Posts Tagged ‘Split’

Important Records – IMPREC511 – 29th April 2022

Christopher Nosnibor

Merzbow releases are rather like proverbial busses, with this collaborative release with Arcane Device being releases simultaneously with a 20th anniversary reissue of his Merzbeat album and a CD reissue of his 1983 album Material Action, all on Important Records. The difference between Merzbow and busses is that you never have to wait long for a Merzbow album.

Merzbow & Arcane Device is a coming together of two very old hands at this experimental / noise stuff. David Lee Myers aka Arcane Device has been building electronics and creating feedback based electronic music since the late 70’s. Merzbow’s career also began at the tail end of the 70s, and the last forty-odd years has witnessed the release of a truly staggering body of work, with as many as twenty or more albums being released in a single year. It’s a daunting, overwhelming output, and the same is true of the music itself. Perhaps more than any other artist, Merzbow has pushed the boundaries of music – and even the boundaries of noise – to the absolute limits, and then continued to push beyond.

The premise of Merzbow & Arcane Device as a split LP is straightforward: each takes a piece by the other and remixes it, each presenting a longform piece correspondent with a side of vinyl.

The two pieces here are very slow, low, and drony, with the EQ geared toward the mid-ranges and lower, rather than harsh walls of treble. ‘Arcane Device Remixes Merzbow’ is particularly dense, murky, and unhurried in pace. Bubbles and pops blister the crinkled surface of churning sods. There are brief, momentary stalls to the crunching earthworks, filled with swarming hornet buzzes and wippling ripples of analogue synth sounds and skimming laser blasts. A Geiger counter crackle is pitched down and slowed to register around the gut and occasional trills of feedback break through the swampy soup. But for the most part, it’s half an hour of thick, wind-blown drone.

Merzbow’s treatment of Arcane Device’s sound is similarly given to bleeps and drones, but at a higher pitch and faster tempo; the laser bleeps are machinegun rounds by the barrage, and there are wailing siren cries of elongated feedback notes. As the drones drill deeper, the washes of static grow louder and harsher, and as the layers build, so does the volume and the tension. By the eight-minute mark, the tonal separation has become most pronounced, with barelling low-end underpinning a veil of squalling pink noise. Perhaps uncommonly for Merzbow, there are lulls, and they’re most welcome – but when the noise swells once more, the impact is amplified.

In the scheme of harsh noise, Merzbow & Arcane Device is not particularly harsh, but it’s tonally varied and its comparative subtlety is effective, as it gives the album a more considered feel, and it in no way diminishes its impact. The fact the two tracks are different – perhaps not so much for the casual listener, but to a noise enthusiast – the variations on a theme hold the attention, and draw the listener into the details of texture. These works are restrained, respectful, even, but not reverently so, and in offering two sides of a melted, battered, and pulverised coin, Merzbow & Arcane Device makes for a tough yet immersive listen.

Cruel Nature Records – 11th March 2022

Christopher Nosnibor

This is something that the CD or digital release simply cannot really do justice to as a full, multi-faceted, multi-sensory experience: the split LP. And while I’m more of a fan of vinyl and cassette, this most certainly does the job: you have to turn the thing over. It is truly an album of two halves. In this case, half Benbow, and half Strssy. And while some split releases simply stick two artists back to back – and there’s nothing wrong with that – Benbow and Strssy have history.

As the biographical notes detail, they first met ‘in a basement café in Lausanne, Switzerland just before the first sliced loaf was presented at the World’s Fair. Benbow had just finished a tour of the Alps with wandering trapeze troupe, NORMAL MAN while Strssy had taken a well-earned sabbatical from conjoined mime act, DIET PILLS. Over the following years they exchanged correspondence and encouragement as they independently began making experimental electronic music’. This split release, then, is pitched as ‘a celebration of this journey’.

Benbow’s eight cuts make for a hell of a journey in their own right. The tone is far from celebratory: it’s dark, claustrophobic, driven by dense beats and even denser atmosphere. Short, fragmentary snippets that straddle the space between sketched ideas and something more fully realised, all bar two are under three minutes in duration, but pack in a lot. Broadly, Benbow explores the tropes of minimalist, dark-hip hop, with thwacking solid beats and phat bass that gnaws at the gut with simple repetitive motifs or only three of four notes. It’s kinda heavy, and the effect is cumulative.

‘Slowly’ grinds, chugs, and churns away, the bass thick and gnarly amidst a swirl of reverberating synth oscillations that emulate the nagging call of a siren toward the end. Benbow’s final track, ‘Two’ marks quite a shift, with strings galore and an altogether lighter mood.

Strssy similarly trades in contrasts and juxtapositions. ‘Off a Watering Can’ starts out gentle, but when the beat kicks in, it’s pretty bloody heavy, and the mood changes significantly. It’s no longer chillout, ambience, but dense and tense, and layers of noise build exponentially to incorporate shrill whistles of modular synth abuse. ‘Deep Interior’ is all the twitch and bleep against dank, rumbling caverns of sound and then, from nowhere, it’s more rapid and relentless wails like a misfiring smoke alarm, only with a squeaky toy embedded in the circuitry. On a bad day, I’d likely find this seriously fucking annoying, but in a balanced and objective mood, it’s possible to give kudos to the way in which Strssy incorporates dance elements into a more freeform approach to electronic music which also incorporates industrial and ambient leanings. ‘Bath Night’ is a thumping industrial melting pot that’s more like drowning slowly than floating serenely, while ‘A Beautiful Brown Catalogue’ is all about the bowels with its booming bass frequencies, plus additional wild trumpet action. It’s got that late 80s wax Trax! vibe, but with a more experimental twist, and it pinches the brain.

Paired, Benbow and Strssy make for a formidable duo, a tag-team of hard-hitting genre-splicing, slow-groove bashing behemoths.

AA

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Panurus Productions – 1st October 2021

Christopher Nosnibor

It’s a cliché to say ‘I don’t know where the time goes’, and it’s often, if not an outright lie, then at least somewhat disingenuous. Between dayjob work, school runs, cooking, other domestic chores, gigs, occasional TV, and writing reviews, it’s pretty obvious to me and most people who know me where my time goes. I know where my time goes. This doesn’t make it less of an issue. The fact I’ve been chipping away at this particular review for days, even weeks, adding a few words here and there, is testament to the time-deficient lifestyle. I can’t even quote remember where I was going at the start of this by the time of the finishing point, but ultimately, I suppose the point is that time is something that is ephemeral, fleeting, something of which we’re all too often acutely aware and are in thrall to and yet at the same time, it is simply a construct by which to structure our existences.

This split release on Newcastle cassette label Panurus Productions promises ‘two sides of bleak catharsis on this transatlantic split from Petrine Cross and Tower of Filargyria.’ And that is precisely what it delivers, with three tracks from each artist, both of whom scour the depths of darkness in contrasting and complimentary ways.

Black metal may have relatively modern origins in musical term, but its murky invocations speak of something altogether more ancient, and Petrine Cross has a way of transcending time and genre, taking the standard tropes and merging them with atmospherics so dark and dank as to blur to near-ambience. The muffled production values which are core to the genre are something not only embraced here, but utilised to create a distancing and a sense of ‘otherness’: this isn’t drums, guitars, vocals, it’s a dense wall of sound that envelops your entire being, and smothers the senses, stifling, suffocating, like a cloud of mustard gas.

There’s a point near the end of ‘Sobriquet’ where everything simply erupts into an explosive crescendo that hits like a bomb, and the sound is like mud, dirt, rocks and splintered body parts – being splattered in all directions from an immense crater. You’ve no idea of the song’s lyrics or real meaning, only the impact of this devastating moment. But there’s light. The third and final PC cut, ‘The Grecian Bend’ seems to offer glimmers from amidst the murk, with some delicate wisps and washes of sound. There’s a rare subtlety and delicacy about this that resonates on a subconscious level.

Tower of Filargyria, apparently referencing ‘the medieval term meaning love of money or silver, rail against their monumental namesake, produce three tracks of sample laden anti-capitalist black metal’. We have to take this on trust, of course, as what this manifests as is a blistering assault of guitars so trebly they hurt and snarling vocals with so much reverb everything clangs into a mesh of noise, the drums thumping away somewhere low in the mix like a pillow thwocking around in a washing machine.

Samples of lectures and speeches dissecting the beast of capitalism abound, and the semi-ambient opening to the third and final ToF track, the eleven-and-a-half-minute ‘Capitalfascist State Apparatus’ (no question about the sentiment / agenda there) works particularly well in the way it draws the listener in – which makes the ‘metal’ section all the more disappointing, being quieter, and of a very different sound quality. It feels more like a demo than a finished take – but for that, it’s true to black metal production values, and it’s one of those songs that gets better as it goes on, and builds and builds to a roaring crescendo of howled, raw-throated vocals and thundering percussion amidst a squall of guitars and feedback. It’s a real whorl of noise and comes on full-throttle, and this – THIS – is the release. It’s been a long time in coming.

Catharsis is hard to beat, but the downside is that it’s often hard to know how to manage the drop, the slump which follows – and it inevitably does. This split release is all the catharsis, and it’s one the listener can project onto and draw inwards from. It has immense (dark) force: the only slump is for the listener on the realisation that after forty-five minutes of immersion in the gnarliest, most painful depths of anguish, it’s over.

AA

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Khatacomb – 7th July 2021

Christopheer Nosnibor

Some artists clearly thrive on collaboration, throwing themselves fully into the possibilities and potentials ideas from other quarters offer. Ukrainian experimentalist Kojoohar, aka Andrii Kozhukhar, is clearly one such artist, with the self-explanatory Split– a collaboration with fellow Ukrainian Acedia and New Zealander Acclimate – is his second release of the year so far.

Split is something of a celebration of darkness, and a coming together of artists with fundamentally divergent styles, and its finding a home on Ukrainian label / webzine Khatacomb is no coincidence, given its commitment to ‘covering various manifestations of Ukrainian post-industrial music, from dark folk to experimental electronics, and art in general’. It’s an immense departure from anything Kojoohar has done before, with his 2019 and 2021 collaborations with ködzid goo exploring the realms of industrial and avant-garde hip-hop.

The way Split is split is interesting in itself, with four solo Acedia pieces, one Acedia and Kojoohar composition, and a brace from Kojoohar and Acclimate, making it very much an album of three segments – and as such, split.

In context, the vocal element of Acedia’s contributions come as something of a surprise: against minimal, stark electronic backing, with snaking percussion and strong snare sounds that cut through, Acedia delivers a vocal that’s glacial yet warm in its human vulnerability. Ugh, comparisons feels like lazy journalism, but serve their purpose: Depeche Mode, Ladytron, and New Order’s Movement coalesce in the tone and style on these chilly tunes.

‘You’re already dead’ she intimates in a blank monotone on the cold as ice ‘Cocoon’, and the insularity closes in as each song progresses: ‘Slaughterous Game’ is as dark and dangerous as it gets, so cold that it strikes chill to the very marrow. It’s bleak but bold, and the four Acedia cuts feel like an EP in their own right.

I can’t help but feel that this release would work best in physical format, either as n album with the Acedia tracks on one side and the rest on the other, or as a pair of 12” to give each segment clear separation.

Acedia with Kojoohar conjure some darkly dreamy drone with ‘Forget my Name’, with its rolling, woozy bass and whipcracking snare that slashes away at a slow pace, and dark gets darker with ‘Enwomb’, the first of the pieces jointly forged by Kojoohar and Acclimate. It’s nearly ten minutes of ambient drone that billows and rumbles while treble bubbles and bounces eddy this way and that amidst the grumbling mid-range fog. Sparks fly and stutter incidentally but without effect, and the horizon grows broader in the face of this vast vista despite the grumbling discomfiture and whispering in tongues. It’s unsettling, a squirming, churning, twisting and turning with no breaks in which to find a position that’s comfortable. The same is true of the final track, the second Kojoohar and Acclimate cut, and it’s a cut that cuts deep: serrated edges burr and saw away, and tribal percussion thuds away insistently against subdued but wince-inducing trails of feedback.

None of this is comfortable; none of this is easy. But it’s a contrasting set that strains the edges of convention to create something quite, quite different.

AA

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