Posts Tagged ‘Swans’

Edelfaul Recordings – 5th June 2021

Christopher Nosnibor

Just as you should – at least ideally – never judge a book – or an album – by its cover, so you should never judge a musical project by its geographical origin, or judge the population by their government. This is particularly important as a point of note right now, and especially in context of this release. At home, we’re often led to believe that arts are of a lesser importance in the face of a pandemic or any other crisis, but history – and social media – will tell you otherwise: the natural human response to any trauma or crisis is to immerse oneself in either the creation or consumption of art or music. When bombs are dropping, people write poetry. It’s both a coping mechanism and a means of documenting events, and there is a clear logic to it: for me, writing helps to order things, both events and my own thoughts. The very act of writing gives mental effluvia a sort of solidity.

Spirit Skinned, the press release informs us, is ‘a duo rooted in the musical underground of Tel Aviv and Jerusalem’ and goes on to note that ‘The area is known worldwide as a high tension zone, and the small musical scene that bred Spirit Skinned enjoys a reputation for an uncompromising and often radical sound approach, paired with a rare level of perfectionism. If anything, their music lives up to that notoriety.’

Watching the news, one would be forgiven for being shocked and amazed that there would be any kind of music scene in Tel Aviv or Jerusalem, let an underground one. But even during sporadic war, life does go on, and citizens are always desperate to maintain some sensed of normality, and this is clearly true of Ben Ronen (aka diburnagua), former vocalist in various punk and noise projects in the Tel Aviv area and Ofer Tisser, producer/instrumentalist and a central figure in Jerusalem’s underground music scene, who have come together as Spirit Skinned.

The pair’s eponymous debut is pitched as ‘spanning the gaps between grime, industrial, hardcore, musique concrete, politics and expressionism’, and across the course of the album’s seven tracks, Spirit Skinned wanders far and wide stylistically. And you can’t criticise an album for any lack of focus when its focus is set so wide.

Many of Ronan’s crazed, yelping, barking vocals are largely impenetrable, and often partially submerged beneath layers of noise, not least of all highly dominant percussion: heavy industrial clanks and cracks dominant, but then again there are swamps of alternative and buoyant indie lurking in the mix.

‘Dry Season’ introduces the album with a slice of minimal DIY that’s brittle, spiky, and more than just a bit quirky, and lands somewhere between Young Marble Giants and Einstürzende Neubauten. Reverb bounces all over the place, while a slow, lowdown bass squirms away. They conjure seme tense and atmospheric scenes, and the claustrophobic, repetitious throb of ‘Leaving Room’ evokes the impotent rage of early Swans: it’s the sound of frustration vented through shouting into the void against a backdrop of music that bludgeons. ‘The Root’ is built around a monotonous pulsation that passes a significant nod in the direction of Suicide, but then there’s braying free jazz sax all over the top of it, and in combination, they’re pretty punishing. There’s a physicality to the music that’s affecting as they lunge from doomy drone to fractured, splintering harsh noise.

The album’s final track, the eleven-minute ‘Once Was Blind’ is sprawling monstrous hybrid of dark hip-hop, jazz, and psychosis. It’s like a beat poetry night on a bad trip. It’s a suitably weird end to a weird album, and one that’s well worth hearing.

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Miasmah Recordings – 16th April 2021

Christopher Nosnibor

It was the heavyweight score of his debut album, Hold, that provided my introduction to the work of James Welburn, and very much piqued my interest – because in some way, sonically at least, it seems I like to be published. Almost six years to the year on, Welburn delivers another immensely heavy set with Sleeper in the Void.

According to the accompanying blurb, the album ‘feels like a story in two parts, rising lethargically, but with gargantuan power. The second begins with the momentous In and out of Blue, where Juliana Venter’s disembodied, spectral dirge takes center stage among the furious drums and bassy riffs, reaching a full crescendo with seconds to go. Parallel marks a release – Hilde Marie Holsen’s nostalgic soundscapes, pristine as glass, meeting the distant thunder of Welburn’s strings on the horizon. And finally, Fast Moon ends the record in a most surprising way – a tribal industrialized banger, complete with vile distorted beats and every other spice in demand on a blackened dancefloor.’

It’s intense from the outset, and ‘Raze’ is anything but lethargic. It begins with a modestly middling dark ambient drone, but before long, pattering drums are hammering like machine-gun fire and whipping up a frenzy while all around the drones increase in volume and intensity until there’s a veritable cyclone of sound raging all about. The experience is dizzying, suffocating.

The percussion is again punishing on ‘Falling from Time’, but while the sound is still dense and murky, the thundering rhythm, is far more mechanised, more industrial, thudding in a furious frenzy amidst an impenetrable smog of sound. The tempo is fast, and it’s relentless: you could perhaps even dance to it, although that’s not so much my thing: instead, I found my pulse accelerating and a glow of perspiration as the tension grows. Finally, the synths break into a softer swirl, although there are ominous tones eddying around as the drums finally peter out and it’s finally possible to catch your breath and compose yourself. It’s but a brief respite before crushing percussion crashes in on the doomy dirge of the title track: stuttering, stop-start detonations cut through the shoegaze on ketamine crawl of the blurred blizzard of extraneous noise.

Julia Ventner’s vocal on ‘In and Out of Blue’ and ‘Fast Moon’ (the latter of which is a grating, bulbous bass-driven beast of a cut that loops and lunged in a trill of treble and a crackle of fizzing distortion) are haunting, ghostly, and pitched against the lurching cacophony of drums and juddering blasts of noise that hit like a taser to the abdomen, it’s not only a contrast and a change of atmosphere her presence brings, but a new level of trembling intensity.

Sleeper in the Void unquestionably makes an evolution for Welburn: while incorporating many of the same elements fundamentally, their application is quite different on Sleeper in the Void in comparison to its predecessor. The basslines are less overtly structured, and Sleeper in the Void sees Welburn move further from any loose conventions of ‘rock’ toward something more abstract. It may be less direct, less bludgeoning, less reminiscent of early Swans, but it’s certainly no less intense or powerful, and it’s still dense and percussion-driven. If anything, the greater sense of nuance and Welburn’s expanded palette only amplify its menacing resonance, making Sleeper in the Void an album that may be challenging, but achieves optimum impact.

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Southern Lord – 23rd April 2021

Christopher Nosnibor

Canadian trio BIG | BRAVE return bolder, heavier, and more intense than ever on Vital. But when to start?

I seem to recall an essay by William Burroughs which contained the advice for writers that narrative had to be visual in order to work – meaning that writing about a ‘indescribable monster’ just wouldn’t cut it: readers need to be able to visualise the monster in order for it to be scary. Writing about music may be a slightly different discipline, but the challenge is always to convey not only what the music sounds like – the objective bit – but how and why it makes you feel the way it does – the subjective, critical bit. After all, you’re not a music critic without providing any critique. And yet the first – and for some time, only – word that comes to mind to ‘describe’ the experience of listening to Vital is ‘overwhelming’.

The crushing power chords crash in after just a matter of seconds on the first mammoth track, ‘Abating the Incarnation of Matter’. But it’s the jolting, juddering stop / start percussion that hits so hard that really dominates. There’s so much space – and time – between each beat, that it feels as if time is hanging in suspension, and you catch your breath and hold it, waiting, on tenterhooks. And it’s this, the sound of a tectonic collision, juxtaposed with Robin Wattie’s commanding yet incredibly delicate, fragile vocal that makes it such an intriguing and powerful experience. As the song progresses, the anguished calling becomes a ragged, hoarse-throated holler and you feel the emotion tearing at her vocal chords, ‘dissolving each layer until there is little matter left’.

The yawning throb of feedback that fills the first minute and a half of single ‘Half Life’ sounds like a jet preparing for takeoff. And when it stops, it’s the hush that’s deafening and uncomfortable. The lyrics are actually an excerpt from the 2018 essay collection How to Write an Autobiographical Novel, by Alexander Chee. And when the music ends, leaving nothing but Watties’s acapella vocal, they’ve never sounded more stark and intense. Once you become adjusted to noise, there is little more shocking to the system than its absence. And so it is in life: we’ve become accustomed to traffic, to bustle, to busy shops and offices, to streaming media – and when it stops, we struggle to know what to do.

And so it is that the dynamics of Vital are so integral to its impact. ‘Wilted, Still and All…’ is different again. The album’s shortest track is still of a dense tonality and substantial volume but manifests as a billowing cloud of grumbling ambience, and it provides a certain respite ahead of the punishing ‘Of This Ilk’ – nine and a half minutes of slow, deliberate, and absolutely brutal punishment, a bludgeoning assault on a part with Cop-­era Swans. The drums and bass operate as one, a skull-crushing slab of abrasion that hits like battering ram, while the guitars provide texture as strains of feedback howl and whine. The false ending halfway through only accentuates the force ahead of the extended crescendo which follows. It’s the repetition that really batters the brain, though: bludgeoning away at the same chord for what feels like an eternity is somehow both torturous and comforting. The third and final movement is rather more tranquil, but nevertheless always carries the threat of another wave of noise, which doesn’t arrive until the title track, a nine-minute finale that grinds out a dolorous drone, a crawling dirge where a single chord and crashing beat rings out, echoes and decays for what feels like an eternity.

‘Timeless’ is a word that’s so often used and misused in describing music, but with Vital, I mean it to be understood rather more literally, in that time stalls and everything – time, perception, and the world itself – hangs, frozen in suspension. While listening to Vital, nothing exists outside this moment, and everything is sucked into the vacuum of its making. You can barely breathe or swallow, and for the time it’s playing, there is nothing else but this.

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Hallow Ground – HG2101 – 12th March 2021

Christopher Nosnibor

Norman Westberg, of Swans legend, has a long association with the cranking out of heavy noise. For over three decades, his style was a defining feature of one of the most singular bands, and a rare entity, namely a guitarist who was more than happy to bludgeon away at the same two or three chords for anything up to a quarter of an hour. I would even venture so far as to say that Westberg is a truly unique guitarist, and his appreciation and understanding of space is unparalleled – a player who isn’t only comfortable, but whose signature is a seemingly infinite pause between chords.

In more recent years, Westberg’s output has shifted towards a less abrasive angle, with a succession of solo releases from 2016 onwards exploring overtly ambient territory, through MRI¸ The All Most Quiet, (both 2016) and After Vacation (2019).

First Man in the Moon sees Westberg connect with double bass player Jacek Mazurkiewicz, who supported Swans on tour in Europe in 2014 under the moniker of his solo project 3FoNIA,.The result of their collaboration, recorded during some downtime ahead of Michael Gira’s two Warsaw shows toward the end of 2019, is five improvised tracks of richly resonant evocation. The pitch promises a work ‘beyond the boundaries of atmospheric drone, abstract jazz and experimental music [which] blurs the lines between the acoustic and the electronic.’

It’s all a blur: supple washes of sound painted in broad strokes provide the cloud-like ambient backdrop to clatters and creaks, and the occasional bleep and whirr. It’s very much about the contrast: Mazurkiewicz’s playing is versatile, with his double bass work ranging from deep, brooding sounds that are very much of the instrument, to sonorous booms, to the sound of a tree groaning and about to topple.

How deep do you delve into a work so overly ambient and abstract? At what point does dissection become futile? First Man in the Moon is an album that warrants space, and reflection, to breathe and to simply run its course – an album to bask in, rather than to pick apart. It creates a supple, evolving atmosphere of soft drone and a soporific soundscape in which to cut loose.

A hesitant bass emerges from the misty contrails of ‘That was Then’, and it’s ‘Falsely Accused’ is a slow, tidal throb that ebbs and flows… and not a lot else. First Man in the Moon is an album that drifts on, remaining in the background: it does not demand attention of focus. Attention and focus bring different rewards, but there is a lot to be said for simply sitting back, dimming the lights and sipping a whisky while the sounds of this subtle, nuanced work immerse you.

As collaborations go, Westberg and Mazurkiewicz make for a magnificent pairing, creating an album that shows a touching musical intuition: everything about First Man in the Moon simply flows, effortlessly, naturally, and creates a space in space – that is to say, a mental space in which to empty oneself. It’s rare, and it’s special.

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Human Worth – 5th March 2021

Christopher Nosnibor

I am, unashamedly, a massive fan of Modern Technology, and have been from day 1. And their DOIY label, Human Worth, too. Not only do they make and release amazing music of immense weight, but they have real principles, donating a cut of the proceeds of every release to charity, and being thoroughly nice guys on top is just a huge bonus.

The label’s latest release – their first 7” single – is absolute gold (despite actually being marbled silver and black) And that’s another thing: the quality of the label’s product is magnificent, from the design to the finish. With vinyl’s resurgence, we’ve witnessed a greater attention to the physical product as an artefact to behold and to cherish, for all the reasons fans of vinyl spent about 20 years going on about at every opportunity while people moved away, first towards CDs and then towards streaming. I suppose aficionados of the ‘physical product’ proffer the same kind of case for vinyl as books, but when Kindle fans counter that ‘it’s just like a book’, the common retort is that what’s even more like a book is a book, and there is simply no substitute. Streaming fans don’t even have that: all they have is ‘convenience’, but they simply don’t grasp how much is missing from the experience when interacting with a physical format.

I may digress, but it’s relevant: when presented with a gut-punching welter of noise, it always hits harder when blasting from a fat chunk of wax through some speakers with a bit of poke. And shit, is this a gut-punching welter of noise.

Modern Tech and 72% crossed paths just days before life was placed on pause in March 2020. Sharing a bill for Baba Yaga’s Hut in London, no-one foresaw the year that was to come. With the prospect of live shows remaining tentative at best, this single feels like a necessary release of energy.

It’s 72%’s ‘Drowning in a Sea of Bastards’ that’s the (nominal) A-side, and it’s a squalling, full-throttle noise attack. It’s actually the drumming that dominates, while everything else collapses in on itself to create a volcanic sonic explosion of frenzies guitars that are played in such a way as to not really sound like guitars as much as a wild cacophony. There’s screeding feedback and all kinds of chaos flying every whichway, and somewhere, buried low in the mix, are some anguished vocals. You can’t make out a word of it, but the sentiment transcends language.

Meanwhile, Modern Technology continue to go from strength to strength. The first new material since their debut album, Service Provider in September, ‘Lorn’ is a six-minute monster. The droning feedback that howls from Chris Clarke’s bass is more mid-rangey than usual, bringing a sharp, brittle edge to their dark, dingy abrasion that’s pushes forward slow and heavy, propelled by Owen Gildersleeve’s crushing percussion. When the chords hit, they hit hard, and – as is now well-established as integral to their distinctive sound, Clarke’s vocals, distorted and buried in a wash or reverb, snarl and growl all the rage, landing somewhere between Lemmy and Al Jourgensen circa Filth Pig. It’s a trudging slow-burner that builds with a cumulative effect.

Oh, and there’s more: a brace of bonus tracks, starting with a head-shredding remix of ‘Drowning in a Sea of Bastards’ by Wayne Adams (Ladyscraper / Big Lad / Petbrick). Unrecognisable against the original, it’s a pulversing mangled mess of clanging metal and industrial-strength overloading distortion. Gnarly as fuck, it’s bloody brilliant. And as a double bonus, the additional cut from Modern Technology is another new track, ‘Ctrl’. In something of a departure, it finds Clarke deliver a spoken-word piece against a backdrop of thick, booming bass and slow, slow drums. As the murky layers build, so does the crushing weight of a track that’s reminiscent of Swans circa 1984: it’s claustrophobic and suffocating, and makes you feel tense.

It may only be fifteen minutes in total for all four tracks, but to describe the experience as intense would be an understatement, and I find myself simply too blown away to conjure a pithy one-liner to wrap up. Yes, it’s absolute dynamite.

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When an album contains just three tracks, you know before you even hear a note that it’s going to be possessed of epic qualities. Similarly, when a band’s pitch includes ‘RIYL bands like Swans, MONO, lots of layered drums and percussion, ambient soundscapes, and wall of sound guitar and big strings’, (and I think it’s pretty much public knowledge by now that I do), then the same applies, and so needless to say I was all over this in an instant.

The first track, ‘The Gift’, is a twenty-minute behemoth, a sweeping exploration that builds from tense strings of the kind that would likely be at home on a Netflix period drama into something altogether more awe-inspiring, as the drums rumble like distant thunder at a gathering pace and intensity. Over its immense span, it leads the listener on a journey through an array of soundscapes, and there’s not only considerable atmosphere being conjured here, but the music also has a very visual aspect. You feel as if you’re being transported through different scenes, and at times, are creeping cautiously and peering around corners, while at others, staring out from a high plateau overlooking immense vistas that stretch further than the eye can see.

This is very much latterday Swans providing the inspiration here, with the expansive instrumental passages and near-ambient stretches that came to define releases from The Seer to The Glowing Man via To Be Kind, each of which stretched over a full two hours apiece. However, solarminds’ compositional approach and overall sound is quite different, leaning very much toward more conventional post-rock tropes (but without the contrivances of, say, Sigur Rós) and while there are some immense percussion-driven crescendos, with the strong-centric instrumentation, they don’t hit the explosive peaks of, say, Explosions in the Sky or Her Name is Calla. None of these are bad things, and while the sheer scale of their music does definitely sit within the domain occupied by MONO.

‘The Visit’ begins with an amorphous mass of dank, dark ambience, and is thirteen minutes of elongated, undulating drones that twist, turn, scrape and screed against a tumultuous barrage of percussion.

Closer ‘The Lie’ marks a significant departure, as the sound of heavy rain and extraneous noise gives way to a near -acappela vocal, an acoustic guitar, muffled and distant, providing the sparsest of accompaniment. It’s here they’re most reminiscent of Her Name is Calla at their most minimal, stripped-back, and folky, and it’s a delicate, tender experience that grows in emotional intensity and pulls at the gut with its starkness, its rawness.

Dissolving in a rumble of thunder, it’s a fitting conclusion to an album that, beneath some smooth surfaces, presents some quite troubled currents in the depths.

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Hummus Records – 23rd October 2020

Christopher Nosnibor

Well of course my interest was piqued: Convulsif’s fifth album, pitched as a work of ‘self-inventing gloomy rock in the abyss between such subgenres as noise, metal, jazz and grindcore’ likely to appeal to fans of GOD, Godflesh, Swans, Naked City, Napalm Death, Painkiller, Boredoms, and Neurosis. It doesn’t get any more of my noisy industrial-favouring bag than that – not least of all because the referencing of short-lived Godflesh / Techno Animal offshoot GOD seems wilfully perverse. Let’s face it, what is the real scope for techno-hued jazz/grind crossover?

The Swiss quartet eschew conventional rock instrumentation with a lineup featuring bass, drums, bass clarinet and drums, and I can already hear many wailing about the lack of guitars. Hearing the cacophonous freeform racket they conjure, however, would be enough to make even more wail, and certainly not just about their unconventional band makeup, and just to enhance the album’s commercial appeal, the bleak set’s titles are all cut up and mashed up lines of Charles Darwin’s Beagle Diary.

The first cut, the seven-minute ‘Buried Between One’ is dominated by the gut-churning, nausea-inducing rhythm section stylings of Swans circa Filth and Cop – the drums explode like volcanic detonations, slow and sporadic, and the lumbering low end stops and starts and lurches woozily, while everything else on top is just discord, and as the track progresses, it all whips into a hellish maelstrom, a brutally sustained crescendo that leaves you wondering ‘where’s left to go from here?’

The elongated drone, low, sonorous, ominous, that introduces ‘Five Days of Open Bones’ provides some respite, , before dolour bass and brooding violin drift in; the atmosphere is dense and grows from a mist to a fog as the drumming builds… the tension increases… they sustain it, but you now it’s surely a matter of time before something yields… the clarinet ebbs and flows like a layer of synth, but the fact this is organic and orchestral somehow ads something else… and then… and then… Anyone familiar with the last incarnation of SWANS will now what it’s like to endure such a seemingly endless build. It’s exhilarating and torturous in equal measure. Your heart’s palpating and your lungs feel ready to burst and you think you might vomit… and then it all breaks into a frenetically frenzied jazz noise of parping horns and hundred mile-an-hour drumming. No, that’s not right. Surely. But then, this isn’t SWANS, this isn’t your regular avant-industrial: this is the kind of experimental freakout that’s right at home at Café Oto, and ‘Five days’ feels literal in its timespan.

A couple of brief, lurching interludes make for more difficult listening, with ‘Surround the Arms of the Revolution’ sounding like ‘A Screw’ played by a drunk jazz ensemble, paving the way for the fourteen-minute finale that is ‘The Axe Will Break’, which is constructed around a tight, cyclical bass motif, which is again, decidedly jazzy in a Sly and the Family Drone sense. The endless repetition is mesmerising, hypotonic, and the tension builds almost imperceptibly… but build it does. It grinds it way through a merciless squall of noise through which filters mournful woodwind that flickers hints of post-rock reflection before being submerged in the swelling surge of chaos. The final five minutes – an eviscerating sustained crescendo of monolithic proportions – is little short of devastating. Jazz isn’t always nice.

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It was through Children of God that I was first introduced to Swans. It was probably around 1988 or ‘89, so Children of God was their then latest album, and I was starting to properly spend my Saturdays hanging out at the second-hand record shop where I would subsequently land a job. Another guy who hung around / worked there had dark, diverse, and obscure musical tastes, and passed me a copy of the album he’d recorded to tape. This is a perfect example of why home taping didn’t kill music.

And so, while it’s an album I have played a lot over the last – urgh – thirty years – it’s one I’ve listened to without necessarily reappraising. There’s nothing like a reissue to provoke such contemplation.

And even now it’s by turns eerie, chilling, and heavy as hell. Admittedly, it’s not as heavy as the releases which preceded it, and which I would subsequently discover – at that time by plundering racks at record fares, at a time when it was paying £8 for a vinyl copy of Cop or the Young God EP felt like a lot of money but there was no other means of hearing this stuff back then.

There isn’t a lot audibly different from the early 00’s reissue here. For any remastering, the sound is still dense and murky, and that’s to the good, and it’s an integral part of the listening experience.

The first grainy chords of ‘New Mind’ bludgeon hard, and it’s a bleak, oppressive trudge when taken in isolation (by which I mean, without comparison to their back catalogue). It doesn’t exactly scream ‘MTV exposure’, but weird shit was happening back then. And shift didn’t get much weirder than Swans’ foray into evangelism – pitched as an exploration, it adopted the tropes with such a seriousness that it almost felt like the real thing.

‘You’re not Real, Girl’ is dreamy, opiate woozy, sultry, serpentine: Gira croons lazily, drawling, but also hollow, empty, his voice reverberating in a chasm of nothing. It’s hard to articulate precisely how deeply this resonates, and it’s all in the delivery, which rattles and reverberates around the ribcage and the cranium in an hypnotic swoon.

‘Beautiful Child’ is a raging stomp, ‘this is my life! This is sacrifice! This is my damnation! This is my only regret! That I ever was born!’ Gira screams maniacally, over and over, and over and over. Jarboe’s vocals soar like a chorus of ghosts over the ugly march.

My personal favourite track on the album is ‘Trust Me’, with a trilling harmonica intro giving way to a landslide of discord and gut-punching percussion. Against lurching guitars, Gira’s vocal is detached, inhuman, other-wordly, a cavernous monotone

As fans will be more than aware, the Swans catalogue is a shade messy, particularly around their late 80s / early 90s period. ‘Blackmail’ first appeared on the ‘Time is Money’ 12” in ’86, so the Children of God album version is a revisitation and a subtle reworking. With the 1999 compilation Various Failures and the previous CD reissue being long out of print, it may have perhaps been nice for the ‘New Mind’ b-sides ‘Damn You to Hell’ and ‘I’ll Swallow You’ to have been included here, but on the other hand, this release retains the integrity of the original.

The contemporaneous live album, Feel Good Now very much does, though. Recorded on the European tour supporting Children of God, it packs some storming live renditions of songs culled from Children of God performed during a quite specific peak of the band’s live career.

Swans have always pushed the limits live, and taken the songs to new and different levels of intensity and duration, and the eighteen-minute rendition of ‘Blind Love’ on offer here is a prime example. It’s barely recognisable, and despite being led by a simple acoustic guitar, it’s absolutely fucking punishing – and not necessarily in a good way: Gira’s elongated notes and wordless, formless yells are uncomfortable, a raging beast tortured and pained, while the guitar and rhythm section batter away without mercy. The drums are brutal. Having witnessed Swans live post-millennium, I have come to appreciate that nothing short of nuclear annihilation can convey the sheer force and volume of Swans live. However, Feel Good Now definitely goes a long way to capture the intensity of that volume.

The tracks appear in a different order from the original release, instead representing the sequence of the 2002 reissue. As this isn’t an actual concert, but a document of a tour, the sequencing is largely inconsequential, and ultimately it’s about the cumulative, bludgeoning effect. The sawing churn of ‘Like a Drug’ is pulverising, brutal, nauseating, and while ‘Children of God’ may only run for five and a half minutes, the effect is something else, the drumming thumping relentlessly in rolls of pure assault. Gira hollers impenetrably into the void as Jarboe ‘s voice floats effortlessly and with grace and true beauty over the ugly, pounding mess.

‘Beautiful Child Reprise’ is so savage as to be almost unlistenable long before it gets to the ‘Kill, kill, kill’ chant. It will come as no surprise for anyone who’s encountered Swans’ pre-85 live material, but fuck me. If one band could be considered to define excruciating sonic brutality, it’s Swans.

Children of God was a pivotal album, and remains a particular high point in the band’s career on many levels. There is no question that it broke new ground, or that it broke them to a new and far wider audience, although there is no way you could describe it as commercial or even accessible in terms of the common understanding of the term. It also very much stands alone in terms of its sound, defining the crossroads between the crushing basalt slabs of violent loathing which defined their early years, and the almost folksy melodicism of their early 90s releases.

What this edition lacks in terms of additional material and, indeed, any radical audio differences from any other editions through its remastering, it makes up for by simply making the recordings available again, particularly on vinyl.

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Gizeh Records – GZH99 26th June 2020 (Digital) / 25th September 2020 (LP/CD)

Christopher Nosnibor

Wren’s third album – or ‘third chapter in Wren’s seasonal lore exploration’ as the press release puts it – is their first on Gizeh, and promises ‘six melancholy-shrouded sonic ruminations [which] swell between intimate performances devoid of adornment, and evolving soundscapes of auditory ruin’. And pitched as being of interest to fans of Godflesh, ISIS, Kowloon Walled City, Neurosis, it does the job of bringing slow-burning slow-trudging metal with an emotionally-articulate aspect and certain musical nuance.

The first megalithic sonic slab to assail the listener is the nine-minute ‘Chromed’, an epic battery of guitar and anguished vocal, and it piledrives in with a repetitive chord sequence, there are heavy hints of Amenra, and it’s the grainy, earthy quality that’s most reminiscent of Neurosis. There’s a lot of space here between the crushingly weighty power chords that drive, hard, low, and slow, less like a battering ram and more like a tank driving against a wall: slow, deliberate, and completely devastating.

There is detail, there is texture, and there is space within the broad parameters of this ambitious work, giving moments of respite and pauses for reflection between the raging infernos of fury that flare upwards toward the skies from the troughs of gloom. And yes, Groundswells is gloomy, dark, lugubrious, the soundtrack to motional trauma and swings from anguished introspection to annihilative rage.

If the album’s entirety could be encapsulated on a single track, it would be the dynamically-flexible ‘Subterranean Messiah’, which stretches out beyond ten minutes as it works it was way though a series of peaks and troughs, venturing into a range or mood-spaces and sonic terrains to forge a compelling sonic journey that’s utterly immersive. Jo Quail adds layers of subtlety and not to mention sonic depth with her cello work on the track also.

The final song, ‘The Throes’ is a grinding dirge, Godflesh played at the pace of Swans’ Cop. But amidst the torture, punishment, and the anguish – those excoriating vocals and that shrieking lead guitar that battles against the dense, slow chug and grind coalesce to form a perfect prism of pain, the psychological expressed through the physical.

If the band’s name suggests something soft, delicate, melodic, then Groundswells tears those expectations to shreds in the most obliterative way. It’s simultaneously harrowing and beautiful, and an all-consuming experience.

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Following the release of their debut self-titled album, Human Impact have kept busy and continued writing and recording more songs they will be releasing over the coming months. The first of those new singles, "Contact" (which debuted via Louder Sound), was written and recorded shortly before the outbreak of Covid-19.

An eerie premonition, it predicts the new reality we all currently inhabit. In anticipation of this release, and as an act of connection in this time of isolation, the band put a call out to fans across the globe for video footage to use in the video for "Contact" showing how the Coronavirus has affected all our daily lives and environment. Asking the question: What does this new reality look like for you?

About the music and video, Human Impact remark: "We’d like to write songs about humankind living in harmony and balance with the world, about governments and corporations being of and for the people. But those songs would be narcotic lullabies spitting in the wind of what’s real. We wish this song were wrong. "Contact" was written, recorded and mixed just before the global COVID-19 pandemic hit. Originally written as a response to a feeling of international vulnerability to the spread of disease via air travel, the song’s lyrics proved to be an uneasy and uncanny prediction, foreshadowing our current quarantined reality."

As residents of North America’s hardest hit city, the band has earmarked their proceeds from the song to be donated to the NYC COVID-19 Emergency Relief Fund. Human Impact ask fans to consider donating to this or their local charities as well.

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Human Impact

Photo credit: Jammi York