a sense of disorientation, although the voiceover detailing ‘solar oscillations’ in the closing minutes provides a certain grounding.

The final brace of compositions, ‘Alternating Current’ and ‘The Specious Present (How Long is Now?), which have a combined time of around ten minutes feel like barely snippets or sketches in comparison to the other three immense pieces, but what they lack in duration, they compensate in depth, being richly textured and showcasing some interesting beats and conjuring some dark, confined spaces. And for all its vastness, Music for Installation is quite a dense, claustrophobic experience at times – and it’s a quite remarkable experience, too.

AA

cover

Midira Records – 25th November 2022

Christopher Nosnibor

This album is, as the title suggests, a soundtrack work. Although released under the moniker Houses of Worship, it’s essentially the second album by Thisquietarmy x Hellenica.

The summer of 2020 saw Eric Quach (thisquietarmy) and Jim Demos (Hellenica) come together to record a collaborative album, which emerged as Houses of Worship, described as ‘an epic work of experimental industrial ambient, is an ode to dying buildings and the unwelcome gentrification of neighborhoods’.

This, the follow-up, came about after they ‘played their first concerts in the streets of Montreal from inside of a cube truck. These performances were filmed and recorded to produce "TQAXHLNKA: MIGRATION,” a twenty-two-minute experimental art documentary and an accompanying soundtrack. The film simulated the cautionary tale of what the Montreal arts and music scene could look like in a post-pandemic world. As the title suggests, it reflects the highly concerning exodus of artists constantly being divided and pushed out further from their community.’

At twenty-two minutes in duration, it’s a minute short of the magic spot, but this is a magnificently atmospheric work that goes beyond dark ambience and ventures into the vastly cinematic, space-drifting expansiveness that transports the listener beyond the terrestrial domain.

The album contains more audio than the film’s running time, and drags the listener through a bleak journey which articulates via the medium of sound the themes and scenes which preoccupy the duo, who explain, ‘With the current struggles linked to the pandemic restrictions, we have seen the acceleration of the gentrification process in neighborhoods where the heart of these activities takes place. As a result, a multitude of venues, studios and artistic spaces – places used for exchanging ideas with our peers and building communities meant to inspire and nurture our souls had to shut down.’

The tone is dark, the textures industrial, yet tinged with echo-heavy melancholy, a combination of anger, emptiness, and sadness. The soaring drones inspire a certain elevation, while the gritty grind is the sound of construction, regeneration. Gentrification is the face of capitalism eating itself; having run out of new ideas, it’s simply fallen into a cycle of recreation and rehashing. Upscaling, upwhatevering, it’s all about selling the new version of the same od shit at a higher price to the same saturated market. When will enough ever be enough?

Meanwhile, capitalism follows the former tropes of the avant-garde, destroying to rebuild, and Migration is the soundtrack to that.

There are lots of drones, lots of dolorous tones, lots of scraping, sinewy mid-range and gravel-grabbing, churning lower spectrum sounds, as well a haunting piano and infinite empty space. The titles paint the picture in themselves, and it’s dark, smoggy, sulphurous. ‘Total Waste Management’; ‘Polytethylene Terephthalate’; ‘Oil Terminal Tank Farm’ are all evocative of stark industrial scenes.

‘Industrial Estate Bird’s-Eye’ is a haunting wail, presumably of a theremin – over a low, throbbing drone that’s reminiscent of Suicide, and elsewhere, the duo conjure thick, billowing clouds of doom that sound like Sunn O))) behind a power station, as dense rumbles ripple forth. The twelve-and-a-half-minute finale, ‘Throbbing Magnetics’ fulfils the promise of its title, a bucking beast of claustrophobic, crushing gloom, and you feel yourself dragged into the sludge of that relentless, interminable cycle of collapse and construct.

It’s an accomplished work, but a depressing one, and listening places to the fore the abject nature of late capitalism, and the fact that any attempt to save the planet is futile in the face of the onslaught of bulldozers. Redevelopment has nothing to do with environment, only profit, and hard as you might rebel, as strongly as you may protest, you’re powerless against the big money. It’s not a conspiracy, it’s the sad truth. Houses of Worship recognise this. They may hope for better, but Migration is not a protest record, but the sound of grim acceptance.

AA

a3486628679_10

The Circle Music – 9th September 2022

Christopher Nosnibor

Dakini, the debut album by Lisa Hammer (Requiem In White, Mors Syphilitica) was originally released back in 2009. It’s been described as ‘music for ritual, introspection and awakening of the senses’, ‘a complete manifesto of inner search in which a lot of influences from different genres of music’, and that it was ‘designed to carry the listener away from the manifest world and into a deeper space’.

Re-released here on limited coloured vinyl as an expanded release with three additional tracks, it provides an ideal opportunity for existing fans to re-evaluate, and reacquaint themselves, and for latecomers to be introduced.

It happens that I’m in the latter camp, and so am coming to the album with fresh ears, and only the facts that it’s pitched as being for fans of Dead Can Dance while promising ‘unprecedented vocals, sometimes angelic and sometimes damned as if they come from another period forgotten by the time.

Now, one might ask, if the original release was a ‘complete manifesto’, is the inclusion of additional tracks not gilding the lily? Especially when considering that ‘the Indian ragas correspond with times of the day, so the album represents a condensed 24 hours, which is perfect for ritual, or any emotional and spiritual trip.’ In context, there is the question off how to assimilate the additional material in the least obtrusive way, with the least impact on the flow that is so integral to the original concept?

Opening the album with a new, seven-minute ‘Alte Clamat Epicurus’ works nicely; it’s an evocative vocal incantation with a sparse droning backing. It sounds – in the mind’s eye, and with a small soupçon of imagination – like a sunrise, like an awakening. Hammer sounds both otherworldly and most incredibly earthy, which is no small feat – but then, I find that this is something particular to music, particularly vocalisations, which tap into echoes of ancient spirituality. While exalting the heavens, there feels as though there is a deeper connection with the ground, the rocks, trees, the elements. It paves the way perfectly for ‘In Taberna Quando Sumus’; simple, rhythmic, repetitive. As the album progresses, one becomes attuned to the sense of an arc, of a cycle, and Hammer leads the listener on a journey inside. Some of the musical arrangements are so minimal as to be barely there, the sound of the wind and cavernous reverberations, while others are centred around hypnotic percussion and wordless choral vocalisations, as on the powerful ‘Samsara’ and the lilting, ethereal ‘Vajra’.

That flow is disrupted somewhat with a dance mix of ‘Chant Nr 5’ dropped as the fourteenth track at the end of side three. In the sense that it bookends the side, which opens with the original version, it makes some sort of sense, but still… it’s incongruous, sweeping away the drifting incense with a busy beat and quavering organ tone. Perhaps this is why I’m always hesitant to use the term ‘world’ music: it’s such a western-centric view of the globe, where ‘the world’ is vast and the west occupies only a sliver of it, both geographically and culturally. In the west, the west is the world and perceives its cultural dominance as such. It’s a badly skewed perspective.

While Dakini incorporates elements of what would commonly be described as ‘world’ music, it’s really ‘world’ music in that it truly embraces music from the world in its full breadth, with the delicate sing-song of ‘Lullaby’ perhaps owing more to western traditions and showing that for Hammer, all sources are equal, and it makes for a rich and moving listening experience.

Side four ends, and closes the album, with the third and final bonus track, ‘Hurdy Gurdy Gavotte’. And there, it sits perfectly.

803437

The Helen Scarsdale Agency – HMS064 – 6th May 2022

Christopher Nosnibor

As William Burroughs said of his collaboration with Brion Gysin, The Third Mind, ‘No two minds ever come together without, thereby, creating a third, invisible force which may be likened to a third mind’. This wasn’t an entirely original concept, as he was referencing Napoleon Hill’s self-help book Think and Grow Rich, published in the 1930s. Self-help books are notorious for dispensing band advice and convincing the incapable that they’re capable of anything, but there’s a powerful shred of truth in this nugget: collaboration can – although there are absolutely no guarantees – throw open portal and new horizons and unlock unexpected avenues and whole worlds of potential. That more or less all of my attempts at collaboration have swiftly ended in failure – or, more accurately, fallen apart without producing anything more than a few paragraphs at best – probably says more about me than collaboration or my collaborators, but then when things have worked out… Yes, they’ve delivered. When it happens, it really happens. You can’t force or predict ‘gelling’: it simply happens, or it doesn’t, and when it does, alchemy ensues. You tend to find that strengths and weaknesses interlock, and all bases are covered, to use a poor assemblage of cliches.

The accompanying text for the third production from the Stelzer/Murray project says that it ‘hits a sweet spot of slippery, industrial occultation that harkens back to an almost forgotten period of music from the late ‘80s and early ‘90s. Think Cranioclast, Arcane Device, Phauss, Small Cruel Party, Organum, and pretty much everything from the Quiet Artworks label… Exquisitely composed and overtly nocturnal without ever falling into the tropes of dark ambient and with plenty of gestures, signals, and threats that allude to any number of allegorically inclined processes (i.e. tape manipulation, time-delay accumulation, electro-acoustic minimalism, etc.).’

No question, despite their apparent absence of recollection of the actual process, Stelzer and Murray are the perfect foils for one another. Alchemy clearly has ensued – but make no mistake, this is some seriously dark alchemy, conjuring thick, black clouds of lung-clogging smoke that drifts, chokes, and suffocates.

On Commit, the atmosphere is dark, dank, doomy. The album is structured over two sides with the two parts of the title track, clocking in at around nine minutes apiece occupying side one before the nineteen-minute gloomfest that is ‘The House is Coming from Inside the Call’ smogging blurrily all over side two. The two parts of ‘Commit’ are darkly intense. They rumble and drone, groan and grind. There ae slow swells of cymbal, and a distant clicking, glitching that pulses time on ‘Commit 2’

is ‘The House is Coming from Inside the Call’ is sparse yet intense, and manifests as a series of movements over its duration. The atmosphere is heavy and oppressive, and the noise builds – and it is indeed noise that builds: it starts off as light drone and evolves into a thundering blast of grinding noise, clattering clanks of machinery and a howling siren that warns of danger, of imminent doom. You want to run for cover, to tale refuge, but there’s no escape and no shelter: thirteen minutes in and it’s built to a gut-churning, punishing churn of industrial noise, with clattering spanners and metal grating against metal.

In the dingy realms of dark ambient, Commit is a strong piece of work. It is dark, and dense, and intense. It possesses an unforgiving density, and it only gets darker and denser as it progresses. It’s an immersive and well-realised work, but Christ, is it bleak.

AA

HMS064_front

Muzamuza – 8th April 2022

Christopher Nosnibor

Eighteen months on from Alms of Guilt and the prodigious Newcastle sound artist Kevin Wilkinson, aka brb>voicecoil returns with Dissolve into the Now. Active for over a quarter of a century, his field remains staunchly experimental and underground.

Forged from founds sounds subsequently manipulated and mauled beyond recognition, the majority of the seven compositions on Dissolve into the Now are briefer than on its predecessor, with more than half compressed into under five minutes. But what that compression of time also translates to is a compression of density. Wilkinson describes the album as the ‘audio equivalent of a bag of cats’. If only it had even one cuddly feature. Dissolve into the Now is pretty bloody difficult for the most part.

Understanding the title of the first piece, ‘The Great Antagnoiser’ as a play on ‘The Great Annihilator’ (not only a Swans album, but, perhaps more significantly, the name of a microquasar surrounding a black hole in the Milky Way), it seems appropriate for this springing, glitching, fragmentary spray of sound collapsing into atomic particles. It’s like an entire library of samples splintering as they’re dragged along a conveyor belt before being sucked to their doom. It paves the way for increasingly murky, and increasingly fractured, pieces constructed from later upon later of darkness and dissonance.

‘Assimilate 5.1’ is bleak, ominous, dark; sounds that evoke flames and the screams of animals as they flee a forest fire are half-audible amidst a mid-range thrum. Shifting, scratching, rumbling… there’s much by way of atmosphere, and none of it’s pleasant of comfortable, but at the same time, there’s nothing tangible to take hold of through this ever-shifting work. Frequencies sweep in and out, bubble and burst, fizz and fade in the blink of an eye, everything fermenting in a soup of miscellanea. It’s like a neurological explosion. Time and tapes run backwards at his speed in the erasural ‘The Fact it was Removed Doesn’t Mean it Never Existed’. By this point, everything’s really starting to fuck with your head, and that’s before the dubby-bass barrage of ‘Nod to the Mu’, which might be a dance track if it wasn’t subject to being mixed by a strimmer and mastered by a wood chipper and spat out as dust and pulp.

The first of the album’s two longer tracks (running over eight minutes), ‘Sycophant They Are – Watch Them’ is a frothing, foaming, fizzing mess of flickering circuitry spasms which shares common ground with Gintas K’s work. The second of the longer pieces is the closer, ‘Assimilate 5.2’, and it’s here everything is incinerated under the roar of a jet engine, leaving nothing but scorched earth. Obliterated, dissolved, we’re left with nothing but air and the roar of silence.

AA

a0405806990_10

Pelagic Records – 15th March 2022

Christopher Nosnibor

Is there anyone Lustmord hasn’t collaborated with, or otherwise touched (metaphorically) in some way?

Lustmord, aka Welsh-born Brian Williams embarked on his musical career back in 1980: that’s a forty-two year span now, and the range of artists he’s collaborated with while forging a staggering output of solo releases is beyond staggering. Having emerged from the early industrial milieu and the circlers of Throbbing Gristle, Coil, and SPK, of which he was a member for a time, Lustmord is generally hailed as the progenitor of the dark ambient genre.

A tribute / covers album feels appropriate, then, and the selection of contributors to The Others – Lustmord Deconstructed includes Ulver, Enslaved, Godflesh, Zola Jesus, Katatonia’s Jonas Renske, Jo Quail, The Ocean, MONO and more.

It’s noteworthy that the tracks are credited to ‘Lustmord &…’ as if in collaboration – but then again, isn’t any cover a collaboration of kinds, albeit distant and disconnected? A meeting of minds across time and space.

And so, ahead of the release of The Others – Lustmord Deconstructed, Zola Jesus has shared her cover of ‘Prime’, from the 2020 album Stockholm, recorded live in 2011 and released in 2014. She comments, “As a longtime fan of Lustmord’s work, the opportunity to combine landscapes was like a dream. I’m so inspired by the space and stillness within his music. I wanted to experiment with his way of keeping music on a slow boil, mostly to challenge my own propensity for maximalism.”

It’s certainly a departure from ZJ’s usual style of epic, string-soaked theatrical dramatics, but at the same time, it has all of the rich atmosphere you’d expect. Her gothic, operatic vocal is very much kept in check here, echoing ethereally around a dark rumbling growl of abstraction is melded to a heartbeat. It’s tense, and channels a dark energy that’s almost spiritual. It’s the haunting, otherworldly sound of decay, of tremors from the depths of an ancient sepulchre. It’s mystical, magical, and magnificent.

AA

PEL183-V the others - trifold v08 print.cdr

Everest Records – 14th January 2021

Christopher Nosnibor

Language is fluid, it evolves. Sometimes I appreciate that, and like the fact. Other times, this is something which can be intensely frustrating, and it seems the meaning of hypernormal has evolved – seems to have been reconfigured, rechannelled – with remarkable rapidity. Initially, it was something of a colloquialism, an on-trend sassy term to describe something that was so normal it was beyond bland.

The connotations of the scarily mundane, the individual who was so lacking individuality that they made clones appear unique, which emerged late in the first decade of the new millennium remained largely stable until Adam Curtis delivered his seismic three-hour documentary in 2016, which espoused the theory that HyperNormalisation is a process whereby a mundane, readily-digested version of life and society has been superimposed over the complex world by those in power. And so according to this, we now live in a ‘fake’ world. And this concept of a constructed reality overlaying the true reality seems unsettlingly feasible. What, and who can you trust or believe? Trust no-one; believe nothing.

Perhaps because I think too much and don’t sleep enough, I’ve wondered ever since I was a child if the world we live in is real, or if we’re all figments of our own imagination, and if reality is a construct. Yes, I experienced existentialism combined with some kind of take on The Matrix at the age of five. But I digress, and there is a point to all of this, and that is that nothing is fixed, nothing is certain. We know so little, we don’t even know ourselves.

Pless’ hybrid sound is absolutely not normal, and it’s certainly not normal beyond normal so as to be the next level of mundane; but nor does it feel entirely like a carefully-constructed fiction which bears the ultimate lie. That said, there is a certain element of deception here: the façade of simplicity, of minimal, semi-ambient electronica belies the detail and complexity of these layered compositions, and as such, it’s something not normal, disguised as something that resembles normal, or at least familiar. Ultimately, it’s something else entirely; something mellow, something layered, something dark and something light. All of this filters into cognisance in the first piece, the slow-paced, semi-abstract ‘Azure’, whereby spectral synths drift around a metronomic drum and ever-moving bass tones.

The drum sound is noteworthy: it’s somehow immediate, up-front, and dry, as well as reverby, landing between Joy Division and Duran Duran.

The synths of ‘La Cienaga’ lean towards A Flock of Seagulls, but the stuttering drums and stammering incidentals contribute to transporting this track to another place entirely, one filled with dark shadows cast by brooding electropop and darkwave. Meanwhile, the six-minute ‘La Grenouille Volante’ has a bass that thrums like an engine throbbing at the dark heart of its soft ambient washes and distant drums. Around two-thirds in, it unexpectedly revs up a gear, and while the same, the additional volume translates to additional intensity, too.

The haunting, spectral organ drone of ‘Ante finem’ is blasted through with hefty tribal percussion, gradually shifting to a slow, deliberate bass-driven trudge, while ‘Fog City’ is every bit as murky and disorientating as you would likely imagine, with vocal samples and reverberated snare cracks echoing through stark synth stabs, and ‘Hot God’ comes on like a collision between Kraftwerk and DAF with a dash of early New Order, mining a deep seam of late 70s/early 80s electronica. The final track, the ten-minute ‘Reodorant’ is a dark-ambient epic in every sense, deep, moody, a little unnerving.

Each of the pieces shifts as it progresses, and evolves over the course of its duration, often subtly, twisting through expansive soundscapes front one plateau to another. Under the cloak of minimalism is shrouded considerable detail, and a quite remarkable focus on texture and movement. Even in the most stagnant of moments, there isn’t an element of stillness here. It may be cold, it may be distanced, but it’s also quite its own work. Normal? What even is that anyway? Stark, sparse, yet so, so rich, with Hypernormal, it becomes clear that Pless is more.

AA

a2732208461_10

Panarus Productions – 3rd December 2021

Christopher Nosnibor

It’s a challenge faced by many artists, and many try but fail to capture the fleeting moments that pass before we even see them. They’re sometimes visual, sometimes auditory, sometimes emotional, and sometimes a combination of all three, like an instant where the lighting is so rare or perfect and you feel a fleeting pang of something inside that you can’t even pinpoint… there is a soundtrack to that somewhere, but it’s so fleeting, intangible, there is simply no way you can grasp it, no way to capture it.

This is where we convene with Sozna and Young Tribe, whose biographical details are sparse but likely irrelevant. Because as the title intimates, nothing is fixed, and details are not important; what matters is chasing the mood of the moment, which is like catching air in a fishing net. It’s a common notion within the spheres of ambience, and more often than not manifests as gentle, ethereal works, with mellifluous trails of vapour drifting softly in attempts to convey the wistfulness of fleeting intangibility.

Where Ephemeral stands out is not only in its heavy use of field recordings and material lifted from various sources – snippets of voices, building work, street sounds – to create a layered collage that quite literally captures and combines fleeting moments and assembles them in a kind of patchwork, bit its darkness and weight. Everything overlaps to crowd the mind, as construction work and idle chatter overlap.

‘Subincision’ is a swampy murk of swirling dark ambient electronica withy rumbling, thunderous grumbles and ominous overtones. Following that, ‘Gods From Saturn’ is particularly dense; part space-age abstraction with hints of Krautrock, [art dark ambient, it’s not a sigh of reminiscence about that brief moment of ecstasy, but the gut-pulling nag of anguish that comes from recalling that social wrong step, that embarrassing misspeak, the sinking feeling of that wrong choice or bad decision. These emotions too are fleeting and ephemeral, and in many ways a more common kind of ephemera. The title track is dark and punishing, a gloomy chant and thud from the depths of a cavernous cave; it’s oppressive and somewhat scary, with monasterial moans and elongated shadows droning and rising. It’s eerie, creepy, and other-worldly. You may feel a pang of fear, but it, like everything else, passes in no time. There is no permanence; everything happens, and exists, in but a moment.

Every moment is just that; a moment, and it’s gone before you realise it. The highs may often prove more memorable and feel more protracted in comparison to the highs and the alrights, but in terms of the period of their existence, all is equal. Sozna and Young Tribe explore this space, and delve courageously into the lows, the throughs, the darker spaces, the moments of discomfort, shame, and embarrassment which are but fleeting which often haunt us forever. Ephemeral grips the corners of fleeting discomfort, the lower reaches of the intestine, and pokes the points of nagging discomfort from fleeting moments which linger there. In doing so, they inch closer to creating art that reflects life.

AA

cover

Hypershape Records – 22nd October 2021

Christopher Nosnibor

Chronology can be a real bitch sometimes. Linearity is incredibly overrated. How can it be that even now, the world can be so far behind William S. Burroughs’ concept that the conventional novel in its staid, conventional, linear form is passe, and ultimately fails to represent life as it’s lived? Iron Speaks is a release that may trouble some sequential obsessives, as it was in fact recorded before 2020’s Deathless Mind, the fifth album from Stephen Āh Burroughs, formerly known as Stephen R. Burroughs of heavy makers of noise Head of David. Since 2013, he’s pursued subterranean channels of darkness via the medium of fundamentally ambient music, but with an ancient and spiritual undercurrent.

As the press release explains, ‘Iron Speaks has become known as the ‘lost’ Tunnels of Āh album since it was abandoned as the fifth album release due to it sounding ‘unengaged’ to writer Stephen Āh Burroughs; until now. After reworking the original material, Iron Speaks emerges as a rediscovered official sixth album release.’

This is perhaps to overstate the album’s mythology – being shelved for a time is one thing, but to attain ‘lost’ status within three years another. Nevertheless, fans who’ve been keen about this album’s development will likely be happy with both its eventual emergence and its content, which is predominantly a dark whorl of bleak, churning ambience laced with a ghoulish shriek of feedback and general top-end tension. And tense it is: the six pieces bleed together to forge a continuous work that offers no respite and continually works at the psyche and the gut, twisting and gnawing at both. Time stalls, and you find yourself sucked into a subterranean space that’s dark and disorientating.

According to the accompanying blurb, ‘The material deals with the transitional stages of life and death, and it’s an ominous possessive piece of work. As ever though, the darkness of Tunnels of Āh’s output stems from and towards a place of infinite light.’ None of this is so readily apparent on listening, with any light feeling particularly distant as Burroughs leads the listener deeper and deeper through tunnels that rumble and surge with dense walls of noise – and sometimes, it hurts as the weight of it all bears down on the listener. It’s a rich, dense, elemental sound, born of earth and minerals.

We’re told that ‘The title, Iron Speaks, is a reference to the chapter in the Koran which states that iron emerges from the heavens as a gift to mankind. This is often graphically depicted as a blazing ball of molten fire approaching its earthly target, and that image perfectly encapsulates the sonic dynamism of this album. This album is a consuming experience as it slowly enters its intended orbit to its chosen point with inevitable crushing impact.’ The tile track does indeed pack that crushing impact, an oscillating tumult of treble atop layers of rhythmic squalling; in contrast, ‘Every Hour Wounds’ inflicts a different kind of pain as the lower-end notes bounce like oxygen bubbles in murky water in a deep, dark pool. Ominous drones and hums hover before an industrial slash of sheet metal strikes.

The album’s six pieces all sit around the seven- or eight-minute mark, and are densely-textured, and often quite oppressively heavy works. The first, ‘Wardens’ is a smog of bubbling murkiness, where the sound churns ad churns, like dense cloud and uncomfortable gut churning. Long strains of feedback scrape out over a barren wasteland, and ominous hums and drones hover over heavily-textured earth-shifting grind. It’s ultimately not really about ‘engagement’, but about tone texture, and atmosphere, and this is bleak, dense, and uncomfortable, and in a way that draws the listener in. Thunder rumbles, and the experience is quite discomforting. It’s more than that: it’s claustrophobic, suffocating. ‘Terminus Est’ clanks and chimes and booms out dolorous, depressing notes that offer no space to breathe or to reflect. It leaves you feeling compressed, and if not necessarily anxious, then far from relaxed or soothed, but instead on edge and unsettled – and this is why Iron Speaks is a strong work: it has the capacity to have a palpable effect on the listener.

AA

HPS013_front

Bizarreshampoo – 11th August 2021

Christopher Nosnibor

The last time we heard from Ukranian purveyor of brutal noise, Vitauct, it was the scouring noise abrasion of Breaking Bad back in the spring of 2020; before that, it was the split album with Crepuscular Entity in December 2019. It turns out there’s a whole lot of activity that’s happened in between, including a fair few split releases, and this latest offering is yet another, this time with Georgia-based ცოდნის მფლობელები, an artist who, in his own words ‘uses field recordings to create tracks that try to communicate different states of mind’, and explains that within his work, ‘there is a certain tension and expectation next to a piano taken from some informal performance.

The release is available on double cassette and CD, although the way it’s laid out would also lend itself well to four sides of vinyl, with each artists contributing two fifteen-minute / side-long compositions, alternating, with Vitauct occupying sides A and C, and ცოდნის მფლობელები occupying sides B and D.

The first piece, ‘Search’ is perhaps more ‘Destroy’: a tearing wave of harsh noise that simply blasts the sense for quarter of an hour straight with barely no perceptible variation, it’s practically HNW, bar some subtle shifts and reverberations of pain echoing in the background. It howls and screams, but mostly it’s like the sound of ground zero of an atomic bomb, and it just goes on, and on, without mercy, shredding the air and blasting away at the organs from the inside.

‘თვალთვალი’, the first of the two tracks from ცოდნის მფლობელები, offers a quite different tone and atmosphere. The sound is murky, swampy, almost subaquatic in its drowned muffledness, and there’s a low, slow, rhythmic rise and fall like a tidal current that drags you along in surging increments, pulling, then releasing a little, before pulling again. It’s dense – suffocatingly so – and gurgles, dark and abstract while creating some kind of sensory deprivation that becomes more intense and unnerving the longer it persists. Everything slows. Nothing happens. It feels as if time has stalled, and you’re hanging in suspended animation, unable to speak, unable to move, incapacitated and simply floating, paralysed. You start to find interest in the most granular detail, in the same way you wonder if you need to go over parts of a wall you’ve just painted because you can’t be sure if you’ve missed a bit or it’s just drying faster than other areas. You wonder how long you will remain trapped here, if the nightmare will ever end, if, indeed, you will ever escape to the surface. It’s a long and torturously slow fifteen minutes, and when it does finally end, you’re left feeling limp, drained.

And then it’s back for round two: with ‘Uncertainty’, Vitauct brings a crackling fizz of overloading static and digital distortion that sounds like your speaker cones are torn. It’s a tonal / textural combination that’s almost guaranteed to disrupt the equilibrium because it simply sounds like everything is fucked – both your equipment and your hearing – and sets a churning in the pit of the stomach. This could perhaps be some kind of auditory trick of sorts that sets the listener off balance, like an infection or damage in the inner ear. It’s painful, but as an example of devastating mid-range harsh noise, it’s outstanding.

‘იდეოლოგიის მეტრონომი’ is the final piece, another fifteen minutes of murky, bubbling babbling. This time, it feels speeded up, and the bubbling babbling sounds like a large gathering of people, chattering excitedly underwater, while a stream of analogue synth streams and stammers in a sustained state of agitation. It’s an unheimlich, otherly experience that’s unsettling and uncomfortable – which is a fair summary of this release as a whole.

If its hour duration seems daunting, in some respects I suspect that’s part of the intention: this is not a release for noise casuals, but that hardcore who have real staying power and probably something of a masochistic streak. For such a niche genre, the amount of material it has yielded – and continues to yield – is astronomical, and it’s not always easy to differentiate the quality form the lethargic, but as we’ve come to expect from Vitauct and his pairings, this is strong stuff.

AA

a3215801437_10