Posts Tagged ‘Intense’

Christopher Nosnibor

The 13th of July is a Friday. It seems like an appropriate date for a show hosted by The Trembling Hellish Infernal Nightmare Generator. And besides, an event that involves standing in a dark pub venue being aurally assaulted by four noisy bands in sweltering heat represents the perfectly antithetical alternative to the populism of a city swarming with racegoers.

It might not exactly be packed for Pak40, who begin their set with a claxon and bass hum, before thumping in with some tom-heavy drumming and thunderous, super-low bass growl that comes on like early Earth, only with percussion. While the duo’s focus is firmly on the creation of maximum noise, the stylistic manifestations are varied, with classic rock elements churned through a cement mixer and a vocal style characterised by elongated vowels that range from pysch-tinged prog to something closer to Bong. The final track is sludgy as hell, but ups the pace considerably, inviting comparisons to Fudge Tunnel.

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Pak40

Saltwater Injection are another drum / bass combo. As last year’s debut single, ‘Vinegar / Cuntryfile Part 3’ revealed, they’re noisy, too, cranking out a mesh of grindcore noise interspersed and overlaid with trebly, distorted samples from films and whatnot. It’s not about innovation, but execution, and after a lengthy intro, the bass feedback howls and they go full-throttle to deliver a set of high-octane aggression. It’s stick-twirling drummer Paul Soames who provides the vocals – predominantly guttural barks to their frenetic attacks. There are flickers of pop, but they’re transmogrified into roaring slabs of rage that go off like a clusterbomb.

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Saltwater Injection

Nottingham’s Bone Cult have been on my radar for a while, and I’ve been quite taken with their brand of hard-edged technoindustrial crossover music. Visually, they’re on a whole other level: with dense smoke, neon skull-masks, a crisp, clinical sound, and laser lighting shooting every which way, they transform the 120-capacity pub venue with a stage a foot high into an academy-type gig experience. They’re so slick, so tight, so immense. For all the intensity and aggression, they do seem a shade lightweight in context, mining more the Pretty Hate Machine era sound of Nine Inch Nails and aping the electro end of the Wax Trax! roster circa 1988. Still, in terms of entertainment, they’re hard to fault.

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Bone Cult

The same is true of headliners, London three-piece Little Death Machine. They neither look nor sound like a band on the lower rungs of the circuit. They’re mechanoid tight, and have a set packed with killer tunes, delivered with nuance, passion, emotion, and panache. A spot of research suggests that this is a new lineup, and while I lack the reference to compare to the old one, they seem to have gelled well. Yes, they do sound a lot like Placebo. A LOT like Placebo. But old Placebo, which is A Good Thing. It’s a punchy set, packed out with songs with massive drive and killer hooks and crackling energy. It’s also the perfect climax to an exciting night.

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Little Death Machine

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Uniform hit us with their most powerful, most emotional and bleakest endeavour yet. Vocalist Michael Berdan and instrumentalist Ben Greenberg have joined forces with drummer Greg Fox (Liturgy, Zs) to perfect their vicious post-industrial dystopian cyber-punk and are ready to announce their new studio album The Long Walk incoming via Sacred Bones on 17th August. They’ve also revealed a video for the album’s lead single ‘The Walk’. Created by Danny Perez, the video highlights the cynicism, absurdities and downright bloodlust of our current news cycle. 

Intense doesn’t cut it. Check it here:

ROOM40 – RM491 – 12th April 2018

Christopher Nosnibor

It’s not even as much as a distant rumble. It’s barely the sound of air. An uneven hum eventually creeps into the realm of audible perception, but it’s still so quiet as to be questionable: is my mind playing tricks? Am I imagining sound to fill the silence. The whir of the disc in the player is still louder, and stands to the fore because of its higher pitch. But no, the rumble is growing now. I’ve been sitting here for three minutes or more, but now, the sound is upon me, and it’s like an approaching helicopter, thick, beating the air. It reaches a point of sustained crescendo, from whence if continues to grow, from a low roar to an excruciating multi-tonal blitz that fills the room and fills my head. Treble whines and drones above the gut-clenching low-end and scrapes. It makes for an intense and unsettling ten and a half minutes, and I’m reminded, perhaps inevitably, of Merzbow and Kenji Siratori in the way the piece’s power stems not only from the detail of tone, texture and volume: the shifts are gradual, but definite. And then it stops. Silence. The contrast. The silence is more bewildering than the noise, at first.

Thus I am introduced to the work of Australian artist Thembi Soddell. Love Songs is an exploration and articulation of experiences of ‘insidious forms of abuse within supposedly loving relationships, in connection to certain forms of mental illness.’ The album succeeds in that Soddell conveys the relatable, if not necessarily the universal, in the personal. Without the specificity of lyrical content, the listener is necessarily invited, even compelled, to pour their own experience into the spaces in the sound, to interact with the moments of dissonance and discomfort.

At times eerie and tense, at others calm, yet always with a certain undercurrent of unease, Love Songs is every bit as dark as the cover art implies. The accompanying text summarises it nicely, saying ‘it’s equal parts horror, anxiety, relief and exhilaration, often in the same instant.’

‘Repetition Compulsion’ alternates hushed passages with seering screeds of noise which halt abruptly and unexpectedly, and if ‘Who is to Blame’ employs the same type of approach, the explosions of noise are of an altogether different intensity, an all-out wall of noise that’s full Whitehouse at times, although Soddell’s focus on tonal variety is the key point of interest here. The final composition, ‘Epilogue’ returns to the territory explored on the first, ‘Object (Im)Permanence’, beginning as silence before erupting into a sustained, violent, sonic assault. The screaming upper frequencies are pure torture, and as the howl and whine of the sounds fuse to form an oppressive, painful and impenetrable wall, it feels like it will never end. And you want to… but equally, you don’t. I let the sound engulf me and a certain energy courses through me. Where is the release? There. Finally, in the arrival of silence. The end.

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AThembi Soddell – Love Songs

Christopher Nosnibor

If you look up scarily intense in the dictionary, you’ll probably find a picture of Olga, the dynamo shouter who fronts Russian hardcore punks Svetlanas.

The three strong supports have already done a decent job of getting the crowd warmed up. First up, Weekend Recovery have been touring hard in support of their debut album, and seem at ease in the intimate venue. Kicking off with a punchy rendition of the hooky ‘Turn it Up’ and signing off with a driving romp through the power pop of ‘Why Don’t You Love Me’, they deliver a neat tour of the album. Lauren’s in good voice, the band are tight, and the grunge heft of the album’s title track, ‘Get What You Came For’, is a clear standout.

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Weekend Recovery

Jaded Eyes and bring sheer, snarling fury and immense, brutal density. They crank things up several notches in terms of volume, too. There’s no pretence. There’s nothing showy. Just full-on, balls-out, aggressive punk, the songs played hard, fast and packed back to back with no let-up. Hardcore the way it should be.

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Jaded Eyes

Brazilian female-fronted three-piece Yer Mum don’t exactly go easy on the ears, either: packing some dirty, low-slung riffage worthy of Fudge Tunnel, theirs is a hefty, dense sound. There’s pace and energy to their full-throttle grungy punk attack, and my notes – appear to reference Nymphs and L7, although I wouldn’t necessarily trust my notes as they’re scrawly and very sparse – I was too busy watching the band. This is the main reason to go and watch live music, after all, and we always hope for those moments where the experience envelops us and everything else, all the bubble and froth of thought about work, life, and all the rest, is pushed out of the frame in favour of the moment.

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Yer Mum

Svetlanas achieve this, and then some. The band are mighty in the noise they produce, but it’s Olga who provides the focal point. Compelling would be an appropriate adjective for her performance, but fails to convey the fact that you watch the set with your eyes glued to her because you fear for what may happen if you don’t pay attention. She’s an incendiary force, and what she lacks in stature she makes up thousandfold with her fiery energy: the kineticism is exhilarating and exhausting. But it’s all in the eyes: the wild, wide eyes that she sticks right in people’s faces as she jerks and flails her way through the crowd. There’s mania and danger in those eyes. Paired with the pulverising sonic blast that explodes from the PA, Svetlanas live are the very definition of intense.

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Svetlanas

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.