Posts Tagged ‘gloom’

The Helen Scarsdale Agency – HMS064 – 6th May 2022

Christopher Nosnibor

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Darkness treads light as a feather. The voice of despair gently wafts through the air. Delicate pain wrapped in radiant beauty pierces the heart slowly yet without hesitation. The sinister yet beguiling images that DARKHER aka Jayn Maiven paints with her ethereal vocals, guitars, and added strings conjure iridescent cinematic scenes in which it becomes hard to tell whether there lies beauty in darkness or if it is the other way around.

With her sophomore full-length "The Buried Storm", the guitarist, composer, lyricist, and producer has clearly succeeded to even improve the beloved alchemic musical formula that was firmly established on DARKHER’s debut album "Realms" in 2016. Her mostly eerie and at times even outright sinister sonic storytelling comes refined on every level and with sharpened contrasts that reflect the ongoing learning-process of their creator. 

DARKHER were conceived as the sole brainchild and solo-project of Northern English singer and guitarist Jayn Maiven in 2012. The dark and melancholic yet also massively heavy sound on the self-titled debut EP "Darkher" (2013) combined with the distinct vocals of the shy pre-Raphaelite beauty caused an audible buzz – particularly in the doom scene and brought DARKHER a quick record deal, which led to the following EP "The Kingdom Field" (2014) appearing via Prophecy Productions.

Despite not even having an album out, DARKHER were invited to prestigious festivals such as Roadburn in Tilburg, The Netherlands and Prophecy Fest in the Cave of Balve, where the English delivered widely celebrated performances. In 2016, the highly anticipated debut full-length "Realms" was finally released to much praise from critics and fans alike. Press compared DARKHER’s music with a wide range of highly individual acts such as CHELSEA WOLFE, ESBEN AND THE WITCH, SÓLSTAFIR, LOREENA MCKENNITT, and PORTISHEAD.

In the meantime, Jayn’s long-time drummer Christopher Smith, who already contributed to earlier releases, live shows, and again on "The Buried Storm" has been added as permanent member to the line-up of DARKHER.

"The Buried Storm" gives shape to the darkness lurking at the edge of consciousness, hidden from plain sight but patiently biding its time to strike out at the heart. DARKHER have delivered another frightening masterpiece that easily transcends musical boundaries with its broad appeal to friends of dark sounds regardless of genre. "The Buried Storm" captivates its listeners with deceptive sweetness – only to bind them tightly within a thorn-spiked nocturnal beauty forevermore.

Watch ‘Lowly Weep’ here:

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Image: Kathryn Pogue

21st June 2021

Black Angel emerged four years ago, and released Kiss of Death in July of last year – an album that brought together Matt Vowles’ years of experience from being in and around the goth scene to recreate the spirit of 1985.

This time, Vowles and co have come out with a concept album for their third outing, which is ‘inspired by cinematic classics such as ‘Dracula’ (Gary Oldman-1992) and ‘Interview with a Vampire’ with contemporary inspiration on tracks like "Alive" and "Give It To Me’" from the modern aristocratic sophisticated vampires in ‘Underworld’.

The album’s concept, the blurbage explains, is ‘to take you on a journey. The record starts out with an introduction to set the tone and to put you in 10th century England. As our protagonist embarks on his pillage through the town, we hear screams from the villagers as they run for their lives. He’s the Prince Of Darkness and causes chaos and mischief wherever he goes’.

There’s a fine line between artistry and pretence, theatre and corn, and despite the concept that veers towards an amalgamation of all the clichés of goth distilled into a dozen tracks, Prince of Darkness once again nails that vintage goth sound, with ‘Alive’ melding the energy of early Mission with the mechanised drumming of The Sisters to create a swirling cyclone of tripwire guitars and gloom with a glint of joy.

The energy is sustained across the bulk of the album, and the vibe is very much a muscle-flexing dominance, delivered with a big, ballsy swagger: there’s a hefty whiff of testosterone and a barrel load of rock god posturing going down here, but it’s delivered with a knowing nod ‘Live to Love’ is a proper old-school rock ‘n’ roll stomper with a smoky vocal growling and grizzled over a piston-pumping beat and a wonderfully insistent bassline that nags away at a repetitive motif. It’s got that level of grab that immediately makes you want to stick the whole album on repeat, especially after ‘Turn Around’, which pushes the quiet / loud dynamic with a searing guitar line that’s right in the vein of The March Violets – it’s that flangey reverby chorus thing.

Vowles has some depth, and range, too – on some tracks, like ’Call the Night Part II’ he showcases a grainy croon reminiscent of Mark Lanegan, and it’s heavy timbre is well-suited to such expansive epics, and then again, on ‘Secretly’ we see a more soulful, even tender side, and ‘My Love’ goes all out for the heart on sleeve grand gesture. It’s theatrical, but at the same times feels emotionally sincere, and while the melody bears similarities to ‘The Scientist’ by Coldplay, it sounds like it’s being sung by James Ray, and it’s quite moving in a brooding, gothy way.

Throughout, the songwriting is solid, with guitar hooks galore and a taut rhythm section that forges that classic goth groove. There’s a clear lineage from its predecessor in that Prince of Darkness is very much old-school goth delivered with a subtly contemporary twist, but it sounds and feels more confident, more ambitious, and not just on account of its embracing an overarching concept. Prince of Darkness is the sound of a band really hitting their stride, and achieves the perfect marriage of concept and execution.

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Southern Lord – 23rd April 2021

Christopher Nosnibor

Canadian trio BIG | BRAVE return bolder, heavier, and more intense than ever on Vital. But when to start?

I seem to recall an essay by William Burroughs which contained the advice for writers that narrative had to be visual in order to work – meaning that writing about a ‘indescribable monster’ just wouldn’t cut it: readers need to be able to visualise the monster in order for it to be scary. Writing about music may be a slightly different discipline, but the challenge is always to convey not only what the music sounds like – the objective bit – but how and why it makes you feel the way it does – the subjective, critical bit. After all, you’re not a music critic without providing any critique. And yet the first – and for some time, only – word that comes to mind to ‘describe’ the experience of listening to Vital is ‘overwhelming’.

The crushing power chords crash in after just a matter of seconds on the first mammoth track, ‘Abating the Incarnation of Matter’. But it’s the jolting, juddering stop / start percussion that hits so hard that really dominates. There’s so much space – and time – between each beat, that it feels as if time is hanging in suspension, and you catch your breath and hold it, waiting, on tenterhooks. And it’s this, the sound of a tectonic collision, juxtaposed with Robin Wattie’s commanding yet incredibly delicate, fragile vocal that makes it such an intriguing and powerful experience. As the song progresses, the anguished calling becomes a ragged, hoarse-throated holler and you feel the emotion tearing at her vocal chords, ‘dissolving each layer until there is little matter left’.

The yawning throb of feedback that fills the first minute and a half of single ‘Half Life’ sounds like a jet preparing for takeoff. And when it stops, it’s the hush that’s deafening and uncomfortable. The lyrics are actually an excerpt from the 2018 essay collection How to Write an Autobiographical Novel, by Alexander Chee. And when the music ends, leaving nothing but Watties’s acapella vocal, they’ve never sounded more stark and intense. Once you become adjusted to noise, there is little more shocking to the system than its absence. And so it is in life: we’ve become accustomed to traffic, to bustle, to busy shops and offices, to streaming media – and when it stops, we struggle to know what to do.

And so it is that the dynamics of Vital are so integral to its impact. ‘Wilted, Still and All…’ is different again. The album’s shortest track is still of a dense tonality and substantial volume but manifests as a billowing cloud of grumbling ambience, and it provides a certain respite ahead of the punishing ‘Of This Ilk’ – nine and a half minutes of slow, deliberate, and absolutely brutal punishment, a bludgeoning assault on a part with Cop-­era Swans. The drums and bass operate as one, a skull-crushing slab of abrasion that hits like battering ram, while the guitars provide texture as strains of feedback howl and whine. The false ending halfway through only accentuates the force ahead of the extended crescendo which follows. It’s the repetition that really batters the brain, though: bludgeoning away at the same chord for what feels like an eternity is somehow both torturous and comforting. The third and final movement is rather more tranquil, but nevertheless always carries the threat of another wave of noise, which doesn’t arrive until the title track, a nine-minute finale that grinds out a dolorous drone, a crawling dirge where a single chord and crashing beat rings out, echoes and decays for what feels like an eternity.

‘Timeless’ is a word that’s so often used and misused in describing music, but with Vital, I mean it to be understood rather more literally, in that time stalls and everything – time, perception, and the world itself – hangs, frozen in suspension. While listening to Vital, nothing exists outside this moment, and everything is sucked into the vacuum of its making. You can barely breathe or swallow, and for the time it’s playing, there is nothing else but this.

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Plinki – 15th April 2021

I’ve been vegetarian since around 1994 or 95. My vegetarianism amuses some people, including a couple of friends who are such hardcore meat enthusiasts the prospect of a meal without at least some meat element makes them shudder and quiver and slowly foam away like a slug having salt poured over it. Then again, there’s a real risk they might dehydrate through salivation at the prospect of a tray of meat. Yes, the promise of meat can have a profound and indeed physical effect.

On this album, Anat Ben David and collaborators aren’t promising any meat you can actually eat and digest, but only chew on, which will no doubt disappoint my carnivorous chums. But there is much to chew on, and to ponder, as they present a vast array of styles and sounds that don’t always sit comfortably aside one another and will test many listeners on a number of levels. At times it’s pop, and with an electronic beat, but at others, it’s overtly experimental. And what does the cover art say?

Each of the songs on the album according to the liner notes, takes as its starting point ‘a text by a different author’ with ‘the new compositions bringing out a shared theme: the interaction of humans and the natural world and the assimilation of technology into our being’.

The five tracks on The Promise of Meat are stunning in their dramatic structures, their contrasts, their juxtapositions, and Anat’s soaring operatic vocals are utterly breathtaking. And there is no one overarching style that defines the album beyond the method, a focus on the minimal, the brooding. Pitched against groaning, droning electronica and stammering synths, it’s a striking sensation that creates a certain cognitive dissonance? What is this? How does one process and assimilate it?

‘Naked Axes’, the first song, is sparse and dissonant, dramatic and while the vocal is perhaps most reminiscent of Billie MacKenzie and there are hints of the high drama and tension of The Associates, it’s Scott Walker’s later work that’s perhaps the closest comparison here.

‘Cherish the Birds; is a chorus of delirium, while ‘Face Mixed With Phone’ is a stuttering barely- there dual-vocal acapella / spoken word piece with some bloopy, gloopy incidentals. It’s a shade awkward, especially when growls and whoops collide with shuddering organ-like drones and the crack of the snares of vintage drum machines to forge a wibbly sonic mirage.

The title track, a sprawling ten-minute morass of meanderance, is where things really get weird, and it’s sonorous, lugubrious, as an acoustic guitar plods a deadened strum, augmented by mournful brass sounds sad, lost notes into nothing, and amidst squelches and digital glitches. As atonal and varikeyed vocals collide against one another in the instrumental drift, it becomes increasingly disorientating and deranged.

Maybe this isn’t an album to process or assimilate in the usual ways. There is no clean or simple way to position this or to otherwise feel comfortable with the unexpected transitions and perspectives. But it is an album to spend time with, and to reattenuate your expectations by.

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16 November 2020

Christopher Nosnibor

The latest six-tracker from GHXT goes for the slow-building intro with the low, slow ‘Shimmer’, where the murky, distorted guitar drone and twang cascading out over a retro drum machine stutter that’s backed off in the mix but cuts through sharp as a whip. It’s the Sisters of Mercy’s Reptile House EP slithering into a stranglehold of The Black Angels on ketamine with a dash of Barbed Wire Kisses era Jesus and Mary Chain.

Two years on from the appropriately-titled Gloom EP, the New York duo return with another batch of weighty, dark material which demonstrates their continued evolution, and the fact the EP format is one which suits them particularly well.

While operating from a comparatively limited sonic palette – dense, overdriven guitar that’s got a big, thick valve sound, minimally-programmed drum machine, and reverb-swamped female vocal they manage to do a lot with it: ‘Come Home’ is Curve-y shoegaze, while ‘It Falls Apart,’ released as a single in October, is a big, bollock-swinging swagger of messy blues, boasting a monster lead solo that sprawls over the entire track. Gloom and blues and murk dominate, casting heavy shadows and a hint of goth over the mood, but there’s so much more besides: the rich timbre of the guitar as it spins a slow-unfurling picked riff on closer ‘Die High’ calls to mind recent works by Earth and Dylan Carlson.

As the nights draw in on the approach to winter and the world feels like an increasingly apocalyptic hellhole, there’s something comforting about GHXST’s brand of immersive darkness.