Posts Tagged ‘dark’

5th March 2021

It’s Friday afternoon: it’s been a tough week in a succession of tough weeks because lockdown, home working and home schooling since January has felt like an eternity. But arriving at the weekend alive and intact as the rain stopped and the sky cleared felt like some small-scale event, and an uplifting one.

Cracking open a beer, I experienced a brief moment of okayness: nothing nearly as extreme as euphoria, but something above calm. In the current climate, what could be better? What more could I ask for? The answer lay in my inbox with an email informing me that ‘Today Uniform launches an ongoing series of remix collaborations with digital releases exclusively on Bandcamp. Kicking off with Uniform X Zombi, new releases between Uniform and another artist remixing each other will continue over the coming months. In this first installment, Zombi gives Uniform’s ‘Shame’ an ominous rework and Uniform gives Zombi’s ‘XYZT’ a searing spin’.

It may seem perverse that I should experience such a surge of excitement at the prospect of being assaulted by gnarly noise, but there’s an inexplicable thrill with imminent catharsis, which of course is realised with the achievement of said catharsis.

The Zombi remix of Uniform’s ‘Shame’ isn’t a disappointment, but it’s not the raging racket one would anticipate. Everything is pulped down to a murky swamp of malevolence, Michael Berden’s vocal a slowed-sown metallic slur that finds itself enveloped in slow, gloomy synths that drone and grind as the drums plod dolorously. At times reminiscent of The Cure’s Carnage Visors, it melts toward abstraction, but the atmosphere is dank and oppressive. It may not be cathartic, but it is suffocatingly dense. It’s pretty much the perfect remix in that it isn’t kind or reverent, and instead takes the original material in a completely different direction, while still preserving its essence – in this case, the bleak anguish and soul-crushing nihilism – of the original.

Uniform return the favour by mangling the expansive math-tinged progressive ‘XYZT’ from Zombi’s last album 2020. The soaring guitars and intricate ‘Tubular Bells’ like synth motif is compacted down to a grainy murk of distortion, propelled by a hectic, stammering beat that’s pure tension. Again, it doesn’t bring the catharsis, but it does bring a whole lot of shade and discomfort. It seems right for the times: nothing is certain, it’s impossible to really settle and the light at the end of the tunnel remains shaky and may yet still be just a guy with a torch who’s lost. As we all are. But at least more Uniform provides some solace.

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29th January 2021

Christopher Nosnibor

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

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

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

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

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

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Cae Gwyn Records – 22nd January 2021

Christopher Nosnibor

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

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

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

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

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Lo Bit Landscapes – 3rd December 2020

Christopher Nosnibor

A New Kind of Weather was composed in New York City in the first months of the pandemic, against a backdrop of global panic, and with refrigerated trucks were parked at the hospital a few blocks away from the band’s residence while the city racked up in the region of 1,000 deaths in just a few weeks in March and April. Around the same time, the brother of Nihiti’s primary songwriter committed suicide. This is the bleak space in which the band found themselves – one which, to varying extents – we can all relate to.

Here, at the end of December after an interminable year, the spring of 2020 feels like another lifetime. If anyone thinks we’ve adjusted to some ‘new normal’, they’re simply thinking wishfully. Yes, we may have been ground down into trudging through the day-to-day, existing, but the separation and isolation, the ongoing restrictions and mask-wearing has a cumulative effect. Unlike the curve, our moods may have flattened out and we may well have all but erased the spasm that was late March and early April as lockdowns began to be enforced around the globe, and what had seemed like a distant issue in distant countries suddenly became the reality on our doorstep.

The title tracks sets the tone, but also represents an early album peak as a dark, blank monotone reminiscent of Michael Gira, croons against a woozy, eerie bassline – again reminiscent of Swans: ‘There are words on Christmas day, just living right in your eyes / Asking you if you will fall to the ambulance’s siren songs’. Painting a scene of tension and claustrophobia, it grows in darkness and density with rolling tom-based percussion and layered guitars. If a track ever captured the creeping paranoia that swept so much of the western world via the news media and social media in those first few months, this is it.

Slow-oscillating synths spin slow ambient mists at the start of the twelve-minute epic that is ‘Shudder into Silence’, robotix vocal snippets cutting through the cascading crystalline digital droplets that fall like dew. A heavy throb pulses low in the mix, but rises and falls again in an ever-evolving transition of sound layers. Turning, soft, smog-like, a slow-wailing siren rings out a lonely cry. The tension is palpable.

The more conventional post-rock instrumentation of ‘Into the Sands’, with it’s metronomic drums and chiming guitars marks a significant shift – if it’s gentle and vaguely shoegazey / psychedelic it’s spun through shades of Jesu, and a maudlin, almost sepulchral feel casts a long shadow over its gothic melancholy.

The percussion-free interpretation of Roy Orbison’s ‘I Drove All Night’ is different again, and perhaps the least comfortable fit on the album – if comfortable is a word that’s appropriate for describing any of the heavy atmosphere of A New Kind of Weather. Following on, ‘The Practice of Injury’ builds heavy swirls of ambience that washes and eddies in abject desolation.

Despite only containing five tracks, A New Kind of Weather clocks in at around forty-five minutes, and fill this space with a remarkably broad range of styles, while making every moment count in terms of maintaining the darkly oppressive atmosphere throughout.

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Front and Follow – F&F064 – 30th October 2020

It’s taken me a while to get around to this, the fifth and final instalment of Front and Follow’s lockdown fundraising compilation series, Isolation & Rejection, as the last couple of months in particular have found many, including myself in a weird lockdown limbo: schools are back, but I’m not back at the office for the day-job, and regular social activity remains more of less off-limits, even here in tier 2 York. So, not really an excuse, so much as an explanation f how work/ life balance hasn’t been entirely conducive to devoting the time deserved by a mammoth release like this, which certainly deserves more than a cursory glance and a few lines lauding the series’ quality to date and its having raised some £2,000 for The Brick in Wigan.

When I say ‘mammoth release’, Volume 5 contains twenty-four tracks, making a total of 115 tracks released across the whole series. And these aren’t all short efforts, and nor are they of a single genre, so taking this in isn’t like a set of two-minute three-chord punk tunes where the options are ‘yeah, no, ok’.

Yet again, the stylistic breadth, paired with the depth of quality is astounding, and given the open-door policy that was the criteria for this series – namely that submissions must have been previously rejected for inclusion elsewhere – it just goes to show how many remarkable artists there are out there. While there have been some curious and oddly-matched contributions in the mix, it’s fair to say that despite the acceptance of all submission, there hasn’t actually been a duff track in the entire series.

Volume 5 maintains that record. That all important opener this time comes courtesy of Assembled Minds, whose ‘The Eerie Machine Hums a Barley Song to the Sun’ is a lo-fi retro-vibing easy listener in the vein of Stereolab, with all the analogue and some bendy discord to give its Krauty instrumental groove an additional twist. With ‘Mute’, Accidental Tones’ bring the eerie shit, with a dolorous loop of funeral bells, before A.R.C. Soundtracks introduce 80s drum machines to a deep post-punk synth drone, and what ‘Exhibit F’ lacks in duration is packs tenfold in density. It’s a pretty dark opening by any standards, but as a compilation…Not that compilations are never bleak, but there’s a certain expectation that they showcase a certain degree of accessibility: and maybe this is why so many compilations re only so-so: they’re designed with one eye on commercial appeal and drawing a broader audience. Because Front and Follow never even cast a glance at a broader audience and the premise of this series isn’t remotely populist, they’ve remained free to do what they do best.

Cahn Ingold Prelog’s ‘Dwieddon’ is a grainy mess of pink noise and static that crackles like the heavy patter of rain, disrupted by an arrhythmic beat that clunks along awkwardly at first, before a pulsating thud booms in with an incongruously dance feel, while Heat Evolution bring some glitchy, swampy pulsations and some big explosive blasts.

Detailing the entire contents of this would be a task beyond gargantuan, but for the most part this is a set comprised of glitchy oddities and grinding sonic earthworks, with dark, heavy atmospheres – das fax mattinger’s nine-and-a-half minutes of deep, shuddering drone is as much a physical experience as it is cerebral, while contributions from Isobel Ccircle and Jonathan Sharp also explore all the corners of dark ambience. There’s throbbing techno and heavy hip-hop on offer, too, but none of it’s especially gentle or kind. And in saying how dark it is, it’s worth mentioning the gloomy synthy goth of Johnny Mugwump’s ‘the mirror cracked’ and the impenetrably dense black metal murk of Petrine Cross’ ‘Absorbed in Artificial Night’.

If Isolation & Rejection Vol 5 explores a quite focused part of the sonic spectrum, it does so in the kind of detail that reveals its breadth, with all shades of electronica and all shades of darkness and shadow covered in its immense span. It’s a strong end to a strong series, and while Front and Follow aren’t giving any indications that this is more than a one-off, there’s no shortage of back catalogue to explore while we wait for the next wave and, maybe, just maybe, the next collection.

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Panurus Productions – 4th December 2020

Christopher Nosnibor

Although August is the peak of the British summer, its end often seems to mark a sharp shift into Autumn; less a transition than a rapid cut. It’s a trick of the mind and a distortion of memory, of course, but summers always seemed longer and hotter in childhood; the realisation that what once felt like an infinite expanse of time which was free to fill or squander at will is, in fact, but a heartbeat in a life is a source of deep anguish. There is never enough time. No-one ever lay on their death-bed lamenting that they wished they’d spent more time watching repeats of Bargain Hunt or Homes Under the Hammer or whatever, no-one complains that they read to many books or spent too much time living their life, do they? The torment of a constant awareness of the passage of time is self-sabotaging, as the paralysis of panic grips hard. And pitched as ‘a screaming elegy for lost moments and isolation’, this is precisely what Centuries of August, which takes its title from a line from a poem by the solitary and reclusive Emily Dickinson, articulates.

If everything seems to be dominated by themes of isolation and derangement in 2020, then perhaps that’s because the magnitude of the events – or non-events – we’re living though exit on a scale that is truly all-consuming. Even the most introverted and reclusive are finding the isolation difficult to deal with: there’s a world of difference from choosing not to go out and see people, and not having the choice, especially as for many, music events provide a safe space where it’s possible to feel included and among people without the need for the kind of forced interaction that’s part and parcel of the workplace, and where it’s possible to experience a sense of community and collectivism without conforming to the less comfortable social conventions.

2020 has revealed new shades of darkness, and Centuries of August expresses anxiety, panic, rage, fear, isolation, in every one of those shades – as long as it’s black.

It’s a low, ominous synth drone that brings fear chords like creeping mist in a graveyard that marks the stealthy arrival of ‘Ripe for Solitude, Exhausted by Life’ – before all hues of murky black metal hell break loose. It’s a thunderous tempest of the darkest, densest noise, pounding hard and fast, before eventually dissipating once more into to quiet clouds of synth.

‘The Breezes Bought by Dejected Lutes’ is by no means the Elizabethan romantic piece the title suggests, but a savage blast of bleak and brutal mid-range sludge. There are drums, guitars, and vocals in the mix somewhere, but everything is a grimy blur and it’s impossible to identify anything distinctly.

Quavering dark ambience cast shadowy shades of gloom over the opening moments of ‘This Lamentable Autumn’; a picked lead guitar line adds a rich, brooding atmosphere, and then there’s everything else, coughed up from the very bowels of hell, a swirling sonic fog that goes beyond pea soup to the consistency of treacle, and wading through the barren soundscape for sic and a half minutes almost precisely recreates the experience of the last eight months in sound, before eight-minute closer ‘Under the Lowering Sky’ bulldozes in with cranium-crushing density.

That Centuries of August takes the lo-fi production values of the genre to its more extreme limits is integral to its appeal: the fact it’s so murky as to border on the frustrating is a source of power here, accentuating the oppressive density of the compositions to a level of intensity that hurts. But it’s the kind of pain that’s the perfect mirror, reflecting the conflicting nature of time, amplified by the anguish of living in the now.

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generate and test – gt49 – 23rd October 2020

Christopher Nosnibor

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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13th September 2020

Christopher Nosnibot

Barnyard Baptism’s biographical info is nil, but the cover art to their new EP, 9:58 is probably all the info you need: it’s dark and disturbing, and it’s not entirely clear what you’re looking at beyond a face and a door. Mostly it’s a blur, but a blur that positively screams mental derangement, anguish, psychological torture, distress, and pain.

And this is precisely what Barnyard Baptism articulate with their full-on sonic assault: pain and anguish and a soul-sapping sense of being utterly overwhelmed yet fermenting a frenzied disquiet, burning from the inside is what’s conveyed by the tempestuous tumult that tears from the speaker from the offset, with ‘Dead on the Water’ plunging us deep into the harshest of harsh noise explosion, a blizzard of white noise ruptured by blasting nuclear winds and the occasional piercing shriek of ultra-sharp, shrill feedback that cuts through like a rapier puncturing a gauze drape, tearing to shreds in an instant any smoothness of surface.

‘Negative Headspace’ is a gouging blast of mid-range nastiness, a full-force blast of frequency with a tearing, serrated edge. There’s nothing to be extracted here, no musical revelation: this is nothing but all-out sonic horror, noise on noise.

The title track is mined from a seem of vintage power electronics with an experimental edge, with a thrumming oscillating drone crackling into snarling distortion. As a child, I used to suffer a recurring nightmare, where things would present as line drawings, smooth and silent, before being crumpled like paper and destroyed in a black scribbly mess. These dreams were silent – conspicuously so – to the extent the silence filled my head to a roar, and the crumpling of the lines actually hurt, crumpled my cranium like distortion expressed without sound. These dreams still haunt me now, at 45, and the way these gliding hums crunch into a distorted mess of noise reminds me of that. On a personal level, it’s painful, traumatic. In its own context, it’s still painful and traumatic: this is head-shredding abrasive noise of the highest order, and it hurts, both physically and psychologically.

The noise swells and grows in pace, volume, and sheer nastiness over the course of the last couple of tracks, which bled into one another in a billowing bluster of pulverising distortion.

Barnyard Baptism don’t do breaks or contrast, and there are no tranquil segments or rests here; no spaces between songs, no breaks in which to restore a sense of equilibrium: this is relentlessly brutal, and there isn’t a moment to breathe during the crackling horror of 9:58 – no so much as a moment of calm, and Barnyard Baptism are utterly obliterative.

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

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

Watch the bleak video here:

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4th August 2020

Christopher Nosnibor

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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