Posts Tagged ‘Intense’

Neurot Recordings – 20th October 2017

Christopher Nosnibor

Mass VI may have six tracks listed, but effectively, it only has four full movements, with a brace of brief interludes breaking up the blasting, blistering intensity. And what intensity. Five years on from Mass V and Amenra have not softened their sound one iota.

The ten-minute ‘Children of the Eye’ makes for a slow-building opener: there’s a full minute of silence before a quiet, gentle intro of chiming guitars rips into a screaming vortex of noise that channels a spiral straight into the depths of a world far below the earth. The delicate, reflective mid-section offers much-needed reprieve, albeit temporarily, before the deluge of guitars bring a return to the tempestuous anguish. No doubt, the Neurosis comparisons stand as obvious, and it’s not hard to make the connection as to why Amenra have made their way to the Neurot label. But the howling, barking vocal derangement is altogether more frenzied and tortured to the point that borders on the inhuman. It’s the sound of a voice detached from the world and detached from hope, desperately screaming into a sonic vortex which swirls as an emblem for the pain that is existence.

‘Plus Pres de Troi’ brings a heavy, dolorous trudge and a sinewy, organic guitar sound. The thick guitars grate in an epic Sunn O))) -like drone. Gradually unfurling, transitioning between the aural equivalent of delicate fronds to boughs torn asunder by hurricane-force blasts.

It’s on ‘A Solitary Reign’ that Amenra really show both their depth and range. Epic doesn’t come close: yes, it’s post-rock, post-metal, and it’s raging, brutal shoegaze with an emotional dimension that’s deeply affecting in the way that only music can be. There are no words to fully articulate such resonance and the levels sound and voice can reach into the soul and affect the mind. As a reviewer, there’s a real sense of impotence when faced with something like this. It’s so much easier to write either objectively or to dissect technical issues, or to otherwise slate in the most violent terms possible something that’s inherently shit or lacking in whatever, way. But how does one articulate music that turns the innards to liquid and melts the brain? What do you say about something that leaves you feeling numb, incapable of movement, and utterly overawed? When the last thing you want to do is analyse, and instead sit back and let the experience touch every corner of your innermost being, how do you reconcile the role of fan and critic? You give yourself over to the music of course, and accept that this is bigger than you.

Mass VI is bigger than your small world, your little life. Mass VI reaches deep into the heart of the human condition through the medium of sound. The fact that the lyrics are impenetrable and inaudible for the most part only heightens the experience: it’s the language of sound which conveys so much and means everything.

The eleven-minute closer, ‘Diaken’, combines all of the elements of drone / doom / post-metal / post rock in a thunderous and sprawling behemoth of a sonic journey to create something that’s both cerebral and physical: the crushing riffs played on obliterative guitars contrast with the delicate, detailed breaks to breathtaking effect.

Despite its duration, Mass VI feels remarkably concise, largely on account of just how focused it is. There’s no waste, no packing, no flab: everything about the album is centred around distilling every sound into creating optimum power, and the result is stunning.

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Fire Records – 15th September 2017

Christopher Nosnibor

There’s a segment that starts around the six-minute mark on ‘Absent Friend’ where the guitars, soaked in reverb, chime and interweave, forming a delicate latticework of notes which is the very quintessence of post-rock. Hex was released in 1994. While much of the album isn’t quite post-rock as we now know it here in 2017, listening back to the debut album by the band which saw Simon Reynolds famously apply the term ‘post-rock’ (although often cited as marking the term’s coinage, this is as much-debated as what actually constitutes post-rock), it’s not hard to identify this as the definitive moment at which the tropes which define post-rock as we broadly recognise it began to coalesce.

The intense and arduous work that went into Hex would ultimately lead to the band’s disintegration, and it would be a full twenty years before Graham Sutton would reconvene Bark Psychosis to deliver a second album in the form of ///Codename: Dustsucker. But one could reasonably argue that with Hex, Bark Psychosis achieved more than many bands could even aspire to over the course of ten albums.

The delicate, evocative piano of ‘The Loom’, accompanied by soft strings arguably set a certain corner of the blueprint acts like Glissando and Her Name is Calla would come to place at the centre of their sound, and the meandering melodies would subsequently be developed by the likes of Oceansize – admittedly, more neoprog than post-rock, but this only highlights the range of Hex and the far-reaching vision it demonstrates. ‘Big Shot’ boasts a strolling bass and warping, dreamy atmospherics over a rolling glockenspiel and a semi-ambient breakdown in the middle. ‘Finger Spit’ may not feature the kind of epic crescendos which characterise a lot of ‘classic’ post-millennium post-rock, but its hushed, quietly intense space clearly explores surging dynamics. The gloomy discordant brass of ‘Eyes and Smiles’ prefaces the early sound if iLiKETRAiNS. And so on.

Across the course of the seven tracks (these are long expansive compositions), Hex weaves cinematic soundscapes and wring all shades of emotion not from the lyrics and vocals, which are largely secondary, but from the music itself. It has texture and depth, and at its best, possesses a transportative, almost transcendental quality that goes beyond mere music. This, it’s fair to say, has been the ambition of the acts which have come to stand as synonymous with post-rock, disparate and different as they are, from Godspeed You! Back Emperor’s immense, surging soundscapes, to the chiming crescendo-orientated compositions of Explosions in the Sky via the twee elvin twinkles of Sigur Rós.

Hex was certainly not an album of its time. 1994 was the year of In Utero, and Live Through This, Sixteen Stone by Bush, and Weezer’s eponymous debut, as well as Dookie, Smash, and Parklife, and Definitely Maybe, His and Hers, and The Second Coming¸ as well as Dog Man Star. As grunge jostled with Britpop in a divided musical landscape, and in a year which also delivered Pavement’s Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain, The Beastie Boys’ Ill Communication, and Manic Street Preachers’ The Holy Bible. Put simply, Hex did not fit. Amongst broadly contemporaneous works, it does share more commonality with The God Machine’s Scenes from the Second Storey (1992), Slowdive’s Slouvaki (1993) and Rosa Mota’s Wishful Sinking (1995) (all unappreciated at the time and still criminally underrated) than anything that could be considered zeitgeist.

Now seems an appropriate distance to re-evaluate Hex. And even now, despite so many of its tropes having been absorbed, assimilated and endlessly replicated, it sounds beyond contemporary. It possesses so much depth and range, and conveys a close, personal intensity which has absolutely nothing to do with raging volume. Within or without context, Hex is a remarkable album. Yes, it effectively spawned a genre, and yet, it still stands apart. And that’s every reason to sit back and enjoy Hex not as an influential album, but simply on its own merits, of which there are plenty.

Bark Psychosis - Hex COVER

Christopher Nosnibor

I’m here as a paying punter. I’m here to pay tribute. As a fan of Swans from my mid-teens in the early 90s, I had never expected to see them play live. But the last seven years have yielded four albums of ever-expanding enormity and ambition; I’ve seen the band play not once, but three times, and had the opportunity to interview Michael Gira, an artist I’ve long admired. I’m here to experience that sonic force one last time, and to thank the band in my own small way for everything they’ve given since returning with My Father Will Guide Me Up a Rope to the Sky in 2010.

The crowd swells steadily during Little Annie’s performance. Little Annie may be petite, as her name suggests, but she’s an awesome presence. She has insane cheekbones and intense eyes – more than once she fixes on me and I feel as if she’s boring into my soul. I fear she knows I failed to complete and publish a review of State of Grace, her 2012 album with Baby Dee. I’m feeling a pang of guilt over it now: she really does have an incredible voice. Rich, with a deep grain and so much soul. Her rendition of Robert Wyatt’s ‘Shipbuilding’ packed so much emotion, and she remarked that she wished the song wasn’t still relevant today. Closing a set of originals and covers, she seemed genuinely moved by the enthusiastic and vocal audience response.

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Little Annie

Between acts, I was surprised to learn just how many of those who packed down the front were not hardened Swans gig-goers, but first-times, many half my age and only relatively recently acquainted with the band (standing there, on my own, sporting a fedora and a shirt with the Greed cover art on the front seemed a prompt for people to gravitate toward me and strike up conversations for some reason). I told them to get to the bar and get themselves some earplugs if they wanted to live.

Swans take to the stage at 8:30 prompt and begin to work a single throbbing drone. Ten to fifteen minutes later, not much has changed beyond the volume and intensity with which it’s played. Whereas once Swans were all about delivering a sustained and brutal assault, latter day Swans are very much focused on the slow-build.

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Swans

“I hope they play ‘Screen Shot’ one enthusiastic youth had said to me beforehand. Having done a spot of research on Setlist.FM, I was fairly confident that they would but instead pointed out that Swans’ live sets were less song-orientated and primarily concerned with the end-to-end succession of ebbs and flows and immense, sustained crescendos. They do play ‘Screen Shot’, and, indeed, the set broadly has the shape of the performance captured on the new live album Deliquescence. In other words, the bulk of the set is centred around ever-evolving performances of material from The Glowing Man and contains extended workouts unavailable in studio form and developed through the live performances. This may be the final tour of this iteration of the band, but they’re not looking back: there’s no ‘Oxygen’ or ‘A Little God in My Hands’, and there’s sure as hell no ‘Your Property’ or any other material hauled from the back catalogue to pander to any old-timers hankering after the classics of the band’s previous existence.

During tonight’s show, from my vantage in the front row, it’s hard to be certain if they achieve the totally annihilative volume I’ve witnessed previously, on account of the fact I’m in the front row. While the full force of Norman Westberg’s guitar and Christopher Pravdica’s bass amps blasting me at face level, and the band’s staggeringly vast backline being the primary source of sound, the comparative levels of the drums and vocals through the PA are dramatically reduced.

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Swans

Westberg’s patient guitar playing – he chews gum and nonchalantly cranks out a single chord for an eternity without blinking – sits perfectly against Pravdica’s tetchy, repetitive grooves, while Christoph Hahn remains dapper, hair slicked back, while torturing lap steel in the most unimaginable and sadistic of fashions.

The absence of Thor Harris does have an effect on the sound: the burly, hirsute percussionist brought heightened detail and texture to the band’s immense sound and both he and his huge gong brought something to the visual aspect of the show. Not that thee six men on stage produce a sound which lacks depth, range and detail, tonally or musically, and similarly, to witness six musicians play so cohesively, so naturally, while working so incredibly hard is quite something to behold. The expressions on their faces are of intense concentration but they do occasionally shoot one another knowing smiles and even break big grins from time to time. Gira’s unique and inimitable style of conducting his companions and the way the sound seems to be shaped, sculpted in real-time by his flailing arms and stomping feet isn’t a sight one easily forgets.

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Swans

Perhaps even more than on the swirling, two-hour long exploration which is The Glowing Man, the band’s – and no doubt given his recent comments about the future direction of the Swans project in its next phase – Gira’s growing interest in evolving a more abstract style of musical form is placed into sharp relief over the course of this endurance test of a set comprising a mere five pieces and with a duration fractionally in excess of two and a half houurs. He has the lyrics on laminated A4 sheets on a stand in front of him, but his vocal utterances are few and far between, and when not consisting of wordless drones and ululations, the syllables are elongated to abstraction and unintelligibility. This isn’t a problem or a criticism: it simply illustrates Gira’s move towards exploring the language of sound without the need for actual language.

After the show has been brought to a shuddering climax, they stand in line to receive a lengthy – and more than well-deserved – ovation. Gira introduces the players in turn before they take three long, leisurely and appreciative bows. We know we’ve witnessed something special, and, moreover, there is a sense of occasion. This is the end of an era. It’s been scary, unsettling, and nothing short of amazing. Swans: we thank you.

Rock is Hell / UNrecords – RIP 66 / unrec11 – February 2016

Christopher Nosnibor

 

Maja Osojnik is an angry woman. A woman on the edge. A woman with inner strength. After 14 band albums, her first solo outing is a highly charged work, heavy with stark emotions and raw catharsis.

‘Tell me, what do you want me to be?’ she asks in an opium monotone on ‘Tell Me’. Slowly, her offers become more desperate and pained, her multiple voices speaking simultaneously before she slams it all down on the table, unable to maintain her decorum any further: ‘Ill become… all the images you want / so you can walk on me / sleep in me / so you can throw all your shit on me / Tell me, what the fuck do you want me to be?’ It’s chilling in its directness, its apparent lack of artistic distance.

‘Let Them Grow’ is one of those albums that hits like a punch to the solar plexus. It’s impossible not to laud the artist for her openness, her ability to convey so many painful emotions – but at the same time, it’s deeply uncomfortable. Listen, people who use terms like ‘TMI’ are, in the main, uncomfortable because they don’t like to face brutal truths, particularly those belonging to other people. On ‘Let Them Grow’, Osojnick pays no regard to these emotionally closed or stunted types and simply lays it all out there, telling it like it is, spilling her guts because she has no other choice. This isn’t simply music, this is pure art and the very definition of catharsis. Let Them Grow is a work of exorcism, of expulsion.

If you hadn’t already figured, this is a challenging work. ‘Condition’ is a full-tilt rant against a backdrop which amalgamates industrial noise and tribal beats. ‘Stick it up your ass… Come out, you rotten cocksucker, here’s your fucking POP SONG’ she hollers bitterly. And she fucking means it: this isn’t mere petulance, but a middle finger to an establishment and a wider world that’s failed and ultimately fucked up- and which doesn’t value the arts and doesn’t recognise the value of art. It’s a shame, because this is art.

It’s not just the music: I received the CD in its gatefold card sleeve enveloped within a four-leaf pamphlet type wrapper, accompanied by a sticker and five postcards of the artist beautifully shot by Rania Moslam in a range of striking poses. The whole package was in turn wrapped in a parchment paper bag. It’s about the artefact, the attention to detail, the building of suspense and expectation while gaining access to the disc itself, which, in turn, does not disappoint. This is not merely an album. It’s a grand gesture.

From the most subtle, delicate pieces, led by softly-fingered piano, she slowly drags out every sinew of anguish, draws on every drop of pain and presents real emotion. Emotion that can’t be faked.

Brooding instrumental passages offer moments of respite, but then there are sections of growling industrial noise, dark and sinister, grinding and crushing, which are nothing short of devastating. Taut, tense and from the heart, Let Them Grow sees Maja Osojnick present an album that is unparalleled in its sincerity and astounding in its emotional and musical power.

Maja Osojnik

Maja Osojnik Online