Posts Tagged ‘Penance Stare’

Cruel Nature – CN133

Christopher Nosnibor

It’s not often demo tapes get a ‘proper’ release. Then again, it’s not often you actually get demo tapes these days: cassettes may be making something of a comeback on the underground, but you’re more likely to get a demo recorded on mobiles with the tracks assembled using some smart software than on a four track. I remember my old Fostex X-18 seeming incredibly compact back in ’92. Less true of the X55, but with its double-speed spooling and advanced mixing capability, it was more like having a proper studio on your desk. How times have changed.

But when it comes to black metal, low-grade production is integral to the aesthetic. It’s supposed to be impenetrably murky, the songs emerging from a booming condenser mic recording overloaded with volume, crackle, and hiss.

I was fortunate to catch Petrine Cross virtually live at a Heinous Whining streaming event the other week, and it was devastating: I was blown away by the dark intensity of the performance, and this release confirm this was no one-off or a case of me being carried away with too many cans in my atempt to recreate the gig experience at home.

A solo project for Esmé Louise Newman of emotionally-charged black metal duo Penance Stare (and her resumé is pretty impressive too), Petrine Cross is pitched as ‘Thought-provoking raw ambient black metal, inspired through solitude and literature, that hits hard in all its oppressive glory.’

‘Charred Skirts and Deathmask’ could be read one of a number of was, but it begins with a soft-edged undulating drone, which continues throughout its eight-plus-minute duration beneath a crushing deluge of punishing guitar noise. There are no discernible chords, no clear structure, just a full-on deluge of sludge. There are some vocals in there somewhere, too, I think. I don’t need the details, and that’s perhaps as well, as they’re obfuscated by a dense wall of undifferentiated sound that’s all in the mid and lower ranges.

I’m listening by candlelight and screen glare, and it seems appropriate as the snarling blast of ‘I Beneath a Rougher Sea’ tears from the speakers, a muffled, murky blast of a cyclical chord sequence, overloading with distortion. It takes some time for any form to emerge from the searing sonic wall, and when it does, it’s vague, melting in its blisteringly intense grind.

The recordings may be primitive, but I’m not sure they would necessarily benefit from a more luxurious, layered studio treatment. The context is key: this is black metal – albeit in a stripped-back, ambient form – and doesn’t require polish. These recordings are cavernously dark and dredge the depths of the soul. Search deep.

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Christopher Nosnibor

Much as I think the live stream shows that have become a thing during lockdown are a great way for bands to stay connected with their fans when tours have been cancelled, and artists and fans alike are frustrated and apart, I’ve struggled to get into them as an experience.

Discussing this with a gig-mate, I explained that I’d tried a few guitar bands doing streams from bedrooms , and found the experience of just one or two band members doing acoustic stuff and chatting a fair bit in between may create a certain sense of an intimate setting, but lacks the multisensory aspects, as well as the impact of music at gig volume.

‘I did do a couple early on’, my friend replied, adding ‘It’s not really what I want. I want to go to a gig.’

It struck me that that was it, in a nutshell. A stream is not a gig. TV, radio, YouTube, a live album… is not a gig. It’s like arguing that a Kindle is like a book. It may well be, but it isn’t, and the things it lacks are the reason it will never be a convincing or authentic sensory substitute. When it comes to live music, the cliché ‘you had to be there’ is ineffable. Yes. You do actually have to be there.

Nevertheless, with friends whose music I’m into on tonight’s lineup, I decided to invest a little more in recreating the live experience, starting with a pre-gig pint, which I texted pictures of to various people. Being a warm night, I didn’t put the heating up, but I did draw the blind and shut the door to my office, and put the display full screen (The streaming chat is irritating and detracts from both the music and the visuals, however sparse) and cranked the speakers up, and sat back to witness low rumblings and slow-decaying chimes that marked the start of Möbius’ set. The visuals consist of a dark background and shining points of yellow-white light. Wordless dual vocals ring out and resonate against one another, generating a subtle power, somewhere between Gregorian chanting and Jarboe at her most ethereal. The drones grow denser, louder, the effect of a single note sustained for an eternity increases as time passes: my body hums at the same frequency for a time, before the resonant echoes are gradually swallowed in a swell of distortion. Chances are, if played at the same volume, a recording would have the same effect, but it’s an immersive set nevertheless.

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Möbius

Between-acts, there’s some obscure noise mix streaming, and Plan Pony is up next, blasting out speaker-mangling low-end distortion. If the noise is impressive, it’s matched by polarised visuals. Manipulating blasts of harsh guitar sampled in real-time and thrashed through an immense table fill of effects, the output is a sonic blitzkrieg. The quiet passages don’t translate quite as well, partly because my neighbour’s got a mate round and they’ve got the radio on in her back yard, but some snarled-up samples and snippets of music emerge from the grumbling electronics as he twiddles knobs, before long building again to a shattering wall of harsh noise.

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Plan Pony

Zad Kokar takes things to next-level wtf, with bewilderingly nightmarish visuals that ae probably best described as max Headroom on acid, accompanying a blizzard of audio mashup that’s like early Prodigy in collision with early cabaret Voltaire. Both on acid. Diverting from the in-yer-face mental shit, we’ve got Clean Wipe, a guy in shorts stroking a doorframe while tweaking knobs on effects pedals at a circular kitchen table while the background changes colour constantly. It takes me an age to realise there must be contact mics on the door frame, and I can’t decide if I need more beer or I’ve had too much already.

It’s been a strong start, and TCH, on at number 4, take the mood and volume down a bit, but in a good way. The noise is dark and dingy, and reflects the setting in which we see a hooded figured tweaking minimal kit in a small, mildew-stained room. It’s more like watching a documentary on heroin withdrawal than a musical performance.

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TCH

I clock 61 viewers, which is probably about the capacity of CHUNK, and the nights thy host are usually BYOB, so cracking a can of ALDI’s The Hop Stepper that I fetched from downstairs between acts seems consistent with being there.

Petrine Cross is Esmé of Penance Stare doing one-woman black metal at a million decibels. The set’s an ear-shattering mess of noise and distortion and visually, it’s stark, dark and black and white. The sound is overloaded, borderline unlistenable, but that’s likely intentional, and it’s clear some effort’s gone into this. Each song has its title on-screen at the start, there’s a plug for a charity compilation (again, on-screen text means no need for awkward chat) and songs are intercut with footage of the cat. It’s belting. And her room as some nice cornice work.

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Petrine Cross

It’s a distorted dictaphone tape recording – a fractured ranted monologue about life in isolation under lockdown – that provides the material for Duncan Harrison’s set. It captures the mental tension of the moment so well, it’s uncomfortable listening. It’s followed by Energy Destroyer’s barrage of noise accompanied by video footage of him swinging either nunchucks or lengths of rubber in his back garden, and it’s the bodywarmer that makes it.

It’s disorientating watching the back of a performer’s head as they play and seeing them again on the PC monitor before them, with the whole scene framed by leaves and soundtracked by birdsong and incidental rumblings. But this is what we get from Garden Magik, whose set evolves gradually into a digital storm. At some point in the gale-force distortion, I realise my mind isn’t entirely on the set, but then, in a live setting, I would have likely enjoyed the sonic experience but found my mind wandering to maters of work and other stuff – and that’s no criticism. Under lockdown, in my office, it’s even easier to become distracted by text messages and FaceBook.

Content’s ‘If Hard Work Pay Show Me Rich Donkey’ leaps out as a feature of the between-act PA tunage before Sadistic Statistic, who give us more garden footage and a full-on Merzbow blast of obliterative sonic carnage. The images of cats are unrepresentative: the melting digitisations less so: at times, it sounds like it looks: brain-shredding, difficult, and impossible to pin down. Harsh is the new norm here: this is one of those sets that leaves you feeling utterly wrung out by the time the last sparking crackle fades.

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Sadistic Statistic

Stuart Chalmers takes us on a mesmerising tour of a cave, before Otherworld bring gloopy, cracking electronics accompanied by swirling pixelated patterns that aren’t exactly easy on the retinas. It’s low-level noise that’s centred around slow-, hypnotic pulsations. It’s pitch-black in the room now bar the screen and I’m staring fixedly at the shifting shapes as the sound ripple around me, and the experience is quite gig-like until Mrs N returns an extension lead, which isn’t quite the same as being handed a final pint before the train.

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Otherworld

In terms of lineup and performances, this was a hell of a night. It would, unquestionably, have been infinitely better to have witnessed it in person, surrounded by other people also witnessing it in person: atmosphere is interaction, but also an unspoken feeling that passes between people in a room. Virtual claps posted on a chat stream simply cannot replace real time reactions. But, while it’s the best we’ve got, it’ll have to do. What I took from tonight is that some genres seems better equipped to operate differently, and experimental electronic odd shit, with its propensity for visuals and playing in darkness, seems to have less work to do to adapt than conventional rock formats, making this the closest to the live experience I’ve yet witnessed. And yes, I had a blast. And made it home with no problems, too.

Christopher Nosnibor

Leeds’ DIY scene is becoming increasingly adept at turning poky rehearsal spaces into gig venues: it makes sense from a funding perspective, but also means that while conventional scenes are struggling to stay open for various reasons (as often redevelopment as being squeezed financially) and new and niche acts are finding it increasingly difficult to get gigs, the Leeds scene is thriving and as diverse as ever.

I’ve previously sung the praises of rehearsal-room-turned venue CHUNK, and it’s Theo Gowans, who does a lot of the stuff there, who’s behind this evening’s show. Tonight, Mabgate Beach (or Madgate Beach, as the poster has it), tucked away in a corner of an industrial estate in an obscure corner of the city plays host to a brace of Newcastle noisemongers, supported by a brace of very different local supports.

I’d been forewarned that the room was small, but that’s something of an understatement.

Intimate isn’t even close.: it’s about the size of my living room, although it’s still probably a few feet bigger than The Hovel in York’s South Bank Social, which has a capacity of maybe 16. The drum kit and back-line fill most of the room, after which we manage to pack in maybe 20. And the lighting is as minimal as the space, only less consistent.

The Truth About Frank have been knocking around for over a decade now, and Alan Edwards’ sets don’t get any more mellow over time. Kicks off the bill with a riot of samples, the set comprises a single continuous improvised soundwerk, a jarring audio cut-up through which murky beats fade in and out through an ever-shifting collage of noise, creating what cut-up originator Brion Gysin would refer to as ‘a derangement of the senses’. Playing in near-darkness with a pencil beam of light emanating from the arm of his glasses to illuminate his minimal digital kit, Edwards’ stubby nicotine-stained fingers manipulate shapes on a touch screen and jab buttons, and with each prod and poke, more strange sounds emerge, and it’s brilliantly bewildering.

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The Truth About Frank

Things start to feel quite cramped when a full band with bass and two guitars play, and I’m less concerned about site lines for photographs than being smacked by the bassist’s headstock, meaning I’m happy to settle for the second row to observe Loro spin a set of mellow post-rock. It’s kinda standard circa 2004 fodder for the most part, but it’s nice, and with twists of mathiness and jazz without being indulgent.

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Loro

Penance Stare prove to be an absolute revelation. Their recent recordings are a hybrid of ethereal shoegaziness with black metal production values, and while those elements are very much present here, witnessing their colossal noise in such an enclosed space is an incredibly intense experience. There’s ferocious reverb on the vocals, and murky as fuck guitar duels with thunderous drumming. The duo explore some deep, dark atmospheres, too, and coupled with Esmé’s brutal anguished shriek, there are comparisons to both Amenra and early Cranes to be drawn here. Some of the soft instrumental segments are achingly beautiful and affecting, and are invariably obliterated by devastating distortion and howling agony. This is music that reaches deep inside and leaves one feeling somehow altered.

James Watts has more bands and projects than I have albums in my review pile, and having met him and performed alongside Lump Hammer in the summer, I was keen to see how things worked with a different slant and lineup, and an absence of knitted head/face garb. Whereas Lump Hammer ae sludgy and repetitive, Plague Rider mine a seam of pounding math metal, with Watts’ vocal veering between shrieking demonic and guttural taking a shit deep grunt. And what the fuck even is his two-string instrument with some kind of touchscreen attached? In the less-than—half-light, I’m struck by how much Watts resembles a young Alan Moore. It’s so dark, I can barely see the rest of the band to know what they look like, but they relentlessly kick out juggernaut riffs that hammer hard.

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Plague Rider

Technical difficulties struck 15 minutes in, with a power outage on the guitarist’s pedal board bringing a halt to the set, but after a brief intermission they resumed as loud and punishing as before, and then some.

In such a confined space, the effect is staggering: every beat, every chord, lands like a punch to the gut. It’s exhausting but exhilarating.