Posts Tagged ‘EP Review’

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.

AA

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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.

AA

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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.

AA

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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.

AA

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James Wells

In advance, we learn that ‘The songs on Beautiful Hell will take you on a tour of the wreckage that is the contemporary state of affairs brought about during the reign of the Orange Beast. There was the destruction and reversal of environmental policies like withdrawal from the Parris Climate Accord, termination of the Clean Water Act & turning back the clock on human rights’, and that ‘the title track ‘Beautiful Hell’ draws a juxtaposition between the beauty of this planet and decaying state of political affairs. The tune ‘Under his Eye’ is focused on what is seemingly a path toward a Neo-Nazi Christian state. ‘Night Bird Cries’ is a lament for the decline of our environment and morality, that increasingly vie for our attention but go unheeded.’

The sound of Orcus Nullify – headed by bassist / vocalist Bruce Nullify – on this release is very much vintage goth, with fractal guitars, heavy in chorus and flange and setting spindly frameworks around thundering bass and tribal drums, the murky production evolving the sound and style of early Christian Death.

The intro to the title track sounds very like that of The Mission’s ‘Severina’ before it goes all splintering, spirally Nightbreed-sounding second-wave goth. For the record, that’s no criticism, just a contextual referencing placemarker. ‘Night Dance’ showcases a raw, dingy sound where the guitars are trebly and the bass is muddy and everything combines to create something dark and intense. ‘Fall from Faith’ is The Mission amped up to eleven, it’s The March Violets, it’s Groovin’ with Lucy, it’s Rosetta Stone.

As such, it’s not inventive, and Orcus Nullify clearly aren’t out to reinvent the genre, but to add to the body of the catalogue that could reasonably be labelled ‘classic goth’. Nothing wrong with that, and credit to the band, they’ve got the sound nailed, and some decent choons, too, with Beautiful Hell being a solid and dynamic EP.

AA

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1st December 2021

Christopher Nosnibor

Just shy of a year since Cave Suns threw their improvised ‘Surk Skum’ EP into the plague-ridden void, they return with a proper lo-fi DIY release, consisting of four pieces, ‘improvised live one take each song apologies included’ they write. The set was captured on an iPhone and is released on a limited edition cassette (and digitally, of course).

Beyond the world of the major label (and the domain of the indie label with some cash behind it), this increasingly appears to be the future of the little band. With the chances of getting signed and getting bankrolled these days practically nil even for solids acts with some commercial potential and significantly less than zero for artists doing anything without that commercial potential (which isn’t to say there’s no audience or demand), they’re taking thee means of production into their own hands and just getting on with getting their music out there. If one positive thing has emerged from the last couple of years under the pandemic – and let’s face it, it’s been hard to find anything positive, particularly for bands and small venues (I’m hesitant to say ‘the music industry’ because Ed Sheeran and Eric Clapton won’t have suffered too heavily from the lack of touring options in terms of bank balance or their ability to reach audiences or shift units / merch and I’m sure the likes of Warners aren’t questioning their viability right now) – it’s the fact that perhaps finally any stigma around self-releasing has been eradicated. That said, for Newcastle’s Cave Suns, it’s business as usual: they’ve been self-governed and self-releasing since 2014 and haven’t been troubling studios in order to lay down their intrusive improvised sessions, preferring instead to capture live shows and rehearsal room jams

‘Dunder Salt’ is a kind of mellow psychedelic swagger with a buoyant bassline and bopping beat that seems to all cast a nod to the verse of The Beatles’ ‘Come Together’. With minimal progression, there’s a Krautrock element to the vaguely jazzy, vaguely funky groove. It’s a solid jam, but it’s not until the eleven-and-a-half-minute ‘To Who It May Concern’ that they really show us what they’re capable of. Mystical, eastern-inspired scales twist in a slow-building swell of sound, a hum and a drone of bass and tentative drumming before emerging on a vast sonic plateau. It’s one of those compositions that stops and starts so often that it’s hard to decide if it ever really gets going, or if it’s several pieces string together; perhaps more reasonably it’s best described as several movements with a succession of ebbs and flows and sustained crescendos, often with the drums pounding hard with insistent thrashing of cymbals and hitting some solid grooves even with the stretches of meandering guitar.

‘Essesse’ kicks off wide two with something altogether lighter, more technical, with a mathy aspect, and also more overtly proggy, you might even go so far as to describe it as jaunty – but then, you may not. It’s kind of a collision between That Fucking Tank, Muse, and Royal Blood. Maybe it’s more as well, It’s certainly their most ‘muso’ cut to date, and is also highly accessible.

The 11-minute ‘13th Celebration’ that rounds off the EP and the remainder of side two is built around a repetitive bas throb that evokes the monotonous groove of Suicide, but overlaid with a sprawling guitar jam that’s part prog, part space rock, all improv. They lock into a neat groove for a time and really rock out, but then slow it down and trip out, crawling to the close.

Hypnotic, groovy, completely free of the shackles of genre and commerce, No Guards knows no limits and captures Cave Suns on fine form.

AA

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26th November 2021

James Wells

Following on from the single releases of ‘Climb’, ‘I A Fire’, ‘Hold the Line’, and ‘What is a Life?’, Reading four-piece Third Lung have delivered their much-anticipated new EP, Dialogues Of The Fatal Few.

Three of those aforementioned tracks are featured here, and while it would have been obvious and easy to have released a five-track EP featuring all four with the new song on offer here, that they’ve gone for a more succinct release means that Dialogues Of The Fatal Few is a much more focused and cohesive release, and not a complete rehash and compilation.

Opening with ‘I A Fire’ sets the stall out nicely, and while it’s mid-tempo, it’s bold and anthemic, and recalls the spirit of circa 2004 when Keane broke through with ‘Somewhere Only We Know’ and the single releases from Coldplay’s A Rush of Blood to the Head were all over the radio. Bear with me. In context, these weren’t bad tunes which hinted at considerably more than the tedium that would follow from both bands. ‘Hold the Line’ is perhaps the strongest song in the set, balancing brooding and dark with a blossoming sunburst chorus

Piano ballad ‘The Art of Stealing’ reveals a different facet of the band, and while it’s clearly not a single track, illustrates the benefits of EPs and longer form releases. It also provides a well-placed change in form in context of the EP, bringing things down a notch or two between the monster tunes.

There’s more to Third Lung than straight-up anthems: lyrically, they’ve got some depth and are worth listening to, although I suspect that’ll likely be secondary to their career trajectory, and with such a knack for big tunes, it’s surely only time before they’re big, too.

AA

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15th July 2021

Christopher Nosnibor

Lately, being goth isn’t so much of a cause of derision, since everyone has been facing some existential angst about isolation and death in some form or another. It may sound a shade facetious, and the truth is, it is, but the point stands: circumstances have forced many people to reflect differently on life, and to experience a kind of alienation, as a result of separation and distancing in the most literal of senses.

And it is upon this thought that Johnathan|Christian singer/co-writer, Christian Granquist reflects when considering this new EP: “Unlike previous releases, the lyrics and inspirations on this one is a bit of a paradox” he says. “Some of our ‘usual’ vocal topics like loneliness, isolation and of course death have become so much more relevant during the pandemic. And for the exact same reason they appear less relevant, as they become less metaphorical.’

This EP may only contain four tracks (which feels like the optimal EP set, corresponding with vinyl 12” from the 80s), but does showcase some considerable stylistic range.

With ‘My Dying Words’, the duo spin a brooding goth tune that’s in keeping with the second wave style, and would be quite at home on a Nightbreed release. Lyrically, it’s one of those ‘big ego’ protagonist songs ‘You’ll never meet someone like me again’, he bombasts in the chorus.

The title track is a piano-led piece, that brings with it a certain theatricality and some moody strings. With live-sounding drums, the feel of the production is quite different, too. Recorded as a duet, it works well, presenting as a dialogue that plays out the themes of absence and missing, and the way those feelings can interplay, and drag on the soul.

After the brief string-draped interlude if ‘My Beautiful, Broken Butterfly’, ‘Never Trust a Man (With Egg on His Face)’ pitches a drably spoken-word vocal delivery against a sparse backdrop of spindly guitars and a remarkably danceable beat, coming on like a goth Pest Shop Boys and building to a majestic finish.

A strong EP doesn’t only have strong songs, but is also sequenced in such a way as to have a flow, and Together, We’re Alone very much has that. It feels like more than simply four songs in the same space, but a self-contained unit.

AA

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