Posts Tagged ‘dark’

Unknown Pleasures Records – 14th February 2018

Christopher Nosnibor

Given the band’s name and that of the label they’re signed to, it’s only fitting that they’re exponents of bleak synth-driven post-punk. Sure enough, as the Italian five-piece’s biography notes, Stefano Bellerba (vocals, guitar), Leonardo Mori (synth), Matteo Luciani (bass), Saverio Paiella (guitar), and Daniele Cruccolini (drums) formed in 2010, and united over their love of Joy Division, The Cure, Nine Inch Nails, and Depeche Mode. The bio adds that ‘their music is also strongly influenced by Bauhaus, Siouxsie and the Banshees, Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Japan, The Damned, Interpol, Suicide, CSI, CCCP, and Massimo Volume.’

One of my favourite poems of all time is Philip Larkin’s ‘This be the Verse’, and the fact they put it to music for single release in the summer of 2017 -and made a decent job of it – got me on-side ahead of the new album.

The album in question, Santa Sangre is a lot more guitar-orientated and edgier: while the synths are still very much in the mix, the sound is dominated by brittle, metallic-edged guitars drenched in reverb and flanged hard. It’s the sound of 1982-1985. I’d be hesitant to use the term ‘gothic’ or any variant, despite the snaking atmospherics of tracks like ‘Rejoice’, with its strolling bassline and vocals all but lost in an ocean of echo, which allude to the likes of The Danse Society and acts of similar vintage.

I make no apologies for being an old goth (although I’m not nearly old enough to be a proper old goth, having been born in 1975 and only discovered alternative music in any form in 1986/7). Similarly, I make no apologies for not being a purist, or for my knowledge of second-wave and beyond bands being limited. There’s so much else out there in the musical sphere. Yet, at the tail end of the year, feeling weary and wintery and withdrawn, I find myself here – as I did late last year, and the year before – with a crop of albums which betray gothier leanings which leap out as among the strongest and most compelling releases I’ve received all year.

Lead single, ‘Circle’ was a blast of buzzing bass and squalling guitars, with elements of The Jesus and Mary Chain and A Place to Bury Strangers, pitched with chilly synths and vocals with a grippingly desperate edge. It’s placed up front in the track listing, and serves the purpose of demanding the attention with its urgency and serrated edges.

Snaking basslines, choppy guitars and tribal drumming abound, but there’s a pop edge to a number of the songs: ‘Blown Away’ melds fractal guitars to an insistent flanged bassline that’s as pure Cure as the synths which eddy at a respectful distance in the background. There’s a certain bounce – and even catchiness – to the richly-layered shoegaze-goth of ‘For Every Flaw’.

When they do lugubrious, it’s as sparse and bleak as anything on Faith, and when they do slow-build, they really go for delayed gratification, forging a dense atmosphere along the way.

Santa Sangre is taut, tense and crackles with dark energy.

AA

Japan Suicide - Santa Sangre (cover)

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Southern Lord – 24th November 2017

James Wells

When you’re presented with an album containing ten tracks, where only two clock in at over two minutes, you know it’s likely to be a pretty direct attack, and you don’t need a lengthy dissection to get the guts. In fact, you don’t need words, you just need to feel it kicking you in the guts, over and over.

No Cure For Death is a gnarly, guttural, snarling mess of feedback and noise. Savage, brutal, unrestrained noise: that’s what No Cure For Death throws down from beginning to end – not that it’s a particularly long period between the two markers.

Death, decay, despair ooze from every pore of this feedback-soaked frenzy of blistering noise. It’s dark, dingy, a seething miasma of gut-churning overloading, overdriven loathing of all things. It’s the world we live in, of course: it’s fucked-up and ruined. It’s everything it should be.

AA

Sect cover image for Haulix

Sargent House – 22nd September 2017

Christopher Nosnibor

Chelsea Wolfe is one of those artists who seems to continually grow with every release, and 2015’s Abyss was something special: a grand, powerful, and intense musical work that reached the parts other albums cannot reach. It’s fair to say that expectations for Hiss Spun were set high as a consequence.

As the accompanying blurb tells us, ‘the album was conceived as an emotional purge, a means of coming to terms with the tumult of the outside world by exploring the complexities of one’s inner unrest’.

Chelsea gets down to conveying this turmoil from the first bars: opener, ‘Spun’, is a throbbing deluge of dense, low-tempo, Godfleshy, bass-centric grind, a seething surge of low-end noise with an overloading, freewheeling lead guitar that’s not so much a solo as an out of control rollercoaster of fretwork that heaves and lurches every which way as if uncertain of its own direction but desperate to find a route to the end. ‘Particle Flux’ is also centred around a tectonic, subterranean low-end pulsation, and builds to a multi-layered, multi-faceted crescendo.

Single cut ’16 Psyche’ has the epic qualities of some of the strongest tracks from previous album Abyss – ‘Iron Moon’ in particular – and ‘The Culling’ repeats the trick of bursting into a crushingly powerful bloom from a quiet, delicate bud. But while nailing choruses of immense scale, these tracks also pound hard, sonically and emotionally.

Placing Hiss Spin side by side with Abyss is instructive: this latest work marks a considerable shift from the brooding industrial-edged gothic folk of its predecessor toward a much more metal-orientated sound that’s not only heavier and more abrasive, but more overtly challenging and confrontational. In fact, everything about Hiss Spun is more.

Following a heavy synth drone intro, ‘Vex’ brings blistering guitar dynamics and a shoegaze atmosphere to a twisted, reverb-soaked vocal that’s simultaneously emotion-rich and curiously detached. ‘Scrape’ draws the curtain with a dark, murky grind that’s as intense as it is dense, and Chelsea’s voice soars higher than ever, wracked with desperation. Thunderous tribal drumming blasts through the squalling guitars to render an imposing finale.

The production on Hiss Spun is immense. The percussion is enormous, every snare hit an explosion, every bass thump enough to trigger an earthquake or tsunami. Every beat, every note, strikes deep into the soul and drags at the deepest levels. To explain precisely how and why Hiss Spun resonates so deeply would be to ruin its magic: this is an album which connects subconsciously, subliminally, pulling as it does between fragility and fury, and with such stunning grace, and it drives, but as a slow pace.

Instrumentally, the dynamics are breathtaking. And never has Wolfe sounded so raw, by turns so fragile and so powerful, channelling emotions to utterly devastating and bewildering effect. Superlatives are inadequate: Hiss Spun is an album so strong as to be almost overwhelming and marks, my a mile, a new career high-point.

AAA

Chelsea Wolfe - Hiss Spun Cover 3000x3000 300 dpi (1)

Hallow Ground – September 2017

Christopher Nosnibor

Hallow Ground is one of those niche little labels that exceeds in catering to a small but devoted audience. The quality is pretty consistent, and while you know broadly what you’re going to get from anything in their catalogue, there’s nevertheless a sense of challenge with each release. And so it is with The Expanding Domain, which is pitched as showcasing the way in which the producer’s ‘fascination with ambient becomes a blank slate upon which [he] and his collaborators serve shimmering Trance-derived melodies, murky Industrial grooves and all-consuming Harsh Noise attacks.’

If it sounds like a difficult and disparate blend, it is, making for 23 intense minutes, but it works. ‘Cold Bloom’ may be brief, but moves through a succession of quite contrasting passages, from ominous ambient rumbles and analogue tweets through expansive orchestral strikes lifted straight out of 90s clubland. As such, it condenses all aspects of the album into under two and a half mind-punishing minutes.

On the one hand, it seems like a bad idea and waste of energy to become overly concerned with genre definitions and intersections. On the other, The Expanding Domain seemingly less invites and more demands that type of scrutiny.

‘Lil Puffy Coat’ – which I’m taking as a playful reference to The Orb’s ‘Little Fluffy Clouds’ amalgamates dislocated Krautronica with shades of abstract industrial to forge a sinister expanse of liquid concrete: grey, heavy, but tactile, its form transitional, not yet set firm, and therefore difficult to define.

The volume and aggression are ratcheted up on the heavily percussive attack that is ‘Fear in Reverse II’, the pounding barrage of metallic hammering reminiscent of Test Department providing the perfectly painful foil to the howling discord that screeches above it.

The title track is definitive: with Dominick Fernow (aka Prurient) and Death Grips drummer Zack Hill contributing additional percussion and Dirch Heather bringing the modular synths, it’s a perfect hybrid of delicate, semi-ambient electronica, gnarly, dark ambient that broods and churns, and throbbing industrial. The result is immersive and unsettling, an album somehow at ease with its incongruity which is melded into a perversely cogent form.

Dedekind Cut – The Expanding Domain

Ipecac Recordings – 1st September 2017

Christopher Nosnibor

Dälek have always been about progress and evolution, and not only remaining contemporary but pushing the parameters. Since they emerged in ’98, they’ve stood at the forefront of the challenging end of hip-hop, a genre which has witnessed immense expansion over the last two decades – but has equally seen its horizons shrink dramatically within the suffocating avenues of the commercial mainstream. One might say that this polarity is a key fact in the framing of Endangered Philosophies. The polarisation between the mainstream and everything else musical is representative of the world at large: the political landscape provides perhaps the most significant and substantial indicator here, with left and right parties both moving further away from centre and claiming almost equal ground in the process, and not just domestically here in England.

Endangered Philosophies is an album for the now, as the press release points out: ‘Within the context of the current political landscape, the title Endangered Philosophies certainly brings to mind pertinent issues of moment, notably the rampant rise of anti-intellectualism, as well as the all too rapid erosion of genuinely progressive values in the face of fearful reactionary forces.’

‘Echoes Of…’ launches the album with a nauseating washing machine churn that grinds along before the thumping rhythm crashes in. the vocals are low in the mix – rare and seemingly contradictory for a hip-hop album, but this is Dälek, an act as inclined toward rock and industrial tropes as conventional hip-hop stylings. It’s a gnarling industrialised trudge, and the whiplash scratching and other overt concessions to genre form are crushed hard against one another into an oppressive and intense slab of sound.

‘Weapons’ is woozy, dark, and suffocating. ‘Few Understand’ is less abrasive, but rides on a dense, pulsating swell of sound underpinned by a plodding beneath that carries a real weight. Sometimes, a live drum sound is all it takes to elevate a hip-hop track above the conventions and into fresh, liberated territories.

With the vocals enveloped in delay and heavy layers of extraneous noise, the lyrics aren’t always entirely prominent, but the sentiment is entirely clear at all times. The shuffling trudge of ‘Son of Immigrants’ is underpinned by an almost subsonic bass. In contrast, there’s something approaching a levity about ‘Beyond the Madness’, the semi-ambient synths drifting cinematically over the insistent rhythm, and the seven-minute ‘A Collective Cancelled Thought’ is monumentally weighty, the bass churning beneath a shifting, turning squall of sound. ‘Battlecries’ is slow and bleak, with lyrics about black males being murdered and the state of culture and society providing the message to the work of the mixed medium.

It’s the contrasts which lie at the heart of the compositions on Endangered Philosophies which make it the album it is, and which render it so compelling.

Dalek_EP_Cover

Nuclear Blast – 1st September 2017

Christopher Nosnibor

When charged with the task of covering a new release by a ‘big’ name act, or an act which has been around a long time and developed a significant global following, but that you’re not an ardent fan of, the pressure is on. As a reviewer, you’re supposed to know everything about every aspect of every band ever, and the kind of act who has an established fanbase is also the kind of act who has a fanbase who expect critics to really know their shit before passing comment on ‘their band. At least, that’s my perception based on hard experience from sitting on both sides of the fence.

That progenitors of gothic metal Paradise Lost are still here to launch the fifteenth album of their career is impressive by any standards. And while I’ve been aware of them for an eternity – as a Sisters of Mercy fan for an even longer eternity, it was their cover of ‘Walk Away which provided an introduction – I’ve never really spent any time getting acquainted with their back catalogue. Nevertheless, and despite their death / doom roots, the fact Medusa is strong and proper heavy is even more impressive, especially given their forays into Depeche Mode-style synthpop and electronica and a stint on EMI which saw them move further into more commercial territories.

As the press release notes, ‘most people will know Medusa as the Gorgon from Greek mythology; she is the infamous beast with venomous snakes for hair who will turn anyone that dares to look into her eyes to stone. It is this hideous creature who Paradise Lost have chosen to be the figureheard for their 15th studio album, as, from a philosophical perspective, she is more than simply a monster.’

It’s the epic, doomy trudge of ‘Fearless Sky’ which grinds out for over eight and a half minutes which gets the album off to a dark and suitably intense start and demonstrates they’ve still got the high-art bombast which defines their sound, and of the poem which gave them their name in the first place. It was hearing segments of Milton’s immensely epic poem read aloud by one of my university’s more eccentric but enthusiastic professors which turned me on to his work, and in context, it all fits together. Medusa is an immense and ambitious album, and it’s also as heavy as hell.

The thunderous tribal drumming which propels the low-end focused sludge riffery of ‘Gods of Ancient’ leads the album deeper into darkness before the snarling desolation of ‘From the Gallows.’ ‘The Longest Winter’ is perhaps more accessible with its processed, dry and altogether more melodic vocals, but the guitars are still are thick and overdriven as you like. As for the title track, it brings the sense of immense portent with its groaningly heavy guitars and noodling lead, paired with a sense of gothic theatricality which lends it a kind of poeticism.

This is an album that trudges, dark and heavy, for the duration, and any comparisons to other bands from either the goth or metal sides of the equation are essentially redundant because it was this band who effectively spawned the hybrid which Medusa so perfectly epitomises anyway.

What makes Medusa a great album is that while it is heavy, it’s heavily gothy and it’s ultra metally in the snarling, guttural sense, and it’s also got immense range. As such, it doesn’t ever feel formulaic or dull, and ultimately, Medusa is a strong album which stands up in the Paradise Lost catalogue.

paradiselostmedusacd

‘Gravity’ is the first video from the debut of New York-based Ω▽ (OHMSLICE)’s debut album Conduit. One interesting aspect of the video is that it uses footage  from well-known experimental film maker Mark Street’s films with Street’s wholehearted approval. The album was recorded at Ft.Lb Studios in Brooklyn, produced by the outfit’s premium mobile multi-instrumentalist and instrument inventor Bradford Reed (King Missile III, creator of the electric board zither he calls the “pencilina”). The album is being released September 8 by Imaginator Records.

Ohmslice formed around Reed’s experiments in processing percussion  through a modular synth. Layered over a sonic framework of double-drummed syncopated rhythms  and analog pulses and drones are the sultry vocals and driving, often abstract lyrics of poet Jane LeCroy (Sister Spit, Poetry Brothel).  Joined by a rotating crew of collaborators including Josh Matthews (Drumhead, Blue Man Group) on drums, the legendary and ubiquitous Daniel Carter (Thurston Moore, Yo La Tengo) on trumpet and saxophones and Bill Bronson (Swans, The Spitters, The Gunga Den, Congo Norvell) on guitar. The album combines formal structures and heavy grooves with a sonic meditation on the nature of human-electronic improvisation.

OHMSLICE-duo

Conduit was recorded live over a two-year period. The album is an organized documentation of spontaneous creation and exploration and moves from the fuzzed-out psychedelic of “Crying on a Train” to the meditative ambient cycles of “Broken Phase Candy” and beyond.  Within this realm, the listener is meticulously guided through beautiful harmonic and rhythmic phase mosaics and held captive by an innovative and violently unquantized approach to groove based electronic music. Combined with LeCroy’s visionary mixture of philosophy, reflection, language and song Conduit illuminates a path to a rare and alluring space that reveals endless layers with each new listen.

‘Gravity’ is a brain-bending piece of jazz-infused experimentalsim, and coupled with the cut-up visuals, the promo makes for quite the multisensory experience.  You can check out the video here: