Following the publication of Spectrum 5# in March, 2001 I headed over to UK/ Europe in June, to travel/ live/ work for awhile. At the time I had plans to publish Spectrum 6# in late 2002, which for various reasons never eventuated. Noting that a fair bit of material had been written during late 2001-2003 for the cancelled Spectrum 6#, this ended up being published in the Degenerate Magazine from Finland in thier 3rd issue in 2003.
Likewise during the period running up to the start of 2006 I continued review writing, with material being published in the following locations:
- Goth Nation Magazine (Australia)
- Fiend Magazine (Australia)
- http://www.auralpressure.com (UK)
To continue the ‘archive’ angle of this site, all reviews prepared between late 2001 and the start of 2006 are collated here. All reviews by Richard Stevenson.
Link to PDF document is below.
REVIEW ARCHIVE 2001-2006
Aalfang mit Pferdekopf (Ger) “Ich habe nur noch 12 Seepferdchen in meinem Tempel” CDr 2005 Einzeleinheit
With the album title translating to “There are only 12 seahorses left in my temple”, the curious surreal images this conjures is partway there to indicating what you might expect from this German electronic oddity. After a weird vocal cut up forming the opening track, the second piece settles down with an undercurrent of hazy ambience, whilst a twisted neo-folk styled guitar melody brings up the foreground. The third track follows on as an oddly surreal soundscape with an improvised quality to the scattered convergence of sounds, whilst the fourth track is a decent exercise is aquatic toned minimalist ambience. Later sections of the album toy with freeform neo-folk acoustics & neo-classical melodies, whilst never forsaking the hazy ambient qualities that underscore the entire recording. With the modus operandi of the label serving to: “Search for new and individual forms of expression in electronic music scene currently stagnating” (sic.), I must say I have been pleasantly surprised with the couple of releases across a variety of electronic styles that Einzeleinheit have issued thus far.
à;GRUMH (Bel) “Unclean” 7”ep 2004 Ironflame
This special tribute 7”ep was originally conceived and released to coincide with Throbbing Gristle reforming for a one off show: aka the RE~TG festival of 14-16 May 2004. Unfortunately for fans and fanatics the festival was cancelled due to unforeseen financial complications. Nevertheless, in the face of such disappointment this special edition vinyl is a positive tribute to two classic and cult industrial projects, namely Throbbing Gristle and Psychic TV. Released as a double A sided single, à;GRUMH and Ironflame have given a fine commemoration to these pioneering acts. Although à;GRUMH ceased to exist in 1991, during the 1980’s they were an important part of the Belgium industrial underground. Known for their aggressive rhythmic industrial style in the vein of Front 242 and The Klinik, à;GRUMH’s notoriety soon spread, culminating in a world tour in 1990-91 before their ultimate demise. Harking back to this period, the two tribute cover versions of this 7” were recorded live in 1990 during à;GRUMH’s swansong tour of the US. Yet to avoid the common pitfalls with the sound quality of live recordings, the tracks have been professionally studio mastered and pressed in Germany to ensure the highest quality sound reproduction for the vinyl. Side A of the 7” offers up for the listener an extremely raw and guttural version of Psychic TV’s “Unclean”. Against a backing of sparse guitars and swirling industrial noise, sadistic vocal wails certainly give a fitting tribute to Genesis P-Orridge. Side AA alternately pays tribute to Throbbing Gristle’s track “Discipline”. Here junk styled percussion pounds out an incessant industrial beat alongside a screeching guitar, whilst the almost banshee like vocals chant the track’s lyrics. Certainly a suitably aggressive version. To further enhance the overall tribute concept, the images of the full colour sleeve have been reconstructed and digitally manipulated from the original cover designs of two 12” singles from Throbbing Gristle and Psychic TV. Yet if this is not enough, there is one extra surprise to be found on the 7”……and what may it be? While it can be revealed that it is another great à;GRUMH live cover of a classic track, you will need to obtain this special limited edition (and check the inner circle etching) to discover exactly what it is! Released in a mere 333 copies (with 111 in each of three different colours: black, camouflage white & translucent blue), each copy comes hand numbered and contains two signed postcard inserts. In passing, this special limited vinyl release was born out of genuine fanaticism & sincerity to the T~G mission, making this release essential for Throbbing Gristle and Psychic TV fans and fanatics alike.
The Alarmist (Aus) “Cinnamon Sticks & Blowjobs” 3”CD 2003 An Alarming Production
For reference The Alarmist is David Tonkin of dark ambient project Isomer masquerading under an alternate guise. Although not extremely different to the overall sound of the main project, this mini release does however opt for a clinical minimalism with its experimental electronica compositions. As such the 4 tracks on offer follow a vague pattern in their exploration of subtle shifting tones and layered washes of sound. Yet for this listener’s ear “Black Cherry Suggestions” is most impressive with its faint religious chants immersed deep within the mix. At a touch over 20 minutes of music this is a small but tasty morsel of a release.
Alphonse de Montfroyd (Uke) ”Silence” 2001 3”CDr Ad Noiseam
While the title might be a touch misleading, it does nonetheless give an indication of the intricate subtleties that this mini release encompasses. Given this is the debut release for this Ukrainian artist, 5 short-ish pieces are showcased, and while they have an allegiance with darker forms of ambient music, they also teeter at the edge of an experimental framework (partially akin to the direction that Hazard has taken since signing to A.S.H International). Pulsations, drones, textural sounds, faint rhythms etc are explored here in a minimalist vein, focusing on subtle shifts rather than grandiose movements. Melody is also a foreign concept here (as are organic sonorities), instead the atmospheres are quite clinical and digital which gives partial recognition to the laptop experimental scene (yet I have no idea by which means these pieces have been created). Essentially representing a taster for this artist’s material, it will be interesting to see how he progresses it with future releases. Oh, and this particular release is limited to only 50 copies. (R)
Anenzephalia (Ger) “Noehaem” CD 2003 Tesco Organisation/Zaetraom
Being somewhat of a cult act within the heavy electronics scene, Anenzephalia’s new album was one that I was looking forward to, particularly in light of how much I had enjoyed their earlier releases. However I must sadly admit that in reality Noeheam is quite a disappointment. All the right elements are included: the bristling noise, the slow lurching machine rhythms, sinister tones, scathing textures etc, however the finished compositions seem to be particularly uninspired. This may in part be due to the overall sound being less brute force and confrontational as earlier material. Likewise with a very old school & lo-fi sound, it results in a far more subdued album that I was expecting. With 8 tracks spanning only 36 minutes, and with the first and last tracks being almost identical, this is simply not the album that I was hoping for.
Anaphylaxis (USA) “noise for lovers” CD 2005 Parasomnic Records/ Mannequin Oddio Media
Although quite dark and droning, further framed with ambient type qualities, this is by no means standard dark ambient fair. Opening with ‘a love set to music’, static, random voices, and a fleeting melody filter through, giving the impression of someone scanning late night radio band width. Whilst other musical realms are explored throughout the album, it is this introductory late night ambience that permeates much of the album. Likewise with the album seeming to be constructed via a cut a paste method, it is apparent that a pastiche of samples (including snippets of classical music), are combined and manipulated alongside female vocals that were recorded specifically for the album.
The tensile droning atmosphere of ‘This is the place where the dead help the living’ introduces a more accessible musical aesthetic with its beat laden trip hop programming. ‘All Yours’ is additionally a highly commendable piece of droning classical melodies and electronic beats, that reminds slightly of Beefcake’s sound. The looped and layers female vocals of ‘True Romance’ sweep over a dense undercurrent to give an uplifting if not melancholic tinged sound to otherwise a bleak droning soundscape.
One criticism to raise though: at 75 minutes in length, this album is far too long. Not all tracks seem to hit their intended mark and as with fillers on any album, are not essential to an album’s overall direction and flow. To my mind with some careful culling, a shorter, clearly focused and of course more engaging album would have been achieved (or isn’t that what CD burners & ipod’s were invented for – to allow overly critical reviewers to put on their producers hat?!). Last comment would have to relate to the cover, where initially I found it a touch misleading. With its rather uninspired black and white imagery it gave the impression that it might be some awful pretentious ethereal darkwave or gothic type musings. Luckily I did not judge the album by its cover, as they say.
Archon Satani (Swe) “Mind of Flesh and Bones” CD 2006 Cold Spring
This is it: a bona fide classic of the death industrial scene: oft replicated, but still holding strong against the march of time, some 13 years from its original release on Staalsplaat. Although Archon Satani is a long defunct project – with original two members splintering off into other projects & scenes – this is clearly a high mark of their recorded output. With this writer back in the day obtaining merely a taped copy of the sold out CD, it quickly became a staple listening obsession: and to then feel the absolute rapture years later when a copy of the long out of print original was located! So while this might not be new to these ears, thankfully Cold Spring have furnished this with a re-release to bring this to the attention new audience. Immediately evident is the sprawling factory ambience, the mechanised clatter akin to the sounds of a multitude of rotating conveyer belts of some decayed industrial installation. While the rhythms lurch incessantly on, other discordant horns, random wails and distant voices add to the bleak, all encompassing darkness: and this all encapsulated on track 1. Herein different variations of the opening themes are explored, but do not staying too far a field, maintaining the common trait: that of the impenetrably bleak & inky black atmospheres. To cut to the chase this is absolute death industrial classic: additional words unnecessary.
AREA C (USA) “HAUNTED COBBLESTONE SUNSET CONCERT SERIES #7” CDr 2005 Free Matter For The Blind
From my first impressions of this label, by no means are they going for feel of an elite underground label, rather they seem to operate with a DIY aesthetic that is most associated with tape labels that were so prevalent in the years before CD’s became the dominant recordable media. So, in quoting directly from promo blurb for The Haunted Cobblestones Sunset Concert Series: “Ending at sunset with the first recording and beginning at sunset with the last recording – individuals play what they will out the third floor window on a desolate cobblestone street in the last days of summer. Attendees listen street-side, eating tacos or stretched out on the concrete. Stereo recordings made in a single take – screaming kids, violent cars – sirens and animals to be considered as collaborators”. It is quite a cleaver concept actually, where the CDR’s act as a formal document of the concept, as well as the ‘concert’ performance, whilst creating an experimental release that can in itself be considered as an actual album and not merely a live album from the project involved. Area C rise to the task for the 7th performance in the series, resulting an almost 50 minute album that plays out as a single piece despite having 13 tracks. Merging what are in essence actual field recordings of the familiar sounds of neighbourhood going about its business, these are underscored with sparse fractured melodies and subtle washes of sound. Although the musical aspects are generated from a guitar, the instrument is not played in typical fashion. Rather its output it used in an understated and abstract way to create a mellow & melancholic droning ambience to reflect the fading light of dusk. By way of a providing an overall compliment, the merging of muted guitar drones with sound artefact contributions (on the part of the neighbourhood), it evokes a vibe that draws parallels to the incidental bridging sections of music that post-rock band God Speed You Black Emperor! have produced in the past. With an intriguing concept and methodology that has paid off in final results, you could do far worse then checking out this release.
Asia Nova (USA) “love like a veiled threat” CD 2005 Eibon Records/ Radio Tarab Records
Asia Nova returns after their highly revered ‘Burning the Blue Skies Black’ debut with another sprawling monolithic epic of an album, sweeping through ethno infused ambient fields & on to wide plains of bloated droning atmospheres. Simply put, the sheer scope & depth displayed is quite staggering, where, flute/ wind instruments, tabla, percussion & female vocals (utilised as an instrument), compliment the expansive tidal flows of ambient treated guitar textures & synth lead drones. Pushing well beyond any mere dark ambient tag, the entire atmosphere ascends into a spiralling core of spirituality – but not the western world’s concept of spirituality, rather that of the Asiatic world (as reflected within the cover’s imagery). The sheer breadth & textural scope of this CD would seem to be the direct result of the musical contributions of 5 individuals, meaning in the case of Asia Nova, 5 heads are certainly better then 1! As massive & epic as this particular album is, it is actually the first instalment of a 6 album series under the umbrella title ‘turning the black skies blue again’, which certainly begs the question of what musical heights might be scaled on subsequent instalments? Yet before this is formally answered by the group, this CD is absolutely fantastic place to begin.
Ativ (USA) / Radial (USA) “Split” 3”CDr 2001 Ad Noiseam
Not being familiar with either artist, the bio tells me that both projects hail from the New York rhythmic noise scene and have collaborated on this 4 track mini EP by re-mixing 2 tracks of each others material. For me there can be rhythmic noise (“great!”) and there can be rhythmic noise (“it’s OK…”). Whilst my perception of this release is leaning towards the latter, it does not mean the tracks on this release are bad, rather they do not have that certain ‘something’ that would enable me to declare the tracks excellent. This might sound like an apathetic statement to some, yet when listening to these tracks they neither grab me in either a positive or a negative light. Anyway in regard to the actual music, the Ativ re-mixes of Radial’s material are relatively twisted, using frayed sounds injected with heavy driving beat sequences. Radial on the other hand have re-mixed Ativ’s work using a more subdued undercurrent, then overlaying this with rather harsh distortion or cut up oriented beats. Notwithstanding that hearing this material performed live would give me a whole different perception of the two acts, my apathetic stance stands when listening to this material on CD. Non committal perhaps? You might have an entirely different perception. As with all of the 3″CDr releases on Ad Noiseam this is limited to 100 copies.
Azure Skies (Swe) ”Azure Skies” CD 2001 Ant-Zen
Being a collaborative project between members of Sanctum and Metal Destruction, initially many people may have expected this to be released by CMI, but for whatever reason this has been issued via Ant-Zen (and even I must admit that it is quite different to the direction that this label has been pursuing over the last few years). At any rate such considerations are immaterial and does nothing to detract from what is essentially a great CD. Commencing with a crusty mix of noisy rhythmic loops and sweeping orchestral atmospherics the two facets of the Azure Skies projects are revealed – on one hand nasty and gritty, whilst on the other, beautiful and forlorn (‘rhythmic, orchestral industrial noise’ perhaps?!). Chopping between these sounds and including a hefty wack of metallic percussion, the mid paced flow of ”Crater” bodes very well for a solid release. Even more roughly hewn, ”Deniability” built on static lurching loops, dense rumbling elements and random noise crawls through a myriad of sections occasionally converging into some hyper rhythmic parts. Being calmer in volume, the weaving noise loops of ”Hydrazine” are initially offset by a fleeting piano tune that gradually fades into the recesses of the track only to make a reappearance late composition. As for the nasty rhythmic industrial side of Azure Skies, this is displayed in full force on ”Collapse” with processed vocals cyclic mid paced loops, sporadically blasting searing noise for good measure (and if this were pushed up a notch or two it could have qualified as a power electronics track). Alternately ”Bring Nothing Back” contains a brooding orchestral melody that sounds particularly ‘Sanctum-esque’, except for the ridged and rhythmic percussion setting it apart, only for the heavy rasping/shouted vocals to beg a comparison the vocal deliveries of Mental Destruction. Presenting the most freeform piece of the CD, ”Still” is a wavering and meandering industrial noise piece, whilst ”Forward Contamination” is initially deceptive in its dark ambient tone, only to evolve into a superb pounding rhythmic offering. All in all a damn fine CD and a positive result to the cross pollination of skill and ideals of members of two known and respected projects.
Bahlasti Ompehda (Fin) “Nothing but Dispersion” CDr 2004 self released
Being the second self released CDR for this new Finish project (formed in 2003), I would really consider this album as a showcase of a group in its formative demo stages. This perception appears to be reflected by the band themselves given that this is limited to a mere 30 copies. As for what this release has to offer, with 9 tracks that span 50 minutes I’m afraid to say that it serves up reasonably standard and pedestrian dark ambient. Likewise the press sheet reads: “the goal was to generate the most unnerving and effectual sounds”, which although commendable, unfortunately for these ears has not been achieved. Generally speaking, the tracks utilise a minimalist and subdued approach, where a few synth generated sonic layers have been heavily manipulated to achieve a somewhat low-fi & old school atmosphere. However as the album progresses the tracks tend to merge one into the next, not really capturing that certain engaging essence that dark ambient music specifically requires. Yet ‘The End of Heaven and Earth’ is one of a couple of tracks that bucks this trend, being a static noise drenched power electronics piece bordering on free-form noise. As mentioned earlier, this release should really be treated a demo of group learning its equipment and establishing itself. Thus on this basis it will be interesting to see how quickly they progress in creating a stylised sound they can call their own.
Bad Sector (Ita) ”Ampos” CD 2002 Power & Steel (via Loki Foundation)
Bad Sector are a project that should need no introduction, but if they do “Ampos” is a fine place to start. Forming a re-release of an older album, this was originally released in 1995 on God Factory, however two bonus tracks that originate from the same recording period are tacked on the end for good measure. Likewise the album packaging has been re-evaluated, with the re-designed digipack being rather resplendent in complimenting both the sound of the group and the overall aesthetic of the label. As for the music, straight off it has the unmistakable sound of Bad Sector (if you have heard it before), and if not it is a sound that blends sound experimentalism with dark ambient textures. Yet in their pursuit of musical brilliance Bad Sector manage to avoid the stuffy intellectual aspects of academic sound exploration whilst similarly avoiding the cliques that can be present within the dark ambient scene. And the result I hear you ask? – none other then a musical palette of cosmic spatial breadth, combined with a hint of a science fiction type resonance, all evoked via the flowing and shimmering sound structures. Across the thirteen compositions, the album retains continuity and focus, yet each individual track chooses to explore the subtitles of the slow morphing rhythms and swelling harmonic tunes. Thus from the outset each track is impressive as it weaves its own caustic undercurrent whilst intermixing clinical blips, slow morphing melodious textures and alien-esque voices. To conclude, little if any more needs to be said in way of praise of both this album and Bad Sector as an artist, given I can only offer up the highest of praise in respect of both.
Band of Pain (Eng) “Que Amiga?” CD 2003 Cold Spring Records
Being a long standing British exponent of dark ambience, Band of Pain are a high calibre yet somewhat under-recognised project. This situation appears to be slowly changing however, after solo member Steve Pittis’s more recent forays into the big time by producing the soundscores of underground movie “Sacred Flesh” & the major motion picture “Red Dragon”. Regardless, “Que Amiga?” arrives as Band of Pain’s fifth album & is a varied and impressive recording. It is interesting to hear that despite the dense & stifling tension of the compositions, there is a clarity and volume to the sound production. This in turn gives the album a very professional feel which really fleshes out the overall atmosphere. Although I am often adverse to the use of the lengthy dialogue samples, an example of how to properly use one is showcased within the opening track “the look in her eyes”. Here the sample both compliments and enhances the track by really becoming an integral part of with the composition (& in turn debunking the notion that samples are often used to merely bolster a mediocre track or compensate for a lack of ideas). Likewise one common thread is the hints of orchestral melody that are sparingly used to convey subtle emotion (akin like a single ray of light penetrating the often suffocating darkness). Yet it is not at though the album has been composed to be specifically dark, as there are threads of nostalgic beauty and fragility at play here. With 5 tracks ranging between 6 to 20 minutes, “Que Amiga?” delivers 50 minutes of expertly crafted dark ambience.
Boyd Rice and Friends (USA) ”Music, Martinis & Misanthropy” CD 2002 NER (via Tesco Distribution)
Being a reissue of a classic release, the original artwork has been expanded with new digipack format (beautiful gloss card, silver foil print and de-bossed details), and new images within the 12 page gloss booklet. Under the ‘Boyd Rice and Friends’ moniker it combines the collaborative input of luminaries such as Douglas P, Rose McDowall, Michael Moynihan, Tony Wakeford and Bob Ferbrache, and in the process created a musically diverse album. However being more then merely music alone, the lyrical content plays a major, if not the central role given its scathing indictment of the modern human condition (but more oft then not this is done via misanthropic humorous witticisms). A pinnacle highlight comes in the form of the absolute classic song ”People” – a hauntingly beautiful (jangling) acoustic track, where the lyrics have been increasingly validated by the passing of each year (listen and ye shall understand). ”Disneyland Can Wait” is another amazing cut of sparse acoustic guitars, floating female vocals and calm and forlorn spoken vocals of Boyd (…lets take a ride on Mr Toad’s Wild Ride shall we?). But what of the other tracks you ask? Well, they encompass orchestral/sound collages (”Invocation” and ”An Eye For and Eye”, ”Shadows of the Night”), spoken word/narrative pieces (”The Hunter”, ”Nightwatch”, ”Tripped a Beauteous Maiden”, ”History Lesson” and ”Silence is Golden”) and acoustic guitar based songs (”Down in the Willow Garden”, ”I’d Rather Be Your Enemy” and ”As for the Fools”). Additionally one last bonus track is enclosed, being an interesting piece that seems to have been contributed by recent Boyd associate Ms Tracy Twyman. As for this unnamed track, it is a rather nice piece of conspiracy type humour that implies Boyd Rice was responsible for the Colombine High School shootings. Subversive indeed! Overall this is one a wild romping musical and socio-political ride that has not aged one iota in the 13 years that has transpired since its original release. Music, Martinis and Misanthropy? – a musically, mandatory, masterpiece!
Brian Uzna (Ger) “Combat Shock” CDr 2005 Einzeleinheit]
Highlighting the diversity of spheres present within the broad fields of electronic music, Einzeleinheit present another debut album, this time for beat instigator Brian Uzna. Thus with its eclectic take on a variety of aspects of beat oriented electronica, this album would easily sit alongside quite a number of acts on the Ant-Zen roster. With tracks swinging from choppy click’n’cut electronica (“manilas hospital 1#”), to moody piano loops, scattergun samples & programming (“combat shock”), through to the bouncy & upbeat technoid (“beneath a stealth sky”), some seriously diverse ground is covered. “Neo Paladin” likewise explores more subtle territory with moody floating melodies, sparse programming & textural glitches. On the other hand “Because of You” could draw comparisons to the orchestral infused broken breakbeat of Beefcake – which of course is a compliment! To its credit the diversity of inspiration & ideas are equally matched by the skill of the composer Brian Uzna. What has ultimately been achieved is an album that has a clear coherence, despite such wildly playful ideas. Certainly in less experienced hands could have just as easily turned into a unintelligible mess. “Combat Shock” is definite highlight & excellent surprise of recent releases I have had the opportunity to hear.
Canaan (Ita) “The Unsaid Words” CD 2006 Aural Music/ Eibon Records
Revolving in underground circles for a decade now, Canaan’s ethos has involved merging elements of ambient, dark wave and experimental to intriguing effect. The quintet employ instruments of bass, drums, guitars & vocals, it is the keyboards & samples that round out the ambient/ experimental aspects. ‘The Unsaid Words’ is their fifth album that is abstract (the dark ambient/ experimental passages) and song structured (the dark wave oriented songs) in equal parts. In full flight the band creates mid paced songs of restrained tragic despair with an air of unforced confidence. Whilst clean and distorted guitars are utilised the music would never qualify as being ‘heavy’ rather they are depressively tinged dirges augmented with washes of orchestral keyboards. Alternately the dark ambient passages are a well defined counter balance to the main songs being equally well executed and far from being mere bridging tracks. To be filed under and broad banner of ‘dark’ music, Canaan’s sound has a sensibility that does not pigeon hole them to a particular style or sub genre. ‘The Unsaid Words’ is a fine example of dark, abstract emotion
Caul (USA) “The Golden Epiphany” 3xCD 2003 Eibon Records
Being quite some time in the pipeline, this triple CD retrospective set was originally slated for release on Malignant Records, but was later moved to Eibon due to financial constraints. Packaged in a beautiful triple gatefold card cover (each CD further housed in its own card slipcase), “The Golden Epiphany” features Caul’s earliest recording works, consisting of the three tape releases originally issued in limited quantities in 1994. To give an overview, if anyone has followed Caul’s musical evolution from their debut “Crucible” on Malignant Records in 1996, through to the late 1990’s (“The Sound of Faith” Katyn Records 1996; “Reliquary” Eibon Records 1997 & “Light from Many Lamps” Malignant Records 1998), you would have noted the dark ambient tracks gradually giving way to a lighter musical framework of neo-classical passages. Alternately in reversing this trend, these retrospective CD’s plunge the listener back into the murky depths of dense, suffocating drones and sparse musical compositions that characterised Caul’s sound in their formative stages. Disc I “Epiphany/ Fortune” spans 16 tracks and 75 minutes, showcasing a slow neo-classical introduction where the mood conveys an ethereal feel that is mournful as opposed to being specifically dark. However as the CD progresses the sullen atmospheres and dark drones gain strength and focus, as if illustrating the slow agonising decent of the damned into the catacombs of purgatory hell. Disc II “Whole” opts for a differing approach, given it comprises a single track at 57 minutes in length. Using for a dense and noisy framework, the forceful drones intermingle with loosely constructed rhythms and ritualistic percussive sounds to create a complex and engaging “whole” (that consequently contains the least neo-classical elements of the three CD’s). Disc III “The Golden Section” returns to the track oriented format, encompassing 53 minutes and 12 compositions. Here the ominous drones are rather prominent whereas the sparse melodies lurk in the background, giving off an overall atmosphere that is associated with the prevalent sound of the CMI label during the mid 90’s (and exactly the period in which this was recorded). Likewise with some tracks adding tribal-esque rhythms it creates a sound not unlike some early Con Sono material (remember them?!). To my mind Caul have always been an underrated project that deserves wider recognition then they have actually gained. Many of these passages are par excellence, and are actually far better then later more neo-classical oriented compositions that occasionally suffered from an overly synthetic production. Whilst selected tracks on these CD’s may sound slightly amateurish, they must be viewed in context of a project finding its feet and establishing a sound (and may even have been caused by the limitations of available equipment). Nevertheless the low points are far and few between, with this release constituting an honourable triple CD set of inspired, and only occasionally flawed dark ambience.
Changes (USA) ”Fire of Life” CD 2001 Hau Ruck (via Tesco Distribution)
This CD was first released on Storm Records in the mid to late 1990s, after Michael Moynihan encouraged one original member (Robert Taylor) to dig up archival recordings from this duo (Nicholas Tesluk being the other member). Likewise the recordings that make up “Fire of Life” have been derived for a variety of source tapes dating from 1969-1974, and had never been officially released before the original Storm Records pressing. However thanks to Michael Moynihan’s sincere interest in encouraging this music to be heard by a new generation, the original release has become rather infamous, despite being well out for print (therefore this re-release is much welcomed news for those who may never have otherwise been able to track down a copy). As for the music this is apocalyptic folk music in a truest form, created in a time well before any such term was first coined. Primarily based around an acoustic guitar and male vocals (one track augmented with flute and female vocals), there is a simplicity at play that allows the inherent beauty and strength of the tracks to shine. Some tracks have been limited by the condition of the original source tapes, however when taking this into consideration, this does not take away any of power and conviction of these 11 tracks. Highlights of the CD would include the title track, ”Satanic Hymn #2”, ”The Stranger in the Mirror (Pt. 3)” and ”Twilight of the West”. Overall this Changes CD represents timeless music that is as much relevant today as when it was originally written.
Changes (USA) “Orphan in the Storm” CD 2004 Hau Ruk (via Tesco Distribution)
Having appreciated the archival recordings presented on the ‘Fire of Life’ album (dating from the 1970’s), this CD represents the modern incarnation of the group, whereby old tracks were re-recorded in 1995 and finally released in 2004. Being far more ‘folk’ then the actual neo-folk scene that revived interest in the group, this is an anthemic album built primarily on acoustic guitars and vocals. Thus with this limited instrumentation, a certain simplicity and style is evoked, that certainly would not be considered modern by current neo-folk standards. Yet on some levels this album is slightly less engaging then I was hoping due to the lyrical focus being quite direct and of an almost of preachy nature. Given I would prefer lyrics accompanying such music to be of a more subtle spiritual nature, certain songs here come across as merely indignant protest songs (‘Twilight of the West’ is a prime example). However in context this is probably most reflective of when these songs were originally written. So, for the albums shortcomings, including some truly poorly recorded tracks, the new version of ‘Waiting for the Fall’ manages to capture Changes aura and magic perfectly. An album for neo-folk connoisseurs.
Clear Stream Temple (NZ) “XVI” CD 2003 Cold Spring Records
Containing a mixture of militant neo-classical sounds with threads of middle eastern percussion & melody, this is clearly not something I would have expected to hear from a New Zealand based project. Nevertheless ‘XVI’ is a powerful release & is actually an official re-release of a formerly self-issued album. Based on the events of S11, the anti-American sentiments are clearly displayed throughout. This is no more evident then on the tracks where speech samples of George ‘dubya’ Bush Junior have been manipulated & twisted with intriguing result. Of such speech manipulations ‘o.v.i.form’ & ‘Age of Terror’ are chief examples, with the later being a weighty and impressive orchestral piece, utilising heavily programmed mid paced percussion. Yet it is not as though the album relies merely on such anti-Bush-ism’s to drive home its message. Sympathy and homage is paid to the struggles of the Muslim world, highlighted through a myriad of speech samples and sound bites. Of the ten album tracks (& as is mostly the case with type of music), it has been constructed with multiple layers of sounds, samples, melodies and percussion. But avoiding being one dimensional in execution, some compositions are forcefully pounding & militant, others subdued & sinister, & yet others tribal in their musical aesthetic. To name drop, In Slaughter Natives crossbred with Muslimgauze would be a reasonable descriptive comparison. From concept, to execution & to final sleeve design, this is another strong album from the Cold Spring roster.
Combat Astronomy (UK) ”Lunik” CDr 2001 Ad Noiseam
Stunningly designed oversized DVD packing for this 100 limited release, this CDr represents the debut full length for Combat Astronomy following on from a split CD with Sleeping with the Earth (released on Troniks in 2000). Remembering not being entirely convinced with Combat Astronomy material on the split CD, I was actually quite flawed by the eclectic and rather playful tracks that make up this release. Not really sounding like any particular group (other then Combat Astronomy of course) a barrage of quirky loops, noise segments and technoid styled tribal beats combine to assault the listener in a very appealing style. With a loose direction the album uses a variety of cut ups and interlude segments (even within tracks), yet still managing to remain focused. Track ”Scene of Zealot” is a great composition of broken, clanging beats undercut with sweeping noise and spacious sound that flows into the even more hyper and twisted track ”Memories” (psychotic tribal beats and disorientating noise). The track ”Illusions” is likewise rather deranged due to it chopping and changing between a throbbing mass of sound, to some over the top fractured beats, mixed again with a good dose of noise. The bizarrely titled ”Cure of Zombie” is just as bizarre musically with an epileptic type beat overlaid with a nice partially harmonic drones and programming (only to add further beat sections as it progresses). With the resonance of a heavily treated and upwardly spiralling guitar riff at the start of ”Konat”, quickly a variety of percussive sequences and random noise and static converge into a pleasing coagulated sound mass. Moving in a cyclic manner, the albums finally arcs full circle by concluding with short reworkings of opening tracks 1 & 2. Eclectically diverse and highly original, Combat Astronomy have produced an album is a very enjoyable and refreshing listen, but I think is slightly unfortunate that it is limited to only 100 copies given it deserves wider attention.
Combative Alignment (Ger) “and outside glows the red dawn” CD 2005 Malignant Records
With a name like Combative Alignment I was initially expecting an album along the neo-classical/ neo folk/ and/ or power electronics tangents – yet of course such expectations were not to pan out. Thus with further investigation, it was discovered the project is of German origin and that the album’s ritual infused dark ambient style aligns with the general sound & direction of Loki-Foundation label, of whom incidentally released the group’s previous LP. As for ‘and outside glows the red dawn’, it is split into 6 untitled parts that all flow together as a single coherent piece of tensile evolving atmospheres. From the opening piece a foggy hallucinogenic ambience quickly unfolds, which is complimented further with sections of ritualistic drumming. Likewise the fluidity of the sub-orchestral sound layers gives of a subtle droning quality, yet on numerous listens the material is not half as calm as it initially appears. The trick here is the depth and breadth of the sound production is such that it allows new sonic textures & elements to be discovered on each subsequent listen. As a debut full length for the group this is an excellently constructed & executed album & having been issued on Malignant Records is indication of a high calibre of release. Although the label releases only a few albums each year, of what slim pickings that are available, they are consistently of top notch quality in respect of both sound and design packaging. Without doubt Combative Alignment’s album is worthy of investigation and yet another feather in the cap for Malignant.
Compest (Ger) “Kryptozoologie” CDr 2005 Einzeleinheit
Being the second release on this relatively new German label, and the second release for Compest, “Kryptozoologie” showcases a rather interesting electronic project at work. Without adhering to strict stylistic formulas the can be so prevalent in certain aspects of electronic music, the music served up here broadly spans the ethnic & tribal, and the ambient & industrial. Although quite composed and structured the music in most part is slow paced, thus gradually unfolding as relaxed soundscapes. Likewise the more sequenced elements of the album act as a clear deterrent to the atmosphere veering towards a more generic dark ambient sound. “Kryptozoologie Part 3” is a particularly good example of this where the choppy programming drives along a sampled harp melody, with mild industrial undercurrent. “Kryptozoologie Part 5” is another decent track worthy of an individual mention, which consists of Compest’s tribal industrial take on a brooding neo-classical style. At 45 minutes this by no means attempts to stretch the capacity limits of the CD format, however the album is actually stronger for it. The 5 tracks span between 5 and 12 minutes in total, showcasing well formed ideas that don’t outstay their welcome. By avoiding some typical genre trappings and by merging spheres of influence, Compest have created an album that is a refreshing listen for these occasionally jaded ears.
Contemplatron (Pol) “Antarabhava/ Six realms” CD 2005 Wrotycz Records
Representing an album from both an artist and label I have not come across before, Contemplatron are promoted as being a product of the dark ambient genre. As for the album’s concept, it is broken up into two parts, where the first section was inspired by the Tibetan Book of the Dead, whilst the second half relates to the six realms of Buddhist Tradition that symbolises the destructive emotions of ignorance, hatred, enslaving desire, jealousy, pride & greed. Despite drawing on quite reasonable topics, what is musically achieved is a rather standard dark ambient album that would sit comfortably alongside many artists’ of the early 1990’s. There is in essence nothing wrong with this album given it does what it does quite well. However with selected dark ambient artists in recent year really pushing the envelope of what can be achieved with such a genre and style (Inade and Herbst9 are two which come to mind), this comes across as rather mediocre in comparison. For my ear this perception really comes down to the tempo of material which meanders along at a catatonic pace with chanting choirs, cyclic drones, cavernous shafts of sound, muted percussion, minor key melodies etc. Primarily the problem is with a lack of overall dynamics, yet despite its subdued qualities there is just a touch too much going on to qualify for the isolationist/ minimalist tag. As such, I doubt that anyone would be severely disappointed by Contemplatron’s offering (that spans 12 tracks over 70 minutes), yet this does not negate the fact that many other artists have previously covered similar territory.
Control (USA) “Natural Selection” CD 2003 Eibon Records
For this reasonably prolific American power electronics artist, Natural Selection arrives as their fourth full length in 3 years. Having not closely followed Control’s progression, this release is a different beast to what was captured on their debut. Whereas the debut was freeform & chaotic, progression has been achieved through carefully structured layers, without forsaking Control’s characteristic raw sonic aesthetic. Bristling textures, harsh loops, savage static, roaring noise etc, are the staple elements of the compositions that have been expertly composed to create amazing audio dynamics. Another fantastic element is the manically screamed vocals that are distorted beyond recognition, yet you can only imagine what is being conveyed with track titles such as: hunting ground & exterminate. Additionally the mastering is suitably LOUD, to create a harsh sonic clarity and in the process avoiding a muddy sound production that can often mar such releases. As far as power electronics releases go this may not be the most original release, however when it is as expertly crafted as this there is absolutely no cause for complaint.
Control (USA) “The Means to an End” CD 2005 Eibon Records
Fifth official album for Control is again a showcase of the belligerent single mindedness of solo member Thomas Garrison’s approach to the power electronics genre – and by belligerent I mean that as the best of compliments. Whilst the basic formula has not drastically altered, the fact remains it is the aural dynamics & crystalline production is what turns Control’s style from good to great. To describe the formula for the uninitiated: Control presents an immensely raw sonic aesthetic constructed through droning loops, mechanised rhythmic patterns, savage noise & manically screamed/ distortion obliterated vocals. But far from being a chaotic mess, the meticulously constructed compositions are built layer upon layer to eviscerate any set of unsuspecting speakers that dare play this too loud. Topically Control have not altered there tactics either, as evidenced through the track titles: ‘Hatred of Humans’, ‘Line to the Slaughter’ & ‘Wait to Die’. Given there is a limit to how much power electronics you can take in one sitting, cleverly many of these album tracks commence with relatively subtle droning textures to lull the listener into a false sense of security before quickly elevating into an all out sonic maelstrom, unrelenting in is sheer force & brutality. With the steadfast focus that Control has continued to display, a more than suitable axiom would be: when it ‘aint broke don’t fix it.
Converter (USA) / Asche (Ger) / Morgenstern (Ger) ”Erode” CD 2001 Ant-Zen
Three way collaboration by three of the well know artists on the Ant-Zen roster has created a rather eclectic release spanning tense ambience, rhythmic noise and death industrial genres. Static swirling textures and a tongue in cheek sample commences the CD (referencing the label name), with the piece gradually morphing towards a mid paced rhythmic industrial groove. A whiplashing beat oriented affair on track two too has a heavy Converter stamp on the sound – if not just a touch quirkier than normal which has much also to do with the use of another humorous sample. Another industrial dance floor oriented track is toyed with again on track three, whereby direction is forged with beat and rhythm as opposed to tune. Morgenstern comes to mind on the fourth piece where slow rising ominous textures eventually combine with mid paced modulating distortion to create a cavernous yet tense edge, whilst pulsing programming, distorted death industrial vocals, and amply static noise is the recipe for the fifth piece. Track seven is another fine mixture of a death industrial undercurrent, overlaid with a rhythmic noise framework and distorted vocals in order to create another complex piece that is clearly far from being one dimensional. On the other hand the ninth and final track is a fantastic piece of tense cavernous ambience, intermixed with metallic clatter, vocal samples and death industrial programming. Intense does not begin to describe this, with it being quite reminiscent of the sound approached on Morgenstern’s ”Zyklen” CD. Overall I feel that fans of the general ‘sound’ of these three Ant-Zen artists should not be disappointed with this collaborative effort.
Cornucopia (PRC) “.C. Works: DCD 2005 Assemblage
Although knowing that Cornucopia have been around for quite some time, in light of the absolutely huge number of underground acts out there, there are some that will always get overlooked. For me Cornucopia were such a project, however as this release represents the project’s first foray onto the CD format it is fitting that it is the first material I have heard from the duo. Hailing from Puerto Rico this is hardly a common place that leaps to mind when considering experimental sound art projects. Yet despite this potential geographic handicap they have still managed to tour Europe, where this particular piece of music was constructed & recording on the road of their 2001 tour. “.C.” is the fruits of those recordings, with a single track with a length of 37 minutes. With the resultant composition, it consists of a numerous sections that span a wide variety of elements: clinical electronic textures merge into droning spheres and further traverse into darker & more ominous territory. Likewise selected calmer sonic textures at the mid point of the composition seem to allude to field recordings being utilized as source material. This is before the sound pushes though to a dense industrial noise framework, to just as quickly cut back to an aspect of calm and relative quiet, with what sounds like treated samples of water lapping at a lakes edge. In all its complexity “.C.” this is a varied & intense recording that accurately highlights the project’s technical knowledge & skill. As a complimentary addition, the release comes with a bonus CD of remixes from 14 sound artists. With contributors spanning the globe & producing a diverse take on the source recordings, it forms pretty much a full release in its own right. Without reviewing each track in detail, the remix CD features some recognized names (Ultra Milkmaids, David Wells, Francisco Lopez), with the rest I have not come across previously (Omei, Needle & Sony Mao, Lasse Marhaug, Black Sand Desert, RGV, TV Pow, duul_drv, Andrew Duke, Kim Cascone, Critikal & Zanstones). As such the majority of the pieces are respectful of the source material, thus traversing drone/ experimental and/ or sound collage styles to create a fitting sister album.
C.O.T.A (USA) ”Marches and Meditations” CD 2002 Sonick Sorcery (via Tesco Distribution)
This is my first introduction to the group, however I can’t say that the rather amateurishly designed (and almost cheesy) digipack did much to inspire confidence. Anyway, as for the music, what we have here is five lengthy tracks with a little over an hour total playing time. Blending manipulated programmed elements and tribal styled influence, ”Mahayuga” set proceedings in motion with a wailing horn and scattered rhythmic electronics. With the tribal oriented focus, repetition is utilised quite heavily by choosing to morph each track gradually and blending layers of noise, vocalisations, distortion, sampled voices, programmed sounds, tribal percussion etc, likewise using an ebb/flow, rising/falling technique. The sound between each track generally follows a broad and lose framework, yet uses different techniques and patterns to generate differing results per composition. However, it is due to the slow pace and length of tracks that proceedings sometimes become a little self indulgent and loose focus, thus destroying any mood evoked(five minutes worth of little more then manipulated swirling wind textures at the start of ”Deep Within the Womb of the Mother Part 03” is exactly case in point). Whilst not entirely awful, there however are many other CDs that I would prefer to listen to, thus I would say that this is a release that will not be receiving multiple rotations on my system.
C.O.T.A (USA) “Ta’wil” CD 2004 Sonick Sorcery (via Tesco Distribution)
When having to use the phrase ‘new age music’ to describe a release, this would normally spell the death kneel for my interest in an album. However ‘Ta’wil’ redeems itself in that it has clear leanings towards ritual industrial music. With an assortment of nature based environmental recordings & tribal percussion, it’s these elements that give the ‘new age’ leanings. Thankfully such elements are kept in check & intermixed with a variety of manipulated chants, vocals, synth melodies & electronic drones. The opening track does stand apart from the others (given it contains a standard song construction with acoustic guitar), reminding me somewhat of the excellent neo-folk group Karnnos. Of the remaining five tracks, four are over the 10 minute length, allowing the darkly tribal atmospheres to slowly evolve. Although forming a re-release of their 1997 debut, this is better then their second CD ‘Marches and Meditations’.
David Wells (UK) “Op.2” CDr 2006 Siridisc
Ah it seems that I have been reviewing quite a few drone music oriented releases of late, however when they are done as well as this there is certainly no cause for complaint. Although I have not come across Mr Wells before, this has little bearing on his excellently honed skills for creating fluid, yet tensile atmospherics. With a clear and crystalline sound production it is easy to get lost within the shimming & semi metallic sounding drones that form a taut introduction to the single 22 minute track. Likewise with a solid grasp of dynamics, the technique of using sections of almost silence only serves to intensify the track’s heavier tonal sections. With the track’s core being suitably melancholic, but steering away from being specifically dark, David Wells has presented a fine example of where drone music can still be taken.
Deadwood (Swe) “8 19” CD 2005 Cold Spring
With the sole member of Deadwood having roots in the underground black metal scene – a scene obsessed with cold & harsh production values – it was always going to be interesting when such an individual tackled the power electronics sound, given that scenes penchant for obliterated sonic terrorism. Thus with the convergence of such influences, even the record label saw fit to label the album with the following statement: “Deadwood is a relentless assault on the senses! Approach with due caution!”. This certainly is an accurate way to describe this debut album from Deadwood. With 6 tracks and a play time of 60 minutes this album definitely delivers a walloping punch to the eardrum. Typically starting with a low menacing death industrial guise, the tracks are built on a loose framework of loops to give a minimalist structure, before ramping up the mood with a roaring maelstrom of distortion. As for evident hallmarks of the black metal scene, this would relate to the spoken/ screamed vocals, yet even these have been processed beyond recognition to be yet another sonic layer within obliterated wall of sound approach. Yet in appreciating such a vicious album, its overall effect are not necessarily a good thing for tinnitus suffers – myself being one of them. As such I don’t actually need an album like this to achieve that incessant high pitched shrill ringing tone within my skull. But if you aren’t one of the ‘lucky’ ones like myself, by all means seek this out for such result. However your discretion with respect of the label’s warning would be well warranted!
Death in June (Eng) ”NADA!” CD 2002 NER
The DIJ re-release juggernaut is finally kicking into full swing, now that the long drawn out saga with WSD has reached a conclusion (with “Nada!” being the first re-press post court case). As with the other items re-released thus far, this is similarly house in superb packaging, consisting of gloss digi-pack with debossed detail and 16 page gloss booklet containing previously unseen images lifted the original photo shoots. And whilst mentioning additional material, alongside the “Nada!” tracks, the ”Born Again” 12” has been included as a bonus. Harking back to 18 years prior, the year was 1985 when DIJ were recently reduced to a duo, with Patrick Leagas and Douglas continuing the legacy after the departure of Tony Wakeford (although this recording does feature the input of Richard Butler and David Tibet). Containing some hallmarks of the neo-folk scene (that would become the focus of later DIJ releases), “Nada!” intermixes the acoustic guitars, understated vocals and military percussion alongside other more synthetic, electronic and programmed tracks (eg: ”The Calling (MK II)”, ”Carousel”, ”The Torture Garden” and ”Born Again”). Whilst the later described tracks will potentially catch a few newer fans by surprise, when viewing such material in context, it is a sound influence that somewhat aligned itself with the new-wave sound of the time. And whilst it could be said that the sound has dated on some pieces, these compositions are nonetheless an integral part of the progression of Death in June overall sound. Alternately “Nada!” is also the album that contains the well known, if not classic tracks ”Leper Lord”, ”Behind the Rose (Fields of Rape)” and ”C’est Un Rêve”, which have all become staple features of Death in June’s live performances over recent years. The re-released version “Nada!” is a CD well worth of you time, containing classic tracks and acting as another integral paving stone in the continuing legacy of Death in June.
Death in June presents (Eng) – KAPO! CD 2003 NER
Being another NER catalogue re-release, “KAPO!” is not a Death in June album proper, rather it is a collaborative effort between Douglas P. and Richard Leviathan (of Strength Through Joy/ Ostara) dating from 1996. Although containing some hallmark sounds of both individuals’ projects, this album presents a sound and atmosphere which sets it apart. With a forlorn atmosphere that permeates every facet of the album, the tracks range from fragile acoustic guitar driven tracks, through to neo-classical oriented compositions. Certainly an album highlight is the early album track Only Europa Knows. As an understated acoustic piece, the guitar is offset with classical music motifs (piano, clarinet, violin), the vocals are delivered in spoken style, whilst the shrill cry of air-raid sirens wail in the distance. Hero Gallow on the other hand is a mid paced gangly acoustic guitar driven piece that is more uptempo and nostalgic in feel, and is the closest track to sounding like it was lifted off an official Death in June album. With reference to the number of neo-classical soundscape pieces of the album, The Rat and the Eucharist uses a slow composition of plucked and bowed violins, slow timpani percussion, as Richard Leviathan delivers a rather poetic spoken word piece. As a bonus for this re-release, a further six pieces are collated alongside the eight original album tracks, consisting of a prior compilation appearance, along with other rare and alternate versions of some of the main album tracks. Accordingly Kapo! is no less then essential listening for any apocalyptic folk/ neo-classical music fan.
Death in June (Eng) “The Wall of Sacrifice” CD 2003 NER
Another beautiful re-release from the Death in June back catalogue, with the digipack cover featuring high gloss card stock and spot varnished embellishment. Originally released in 1989, at the time Death in June represented the solo vehicle of Douglas P, further assisted by Boyd Rice, Rose McDowell & David Tibet, among others. Containing two distinct sounds, approximately half of the tracks constitute sample based industrial soundscapes, whilst the remaining follow the apocalyptic folk sound. Whilst some of the industrial soundscape tracks work better then others, they all generally compliment the overall style and flow of the album. With respect of the trademark acoustic style this album is home to classics such as Giddy Giddy Carousel (here Rose’s spectral voice mirrors the stoic delivery of Douglas P’s main vocals), Fall Apart, & Hullo Angel. Likewise In Sacrilege is an utterly astonishing track: an acoustic ode with the urgent and heartfelt vocals fantastically delivered by David Tibet: “we develop, we delight, we define and we decay” indeed.
Death in June (Eng) & Boyd Rice (USA) “Alarm Agents” CD 2004 NER
Initially being rather under whelmed by this album, it was after repeated listens that its innate character revealed itself to positively grasp my attention. In a true collaborative effort ‘Alarm Agents’ is primarily the merging of the apocalyptic folk of Death in June overlaid with Boyd Rice’s trademark acerbic intonations. With a couple of noisier industrial pieces thrown in for good measure and a repeated acoustic guitar melody & dialogue sample used a bridge between selected tracks, ‘Alarm Agents’ ties together nicely. Whilst it could be said there are better releases from both, be it individually or under the guise of prior collaborations, however considering who the artists are a quality album is at least assured. Dedicated fans are likely to have tracked this down already, but for those who haven’t, at least the ‘Death in June & Boyd Rice’ title is a clear and accurate advertisement of what you get.
Death in June (Eng) “Abandoned Tracks” CD 2005 NER
Over the duration of Death in June’s lengthy career, Douglas P has shown a penchant for releasing remixed and alternate versions of main album tracks. In part ‘Abandoned Tracks’ continues this ethos by drawing together a collection of remixed & partially re-recorded versions, compilation contributions, tracks originally released on limited edition formats and two tracks that remained unreleased until now. Statements from Douglas P indicated that the initial idea for this compilation originated whilst trawling through his recorded archives during the infamous legal battle with his former (and now defunct) distribution company: World Serpent Distribution. Thus to this end some of the remixed & re-recorded versions seem intent on rewriting Death in June’s history by entirely erasing the prior contributions of former allies from WSD days. That said, the alternate versions of various songs are certainly invigorating for the Death in June completist, however of particular interest is the unreleased track, ‘The Concrete Fountain’ consisting of a beautiful sullen acoustic guitar and keyboard melody, underscored with modern, almost dance oriented drum programming. Likewise the song ‘The Only Good Neighbour’, and the difficult to find track ‘Unconditional Armistice’ make exceptionally welcomed additions to this rarities compilation. Although not forming new and current material from Douglas P, this is a worthy addition for any Death in June fan.
Der Blutharsch (Aut) ”When All Else Fails!” CD 2001 WKN
On initial listens I was somewhat disappointed by this new album, but nonetheless this has been one to positively grow on me after repeated listens over an extended passage of time (I received an advance copy when visiting Albin back in September, 2001). Also, after gaining familiarity with this album, one thing to note is that it encompasses a sound and style that although acknowledges the past sound(s) of Der Blutharsch, also hints at the potential future direction of the group due to the incorporation of new elements and influences. So, with regard to these ‘new’ elements, here I would be referring to a few compositions where it sees Albin is at his quirkiest yet – maybe acknowledging a touch of influence coming from fellow Viennese artists Novy Svet? (Track 2 is a good example of this with up tempo melody and myriad of eccentric instrument/sound samples woven into a general percussive military framework). Other ‘new’ elements would also include using clearly synthetic programming which would seem to give a nod towards another of Albin’s temporary projects La Maison Modern. However, this is not to say that the militant stance of Der Blutharsch has been dropped, rather still remaining the overt tone of proceedings here. As for acknowledging past albums, it is noted there are a number of slower pieces included within the 13 tracks, with the general aura arriving at the distant morose atmospheres to that of the “Der Sieg…” album. Yet with the shorter song orientated format of this album, this also acknowledges the style and format of later album ”The Track of the Hunted”, as does the mid paced track 5 with heavy percussion, monotone vocals and rousing orchestral melodies set amidst samples of falling bombs. Albin’s new partner Martina is also introduced on this release, complimenting Albin’s (and other guest vocalists) contributions with whispered, spoken or low key hymn like vocals on numerous tracks. While many who are well aware of Albin’s musical past will automatically want to make comparisons due to this reintroduction of a female vocalist, I on the other hand am not even going to bother (that was then…this is now, so to say). But not to be denigrated to merely a backing singer, track 9 sees Martina takes the (solo) vocal lead, presented in a strong part sung/part spoken style which works well with the heavy percussion and piano lead tune. In terms of collaborative input on this album, with track 8 it is the main vocal that has most obviously been contributed by artist Derniere Volonte, amidst mid paced percussion and part orchestral/part programmed tune – another track melding old and new influence. One particular standout track of the album is the rather aggressive track 10 – an over the top composition of militant bombastic anger, created by fast and harsh driving percussive elements, deeply rousing orchestral samples and main chant of ”patria et libertas” (and ultimately showing just how good Der Blutharsch can be). Yet, the (potential) future direction of Der Blutharsch seems to be most evident on track 13, where it clearly indicates a greater reliance on programming and synthetic sounds to diversify the sound – here using low key rhythmic programming scored alongside orchestral synth textures (the rasping aggressive vocals on this piece have been contributed by Jurgen of Novy Svet). And lastly the final (and hidden) 14th track is another fine example of a kinky neo-military ditty, being an upbeat yet swirlingly surreal jig of all things?! Weird perhaps but still a good listen! It is clear that on this album that Albin is attempting to broaden the horizons (and perceptions) of what Der Blutharsch’s music is capable of, yet it will be interesting to see if the hardened neo-folk fans can accept the sound shifting away from a purely nostalgic and militaristic one.
Der Blutharsch (Aut) “Time is Thee Enemy!” CD 2003 WKN
Sixth album for Albin Julius presents a continuation of his sample based ‘martial industrial’ compositions, & as such these 13 untitled tracks do not present any real surprises. Primarily constructed with looped samples (orchestral elements, martial drumming etc), these are lashed together into coherent tracks with further programming, percussion & vocals. Thus the overall aura achieved is one where these short orchestral &militaristic ditties swing between being rousing, ominous, anthemic & nostalgic. Likewise there is a continued infusion of folkish sounds, acoustic guitars & quirky elements which have previously earned the group a ‘kinky military pop’ tag. A solid listen for established fans & certainly an intriguing one for new recruits
Der Blutharsch (Aut) “When did wonderland end?” CD 2006 WKN
Over the past couple of Der Blutharsch albums the prolific Albin Julius has been gradually reorienting the group from a military-industrial solo project to a fully fledged band. ‘Where did wonderland end?’ is the result of this logical progression, with the music sounding as should be expected from a more formalised band format, where the core the group is now built around Albin Julius (vocals, drums, percussions, piano, synth, programming etc), Marthyanna (vocals, drums, percussion), Jorg B, (guitar & bass) & Bain Wolfkind (vocals, guitar & drums), and further assisted by a variety of contributors form the broad scene the Der Blutharsch is part of. The greatest degree of change to be noted here is with the addition of bass & guitar to most compositions, & whilst a more sleazy rock’n’roll undercurrent might be evident on a number of tracks, nevertheless the basic core sound of a military-industrial framework remains solid to create rousing, anthemic & nostalgic atmospheres. Track 11 is an album standout, showing a perfect combination of Der Blutharsch’s past heavily percussive militant style, further reinforced by the reoriented sound. Likewise with Albin having previously written the majority of the music on Death In June’s ‘Take Care and Control’ & ‘Operation Hummingbird’ albums, for this particular album he has borrowed from this period by reusing the song ‘Frost Flowers’ to great effect. Whilst the core of the track remains much the same, it sees the addition of a strummed acoustic guitar along with Marthynna’s angelic vocals (lyrics penned by Douglas P of course). However one criticism might relate to the album’s production, which sounds slightly flat & muddied. While far from being a serious problem, it is rather a case of me wondering just how much more some of these songs would have soared with a cleaner more polished sound? Although some purists might have some issue with the reworked sound & format of Der Blutharsch, but for myself this is by far the strongest of the last few albums.
Derniere Volonte (Fra) “Commemoration” DCD 2004 Hau Ruck
Having appreciated the 2000 debut album, the martial/ neo-classical compositions positively captured my attention. Yet this direction was slightly modified on the 2003 sophomore album, to include more prominent vocals and up tempo ‘military pop’ elements. Following quickly on its heals, this double CD set is not an actual new album, rather a collection of tracks consisting of earlier 7”eps, unreleased demo’s, recording session outtakes & compilation appearances. In analysis, the tracks on CD1 adheres closely to the sound the 1st album, being predominantly instrumental & built on a base of stoic martial percussion, embellished further with orchestral oriented synth melodies & piano tunes. CD2 further builds on this established base, yet given their more up-tempo structure and prominent vocals presented in the project’s native French tongue, the tracks are closer to the sound of the 2nd album. In overview of the 2 CD’s, as much as the marching drumming elements manage to evoke a rousing atmosphere, the tracks are always tinged with timeless aesthetic & quite overtly forlorn aura. Avoiding sounding like an ad hoc collection of tracks this is a worthy document of Derniere Volonte’s material.
Disinformation (Eng) “sense data & perception” MCD 2005 Iris Light
As far a sound research recordings go, it can sometimes result in the creation of albums that are so bound up with theory as to disengage with the listener’s interest. Disinformation however seem to have no such problem. Pulsating sounds, loose loops, static shards & resonating reverberations all converge to form compositions that straddle a digitised experimental sound and dark droning atmosphere. Simply put this mini album encompasses tracks that present atmospheres ranging from urgency to tranquillity. The droning ambient track ‘Doppelganger’ is rather interesting given that it appears to have been constructed entirely with the manipulated reverb of a single ringing piano note. Likewise later album pieces veer into a purely research recording methodology, where the subtle glitches & static noise of ‘Bexleyheath to Dartford’ & ‘London Underground’ are both tracks of unmixed magnetic-field recordings (where the location of the source material are obvious from the titles). Although relying heavily on a clinical and digitised medium, Disinformation’s mini album is a sonically palatable and intriguing listen.
Earth (USA) “Hex: or printing in the infernal method” CD 2005 Southern Lord
Earth is the recently resurrected cult band project of one Dylan Carlson, who released a number of distortion based drone guitar epics on Sup-Pop during the 90’s. Yet despite such albums, for years Mr Carlson was more infamous for buying his friend Kurt Cobain ‘that’ shotgun. Well it is now 2005 and 9 years have past since the last studio album, where labels have changed, as have music styles. Likewise current interest in the music of Earth has peaked, thanks in most part to the underground band SUNN O))), who incidentally themselves stated out as an Earth tribute act. And to bring this loop full circle, the Southern Lord label is actually run by a member of SUNN O))). So now that we are all up to speed with the historic context of the group, with this reincarnated Earth it is immediately evident that the catatonically paced, sub-tectonic, quasi-metal guitar distortion mussing of yesteryear are gone. Whilst the crawling speed remains, the loud & noisy aspects have been replaced with a darkly introspective country/ western & blues based sound. With Mr Carlson having highlighted inspiration drawn from Neil Young’s movie score to Jim Jarmusch’s ‘Deadman’, this is in fact a perfect comparison to highlight the direction, sound and aura of this album. With slow paced cyclic melodies, augmented only with sparse percussion, the music perfectly reflects the mood of the black’n’white American frontier era photographs as depicted on the 20 page booklet. Beyond any preconceived notions of what Earth have represented and achieved in the past, ‘Hex’ is a phenomenal rebirth of the band’s style, brought to stunning result in a far subtler sonic guise.
E.P.A. (Aus) “Black Ice” CD 2004 Dorobo
E.P.A. is Darrin Verhagen aka Shinjuku Thief, who as a sound composer has always infused a certain intelligence into his recordings. Albeit with E.P.A., Darrin has shunned the more considered & academic aspects of his trade by releasing an album of unadulterated harsh noise. Forming the first part of the “black / mass” trilogy, this aggressive little number contains an unrelenting sonic barrage to incinerate your eardrums, & literary pound your internal organs if the listening suggestion is adhered to (“play loud – no headphones!”). Utilising layers of furious high frequency distortion & incessant feedback, the tracks present an aural aesthetic that flits between being barely controlled, through to chaotically free form. With 7 tracks at 45 minutes, this is an unforgiving sonic ride not for the faint of heart. Constituting an all out assault on the senses, the final question is: are you game enough to take this on?!
Ex.Order (Ger) ”War Within Breath” CD 2001 Malignant Records
Ex.Order (the malevolent power electronics/noise industrial alter ego of Inade), have unleashed upon the unsuspecting masses their fantastically titled second album “War Within Breath”. With the material spanning 1997 to 2000, rather then being a new album proper, this CD is a collection of studio tracks (five unreleased and four lifted of the prior “Law of Heresy” MC), and three live tracks. While the first Ex.Order album was albeit a solid one, I will admit that it pales in comparison to this, which I feel has a lot to do with the digital polishing and buffing undertaken by Malignant Sound Technologies to create added sonic punch. Likewise if I did not know that this CD contained some live material, I would have never picked it as the flow and clarity of sound between tracks is immaculate giving an overall feel of being a formally composed album, rather then a collection of tracks from different sources. Without giving a breakdown of each individual track, there may be a singularity in approach with this collection, yet a clear breadth of elements are used to ensure this is far from being one dimensional industrial noise/power electronics. Thus to give an overall description the sound it is stripped back, raw and direct, using seething and bristling textures, abrasive loops, loosely constructed rhythms and heavily distorted and processed vocals and/or voice samples. Notwithstanding, ”A World of Lies” is a highlight with its pummelling percussion and vocals processed to encapsulate a sonic razor like quality. Alternately the deadly and seething pulse of the title track contains a trench warfare type atmosphere, driven by sounds of sprayed gunfire and accentuated by sporadic cries of agony. Intense stuff indeed… Additionally, late album track ”Generated Invasion” has a tensile sound consisting of cyclic noise loops, bursts of static and sermon like vocals flanged to the point of being indecipherable. ‘Caustic’ might not be the right word, but it is the first one that comes to mind… To conclude, when first hearing this CD I was quite surprised by the similarities between selected sound textures and some of the noisier sound elements used the latest Inade album “The Crackling of the Anonymous”. Whilst I guess on one level this is to be expected seeing both groups contain the same two members, on another level is represents a cross pollination of ideas between the two projects that I certainly was not expecting. Regardless another essential release from the Malignant Records stables.
First Human Ferro (Uke) “Guernica Macrocosmica” CD 2003 Eibon Records
From this rather mysterious Ukrainian artist, First Human Ferro presents an album of lo-fi, sample laden dark ambient soundscapes. With the cover indicating the recording’s concept, the music samples contained within have been derived from popular songs by soviet and east European musicians from the 1920-1970’s. Thus as the nine tracks move along at a catatonic pace, comprising of muted harmonic textures & drawn out loops, the aforementioned sampled vocals & tunes occasionally appear within the mix. Thus on one level this infusion of elements gives the impression that the album could almost constitute manipulated field recordings (with such recordings having been captured late at night, somewhere in an ex-soviet country, in the midst of a crumbling housing block estate). Regardless, on a far less analytical level the bleak music can simply be appreciated for its barren wasteland styled atmospheres. Intriguing in concept and execution, this album constitutes an original take on standard dark ambient style.
First Law (Ger) “Refusal as Attitude” CD 2002 Loki Foundation
Third full length album for this project, that as far as I know is either a side project of, or otherwise has direct lineage to Turbund Sturmwerk. However not to let this bit of information confuse you, it is worth highlighting that the music of First Law is vastly different to the neo-classical/military industrial sounds of the aforementioned. Operating from an almost progressive, dark ambient/experimental sound, the music of First Law is on one hand quite composed (with respect of the slow rhythm structures), but likewise contain a freeform, heavily drugged, hallucinogenic ambient quality to it (possibly illustrating the weaving journey through the recesses of the subconscious, evoking surreal morphing images and half remembered thoughts?… maybe…). Yet it the sampled voice on ”Still Humping the American Dream” asking: “what was the meaning of this trip? Was I just roaming around in a drug frenzy of some kind?” that hits the mark perfectly for a description of the albums overall vibe. The mid paced military styled drumming and acoustic guitar of the opening track ”In the Final Fleeting Seconds of Life” might beg a comparison to Turbund Sturmwerk, however the swirling synth melodies and austral textures negates this by giving it a sound all its own – that of First Law. The mid album composition ”(I am Not) a Coward” is rather oppressive with its heavy droning textures and multi-layered synth tunes, that when combined use of a slow clanging rhythm takes on a heavy orchestral quality. Alternately late album track “The End of the World-Concept” has an urgency not present on other tracks, with mid paced tribal beat structures, clanging bells and the forever swilling vortex of hazy synth textures that multiple in intensity as the track progresses. Final track is the album’s title (split into 5 parts and extending over a 24 minute expanse), encapsulates a weaving complex journey of complex weaving melodies, dynamic rhythms and enveloping dreamy psychedelia to create a fantastic cinematic experience for the mind’s eye. Sit back, close your eyes and be swept away… Maybe the sound of will be a bit avant-garde for some dark ambient fans, yet for anyone with a mild experimental streak will gain something from this, and if you have any of the other First Law albums you would have no doubt already contemplated getting this.
Flutwacht (Ger) “amputation desire” CDr 2004 Apocalyptic Radio
Ah, another obscure & unknown project that has been slung my way thanks to this little reviewer’s game I have chosen to participate in. And with unknown projects there is nothing better then the feeling of being sent a gem of a release that you previously knew nothing of. So will this be one of those particular releases? We shall see! To provide background Flutwacht are a German based project, where they approach a sound that could be coined as industrial noise or even black ambient, due to the densely muffled sound production. Whilst such music can often work well with a lo-fi production adding to the overall aura, in the case of this I find it far too bass heavy which in turn has created a compressed & flat sounding recording. Now I’m not actually sure if the finished sound was specifically intended or may be symptomatic of poor equipment or recording techniques used? Anyway, of the 7 untitled tracks, they each run one into the next swinging from oppressively grating ambience through to heaver tonal noise. However with limited reliance on clear compositional structure, I find that the more it rolls on the less engaging the album is. There are some OK ideas at play here, however when I own literally dozens of other albums like this – but far better – you get this picture that this is going to sink to the bottom of my records collection rather quickly.
Folkstorm (Swe) “Sweden” CD 2004 Cold Spring Records
Despite the Folkstorm mission being terminated in 2001, given how prolific Henrik ‘Nordvargr’ Bjorkk was with this particular project, there has already been a number of posthumous releases. “Sweden” is billed as being the final studio album, captured back in 2001 and finally released in 2004. One element that is first apparent is that a number of tracks have an underlying ominous orchestral quality, yet this comment must be considered in context. By degrees “Sweden” contains some of Folkstorm’s harshest material yet, forming a savage power electronics album: sonic terrorism at its most blissfully painful. To set the overall scene, with 11 tracks (& 1 hidden piece), they broadly follow a pattern of layering obliterated loops, static & maniacal vocals to create a barrage of harsh noise. Simple, direct & certainly to the point. Whilst Folkstorm may be no more, with an album like this they still remain a powerful force to be reckoned with.
Foresta Di Ferro (Eng) “Bury Me Standing” CD 2003 Hau Ruck!
To introduce, FDF is a new collaborative project from Marco Deplano of power electronics outfit Wertham, Richard Leviathan of neo-folk/rock group Ostara and John Murphy of tribal/ industrial collective Knifeladder. Quoting from the cover, Bury Me Standing represents a: “soundtrack for an imaginary docu-drama about faith, misfortune and fanaticism”. Swinging wildly between styles and sounds, elements of power electronics, ritual industrial, apocalyptic folk & neo-classical are all drawn upon, but are blended in such a way to create a surprisingly cohesive album. On one hand Oak Leaf could have easily been included on an Ostara album, whilst Kshatrya verges on the heavy percussion with driving noise sound of Knifeladder. Alternately the standout track On the Marble Cliffs it is reminiscent of KAPO! (a former project of Richard Leviathan & Douglas P of Death in June), but as the track progresses it manages to solidify various influences into an amazing aura that Foresta Di Ferro could entirely call their own. Already verging on being a cult act even before the release of this debut CD, the finished result amply lives up to expectation.
Frames a Second (Bel) ”Disoriented Xpress” CD 2001 Spectre
”Disoriented Xpress” is the second full length CD for Frames a Second I believe – however I am only familiar with a previous 7″ ep of the group released on the same label that has sired this offering. Distorted and damn crunchy, the opener ”Metrical Beats” is a pulsating affair of mid tempo snappy beats and driving rhythms and as such setting the scene for much of the album. Without any real let up, track 1 merges into the next (”Specified Information”), likewise detailing a subtle shift of focus in the composition towards that of sweeping sounds and rhythms. Again not letting up between tracks and flowing directly into ”Cycle of Misinformation”, things amp up slightly with a faster paced track of machine drones and successions of rhythmic pulses and sequences – ultimately seeing the album hitting its stride! As for the title track, with this being built on a heavy undercurrent of death industrial textures, it is the lighter beats and synth tune that balance out the sound, and in the process creating a fantastic head nod session! Alternately later album tracks, whilst still rhythmic, take on a darker and sadistic dark industrial type framework (”Silence is Bad” with clanging metallic percussion and ”Y-Incision” with gloomy programming and quirky sequences). With the title track popping up again as track ten, the second time around it is in an alternate version being a touch more menacing then the first. ”Changing into Club Music” whilst not entirely what the name would suggest, remains rhythmically based with heavy distortion and crunch, but is mostly devoid of melody or tune (this is by no means bad of course!). Final album track is credited as a bonus one and while not stated appears to be a remix of a track called ”Legend”. What we get in the end is a track where there is a heavy emphasis on melodic programming without a reliance on noise and grinding beats, as is the case with many of the preceding tracks (with a tinge of urgency, the track surges out of the speakers in a very smooth and club friendly guise). Overall I would have to say that rhythmic industrialists would definitely be doing themselves a grave disservice if they were to not check out this album. Very commendable.
Galerie Schallschutz (Ger) “Montauk Project” CD 2005 Tesco Organisation
Montauk Project’s inspiration is drawn from the covert electromagnetic mind/ time control experiments allegedly undertaken during the 1970’s & 1980’s at a disused Air Force radar base located (you guessed it) in Montauk, Long Island, New York. Galerie Schallschutz delves deep into such subject matter & although there are few audible sound bites or dialogue samples to reinforce such themes, the sinister toned experimental electronic atmospheres are an effective audio counterpoint to suggest that the album forms the soundtrack of such experiments being carried out. Equally important to thematic content are the further allegations that the Montauk facility is still being utilised for: “research and experimentation into interdimensional technology, quantum & particle physics, black hole simulation, super powerful electrical & electromagnetic fields, weather control, psychtronics (interfacing mind and machine), particle beam technology (HAARP transmissions), & electronic and drug based mind control.” By extending beyond typical characteristic that might be coined as dark ambience, where this album consolidates its strengths is via the unusual juxtaposition of waves of sound, digitized drones, glitched static, mechanical rhythms & fragmented electronics. Similarly with there being less focus on presenting as individual tracks, the album flows together as a collective whole, forging through one track to the next, bridging segments of bristling tension through to calmer respite. Whilst such topical inspiration could have quite easily come off as being somewhat clichéd, Galerie Schallschutz has effectively tackled it to commendable result.
Genesis P-Orridge (Eng) / Z’ev (USA) ”Direction ov Travel” CD 2002 Cold Spring Records
This 12 track CD come courtesy of two original pioneers of the industrial scene, who have been active in such musical pursuits (read: late 1970’s) even before the term ‘industrial’ music was coined as a descriptive term (the term since becoming bastardised from all it stood for at its initial inception). Anyway I digress….the music on this disc appear to have been originally recorded in 1990 and potentially re-mixed or at least mastered in 2000. With instrumentation ranging from Tibetan bowls & bells, drums and violins (that have been further processed and mixed), you would reasonably expect these recordings to encompass a spiritual sound. Likewise with the cover including extensive text relating to the attainment of meditative trance states you may also expect that this is not music to listen to directly, rather it is for use as an atmospheric musical backdrop for such journeys into the inner recesses of the psyche. Whilst not something I would put on an listen too directly, it does work as a non abrasive sound collage backdrop (or otherwise as I believe it was intended) a focal point for meditation activities. Overall the album has a warm enveloping aura of loosely constructed loops, minimalist washes of sound and sporadic elements of tribal-esque percussion. Each piece is relatively short at around 3 to 4 minutes, showcasing repetition and minimalist progression over the duration of the tracks. I would say that this is quite an interesting release for its concept and content but not something I would recommend if you wanted a release to actively listen to.
Genocide Organ (Ger) ”Genocide Organ” CD 2003 Tesco Organisation
First up, this is not a new album, rather a ‘lost’ album that was meant to be the bridging release between the first “Leichenlinie” LP and the “Save our Slaves” LP. Slated for release in 1990 on a Japanese label, this never eventuated, with the full album now being officially released on Tesco to commemorate the group’s two live performances in Japan during March 2003. In assessing the aesthetics of this release, and when considering the packaging in light of prior G.O articles, I can admit that I am rather disappointed. Essentially I was anticipating this release to be presented like a miniature version of the LP’s ie: gatefold cover in heavy card, gloss stock, with separate printed image attached to the front. However despite being a gatefold design, the cover is flimsy (barely constituting cardboard) and printed with a rather dull finish. Hmmm, a minor annoyance, but what of the music? 10 tracks in all, there are some classic tracks that were previously released on other formats (such as ‘Death to China’ parts I & IV and ‘White Power Forces’), that have now been released in the rightful place alongside the remaining album tracks. Overall the album isn’t as brute force as some of the “Leichenlinie” material, rather presenting tracks of more subdued and seething anger (such is the case with the slow throbbing mass of distorted noise of vocals that comprises opener ‘Death to China I’). ‘White Power Forces’ ups the anti, with quicker and higher pitched modulated distortion, whilst the monotone vocals spit forth a barely decipherable sermon. Punishing indeed….. Alternately ‘Swamp’ contains a sickening and lurking atmosphere derived from its mid ranged noise and disfigured loops, with spoken vocals barely puncturing sonic mass. ‘Sturmfieber’ chooses a more straight forward construction, using layers of mid ranged frequencies and a what sound like an archival type nationalistic song. ‘Death to China IV’ continues a seething atmosphere of loose rhythms and fluctuating noise, made all the more poignant by the sampled music lifted from a traditional Chinese opera. ‘In the Ghetto’ is more atmospheric then other tracks, using a distant and echoed noise effects and throbbing elements that almost represents the sound of a helicopter’s rotor blades swooping low overhead. As for the slow and caustic death industrial vibe of ‘Born to be Slaughtered’, it could easily have been lifted from any of Brighter Death Now’s CD’s from the “Great Death” trilogy (yes that is a complement to both!). Final album track ‘Und morgen die ganze Welt’ is noisy, chaotic and most importantly foreboding, with its doom laden loops, splintered noise and urgent shouts & wails of the vocals, and by dragging this aural torture out over 11 minutes, it represents a fantastic conclusion to the album. This is destined to become a highly sought after item given it finally sees the official release of this ‘lost’ album of archival material (recorded between 1985-1990). It is just a shame that the packaging does not live up the collectors fetishism of prior Genocide Organ releases.
Genocide Organ (Ger) “In-Konflikts” CD 2004 Tesco Organisation
For converts of this cult power electronics group expectations were running high for In-Konflikts given 5 years have elapsed since The Truth Will Make You Free LP. From the opener moral rear, the lurching loops, drilling noise & monotone spoken lyrics establishes an old-school industrial noise aesthetic that is further solidified with the machinery rhythms and flanged vocals of disobey ends. Some subversive dialogue samples on a peculiar crusade seem to allude to certain agendas, but as has always been G.O’s modus operandi, the true intent remains obscured. Accordingly it is the intellectual presentation of texts, images, dialogue samples, confrontational vocals & noisescapes as a complete document that adds to their allure.
Essentially G.O. are more than a ‘musical’ group, instead operating as an extreme performance art collective in their exploration of questions relating to history, politics, culture & identity. A challenging album on multiple levels, In-Konflikts is all the more excellent for it.
The Grey Wolves (Eng) ”Blood and Sand” CD 2002 Cold Spring Records
Those individuals who can attest to having heard a small portion of the Grey Wolves significant output over the years (a massive amount of tapes, yet far fewer items on vinyl and CD formats) may describe the project as a politically heavy power electronics act. Whilst this is not at all wrong, there is however another side to the Grey Wolves that is less widely know and recognised: those tracks that are far less power electronics oriented and aimed at an atmospheric noise approach. Thus it is exactly this later sound which is to be found on this new CD ”Blood and Sand”. Upon reading the liner notes of the cover, it interestingly states that the CD is a re-mix of same title that was released on cassette shortly after the Gulf War, making this release all the more relevant given current world events. As for the music, only two track are present on this disc, yet both span a lengthy passage resulting in a CD that is excess of 55 minutes. First track ”Desert Storm” is a slow moving and tensely brooding piece containing sweeping sounds, throbbing rhythms and indecipherable radio voices, that overall flits between structure and free form flow. Following piece ”Gulf Breeze” takes a similar tactic of wielding a tensile and caustic vibe, yet does introduce (late in the piece) a heavily processed guitar/ drums based element within the noise layers. Despite the atmospheric inclinations, one of the greatest elements of this CD is that there is always the sense of an undercurrent of aggression ready to burst forth from the speakers in full sonic warfare. Whilst this aural obliteration never entirely eventuates, ”Blood and Sand” is no less of a quality release without it, whilst in turn showcasing the lesser know atmospheric noise side of the Grey Wolves.
The Grey Wolves (Eng) “Division” CD 2003 Tesco Organisation
The new CD album for power electronics purveyors The Grey Wolves has finally been released after six years in the making, but not before the original printing plant refused to publish the work. Thankfully without either group or label bowing to compromise or censorship, Division has been released as originally intended. Embodying a soundtrack of harsh sonic terrorism with a healthy dose of savage social and political commentary, the album adheres to the group’s established formula and showcases why the group are so infamous within certain circles. Despite the fact that most of the twelve tracks are lifted directly out of the power electronics mould (heavy looped distortion, wailing layered noise, flanged vocals etc.), some tracks verge more on an atmospheric noise sound, providing for variation between those tracks which are an all out assault on the senses. To ensure that the themes of Division are suitably obscured, only snippets of potentially controversial vocals and speech samples can be detected. Whilst this may beg the question as to whether the themes presented are being celebrated or denounced, the group has chosen to respond with a blunt retort of: “read between the lines”. Although Division is certainly a solid and focused album that will greatly please power electronics converts, it is unlikely to make any major impact outside of those who are already in the know.
Grundik+Slava (Isr) “Frogs” CD 2005 Topheth Prophet/ Auris Media
Being aware of, but having not heard their prior album on Stateart, this is my first introduction to this experimental duo from Israel. Without so much as a reference point as to prior output, on this album Grundik+Slava approach experimental electronica with extremely varied sound palate. Rather then interlinking individual pieces as part of a collective whole, they instead opt to explore sounds, textures & styles on each track as an individual composition. To this extent the artists themselves acknowledged that in approaching the recordings: “there were no compositional or conceptual limits”. Yet for this reason alone I found this a somewhat jarring CD, given that one track might evoke a stunning atmosphere, but would be scuppered on subsequent pieces. Noting that fragments of the album were sourced from improvised music & vocal sessions, I think that this is where certain tracks simply loose me, given obviously improvised music have never entirely grasped me in a positive way. But to highlight those tracks which do positively grasped my attention, these arrive as sweeping, melodious drone collages, and subtle electro-acoustic cut ups. So if you approach this album with caution and are willing to either make use the skip button, or program out those tracks that don’t work so well, there are certainly some gems at play here.
Herbst9 (Ger) ”Consolamentum” mLP 2003 Loki Foundation
Herbst9 return with stunning results on this 26 minute mini LP, presenting two tracks of their now trademark archaic & ritualistic style of dark ambience. ‘Bloodmoon Ritual’ is the first offering presented to the listener, expanding and unfolding over a 15 minute expanse. Opening with the echoed reverberations of a variety of different toned gongs, the track crawls forward at catatonic pace setting the scene quite nicely. With the gongs and assorted metallic clatter becoming slightly more animated (gradually interweaving themselves into drone like textures), sampled Gregorian chants rise into the mix, only for tribalised percussion to rise to the fore. Later the track surges off into dense droning territory with the occasional inclusion of muted orchestral textures, finally concluding with convergence of dense drones, and slow rhythmic pulse. Alternately the title track begins with sweeping and massively atmospheric drones that are used in an inter-linking and overlapping manner to ultimately build upon itself. The intensity is then cranked up even further with the inclusion of random metallic noise and sporadic yet booming percussive elements that all assist in solidifying the main focus of the composition. The later segment of the track sees the drones fall to the background, instead relying on slow tribal percussion and ghastly vocalisations, yet despite finishing close to the 12 minute mark it is far too soon for my liking! Basically there is nothing more to add other then Herbst9 and Loki Foundation have proved once again why the deserve all the accolades they are receiving.
Herbst9 (Ger) “buried under time and sand” CD 2005 Loki Foundation
Third album from this German duo sees Herbst9 continue their soundscape oriented expeditions to uncover the spirituality & soul of ancient times. Yet, even if the cover did note state that ‘buried under time and sand’ is: “a musical journey to the cradle of mankind, to summer, to assur, to babylon”, it’s the group’s evocative ritual/ tribal infused dark ambient style that instantly transports the listener into the realms of the archaic world. The multi-dimensional compositions evade easy description, given they contain a broad filmic air & progress very much as an actual movie soundtrack would. But if any sort of attempt is to be made at forming an overall description, the broad framework of the tracks are constructed around a core of sweeping cavernous drones, underpinned with tribal percussion, disembodied vocal/ choral textures, ethnic/ ritual instrumentation & field recording elements. In fact this music is as evocative and visually stimulating as any that forms the backing for the absolutely stunning religious/ spiritual/ environmental documentary ‘Baraka’ (albeit Herbst9’s music is slightly more abstract), whereby this initial perception seems to have been vindicated when a late album track appears to have sampled some tribal chanting from the movie itself. With seeming effortless ease Herbst9 have succeeded yet again in sonically evoking the aura of aeons past, resulting in compulsory listening & is yet another triumph for Loki Foundation.
HERR (Hol) “The Winter of Constantinople” CD 2005 Cold Spring
Representing a revised reworking of the original material on HERR’s limited edition version of their debut album, this has been re-released by Cold Spring to much deserved acclaim. To bring everyone up to speed, the group’s central driving force consist of epic and martially tinged neo-classical songs, where their grasp of orchestral music’s structure & progression easily matches up to the lofty heights being sought. Although primarily produced with synthesisers, any shortfalls of an overly synthetic sound are avoided by using combinations of cello, acoustic guitar, heavy martial percussion, layered vocals (often in a verse/ chorus/ verse) format & samples that range from chorals to battlefield atmospheres. Thematically the album focuses the 1453 Byzantine siege of the city of Constantinople, except for track 2 that diverts from this central thesis in that it is a spoken piece centring around an intellectual analysis of soccer hooliganism in the context of a pan-European revival (Personally I’m not sure if many soccer hooligans would have given this topic much thought themselves, but it is an interesting conjecture nonetheless). In essence ‘The Winter of Constantinople’ is extremely well executed and confident album that surely will propel them to the forefront of neo-classical scene.
His Divine Grace (Fre) “Die Schlangenkonigin” CD 2003 Hau Ruck
Being another mysterious group on the Hau Ruk label, I know basically nothing about this project, nor does the cover reveal any useful information. Regardless, this 10 track, 60 minute album encompasses quite beautiful, yet distant and forlorn atmospheres, without being specifically dark or depressing. Utilizing a slow and meandering flow, it opens with environmental recordings (birds in full chorus at the break of a thunderstorm) and spoken vocals, whilst the music presents itself with an orchestral styled sound. Using droning harmonics, the music is tinged with a classical music tone given the synthesizer has been used to vaguely replicate an organ and wind/ string instruments. Yet despite this focus the music avoids trying to sound like a pompous neo-classical project. Having established its sound early on, the album slowly shifts and unfolds without revealing any sudden surprises, thus, this album works much better if you put it on and let it swell around you. Accordingly the music tends to ebb and flow both within tracks and between the inter-linking compositions, without ever becoming dull nor too active. Likewise the inclusion of additional environmental recordings throughout adds to the depth and texture of the album to give off a definite old European vibe. Quite a nice album overall, that I think will be one of those recordings that with grow and mature with repeated listens.
Hum (Rus) “Ether Rider” 7”ep 2005 Drone Records
Having not heard of this group, Hum are billed as being a new project spawned from the Russian underground experimental scene, of which has emerged to decent recognition over the last couple of years. Side A encompasses the title track, consisting of a multi layered composition that edges forward in a mid paced and mild toned way. There is not a great deal of lateral movement to the main elements, rather there act as the focal point, where underlying textural aspects combine to add further interest. On the flip side, track 2 arrives in the form of the piece “Crucibe”. Starting with a low static & rhythmic loop, this acts as springboard for other tensile looping drones to build with measured intensity, thus enabling the piece to be pushed into spheres of increase tension & volume. To sum up, although “Ether Rider” is a decent track, “Crucible” hits its mark dead centre. Nice.
Ignis Fatuus (USA) “in our mad bliss” CD 2005 Eibon Records
Although the labels description of ‘fairy music’ had me cringing to no end, I knew better the to write this off on that basis alone, given I was familiar with Ignis Fatuus’s debut CD on Cold Spring Records a number of years back now (1998 to be precise). And speaking of Cold Spring, this album was due to be released via that label, yet with little word as to why has finally appeared on Eibon. Anyway to the music. Here an album of beauty is presented, mixing aspects of sombre neo-classical, tribal percussive movements, whimsical romantic piano tunes & female vocal led ethereal pop. Of the quite diverse 15 tracks & 61 minutes the standout track would without a doubt be the sprawling ‘the vastness of it’ being a tribal beat driven orchestral marvel, that late track morphs into a guitar led section that could easily be mistaken for a tribute to post rock band ‘explosions in the sky’. As an added bonus Caul present a remix of ‘Im going to beg the moon each night’, however far from presenting a dark ambient reworking as might be expected, a fantastic programmed piece of ambient dub is offered up which actually eclipses the original! Whilst not as overtly dark & moody as I might have anticipated, the depth & texture of the recording are such to draws you easily into its soothing madness. Tri-gatefold card slip sleeve rounds out the visuals more then satisfactorily.
Inade (Ger) “The Crackling Of The Anonymous” CD 2001 Loki Foundation
After what seemed like an eternities wait, Inade have FINALLY returned with their second CD – 5 years after their landmark heavy electronics album (and full length debut) ‘Alderbaran’. So with this wait finally over, I will come out straight out and proclaim that ‘The Crackling Of The Anonymous’ is easily one of the top 3 albums of 2001 and not surprisingly with the reputation that precedes Inade, this was likewise one of the most highly anticipated.
Not to be content with creating ‘Alderbaran: Pt. II’ as many might have expected (and/ or wanted), Inade have created a sound that whilst instantly recognisable as their own, is significantly more intense and substantial; even above that which they have previously been known for. And while ‘Alderbaran’ worked well as a complete and singular inter-linking journey, this CD is a grouping of ten tracks that can equally stand on their own as to form part of a collective whole.
Avoiding merely describing the sounds, this album is the aural equivalent of staring into the infinite abyss of a black hole, formed post collapse of a megalithic supernova. Yet when one tries to directly perceive its form, the black hole itself is invisible, being only perceptible to the eye by the surrounding light & matter being sucked into oblivion of the immeasurable singularity (…and in the process both time and the actual fabric of space is bent, twisted and warped by the immense gravitational weight). In developing the metaphor further, if this all encompassing chaos were to achieve the improbable – to actually connect with another black hole – the ensuring link across immeasurable leagues of the cosmos and aeons of time, represents the ultimate key to allow the listener to spiral out on an inter-dimensional journey (….and if willing, to discover the space between space; where light and dark become but one). Yet, it is not as though this album represents the cold clinical view of modern man’s perception of the universe, rather this is the akin to the universe as perceived by primordial man; unmistakable due to an aura of an immense archaic spirituality weaving a constant undercurrent (…or is it the surfacing consciousness of a cosmic ancestral memory?).
Not to merely mince words with such an elaborate and descriptive parables, Inade have managed to perceive the unthinkable in their own mind’s eye and then proceeded to give it life and tangible form for all willing ears to discover and explore (likewise choosing to provide a number of subtle hints as to what lurks at the core of the project’s psyche by skilfully weaving vocals and dialogue samples into the sonic tapestry). Again, the immense totality of the release is genuinely astounding and the clearly result of the breadth, depth and scope of the meticulously constructed atmospheres – the final recordings being their own testament to why it takes Inade members Rene and Knut take so long to write and record material.
This review may have dwelled extensively on the colossal visions evoked, as opposed to merely describing sounds, but when music is this evocative it transcends being simply a listening experience. But if further descriptive content is to be sought, track titles such as ‘Eternity’s Crevice’, ‘Titan in Shivering Sand’ and ‘Breath Like Ground Glass’ should be hint enough. If you don’t already own this, or have read this far without considering how to track down a copy, maybe one last statement will yield result: ‘The Crackling Of the Anonymous’ is no less then a landmark classic, to be spoken of with feverous excitement for multiple years to come.
Initial Prayer (Eng) “The Last Man in Europe” CD 2005 corrosive growth industries
Although the debut album from Initial Prayer, it seems that the group were formed way back in the early 1983 from the remnants of other defunct punk & industrial groups. Thus obviously with such roots & linage the material might be expected to an old school industrial sound, however this is not entirely the case. What is presented is a slightly twisted neo-classical framework is augmented with distorted guitars to give an industrial edge. The slow distorted guitars and heavy synth textures of ‘white water’ introduces the album with a doom laden aura, setting the tone appropriately, while ‘all hope fails’ follows as a plodding neo-classical track. From here though the pace is shifted to a programmed industrial band style, with ‘in defence’ conforming to such a sound, complete with chugging guitar riffs. Its ok for what it is, but as such music has never struck a positive chord with me, it comes off as rather generic. ‘Turn to light’ ups the ante with an ominous and militant track of heavy synth textures and heavy rolling war drums, which works extremely well, however this is unfortunately followed by another low point ‘we serve’, that consists of a rather cheesy neo-classical melody, plodding programming, heavy industrial guitars & shouted/ spoken vocals. ‘Beyond good and evil’ is partially redeeming, with unobtrusive programming, orchestral melodies & spoken vocals, whilst ‘forth law’ is an understated meandering piano piece which sets a reflective tone. Final track ‘the longest journey’ might be a little heavy handed with its programming, but thankfully manages to haul in a decent orchestral melody to conclude the album with flair. In terms of the recording, the production sound is clean and professional (courtesy of Sion Orgon & Thighpaulsandra) and showcases both skill a wide variety of influences for the projects members. But for my two cents, ‘The Last Man in Europe’ would have been a much stronger release if it were not for the generic industrial band elements.
Isis (USA) “Panoptican” CD 2004 Ipecac
Born of the late 1990’s post-hardcore/ metal scene, Isis quickly broke the shackles of the Neurosis comparisons, allowing their own direction to culminate in Oceanic, their stunning 2nd album from 2002. Whilst some scene purists may have baulked at the mellower atmospheric soundscape aspects of Oceanic, Panoptican constitutes a logical continuation & progression of their monolithic dirge oriented sound. Likewise with the trademark guttural screams offset against a greater reliance on gruff melodic vocals, this highlights another aspect of experimentation. The sludgy wall of sound approach is still achieved, yet there is a clarity to the production that allows the intertwining of some achingly emotive melodies. Without relying on the fast paced sledgehammer approach of many hardcore and metal bands, where Isis really excels is in writing lengthy & intricate tracks that embody a brilliant structural dynamic of extended breakdowns & massive build ups. Not to be taken lightly, this is by far my album of the year.
Isomer (Aus) ”Serpent Age” CD 2002 Tesco Organisation
With the prior release of a number of self financed tapes (under the guise of Isomer or otherwise simply as David Tonkin), these showcased a burgeoning talent within the almost non-existent Australian scene. And despite the tapes being quite eclectic in scope, they did however showcase solid tracks ranging from dark ambient through to death/rhythmic/noise/experimental type industrial. Now turning to the official debut CD (and on Tesco Organisation no less) David is forging ahead with a much more focused sound and direction – here leaning towards a dark ambient/heavy electronics fusion. And with regard to this more focused pursuit, a comparison between Isomer and heavy electronics masters Inade is not too great a stretch, certainly being a worthy compliment. Opener ”Star of Sarajevo” has a cold and clinical, yet deep space oriented tone, constructed with dense sound layers, slow machinery loops and alien-esque blips/sound pulses to forge an ever expanding breadth of sound (unfolding over eleven and a half minutes). This flow continues into ”Omphalos”, yet a heightened sense of tension is evident with the sweeping and droning sub-harmonic elements, gradually moving the piece towards a grating heavy electronics sound. ”The Sun Shall Reign” begs a specific comparison to Inade with its dense ambience and tribal-esque slow pulsing rhythm that surges in a spiralling cyclic style, until an odd vocal chants lead the track to its demise. ”Every Man a Star” (could it be said of this title that some shine brighter more so then others?!), is a soundscape of solar wind intensity, built with multiple sweeping layers and mildly harmonic elements, weaving its journey over an extended passage. ”Red-Haired Dog” arrives as a more minimalist ambient type piece, using some rather anomalous sounds, while the following (title) track would have to be my favourite of the album. Meshing an array of static, ambient drones, slow beat and other rhythmic elements, it hits the mark perfectly. Dark, brooding and damn intense, the pinnacle is reached when a vocal sample is (Al Pacino lifted from ”Scarface”) is skilfully interwoven into the ambient framework. Alternately ”Oriflamme” chooses to conclude the CD out with an intensity not seen on other tracks, here utilising harsh and screeching heavy electronics type textures, intermixed with a solemn and damn heavy death industrial type tune. Solid stuff indeed. So, with my whining in the past that there was not enough Australian acts of the darker ambiental variety, Isomer is the perfect response to this and by being released on Tesco Org. should be testament enough as to this albums quality.
Isomer (Aus) “Zero Lounge” CD 2005 Tesco Organisation
Prior to Isomer’s excellent debut album (the ritual dark ambient ‘Serpent Age’), solo project member David Tonkin released a number of demo tapes that were quite diverse in scope, sound & inspiration. In light of the recent release of Isomer’s sophomore album, it is immediately evident that it harks back to this earlier ethos, where ‘Zero Lounge’s’ wide ranging sound palate is certainly more eclectic then its predecessor. Forging tracks that broadly spans dark ambient & electronic soundscape territories, there are additional aspects that veer towards the harshness of a power electronics style. Likewise to provide some home grown inspiration, some unique field recordings of the Australian bush have been cleverly worked into a number of tracks. This is of particularly of note on ‘Blue Gum Canopy’ where sampled native bird calls intertwine with a strumming of an acoustic guitar that has been sampled and looping in quite an unusual but effective manor. While the album represents a diverse collection of tracks, recognisable hallmarks of Isomer remain in the form of obscure spoken word samples cleverly placed within the context of a stylistically droning sound production. The result? A worthy second album with artwork that has a particular flair for some tongue in cheek controversy.
Iszoloscope (Can) ”Coagulated Wreackage” CD 2001 Spectre
Iszoloscope are a new project (as far as I’m aware), with their debut CD being a corker of an album. Inhabiting a rhythmic death industrial framework (in the ballpark of Morgenstern’s sound perhaps), the scathing machinations of corrosive intent are skilfully forged into compositions of decadence and decay. Drilling pistons, and idling engines housed within a slowly rusting machine room is the essence of what has been captured here – an atmosphere (fear?) derived from the soulless machines singing their metallic chorus. The title track gets things underway presenting an offering of sinister noise and crushing percussion that becomes increasingly rhythmic as it progresses – which actually becomes quite a trademark of many of the tracks here. With an aura of building noise threatening to explode at any moment (scathing sounds and distorted radio voices rising and falling sporadically), ”Prime Momentum” in the end doesn’t, and in the process creates a perfectly controlled on edge vibe. With a similar technique applied to the rhythmic basis of ”Phobos II”, this track also comes up as another striking album offering. As for the machinegun percussion of ”Intermittent Cycles” is not intermittent at all, keeping its brand of high energy noise and beats for the entire track’s duration. ”Winds of Minas Linea” on the other hand harks towards the sound of Stratvm Terror, the track here evoking acidic blasts of noise and an ominously tense undercurrent. The incessant driving rhythms and type writer type beats of ”Crimson Road” makes it a particularly catchy piece, that whilst could be easily played on the club floor, doesn’t at all forsake its darkened and noise riddled edge. ”Purge” on the other hand is another damn brutal piece of fast paced throttling beats, shrink wrapped and suffocated in veil of all out distortion (no tune or respite here). Taking an unexpected turn, the track ”Iszoloscope (Tomes Un)” forges sinister death ambient musings with sampled Gregorian chants and snippets of radio voices, and to attest how great the sound is this piece is comparable to Raison d’Être’s last album ”The Empty Hollow Unfolds” (…yep it is damn good). For the concluding piece ”Contemplating Paranoia & the Morning After”, it opts for a come down of sorts using chilled out beats and subtle drifting sounds creates an almost relaxing atmosphere – if it were not for those ominous elements lurking in the background! Despite Spectre’s previous releases having been limited to vinyl only, with the three recent items all being released exclusively on CD – and all being fantastic (Olhon and Frames a Second are the other two items), it should bring the label a much wider prominence they deserve – not to mention raising the profile of the artists in question. Again very commendable.
In Slaughter Natives (Swe) ”Recollection” CD 2001 Cold Meat Industry
Put simply, this release is a taster to the now released five CD in Slaughter Natives box set that contains all four full length CD, plus a fifth CD of live, rare and newly composed tracks. Contained on this simply but effectively designed digipack CD, are eight tracks in all – two lifted from each full length In Slaughter Natives album. Without any real need to actually review the individual tracks, nonetheless this release showcases just how groundbreaking In Slaughter Natives was in defining the apocalyptic neo-classical/industrial sound, given the earliest tracks date back to 1988. This CD is not really worth your time if you already own the full lengths (apart from these tracks have been re-mastered) or you are planning on getting the box set, but otherwise this is a perfect single CD overview of what In Slaughter Natives represent for the scene.
Janitor (Swe) “Quomran 4-Ever” CD 2005 Tesco Organisation
Freed from the shackles of the expectations surrounding their individual projects, Lina Baby Doll of Deutsch Nepal & Benny Nilsen of Hazard have let loose on this, their third outing for Janitor, traversing into whatever unusual industrial/ experiential spheres that takes their fancy. The core of opening track ‘Qoumran Inflight’ might consist rhythmic programming, but this is such that it does not infringe on the piece from setting the tone flawlessly with ritual ambient flair. Upping the rhythmic approach slightly, ‘Humanity’ is a great electronic industrial slab with some with some particularly fine vocal crooning courtesy of Lina, before ‘The Need for a Holy Spirit’ settles down into a 33 minute droning electronic soundscape. The vocals of Lina on ‘Bridges’ this time around remind somewhat of David Bowie in delivery, yet such a comparison can not be made with respect of the music which is a semi composed plodding rhythmic organ dirge! As for the final piece of the six tracks, ‘Habelsbolet- Port Said’ rounds out the album with a track built on a more forceful tone of throbbing rhythms, urgent drones & driving organ melody. Given Janitor is a side project of two skilled underground music practitioners, ‘Quomran 4-Ever’ is another a quirky ride through their particular brand of experimental industrial & ambience.
Judas Kiss (Eng) “Issue 7” Magazine 2001 Judas Kiss
Judas Kiss is a magazine I particularly enjoy reading as for the most part the focus and content of interviews and reviews runs a very similar line to what is covered in Spectrum Magazine. With the format (A5 journal) and design layout taking on a simplified fanzine concept, it is a pocket sized read packed to the brim with in depth and well informed interviews and reviews. The main body of the magazine is photocopied, but the cover is pro-printed in gloss stock, likewise with this issue being furnished with a transparent ‘dust jacket’. Along with music related coverage Judas Kiss also tackles different subject matter, with this issue containing articles on ‘Death of the West’ (Industrial Music and Fascism), ‘Happiness in Slavery’ (interview with a female submissive) and ‘The Eye of the Neddle’ (Thailand Vegetarian Festival) all making for intriguing insight. Music related interviews for this issue are: Von Thronstahl, The Days of the Trumpet Call, Midnight Syndicate, B’nai Brith, Remenance and the label Middle Pillar Presents. Apart from these interviews and articles there is a Der Blutharsch live in London report, 100 or so reviews and a Death in June/ Wolfpact review special. Recommend reading.
Kerovnian (Cro) “From the Depths of Haron” CD 2001 Cold Spring
This mysterious Croatian black ambient project returns with their second CD, after being unveiled to the underground by the ever worthy Cold Spring label. Well, the first thing that is immediately evident is that the atmospheres evoked on this second album are less dense and suffocating and at times a touch more synthetic then that of the debut. Likewise with a reduced sonic density, the breadth of sound has similarly expanded; particularly apparent on introductory track ‘Dripping in the Form of Styx’ with glacial underbelly, muted harmonics and indecipherable mutterings of alien tongue. As for the almost indescribable noises of ‘The Worm of the Broken Urn’ (digestive perhaps?), these could have parallels drawn to the somatic recordings of Daniel Menche, apart from here the sounds have been shaped into black ambient atmospheres (as opposed to an experimental framework) giving off visions evoked in HP Lovecraft’s supreme horror writings. As for ‘Let Yourself to Float…to the Flute of Death’, this piece sees Kerovnian at their most musical to date, with a depressive synth melody not dissimilar to raison d’etre gives utilises also a haunting female vocal reciting the track title. My personal favourite of the album comes in the form of ‘Litany of a Lonely Corpse’, with it pulsating and cyclic syth textures that are not so much dark as morbid sounding, particularly so with abyssic voices rising within the mix. ‘The Shadows were Unmade’ following the minimalist ‘The Silence was Unmade’, is obviously a louder affair, building layers of rumbling and lashing noise along with whispered voices; again is a language unknown. The rather short and likewise concluding album track ‘A cry from the Maze’ arrives with a semi composed style, including slow understated tune and female voice mid way between a wail and cry. With an overall bleak and depressive aura, Kerovnian are carving a niche for themselves with a sound that is certainly their own.
Knifeladder (Eng) ”Organic Traces” CD 2002 Operative Records
Whilst Knifeladder might not be massively known name at the moment, the buzz they have been generating in the underground over the last couple of years is proof enough that they are producing something entirely unique with a broad ritual industrial/ tribal experimental sound. Being three years in the making, this is the debut full length for the project, achieved through a process of composition and improvisation, or to put it in the words of the group themselves: “Knifeladder is an ongoing electronic, organic project utilising elements of live improvisation and cyclic repetition to produce music to break down the confines of conventional structure”. Featuring John Murphy on vocals, drums, percussion & loops, Andrew Trail on electronics, samples, vocals & moroccan horn and Hunter Barr on bass & electronics, Knifeladder through their experimentation have produced an intensely woven melange of sound. ‘Red Drum’ the opening track is urgent and roughly hewn, being a pounding percussive/ plodding bass affair, including textural sound loops and wailed vocals of John that recite the track’s title to create a strong introduction indeed. Yet it is on the following track ‘Faultline’ that the album takes a step back in pace, containing a slow ritual industrial pulse built on sparse percussion, bass melody, samples and random sounds, with Andrew taking the vocal lead in an almost spoken word delivery. Haunting and tensile, ‘Scorched Earth’ commences as a cyclic dirge, overlaid with sporadic loops and percussion that gradually builds over the track’s duration. Consequently by the time the track concludes (towards the seven minute mark), it had morphed into a stunning mass of rolling sound and heavy martial drumming (vocals here handled again by Andrew reciting lines such as “my father’s father’s sins are mine…..carried in my blood”). Forth track ‘Ossirian Window’ commences with ritualised dark ambient aura, yet is later fleshed out with slightly more musical structure and percussion then someone would normally expect from the dark ambient scene. The atmosphere of this track is less tensile then other album cuts given its free form flow, carried along by the hymn like vocals of John and disharmonic tones of the moroccan horn. Easily my favourite track of the album, “The Wilderness of Mirrors” is a hypnotic soundscape of faint bass melodies, swirling loops and mantra like vocal delivery of John. Over its duration it undertakes a full metamorphosis from ritual soundscape to a full blown driving percussive track, with the addition of the wailing moroccan horn creating a particularly haunting effect. Commencing with a sickening and lurching death industrial type tone, ‘Feline’ surges forth from the speakers with clanging loops, indecipherable vocal treatments. Again this piece uses an evolving, layering technique to build the intense atmosphere, here using free form percussion, cyclic loops and tectonic bass layers as the main focal elements. Final album track ‘Dervish’ is determined not to conclude the album quietly, rather opting to build intensity via electronic loops and John’s vocal wails being delivered in an extremely spiteful and harsh manner. Matching the intensity of the track’s introductory segment, the hammering drums later kick in and surge forward incessantly, loosely followed by bass lines and metallic loops, again using the moroccan horn to evoke an esoteric aura (…undeniably a grand final declaration). “Unconventional” was probably the first word that sprang to mind when I first listened to this disc, yet this can only be a positive impression given the broad industrial scene is currently suffering from a glut of copyists not bringing forth anything new or of particular worth. Being a release that is difficult to categorise within any particular scene, it nonetheless is an extremely solid and intense album that deserves wide attention.
Kreuzweg Ost (Aut) “Edelrost” CD 2005 Cold Spring
With the promo sheet trumping that the project contains members of black metal project Summoning and death metal band Pungent Stench, I was interested to see what would result in their take on a martial industrial/ neo-classical sound. What in the end is achieved is a slightly bizarre sounding concoction of martial drumming, orchestral loops & multitudes of synthesizer generated textures, with some aspects of eastern music influences thrown in for good measure. Additionally the music is heavily laden with dialogue samples, but as in the most part are either in German or Austrian, I cannot decipher such themes being presented. Yet after fully absorbing the content of ‘Eldrost’, I must admit that it does not really favour my listening sensibilities. Firstly the music production is far too synthetic, whilst the written structure of the music seems generic of the style and sound a synthesizer based black metal band – which are neither positive aspects to my ear. Likewise with the heavy reliance on dialogue samples, it had me visualising the album as a soundtrack to some obscure German b-grade flick – be it horror movie or attempted war epic. The album is not bad per-se, but lacks that certain innate characteristic that such a style of music really requires, and as such holds up poorly against the heavy weights of the genre.
Kriegsfall-U (Hun) “Kriegsfall-U” CD 2005 Cold Spring
Full of esoteric inspiration, Kriegsfall-U are a solid new addition to the post-industrial scene, drawing from the linage of seminal acts such as Les Joyaux De La Princesse and Dusk and Dawn Entwined. Via heavy pounding industrial distortion, militaristic drumming, orchestral horn/ string arrangements & vitriolic speech samples, the evoked atmosphere is rousing and steeped in strident rhetoric. Each of the 7 track are generally built around a central key percussive pattern & melody line that are built up and layered over its duration, with speech samples or spoken lyrics added for completeness. The sound production is likewise perfect for this style of music being both clean yet containing an adequately spacious and echoed sound palate to convey a forlorn & nostalgic atmosphere. Not for the music to stand and be judged in its own, the digi-pack sleeve with 10 page fold out colour poster is likewise a perfect exercise in the presentation of sacral/ political/ philosophical text & imagery as to spark intrigue as to the deeper inspiration imbedded within the project. At only 38 minutes in length this is an album slightly on the short side, yet nevertheless is a powerfully introductory declaration that is worthy of investigation.
Luasa Raelon (USA) “The Poison City” CD 2005 Eibon Records
Despite Luasa Raelon having issued in excess of 20 or so releases, this is my first introduction to this dark ambient/ death industrial project that brings to light (or is that darkness?) a commendable take on staple aspects of the genre: sombre melodies, widescreen sweeping ambience, fragmented tonal outbursts, distant metallic clanging etc, etc… The opening passage of the album comes via the track ‘The Terrible Place’, where the layered synth immediately brings to mind one of Brighter Death Now’s more subtle pieces, being the title track off the ‘Necrose Evangelicum’ album (the track incidentally featured Mortiis on keyboards, before his awful goth rock metamorphosis), with such a comparison being a more then fare compliment. From here the dense atmosphere (atmos-fear?) is meticulously constructed bringing to the mind’s eye visions of vast decaying industrial spaces & murky cavernous spaces. Equally commendable is the album’s ability to evoke a palpable sense of lurking dread, yet it still managing to gradually draw you deeper into its claustrophobic realms. Whilst not ground breaking by any means, this is still a massively pleasurable experience given how well it has been executed. Thereby good sirs, I tip my hat to you both Mr Luasa Raelon & Mr Eibon!
Land:Fire (Ger) ”Gone” LP 2002 Power & Steel (via Loki Foundation)
There is little information forthcoming about this new Power & Steel/ Loki Foundation project Land:Fire, however this LP does adhere rather well to the tried and true sound of these labels. Inhabiting the heavy electronics sound of early Inade and Predominance releases, this LP likewise has an instant effect of taking me back to the time when I first discovered the aforementioned groups (which can only be a good thing!). From the commencement of opening track ‘first mesa’, all the right elements are there: the galactic drones, shimmering textures, ominous and dense sound structures: yet it is the scattered digital sounds that evokes a clinical and alien feel, as opposed to an archaic type aura. With the stage set early on, the remaining 7 tracks pursue variations on this theme over the 40 odd minutes of music. Each track being around 3-6 minutes in length the direction and variation of each composition is limited, instead establishing its niche early on and morphing slightly over the duration by utilising a layering/ building technique. The track ‘Before they are sent’ is particularly good with fractured rhythms and ominous mechanical pulses, as a lone radio voice sporadically surfaces within the mix. The track ‘land:fire’ on the other hand takes a low key approach of menacing drones and stilted mechanical loops which reminds me quite heavily of stratvm terror’s first album, as does the following track ‘as night fell over’. Final two album tracks conclude the album with a brooding sonic aesthetic, choosing to suffocate the listener with layered drones and shifting clinical/ digital textures. Whilst Land:Fire have creating an LP that is not entirely groundbreaking, this is certainly solid material and worth more then a cursory listen.
Land:Fire (Ger) “physical:mental:psychological” CD 2004 Tesco Organisation
Admittedly I was quite impressed with Land:Fire’s debut vinyl only LP, however this sophomore album is far superior on all counts & absolutely flawed me on introductory listens. Concept wise this album is solidly and cleverly focused, revolving around the detonation of the first atomic device ‘Trinity’ at 5:29:45 am on July 16, 1945. Musically this encompasses an expertly executed dark ambient/ heavy electronics sound. Yet the most engaging element of the album’s atmosphere is its technical & clinically tinged take on the genre, whist still retaining an ominous orchestral aura. Additionally, digital nuisances, rhythmic interludes & radio chatter are interspersed within the compositions, adding to the complexity of the musical framework. Packaged in a slick full colour digipack DVD cover with insert booklet, the visuals equally measure up to the music contained within.
Last Dominion Lost (Aus) “The Tyranny of Distance” CD 2004 Tesco Organisation
This album consists of archival recordings from two former SPK members Dominik Guerin and John Murphy. Being recorded in Sydney in 1992 on old analog equipment the resultant ritual/ tribal industrial material carries a certain ‘old school’ aesthetic. “The Will to Win” with its urgent pounding beats, and loosely constructed rhythms showcases one side of the album, while “The Conundrum” uses an understated tribally tinged classical melody that is further underscored with a muted rhythm section. “Empty Tombs (The Tyranny of Distance)” is another highlight with hard pulsing noise loops, intermixed with spare tribal percussion and maudlin backing melody. Constituting something of a homage to Australia’s often overlooked legacy in the experimental/ industrial fields, this is an album that can still hold its own against comparable releases today.
LS-TTL (USA) ”43 Hz (Note: F1)” 3″ CDr 2001 Ad Noiseam
Another exponent of the growing US scene, LS-TTL return with a mere morsel of new material after their debut on Dragon Flight Recordings last year. With a single track clocking in at 21 minutes, much the same themes and sounds as encapsulated on the full length are explored here (for those unawares LS-TTL work within the broad genre of dark ambience). Evoking non melodic glacial atmospheres via mechanical sounding means, the piece meanders forth by gradually looping and inter-linking sections with seeming ease. Tension is also continually built throughout, yet remains relatively subdued in volume, opting rather to increase the intensity of those sounds and loops that are present within the mix. No doubt this is a good listen and certainly on par (if not above) the material of the debut, but with a limited run of 75 hand numbered copies, few will get the opportunity to evaluate this for themselves.
Materia Confusa (USA) “Rubedo” 3”CD self released
As a succinct introduction to this American sound artist, ‘Rubedo’s’ two tracks draw inspiration from alchemy and electronic voice phenomenon (EVP) respectively, with the resultant pieces showcasing slightly different sonic techniques. With sampled choirs acting as a calming introduction to the alchemy inspired track ‘Transmutation’, the sound however quickly shifts, amassing into a mild cacophony of sound via non rhythmic factory clatter and assortment of fractured textures. Yet continuing on, this track really hits its stride when it settles down to reveal some decently intense, sub orchestral tinged, droning dark ambience. Track two ‘E.V.P’ on the other hand draws comparisons to Schloss Tegal’s ‘Black Static Transmissions’ album, by virtue of both deriving their inspiration from electronic voice phenomenon. This is particularly the case where a static riddled looped EVP sample provides a noisy old school industrial atmosphere. Yet being more then merely a 1 trick pony, later in the track the mood becomes subtler & slightly clinical, in a hallucinogenic droning format. Overall it must be said that the 3″CD format is certainly a handy way to give a clear and concise indication of an artist’s style and direction. Thus from the 22 minutes of varied experimental textures & dynamic dark ambience showcased here, it has me interested in hearing Materia Confusa’s continued evolution.
Maeror Tri (Ger) “the singles” CD 2005 EE Tapes
Being quite a revered seminal act, this German trio existed from inception in 1989, through to their demise in 1996. For those unfamiliar the hallmarks of their experimental sound traversed across experimental industrial/ drone/ ambient spheres, being primarily produced by heavily processed and manipulated electric guitar distortion. This release (as should be obvious from the title), is a collection of their vinyl singles that were released on various labels from 1993 through to 1996 (the only missing piece to the puzzle however, is their Drone Records 7”ep that is conveniently slated for re-release soon). Opener ‘Physis’ from the Fool’s Paridise Records 7”ep is a raw & rather chaotic tribal experimental/ industrial offering, that is more pleasingly balanced by the more subtle throbbing drones of ‘Phyein’. The Noise Museum ‘Mystagogus’ 7”ep follows, where the title track evokes a beautiful celestial air via massive drones of sub-orchestral harmonies. The former flip side track ‘Ousia’ is a darker affair altogether, navigating through deep echoed shafts of sound and expansive cavernous realms, with the odd indecipherable voice sporadically filtering into the mix. The Ant-Zen 7”ep track ‘Exorbitant’ & reverts to a less drone and more experimental industrial sphere of rough noise and pounding rhythmic elements, while ‘Industrial Meditation’ seeks out an path ominous drones and barely perceptible layers of guitar melodies. The final two tracks on this CD were formerly from an Ant-Zen 10”ep, where ‘Pleroma’ manages to merge some urgent throbbing textures within layers of haunting melodic drones prior to the whole piece culminating in a cacophony of distortion. ‘Altrove’ then concludes this collection of tracks with a lengthy piece that successfully smudges the line between looped drones and rough industrial noise. Nice indeed. As for packaging this CD comes housed in a beautiful silkscreen printed 7”ep card sleeve with insert, to compliment this appetizing re-release compilation.
Militia (Bel) “The Eco-Anarchist Manifesto” CD/ Book 2003 Malignant Records/ Tactical Recordings
For those unfamiliar with Militia they are essentially a percussive/ rhythmic industrial performing arts group that have quite a number of releases to their name, however have now ventured into publishing a literary work. In response to the obscure political rhetoric and ideological subversion present in the post industrial/ power electronics scene, Militia have opted to directly combat this trend. Via a concise format book this release presents a blueprint of Militia’s ideology: specifically focusing on how modern society could be dismantled and reinvented in line with eco-anarchist and environmental principles. Commendable alone for the level of conviction displayed, it still remains to be seen whether the writing slant strikes a chord with a wide audience. Nevertheless from my perspective yet I found it a thoroughly engrossing read, without necessarily agreeing with every hypothesis presented. As an intention to enhance the reading of the book, it is accompanied with a live CD that was recorded during Militia’s performance at the Deadly Actions IV Festival (Lillie, France, 2000). With upwards of a half dozen or more members, their live instrumentation includes oil barrel/ metal junk percussion, tympani, kit drum, electronic noise, tape loops, horns, speech samples, vocals etc. Accordingly the sound of the live performance has quite a raw edge, where the sound swings from industrial soundscapes through to heavy, percussive driven segments. Likewise with the overall sound retaining a stoical and militant atmosphere throughout, it very much has the feel of a performance art show then merely of a band playing live. With over an hour of music, the live CD is a fine accompaniment to ones reading of the main book.
Militia (Bel) “Everything is One” CD 2005 Tactical Recordings
Well, well, this album has surely been a long time coming in finally being released. For a personal take on this, back in 2002 Militia were scheduled to be included on the ill fated & ultimately cancelled Spectrum Magazine Issue 6/ compilation CD & were one of only a few acts whom submitted their interview & track to me by the requested deadline (of which their musical contribution was to be an exclusive pre-release of the album track ‘they marked the path’). So although this album was originally slated for a 2003 release, at least ‘everything is one’ has finally now been issued. With respect of their last official album (not counting the ‘eco-anarchist manifesto’ book/ live CD release), this constituted the highly acclaimed ‘the black flag hoisted’ DCD. So in providing a brief comparison, ‘everything is one’ showcases a honed & distilled version of what could broadly be expected from Militia’s sound. As such the characteristic driving rhythms, rousing neo-classical melodies & stoic junk metal percussion all remain, albeit in a slightly less rough & ready guise. Yet in order to progress their sound further, the production is cleaner & clearer then past releases, & is further augmented with such elements as violin, clarinet, accordion & even a soprano singer. Likewise, the use of harsh vocals & sampled dialogue plays less of a central theme, however when sparingly used they provide a clear summation of Militia’s now well documented political/ societal stance. Looking at specific tracks, ‘they marked the path’ is a standout, being an amazing piece of understated martial percussion, rousing violin and rhetoric infused vocals, & is only stronger now that I can hear it in context of the full album. ‘The hidden connection’ is another excellent piece, where by being reliant on a central pounding percussive framework, it allows a free form & loosely played violin to inject a folkish air. Alternately ‘the new found dawn’ follows a more classic style of Militia song writing, which would not be fully complete if it were not for the trademark disharmonic horn wails. Grandiose indeed! The title piece and final track concludes the album on a sombre note, due mostly to the removal of the overt percussive elements. Thus with the absence of such a central aspect, the moody orchestral layers remain as the backing for the soprano vocals, whilst the acerbic vocal sermon recites the album’s concept one last time. By virtue of not to attempt to outdo the unbridled anger of ‘the black flag hoisted’, Militia have succeeded in producing a fantastic follow up, of which my appreciation has grown with each subsequent rotation.
Mudboy (USA) “this is folk music” CDr 2005 Free Matter for the Blind
With a promo blurb that advises Mudboy IV is an artist who plays a “homemade circuit bent church organ”, I had an initial hunch this was not meant to give the impression that this would amount to typical Sunday service tunes! So with his personally modified organ equipment, Mudboy IV’s music is such that it straddles a fine edge between the electronic(a) and more traditional sounding classical organ dirges (it is an organ after all!), with some field recordings, static etc, thrown into the mix for good measure. Thus with the resultant concoction, a bizarre musical landscape has been created for the listener to immerse oneself in. Although tinged with a dark and sombre tone in places, there are equally as many playful and quite joyous streaks, indicating that things are all not deathly serious in Mudboy IV’s camp. Likewise certain songs also manage to capture a quite decadent cabaret vibe, which evokes that certain unsettling undercurrent that David Lynch has made his trademark in many of his feature films. For such reasons this release manages to stand out as both interesting and individual against the swathe of releases given to me to review. Although some tracks might veer off into slightly overindulgent noise dirges, there are enough quirky aspects to make this another intriguing oddity.
Mushroom’s Patience (Ita) “The Spirit of the Mountain” CD 2002 Hau Ruck
Although Mushroom’s Patience have been around in various forms since 1985, it is a more recent group Novy Svet that would give readers a starting reference point to the musical weirdness and down right quirkiness of this album. Likewise this comparison goes much deeper given that both members of Novy Svet have contributed and collaborated on this CD (and I also suspect it is they who are part of the reason as to why this release ended up on the Hau Ruk label). Defying convention of any actual scene (other then the niche carved by Novy Svet perhaps?), this album simply exists in its own sphere – and a rather drug hazed, hallucinogenic one it is too. Basic programmed rhythms & beats, looped/ scattered noise, vague guitar tunes, keyboard melodies and meandering trumpet tunes all intermingle to form the basis of the compositions, whilst the vocals where present are delivered in a lethargic manner (and almost in the form of drunken ramblings). Likewise there is a loose feel to how the tracks have been constructed, leaving me wondering to if they were written in the studio, or even partly improvised during the recording process. Yet when this perception is viewed in context, it is such a feel which adds to the overall charm, whilst creating a vibe that is reminiscent of nonsensical children’s stories. Some tracks being up-tempo and playful, others slow and down vibed, much territory is pursued over the 14 tracks and 64 minutes – but what is the meaning of the actual pursuit I can hardly begin to imagine! Obviously this is not going to be for everyone, but this review should at least give a hint to if you would glean something positive from this or not. Recommended? – it all really depends on your musical reference points and your degree of fondness for the bizarre.
Mushroom’s Patience (Ita) “water” CD 2005 Hau Ruk
As ever, Mushroom’s Patience are a beacon for psychoactive & halcyon atmospheres evoked through tunes that are part neo-folk & part pop. However by never quite conforming to either sound, it creates an innate sensibility that crosses boundaries & evades attempts to categorise it. To work an analogy, this is not the neon glitz & excess of a high street nightclub, but is rather the distilled essence of a low lit & smokey lounge bar located off a cobbled side lane. Built around guitars (electric & acoustic), bass, trumpet and unassuming keyboards/ percussion, the unhurried tracks carry a confident air, complimented with an equally understated production. Vocals are handled in a similarly catatonic sing/ spoken drawl, which don’t so much as sound odd, but fits the music like a velvet glove. Some tracks may veer off slightly off into bizarre experimentation for my personal tastes, but at least this is a constant with regard to the few albums I have heard from the group. To a degree ‘water’ is approachable, however in truth is the type of album that will end up being mostly appreciated by individuals whom know the context of the record label & the loose scene that revolves around it. So, as with the aforementioned lounge bar analogy, some in the know knowledge will be required in order to locate it & to appreciate its decadent atmosphere.
Muskel (Swe) “Seven Days of Pain” CD 2003 Black Plague
For those not aware, Muskel is yet ANOTHER project to add to the list of Henrik ‘Nordvargr’ Björkk (of MZ412, Folkstorm, Toroidh etc infamy). Taking its cues from the harshest and nosiest Folkstorm material, the overall sonic violence has been upped a notch or three for Muskel. Despite being promoted as an all out noise release (and yes for the most part is as harsh as you would expect), it nonetheless contains far more structure then I anticipated. Accordingly it is this semi-structure that creates a sort of cathartic atmosphere, enabling the album to transcends any mere harsh noise tag that might be thrust upon it. Track 1 arriving in a flurry of squelched frequencies and high end flanged noise, it is at around the three minute mark that things really take off, with mid range pulsing static and obliterated vocals amping up the volume and overall aural assault. Alternately track 2 has an almost zen like quality with its introductory field recordings (gong, chimes, bird song & running water). But rest assured such a relaxed atmosphere does not last, given it is soon juxtaposed against cascading waves of pure, savage, cacophonous noise. Much of the remaining album continues in such style, with loose arrangements of layered pulsing static, high pitch feedback, cyclic distortion and flanged vocals. Yet for what is deemed to be a ‘noise’ release, this is in reality far more of a listenable album then I anticipated.
MZ412 (Swe) ”Domine Rex Infernum” CD 2001 Cold Meat Industry
This new album for true Swedish black industrialists MZ412 is promoted as not so much representing the current direction of the group, rather being a bridging release (or pr(hell)ude?) to the upcoming album ”Infernal Affairs”. However, even without such a statement, when listening to this album it is clear that it does not easily slot into the evolution and progress of MZ412 thus far (mainly due to the slower ritualistic overtones of this release). Containing only three tracks, the opener ”Invol: Satha” with its searing noise blasts certainly acknowledges the past, but these elements soon drop away to be replaced by a darker brooding aesthetic, complete with a slow keyboard melody akin to what you would hear in an old horror movie. Thus from this perspective, it is the darker ritualistic edge (enhanced by slow tribal drumming and distorted vocal invocations), that comes to represent the predominant aesthetic of “Domine Rex Inferum”. With track 1 clocking in at 6 minutes, it is the second track (”Ritual: Summ IIV”) at a whopping 41 minutes that further encapsulates this meditative ritualistic aura. Consisting of deep brooding textures, metallic clatter, it is the slow yet incessant tribal drumming that ushers in the suffocating atmosphere of an (imagined) black mass. Pushing through various sections, later parts give rise to ominous keyboard textures, clanging metallic objects and disembodied voices before more turbulent and urgent hand percussion increases the intensity. Forever forging forward, dense sound loops merge and inter-link to continually progressing the piece, likewise ensuring the composition does not degenerate into repetitive minimalism. In the approach to the 33.3 minute mark things become more outwardly aggressive with searing static blasts and horrific backgrounds textures, highlighting elements used when MZ412 are at their most aggressive. Yet this section is only short lived, receding back to calmer yet bleak territory – final section reverting to tribal drumming and monstrous vocalisations. Third and final track ”Komuni: Disciple” is a much shorter piece (and more akin to a traditional MZ412 track), consisting of distorted loops, searing noise, static riddled samples (lifted from ”Braveheart” of all movies) and slow rolling percussion (but lasting not more then 7 minutes overall). This album may be a solid listen, however if you haven’t heard MZ412’s music before I would not recommend being introduced to the group by this particular release, as it works better as a bridging album for established fans. In regard to packaging the simplistic yet stunning black gloss digipack is an admirable visual counterpart to the ritualistic black ambient sounds of this release.
Naarmann & Neiteler (Ger) “Sister Thelesitis” CDr 2004 Einzeleinheit
Haus Arafna meets Tangerine Dream? Well, straight off the promo blurb for this album certainly sparked a hint of intrigue! With this appearing to be the debut release for both German based project & record label, the album contains obscure harsh electronic music that Germans seem to have a particular penchant for. From the opener “awakening from a bad dream” instead of lofi analog electronics as one might be lead to expect, what is presented are electronics with digital crystal clarity, where the only muffled element being the tortured male voice buried in the mix. Things become even more twisted & downright experimental on “anger and negative feelings/ the garden on the monastery” with pulsing atonal programming, scattered noise with a treated male reciting German text. Interesting, however not entirely successful. Following on “the beautiful youth” is a head on collision of ambient flute melodies, throbbing distortion & industrial noise, with the later being so scattered as to sound messy & improvised. Yet with a number of misfiring tracks, “the pleasure of sin” merges a floating ambient sphere with a harsher electronic framework to great effect. Alternately a dense & heavy ambience with cold electronic vocal treatments are the standard measure for “the fog lifts/ the small temple”, that gradually morphs into a pounding rhythmic framework: also know as some reasonable death industrial musings. Although such a perception may be unwarranted, I get the impression that there might be a performance art aspect lurking in the inspiration for this project, mostly due to the more off the wall experimental aspects. Yet inspiration questions aside, this album misses about equally as it hits its mark, so it might be worthwhile considering this as a demo recording and keep tabs on how they progress their sound.
Naevus (Eng) ”Soil” CD 2001 S.P.K.R
Naevus are an unusual project in that they flirt with the sound of some established bands such as Death in June, Current 93, the Swans etc, yet do manage to pull off their own aura without sounding simply as copyists. The acoustic guitars, synths, vocals etc overall work well to create mid paced morose atmospheres similar to aforementioned groups, yet the rather ridged and synthetic sounding drum machine programming and plodding bass playing push the tracks towards a gothic rock oriented sound, that unfortunately does grate with me a little (whilst this aspect of goth rock influence is my eyes is detraction, yet to others might not be a problem at all). This album contains ten compositions with the majority treading the standard song structure format, yet a few pieces employ touches of an experimental industrial framework for alternate effect. With this album having been recorded in 2000, a new album ”Behaviour” has already been released on Operative Records out of the UK, thus it will be interesting to see what Naevus’s new material has to offer given I quite liked their track ”Visions, Rushed” (also on the new full length) on the Operative Records compilation CD “First”.
Navicon Torture Technologies (USA) “The Church of Dead Girls” DCD 2002 Malignant Records
The second official release for NTT on Malignant, comes in the form of a stylistically packaged DVD sized digipack. When listening to this double album, it is immediately evident NTT have returned with a more refined sound than their debut Scenes From The Next Millennium. Less chaotic and fierce than earlier material, the new material by NTT is a stylistic take on dark ambient intermixed with the harshness of a power electronics musical aesthetic. It features brooding, semi-melodious textures and dialogue samples crossbred with layered noise, looped distortion and obliterated vocals. Although there is obviously a lot of material to digest, it is a surprisingly focused double album of tensile and highly charged atmospheres. There is a brutal honesty with the themes explored, with it being clear that solo member Leech has poured his very being into this work as if it is his only means of personal catharsis. One criticism is that the use of dialogue samples is occasionally overdone. Not in reference to the number of samples used, rather that in selected tracks the sample becomes annoying by its sheer repetition. Leech has nonetheless exorcised a monumental piece of work featuring twenty tracks spanning over two hours. The Church of Dead Girls is no less than an attempt at the personal purification of his psyche, presented for your musical pleasure or disgust – whichever best suits you.
Nordvargr (Swe) “Awaken” CD 2002 Eibon Records
To start with a question: to date exactly how many releases does Mr Nordvargr aka Henrik Björkk (of MZ412, Folkstorm, Toroidh etc infamy) have to his name? Whilst I may have lost count, here is yet another CD to add to that expansive and ever expanding list. ‘Nordvargr’ being somewhat of solo project, this is the first official release, if you choose not count the two collaborative Nordvargr/Drakh releases on LSD Organisation and Fluttering Dragon. Embodying a dark ambient framework, “Awaken” extrudes a sinister dark ambient malice, interspersed with (occasionally) horrific atmospheres. Furthermore as the tracks have been composed in a rather visual way, they often sound less like specific musical tracks, giving rise to the perception that this could be the background sound score to an unnamed horror motion picture. This is particularly so of the opening title track with its low-end bass production of rumbling drones and muted orchestral tones, which combine to build an overall atmosphere of lurking dread. ‘Cellardweller’ is likewise as visually active as the title suggests with dense drones, random noise and some truly chilling but indecipherable vocal effects. ‘Lament’ on the other hand opts for a haunting effect evoked via disembodied choir voices, distant clanging church bells and minimalist backing. A rather engaging ritualistic aura is intoned within ‘Sulphur Mist’ (muffled tribal beats & vocal drones), whilst using an echoed depth to the sound production that gives the impression that it was recorded deep in some underground cavern. Yet mid track the atmosphere turns rather militant with the introduction of marching snare, thus begging somewhat of a comparison to the soundscape oriented works of Toroidh. Final track (being the 17 minute ‘Seeds of Blood (Acts 1-4)’), certainly takes the CD out on a high note, with a militant/ tribal/ dark ambient concoction. Militant tribal beats hammer out a slow rhythm in what seems to be the first ‘Act’, before moving off into a more freeform section of muffled sounds, ritual chanting and sampled orchestral elements. Following on, another section of slow tribal percussion is reprised where the atmosphere is suitably tensile (offset with indecipherable chants), later veering into final track segment of orchestral dark ambience. To give one last broad comparison, this particular album is quite along the lines of the polished ritualistic sounds of MZ412, and most specifically the “Domine Rex Inferum” CD of 2001. Likewise, as with the majority of Mr Nordvargr’s output, this is high calibre material and certainly does not suffer from lack of ideas or overall creativity, which often can be of concern if an artist issues a large amount of releases under various monikers.
Novo Homo (Aus) “Private Hell” CD 2004 Hau Ruk
Bane Wolfkind (a pseudonym perhaps?!!) is an Australian musician who has been operating as Der Blutharsch’s drummer for the last few years. Novo Homo is his solo project, with “Private Hell” being the debut CD. Following a parallel trajectory to Der Blutharsch’s ‘martial industrial’ sound, what sets this apart is the old school electro programming & treated monotone vocals. Opening with a very promising martial industrial piece, the second track likewise works extremely well with its fusion of orchestral sampling & electro beats, creating a decadent lounge bar styled atmosphere. These pieces alone however cannot redeem other album tracks that are marred by lack lustre programming, giving the impression of being unfinished demo versions. As the lyrics contain some elements of dry humour at least Bane is not trying to be ultra serious, yet the album lacks a certain cohesive flair that would make it really come alive.
Of the Wand and Moon (Den) ”:emptiness:emptiness:emptiness:” CD 2001 Euphonious Records
With strict adherence to the framework of the neo-folk scene, Kim Larsen of the group Of the Wand and Moon has produced his second album under the depressive title “:emptiness:emptiness:emptiness:”. While I am yet to hear the first full length “Nighttime Nightrhymes”, I must say I was sufficiently taken by the 7″ EP on Hau Ruck to be rather keen to check out this new album. This was likewise in despite of hearing some complaints & criticisms that the project has lost some of its individually due to the perception that this album slavishly sounds like Death in June during the “What Ends When the Symbols Shatter?” and “Rose Clouds of Holocaust” album era. Yet side stepping this debate, when you listen to the opening misanthropic cut of ”Lost in Emptiness” with its mid paced acoustic guitar driven ode (complete with haunting backing synth textures, oboe and mildly sung vocals), it is without doubt a grand vision indeed. The following piece ”My Devotion will Never Fade” is a touch more militant will subdued yet incessant rolling drums (that follow the guitar strumming), – the organ tune left to float and circle above. Steeped in mysticism, ”In a Robe of Fire” consists only of vocals accompanying by cello and violin, finally completed with a the sound of crackling fire in the background. ”Algir Naudir Wunjo”, a soundscape built on a distant orchestral melody and percussion/vocal mantra, while evocative, perhaps drags on a little at over 12 minutes in length. ”Gal Anda” increases the tempo of the acoustic guitar strumming (again percussion, organ textures and understated vocals are used), with the atmosphere flitting between a morose and celebratory that really takes flight with the inclusion of a flute solo late track. Final two album tracks revert to the drawn out soundscape style of the group (working generally with sparse percussion, synth textures, vocals etc), which although are interesting and hypnotic, for me pale in comparison to the acoustic side of the group. In passing I would not say that this is a perfect album, nor an instant classic, but this still certainly showcases that Of the Wand and Moon are one of the strongest acts in the current crop of neo-folk acts. Lastly I will highlight that the artwork is the perfect accompaniment of the pagan and misanthropic themes of the album’s lyrics. Runes, fire and misery indeed…
Of the Wand & the Moon (Den) “Midnight Will” MCD 2005 Heidrunar Myrkrunar
With third album ‘Lucifer’ released in 2003 and new album ‘Sonnenheim’ on the imminent horizon, a re-release of an earlier limited 10”ep is a perfect stop-gap measure. For those unaware, OTWATM are a fantastic neo-folk group from Denmark and while they follow a sound most characteristic of late 90’s Death in June, they certainly have enough of their own style and character to stand alone. Sullen opener ‘Midnight Will’ is a stunning track, built on a cyclic strummed acoustic guitar melody, sparse synth backing and reverb drenched spoken/ sung vocals – subdued acoustic melancholia at its finest. Another absolute standout is ‘A Dirge’, following a similar trademark format of slow strummed acoustic guitar lead, clean guitar backing, synths textures & spoken lyrics (adapted from a piece of writing dating from 1598 by Sir Philip Sidney) – again, simply fantastic. The remaining pieces veer of slightly, opting for a track of slow ritualistic percussion/ chimes, an alternate non-acoustic version of the title track & a more up-tempo acoustic number ‘Winter Veil’. Likewise for good measure the MCD is complimented with a live version of the title track to complete this tasty little re-release.
Of the Wand & the Moon (Den) “Sonnenheim” CD 2005 HeidRunar MyrkRunar
Finally the forth CD from this Danish group has been released, with huge expectations from the neo-folk scene. Likewise although being a number of years in the making, ‘Sonnenheim’ more the amply lives up to the expectations foisted upon it. Although the formula of what the group is known for may not have been drastically altered, what makes this the strongest album to date is the depth & focus shown across the 14 tracks. With a reduced number of the ritualistic tracks as prominently featured on earlier albums, the greater majority here are built around the central use of cyclic strummed acoustic guitars, spoken/ whispered vocals (with lyrics being preoccupied with northern runic mysticism), further embellished with layered keyboards, chime percussion, martial oriented drumming & even accordion on a number of tracks (played by guest musician Andreas Ritter of Forsetti). Whilst the prior comparisons to Death in June certainly remain here, in some ways these have been reinforced, particularly given that Andreas also played guest accordion on the neo-folk oriented tracks on Death in June’s ‘All Pigs Must Die’ album. Although it is entirely clear where Kim Larson’s predominant inspiration is drawn from, when music is done with such quality & flair, it is not merely a matter of him simply aping someone else’s sound. Rather it could be said that OTWATM are now the main contender for carrying the torch as a bright beacon for the genre. As such ‘Sonnenheim’ certainly deserves of all the positive attention it is receiving.
O Paradis (Spn) & Novy Svet (Aut) “entre siempre y jamas suben las mareas, duermen las ciudades” CD 2003 Nekofutschata
The prolific Austrian project Novy Svet have teamed up with O Paradis (whom with I am not actually familiar with) for another in their series of musical collaborations. Fans of the quirky, experimental folk sounds of Novy Svet will certainly appreciate this album, with the male vocals of J. Weber being particularly distinctive. Again, as with much of the music Novy Svet have been involved in, there is a hazy and hallucinogenic aura to the sound, which has quite a bit to do with the characteristic lethargic style of singing/ song writing. Here the instrumentation across the 15 tracks includes the use of violin, cello, trumpet, programmed rhythms/ percussion, synth tunes & melodies, treated guitars, layered male vocals, etc. Accordingly pinning down an appropriate description of the music is a difficult task, however this album would seem to traverse an European folk vibe, but always undercut with elements of experimentation verging on the bizarre (organ dirge, or jazz style double bass, or lurching waltz melody anyone?). Indeed this is an unusual album that maddeningly defies standard musical convention, but one that I have enjoyed for its musical oddities.
Opion Somnium (USA) “as they fly into darkness, only black feathers remain to wipe away our tears” 7” ep 2004 DroneRecords
Ah, this is another gem for the Drone Records 7” series, of which has introduced me to many a decent act. Basically I have always been a sucker for cavernous, quasi-religious toned orchestral drones, with Opion Somnium delivery in ample doses on all counts. The slow evolution of the deep reverberations of the A side give off orchestral overtones, whilst vague hints of real instrumentation to add to the layered structure. Essentially the first piece couldn’t be better described by their title: “falling into the gaping hole, dark abyss”. Less depth and movement is to be found on track B, however the sparse piano/ accordion drones & choir vocal textures aim for much loftier heights. For all its restrained direction, “falling asleep on these feather” creates a darkly melancholic & deeply emotive mood to the proceedings. Acting as an taster to this group – whom I know next to nothing of – it is a fine introduction indeed.
Orphx (Can) ”The Living Tissue” CD 2001 Hands
Having not paid any attention to Orphx since their debut CD on Malignant Records (way back in 1995), the magnitude of this stupidity was rather soberly driven home when I witnessed the brilliance of this project first hand when they performed live as the closing act for the Maschinenfest 2001. While these days they may encompass a much subtler sound then their formative material, their current focus on rhythmic and experimental minimalism is utterly engaging and hypnotic. The tracks on this CD actually form a concept, with field recordings being taken from various sources and the ensuing compositions are specific attempts to capture the vibe and atmosphere of the source material of each track. Thus the merging of organic spheres of sound (the sound source material), with the clinical (the studio construction technique of deriving quirky rhythms from the recorded sounds), shows the high skill and musical foresight of this duo. Favourites of this disc include the somatic rhythmic pulses of ”Biorhythm”, surging forward at mid pace, overlapping clicks, pops and swelling sound textures, whilst ”Mother Tongue” built on crowd samples with a dark droning undercurrent, uses snappy clicking elements and hand clapping to create its blended atmosphere. Not being based on a rhythmic style, ”Ether” arrives in a suffocating cyclic fashion by enveloping the listener with the dense rising/falling textures, additionally with it appearing that the sound source is derived from wind recordings. ”Accelerator” on the other hand is fantastic late night highway driving music (you can just envisage the shadowed landscape effortlessly slipping by), with the indicator sounds amongst other car sound samples being cleverly used to create the up tempo rhythmic elements. ”Naked City” works more as a glimpse of the city it was recorded in (Hamilton, Ontario), sounding mostly akin to field recordings being taken whilst an individual walks along the busy streets, past shops, continuing into interior spaces such as a shopping mall. However that said, the end result is much more evocative then the description would suggest (likewise the same can be said of the track ”Dwelling” built on everyday home based recorded sounds). Lastly, the title track is the final of the album encompassing of subtle collage of environmental recordings and nature oriented sounds inter-linked to create loose droning textures. Overall containing an excellent blend of experimentalism with skilful minimalist composition, this is a CD that could be said to easily bridge the gap between the experimentalist art scene and the works of rhythmic ambient artists. Great stuff indeed.
Olhon (Ita) ”Veiovis” CD 2001 Nautilus (via Spectre)
Olhon being a collaborative project between Italian projects Bad Sector and Where, it sees the artists tackling the water oriented theme embodied in the releases issued on Spectre’s side label Nautilus. With both artists working within the general field of dark ambience, luckily this collaboration sees neither overly dominating proceedings, thus creating a CD that embodies a positive blend of influence. It is further noted that the atmospheres of this release have been derived from source material recorded in the depths of various volcanic lakes, with the pieces being further manipulated into compositions via a studio process. Thus from this perspective the album’s overall sound arrives as being partly organic (source recordings) and partly digital (additional studio sounds and manipulations). Containing seven untitled tracks, the first piece contains a bristling yet subterranean timbre, and is a fine example of where the subtle influence of the two artists can be detected merging to create another level of sound altogether (Where with suffocating dark ambience and Bad Sector with brooding experimental manipulations). At times verging on aggressive the second piece is multi-textural, with wave upon of wave of sound surging from the speakers, interspersed with sporadic digital sonar frequencies. With a glacial ebb and flow, the brittle drone oriented harmonics of track three are almost cosmic, yet the guttural frequencies keeping the vibe deeply submerged, and while less aquatic then other tracks, the fifth piece is nonetheless a fantastic piece of dark ambience, with a phenomenal breadth of sound (through headphones my ears feel VERY far apart!). The sixth piece transporting the listener on a journey, one can imagine sinking into the murky fathoms, with the sounds clearly evoking the feeling of the crushing pressure and bringing visions of the light gradually giving way to inky blackness as the depth increases (yes, this is certainly emotive music). Seventh and final track is another highlight embodied within a track of depressive dark ambience (droning textures, shimmering textures and subtle harmonics and rhythms intertwine and overlap, with the pace never rising beyond a crawl). This album is another fine example of a collaborative project that showcases a diverse sound palate between tracks, however when Bad Sector’s name is involved you are always assured a fine production (not to denigrate Where’s contributions of course!).
Orplid (Ger) ”Geheilight fei der Toten Name” mCD 1999 Eis & Licht
Originally released a few years back in a plain card slipcase, this mCD has now been reissued in a digipack format. Here the title track is the first off the mark, being a slow rolling marching hymn which uses stern and commanding male vocals, alongside with a tense orchestral backing rising in flair and prominence at the track progresses. ”Jungend” is however entirely different, being a short bitter sweet piece of duelling acoustic guitars that acts as an interlude to the orchestral cinematic track ”Der Sonne Soldner”. Built with layers of war samples, sweeping noise, ominous classical passages and whispered vocals, it is mildly reminiscent of LJDLP’s musical approach given the distant forlorn atmosphere evoked. ”Im Sturm” on the other hand is an acoustic call to arms, using an urgent acoustic tune and full throated commanding vocals that are undercut with pounding militant percussion (mid section the mood is slightly calmed with a piano melody). Fifth and final track ”Belgrad” is a slow orchestral piece constructed with slow moving string and horn sections, likewise with a sampled voice referencing Hitler’s bombing of the aforementioned city. Given that this mCD showcases both sides and sounds of Orplid (the militant neo-orchestral side along with their neo-folk acoustic tracks), it highlights exactly why this new group have gained such critical acclaim within the said genres.
Ovro (Fin) “Gegendurchgangenzeit” CD 2005 Some Place Else
Although an unknown quantity to me, the biography places Ovro as being a female solo artist from Finland who started recording in 2003, with this being their 4th album. The bio further describes Ovro as a project creating cinematic isolationist dark-ambient soundscapes, which is also spot on in this regard. 7 interlinking tracks make up the 40 minute span of this album, where on one hand the atmosphere is one of being on a blustery windswept cliff, whilst the other draws the listener down into sonar toned aquatic depths & expansive cavernous realms. Subtle loops and tonal shifts give off mild variations to the minimalist compositional structures, yet there is amply going on here to be constantly engaging. Particularly when listened to through headphones the album presents a evocative, surreal & abstract experience that is certainly visually stimulating for the subconscious imagination. Concluding a minimalist review for a minimalist album, this is a release well worth your attention.
PPF (Fra) / ICK (Fra) “Individualistes/ Collectivistes” LP 2005 Steelwork Maschine
Although I have not heard the entire recorded output these French projects, I have at least heard an album, or few tracks from each. And given the strength of PPF’s LP released on StateArt in 2000 I was expecting rather big things from this LP. With respect of this particular release it constitutes a part split & part collaboration, where the LP contains 2 tracks by PPF, 4 tracks by ICK & 4 collaborative pieces between them both. Things start off promising enough for PPF with “la grande colere”, a track with sweeping analogue textures, mutated distortion & agitated/ flanged vocals. Managing a quite straight forward power electronics sound, things get more interesting when a funky, almost reggae styled programmed rhythm kicks in – by all rights this should not work, but it does! Yet as PPF’s second track amounts to little more then a minute speech sample with underlying industrial noise, it does not warrant a greater mention here (lets just call it an outro shall we?). As for ICK’s 4 tracks, these follow a rather an old school analogue rhythmic industrial style with the obligatory monotone, effects treated vocals. Yet as they are all relatively simplistic & straightforward, for me they really lack the brute force & visceral anger that makes such fare really come alive. Moving onto the 4 collaborative tracks on the flip side, these seem to contain more of ICK sound then PPF given the heavily reliance on programmed analogue rhythms. Likewise rather then the tracks becoming more then the sum of their parts dual to dual project input, the actual opposite occurs where the tracks sound bland & formulistic. To cut to the chase this LP simply does not live up to my rather high expectations. I guess my issue with this is that it really amounts to that this type of music has been done before & a lot better – even by the standards of the projects’ themselves. To conclude this is really a release for extreme fans & fanatical collectors.
Predominance (Ger) “Dark Stars Unfolding DCD 2005 Loki Foundation
After discovering Loki Foundation quite some years back now, I have always had fetish for what the label has released – with this being no exception. Although the Predominance project was terminated back in 2002 they were one of the earliest groups on the label & released some fantastic material on various formats (tape, vinyl & CD). When I first heard their dark sonics, they flawed me with their a unique take on a heavy electronics/ death industrial sound: the droning layers, grinding textures & muffled pounding percussion all evoked an atmosphere that seemed to allude to a dark core of spirituality, whilst ritualistic vocals gave cryptic clues to the project’s modus operandi. It was indeed a shame to hear of their demise, but with a recent re-release of the classic ‘Hindenburg’ LP onto CD format (with bonus material), ‘dark stars unfolding’ goes further to draw together various pieces of the Predominance puzzle. Obviously in such a context this DCD is a posthumous release, with the ‘archivum’ disc consisting of selected tracks from earlier releases, hard to find material & a couple of unreleased pieces, whilst the live disc is preoccupied with presenting material that has been reconstructed from two German performances (Collapse Festival 2000 & Consumer Electronics 2# 2001).
For the ‘archivum’ disc, where ‘Dogs of Doom’ was a highlight of the ‘Obliteration’ LP, it is again featured here, containing a fantastic piece of clever vocal sampling, lifted from the Led Zeppelin song ‘No Quarter’ & set to a dense wall of sweeping synth textures. An unreleased track ‘South Saturn Delta’ taken from the ‘Hindenburg’ sessions veers into more spacious territory, thus moving away from the suffocating atmospheres of earlier material & hinting at the wider universal themes that would later dominate the ‘Nocturnal Gates of Incidence’ album. ‘Quantum Statics’ seems to be the very last track recorded by the project in 2002, and was originally featured on the Ironflame: Statement 1961 compilation, where in my review of that item I stated: “Predominance’s track ‘Quantum Statics’ is atmospheric as much as it is intense. Monumental in its sonic breadth, the spoken vocals act as a perfect accompaniment to the morphing soundscape”. In many ways the ‘live’ disc is even more powerful then the ‘archivum’ disc in that it amounts to a collection of intense live versions of the most powerful material from the group. ‘Aurora Borealis’ is a prime example of this, featuring Predominance at their most composed, where heavy & vast synth melodies are offset with vocals that boarder just on singing, whilst keeping the trademark deadpan delivery. Another absolute classic Predominance track ‘Luftschiffe’ is reinvigorated in the live setting, with its slow pounding beat & ominous tune, where Led Zeppelin’s ‘No Quarter’ is again utilised for inspiration, except here the entire lyrics are used & sung in Predominance’s monotone style. Another track from the same period, the live version of ‘Under the Blackened Sun’ has swirling intensity & pounding might, that seems to constitute an arcane transmission from the abyss, while ‘Hellbound’ has an absolute blowtorch intensity with incessant throbbing bass kick that falls just short of a power electronics tone. Apart from the stunning array of tracks, the visual enhancement of the two disc set is completed with a gorgeous double gatefold digipack, rounding out what is yet another highlight from the Loki Foundation camp.
Propergol (Fra) “United States” CD 2001 Nuit et Brouillard
A scathing indictment/ reflection of the squalid underside of US society, it is ironic to note that this idea is driven home by utilising a multitude of dialogue samples (liberally scattered throughout the disc) that are exclusively derived from American produced motion pictures! Anyway, “United States” is actually the third album for Propergol, but is the first widely available disc as the first two had only limited runs of 200 CDR copies each. Having missed the first CDR, but being utterly flawed by the second ‘Cleanshaven’, I was amply salivating for the release of this disc (and call me a prophet if I predict it is only a matter of time before someone gives the first two CD’s a proper repressing). The opening cut, is a grand beginning and while the samples lifted from ‘Se7en’ might be a touch obvious, at least no bones are made about this, via the sample playing a prominent role by being repeated numerous times as the caustic and tense atmosphere continually builds. Overloaded intensity is the calling card of track two and is without doubt the highlight of the disc. The track appropriately entitled ‘outburst’ is absolutely explosive with rhythmic death industrial, searing noise blasts and some truly sadistic screamed (and treated) vocals, giving no let up for the entire duration. While the remainder of the album does not reach the same level of mayhem as shown on ‘outburst’, this is not to say that it is at all subtle or straight forward. Navigating a path through death industrial soundscapes peppered with samples, disorientating searing noise, shifting sounds, jagged outbursts etc; compositions are rarely what they seem due to continually cutting between segments and samples in an attempt to throw the listener into confusion (this is a veiled compliment by the way!). While the tracks are sometimes rhythmic, more often then not they contain a tense and brooding cinematic edge which ties in rather well with the overt uses of movie based samples (‘Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer’ is another such example). While taking an overall reflective view of this disc, this is a definite highlight of 2001 (and destined to give Propergol cult status), yet I also feel that the previous album ‘Cleanshaven’ slightly tops this particular release with its caustic mayhem and madness. ‘United States’ is fantastic nonetheless, with the only thing let to do is to see what will be showcased on the quickly followed fourth album “Renegades”.
Psicklops (USA) “self titled” CDr Free Matter for the Blind
With such a conceptual release as this, I can’t really do it justice without quoting the promo blurb, so here goes: “dubbed “dark cinema” Psicklops is an experimental narrative noise opera/ radio event that is sure to blow your mind. Originally commissioned for an installation in which people were locked in a room for an hour – it might be best understood as a modern redux, or sequel to Kafka’s “The Trial”. Circling this territory through the theme of interrogation – pointing to both of the capitalists and home land “security,” varieties – the sound play uses an amalgamation of carefully scripted material and the close editing of carefully directed improvisational material, in some cases even using staged guerrilla theatre events”. So with such a hefty conceptual backing, the questions really is, whether this works or not? To provide a non committal answer: both yes and no. With a framework of cut and paste sounds, reconstructed musical elements, sampled voices, spoken word narrative etc, a complex and partly disjointed collage is formed. Selected tracks work well as experimental spoken word compositions, or as sample riddled dark electronica, whilst others sections constitute cleverly written satirical sketch pieces. However it is these later sketch pieces that really seem to be missing the critical installation/ performance/ visual aspect that one might expect. That said, they are intriguing enough to spark interest in how they would have been presented in the proper context of the installations and guerrilla events from which the material originally derives. As this release is obviously far more of a performance installation piece then a music album release, it can’t be critiqued in the typical and therefore should be approached as such by any prospective listener. Intrigued? If so, then this might just be for you.
Pulse Emitter (USA) “Collisions” 3”CDr 2005 Chondritic Sound
As always when an item from unknown label/ artist is slung my way for review I like to do a little background research of my own to help put it in context. And the fruits of my search seem to place Pulse Emitter a relatively new project, whom have been around since around 2002 & have issued some 15 releases on a slew of formats & labels. Likewise the label themselves have issued over 150 releases from both known & obscured underground experimental artists. So having not come across either artist or label before there are certainly some malfunctioning radar issues at these headquarters! And essentially that is what I love about underground music – at the point you think you know most labels and artists within a certain scene, something like this release crops up to highlight how much more is going on then you could ever reasonably get your head around. Anyway I digress…. As for introduction to Pulse Emitter the 3”CD format is great to give a short and sharp representation of what they are about. With this in mind a single 20 minute piece is served up, showcasing a track of electronics tinged droning ambience. With insectile static buzzing & sparely composed analogue synth melodies, the track forges an oppressive droning edge with occasional fragmented static outbursts. Likewise once the framework it set, the track crawls forward at catatonic pace by using mild variations to the key elements in order to gradual morph the atmosphere into slightly noisier passages. All in all a rather accomplished composition that contains a decent clarity & depth of sound. Packaging comes in the form of a miniature jewelcase with abstract red/black image printed on silver paper to decent visual effect. All round this is a tidy little release in a limited run of 110 copies.
R|A|A|N (USA) ”The Nacrasti” CD 2001 Malignant Antibody
With the label promotional blurb for this album reading: “imagine Lustmord & Raison D’etre marooned on an ancient alien planet”, it simultaneously sets expectations high, whilst stealing my thunder as I simply cannot devise a better description! Not to disappoint at all, this album easily lives up to this expectation and to add further praise, comparisons could be made to Inade, particularly with respect of their ”Alderbaran” CD. Notwithstanding that R/A/A/N wears its influences rather boldly, “the nacrasti” has been created with conviction and skill that it transcends any simplistic accusation of being a mere copyist project. Likewise the absolutely gorgeous and detailed cover artwork (solar images, baron extraterrestrial landscapes, gold foil stamped writing and spot varnishing), is a perfect visual counterpart to the album. Composed in nine parts, each inter-links with the next to create a complete and quite complex whole. Utilising a large array sound elements and a multi-layering technique, the aura is one of a forever moving and evolving album. Constructed partially through synthetic means, the depth and complexity is really achieved through the use of sampling, environmental recordings and real instrumentation (gongs, hand percussion etc), that have all been manipulated within the overall framework of deep drones, harmonic loops and muted melodies. It is also interesting to note that the sound palate radiates a certain warmth that is not normally associated with dark ambience, likewise managing to infuse atmospheres that on one hand are quite alien, yet that also hint at an benevolent spirituality. I must say that after having heard as many dark ambient albums as I have over the years, it takes something special to really grab me, yet this album contains that indescribable ‘something’. An immensely strong debut that should guarantee a legion of fans awaiting future sound works.
raison d’etre (Swe) “Requiem for Abandoned Souls” CD 2003 Cold Meat Industry
The sixth full length for Raison D’etre does not so much as forge a new direction, rather is representative of the gradual distilment and refinement of their trademark dark ambient/ industrial wasteland soundscapes. As with the paths previously forged, sacral and arcane religious undertones permeate all aspects of the music. Awash with reverberating drones, metallic nuisances, discordant chimes, haunting chorals and sub orchestral movements, the forlorn atmospheres unfold over the expanse of 5 interlinking tracks. Particularly the sound palate is quite comparable to the last album The Empty Hollow Unfolds, but to my mind has been executed to a much superior standard on this recording. Although I would not acknowledge this as the best album that artist Peter Andersson has produced under the Raison D’etre moniker, it is nonetheless leagues ahead of its contemporaries and still manages to be a highlight of 2003. Without a doubt a mandatory album that clearly illustrates how on top of his game Peter Andersson is.
Regard Extreme (Fra) ”Resurgence” CD 1996 Cynfeirdd
Probably most well known for a collaboration with LJDLP a few years back, however fellow French neo classical project Regard Extreme do have two solo albums to their name. Here with their third album, it is actually a partial revision of early tracks, as referenced by the notation on the cover “re-orchestrated, re-recorded & unreleased tracks”. Thus accordingly “Resurgence” includes the title track (being formerly unreleased), 2 original versions and 7 new versions of old pieces. So in all with the nine tracks we have lush, swelling neo classical orchestrations as the main musical element. Sticking to a slow pace, morose strings and choir like textures are underscored with deep brass melody, occasional using martial tympani/snare percussion to add air of urgency to the otherwise slow movement of the album. Whilst all of the tracks have been synthetically derived, the album has been suitably produced so as not to degenerate into totally cheesy keyboard sounding neo-classical. Given Regard Extreme’s compositions have a certain formula and sound signature it means that there is not an great degree of diversity between pieces, however ”Egotisme” is an exception to this rule, given it is a rather heavy militaristic/orchestral track reminiscent of early In Slaughter Natives. Nonetheless if solemn neo-classical catches your ear it is done with ample flair here. Full color slimline digipack with insert is the packaging for this release.
requiem (USA) “bete noire” CDr & 3”CRr 2005 requiem recordings
American artist David Graham covers broad experimental musical terrains of drone, dark ambient, neo classical and harsh industrial & although this is the first material I have heard from the project, it seems that this represents his sixth self released album. With first impressions, most pleasing to my ear is the when requiem channels a drone/ dark ambient/ neo classical vein, where on such styled tracks the music is sparse, yet suitably layered to give off a rather filmic air. Showing controlled constraint throughout the majority of the compositions, selected tracks are emotively tinged with strings/ piano/ guitar (delete as appropriate), whilst others showcase a certain percussive bombast to achieve the neo classical style. Less successful though are harsh industrial elements that simply jar against the calmer aspects. Whilst the harshness of ‘pretentious comfort from false nihilism’ is not a problem per say, rather my issue is that it utterly decimates the atmospheres constructed via the preceding tracks. 11 tracks on the main CD are where 76 minutes of diverse material is to be found, whilst the release additionally contains a 3” CDR. With a single 20 minute track it opts for a more free-form experimental sound that does not typically align with the main body of work. To be treated merely as an added bonus perhaps? The cover is worthy of a mention too, consisting of a DVD case with a professionally printed cover, and hand made insert for the 3”CDR. Overall ‘bete noire’ might in certain sections reveal some influences (being somewhat similar in sound to Cold Meat recording artists Raison D’etre and In Slaughter Natives), yet there is indeed a decent swag of ideas here and I’m sure with further distillation and refinement, requiem will be propelled onto a label of some clout.
Robert Rich (USA) ”Bestiary” CD 2001 Release Entertainment
Although not a total aficionado of Robert Rich’s solo works, the first thing that jumps to my mind when thinking of his sound is flowing dark ambience. This new effort of his is then a touch on the surprising side given that it encompasses a bizarre textural rhythmic style on a deft hallucinogenic tangent. So this CD may not be specifically dark, yet the sounds are clearly not on a ‘happy’ tangent either, nonetheless having been composed in a playful manner. Constructed to a contain a synthetic and organic fused edge, throbbing sounds, both of murky and atmospheric textures converge into a complex mass of sound, often with fleeting tribal and eastern elements appearing via the use of odd percussion and disembodied voices to generate a warm sonic miasma. Never content to follow a clear defined path, the compositions are as sporadic and unpredictable as a shifting deep-sea tide, flowing continually into new territory, one track inter-linking with the next, traversing the densely composed and stripped back minimalism. Given this music is not all doom and gloom this just maybe could appeal to wider audience (ie: world music listeners), without alienating those who despise ‘new age’ type music twaddle.
Sangre Cavallum (Por) “Barbara Carmina” CD 2004 Storm Records
Released on Michael Moynihan’s (of Blood Axis) label, Sangre Cavallum are a dark folk collective from Portugal have produced an album of their own compositions and versions of traditional songs. Being “inspired by the ethnological heritage of the traditional world”, a range of instrumentation has been utilised, including: bagpipes, flute, mandolin, lute, acoustic guitars, drums, piano, accordion etc. With the album’s theme steeped in pre-Christian heathenism and pagan mysticism, such inspiration permeates all aspects of the music. Although some music of this ilk can come across as quite cheesy, there is a level of sincerity that has allowed Sangre Cavallum to steer clear of this pitfall. The rustic and somewhat under-produced recording quality adds to the overall charm, constituting a worthwhile listen if you have a penchant for traditionally inspired dark folk music.
Schloss Tegal (USA) “Neoterrik Research: the hidden history of Schloss Tegal” CD 2004 Cold Spring Records
Being over 4 years since the release of their last album, this is not a proper full length. More accurately it is a compilation CD. Essentially “Neoterrik Research” consists of a collection of rare tracks, prior compilation contributions & unreleased material. Traversing both dark ambient & experimental sounds Schloss Tegal have always had particular quirks in the creation of their uniquely sinister atmospheres, with this being explained through their concept focused & researched based methodology of music composition. Hence topics covered incorporate: the writings of H.P Lovecraft, computer controlled missiles, electro voice phenomenon, anti-world transmissions & the mindset of a serial killer. “Black Static Transmissions” appears to be one of newer compositions of the collection, being sonically weighty yet minimalist in its execution, creating a very cerebral & intuitive listening experience. Despite being a collection of tracks from various sources over the years, this is a surprising cohesive and solidly focused album.
Scivias (Hun) ”…and You Will Fear Death Not” CD 2001 Eis & Licht
Being aware of the group’s name but not having heard their music, I did however know that they were of the neo-folk genre and that this album was quite an anticipated one. Strangely enough this album is somewhat removed from what I would have expected from a neo folk album both thematically and musically. With inspiration centring on a traditionalist view of empirical Japan, a hymn/choir like vocal piece provides the setting, while the following track ”Age of the Last Law – Nuclear Japan” is a track composed with rough and distorted electric guitar strumming, backing with synth layers and spoken vocals. Interesting but certainly unexpected. With short cello/spoken work interlude (”The World is a Teardrop…”), the mood is entirely altered again, leading into a quieter passage of the album spanning ”Breathing Deeply” (morose violin melodies) and ”The Peach Boy” (haunting acoustic guitar, flute, cello and female vocal driven tune that draws inspiration from a traditional Japanese tale – and one I enjoyed hearing as a child). ”A Tower of the Devil” dramatically shifts the album’s focus once again, here consisting of a melange of programmed rhythmic elements, choir voices, spoken vocals and synthesiser textures. Again certainly different from expectation and potentially comparable to the often odd sound of Allerseelen. ”Passion” alternately meanders along as a slow acoustic folk tune of plucked/strummed guitars only to morph into a slow march with the late inclusion of rolling snare percussion. However ”Die Before Dying” is easily the strongest track of the album, being a fantastic yet morose militant piece that ebbs and flows over its 10 minute expanse. With the mid paced acoustic guitar strumming being accentuated with fleeting horns, commanding piano lines, martial percussion and spoken vocals it creates an air of both celebration and sorrow. Powerful to say the least. Following, ”The Empire in Me” is another standout being built with slow violin, sullen horns, church bells, bass and (now trademark) spoken vocals. Later the entire track builds with belligerent anger with the use of rolling percussion and muted electric guitar strumming to create another highlight. Concluding on an almost uplifting note, ”In Memory of the Last Empire” uses trumpeting horns, rolling piano tune and slow violins to convey an aura of celebration intermixed with a hint of sadness (possibly directed towards an era that passed into the pages of history?). Nonetheless a fine ending indeed. “…and You Will Fear Death Not” is an album that may contain contradictory sounds when considering the standard approach of the neo-folk scene, however these have been meshed together with Scivias’s inspiration, ideal and conviction to create an altogether intense listen.
Shadow Theater (Ger) “Live in Paris” CDr 2005 Apocalyptic Radio
With absolutely no promo material sent with this item, from my world wide web sleuthing skills I have gleaned that Shadow Theater are a duo, with one half also the project Flutwacht. Likewise it seems that the individual behind Flutwacht also runs Apocalyptic Radio, making this for all intents and purposes a self released item. Not being a gothic or power metal band as the name might suggest, the live performance commences with a heavy neo classical melody that quickly degenerates into an all out maelstrom of improvised industrial strength noise with absolutely no let up for the duration of the entire 53 minutes. However given the sound quality is little more then a muddied, muffled mess (sounding like it was recorded with a hand held dictaphone), this is tedious recording to listen to. Now I’m sure that Shadow Theater would have been chuffed to be invited to perform live, however I see little merit in releasing a live document of the performance if the sound quality is anything less then spot on – of which this is certainly not. To be blatantly harsh, this release warrants little attention & essentially represents an exercise in self indulgence for the artist. Likewise it serves only to add to the glut of releases that clog up the underground & diverts attention away from real gems to be found. Whilst I might have got this for free to review, I will say that my assessment of it would have been even more severe had I actually shelled out cash for this. You have been warned.
Shift (Swe) / Operativ Permanent (Swe) “Split” 7” ep 2005 Heidenlarm
Ambiguous titles? Check. Group photo of balaclava clad members wearing HATE slogan t-shirts? Check. Image of an ominous looking housing block? Check. Ah yes, from the instant I picked this up it was obviously going to be a death industrial/ power electronics release! For the A side Shift step up to the pulpit with their track “battle ahead”. Built on a heavily grinding, slow paced loop, it is topped with a smattering of controlled distortion to round out the track. Quite a straight forward example of a death industrial sound really, which is not too far from the fields that Brighter Death Now have been ploughing for some years now. Alternately Operativ Permanent take a crack at the flip side, whom incidentally feature Lirim from the more well known project Institut. “You won’t always have your friends around is” is their offering, serving up a heavy slab of free form power electronics noise, resplendent with a distorted/ shouted vocal delivery. The result?: the aural equivalent of a lunge at the jugular with a rusty blade. While this split release could be criticized for lack of originality, to my mind this would be missing the point. By sticking to the orthodox elements of their style & sound, both projects’ are skilled enough to stand amongst their peers by creating tracks that are forceful & direct in their no frills & straight forward approach. Basically if you have read this far you should already know if this will float your boat, but if such music ‘aint your cup of tea, this won’t alter your palate to be salivating for a nice cup of earl grey.
Shinjuku Thief (Aus) “Medea” CD 2003 Dorobo
With the final CD of the ambitious “Witch” CD trilogy being released mid 2002 (“The Witch Haven”), solo composer Darrin Verhagen has quickly followed on with new album “Medea”. And although the description on the back cover states ‘Gothic Orchestral Soundscape’, this album does not encompass the atmospheres of medieval Europe (as aurally embodied within the 3 “Witch” CD’s), rather it is a sound pertaining to a more modern age. Operatic solo/ choir vocal textures & neo-classical passages are the main elements that form the framework of the album, further intermixed with delicate soundscapes of a dark ambient/ isolationist timbre, & lastly honed with static noise outbursts. Likewise the loose framework of the album includes a number repeated compositional motifs, which gives clear reference to the context in which this album was originally conceived: being composed as part of a stage production of the Greek tragedy of the title’s namesake (performed as part of the Melbourne Festival 2002). On one end of the scale “Medea” contains some of the most starkly fragile and beautiful tracks recorded by Shinjuku Thief, but at the polar extreme are tracks which are downright the most sinister & aggressive that I have encountered from Darrin yet. Highlight moments include the haunting neo-classical tracks “A Possibility, A Room”, “Sailing Without A Map” & “Angus Dei”, whilst “Medea Of Nowhere” is just as impressive but entirely different, utilising a combination of harsh noise and rhythmic industrial. No doubt this is another highlight in Shinjuku Thief’s arsenal, being an amazing album for old fans & new listeners alike.
Shinjuku Thief (Aus) “Matte Black” CD 2004 Dorobo
Darrin Verhagen (Aus) “Black Frost” CD 2004 Dorobo
After commencing the “Black / Mass” trilogy in early 2004 with an unadulterated harsh noise album under the E.P.A. moniker, Darrin Verhagen has quickly returned with instalments 2 and 3. With the overall concept spanning across three experimental styles, the later two thirds of the trilogy encompass a solo release & an album under his most well recognised project, namely Shinjuku Thief. Whereas E.P.A. was an all out sonic assault of the senses, the 2nd & 3rd parts sees the reinstatement of Darrin’s academia infused methodology. Inhabiting a sound spectrum that is the polar opposite of the first part of the trilogy, Darrin Verhagen’s “Black Frost” album encapsulate s a minimalist electro-acoustic sound environment. While E.P.A. encompassed an experiment in extremely harsh sonics, “Black Frost”, opts for extremity of opposites: that being a subtle & minimalist approach. Thus on many levels it evokes comparisons of the electro-acoustic timbres explored on Darrin Verhagen’s “soft ash” album of a few years ago. Interestingly if the volume is kept low (as suggested), at times the sound palate appears delicate to the point of being perceptible only at a subconscious / sub-audible level. Even so, across the 56 minutes of the album, “Black Frost” traverses sections of muted minimalism, through to segments with a glitch oriented aesthetic.
Referring to the 3rd part of the trilogy “Matte Black” showcases another side to what Shinjuku Thief has been traditionally recognised for. Gone are the main elements of neo-classical strings, orchestral outbursts and haunting chorals. Yet despite this stripping back of the most obvious elements, the album remains staunchly within the dark atmospheric realm thus far inhabited by all Shinjuku Thief releases. Although the main musical elements have been forsaken for a more subtle approach, “matte black” is no less weighty in atmosphere. Here the slow shifting sounds & washes of dark ambient textures hang like an impenetrability thick fog: a veritable inky sonic blackness evoking an uneasy sense of lurking dread. By the time late album track “in station” arrives, the atmosphere becomes ever so slightly more animated, with some sparse digital nuisances to keep listeners on their toes. Wherever his exploration of sonic environments may take him, Darrin has come up with the aural goodies yet again.
SIREN CULT (USA) “HAUNTED COBBLESTONE SUNSET CONCERT SERIES #3” CDr Free Matter For The Blind
From my first impressions of this label, by no means are they going for feel of an elite underground label, rather they seem to operate with a DIY aesthetic that is most associated with tape labels that were so prevalent in the years before CD’s became the dominant recordable media. So, in quoting directly from promo blurb for The Haunted Cobblestones Sunset Concert Series: “Ending at sunset with the first recording and beginning at sunset with the last recording – individuals play what they will out the third floor window on a desolate cobblestone street in the last days of summer. Attendees listen street-side, eating tacos or stretched out on the concrete. Stereo recordings made in a single take – screaming kids, violent cars – sirens and animals to be considered as collaborators”. It is quite a cleaver concept actually, where the CDr’s act as a formal document of the concept, as well as the ‘concert’ performance, whilst creating an experimental release that can in itself be considered as an actual album and not merely a live album from the project involved. Thus, it is an unfamiliar project of the name Siren Cult whom produced the third release in the series, with this amounting to a short-ish 35 piece. Drawing quite heavily on the unwitting sound contributions of the late evening streetscape (voices, footfalls, passing cars, radio/ TV chatter, birds etc), these amass to provide the canvas to which Siren Cult added their sonic wares of odd rhythms, random distortion & feedback, looped sampled sound bites etc. Yet, in listening to this as a collective whole, Siren Cult’s contributions are particularly sporadic. Whilst granted, a certain live performance element may have been lost in translation, nevertheless this all comes across in a very erratic improvised manor. Although interesting in concept this particular recording does not really grasp my ear in a positive way as it is too fragmented and does not seem to have an overall direction and focus. Basically as is the case with conceptual improvised music, when it works it works well and when it does not you can simply hear it, with no great explanation being required. Although this CD may fall flat, a better bet is the Area C album in the same series.
Sleep Research Facility (UK) “nostromo” CD 2001 Cold Spring
Arriving out of seemingly nowhere, Cold Spring have released the fantastic debut CD by Sleep Research Facility. With the concept centring on the spacecraft ‘nostromo’ (as featured at the start of the motion picture Alien), this CD has 5 tracks, each dedicated to a level of this vessel (a-deck thru e-deck). Yet despite the inclusion of 5 tracks, these rather operate as integral parts of the single and continuously evolving dark ambient composition (much the same as how Lustmord’s: ‘Place where Black Stars Hang’ and Inade’s ‘Alderbaran’ CD were composed). Essentially this album is best absorbed in its 60 odd minute entirety – with uninterrupted attention yielding its subtle brilliance. While on one hand the album is minimalist and seeming at first to be rather subdued, it is however when one takes the time to concentrate on the subtitles that is discovered that amply powerful atmospheres are at play here. Given all compositions are around the 12 minute mark, the tracks unfold slowly, often using an ebb and flow technique to introduce and evolve the compositions, thus creating ample amounts of sweeping sound and rising-falling textural elements. Likewise, while the flow gives rise to the album having a drone like resonance, the tracks are not harmonic based, again adding to glacially cold & clinical (if not entirely alien) essence Sleep Research Facility have managed to skilfully evoke. Also, one of the phases included on the cover (“In space no-one can hear you dream….”) is a clever play words with the original promotional phrase “in space playing no-one can hear you scream….”, and sums up the review rather nicely. Oh yeah, this album is highly recommended!
Sophia (Swe) ”Herbswerk” CD 2001 Cold Meat Industry
With a bridging 10″ ep released between the debut album and this, the second album, Sophia continue going from strength to strength without necessarily altering their tactics that have won them accolades thus far. Again, and as with prior releases, this is militant neo classical music on a grand scale, ranging from brooding depressive segments (such as the first track ”Miserere” built on a backbone of deep choir vocals), through to rousing percussive tracks such as the title track that uses slow hammering percussion (booming kettle, typani and snare drums), orchestral strings, French horns and a choir voice chanting the track’s title. As is with the previous recordings, I have made passing comparisons with label mate In Slaughter Natives, which in my opinion is still relevant here given ”March of Strength” again reminds me of I.S.N at his most brooding (as per his “Purgate My Stain” album). As for the depressive aura of ”Inner Turmoil”, it certainly shines strongly, yet the layering of minimal sweeping textures has additionally enhanced the atmosphere by giving it a distant and morose sound, anchored to the earthly realm only by a meandering piano tune. In reference to ”Copper Sun” I admit it does not come much more powerful then this, where the stately orchestral layers, heavy percussion and choir voices are all presented in a massive grandiose fashion. Alternately ”My Salvation” being purely constructed with choir textures and lone spoken voice, is meditative in ambience and giving some respite from the shrill orchestral battle cries of other album tracks. With eight tracks in all, again my only complaint (as with Arcana and Sophia albums thus far), is that they are generally on the short side, but this time such criticism is negated by the fact that the prior ”Aus der Welt” 10″ep has been included as a bonus, pressed as a mini 3″ CD and including its own miniature slip case (being great news for those too lazy to get the 10″ or alternately who don’t own a record player). Anyway word from Peter Pettersson is that a third CD is already on the way, including a revaluation of sound and direction for the project. Let’s us sit back then and wait to shall be delivered!
Sophia (Swe) ”Aus der Welt” 10″ep 2001 Erebus Odora
Although quickly following the debut CD with this 10″, by the time I actually got around to reviewing this item, the second CD was already out. Anyway, the brown colour of the vinyl is here encased in a matching brown cover, with the spot varnished cover image (taken during the bombing of London), being a visual that certainly suits the massive brooding orchestrations cut into the record. Opener ”Strength Through Sorrow” being a slow orchestral piece is based on a heavy use of choral voices and pounding percussion, arriving at a sound that could be said to be a partial mix of Arcana (of course) and In Slaughter Natives – which are both complimentary comparisons in my view. Second track ”March of a New King” is obviously a march, here based on shrill snare rolls and flute tune, with the track increasing its urgency as it progresses, likewise including spoken vocals that rises within the mix. Side B arrives with the title track; a composition of slow sweeping orchestral beauty that could easily have been a track lifted from an Arcana, albeit for the fact it lacks the trademark male/female choir vocals. Fourth and final piece ”Sono De Ignis” ups the ante once more with a heavy percussive and orchestral piece – yet reigning in the composition to accommodate a slow but masterful pace. Sophia impressed on their debut and continue to impress here. Recommended.
Srmeixner (Eng) “The Dictatorship of the Viewer” CD 2005 Fin de Siecle Media
Being the solo project of one half of the defunct and sorely missed duo Contrastate, I certainly had high expectations for this release. Where Contrastate forged some amazingly distinctive experimental, electro-acoustic soundscapes, inter-dispersed with poetic spoken word segments, srmeixner follows a logical progression of such a sound (except lacking the spoken vocal elements).
For srmiexner’s sophomore album, both title & inspiration are borrowed from an art instillation in Venice 2003, whilst the recording itself features the input of both Stephen Meixner & collaborator Adrian Morris. Of the single 55 minute title track, this has been cut up into 18 short to medium length sub sections, where the listener is invited to listen to the album in the CD’s programmed order, or re-programmed to an alternative order by the listener, or left to a random selection of the CD player’s shuffle function. Having listened to this both in programmed order and on random shuffle functions, via either means I have found this to be a fantastic album.
Spring boarding from a general sphere of what could be coined dark ambience, it is the album’s remarkable buzzing, kinetic energy & digitized tone that pushes the sound well beyond any generic tags, to create an electronic soundscape of an album straddles the spheres of experimental, electronic & dark ambient. The energy of the multi layered textures cannot be done justice with words alone, given they are forever morphing & evolving, never sitting still or becoming generic. Clearly such results are the product of an extremely skilled experimental/ electronic composer who is pushing beyond past achievements into totally new realms.
If you are unaware of Contrastate, this would be a great place to start before delving into that particular group’s back catalogue, & similarly if Contrastate is an appreciated quantity, you should be checking this album out without hesitation.
Stabat Mors (Ger) “Ich Bin So Wild Nach Deinem Erdbeermund” 7”ep 2004 Drone Records
When I first heard this, I had to check that this was actually a Drone Records release, because this is not really what you could call drone music, nor what I have come to expect for the Drone Records 7” series. Both sides of the vinyl follow an almost identical approach with a rather chaotic experimental industrial sound. The tracks appear to be loosely constructed with what sounds like a lot of improvised distortion & modulated frequencies. Underscoring these main focal elements is an underbelly of muffled bass textures, where all the while female voice recites something entirely indecipherable in the background (the promo blurb indicates it is: “autobiographic text from Klaus Kinski, the legendary ‘daemonic’ actor, as an inspiration, ‘to transform his greed for life musically’”). To keep the review short and sharp, to my mind this release is far too noisy & messy to qualify for a drone description & with the loose, experimental, improvised commotion that has been created, it doesn’t really appeal to me. Better luck next time around perhaps?
Survival Unit (Swe) “Asshole” CD 2005 Styggelse
In some ways Survival Unit’s rather notorious reputation precedes their actual recorded output, which has mostly been on CDR’s & tapes in limited pressings & on somewhat obscure labels. Yet one of their more widely available releases would be their 7”ep “One Man’s War/ No Surrender” issued on StateArt back in 2000. Of that vinyl’s two tracks, both were stunning example of aggressive, politically motivated power electronics, where “One Man’s War” is surely a contender for a modern classic for the genre. Anyway with high expectations based on the strength of that release (& having not heard their debut vinyl LP “Continuity” released via Steinklang Industries in 2005), comes this rather obscure CD. Although no label is listed on this CD cover (2 screen printed cards within a plastic sleeve), nor was any promo material issued with it, from what information I could glean from the web, this appears to be a private edition item as a ‘sister’ release to their “Honest Reliable Trustworthy” 7”ep (also on Styggelse). So, with the supreme quality of the aforementioned StateArt 7”ep I must again admit that I had extremely high expectation for this CD. Yet in actuality what is presented is a rather bland slab of experimental noise & with 5 tracks just short of 50 minutes means that each piece in on the rather lengthy side. Another disappointment is that no vocals are present, nor are any prominent dialogue samples to be found, which is of particular shame given they were such a highlight of the StateArt 7”ep. So cutting to the chase, the first of the five untitled tracks starts off promising enough with some extremely deep & rumbling bass tones that cut in & out, as if being fed through a guitar delay pedal. Scatter noise textures makes a later appearance with increased volume to progress the minimal movement of the piece. Track 2 uses rather crude static noise blasts as the main focal aspect, whilst further squelching bass tones round out the lower tonal spectrum, before the whole track degenerates into a mass of rumbling sub bass experimentations. Track 3 is the shortest piece at less then 4 minutes, opting for a free form high end pulsing static, which clearly alludes to improvised experimentation, given that any pre planned structure is entirely non existent. Track 4 commences as a headache inducing affair, due to the piercing high pitched frequencies, however settles down into more listenable* territory with mid ranged scatter gun pulsing distortion (* when it comes to industrial/ noise/ power electronics etc, the term ‘listenable’ is completely subjective & possibly an entirely flawed description!). The final 14 minute track deviates little from the preceding tracks, opting for a loosely based pulsing feedback, with various static textures & layers ranging from mid toned, through to skull piercingly intense. To sum up, my real issue with this is that the tracks are rather messy and unfocused, seeming to be the result of random improvisations & experimentations then the result of a planned composition process. This is OK for what it is & if it were not a Survival Unit release it might not have had the difficulty of living up to my high expectations. But it all come back to fact that Survival Unit have already shown the ability to release high calibre material, of which this is unfortunately not.
NOTE: There actually seems to be a bit of confusion regarding this release and whether it is a bootleg of Survival Unit and/ or material from another group altogether (Burning Star Core) being passed off as Survival Unit.
Tarmvred (Swe) ”Subfusc” CD 2001 Ad Noiseam
With bleak looking cover art that to me would suggest a dark ambient project, Tarmvred’s debut is far removed from this perception, and likewise hailing from Sweden, I can say that I was not at all expecting an album mixing some furious rhythmic industrial/noise elements with heavy techno club oriented breaks. Sounds like an unusual mix? Well, with extended song formats (most tracks run 10 minutes of longer) Tarmvred have create a diversely complex and deeply engaging album. With the tracks often commencing slowly, they gradually hit their stride over drawn out introductory sections, before launching headlong into slamming beats and breaks. But not to give the impression that is all about these breaks vying for supremacy (as one overlaps another), it is the other elements of minor key oriented tunes and snippets of blasting static and noise (playing out their respective parts), that really gives rise to the originality of this release. While continually tangenting off throughout the compositions, the album rarely degenerates into an uncoordinated mess, rather, skilfully traversing a knifes edge of strict structure and freeform improvisation which makes it all the more an inspired and energetic listen. With each track forging its own identify within the broad confines of the album (and I do mean BROAD!), it only highlights the diversity – with one track even incorporating a sample of some lush female vocals. Maximising the format, the album runs right up to the outer edge at 73 minutes, and of the seven tracks in total, it is the last one on offer that is credited as being a remix by Converter, who has tackled the album’s fourth track (and as for this remix, Converter does a fine job of creating a sometimes minimalistic, but more often then not harsh and whip lashing version to round out this furious album). A grand album indeed and I’m sure the new-ish label Ad Noiseam would be rather chuffed with having this group on their roster considering this album could have easily slotted into the roster of one of a few larger rhythmic industrial oriented labels.
Tarmvred (Swe) ”Onomatopoeic” 3”CDr 2001 Ad Noiseam
For those who can’t get enough of this new Swedish project, this limited 3″ CDr (read: 75 copies) was released in unison with the debut CD (reviewed above), but showcases a different side to the project – that of a less harsh sound, with cleaner more straight forward structure. Likewise the only track by Tarmvred proper is the title track, as the other three are essentially remixes of Tarmvred’s material (undertaken by other artists). Title track is a pure rhythmic industrial/techno piece containing multiple cascading beat sequences is a relatively fast paced offering, chopping and changing throughout. Generally staying on a straight track direction wise, late in the track it shifts into a great section of trance techno complete with female vocals, stretching the track to over 10 minutes in length. Aural Blasphemy’s remix of ”E.C.W” is a muffled and suffocating version that (almost) obliterates the beat oriented structures to create a great rhythmic death industrial vibe. Any Future up next tackle a remix of ”Amfetakrom”, positively morphing the track into texturally harsh piece of part drone and part rhythm. Last remix is a track called ”Mourning” overhauled by Digidroid into a rather eyebrow raising and very club friendly piece consisting of clean beats, female vocals and melodious programming (totally unexpected but very nice indeed). Probably too limited to get any wide recognition, this is still a nice accompaniment to the full length by showcasing some alternate sounds of Tarmvred.
Teresa 11 (Jpn) “Smokey Heaven” CD 2005 Eibon Records
Certainly an unusual collage of influence and styles on this one, being a quirky melange of modern pop culture elements filtered though a traditional Japanese musical perspective. With beat/ rhythm programming that nods to trip hop luminaries Portisehead & further underscored with traditional percussion, classical music melodies & the liberal use of a harp, this certainly carves a niche all of its own. Yet the slow to mid paced tracks are ultimately completed with sultry & moody female vocals that evoke a decadent lounge bar atmosphere throughout. Late album track ‘The End of Smokey Days’ unfortunately lifts a little too heavily from the sound of Massive Attack ‘Mezzanine’ album, so whilst a good tracks, looses points for the blatant rip-off factor. Given the album’s style & sound may be somewhat focused towards more commercial oriented scenes (that are not generally associated with Eibon Records), there are numerous experimental elements at play throughout which would make this far too difficult a listen for pop music tuned ear. Teresa 11 do wear elements of their influences on their sleeve, but with some individualised quirks have created a different and interesting album to say the least.
Terra Sancta (Aus) ”Anno Domini” mCD 2002 self released
For a bit of brief background information, this professionally pressed mCD represents a re-recorded and re-mastered version of Terra Santa’s debut demo CDr – and who are Terra Sancta you ask? Well they may be rather obscure, but this lack of current profile does not negate the high quality coming from this Australian dark ambient project. When I first heard the original CDr version of this back in 2000, I was amply surprised by the quality and maturity of the project, but at that stage did comment that while there was no complaint with the sound and production, that a good bit of mastering work would assist in evolving it from great to brilliant. Well, with none other then Phil Easter of Malignant Sound Technologies (the studio offshoot of Malignant Records) having been enlisted to re-master this recording, it has had the result as I expected – the breadth and depth of sound has been expanded into wide screen, cinematic proportions! As for the actual music of Terra Sancta, it suitably aligns itself with the early to mid 90s sound of the infamous Cold Meat Industry label, by taking its cues from stunning acts such as Raison d’Être and Desiderii Marginis. Yet this is not so much as a criticism of plagiarism rather an indicator of the depth and maturity that has been created on this re-release of the first official recording. Three lengthy tracks span the 32 minutes of music mixing sparse textural soundscapes, deathly drawn out keyboard melodies and smatterings of sampled (predominantly female) choir vocals. Depth and sparseness of sound is used positively as a compositional element, particularly noteworthy when a sorrowful (sampled) tune of a middle eastern instrument rises briefly out of the depressive undercurrent of the first piece ”Desert Earth”. Late in the piece the sparse textural elements take on track’s moniker, with the aura being akin to searing desert winds whipping up a blinding sandstorm. Second track ”The Infinite Lurking” is not as gentle as the tile may suggest, commencing calmly with muti-layered choir vocals prior to fierce mid ranged layers arcing into the composition (illustrating the final death throws perhaps?). Things do calm down again, but only very briefly before massive drawn out keyboard drones/catatonic melody commandingly stride into contention and remain for the majority of the piece. A middle eastern flavour is again apparent on ”Lithified” with (again sampled) wind instrument melody that gives way to a mid ranged slow keyboard tune that evokes a distant mournful aura around it (also set against sounds of slowly dripping water and other assorted field type recordings). It is good to finally see a growing number of Australian acts working in the obscurer aspects of dark experimental music, and to highlight that Terra Sancta are producing compositions of a world class standard, I can announce that they have been snapped up by Malignant Records to release their official full length debut “Aeon” (hopefully) before the end of 2002. In the mean time it would be well worth your time to contact sole member Greg Good to snap up a copy of this official, yet limited mCD re-pressing. Highly recommended.
Terra Sancta (Aus) “Aeon” 2004 Malignant Records
After a self released MCD from a few years back, ‘Aeon’ arrives as the debut full length for Australian project Terra Sancta. Whilst the ‘Anno Domini’ MCD took its cues from such artists Raison d’Être & Desiderii Marginis, ‘Aeon’ is far more accomplished in forging its own individualised sound. As is visually illustrated on the stunning cover artwork, the album encapsulates a baron, desolate & windswept sonic environment. With its skilful use of a dynamic ebb & flow technique, coupled with cascading waves of sound, a multi layed dark ambient framework is effortlessly constructed. The resultant music is engagingly sparse, expansive & sonically dense in equal measures. Likewise, when appreciating ‘Aeon’ through headphones the album really takes on epic, widescreen proportions. Certainly a more atmospheric beast then its predecessor this is an album that can easily stand on its own, but likewise aligns comfortably with the works of label mate Yen Pox. In a word – recommended.
Terroritmo (Ita) “Premonitions” CD 2005 Hau Ruk
‘Premonitions’ is the forth release for Terroritmo & forms a conceptual release, focusing on: a) the realities perceived between sleeping & awakened states, & b) interpretations of the symbolism inherit within various dreams. Interestingly the sleeve notes indicate that some potions of tracks were recording immediately after waking in an attempt to capture the essence of preceding dream, whilst others were recorded in the small hours in an endeavour to move close to a sleep induced state. Armed with an extensive list of instruments (traditional, home made & found objects) Terroritmo set about to achieve their aims, with the resultant musical explorations presenting an album of quite old school ritualistic experimental atmospheres. Dissonant percussive rhythms, tribal beats, hazy electronic whines & chanted vocals all congregate in loose semi-improvisational patterns. On one hand the more subtle tracks work rather well in appropriating the lucidity of a nightmarish dreamscapes, whilst the heavier percussive pieces alternately move towards a tribal industrial sphere. Across 8 tracks & 62 minute passage of time, Terroritmo have created an interesting album, certainly commendable, but unfortunately not essential listening.
Toroidh (Swe) “Europe is Dead” CD 2002 Cold Spring Records
Toroidh return with the second instalment of their “European Trilogy” with “Europe is Dead” following on from the debut CD “those who do not remember the past are condemned to repeat it”. Whilst the first instalment contained a mixture of brooding dark ambience, military percussion and neo-classical sampling, “Europe is Dead” follows a similar path to the debut, but here sees the introduction of neo-folk elements. And I would have to say that from my perspective it is through the use of the acoustic guitars and clean sung vocals, that the sound of Toroidh is all the stronger for this added diversity. Presented in 8 parts, track 1 is an introductory piece containing sampled orchestral tune intermixed with brooding undercurrent and era speeches to create an aura of the early decades of the 20th Century. While the heavy brooding vibe at the start of track 2 does not abate for the track’s length, it is lightened somewhat by the neo-folk elements of slow strummed guitar and morose commanding vocals. Tracks 3 and 4 are tracks that really bridge one to the next, containing sections of dense neo classically tinged ambience that at times brings to mind the French project Les Joyeaux De La Princesse (which can really only be a compliment). The 5th piece arrives as a lengthy 17 minute passage, with the middle section again showcasing a fantastic neo-folk sound, using acoustic guitars, stately percussion and a vocals which chant a chorus of “lead us to war, lead us to battle, lead us to victory. lead us to peace” (later sections of this track return to a brooding martial industrial/ neo-classical sound and not too far removed from the early works of Der Blutharsch). Another highlight of the disc is the 6th track that reverts to a neo-folk style using an acoustic guitar offset with booming timpani percussion, whilst track 7 contains a passage of muffled orchestral sounds, propaganda speeches and marching drums. As for the cover the simplistic but stylishly designed digipack contains a central cross created from the images of four eagles heads rotating in a clockwise direction, and by virtue being printed in murky black and grey tones it suits the atmosphere of the disc perfectly. Lastly after hearing the progression from the debut, Toroidh is a project to watch out for, particularly as the final instalment of the trilogy (“Testament”) should have already been released.
Turbund Sturmwerk (Ger) / Inade (Ger) ”Peryt Shou” LP 2003 Loki Foundation
This being the second instalment in the Germania Occulta series (as with the first), is one of those items worth its price for packaging alone. Being housed in delux gatefold cover and with stunning 24 page/ 10” size booklet, you will need to move quickly to secure one of these 1110 copies (555 copies in red vinyl or 555 copies in black vinyl). Quoting from the promo sheet, the subject of this release is: “the German occultist Peryt Shou, one of the most important German esoteric authors in the 20th century. During the past eighty years many considerable spirit/border scientists professed themselves to Peryt Shous Astro-Logos-doctrine and quoted his writings”. The blurb goes to further describe: “Turbund Sturmwerk and Inade present ethereal monumental tunes which begin to work in spheres where an omnipresent darkness turns to deepest beauty. This is a masterpiece of the two exceptional projects and a certification for the serious interest to take the attempt of connecting meta cosmic knowledge with music into sounding forms”. Can’t argue with that now can you?! Anyway, Turbund Sturmwerk’s side presents an esoteric slant on slow morphing orchestral manipulations. With a minimal hint of melody and structure, the mood slowly swells with the inclusion of each new layer, culminating in a female voice reciting what seems to be a spiritual evocation. This section slowly shifts off into the next musical segment consisting of an understated piano/ organ dirge that builds into a slow orchestral piece, complete with distant tympani percussion. Third and final segment for Turbund Sturmwerk is the most experimental, built on distant forlorn orchestral elements and manipulated German female voice samples, creating an subdued yet quite unnerving dark ambient affair. Overall Turbund Sturmwerk’s contributions are slightly different and certainly more freeform and low key then I expected, but then again I guess the project has managed to be rather eclectic in sound over their three albums and various compilation appearances. As for Inade’s side, I cannot think of another group that has continually flawed me with each new musical track, with ‘:kwa-non-sch:’ (a 17 minute awe inspiring musical journey), being no exception. Likewise encompassing an album’s worth of ideas, Inade manage to incorporate this seamlessly and effortlessly into a single composition. Teetering on the edge of the spiralling corkscrew vortex, the track quickly sucks the listener deep into its inner recesses, only for it to expand out into a rather urgent passage of dark ambience consisting a deep rhythmic pulse, muted orchestral tones and reverb treated speech sample. The mid section of the track moves towards an archaic tribal percussive sound (as the background textures writhe and heave), yet in entering the home stretch, a serene sense of calm takes over with distant choir vocals and slow, looped drones to gradually draw the composition to a concussion. Does dark ambient get better then this?! ….for the majority of dark ambient projects the answer is a resounding ‘NO’, but in the case of Inade I’m sure it will with subsequent recordings. Again Loki Foundation have proved their cult status with this release, which from concept, to musical content, to packaging, is beyond essential.
Ulver (Nor) “Perdition City: music to an interior film” CD 2000 Jester Records
Ulver again leap headlong into unknown territory – this time around producing an album that transcends even their previous forays into experimental and electronica sounds. With regard to the title and suggested listening environment (“This is music for the stations before and after sleep. Headphones and darkness recommended.”), the album has managed to capture the essence and ultimate soullessness of the city in the small hours after the stroke of midnight. ‘Perdition City’ is by all means a bleak and lonely journey through some unnamed city (possibly located in the recesses of the subconscious?), that has been splendidly evoked through a range of sounds and instruments – both real and synthetic (washes of sounds, cold programmed beats, kit drumming, city field recordings, morose synth textures, treated guitars, saxophones, string quartet etc). Compositions likewise range from those with clear musical structure, through to others that are non musical and experimental, yet even when bypassing standard song formats the whole album is an awesome aural journey to be revelled in. With the introductory crunchy beats and rumbling bass of the opener ‘ Lost in Moments’, the composition shifts along with piano movement, understated vocals and background field recordings of city noise. Later on the use of a wailing saxophone brings to mind the vibe and mood of the darkly surreal motion picture ‘The Lost Highway’, particularly referencing the scenes where the main character is performing the said instrument in a nightclub setting (and the more I think of it ‘The Lost Highway’ would be a rather apt visual counterpart to the whole album). Strings, piano, guitar noodlings, fractured beats and clean vocals are the choice on ‘porn piece of the scars of cold kisses’, becoming progressively overtaken by programming and electronica noise. Piano, programming and myriad of beats are again used on the instrumental ‘hallways of always’, which for me would seem to be acknowledging the style of the fantastic compositions on DJ Shadow’s ‘Endtroducing’ album, with this comparison also being applicable to the following instrumental track ‘tomorrow never knows’. The haunting blip oriented tune, slow piano movement and choppy break beats of ‘the future sounds of music’ is magnificent and a highlight of the disc – particularly when it cuts back in the middle section, only to let fly with pounding (kit) drumming and rumbling guitar/ bass tune. Other tracks such as ‘We are the dead’ and ‘dead city centres’ opt for a soundscape/ experimental style, with the later piece using a monologue and semi jazz-oriented musical backing that brings to mind a 50’s era “detective in a dangerous city” type vibe. For the final cut, ‘nowhere/ catastrophe’ resembles the most straight forward song composition of the album with mid paced meandering piano tune, kit drumming, bass, guitar and clean vocals – which only drives home the twisted diversity of the remainder of the material. If you have any prior notion of what this group is about, leave behind all prior exceptions when approaching this and prepare to marvel (yet again) at the immense musical prowess that Ulver possess.
Ulver (Nor) “silence teaches you how to sing: ep” MCD 2001 Jester Records
Limited to an edition of 2000, I believe that this ep was released as a musical counterpart of an art exhibition of photographic images captured by main group member ‘G’ (aka ‘Garm’ aka ‘Trickster G’ aka ‘Christophorus R. Rygg’ aka whatever…), with a number of these images being reproduced on the CD sleeve. Additionally, despite the cover spine containing a statement “absence and presence for the connoisseur only” (or is this a veiled warning…), I feel that the group have already and MORE then adequately shaken up the public’s expectations and perceptions of what Ulver is about, thus making such warnings and statements a mute point. Anyway, contained herein is a single track clocking in at around 24 minutes, however the actual piece consists of snippets of compositions and conceptual soundscapes all spliced and melded together (and could this release perhaps be viewed as the musical interpretations of the individual images that form the above mentioned art exhibition?). First segment driven by a low key brooding atmosphere, it includes the presence of ample static (not harsh though), later merging into a distant sounding semi-composed drawling (clean) guitar tune. With reference to the next segment (that arrives at around the 5 minute mark), the melancholic beauty & simplicity of the piano/ bass guitar tune (complimented with washes of electronic noise), is simply stunning and a highlight passage of this ep. Continuing on, one of the mid sections occasionally verges on experimental dark ambience due to the utilisation of a lap top computer type glitch aesthetic, and with some low keyed non-vocal chants it surely is alluding to the ep’s title. With G’s professed appreciation of Coil, this is certainly becoming increasingly evident with the scattered and schizophrenic yet darkly hypnotic moods evoked drawing parallels with the experimentalism of the aforementioned legendary group. Likewise some of the semi composed musical noodlings towards the end of the ep bring to mind the eccentric and quirky compositional works of fellow Norwegian artist (and now label mate) When. I have read one review of this which stated that it sounds like outtakes of the ‘Perdition City’ recordings (due to being less ‘song’ based in structure), but in my opinion this ep inhabits an entirely different spectrum of sounds and ideas. Working positively as a excellent piece of musical experimentation (despite all segments being sandwiched within the 1 digital track) this is by all means worth your time it if you have been continually enthralled with Ulver’s artistic creativity and musical evolution.
Various Artists (Wld) “AudioArt Compilation 02” CD 2005 Grunrekorder
Clearly inhabiting the more academic end of experimental music, this compilation is primarily concerned with music theories relating to field recordings. The liner notes contain a lengthy text showcasing a solid grounding in compositional theory, evidenced by the following quote: “Gruenrekorder examines the possibilities of musical perception in the fields of sound, aesthetics and society. This compilation combines raw uncut and cut field recordings with electronic, instrumental and material arrangements. Two modes of composition seem to oppose each other: clippings from reality verses organised sound. What difference does it make?”. The cover continues with a lengthy analysis of the overall theme, which taken holistically is as important and interesting as the music itself.
19 tracks spanning 70 minutes are presented on the CD, featuring 11 artists of whom none I am familiar with (the greater majority seem to be from Germany though). As with some academic sound experimentation releases, the end result is sometimes not entirely engaging, however this compilation suffers no such fate, maintaining focus & interest throughout. In giving a broad impression of this compilation, the subtleties of the various field recordings are evocative & taken in context of the albums ethos, part of the experience is attempting to decipher if the tracks are raw & uncut or have been tweaked in the studio. On the other hand, the remaining tracks are clearly the product of experimental composition & of these there are quite a number of gems for the discovery (hint: the tracks from Martin Moritz, Suspicion Breeds Confidence & Ohrginal get my vote!). Without simply listing all contributing artists (you can always point your browser in the direction of the label’s site if your sufficiently intrigued!), this is solidly grounded compilation that commendably merges experimental theory with overall focus & of greatest importance – listenability.
Various Artists (Wld) “A Final Testimony: Sekuencias de Culto Compilation” DCD 2004 Hau Ruck
Released to commemorate the 12 years of activities and subsequent termination of the former print / later web publication ‘Sekuencias de Culto’, it contains a stellar collection of tracks from the broad dark ambient, industrial, power electronics, dark folk & neo-classical scenes. CD1 focuses on the dark ambient, industrial, power electronics tangents and includes classy contributions from: Operation Cleansweep, IRM, Inade, Raison D’etre, Herbst9 & Wolfskin (other featured artists are: Tore Honore Boe, Propergol, Thorofon, ICK & Svartisinn). Alternately CD2 showcases dark folk & neo-classical oriented groups with noteworthy tracks from: Tribe of Circle, Toroidh, Karnnos, Novy Svet & Turbund Sturmwerk (other featured artists are: In Gowan Ring, Hekate, Sieben, Camerata Mediolannense, Instincts & Tore Honore Boe). Packaged in a stunning double gatefold digi-pack with cover booklet, this is an excellent overview compilation of the underground music scenes that S.D.C appreciated & promoted throughout their career.
Various Artists (Wld) “Chamber” CD 2003 Cold Spring Records
Rather then a proper compilation, this CD is a budget priced sampler that showcases some of current talent amassed on the Cold Spring roster. So after perusing the track listing, it appears that the majority of the tracks have either already been released on recent Cold Spring albums or otherwise will be included on upcoming albums. For those wanting a compilation of exclusive material I guess you will be disappointed, but then again the budget priced ethic should be encouragement enough to allow you to sample the sounds of some artists you may have not otherwise checked out. Notwithstanding, there is one exclusive track included, being the final ever recording from the now defunct Folkstorm (recorded by the project in July, 2001). Having a low fi pulsating sound “Hail the Queen” contains some fantastic processed vocals, and whilst the track is obviously power electronics, it more seething and subdued then other Folkstorm offerings. As for the remainder of the tracks, rather then reviewing each track individually, the sampler spans genres of neo-classical, heavy electronics, dark ambient and martial industrial, and although varied in sound is a surprisingly strong collection of tracks from the artists featured. Projects showcased include: Ignus Fatuus, Mark Snow (yes the X-Files music composer), Laibach, Endvra, Novatron, Bain of Pain, Benedikt Middler (composer of the “Necromantik” soundtrack), Schloss Tegal, Von Thronstahl, Toroidh, Sleep Research Facility, The Days of the Trumpet Call, Kerovnian and A Challenge of Honour. Final comment?: with the price, content and stylish gatefold card sleeve, this is a recommended release.
Various Artists (Wld) ”First” CD 2001 Operative Records
Being the debutante release for this new UK based label, it incidentally is run by a collective of artists of which many (if not all?) are featured on this compilation. AntiChildLeague are first off the starting blocks, being a project of Gaya Donadio – organiser of London’s Hinoeuma Malediction monthly live industrial night. ”Germ of Decay” as AntiChildLeague’s offering, presents a seething power/heavy electronics sound where I am somewhat reminded of Anenzephalia’s approach. Here the slow caustic noise manipulations and loops intertwine with well placed samples creating an impressive track that has pricked up my interest in hearing the further evolution of this project. Alternately, Leisurehive inhabit a more traditional ‘industrial band’ type sound, but as this scene has never really been my forte, their track sounds much like many other slow moody pieces of this genre. Knifeladder on the other hand present an absolutely storming track in the form of ”hymn”. Incessant rolling percussion woven into a framework of droning/static noise, tortured vocal wails and rumbling bass, made all the more eerie with the use of a what sounds like a snake charmers flute. After hearing the strength of this offering I can’t wait for the full length CD. With a similar moniker, the group Knives present a track ”Lights Out” which sounds not much more then an improvised jam, or better still, what you would expect to hear from a band at the conclusion of a live set (not something I would rate personally though). Ruse on their piece ”N.Y.Cd” create and aura that spans clinical sounding experimental electronics through to a dark ambient tone that is very nice indeed. But moving on, ”Angel” (being Shining Vril’s piece) is far more avant-garde then what I have previously heard from the ritualistic project – here utilising a melange of chimes, percussion, scattered sounds, harmonic/ disharmonic sound and trippy vocalisations. Next artist up Emblem, on their piece ”Azazel” use a slow shifting soundscape of environmental recordings and synth layers, that slightly reminds me of Contrastate (or even Current 93 in their more experimental guise), but this perception has more to do with the prominent poetic spoken vocals used throughout. Here the track remains sullen and introspective until a sampled speech and orchestral track are feed into the mix to bring the track to an intense conclusion. The comically titled Muffpunch showcase ”An Air of Random Menace”, which accommodates a muffled wall of noise sound, however with its rough structure and obliterated vocals also leans towards a power electronics sound. Damn aggressive stuff but probably a bit too muffled in production for my liking though. Naevus are entirely different to the other tracks of the compilation given their track embodies a apocalyptic folk sound, and although a nice brooding piece of acoustic guitar, bass, synthesisers and understated male vocals, the lyrical content has me somewhat bemused (if you don’t know what I mean listen to the opening lines!). On the other hand dark sonic experimentalist Andrew Liles, forges a slow morphing slab of sound on ”A Certain Step” that has a clinical ambience to its shimmering sounds and although a touch different (i.e. more subdued) to the live set I saw in March 2002, it is nonetheless a promising piece. Final compilation track ”Pure Code” comes courtesy of antivalium, arriving as a static riddled slab of noise that is almost orchestral in its scope and intensity. Here it is the crystalline production along with the forever changing direction of the track that makes it such an intense listen. Being a compilation that presents a diverse range of (currently) London based artists, it is also worthy to mention the packing given this housed in a unusual frosted case, creating something different to the standard jewelcase format.
Various Artitsts (Wld) ”Heilige Feuer” CD 2001 Der Angriff
With a release that has been issued to commemorate the first ever industrial festival in Russia (“Heilige Feuer” held in St Petersburg on 9 December, 2000), each of the performing artists at the festival have subsequently contributed two exclusive tracks for this compilation (which is incidentally housed in a nice oversized cardboard booklet sleeve). Sal Solaris being a Russian project is the first artist up on the CD and manage to impress quite heavily. Whilst Sal Solaris may inhabit a dark ambient style, they present it with a tense, evocative edge via the compositions contains a slow, dense (and often pulsing rhythmic) undercurrent, including the occasional outburst of harsher metallic textures. Disembodied vocal chants in track 1 likewise affix a spiritual edge to proceedings and to an extent the overall sound and direction begs a comparison with Inade. Very promising overall. While Deutsch Nepal may have relatively silent with new tracks over the past few years, here the one and only Lina Baby Doll returns with two solid tracks. ”Chatrine 1 (From Above)”, being the first track, consists of a hallucinogenic blend of drawn out syth textures, background sound loops and repetitive (again looped) tribal hand percussion – quality stuff. ”Drugmother” on the other hand is quite bizarre even by Lina’s standards. With a more militant edge due to the slow snare percussion and shrill sound loops (likewise offset against an aggressive introductory vocal sample), the track sees Lina presenting vocals in full singing style. Whilst vocals may have never played a huge role within Deutsch Nepal, the commanding yet morose drawl of the delivery on this piece works well and certainly does suit the overall atmosphere of the song. It now just has me wondering what the next Deutsch Nepal CD will offer if this piece is any indication! As for the next artist, I have noted that when Albin is removed from the shackles of presenting tracks within the context of a full length album, that his compilation tracks are often quite different and often quite quirky – with the first Der Blutharsch track being no exception. If your wondering exactly what I mean, just listen to ”Untitled 1” which is a hyped up and mostly programmed ‘spaghetti western’ styled jig of a song! Basically I would challenge most fans to pick this as a Der Blutharsch track if they were not told otherwise, and on first listen I actually found myself checking the track order to confirm this was in fact Der Blutharsch! Alternately the second untitled piece is more along the lines of a traditional Der Blutharsch track, however the slow sampled acoustic guitar and sampled chanted choir vocals used through that give the piece a refreshing air to the slow orchestral backing. As for Genocide Organ’s two contributed tracks actually play out more as a single track by containing a slow and relatively quiet introductory passage, then all hell breaking loose in the second half. Commencing with a subdued rumbling soundscape, the mildly processed dialogue samples assist to set the scene (referencing civil disobedience and the struggle for revolution), where at the flick of a switch the track changes into a sadistic power electronics piece. This second bare fisted, white knuckled track ”Comandos” uses a roaring/lurching rhythm as its focal point, where the screamed vocals are entirely obliterated in their distorted delivery (and being just another layer in the chaotic madness). Fantastically aggressive stuff indeed from one of the true masters of power electronics. Into the home stretch another Russian project Reutoff rounds out the disc, with their first track ”The Day I Found Crystal Indian-Dolls” being a death industrial/industrial noise soundscape of evolving semi-orchestral sounds, dialogue samples and tense electric sound textures. Second track ”Sweet Blood” is a tinge more aggressive with static riddled sound loops, dense sound textures and heavy rhythmic percussion that converge to create solidly grating and ominous effect. Again another promising act. On the whole “Heilige Feuer” is a solid compilation containing quality tracks from both well know and otherwise rising projects.
Various Artists (Wld) “Incendium” CD 2003 Loki Foundation
Similar to Cold Spring’s “Chamber” compilation (reviewed above), this is a budget priced sampler compilation, consisting of tracks lifted from current and upcoming releases. The thirteen included tracks have been composed by nine projects, and while the overall sound encompasses wide ranging styles, the CD retains the very characteristic sound of the Loki Foundation label and side label Power and Steel. With contributing projects including: First Law, Turbund Sturmwerk, Predominance, Inade, Herbst9, Bad Sector, Land:Fire, Ex.Order And Virologic (all projects are German based except for the Italian based bad sector), the compositions cover different scenes from dark ambient, heavy electronics, experimental industrial and power electronics. Again whilst there may not be any exclusive material, this release acts a great introduction to the sounds of some projects you may have not had an opportunity to sample before, and to have it said everything that has been released on Loki Foundation thus far had definitely been of worth.
Various Artists (Wld) “Statement 1961” 2xLP, 1 x7”ep & CD 2004 Ironflame
Anyone claiming to be into true ‘industrial’ music should be well aware of http://www.ironflame.de: a site containing an absolute wealth of information regarding underground ‘industrial’ music culture. However, as the site’s information is exclusively presented in German, the extent of depth and breadth of that information remains a frustrating enigma for those who do not have a fluent grasp of this language. Yet despite this potential limitation, the site has nevertheless received a massive 15000 hits a month soon after its inception in January, 2000. But not to be content with limiting their activities to the web alone, ironflame.de collaborators Stefan Schwanke and Taro Torsay conceived this ambitious musical compilation in order to celebrate 4 years of on-line existence. Originally slated to encompass a triple LP box set, ‘statement 1961’ has finally seen the light of day as a conglomerate of formats, ultimately containing a 2 LP’s, 7″ ep & CD. Immaculately presented with stunning graphic layout and design, the 4 panel, double gatefold sleeve is pressed in heavy matt finished cardboard stock, further embellished with spot varnished images. Each musical format is then specially housed within the gatefold sleeve, with the overall cover additionally featuring a 30 page 10″ sized insert booklet. The final result is a release that is a phenomenal feast for both the eyes and ears. The numerous chosen graphics also deserve praise as they have been specifically chosen to brilliantly tie together the overall ‘statement 1961′ concept. Likewise the editors’ inside cover declaration provides a personal explanation of the ‘statement 1961’ concept, whilst highlighting Stefan’s and Taro’s involvement in the Berlin underground. And with reference to that involvement, it spans back to the early 1980’s and represents the primary source of inspiration that lead to the creation of both the ironflame.de website and the ‘statement 1961’ compilation.
But not to focus on the packaging alone, it is evident that the proposed triple LP set was modified during the compiling and ordering process, as a direct response to the breadth of styles and sounds of the submitted tracks. From power electronics, death industrial, dark ambient, heavy electronics, neo folk and neo classical, many facets of underground music are presented here. Or otherwise in the words lifted from the website, ironflame.de covers “industrial, ritual, atonal, difficult, electronic, music”. 32 tracks in all, and all exclusively recorded for this compilation, ‘statement 1961’ represents a supreme collection of tracks from some of the most important artists within the broad ‘industrial’ scene. But before critiquing each of the individual tracks, to give a broad overview the compilation has been broken down into the following: LP 1: power electronics & ritual/ death industrial; LP 2: power electronics, industrial & neo classical; 7″ ep: neo folk; CD: dark ambient, heavy electronics & experimental.
The act who hold the honour of introducing the ‘statement 1961’ set (Side A of LP 1) is none other then Con-Dom with an amazing track ‘Behind the Wall’. Presenting a track of cyclic layered noise, sampled radio broadcasts and confrontational vocals, it is an intensely structured piece that is one of the most sophisticated you will have heard from Mike Dando yet. On the second track a crossing of the Atlantic to the US of A is made, where Slogun presents his trademark sound via the track ‘This is Mine/ Do Nothing’. Although the power electronics sound, may have been done by many groups before (obliterated layers of mid to high end static noise, overlaid with ranted vocals), Slogun ensures he puts an individual stamp on this formula given the intensity of sound achieved, further amplified by the conviction of the vocal delivery. With the third track, Blackhouse round out Side A, here taking a step back from the intensity of the first two power electronic pieces. Their track ‘Why I Love the Theatre So’ presents a death industrial sound (slow morphing soundscapes and mechanical plodding rhythm), which is not that far removed from sound Brighter Death Now produced during the ‘Great Death’ era.
Flipping the first LP over, Side B sees CoCasper present ‘Splitter im Kopf’, a freeform piece of experimental industrial musings, containing washes of sounds, morphing textures and swirling loops. ExOrder follow next and are less harsh then what you might expect from their normal power electronics approach, with their track ‘Death Pulse’ being just that – a solid slab of death industrial music. Here a cavernous, swirling sound production and slow metallic rhythm forms the basis of the piece, as it is slowly twisted and tortured over a five minute expanse. The MZ412 remix of Folkstorm’s ‘Indoktrination’ sinks into murky depths of massive low bass tones, oozing forward at a catatonic pace. As the track progresses sporadic radio voices can be detected, along with random clatter, yet overall the piece comes across sounding like the ritualised black industrial sounds of MZ412 then anything Folkstorm produced in their short but productive career. With the final track for Side B, nEGAPADRES.3.3 showcases an amazing ritual industrial piece ‘Transe of Extropy’. Using looped, shifting/ sweeping tones that ebb and flow throughout, it creates a knife’s edge intensity that acts as a backdrop for a sampled male voice discussing male genital modification.
Moving onto the Side C of LP’s, Sardh’s track ‘Martyr’ is sweeping in its experimental and improvisational structure, that manages to bridge both a dark ambient and death industrial sound, as the lethargic spoken word vocals provide an additional dimension (whilst bringing to mind Genesis P-Orridge’s vocal stylings). On Gerechtigkeits Liga’s track ‘Monofonie’ it strangely contains a sampled and looped rhythm/ beat from an Ice T track, which is further overlaid with noise loops, tribal percussion, vocal chants to create a rough and repetitive ritual industrial piece. Following next is Last Dominion Lost, being a project that features none other then industrial icon John Murphy. Their track ‘Hell to Pay (warts and all)’ encompasses a writhing slab of industrial experimentation, built on a melange of layered static & noise, offset with aggressive vocals that flit in and out of the mix. The last track for Side C is presented by the Grey Wolves + United States of Hell, and is an interesting collaboration given the style is slightly different to the power electronics approach that would normally be associated with the Grey Wolves. On their collaborative track ‘The Writings on the Wall’ it commences with a repetitive guitar riff and percussive industrial loop (both of which remains throughout the duration of the piece), however it the evolution of power electronics styled static noise layers that really builds the intensity of this track.
As a historic document of the mid to late 80’s West-Berlin underground, track 1 of LP side D presents a piece from the long defunct project Stadion der Weltjugend. ‘Fur immer Gropiusstadt’ is this track, encompassing elements of dark ambience and neo classical via mixing sparse soundscape and vocal with morose piano tune and moody synth textures. With the presentation of their untitled track, Der Blutharsch continue a path of quirky martial industrial experimentation which has been characteristic of recent albums. Encompassing a rather uptempo martial jig, the piece utilises ample ethnic percussion, military drumming and solemn synth lines, whilst Albin recites commanding chanting vocals in his trademark style. Up next are the infamous Von Thronstrahl with their track ‘Reisswolf’, which is as strong as any of their bombastic yet sweeping neo classical tracks they have produced in the past. Here stately percussion, majestic synth and piano lines are offset against aggressive vocals stating the track’s title, whilst a female voice informs us “to say in your homes”. Completing Side D of LP 2, Bearer of Inmost Sun offer their piece ‘Letzer Wille’, which is a lengthy lamenting march, containing ingredients of spoken vocals, acoustic guitar, flute, horns and slow martial drumming.
Displaying an immaculate level of stylistic focus in the collation of submitted tracks, the 7″ ep moves away from the harsher industrial sounds of the LP’s, instead encompassing 4 compositions of a neo-folk persuasion. Of the Wand and Moon (featuring Niels Ronne) opens the 7”ep with a fantastic piece, whilst also taking the opportunity to refute prior unsubstantiated accusations (via the use of an introductory sample that states “I have nothing to do with nazi”). The track itself is a slow strummed acoustic number, including flute, chime percussion, chanted/ spoken/ sampled voices and unobtrusive layered noise, all amassing to evoke the groups trademark morose and reflective sound. Hekate continue the acoustic vibe on ‘Heimfahrt’, yet contain a sound that is far more folk oriented then martial oriented. Here a strong male German voice takes the vocal lead, as the music is built on a bitter sweet acoustic guitar melody underscored with synth layers and percussion.
Flipping to side B of the 7″, English group Lady Morphia present a beautiful, yet all too short instrumental guitar piece ‘A Faustian Winter’ that continues a traditional folk type aura. The last of the four neo folk tracks on the 7” comes courtesy of Belborn. Here the track contains a hefty undercurrent of intense neo-classical synth layers, with main acoustic guitar tune and strong male vocal lead (presented in the German tongue).
Moving onto the last series of tracks, these quieter and more introspective tracks have been compiled more appropriately on the CD format, resulting in a dark ambient monolith of a disc. Bad Sector kicks of this collection, and as always, whatever Massimo produces is of stunning quality. Trademark shifting tones, slow morphing harmonic layers, mild rhythmic elements and sampled voices (spoken/ chanted) are all interwoven to create Bad Sector’s ‘Receptor (Mix02)’. Apoptose follow next presenting a solid, semi harmonic piece that is far more minimalist then their CD’s would suggest. This is particularly highlighted given their track ‘137Cs’ has a deep space type resonance, evoked through the slow shifting glacial tones. Keeping with the universal theme, S.E.T.I’s track ‘Found Failure’, is a swirling vortex of hollow reverberations, that amass in intensity as the piece progresses (likewise utilising sampled radio voices). Steadily being drawn into the deeper recesses of the universe, Predominance’s track ‘Quantum Statics’ is atmospheric as much as it is intense. Monumental in its sonic breadth, the spoken vocals act as a perfect accompaniment to the morphing soundscape. Asmorod equally impress on their piece ‘Metal Sea’, particularly due to the crystalline sonic clarity of the mutli-layered textures, constituting the best ritual dark ambience to be heard in some time. On ‘Traces of Material’ Schloss Tegal bring to the fore a sinister and engaging track of cavernous dark ambience, yet is followed by one of the most interesting pieces of the entire compilation, namely ‘Formative01:Jurgen Bartsch’ by P.A. Browse. Stunning in its sound and concept, a field recording of a rain soaked city is overlaid with haunting choir vocals and slow plucked orchestral tune. Musically brilliant, the male vocals arrive in narrative form, describing an utterly bleak and loveless scene from a family Christmas as seen through the eyes of Jurgen Bartsch as a child (who in later life became a child murderer). On a musical level quite beautiful, yet utterly desolate on the inference of the narrated story. Continuing on, the long established group Autopsia offer a dark and moody neo-classical type track that reminds somewhat of the Twin Peaks theme song. With a sinister tinged melody at the forefront, Autopsia’s piece is further animated with programmed percussive beats, ensuring that the atmosphere differs slightly from a strict neo-classical sound. Reutoff the Russian group that have been garnering positive attention of late, contribute a hallucinogenic mix of dark ambient and muted neo classical textures (tense synth layers, heavy grating percussion and choir voices fleshing out the piece appropriately). In modifying musical approach ‘Double Border/ Reignited Bioreaktor’ by Sigillium S returns to an experimental industrial guise. Here the sweeping textural sounds take on an almost orchestral quality, additionally highlighted through the semi-melodious outbursts. Yet interest is further heightened with the introduction of the slow rhythmic cut up breaks that expand the overall breadth of the piece. Normally associating Thorofon with the power electronics scene, their track ‘Not Unlike Morbid Blood’ is far removed from this, being a fantastic mix of neo classical and death industrial sounds. With sampled orchestral layers and slow lurching rhythm, the total sickening vibe is completed with morbidly delivered spoken vocals. Veering into more experimental territory, Illusion of Safety present their clinical piece ‘Ground Once’. Clips, pops and mild static are amalgamated into a composition that moves from being minimalist though to quite noisy and extroverted. In quickly progressing towards the conclusion of ‘statement 1961’, Ultra provides the final track with their contribution ‘La Reunion’. Probably surprising to some, the track is an unusual piece of experimental industrial sounds, with a sampled conversation between a man and young girl acting as the central focus (and whilst the voices are not in English I suspect their use implies some sinister or nasty intent….).
To provide one last declaration regarding ‘statement 1961’, it must be said that from conception, to musical collation, to graphic design and to final packaging presentation, this is simply a landmark release that works stunningly as a collector’s item and functionally as a supreme collection of tracks. Statement 2004? Asserting that the ‘statement 1961’ compilation is anything less then mandatory would be a blatant understatement.
Various Artists (Wld) “Swarm – A Cold Spring Records Sampler” CD 2006 Cold Spring Records
Cold Spring Records should need no introduction: they the cult UK purveyors of quality underground post industrial sounds, but if they remain an unknown quantity don’t let a mere technicality put you off. Consisting of a double disc sampler of exclusive tracks, ‘Swarm’ has the ability to appeal in a twofold manner: for those whom are already a fan of the label, it will wet the appetite for tracks from current artists as well as new talent on the label: yet for those unfamiliar with Cold Spring it is a perfect introduction to the stellar roster of artists. A huge array of sounds are captured here: the neo-classical bombast of Kreuzweg Ost, Shinjuku Thief, Fredrik Klingwall, Kriegsfall-U, A Challenge of Honour & H.E.R.R: the experimental electronics of Andrew Liles, & John Watermann; the harsh noise/ power electronics of Merzbow/ Nordvargr, Deadwood & Goatvargr, the political tinged heavy industrial sounds of Clear Stream Temple: the death industrial tones of Sistrenatus, the neo-folk ethos of Bleiburg, Von Thronstahl, & Werkraum: the ritual industrial tones of Zos Kia: and finally the vast array of expansive dark ambient spheres of Necropolis, Sleep Research Facility, TENHORNEDBEAST & Schloss Tegal. Barely doing justice to the quality and scope of this release, given it is merely a who’s who of the featured artists, yet if your interest is at least provoked surely this is an opportunity to discover many a gem that spans the two discs.
Vidna Obmana (Bel) ”Tremor” CD 2001 Release Entertainment
Much the same as with Robert Rich, I have heard quite a bit about Vidna Obmana over the years, but have actually heard very few of the many CD releases he has had out to date. Regardless, Vidna Obmana remains a well respected solo artist who is more then positively renowned for evocative ethno-ambient tracks, with more of his complex tribal ambience forming the foundation of this release. Built on a base of synthetic mid paced tribal programming, this overlaid with textural sound layers in order create a warm enveloping sound, that although quite composed overall, retains a dreamy, floating air about it. Complex layering in an evolving style is basically the key here, with sound layers being both organic and synthetic in origin. For instance there are those which can easily be picked as being programmed from a synthesiser, as can those which are organic, and with regard to the later it would appear that various types of woodwind instruments have been utilised to positive effect. And although not ‘orchestral’ in the true sense of the word, the synth layers could be described as being classically tinged given their replication of drawn out and droning string sounds. Other real instrumentation that appears within the mix, is that of a semi-composed guitar tunes, but the guitar is not at all as a lead instrument, but rather in the form of yet another reverberating element to the build depth and breadth of the track. Despite containing 11 tracks in total, there is a singular direction and atmosphere that floats through the consciousness of the compositions, each track interlacing with the previous and following track to create a continual evolution of the ethno oriented atmospheres. By and large this is a quality release that while not specifically dark, encompasses a bleak aura in a warm enveloping guise.
Virologic (Ger) ”[[[Bugged]]]” 3” mCD 2002 Power & Steel (via Loki Foundation)
First up it is worth noting that Virologic is actually a side project of German heavy electronics/ dark ambient group Predominance. As for this release the concept is based on the construction, deconstruction and corruption of sounds when processed and encoded through a computer program medium – hence the title “[[[bugged]]]”. With respect of the actual music here the single 18 minute track is presented as a slow evolving piece of glitched ambience. Loops, digital textures and subtle waves of sound are the predominant aural palate, but have been composed and collated in such a way as it sounds much more engaging then mere sound experimentation for the sake of itself alone. Overall an interesting snippet of music but I wonder how well it would hold up if it spanned a whole album? Limited to 500 copies.
Von Thronstrahl (Ger) ”E Pluribus Unum” CD 2001 Cold Spring Records
This being the second CD for Von Thronstrahl, it may not be as focused as the debut, however there is good reason for this, essentially lying in the fact that this CD is not an album proper, rather a collection of material lifted from previous compilation CDs, limited vinyl releases and other assorted re-mixes and unreleased tracks. Likewise not as overtly bombastic as its predeceasing album, this is also related to the general periods that these tracks were composed and recorded. ”Bells” opens the CD (being a reworking of the main riff from legendary Australian rock band AC/DC’s song ”Hells Bells”) coming across quite well, with stately percussion, guitars and of course a myriad of chiming bells. Second track ”Mitternachtsberb” represents the track which first introduced me to the then rising project, when they were featured on the ”Riefenstahl” compilation. Slow and heavy percussion, accentuated by brooding main piano tune and harsh rasping vocals made this a powerful introduction to the project and has lost none of its initial power by being featured here. The increasing use of musical layering to build orchestral movements is clearly apparent on ”Inthronisation” (a track from 1998), here resulting in a sweeping symphonic quality. A reworking of the ”Thorak” compilation track ”Fahnentrager” is particularly powerful, commencing with subdued orchestral sentiments and central piano line that increase in tension to match the increasing urgency of the vocal sample used (Rainer Maria Rilke’s poem ”Cornet” read by Oskar Werner). Tracks ”Verein(sam)t” and ”Victoria (I)” are two tracks featured here lifted from a prior 1999 10″ ep ”Sturmzeit”; the former centring mainly on stately non musical loops to create an intense sound; with the later pointing clearly to the militant and heavy orchestral sound of debut album. ”Victoria (II)”, is a subdued reworking of the preceding track, most evidently removing the bombastic percussion and introducing an acoustic guitar to follow the main tune (also including crowd samples and era recordings). The theme of presenting a calm acoustic guitar reworking follows through to ”Turn the Centuries”; the main vocals also being overhauled with a grating and rasping delivery; also including spoken sections (both male and female). Built on aggressive looped orchestral samples ”Das Neue Reich” is a powerful (yet short) offering, subsequently leading into the militant and brooding classical sentiments of ”Hail You Captain and Thy Guard” (a track dedicated to Captain Codereanu and The Iron Guard). ”Path of St Michael” raises a heavier bombastic flag again, using a quite ridged frame complete with meandering tuneful elements. As for the reworked version of ”Under the Mask of Humanity”, here it is built around the guitars recorded at the groups controversial appearance in Leipzig 2000, yet the guitar part seems to have only been included in order to dredge up reference to this event, rather then enhancing the song itself (the electric guitar playing sounds surprisingly unprofessional and does not really fit into the whole direction and mix of the song). Regardless, “Lawrence of Arabia” is quite a good track, being a sweeping melodramatic composition built around a fleeting middle eastern flutes, piano, and string movements. As for the final album track (”This is Europe not L.A.”), as is stated on the cover, the composition is a sound collage, whereby a cut up soundscape of sampled traditional marching hymns is presented in order “to lead our comrades back the European roots, forward into a future that will be written by us” (In response, I will leave it up to the individual to decide how successfully the intent of such a statement has been achieved). All in all, if the debut did not set your heart ablaze this release would not really sway your opinion of Von Thronstrahl, yet if you were rather taken by their first full length the will slot more then nicely into your music collection.
Vromb (Can) ”Episodes” CD 2001 Ant-Zen
Over the years by virtue of simply having too much music to listen to, I confess that I have never succumbed to the cult of Vromb – but this is not to say that I have listened to prior CDs and rejected the project, rather it is that I never have actually heard a Vromb album until now. Starting with a complex and clinical programmed piece (with an underlying sinister edge), I can’t but help make a comparison to Black Lung’s conspiratorial theory based debut CD – and with this being my comparative point of music reference, this is rather a large compliment. The low key clinical approach, is again in order for the 3nd track, yet her the pace is stepped up a few notches, with clicks, pops and pulses inter-linking to creating a driving rhythm with minimalist melody. The mid paced, dance floor drive of track 5 again sees the construction of a piece by repetitive means – creating what is essentially a minimalist arrangement built with multiple non tuneful, rhythmic layers. The hyper speed programming of track 7 works particularly well, yet retaining the minimal progression approach (here sounding akin to the streaming of computer data), whilst on the other hand track 9 really solidifies the direction and atmosphere of the CD with a mid paced swirling and pulsing and composition offset with a quirky blip oriented tune. Likewise with the predominant album theme being that of rhythmic minimalism, another potential comparison that could be bantered around would be the current direction of Oprhx – and of course this is again a large compliment in the humble opinion of yours truly. Track 15 is another standout piece, continually building and evolving, but at the same time retaining a subtle flow and evolution to the programmed beats, swirling electronics textures, bleeps, blips and random sounds. Whilst I might not be able to give an adequate comparison of this album in relation to prior efforts, “Episodes” remains an impressive release to my virgin Vromb ears.
Werkraum (Ger) “Unsere Feuer brennen!” CD 2004 Cold Spring Records
Similar in the stylistic approach of neo-classical / neo folk sounds of German groups Forsetti & Orplid, Werkraum appear to be one of the new clutch of this scene. Starting promising enough “Nocturne” is a moody orchestral track complete with spoken monologue. Likewise the second piece “Die Letzte Jagd” is also rather good: a sullen mid paced acoustic track with sparse militant percussion. “Legion” encompasses another strong acoustic based track, complimented with stoic marching snare and understated lead male vocals. Yet disappointingly the recording & execution of other selected tracks seems to be slightly stilted, whilst the overall production is occasionally marred by an overly synthetic sound. Additionally a couple of tracks are a touch upbeat & folksy for my personal listening tastes. There are certainly some good ideas at play here, but for the above reasons I would not proclaim this as being magnificent. 3/5 – Richard Stevenson
Wilt (USA) ”Amidst a Spacious Fabric” CD 2001 Ad Noiseam
So the relative newcomer Wilt has already returned with his 3rd CD and on a 3rd label! Whilst this glut of material could potentially render more harm then good to a new artist, thankfully in the case of Wilt, each successive album has turned out to be more impressive then the last. Again showcasing why they are one of the leaders of the new wave of U.S. artists, Wilt create ultra dense, yet highly atmospheric soundscapes of slow morphing dark ambience. Despite giving a general nod towards the definitive ”Heresy” era of pioneering act Lustmord, Wilt possess enough ideas and characteristics of its own – often by virtue of sound sources utilized. In regard to this album Wilt have used a multi stringed instrument called a ’zither’ as the main sound source element, yet in most part rendering it impossible to detect the origin of these sampled sounds (apart from some sections where scrapping, plucking and tapping of the strings can be heard, thus giving the CD a nice organic touch to the swirling mass of enveloping reverberations). Combining all this with inventive compositions (some subtle and slow, others more structured and urgent) this is no doubt a bleak journey for the ears to traverse. So with 11 (untitled) tracks in all, and with a play time of 64 minutes, the album presents a more then ample array of dense sound transmissions from the abyss to immerse yourself in. Wilt, not to be content with their current profile, would seem to forging ahead with further multiple releases, including a collaborative project with rising act Tarmvred and no less then 4 more albums slated for release on as many labels! Let’s just hope the quality will remain to a positively high standard.
XhM2 (Ger / Can) ”This Anxious Space” CD 2001 Ant-Zen
This CD, if you did not work it out from the title, is actually a collaborative effort between the cinematic electronica of Xingu Hill and the experimental electronic cut up style of Squaremeter. Composed in an evocative yet rather abstract cutting edge type way, the first two tracks sort of act as a quirky, cut up, static and “blip-hop” type prelude to the more musically composed track three. This third piece ”Dreadful Menace” then therefore takes on a smoother dark electonica approach, with a sci-fi type aura enveloping the programmed tune. With a framework of low key ambience intermixed with static and tense cinematic cutups, the forth piece sounds both flowing and disjointed at the same time, however the sci-fi ambience returns on the fifth piece, using a droning underbelly and again dark yet smooth programmed tune. Revisiting a quirky cut up style, the sixth piece manages to run a fine line between disjointed and flowing, with the following seventh revisiting now familiar territory of a smooth programmed sci-fi tune intermixed with flowing ambience, random beats, cutups and disembodied voices. With ten tracks in all being quirky and playful, yet dark and evocative, ”This Anxious Space” is another fine piece of cutting edge studio trickery from two fine Ant-Zen artists.
Y Create (Nld) “Madadayo” CD 2004 EE Tapes
Knowing absolutely nothing of this artist, after undertaking a little background research it seems that solo musician Hessel Veldman ran a tape label Exart from 1982 to 1995. Thus with a wealth of archival material to draw from, Hessel sampled, collated, arranged and mixed sounds to construct the final compositions on this album. Whist the promo blurb might bill this as dark ambient, to my mind this description is far too narrow to adequately capture the diversity of ideas at play. Admittedly the opening track ‘the white house walk’ might subscribe to a standard dark ambient sound, yet, things really take flight on ‘a tale from the dark side’ with a rhythmic tribal composition. The moody synth melodies of the title track avoid clichés given the underscoring trip hop beats introduced mid way through. ‘Daisy daisy’ likewise is truly wondrous, forging a halcyon sonic miasma, and yet another example of this CD being well above beyond a mere dark ambient tag. Without resorting to describing each individual track and its particular elements and sounds, Y Create’s album is truly one of the most diverse, professional, interesting and welcomed surprises I have come across in recent times. Lastly, the CD comes housed is a 7” record sleeve & is limited to 325 copies.
Yen Pox (USA) / Troum (Ger) ”Mnemonic Induction” CD 2002 Malignant Records
Representing the long awaited collaboration between two of the biggest acts of the dark ambient/ drone scenes, 2002 is the year that witnessed this album’s final release. Housed in an 8 panel digipack, the deep orange/ yellow colour and flowing topographic styled line artwork of the cover is actually a rather apt visual description for the warmth of enveloping sounds contained within the 62 minute of the album. 4 compositions of catatonic pace are spread across the length of the CD, each flowing and linking into the next, rather then representing separate and individual tracks. Containing a yawning and cavernous aural aesthetic, passages of murky tonal depths are skilfully inter-linked with sections of spiralling sonic clarity. Likewise muted swelling melodies occasionally reveal themselves within the sonic miasma adding to the complex melange of sound skilfully woven into an all enveloping sonic tapestry. Thus it is whilst listening to such impregnated sounds (and pondering potential inspiration), one gains the feeling that a half remembered thread of archaic consciousness and spirituality has been the driving influence for the atmospheres created. Yes, such music as this does transcend simplistic appreciation, essentially tapping into something primordial, something deep within the organic fabric of humanity’s origins. Overall I would say that this collaborations sees the two groups presenting a sound that is almost the exact middle ground for the two. One the one hand the music is not as ‘blood red’ and dark as what you would expect from Yen Pox, yet on the other hand it does inhabit a sonic density that exudes a certain darkness not totally affiliated with the sound of Troum. Nonetheless a classic album for drone and dark ambient fanatics alike.
Zoat Aon (Fin) “Star Autopsy” CD 2005 Aural Hypnox
For a debut album from this project from Finland, this is indeed an impressive listen that is likely to turn heads in a positive sense. Melding some classic stylistic slants of the dark ambient genre with some quite old school ritualistic elements, this manages to be a buoyant release within a sea of similar sounding projects. Specifically where ‘Star Autopsy’ excels is with its broad and crystalline sound palate, where in more then a few instances had my mind leaping towards making comparisons to Inade – one of the heavyweights of the genre. Melding spheres of cosmic radiance (swirling & morphing sonic textures), and more earth bound ritual elements (thighbone trumpet, chimes, spare percussion and archaic voices etc) the tapestry of sound is diverse, varied and constantly evolving across the interlinking 9 tracks & 66 minutes. Some later albums tracks like ‘Dark Grammar’ might be slightly over cooked with a couple of repetitive & cliqued deep space sounds, but a minor gripe really in an overall sense. Whilst the album cover alludes to Crowley derived inspiration, this is done in a pleasingly subtle fashion, leaving listeners to ultimately draw their own conclusions. For this factor alone this is far better then those albums that feel the need to berate listeners with quasi mystical intellectualism. Thus with a simple but classy tri-gatefold sleeve (black card with silver print), it solidifies the overall impression of a project to keep a keen eye on.