Posts Tagged ‘Swans’

Living Music Duplication – 17th November 2017

Christopher Nosnibor

Thor Harris continues to keep himself more than vaguely occupied in the post-Swans era, and also continues to demonstrate just what a versatile percussionist he is. The collective, centred around Harris, who not only contributes diverse and eclectic percussion, but also wind instruments including some of his own devising. features at its core, Peggy Ghorbani on marimba, and Sarah ‘Goat’ Gautier on marimba, vibraphone, xylophone, organ, voice, mellotron and piano.

Anyone on the market for Swans-style brutal percussive bludgeoning should leave now. Thor and Friends are pitched as an ‘avant-chamber ensemble’, drawing on ‘the classic Minimalist composers including Terry Riley and Steve Reich, but also amalgamate such diverse influences as Brian Eno, Aphex Twin, Moondog and The Necks around a polyrhythmic core of mallet-struck instruments, primarily marimba, xylophone and vibraphone’.

There’s a lighthearted, skipping melodic heart beating beneath the eddying synths and weirdy whistles and subtle strings which are all interwoven into one another on the hypnotic and ever-shifting ’90 Metres’. Ominous and eerie tones and echo-heavy chimes dominate both ‘Creepy Carpets’ and ‘Dead Man’s Hand’, while elsewhere, ‘Mouse Mouse’ explores a more playful side, manifesting as a sing-sing tune that has an almost nursery rhyme / lullaby feel to it.

In the fucked-up, brutal world in which we find ourselves, where it’s everyone for themselves while each and every citizen is shafted by governments and multinationals and consumerism, kindness does feel subversive. And in their own quiet way, Thor and Friends offer their own subversive resistance. It’s a gentle, mellifluous collection of compositions which are neither overtly contemporary nor steeped in traditionalism. It’s this sense that the music exists out of any place in time, and that it doesn’t obviously connote any concrete physical space that makes it so very appealing.

Thor and Friends

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Gizeh Records – 10th November 2017

Christopher Nosnibor

This is certainly quite the collaborative lineup, featuring as it does Aidan Baker (Nadja / Caudal / B/B/S/), Simon Goff (Molecular, Bee & Flower), and Thor Harris (Swans, Shearwater, Thor & Friends). What renders Noplace all the more impressive is that it’s an improvised work, recorded in a single day.

As the press release recounts, ‘having known each other for a number of years and previously contributed to one another’s recordings this trio finally came together as a whole on May 7th 2017 at Redrum Studios in Berlin. In a short, improvised session of just a few hours they set about laying down as much material as possible which was then subsequently edited and re-worked (without overdubs) to form this album.’ And the results are quite something, and I very quickly manage to put aside the thought that the cover art reminds me of the film Up, minus the balloons.

Rippling strings quaver over softly swelling undercurrents while rolling percussion provides a subtle, unobtrusive rhythm as ‘Noplace I’ introduces the album before creeping into the darkness f counterpart piece ‘Noplace II’. And yet it’s very much only the beginning: having been moulded post-recording, the album’s seven individual pieces are structured and sequenced so as to lead the listener on an immersive journey which gradually and subtly moves from one place to entirely another.

‘Red Robin’ builds a pulsating, looping groove overlaid with creeping stealth. Its repetitious motif may owe something to the hypnotic cyclical forms of Swans, but its trance-inducing sonic sprawl also alludes to a hypnogogic reimagining of dance music – and this filters into the spacious ‘Noplace III’, which draws together expansive ambience and, in the distance, shuffling, tranced-out beats, to create something that stands in strange, murky Krautrock / dance territory. Yes, it sounds electronic. Yes, it sounds unique, but at the same time, yes, it sounds familiar in terms of the individual genre tropes. It’s ‘place’ is precisely ‘noplace,’ in that it belongs nowhere specific, yet appeals on many different levels and in many different ways.

Interweaving motifs continue to feature in ‘Tin Chapel,’, but the rhythm here is much more prominent, a weighty four-four bass/snare beat driving a linear road through the sweeping, strings that glide from mournful to tense. The locked-in psyche-hued desert rock bass groove pushes the piece forwards, while at the same time holding it firmly in one place. In turn, it tapers into the bleak, murky expanse that is ‘Northplace’.

The final composition, ‘Nighplace’, brings things down and almost full circle as the percussion retreats into the background amidst a wash of elongated drones which ebb and flow softly.

Noplace certainly doesn’t feel improvised, and while it’s remarkably cohesive, as well as possessing a strong sense of structure, it also reveals a remarkable range, both sonically and compositionally. And irrespective of any context, it’s an engaging and immersive aural experience.

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I’m Not From London Records

Christopher Nosnibor

It’s a fucking miracle Arrows of Love are still here, let alone that they’ve managed to nail a second album. But then, to watch them play live, it often seems like a fucking miracle that they can make it to the end of a set. Everything about Arrows of Love, from day one, had had an air of precarity, teetering on the brink of implosion. Every song carries that same sense of danger. It’s their wild volatility that sets them as one of the most exciting bands of the last decade, but ultimately, it’s the songs that matter. They’ve always had songs: sprawling, messy, noisy, fucked up and perversely challenging songs, underpinned with some lean grooves.

Product has been a long time in coming and the line-up on this, their second album, is quite different from the one which recorded their debut. In the period between the delivery of aforementioned debut the nihilism-in-a-nutshell noisefest that was Everything’s Fucked (May 2014) Arrows of Love have evolved, and perhaps some of it’s a natural progression and some of its… not so much an increasing maturity as a refocusing of energy, and some if it’s a result of the personnel changes. One obvious shift is the absence of shared vocals: Lyndsey Critchley’s departure has certainly altered the dynamic of the band in that sense (bassist Nuha Ruby Ra’s vocal contributions are a lot less prominent, and she only leads on one track, the surprisingly sultry and almost tender ‘Come With Me’), and Product is a lot less direct and attacking than its overtly grunge-orientated predecessor.

That doesn’t mean that Product is any less confrontational or antagonistic, and the nihilism which drove Everything’s Fucked is apparent in the subtitle ‘Your Soundtrack To The Impending Societal Collapse.’ Moreover, the use of the definite article shows an absolute confidence in what lies ahead – Arrows of Love are certain we’re past the tipping point and freewheeling toward the end of the world as we know it. Product is certainly a darker, more claustrophobic affair than its predecessor, and finds Arrows exploring wider, deeper territory in the process.

‘Signal’ is dark, dense, disturbing, and desperate, and is heavily hung with a curtain of goth which drapes over the violent (post)punk energy. ‘Did you ever see this coming?’ Nemah challenges through a fuzz of distortion ‘Let the lunatics run the asylum,’ he spits, and we know that this isn’t the future he’s predicting, but a plain observation on the present. The tension builds into a squalling racket and the vocals reach fever pitch as the track reaches its explosive climax.

It feels like an eternity since ‘Predictable’ first aired on-line – and while the band articulate their ennui at the daily shit that is life in the 21st century, as a musical work it’s anything but predictable. The vocals transition from drawling boredom in the verse to screaming mania in the chorus, while the guitars lurch and swerve every which way.

Marking a change of pace and direction, ‘Desire’ is dark, brooding, stripped back, introspective. At near the six-minute mark, it’s a seething mess of emotions: Arrows of Love are a band who’ve always emanated a gritty sexuality, but this channels it in a very different way, and it’s not comfortable or snuggly.

‘Tidal’ is perhaps the most overtly ‘art-rock’ song on the album, as well as being the most classically ‘grunge’ composition, with its quiet / loud verse / chorus juxtaposition. At the same time it encapsulates the dual character of Product, and album that swings – quite effortlessly, and thus with maximum impact – between classic post-punk trappings and raging noise, with exploratory experimentalism informing the process.

‘Beast’, which premiered some months ago now, is a swampy, squalid mess of seething abrasion a throbbing mess of bass that sonically calls to mid Melvins in places but ultimately stands as the soundtrack to a riot. The shrieking ‘Toad’ is equally uncompromising, and ‘The Parts That Make the (W)hole’ comes on like a hybrid of The Fall, Shellac and The Cooper Temple Clause. ‘Restless Feeling’ captures the dark, dirgy doom of Swans circa 1984 and makes for one hell of a low ending to the album: if anything, it’s the sound of society after the collapse as its low-end swell builds to an all-consuming tsunami of noise.

Product bridges the gap between Bauhaus and Nirvana, but ultimately, any comparisons are but signposts to an album which is unique in its standing. Product avoids pretence and overblown portentousness: it doesn’t make lofty statement about the future, but instead stands as a painfully intense document of the present. If any album of the last five years articulates the dizzying, anxietised state of contemporary life, it’s Product.

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AOL - Product

‘Gravity’ is the first video from the debut of New York-based Ω▽ (OHMSLICE)’s debut album Conduit. One interesting aspect of the video is that it uses footage  from well-known experimental film maker Mark Street’s films with Street’s wholehearted approval. The album was recorded at Ft.Lb Studios in Brooklyn, produced by the outfit’s premium mobile multi-instrumentalist and instrument inventor Bradford Reed (King Missile III, creator of the electric board zither he calls the “pencilina”). The album is being released September 8 by Imaginator Records.

Ohmslice formed around Reed’s experiments in processing percussion  through a modular synth. Layered over a sonic framework of double-drummed syncopated rhythms  and analog pulses and drones are the sultry vocals and driving, often abstract lyrics of poet Jane LeCroy (Sister Spit, Poetry Brothel).  Joined by a rotating crew of collaborators including Josh Matthews (Drumhead, Blue Man Group) on drums, the legendary and ubiquitous Daniel Carter (Thurston Moore, Yo La Tengo) on trumpet and saxophones and Bill Bronson (Swans, The Spitters, The Gunga Den, Congo Norvell) on guitar. The album combines formal structures and heavy grooves with a sonic meditation on the nature of human-electronic improvisation.

OHMSLICE-duo

Conduit was recorded live over a two-year period. The album is an organized documentation of spontaneous creation and exploration and moves from the fuzzed-out psychedelic of “Crying on a Train” to the meditative ambient cycles of “Broken Phase Candy” and beyond.  Within this realm, the listener is meticulously guided through beautiful harmonic and rhythmic phase mosaics and held captive by an innovative and violently unquantized approach to groove based electronic music. Combined with LeCroy’s visionary mixture of philosophy, reflection, language and song Conduit illuminates a path to a rare and alluring space that reveals endless layers with each new listen.

‘Gravity’ is a brain-bending piece of jazz-infused experimentalsim, and coupled with the cut-up visuals, the promo makes for quite the multisensory experience.  You can check out the video here:

American artist and performer Jarboe and Italian occult duo Father Murphy will be touring together Europe this Autumn, promoting a collaborative EP out September 22nd on Consouling Sounds.

Jarboe and Father Murphy’s connection runs deep. Jarboe continues to have a profound influence on Father Murphy’s musical path, and there is a strong, mutual understanding of what they define as a "sense of guilt", rooted in their Catholic upbringing, which informs their music, both together and independently. Approaching the EP, both Jarboe and Father Murphy each wrote a song, which they exchanged for the other to finalise, the result being a rich reflection of the spirit of both artists, and their meaningful bond. The Jarboe & Father Murphy EP was mastered by an infamous engineer, Davide Cristiani at Bombanella soundscapes studio in Italy, using a technique he calls "anti-mastering" whereby he irradiates the analogue master with deep, pure 432hz sounds in a process that somehow gives the master the same benefits than a defragmentation does to a hard disk. It works the sounds together in harmony, the result being much brighter and more real, which is very befitting to the release.

Father Murphy shall open with the rituality of their alluring live performance, followed by a haunting set that combines Jarboe’s unique voice and Father Murphy’s charmed sounds, together they shall draw upon Jarboe’s old and new songs, including the two brand new pieces from the EP. Full dates below…

LIVE DATES:

September

22 BE, Eeklo – N9

23 DE, Krefeld – Südbahnhof

24 DE, Berlin – Quasimodo

26 CZ, Brno – Kabinet Muz

27 CZ, Soulkostel – Soulkostel

28 PL, Poznan, LAS

29 PL, Torun – Klub NRD

30 PL, Gdansk – Smoke Over Dock II Festival at B90

October

1 PL, Warsaw – Distorted festival at Klub Hydrozagadka

2 PL, Lodz – Dom

4 LT, Riga – Gertrude Street Theater

5 RU, Moscow – 16 Tons

7 RU, St Petersburg – Place

10 SWE, Stockholm – Kraken

11 SWE, Karlstad – Tinvallakyrkan

12 NO, MOSS – House of Foundation

13 SWE, Gothenburg – Culture Night Festival at Goteborg Public Library

14 DK, Aarhus – Tape

16 CH, Basel – Unternehmen Mitte (Safe)

17 CH, Geneve – Cave 12

18 IT, Pistoia – Bruma Vol.III

19 CH, Busto Arsizio – Circolo Gagarin

20 FR, Lyon – Sonic

21 FR, Paris – Instants Chavirés

23 UK, London – St. Pancras Old church

24 UK, Leicester – The Musician

25 UK, Glasgow – Cottiers Church

26 UK, Preston – The Continental

28 BE, Bruxelles – Magasin 4

29 NL, Utrecht – Tivolivredenburg

November

2 PT, Lisbon – ZDB

3 PT, Porto – Understage

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.

Swans 1

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.

Young God Records – 28th April 2017

Christopher Nosnibor

The great Swans back catalogue reappraisal and re-release continues with a brace of albums from near the end of the band’s initial incarnation. The latest pairs Swans’ 1995 album The Great Annihilator with Gira’s simultaneous solo release, Drainland. 1995 was a fertile year: Jarboe also released Sacrificial Cake through Alternative Tentacles in the same year, in some respects mirroring the period eight years previous, when two different Skin albums – effectively Gia and Jarboe solo releases – appeared in 1987 and 1988 in near synchronicity with Swans’ pivotal Children of God. Indeed, while the ‘definitive’ reissue programme is both extremely welcome and is a genuine boon for Swans fans both new and old, it does highlight the complexity of the band’s back catalogue. Precisely which album sits with which is a question which will never find an easy resolution, but on balance, Gira and Young God have made a decent fist of presenting a cohesive and linear recataloguing of the band’s initial history.

The Swans album The Great Annihilator arrived some three years after the epic twin salvoes of Love of Life and White Light from the Mouth of Infinity, which had represented both an evolution and a return to form following The Burning World in 1989. And while The Great Annihilator clearly belonged to the same broad phase as its immediate predecessors, it also felt more focused and more intense. It also stands as a transitionary album, the last studio release before the immense, everything-through-the-wringer churning mash of Soundtracks for the Blind, at which point the first phase of Swans collapsed and terminated.

Soundtracks perhaps hinted at the direction the reincarnated Swans would take on their return, but lacks the immensity of the sound they would produce on their post-millennial return, and equally lacks the focus of The Great Annihilator, and in this context, it’s this album which stands as such a significant document of the band in the later years of their first phase. The 2002 reissue saw the album augmented with a six-minutelive recording of ‘I Am the Sun’, which is also included here. However, this version is more about presenting a ‘restored’ version, returning to the recently-excavated original tapes to deliver the album as intended.

Great Annihilator / Drainland (Remastered 2017) - PRE ORDER

By this point Gira had perfected the cavernous, monotone drone which is now his signature: emerging on Children of God and honed over the course of White Light and Love of Life, on The Great Annihilator and Drainland the dark, bleak detachment conveyed in that vocal is as terrifying as any of the growling, barking threats of violence contained on Filth and Cop. He may have sounded brutal in his rage on those releases, but here Gira affects a demeanour which is altogether calmer, and consequently all the more dangerous in its psychopathy. He no longer sounds like a tortured, tormented human soul: he sounds like he’s detached himself from humanity.

What makes The Great Annihilator such a strong album is its range, which is equalled by its force and its cinematic production, balancing slow, repetitive, hypnotic tracks with explosive, percussion driven compositions. As such, it’s a perfect encapsulation of the ugly / beautiful juxtaposition which characterises the Swans ethos. The raw, visceral Jarboe-led ‘Mother/Father’ is gruelling in its intensity and contrasts with the mesmeric ‘Killing for Company’ and the expansive, uplifting ‘Where Does a Body End?’ (which stand among some of my all-time favourite songs by Swans – although, if truth be told, in the scheme of their vast output, it would be easy to fill a double album with my favourite songs by Swans).

‘I Am the Sun’ shares common ground with previous percussion-led tracks like ‘Power and Sacrifice’ (which stand a world away from earlier percussion-led tracks as featured on their albums prior to Children of God, which very much marked a turning point for the band), but at the same time, offers the first hints of what the band would evolve to produce during their second, post-millennium phase. Elsewhere, ‘Mind/Body/Sound/Light’ and ‘Celebrity Lifestyle’ display a certain newfound commercialism (beyond the folk leanings of The Burning World), magnificently counterpointed by Gira’s monotone baritone drone. And who else could succeed with a line like ‘she’ just a drug addiction, a self-reflecting image of a narcotized mind’? ‘Alcohol the Seed’, meanwhile, is sparse, stark and harrowing, the direct, declarative lyrics standing at the point where art and life intersect to deliver maximum discomfort to the receiver. ‘Killing for Company’ is delicate yet beyond dark, a song which reflects Gira’s interest in serial killers and takes its title from Brian Masters’ 1993 biography of Dennis Nielsen.

Gira’s solo debut, Drainland, has always stood as a singular release, both stylistically and in overall terms of the Swans / Gira oeuvre. It also seems to be one of those releases which has been somewhat overlooked.

The first track, ‘You See Through Me’, which features a serrated, grating, oscillating drone and haunting piano provide the musical backdrop to a recording of Gira, drunk, nasty, arguing with his then-partner Jarboe over money and his alcohol problem. It’s one of those works which crosses a line that will never be readily acceptable, where art transgresses the boundaries of the personal and the public. This, of course, is art of the highest order, that demands the receiver face uncomfortable and painful realities. Simultaneously, Gira, in his capacity or artist, dismantles all sense of persona and lay himself bare in the most unfiltered way imaginable.

It paves the way for what is a difficult album on every level, as he trawls the darkest recesses of his psyche: the lyrics may not be as visceral as those contained on early Swans releases, but they’re every bit as gut-wrenching in their impact, not least of all because they’re so intensely personal.

Great Annihilator / Drainland (Remastered 2017) - PRE ORDER

It’s a dark, stark album, which makes for uncomfortable listening on many occasions: even the more overtly post-Children of God tracks, where Gira spins hypnotic, opiate-hazed acoustic strums, as on ‘Unreal’, it’s more nightmarish than dream-like. And then there are jarring, nauseatingly difficult loop-led nightmare dirges like ‘Fan Letter’. And yet, the album contains moments of true beauty. Songs like ‘Why I Ate My Wife’ (which again alludes to Gira’s serial killer fascination and also draws on, and shares its title with, a piece from 1993 which appeared in Gira’s book of collected prose, The Consumer (1994)), dark as they may be lyrically, are also truly magnificent, and as touching – and well-crafted – as anything Gira has done during his long career.

The mastering seems comparatively quiet, but that’s largely on account of the fact everything tends to be mastered so damn loud and so damn bright these days that much of the dynamic range is lost. The very purpose of this remaster is about audio fidelity and unravelling knots in the original processing. Sonically, this remaster feels richer, denser than the original releases, although it would take obsessive comparison and a lot of time to draw out all of the detail. Most importantly, this release makes two classic Swans / related albums (one being something of a lost or unsung classic at that) readily available once more, and on vinyl, too – The Great Annihilator has been commanding obscene prices on the second-hand market for a long time now, while Drainland was only released in the US packaged with Jarboe’s Sacrificial Cake and is again expensive and hard to come by: as such, it all adds up to an essential release.