Posts Tagged ‘EP Review’

Human Worth – 7th October 2022

Christopher Nosnibor

Since the launch of the Human Worth label, initially as an outlet for releases by Modern Technology, we’ve witnessed the label grow – although never beyond its means and never beyond its principles. Each release sees a portion of the proceeds donated to a nominated charitable cause, and it’s so heartening to see a label and its artists use their platform for social good. With this latest release, a 7” EP from Leeds makers of noise BELK, 10% of all proceeds are being donated to Action Bladder Cancer UK, who work to support patients, raise awareness, improve early diagnosis and outcomes, and support research into bladder cancer.

But let’s never underestimate the social good of music with meaning – and by good, I mean sincere and visceral. Anyone who has ever stood in a room being bludgeoned by a full-blooded sonic attack will likely appreciate the incredible release of the experience, and the sense of community it entails. It’s not easy to articulate the way in which something that’s ultimately private, internal, is heightened by the presence of strangers immersed in that same experience, in their own personal way.

In congruence with the rise of Human Worth, we’re also seeing a satisfying upward arc for BELK, who unquestionably deserve the exposure and distribution, and one suspects that being limited to just 100 hand-numbered vinyl copies, the vinyl release of this is likely to be a future rarity.

This 7” EP packs five tracks into mere minutes. ‘Warm Water’, unveiled as a taster for advance orders on September’s Bandcamp Friday, is a minute and eighteen seconds long. It’s fast, and it’s furious – a focused channelling of fury, no less, distilled to 100% proof, and there’s no holding back on this attack.

There are a couple of additional demo tracks, in the form of ‘Net’ and ‘Question of Stress’ from their 2022 promo as downloads.

It’s all pretty raw, and ‘studio’ doesn’t mean much more polish than ‘demo’, and that’s exactly as it should be BELK trade in proper dirty noise, the likes of which Earache specialised in in the eighties and early 90s, before they went soft and became a rock and blues label, releasing stuff by the likes of Rival Sons. Human Worth have snatched the noise baton in a firm grip, though, and the quality of their releases extends to the artefact as well as the art.

‘Net’ is a stuttering slugfest reminiscent of Fudge Tunnel, only with harsher, higher-pitched squawkier vocals that are more conventionally hardcore, and it all stacks up for one killer release that delivers a ferocious slap round the chops.

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Metropolis Records – 27th May 2022

Christopher Nosnbor

We’re playing serious catchup here: the band have been on such a (bacon) roll of late that I’ve struggled to keep abreast of their output. It’s quite a contrast to the early post-millennium period, which saw the emergence of Pigmartyr / Pigmata in 2004 or 2005 (depending on your location), fully five years after Genuine American Monster, followed by silence until 2016. It looked for all the world as if Watts was washed up, wiped out, sunk, spent, stopped. The phoenix-like re-emergence with first The Diamond Sinners EP, followed by The Gospel flexed muscles only hinted at on the tentative collaborations with Marc Heal and Primitive Race the year before, and found Watts reinvigorated, revelling in the glammier aspects of industrial sleaze and going the whole hog on the alliteration – and it turned out to be just the (re)beginning. It turns out that next month will see the release of The Merciless Light, the fifth PIG album in six years, and it lands hot on the heels of Baptise Bless & Bleed.

Like many recent PIG releases, this EP features four new tracks, accompanied by remixes of three of them, and the lead track is that quintessential PIG hybrid of low, pulsating synth that bubbled, bumps, and grinds while Watts croaks and groans breathless sleazy and seductive about pain and crucifixion, before it bursts into a bombastic blast of extravagant gospel propelled by a thudding kick drum and chugging guitar with serrated edges.

For all of the crossover with KMFDM and various other industrial contemporaries, not to mention Watts’ formative work alongside JG Thirlwell, the bottom line is that PIG sound uniquely like PIG, with a uniquely hybrid sound of techno and industrial at its heart, but then with glam, goth, and gospel all whipped into the mix, while thematically, it continues the thread that runs from ‘Shit for Brains’ on the 1988 debut single.

‘Shooting Up Mercy’ marks a change in tempo, slowing things down and ramping up the gospel chorus, before throwing in an extravagant guitar break of Slash proportions. There really is never a dull moment, and on this outing, Watts has gone proper maximalist, and it’s delightful, despite / because of its dark overtones.

The remixes are tidy enough, particularly the eight-minute reworking of ‘Tarantula’ that trudges and thuds along with bleeps and squelches along the way, before hitting a deep slow dance groove; it’s the most restrained track on the release, but has no lack of grunt or grind, and the solid chorus remains intact and infectious, reminding us – as if we needed it – that Watts has a knack for a hook, meaning that with this latest offering, we are indeed blessed.

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30th June 2022

James Wells

‘i write weird songs for weird folks’ writes alien machine, all in lower case. ‘A solo artist pretending to be a 3 to 5 piece garage punk outfit,’ ‘the sea complains’ is their fourth release. Details of this US-based artist are sparse to non-existent, but it appears that having emerged in 2014, they lay creatively dormant before deciding to reconvene with racketmaking during the pandemic, which seems to be a common thing as people sought ways of dealing with the strangeness and the isolation.

This is raw, primitive, and psychotic. The skewed, angular, murky mess of the first track, ‘math’ sounds like it was recorded on a Dictaphone in the living room while the band play their first rehearsal in the basement. The overall effect is very much early Pavement (pre-Slanted, those EPs collected on Westing were betonf lo-fi) / Silver Jews lo-fi so slack as to not give a shit about being in time / holding a tune / anything at all really, and it’s played with the wild, frenzied mania of Truman’s Water. Then again, ‘coward’ is a pulverising screamo-fest that brings in elements of Shellac, the guitars sliding and jerking in all directions over a loping drum beat, and closer ‘aquaburst’ goes fill Truman’s, with clanging Big Black guitars and everything going off all at once, but not necessarily in the same key or time signature.

It’s a headache-inducing discordant buzz, and it’s wonderful.

There’s nothing particularly weird about this – although fans off mainstream chart music would likely disagree – but it is a hard-on-the-ears trebly racket, that’s so slack it can’t even be arsed raising a finger to production or concessions to clean sound. It doesn’t get much more DIY than this.

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14th February 2022

Christopher Nosnibor

Was I the only one to misread the band’s name on first seeing it? Probably, and I suspect it says more about me than anything. Ah well. Meanwhile, as much as the quality of the band’s new single speaks for itself, the list of collaborators who’ve contributed remixes to this EP says a fair bit about the Chicago ‘post-punk demolition duo’, notably Stabbing Westward and Dean Garcia of Curve / SPC ECO.

It’s the Stabbing Westward remix that’s up first, and it’s a stonking industrial rock chugger. It has a crisp, bright feel and is driven by an explosive snare, the likes of which you rarely hear now, but was popular in the 80s. Of the different versions, it’s arguably the most radical, yet at the same time is also the one with the broadest commercial appeal, in that it is more overtly industrial and metal-edged.

Structurally, the song’s interesting for the fact it consists of several sections rather than a simple verse / chorus, and as each section rolls around, it develops something of a cyclical feel (I usually tend to feel most songs are a linear listening experience. ‘Confusion’ and ‘confusion’ make for a nice rhyming pair, but it’s the bass that’s as strong a hook as any of the lyrics, and it’s the bass that dominates the band’s own single version, which adds ten seconds to the original, which appeared on the Dead Lights five tracker released last year. Said bass is a shuddering low-frequency grind, and the drum machine tips a nod to ‘Blue Monday’ then goes into overdrive, giving the song a real urgency.

The DG Impulse remix grinds harder and longer, stripping it back to the bare bones of that sonorous bass and a pounding beat, to oppressive effect, while the IScintilla Remix is a full-on rabid aggrotech workout, and pretty nightmarish with it.

In contrast, the Loveless Love take on the track plays to the songs 80s electropop roots, coming on like The Human League remixed by JG Thirlwell or Raymond Watts.

It makes for a varied listening experience, and one that marks a neat evolution from the band’s previous releases to date.

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1st April 2022

Christopher Nosnibor

Details of this eponymous EP release from Leeds-based The Reflecting Skin are sparse. It’s only since the advent of social media and the ubiquity of the Internet that we’ve come to expect to know everything about an act and its releases – the who played what, the lyrics, the inspiration for and meaning of songs, who their musical influences are, favourite films, etc., etc. And why do we need to know? What actual benefit does it serve, and to whom?

What matters is that this is seriously harsh and heavy. A grinding chord booms, overloading the speakers by way of a welcome with ‘Ceramic Rash’. It’s slow, doomy, dirty and dark, and devoid of percussion, crawls like larva. The vocals are half-buries and swathed in so much reverb as to sound like they’ve coming from the bottom of a well – a well the shaft of which goes down, not to the water table, but the very pits of hell.

It stops abruptly, and it straight into the crashing thud of ‘Limb Off’, which finds The Reflecting Skin go full band and full-throttle gnarly hardcore nastiness. The production is authentically primitive – it’s so dirty, so rough and raw, with the feel of a Walkman recording, and playback with fluff-encrusted tape heads, but this isn’t an impedance, because it simply sounds right. If it slots right in along the mid 80s hardcore vintage, it’s equally very much contemporary Leeds underground / DIY. It’s not slick by any stretch, even the track editing sees each one cut and the next begin, but this is very much integral to the appeal and the form of genre – and it’s totally nonstop no-fi brutal racketing, punching in your face.

I’ve no idea what the title is about, but ‘IMA-IW-BF’ is so distorted it hurts: a raw, raging rehearsal tape from a damp basement or clungy garage, it’s a descending chord sequence that grinds and growls, like a half-pace Melvins trudge but with raw-throated roars for vocals… while ‘Split Wires’ clocks in at a half a minute and just quite simply the sound off punishment at a hundred miles an hour. They really do save the gnarliest noisiest shit for last, though: the six-and-a-half-minute ‘Nocturnal Cough’ is built around the nastiest, most gut0churning bass imaginable. It makes your stomach lurch to the point you want to puke, and it’s propelled by thumping drums that threaten to burst your eardrums.

It would be a stretch to describe The Reflecting Skin as a fun or enjoyable listen, because, quite simply, it hurts. But as ultra-heavy and uncompromisingly brutal releases go, it’s an absolute beast.

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ant-zen – 4th February 2022

Christopher Nosnibor

Increasingly, when the consumption of music and art in general has become increasingly focused on accessibility, ease of consumption, and essentially a trade in intangibles – many no longer own any music physically, and simply stream everything – there is, conversely, a keen hankering and a strong, if niche, market for artefacts. Having grown up with first vinyl, and then CDs myself, I get this. The idea of not actually ‘owning’ your collection is bewildering, and the fact is that a playlist is not a collection. What happens when a subscription site folds, or when an artist withdraws their work from your platform of choice? Even bands who host their own music on sites like bandcamp, can withdraw or delete it at any time.

I’m no fan of MP3, but at least with an MP3, you’ve got something (although it pays to back up, or you might not). But with a true physical format, apart from fire or flooding, you have something pretty robust. But that’s not even half of it. It’s about the experience. The object. I can still recall when and where or how I came to acquire a large percentage of my collection, which runs well into the thousands of records and CDs (but no longer tapes, so much, for various reasons).

With the vinyl renaissance well under way, the late-cut single is very much a growth area. These things aren’t cheap, but what pressing plant is going to do a dozen copies? Meanwhile, a lot of artists with small fanbases still want something physical, but it would likely take then several lifetimes to shift a couple of hundred or more units. And then there’s storing the things. No-one wants boxes of unsold inventory they’ve paid a fortune for filling the spare room. And so, those who want something to cherish and simply own are generally happy to pay that bit more for something intrinsically scarce.

Kadaitcha’s latest, ‘fracture’ comes as a square lathe-cut 7”, which looks like one heck of an item, and of course, digital download, and contains two heavyweight slabs of dense, thunderous noise.

‘night’ is a crunchy, doom-laden drone driven by industrial-strength percussion. The guitars buzz and the vocals growl, almost submerged beneath the dense, murky noise; the beats blast like the heaviest machinery known to man. It’s like a black metal Swans. Flipside ‘rekill’ places the electronic to the fore, sounding like a JG Thirlwell remix of Nine Inch Nails with stuttering blasts and walls of digital distortion exploding from the speakers. It’s overloading, everything all at once, an instant headache distilled and amplified. This, of course, means I absolutely love it. Feel the pain.

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21st January 2022

Christopher Nosnibor

‘Slowburn’ is, true to the title’s promise, a slow-burner, and as a single, it’s solid – not immediate, but appreciation evolves with repeat plays. The track itself is, in many respects, very much in the darkwave tradition, with cold synths and equally cold, almost monotone vocals that also carry an ethereal quality.

There’s a mesmerising, hypnotic quality to the original song, which, we learn is ‘a song about passion; passion- a deep love/emotion that consumes body and soul. It is about depth of feeling for a person, place, process or thing.’ Against brooding piano and backed-off beat, it calls to mind Jarboe-era Swans and some of her solo work, in no small part due to Cat Hall’s powerful but understated vocal.

Cat explains the origins of the song as follows: “I wrote this as I was considering the many all-consuming passions of my life. Passion to write. Passion for art. Passion for nature, for the planet. Passion for science. Passion for humanity. Passion for the individuals I love. Also, the painful realization that despite my intense feeling, actions and orchestrations, these things, places, people, and processes come to an end. I come to an end. My passions die with me.”

Our passions drive us and keep us alive, and without passions, what have we and what is life? And what passion is there in a set of remixes?

My standard complaints around remix EPs are that they’re essentially lazy and eke out the smallest amount of material for the most physical space, and that they’re something of a short-change for fans; then there’s the fact they’re often really, really tedious, with the same track or tracks piled back to back and mostly sounding not very different apart from either being more dancy or dubby. This set is a rare success, in that the remixes are so eclectic and diverse half of them don’t sound like the same song, but without doing that whole thing of deconstructing it so hard with ambient / techno / dub versions that there’s nothing left of the original in the versions – another bugbear.

The Von Herman Lava Lamp Mix piles on the soul and sounds like Depeche Mode circa Ultra, while the Kirchner Charred Mix is a straight-ahead, thumping electrogoth dancefloor-ready banger. The Haze Void Mix cranks up the grind, with oscillating electronics more akin to Suicide than any contemporary act. This is the biggest, densest, and most transformative reworking of the lot, venturing into space rock territory as it thuds an d rattles, twisting the vocals against an urgent, throbbing sonic backdrop and throwing in some hints of Eastern mysticism for good measure. It’s an intense experience. The Hiereth Lonely to a Cinder mix brings some brooding piano and even harder hammering beats, landing it somewhere between the Floodland-era sound of The Sisters of Mercy and that quintessential Wax Trax! technoindustrial sound.

It’s a corking single, and as remix sets go, this is a good one.

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6th January 2021

Christopher Nosnibor

Like so many IKEA item names, Swedish black metal act Rimfrost’s moniker is one which has the capacity to raise a smirk and a snicker for English speakers. I know, I know, it’s juvenile, chuckling to myself about cold cock and chilly willy, and there‘s nothing particularly comical about this release. But as ever with black metal, there’s an element of high theatre that’s only as serious as you take it. Or, put another way, an element of theatre that can only be taken as seriously as it’s pitched. Venom’s Black Metal may have defined the genre, but ultimately, it was no more than an underproduced collision of punk with Motorhead (who arguably blended punk and metal with shedloads of speed).

The corpse-paint wearing black metallers split in 2019, but reconvened in the Autumn of 2021, and unveiled the first fruits of their reunion in the form of ‘Killer Instinct’ in October. So to refer to The Rise of Evil: Killer Instinct as an EP feels a shade disingenuous, since it contains just two songs – the aforementioned ‘Killer Instinct’ plus ‘The Rise of Evil’ make up a single that form a narrative that, as they explain ‘depicts the story of a killer’. In that sense, I’m reminded of the debut single by iLiKETRAiNS, on which the two parts of ‘As The Curtains Close’ tell of a stalker with murderous intent.

Rimfrost’s release is a lot less brooding and considerably less sinister. ‘The Rise of Evil’ is fast and furious, staccato guitars nailed to a frenetic drum driving the headbanging behemoth slog without pause, and it’s heavy alright, but there’s also some musicianship on display here.

‘Killer Instinct’ is less black in its metal persuasion and altogether more heavy metal, with histrionic guitars and a crisp production, with an overall feel – aside from Hravn’s growling, deep-throated vocal snarlings – that’s more Iron Maiden than Immortal, more Saxon than Satyricon. It’s the sound of spandex more than of souls being crushed.

Sure, genres evolve, and rightly so, but this cleanly-produced fretwork frenzy is a far cry from Bathory or even subsequent Swedish exponents of black metal like Dissection, although the theatrical element is perhaps more in common. While it’s serious music, I’m not certain that they’re entirely serious. The result, then, is ok, but rather cozy if you’re on the market for something more purely black or simply something that’s spine-crunchingly strong.

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Blighttown Records – 31 December 2021

Christopher Nosnobor

Australian metal act Hadal Maw emerge from lockdown with an EP that threatens ‘four tracks of uncompromising and confronting aural violence whilst also introducing new members Liam Weedall (Dyssidia) and Jarrod Sorbian (Départe)’, adding that ‘Musically the four track EP delves further in to the more visceral aspect of their sound and composition while maintaining the technical wizardry that the band established on previous releases’.

Metal comes in so many different shades, and while the more commercial end of metal is alright for banging heads to, it’s kinda tame, espousing nice production values. Hadal Maw, however, exist at the more raw and gritty end of the spectrum, and plough a dark furrow and plough it deep with some furiously gnarly abrasion.

They come blasting out of the traps with a magnificent amalgamation of discord and groove on the snarling blast that is ‘Fetishize Consumption’, and if firing nihilistic fury at the capitalist machine may be an obvious choice, it’s something that simply can’t be done too much, because excessive consumption isn’t simply the dominant culture, it’s the culture. And if you’re not against it, you’re part of the problem. Clearly, this is a simplistic reduction, which leaves little room for the fact it’s hard to escape the problem without going off-grid and living on roots and shoots. Living within the parameters of this contradiction – whereby digital technology and the use of social media is a necessary evil when it comes to disseminating any kind of message or output – isn’t easy, but channelling rage and(self)-loathing through catharsis can help, and Oblique Order demonstrates thar Hadal Maw are kings of catharsis.

The title track, which features ‘guest vocals from three of Australia’s most accomplished vocalists; Karina Utomo (High Tension), Luke Frizon (Growth) and Antony Oliver (Descent)’ gets darker, dirtier, with strangulated rasping vocals grate and grind over a low, slow, booming bass, which contrasts with the messy scribbly scratching guitar work. It’s turbulent and traumatic, in the most powerful, visceral way. It’s a low-end growl and chug that drives ‘Future Eaters’, a soundtrack to the darkest of all dystopias, and featuring a magnificently textured and detailed guitar break in the mid-section before everything comes crashing down hard.

The last track, ‘Vile Veneration’ could well be the soundtrack to this year’s honours list here in England. After a slower, quite intricate and evocative introduction, the drums power in and it’s a descent into the inferno from thereon in, with everything firing on all cylinders to truly punishing effect. It’s as heavy as hell and full of fury. The slowed-down, vaguely proggy midsection still packs weight as the band trudge, lumberingly through the final assault.

Oblique Order is a triumph not only because it’s relentlessly heavy, but because it’s clearly crafted and is remarkably varied in terms of tempo and tone. The band pack a lot into its duration, making for an EP that’s massively dense and hits like an asteroid on collision course.

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17th December 2021

James Wells

Pieces is the second in a projected series of five EPs, and on the face of it, it’s an immense undertaking: this release contains five tracks, and its predecessor four. Across the project, that’s a full two albums worth of material… until you clock that half of the tracks are remixes. Not that that’s a criticism per se, and I won’t revisit my eternal remix peeve yet again here, because no doubt readers are as sick of that as I am of remixes as a thing.

So ‘Pieces’ is in effect a single, comprising of ‘Disease of Kings’ and ‘Failure Principle’, bolstered by a brace of remixes of the former and one of the latter. ‘Disease of Kings’ is a in some respects a surprising choice of lead song, in that it’s a slow, brooding cut with expansive, cinematic synths casting an arena-wide vista over the reflective mood. It’s well-executed and emotionally charged, but the vocal treatment – namely a fuckload of autotune on the verses – is perhaps a little overdone and reduces the impact of the song’s kick-to-the-chest sincerity. It’s a fine choon, but maybe a fraction too produced and polished and even a little bit Emo, where a slightly rawer edge would have bitten harder.

‘Failure Principle’ is geared toward the mid-tempo, with quintessential dance tropes in full effect, with nagging synth loops rippling over and over an insistent dancefloor-friendly beat. While still featuring the core elements of techoindustrial, it carries a keenly commercial style.

The Assemblage 23 Remix of ‘Failure Principle’ is a standout by virtue of the way in which is accentuates the track’s danciness and general catchiness, bordering on euphoric dance which seems somewhat at odds with the lyrical content. But then, the medium is not necessarily the message, and there’s something to be said for slipping darkness in under the cover of light. In that sense, it works, although the extent to which suggesting any song by an industrial act has mainstream crossover potential and a broad appeal is questionable.

Rounding off the EP, the KALCYFR Remix of ‘Disease of Kings’ beings some fuck-off dirty great guitars and grinding bass to the party and comes on way more Nine Inch Nails, and tempers the vaguely emo leanings of the original and GenCAB remix.

The ‘limited-edition PANIC LIFT FACE MASK to accompany you on your journeys through the current post-apocalyptic landscape’ is a nice touch, too – because we need some nice things to help us navigate living through the reality of all of the dystopian fictional futures becoming reality all at once.

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