Spectrum Issue 5# Review Archive

Over time as Spectrum Magazine grew in scope and became more widely known, the number of reviews significantly increased.  As a necessity the font size within the review section was subsequently reduced.  This however had an unintended consequence of making the reviews more difficult to read.  Readability in later issues was also slightly hampered by my chosen design aesthetic to have text over a grayscale background image.

So, if anyone cares enough to read the reviews, either on screen or at a normal font size, I have provided all reviews below as single web-text page, as well as a downloadable plain text PDF.

Links to the PDF is provided below, followed by the web-text. All reviews by Richard Stevenson (unless otherwise noted).

SpectrumMagazineIssue5#ReviewArchive

SPECTRUM MAGAZINE ISSUE 5# REVIEW ARCHIVE

ALL REVIEWS ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED IN SPECTRUM ISSUE 5#, MARCH, 2001

Ab OVO (Fra) “Triode” CD 2000 Fluttering Dragon

To my surprise (yet again), Fluttering Dragon have released a very interesting album that is quite removed from the neo-classical/dark ambient releases that the label have previous released.  The release in question, is much along the lines of the great Simple Dead CD (reviewed in Issue #4), but at the same times completely different.  Minimalist ambient electronica (with a detectable dark streak) would be the broadest description I could give to this, as it is constructed on pretty subdued beats and rhythms that are structured in quite a cutting edge manner. For this reason, parallels to the Ant-Zen camp would have to be referenced.  However not to be fooled by a minimalist description, these compositions are complex in construction and neither is specifically quiet – in essence the two elements you might normally associate with minimalism.  It is rather a circumstance where the tuneful elements are kept to a minimum, as is the actual track flow, rather choosing to gradually evolve the atmospheres over long compositions.  Subdued programmed beats, blips, electric hums, cut up textures, pulsating rhythms and the like are spliced together into melanges of sound that are further tweaked and twisted along the way.  Track 5 (the title track) stands out, as it reminded me of Black Lung from the outset (which can only be read as a compliment in my eyes).  Given the complex minimalism  (who’d have thought!!) of each piece, it is difficult to descriptively do each composition justice. But if chilled out ambient electronica is of interest to you, this could be exactly what you are seeking.

Ah Cama-Sotz (Bel) “U-Boot” LP 2001 Nautilus

Continuing the aquatic theme of the Nautilus series, the renowned death industrialists Ah Cama-Sotz have taken on this challenge with rather successful results.  Opener ‘U-Boot Theme’ with its synth melody encapsulated within swirling noise, the album takes a slow decent into the increasingly murky depths particularly when it forges into the sparse yet bass intoned ‘deep inferno’ (this piece includes elements akin to bubbling air pockets floating up towards the sea’s surface).  Sinking even further into a deep sea trench, ‘Ocean’ is a slow moving and slow morphing piece appearing as if it the oceanic tides dictates its movement.  ‘Fate’ incorporates again some ominous sounding synth elements in amongst shifting muffled textures to round out the first side.  ‘U-68’ with the framework of murky noise shifting synth elements and sparse sonar blips, achieves a level of intensity not reached on preceding tracks.  Additionally, with this track paying homage to the legacy of this particular submarine (information provided on the sleeve indicates it was responsible for sinking 33 ships) it is quite easy to picture the sub silently and majestically gliding into attack (with a more suitable soundtrack backing playing out).  Steering into ‘Iceberg’ territory, this track is a gloomy & stifled isolationist piece – and would be considered an authentic isolationist piece if it were not for faintly detectable synth elements (but mind you this element works fantastically here).  ‘Lord of Steel’ contains a heavy atmosphere of tidal shifting sounds and subtly bubbling textures, making way for the final piece ‘Sinking’ – yet another fantastically brooding compositions of subtle muffled sounds and slow morphing synth tunes.  However, when the synth tune transcends its surrounds to embody both an epic and forlorn atmosphere, it clearly reminds me of Necrophorus’s last album – the glacial and aquatic themes ‘Drifting in Motion’ (which is a massive compliment to give and rather fitting ending to the album).  On the aesthetic front, the music is pressed onto deep blue vinyl to match the concept, whilst housed in a visually pleasing sleeve creating a fine release for both label and artist.

Aluminium Noise (USA) “Totally Fucking Lost” CDR 2001 Sacred Sound Noise

From the project name and CDR title, I must admit that I was really expecting some full throttle noise assault, yet what is actually presented is far removed from this initial perception.  Aluminium Noise present some really fantastic droneage/ dark ambient atmosphere that are intelligently and expertly composed to be able to claim a spot alongside the likes of Yen Pox – (Yes, I know this is a reasonably big call but I still considered it to be suitably justified).  Also given the structure of the songs appearing to have little resemblance to their synthetic origins (i.e. keyboards/synthesisers), rather encompassing an organic and sometimes quite raw distortional tone, it draws parallels to the sound-works of Daniel Menche.  The five compositions on the CD, span between eight minutes (at the shortest) and up to seventeen minutes at the longest – each holding its own particular charm, yet remaining consistent within the ebb and flow, steadily amassing to grating tension or alternately, subtly shifting off into the infinite distance.  Despite ‘pain reminds me that I am alive’ being introduced with some pretty basic guitar pedal distortion, it quickly disappears to reveal slow throbbing atmospheres and shifting sounds that fleetingly appear to have a orchestral edge.  Again this track morphs through a myriad of sections, where a particularly attacking pulse characterises the later section of this track.  ‘Mass in time of war I’ contains a rather metallic texture to the rotational loops – stacking one layer over the last to create quite a structured calamity (some orchestral subtleties can be detected is the final minutes of the piece).  This track directly interlinks with ‘mass in time of war II’, which holds an even rawer and attacking framework to the distortional drones, however later on it does quieten down into more brooding territory particularly with the use of a sampled and manipulated symphony drone.  The final track ‘patterns of dysfunction’ holds a guitar drone edge to one of the early elements, while the others evoke deeper tonal sounds and subtle reverberations (once again utilising the building/ manipulating method to drive forward the composition).  The packaging is DIY in aesthetic with spray painted card sleeve and screen-printed insert, that while slightly crude, certainly serves its purpose more than adequately.  Being limited to only 50 copies this might be hard to find, yet I have a sneaky suspicion that this might be snapped up for a more official release given its musical excellence. (Note: my hunch turned out to be correct as project soloist Jason Crumer recently informed me that this CD will be re-released in 1000 copies on CrimeThink. Check for details on http://www.crimethink.com).

Amber Asylum (USA) “The Supernatural Parlour Collection” CD 2000 Release Entertainment

Although I have not heard the albums that preceded this, their fourth release, Amber Asylum’s “The Supernatural Parlour Collection” commences strongly with ‘Black Lodge’, where the light yet incessant snare march sits submissively below the lightly plucked emotive guitar and classical string tune, that gradually increase in force (in more ways than one, considering the group has it nucleus with Kris Force), sweeping off in a wash of atmospheric waves of distortion.  All in all the song sets an immaculate atmosphere that is somewhat difficult to top (anticipation and expectation can be a terrible curse in this regard).  Things never quite reach the same heights as set here, but rather opt for an unusual mixture of classical sentimentalities and more modern musical approaches to sound interpretation (such is the cover version of a Carlo Menotti operatic piece on ‘Black Swan’ in the way that a guitar both fits whilst traditionally speaking is a foreign element).  A beautiful neo-classical tone arrives in splendour on ‘Silence of the Setting Sun’, yet sits within a song structure more akin to a modern rock piece, again highlighting this mixture of the old sound and modern approach.  Depressive string quartet harmonies and mournful female vocals form a subdues ode on ‘The Shepard Remix’ (I am unsure how this actually constitutes a ‘remix’ in the modern sense), traversing a similar vein of emotion on ‘Disembodied Healer’ injecting sparse vocals and select bass/guitar structure (that ultimately leans towards an experimental tone).  The sixth offering, ‘Black Lodge Reprise’, is not all that recognisable in relation to the framework of the opening track, rather that the main elements of percussion and tune have been removed in favour of focussing on the distorted washes of sound (guitar generated) and melodious violin drones.  With the bio giving a nod to the likes of Godspeed you Black Emperor!, in regard of this track you would not be far wrong.  To conclude the album in true style (that will also offend the hardened purists), Kris Force and entourage tackle the task of covering none other than the composition of Black Sabbath’s title.  Particularly with the use of violin and guttural bass/drums this sounds like what you would expect My Dying Bride to have come up with if they recorded this cover around the time of the “Turn Loose the Swans” album – albeit with a female vocalist (mind you the result is none other than a very sombre and doom riddled vibe that is both bizarre and compelling).With an overall opinion that this album is patchy in a few places and brilliant in others, I will admit that later wins out overall.

Amoeba (USA) “Pivot” CD 2000 Release Entertainment

After becoming acquainted with the guitar styling and standard song structures of this Robert Rich side project, I thought I knew what to exp=ct with this second album.  Well surely things could not be that predictable, could they?!  Yes, the same guitar/vocal/percussion song structure is here, but the song writing sound has become quite pop influenced! Fleeting hints of jazz and rock influences can be detected filtering through the pop sensibilities of the opener, `Fireflies.’  Working with bass rhythms and steel guitar this continues into the straighter edge of the pop-rock‘ No Empty Promises’ that surges forward with slight programming and cello backing.  The vocals of Mr Rich embellish most songs in a dreamy, softly sung manner that both follow and hold the melody of the compositions, that incidentally for all theirs structure often create an understated atmospheric result (this also has much to do with the warm sound production).  A middle album track ‘Moonlight Flowers’, with its sweet acoustic noodlings, reflects the title perfectly (all the while sitting over a resonating bowed cello), whilst late album track ‘Underground’ also deserves an individual mention due to its bleak progressive rock sound.  I am still unsure whether I prefer the more sombre mood of the debut to the slightly up-tempo twist of this second album (only time will tell). An interesting release nonetheless.

As All Die (USA) / Veinke (USA) “In Vacuum of Blackened Space/Destitution”Split CD 2000 Dragon Flight Recordings

As All Die’s 6 tracks present a somewhat unusual blend of neo-folk and neo-classical that appears to have hints of influence from the black metal sector.  This metal comparison is mostly due to the vocals that are present through most of the tracks, ranging from the whispered, spoken, and choir-esque to the downright gruff, but all in a generally metal-like style.  While I am not adverse to extreme metal vocals where they have their rightful place, within these musical pieces, however, I feel that they slightly disjoint the atmospheres being evoked.  As for the music the compositions tend to work with mid-paced strummed acoustic guitars with keyboard layers replicating orchestral strings, piano, organ etc to build the musical backing (or otherwise acting as the total focus on others).  It can be said that despite the tracks being mid-paced, a dark brooding undercurrent remains quite evident throughout.  Track 4 features an introductory idea that, while interesting, simply does not work positively for me (urgent, disjointed and dissonant piano lines and vocal screams).  This opening segment is then stripped back to a darkly sweeping orchestral section that incidentally ends up reviving the intro segment, only to fall away yet again (this pattern is then subsequently repeated).  Criticisms aside, the sixth and last As All Die track is my personal favourite, stirring up a forlorn, melancholic mood via intricate acoustic guitar work, sparse piano and a few additional synth/sound layers for good measure.  Some good ideas are evident in these offerings, thus at least it will be interesting to see how subsequent recording span out.  With the review of the second half of this split album it is being undertaken somewhat in reverse as I have actually already reviewed Veinke’s newer debut album (on Triumvirate) in last issue.  A single track at just a touch over 30 minutes is Veinke’s offering, an extended piece of catacomb type yet slightly orchestral dark ambience.  Thick bass sonics and other amassed sounds converge at varying points, some fleeting while others linger.  Disembodied and indecipherable vocalisations randomly appear along with snippets of other noise clatter, including hints of tunes that seep in through the bleakness, never really achieving their aim, thus adding to the half dream/half memory type aura.  Some tones suggest a comparison to guitar distortion and feedback, but never become blatantly obvious -yet on the other hand a creepy and macabre piano tune can be heard far off in the distance during the late section of the composition.  Without going into any further descriptive gymnastics, basically I can say that this track is as good as any on the debut.

As All Die (USA) “Time Of War And Conflict” CD 2001 Crowd Control Activities

As a recording from times past unfolds (WWII or thereabouts…), and a brass punctuated, choral celebration rages, a voice proclaims, “We will win, I say, victory or death!” a pep talk for the legions headed out to war.  It sets the appropriate stage for As All Die’s acoustic guitar and desolate synth excursions into apocalyptic anguish, alit with a steadfast, forged in lead idealism.  “Victory Hymn” connects with the aspirations of that speech, as dreary synths, emoting tones of spiritual decline and questions of wavering faith, forlorn, shimmering violins and the distinctive vocals of Clint Listing (Long Winter’s Stare, Dragon Flight Recordings) repeat the urgent pleas of the aforementioned introduction.  A backdrop of strummed acoustic guitars beautifully accentuates the shadowy synths and, again, the distinctive vocals (enunciation is at the forefront, quite appealing) during “Johnny Got His Gun.”  After a slight pause, this smoothly leads into “Mother Earth,” in which the mood grows contemplative, inspiring a provocative spoken word recitation seemingly drawn from parchment texts full of fatalistic convictions; memoirs of hope, nothing more than cold, blackened embers in the hearth of eternity.  The completely despondent timbres etched by piano and overcast cello into the hollow soul of “The Longest Day” drip like tears on the finger picked acoustic guitar, Clint’s subdued vocals contorting into every conceivable shape of anguish and misery imaginable.  Powerfully despondent music, steered with fervent determination towards the disintegrating horizon of man…(Used by permission from Outburn http://www.outburn.com) –JC Smith

Asche (Ger) “Distorted Disco” CD 2000 Ant-Zen

I have listened to this CD quite a few times and still cannot fathom its apparently random exploration of electronic musical styles.  Dark droning ambient in the opening segments (‘The Sound ov the Shell’), it then jumps to a whip-cracking noise-fest and beat programming on ‘Kiss the Whip’.  The stakes are then upped even further on ‘Riding on the Atomic I.C.E’, and while its power noise beats and technoid rhythms are damn heavy, the track would still be quite dance-floor friendly.  ‘Another Kind of Being’ gives a good go at redefining the word `harsh’ with its slamming and corrosive drum’n’noise, but when the track ‘Zapped’ arrives it sounds as if a completely different artist is at the helm–this piece is straight up techno, and quite friendly to the ears at that.  This is not to say that this track is bad by any means, rather that it seems to sever any links to the tracks preceding it, thus tending to slightly disjoint the flow of the album.  A later track, ‘Inside the Sarcophagus’, plays out as a composition that bridges subdued noise industrial and dark ambience coming across as sounding similar to that of Brighter Death Now (which is only a compliment in my eyes).Heavier and sinister themes again pervade ‘Peter’, where power noise/electronics are showcased in all the glory of its screaming white noise and rough and ready programming, with a similar style used on the following two (and final) tracks of the11 track disc. (Note: the hidden/unlisted track is yet another diversion with a completely bizarre drugged out drum’n’bass/electronica number further embellished with distorted sung vocals and organ tune).  To say this CD is eclectic is beyond an understatement, but it is best to be aware of this fact when approaching your first listen – it will help in understanding what is being fed into your eardrums to enable you to identify the elements that align positively with your personal tastes (whether it is dark ambient, techno, drum’n’bass, power electronics, etc).

Ask Embla (Nor) “questions asked” CD 2001 Fluttering Dragon

Encompassing gothic and industrial infused sounds (and here I mean ‘industrial’- in the band type tradition), from the outset this CD was going to have difficulties in winning me over, as these two styles don’t exactly set my heart ablaze.  So after listening to this a number of times, I have to declare that my initial reservations justified.  Yes, I can admit that this is good for what it is, but I basically find it difficult to be objective, when I simply don’t care for the styles it encompasses.  Anyway, the framework of the music is presented in the format of a band, including a female vocalist fronting the project and accommodating a heavy reliance on keyboards (guitars and bass are also present, along with a drum machine to complete the unit).  The 10 songs that make up the album are often plodding, driven forward by a drum machine, guitar and bass, whilst the keyboards and mid range vocals are relied upon for the delivery of more emotive elements.  Romantic baroque sentiments are to be found on ‘into the day’, yet are unfortunately all but obliterated with the chugging guitar riff.  The brooding atmospherics and piano melancholy of the third instrumental track ‘Savn (til Eaivor)’ go part the way to redemption.  Unfortunately this is rendered useless when upon a guitar noodling individual plays a/the ‘over the rainbow’ tune in the final bar (I have no idea what the band were thinking when they included this…).  ‘Not Pleased’ with its clean guitars and understated female vocals reminds me of ‘Machines in the Garden’s’ approach, coupled with the use of meandering piano and avoiding heavier guitars, happens to be one of the better track of the album.  The final track, ‘Dream’ is also worthy of a mention, being a slow depressive waltz based on programmed (muffled) beats, broad synth passages, clean guitars and sweetly sorrowful female vocals.  Anyway, before I ramble on too much longer, if you are able to filter through my obvious prejudices, the determination of this is the type of album for you will be a much easier task.

Ataraxia (Ita) “Suenos” CD 2001 Cruel Moon. BC

With Ataraxia’s previous album “Lost Atlantis” (reviewed back in issue 3#), one of my complaints at the time was in relation some pretty synthetic programming percussion not doing the historic themes of the music justice.  Well, it seems that Ataraxia have heralded my call and reverted to the predominant use of real instrumentation (ahem..I think I am being just a little presumptuous!) and, in my eyes, are all the stronger for it.  On this album Ataraxia appear to be encompassing a greater apocalyptic neo-folk sound than ever before, and for this reason alone this is clearly their strongest release to date.  Starting powerfully with hand percussion and commanding male chanted vocals on ‘Parti de mal’, track 2 ‘Saderaladon’ reveals a sweeping acoustic guitar driven atmosphere with plenty of percussive elements, flutes and the ever unique and stunning vocals of Francesca certainly evoking visions of times long past.  The re-working of a traditional French ministerial song on ‘Saderaladon’ plods along with percussion and guitar, as the female vocals take flight above (prior to quickening the pace and urgency of playing towards the end).  A romantic accordion tune being the basis for is greatly enhanced with a (gradually rising and falling) full orchestral backing, that despite being synth generated does not sound as such (and this goes for all elements where synthetisers and keyboards are used to replicate orchestral instruments).  One of few tracks with English vocals, ‘I love every waving things’ is particularly emotive, with a mixture of sung and spoken female vocals. The music here ranges from orchestral strings, harps & clarinets to guitars.  The darker flamenco styled guitar work in ‘Encrucijada’ travels a more solemn path, likewise reflected in Francesca’s more commanding vocal style (with this track stretching over some 7 minutes).  The solemn flavour is again embodied by the horn and percussion driven march of ‘Funeral in Datca’, switching between morose and more epic atmospheres.  Beautiful in its reflective aura ‘The Corals of Aqaba’ is (again) built around an acoustic guitar and female vocal track along with clarinet and associated backing layers.  With there being nothing quite like a celebratory trumpeting march to finish an album, ‘Nemrut Dagi’ is an appropriately majestic ending to the album.  In passing I can safely say, that I’m fast becoming a fan of Ataraxia particularly, if they continue to forge along on this path – presenting their traditional/historical musical explorations, whilst avoiding more modern musical sounding elements that have detracted from the historic aura on previous works.

Auger (USA) “like little machines” CD 2001 the Retrix

Auger (an unknown project to me) present a CD of live improvised recordings dating back to August, 1999.  To make my reviewing task difficult, the CD contains 9 tracks yet only 8 are listed on the cover…hmmm.  Anyway, with a dense industrial basis and fractural samples being overlaid, the opening track ‘more or less human’ is akin to a noisier version of Hazard’s sound experimentations, with the samples gradually aligning as loose percussion.  ‘Smears of light’ takes a slightly more subdued approach with a dense droning structure that pitch shifts between speakers to disorientating effect.  With a scaping tonal basis, ‘the seed inside the bud’ builds aural intensity along with shifting and improvised sounding drones.  Followed by the fantastically titled ‘spread your ghastly wings‘, it contains a loose percussive structure that swings in and out of alignment, creating a chaotic affair.  Throughout its lengthy journey the basic framework is tweaked and morphed, including a subdued aquatic segment that takes over midway through and sees the track take a gradual downward spiral into a minimalist piece.  ‘A boundary is not a wall’ is the most improvised piece thus far with random pitched noise and an underbelly of droning frequencies that unfortunately it is not a real attention grabber.  This improvised sound transfers across to ‘inside the trees’, yet with the increased resonating textures it is slightly more successful (I found the extreme swinging between quiet tonal musings and loud outbursts became rather distracting).  Shifting into ultra minimalist sound collage mindset, the title track contains distant blips and electro static that requires the volume to be tinkered with to actually hear what is going on, but when considering the previous track I was initially quite wary of some unforseen outburst reeking havoc on my speakers (thankfully that does not eventuate). The later tracks on the album are a chaotic collection of found sounds, blips, drones and general sonic clutter as embodied within ‘hag’ that forge onward unrepentant for its 10 minute span.  The final unnamed piece (lets call it ‘the unnamed’!) works on rather subtle shifts of electro-static drones that rise and recede throughout, with the final segment adding a touch of non obtrusive clatter.  In winding up the review I don’t know how often this will end up being played when considering the vast amount of albums I own, but it was at least an interesting item to review.

Autumn (Ger) “A Romance of Art” MCD 2001 Sin Organisation

Although Autumn have been around for some 16-17 years, this is actually the first release of theirs, that I have come across.  This MCD it appears to be a collection of Autumn’s songs lifted off prior tape releases and have been specifically re-mixed for this format.  Starting with a very nice melancholic piece of neo-classical romanticism (the sweeping strings & forlorn piano melodies presenting wondrous visions), this passes all too moving quickly through to ‘Windows’.  With a jangley clean guitar, programmed kit percussion and varying synth lines, it creates a nice twist on the neo-folk/ dark wave sound.  Likewise, with the vocals being cleanly sung in a rather commanding full-throated style, they compliment the music in a very positive manner.  The perfectly titled ‘Serenades’ with its composition expertly composed and multi layered, this neo classical piece swells the emotions of the heart.  The more urgent, ‘Glaube’ uses rough yet melodic stabs of piano keys, making way for aggressive percussion and fleeting tune that somewhat reminds me of Allerseelen’s more aggressive musical approach (the female vocals further solidifying this perception).  The title track is clearly darkwave in its focus and intent with the smoothly programmed beat being the first indicator.  Additional elements – the strains of a soft acoustic guitar, subdued keyboard lines and far off echoed vocals – work particularly well, creating an emotive and very atmospheric production.  Although ‘flaming’ threatens to really break loose, the harmonious soundscape never actually does, with spoken word vocals (akin to radio voices) sit over layers of programming and orchestral keys.  ‘Blue Fortress’ is another track that bonds neo-classical intent with dark wave construction resulting in quick paced, heavily programmed track, with dual male/ female vocals and associated synth tunes.  The all too short ‘Epilogue Dawn’ returns back to the beautiful aura of the first track, and in essence, is the perfect way to conclude the 8 autumnal compositions.  On the whole this CD is a great example of a group that can expertly straddle genres (those of neo-classical, neo-folk and dark wave) and clearly have the song writing skills to back up the task.

Bad Sector (Ita) / Contagious Orgasm (Jap) “Vacuum Pulse” CD 2000 Old Europa Café

Vacuum Pulse is the CD re-issue of a cassette, CD and cassette both released by Old Europa Café, the CD version including bonus tracks.  The agenda is one in which each band utilizes the sound sources of the other in the creation of something that is indicative of both bands, a melding of sonic ideals.  Contagious Sector’s “Vacuum” opens with a brittle resonance, like being pierced by the blinding glare that glimmers from a field of sun-bleached diamonds, subsequently devoured by magma that boils up from the earth’s core, a surge of lifeblood slowly hardening Mother Earth’s arteries.  Seeking respite, the sounds pass through many veins, sonic capillaries bounding through convoluted alleyways within the body, from fuzzy and unclear to skittish and electronic, ending up in a place that resonates off of the ionosphere… (The sounds are not confined, they explode, dispersing and disintegrating outwards…freedom through the wound.)  Weird machinery loops with a vocal quality ignite the shuffling of scattered warehouse debris and bubbling liquid during “Pulse.”  Waves of radioactive noise rise to thrash the proceedings, a swirling, spasmodic revelry of rattled noises and voice samples that utilize reverb as a stepladder out of the mayhem, but never quite free of its clutches.  They remain a part of the confined storm within the abandoned warehouse.  Each of the four tracks flows with unencumbered resiliency, moving, shuffling, skidding from here and sliding into there, pockets of sound and noise (“EMP” gets positively chaotic-the screech of desperate machines seeking refuge from the manipulation at hand).  An excellent meshing of styles!  –JC Smith

Bad Sector (Ita) “Toroidal Body” 7” + MCDR 2001 Pre-Feed / Eibon

The criminally under-recognised Bad Sector returns with a new release spanning two formats and two recordings sessions.  The 7” part of the set encompasses the two the newest Bad Sector tracks, whilst the CD includes three pieces from the ‘Dolmen’ recording session (which have already yielded a CD and 7”).  Interestingly the new track has a more focussed electronica/rhythmic approach than what I have heard from the project to date.  The first vinyl track, ‘Hen’, starts off with the usual computer- type noise, yet with the gradual addition of various electronic percussive layers it builds into a slow moving composition that is quite comparable to the technoid sound coming from some sectors of the Ant-Zen camp (yet the ominous keyboard melodies that form the backing of the composition betray the typical Bad Sector aesthetic).  ‘Pan’,  the second vinyl track, is more mid-paced and runs a fine line between the classic Bad Sector dark ambience and the new rhythmic approach.  The combination of dark keyboard layers and alien-like vocalisations processed with the rigid programmed percussion work supremely well, and is particularly enhanced with choir-like textures midway through.  The three tracks from the Dolmen sessions encompass a much more deep space oriented sound with ominous shifts of keyboards and heavy (but fleeting) percussion. The first CD track, ‘Egidea’, works on so many levels with multitudes of layers (sporadic martial-type percussion, computer glitched sound, a sweeping atmospheric melody, etc) that makes it all too easy to succumb entirely to its grandiose dark ambient aura.  ‘Lilia (20A remix)’ is slightly more experimental with sporadic electronic sounds and glitches forming loose rhythmic patterns, while the final track ‘Ibor (coded)’ opts for percussive yet sweeping dark ambience.  The cover image of an ominous sky severed by power poles and electric wires is a perfect visual counterpart to the compositions of Bad Sector.  As it is limited to only 300 copies, you might have some trouble finding one of these as I know the labels are already fully sold out.

Baradelan (Ger) “Anorgonia In The Carcinomatous Shrinking Biopathy” CDR 2000 Membrum Debile Propaganda

With a name like Baradelan, an anagram of Aldebaran, one would be lead to believe that Baradelan is a tip of the hat to the masters of crackling anonymity, Inade.  But Thomas Sauerbier, Baradelan’s lone dark sonicscape technician, informs me that the name originated with the track, “Aldebaran Of The Hyades,” from the deep cosmic plains explored on The Place Where The Black Stars Hang.  Meaning that the genesis of Baradelan is aligned with (and inspired by) the godfather of sonic darkness, Lustmord.  Anorgonia In The Carcinomatous Shrinking Biopathy (title derived from the writings of Wilhelm Reich) is a fascinating excursion down the desolate corridors of space, a clinical analysis of dark sonicscape terrain devoid of hope.  “Sudden Infant Death Syndrome” breathes and ripples with vast fluttering electronic noises and a pulsing tone that skulks inauspiciously like the Grim Reaper waiting to pounce.  The fact that the vacuum of sounds incorporated here reach across the vast, empty cosmos, adds a delicious layer of discomfort to an already expected finality (see title), though the death in question is gentle, like a pillow pressed over the face of the sleeping.  The fluttering electronic noise continues during “Orgonotic Pulsation,” assisted by a procession of sporadic percussion that teeters unsteadily above.  Synths emote ominously, goose pimples running free over chilled flesh during “Cold Clinical Theology.”  The empty horizon that creeps forth is never clearly realized.  The scope of tones here emanate from the internal vacancy of soul, out towards the unattainable horizon; the mood is one of solitude, enveloped in morose intentions: lifeless…despondent…so very alone.  “Carcinomatous Shrinking Biopathy” resonates with agitated waves that surge and throb with electronic urgency, as if this course of action will wash the cancerous corrosion away.  Instead, though, it is only made to battle, inflict more torment, on a body already wasting away… And the dim, flickering bulbs of the endless corridors (of space, and deflated spirit) radiate gloomily as one wanders, not towards the light, but towards uncertainty…  Though precious moments of all-encompassing darkness sprinkled throughout may confirm the influence of Lustmord, Baradelan move well beyond that pitch-black genesis, the air of uncertainty a major part of the burgeoning sound.  I’m definitely keeping an ear out for the next Baradelan release… ~JC Smith

Bardoseneticcube (Rus) “Necklace” CDR advance copy 2000 Athanor

This unknown and almost unpronounceable project has been snapped up by Athanor after the original version was released as a 100 limited CDR (on some label called Black Dead Rabbit?!).  Furnishing it with an official bio, it goes on to state “this was considered by us as the most important ‘dark ambient’ recording we have heard since Lustmord’s: The Place Where the Black Stars Hang”.  Pretty big words you might say, now the question is: does this album come through with the good to back up such a statement?  In a single sentence, I think this release falls just short of reaching the same breadth and depth of the aforementioned album, yet I do acknowledge that this is still a powerful recording.  Forging forward from the outset with cyclic pulsations, track one sets the scene to make way for track two to take on a broader and more atmospheric frame that sweeps off into nebulous regions.  Continuing on the building and evolving format, track three arrives as a mass of urgent partly, metallic sweeping atmospheric sound textures (and conjures up an image of a ancient monolithic generator positioned at the centre of the cosmos, that for unnumbered aeons has been powering the infinite expansion of the universe…).  More brooding and catatonic, track four uses deeper more minimalist movements to create its atmosphere of cosmic resonance, including just a hint of melody and slow rhythmic percussive sounds (and to an extent actually reminds me of early Archon Satani). Spiralling pulses categorise the length seventh track, with the sound palate working on a vertical axis with its rising/ falling framework, again bringing visions of an idling archaic generator.  However at around the five minute mark this track verges off into a panoramic styled soundscape with the whole atmosphere becoming increasingly urgent.  On the eighth and final piece, with the use of slow echoes pulses & cyclic drones, it verges on an Inade like quality particularly when enhances with tribal-esque percussion in the final segment.  Taken as a whole, this recording does a splendid job of evoking visions of the cold barren cosmos.

Brainlego (Aus) “Perimelasma” 3”CDR 2000 label:KETTLE

Given the promotional blurb that promised ”A dark apocalyptic vision”, this is a touch different to what I was expecting, for Brainlego’s “Perimelasma” contains elements of both electronica-type programming and more subdued experimental textures.  The programming aspect is evident from the bass pulse tune of the opening track (‘Perimelasma A’) that becomes quite catatonic with random blips and static.  The second track, ‘Phyllum Mollusca’, contains a purer electronica sound with treated vocals, clear tune and beat cut-ups that are actually quite heavy and corrosive in sound.  Referencing the promo statement quoted above, the tracks ‘Shit into Silver’ and ‘Scry me a Mirror’ deliver the goods by way of subdued drone-oriented soundscapes mingled with static, warped reverberations and computer generated clutter, all of which point to Hazard’s recent style of sound experimentation – in other words, it is certainly to my liking.  Given both facets of Brainlego’s sounds are executed to a high standard, it creates pleasant diversity with what are still essentially complementary sounds.

Brighter Death Now (Swe) “Obsessis” CD 2000 Cold Meat Industry

While the new BDN offering is finally with us, the first thing that strikes you is that its cover is presented in a white sleeve with pink writing instead of the trademark black tones and necrose symbol.  Depicting a facial image of an innocent female teenager, it is only upon closer inspection that a nasty twist is evident, creating a cover that is quite reminiscent of the artwork of Trevor Brown.  Further referencing the inner sleeve, this reveals images of a dental inspection being undertaken on another teenage girl.  While these pictures in themselves are not at all shocking, they begin to become slightly disturbing when considered in the context of the album.  Forging even further into a power electronics aesthetic, BDN have gradually removed themselves from the death industrial sounds with which the project rose to prominence (especially during the “Great Death” trilogy), at the same time partially reverting to the harsh schizophrenic sounds of Lille Roger (the 1980s pre-BDN project).  Although there has been much debate about the pros and cons of this project’s direction over the past few albums, when the storming ear piecing tones, loosely formed loops and stoically psychotic vocals converge in the opening seconds of ‘Intercourse – Now is the Time’, I knew this album was going to be an absolute corker!  Amassing in a much tighter framework, ‘Hipp Hipp Hurray – I will Kill you Today’ showcases an out-of-control machine loop with the ranted and obliterated vocals reaching a greater heightened urgency in their feverous tone.  With vocals being somewhat subservient to the harsh noise layers (as well as the processed, flesh-shredding treatment), there is little if any opportunity to decipher content, a task rendered even more impossible with no lyrics sheet.  ‘A B C D – Learn a Lesson’ partially revisits the older death industrial style, giving a certain level of respite from the first two ear-reaming offerings.  Here low bass throbs, wavering sonic layers and what appears to be a distorted voice sample merge to create an interplay via an addition-and-subtraction style (that in itself forges a sparse, looping style).  On the title track, a queasy idling machine and high pitched squeals are juxtaposed against sounds of children playing, all in all creating a somewhat sickening result (in regard to both the sonic tone and the implications of the content).  When a lone voice begins repeating “Oh no” as an introduction to ‘I Can’t get no Sadistfaction’, it is immediately evident that you are in for one wildly filthy ride!  With this track having the most easily decipherable vocals that mostly repeats the title, the seedy sonic underbelly consists of slow machine drawls and coagulated sound textures (ranging from guttural to squealing), all contributing to a very tasty offering.  With Lina B Doll of Deutsch Nepal featuring on ‘In Circles – Psycho Circles’, the partially quirky main loop could easily be credited as his input, with the BDN stamp arriving via being freshly cling wrapped in harsh static and shredded vocalisations.  Overall, for a strict comparison, this album is reminiscent of ‘Innerwar’ mixed up with the harshness of last year’s untitled 7”, creating a product that points forward to CMI’s constantly growing power electronics focus whilst simultaneously harkening back to the old school harsh noise aesthetics of the Lille Roger days. While it has been stated that this album represents the completion of a cycle, God only knows (and I question if such an entity could possibly exist in the realm of BDN!) what depths of the deranged mind of Kaptain Karmanik we will be plunged to on future confessions.  Until then this provides ample redemption.

Canaan (Ita) “Brand New Babylon” CD 2000 Prophecy Productions / Eibon Records

Canaan have been toying with their quite unique style of dark ambient infused/ gothically tinged/doom laden melancholia for two albums prior to this release(one being the epic ‘Walk into my Open Womb’ DCD), yet, not to be content with a simple continuance of what has preceded it, “Brand New Babylon” sees the introduction of moody yet catchy pop like structures to their song framework.  Dark orchestral soundscapes introduce the album with ‘Theta Division’, where the only hint at the ‘band’ framework of the group is the sparse rock drumming (the full band sound arrives full flight on ‘In Un Cielo Di Pece’, which includes – of all things! -morose whistling!).  Pushing into a down vibed yet up-tempo sound, ‘Sperm Like Honey’ is heavily reminiscent of that certain sound created during the “Disintegration” era of the Cure, most clearly in relation to the guitar style and sound – not that this comparisons takes away from the quality of the song by any stretch. (Ironically by having made mention of such a comparison, is it a revelation or mere coincidence that the following sparse dark ambience piece is entitled ‘disintegrate’?!).  While not being all that different to what Caanan are about, ‘La Simmetria Del Dolore’  reminds me of where the progressive Norwegian band ‘In the Woods’ took their sound from early pagan metal roots, even down to the more urgent vocals of Mauro.  For another slight twist the Middle Eastern strains of ‘For a Drowning Soul’ reveal yet another dimension of the Canaan experience (with vocals being convincingly authentic for the structure of the song), while the bleak instrumental piece ‘The Circle of Waters’ creates a beautifully depressive aura that transforms from merely floating to absolutely soaring when the slow percussion alters to up-tempo drumming.  For yet another fleeting comparison, ‘The Meaning of Solitude [return to 9117]) with its brooding synths, sparse guitars and half sung/half spoken vocals (that sound as if on the verge of collapse), brings to mind the best moments of another cult Italian band, Monumentum – and for anyone who appreciates this band it is a compliment not to be taken lightly.  At a shade over 10 minutes the final track, ‘A Descent to Babylon’, makes use of its epic format sprawling out in a cinematic style, with the swirling guitar riffs and mournful tunes constantly picking up pace as it forges ahead (the very last segment delving one last time into experimental ambience).  As with the previous Canaan releases, in amongst their overall distinctive sound, it can be split up into those moments of dark introspective ambience, juxtaposed against the band/song styled framework, thus with the distillation of their best ideas, intermixed with new evolutions of their sound this is easily the most immediately accessible Canaan album produced to date.

Celluloid Mata (Fra) “Sable” CD 2000 Ant-Zen

The well established project Celluloid Mata have now found their way to the Ant-Zen roster, which is understandable given this fresh sounding album of intelligent electronica mixed with a power noise styling.  The backing of ‘Barbarous Coast’, which is dark ambient in scope, is perfectly complemented with a deep and rhythmic mid-paced beat that carries things along nicely.  This deep rhythmic approach is again utilised, yet taken up a notch (or three!) on ‘Foolish’, during which you simply can’t but help finding yourself nodding your head too.  On the flip side, other tracks such as ‘At Bunkers’ and `Pop Porn Doll’ take on a much rougher power noise and slamming beat driven sound in noisy and rigid frameworks.  ‘Del mar’ does its best to induce ear bleeding in the listener, as the track simply consists of nothing but a singular high pitched electronic squeal, while again on the experimental tangent, ‘We Sync’ is a low whispered voice being barely audible in the articulation of the words and sentences.  Late album composition and title track has a pummelling sound akin to that of label mate Imminent (Starvation) on the ‘North’ CD and is another example of Celluloid Mata’s flair for creating simple yet engaging beat styled sounds.  Overall the tracks are mostly orientated to the heavier and noisy rhythmic beats, with these elements usually taking the main focus while more subdued layers of drones and sounds carry along the more minimalist tunes (the final track makes particularly good use of a subtly progressing tune that is devoid of any beats or rhythms).  Apart from the music, Stefan Alt presents yet another great idea for the cover with a transparent film over-wrap and a series of cards presented in the style of Polaroid photographs.

Chaos As Shelter (Isr) “Midnight Prayer/Illusion” 2CD 2001 Crowd Control Activities

I first heard Vadim Gusis’ Chaos As Shelter on the In The Shelter Of Chaos CD from The Rectrix, quite possibly the finest release from 2000.  I garnered further enjoyment with the limited release, The Devil’s Brothers, from Ignis Projekt.  Therefore, my expectations where high as I anxiously awaited this double disc release of promised dark sonicscape excellence.  I suppose my expectations my have been too high, as the first two tracks on disc one, Midnight Prayer, failed to enrapture me as I wanted.  Not that they are bad, quite the contrary, but there were slight elements (the laughter on “The Temptation Of St. Anthony” seemed almost of an amusement park/haunted house variety; the tones of the keyboards on “In Nomine Patris” did not ring as substantial…appropriate…something?!…).  Of course, my initial hesitancy was unnecessary, as most everything here (including the aforementioned first two tracks–having now heard them repeatedly, they are more than worthy–quite intriguing, actually) borders on brilliance, if not successfully attains it!  The world of Chaos As Shelter is one that escorts the listener into the enigma of the unknown nether regions of the earth, a tattered latticework of rickety scaffolding constructed across broad, mysterious plains of concrete and squalor.  To continue with Disc one, “Dead Sea Song” maddeningly tramples through sewage across brick and mortar, the destitute remains of the crumbled dreams from above.  A humming tone that somehow incorporates impetus rises to upend “Mauka,” before percussive rattling beats on the agitatedly buzzing textures of unknown origin.  The mottled landscapes contain sparse textural elements, moments of brusque noise (but not of volume, per se, more of sensation, surging forth before slipping back into a hiding place), moments of scattered resonance, moments of uncertainty enveloped in curiosity.  Though it may seem to meander, the music of Chaos As Shelter is never less than intriguing, flashing wild, flickering images of esoteric origin on the uninhibited cinema within the skull, as timbres of contemplation mingle with designs of an improvisational nature.  Disc two, Illusion, is a dark sonicscape masterpiece!  Though it is sculpted from similar sonic matter as Midnight Prayer, it seems to work better as a whole, a tightly wound spider’s web of intoxicating sounds that incorporate more colour, more darkness, a little dread, and much mystery.  (Mystery is a key to the Chaos As Shelter sound, not darkness, not the forbidding or ominous, but mystery…)  “Dream” is beaten with slippery wooden implements, the disparate tones skirting about, a sliver of strange buzzing inspiring an acoustic guitar to rise from the shadows. (This strange buzzing crops up throughout.  I am reminded of the nefarious book, Necronomicon, whose original title is Al Azif, which means “book of buzzings,” or thereabouts…is there a deeper meaning to the landscapes that Vadim trespasses?)  It’s just a few precious seconds of beauty, before the clicking of subway train tracks leads one deeper into the hollow earth.  Tinkling chimes open “Illusion Pt. 1,” before more buzzing/humming arises, and brooding, heavy synths heave and swell, dispersing amidst clinks and scattered percussive tones that volley about.  And the landscape breathes!  And an unearthly horn blows… And a trace of something else (melody?–or was that just the wind speaking…?)…  Unknown animals, distinguished by the clattering of their bony exoskeletons, scamper over moist concrete during “Place Of Warning.”  The shadow of spirituality bounds off the gray walls, humming vocalizations (?!) of indiscriminate allegiance.  “The Time Of Sacrifice” groans despondently, murky reverberant sounds that shimmer with an unhealthy glimmer, a jaundiced plague of sound, forbidding and born of eternal filth.  Powerfully expansive work, inventive and infernally aligned.  One of 2001’s best, no doubt!  –JC Smith

Coil (Eng) “Music to Play in the Dark – Volume 1 (2nd edition)” CD 2000 Chalice Records

I’m not sure exactly how I managed to review the second volume (of the two CD series) in last issue – yet somehow it has happened!  In quite true Coil form, ‘Are You Shivering’ launches the album with a bizarre and quirky programmed synth soundscape, with treated vocalisations sitting independent of the spoken story being told.  Less bizarre musically, the title of the following track takes over this role: ‘Red birds will fly out of the East and Destroy Paris in a Night’.  The music is made of more programmed synth sounds, but these are quicker paced in tune and contain a trance- oriented vibe.  Gradual metamorphosis of the basic structure occurs over its 12 minutes, but the track remains quick paced and focussed throughout, while  becoming noisier and more galactic in scope.  Stripping back to an experimental piece of sound glitches and treated vocals, ‘Red Prince’ enters its musical phase with a stunning almost free jazz vibe containing plodding metallic bass sound and meandering piano playing, throughout which vocals incessantly talk in a slow articulated drawl.  ‘Broccoli’ has a hazy drug induced vibe surrounding it, made up partly from the bass drones and glitch sounds and partly from vocals being chanted, sung and spoken.  ‘Strange Birds’ creates quite an impressive rhythm from nothing but low volume glitched static, and toys with modern sounding art-noise techniques (later the track spirals down into sparsely treated field recordings of birds and barking dogs).  The final track, ‘The Dreamer is Still Asleep’, is a great trance-dub sounding piece of standard drum machine percussion, keyboard tune layers and quite normal sounding sung vocals (which in itself is weird for Coil).  Undoubtedly Coil in sound and scope, this is a second opportunity to obtain this once deleted mail order album. 

Cold Electric Fire (USA) “Cold Electric Fire” CDR 2001 Sacred Sounds

After the Aluminium Noise CD introduced me to the DIY label Sacred Sounds, this second release has firmly solidified my intrigue in it and its affiliated artists.  Likewise, even before I got to hear the actual CD, with the cover encompassing photocopied card that is hand stitched together, certainly presents a personalised aura for the music held within.  In terms of the music itself, Cold Electric Fire presents sparse and darkly emotive soundscapes that fall somewhere between dark ambience and drone compositions.  Working on a split format of sound, ‘in passing’ introduces the album with a piece rhythmic clatter and foreboding drones elements.  Finishing all to quickly, an even shorter piece ‘process one’ is showcased (being only 1 minute and 11 seconds).  Consisting of a distant forlorn sound, a faint emotive plucked guitar tune can be detected within the drone framework, yet despite its short length this track feels to be much longer.  Encompassing a longer span, the 7 minute ‘wild fire’ is more forceful than the first two pieces consisting of drones, tape loops, found sounds and slowly bowed and manipulated cello.  Quite dynamic, it quickly whips up a maelstrom of sound that whilst is a drone oriented piece hints at classical melodies buried under numerous layers (whether or not actual classical samples are used is another question entirely – but the effect is nonetheless stunning).  ‘Cultivate your growl’ is not as fierce as one might expect, and on one hand contains crackling layers akin to environmental recordings, that are set off against the sounds of an organ/theremin.  With the darkly crafted tune shifting along at a catatonic pace, the actual tune is barely discernable, rather utilising the drawn out notes to evoke its enveloping aura.  ‘Process two’ is another short piece, this time having a rather prominent fractured noise loops underscored with a faint tune, followed soon after by ‘tailor’, being a rolling mass of drone elements offset with an atmospheric yet depressive guitar tune.  Building the track with manipulated percussion this piece surges out to the horizon effortlessly spanning every aural chasm along the way.  ‘Sightless’ on the other hand takes a darker downward sweeping turn, with grinding metallic textures and a more urgent framework to the gloomy drones and swirling winds.  Final track ‘alchemist’ is the longest piece at a touch over 11 minutes, opting for the middle ground of an atmospheric and emotive drone piece that incorporates elements that appear to be derived from environmental sources, along with unobtrusive percussive/rhythmic elements.  With its longer length, this track quite appropriately meanders along unfettered with the final moments whisked off with swirling winds.  I’m not at all sure how many copies this CDR is limited too, but it would not hurt to make inquires with the label directly and seek out a copy for yourself to find another gem in the US underground.

Control (USA) “Praying to Bleed” 7” 2000 L.S.D Organisation

The 7” grey vinyl, apparently a specialty with this label, is contained in a standard gloss cardboard sleeve (adorned with brutal imagery presented with a keen design eye) and further housed in a screen printed canvas velcro slip case, meaning that there is little need for safety packaging when sending one of these via the post! From what I hear, Control are a relatively new power electronics project, that seem to have a number of items slated for imminent release (including one on Black Plagve);and while I would have to say that there isn’t anything particularly innovative or groundbreaking about what Control produce, it is very solid in focus and to a high standard all the same.  The mid-paced title track works on approximately two levels: one being the filthy underside of constant bass rumblings, the other the multifaceted squealing feedback that chaotically burst in and out of earshot.  There sounds like there might be vocals somewhere in amongst it all, but these are severely mutilated so as to not resemble that of a human voice (much as the image of the corpse on the cover).  Rather then boiling the blood, this track tends to place it simmering temperature just short of all hell breaking loose.  ‘Lust Killer’ takes a more subversive approach with its slightly more machine rhythmic rumbling structure mixed with subdued noise elements that slowly multiply in thickness and intensity, rising to the surface then sinking again only to repeat the cycle (don’t get me wrong here, this track is still damn harsh, just less so when compared to the first).  Ultimately this track works much better due to its somewhat building structure, a quality that I find particularly enticing in power electronics projects.  As this item is my first taste of both the label and group, both seem to be worthy elements of the growing US scene and are worth keeping an eye out for.

Control (USA) “Control” CD 2000 Black Plagve

With what amounted to a minor eruption in controversy on the TUMORlist regarding what some considered to constitute extreme & violent misogynist imagery (as presented on the cover of this debut Control album), it threatened to overshadow the actual music presented.  Well, arguments aside, this CD could have been packaged in a plain black case without loosing any of the inherent intensity of the power electronics blitzkrieg.  The blisteringly loud and insanely angry, ‘pain’ gets things moving with mid paced chaotic rumblings, high pitched fractural sonics and heavily treated/ distorted wailing vocals.  With the sound and focus quickly established, the remaining pieces surge forward in a similar manner.  With the album sounding partly hectic & improvised whilst containing basic structure and direction, this assists in gaining and holding the listeners attention.  ‘Hematoma’ manages a sweeping atmospheric tone to its static washes and wailing electronics, creating a constantly building sonic firestorm aesthetic.  Despite some other tracks having some pretty nasty sounding titles (like ‘streetcleaner’’, ‘humiliation’, and ‘left to bleed’) the vocals are never discernable in their content, firstly due to being ranted (or screamed) which are then heavily processed with distortion to create another layer to the chaos.  ‘The sickness’ contains an underlying rhythmic pulse, which is utilised as the foundation for the gradual building atmosphere, that despite being quite noisy, is relatively subdued when compared to earlier offerings.  With a track title such as  ‘anger’ it is easy to be deceived, given the actual focus is mid to slow paced fluctuating and cyclically constructed sonics, (rather than the anticipated attacking approach).  Anyway, to say that Control represents a strong contender in the growing US power electronics scene would be an understatement, as this CD solidifies what all the fuss has been about with previous live performances and limited edition vinyl and CDR items. It should be noted that this release is also somewhat limited with only 500 copies having been pressed.

Converter (USA) “Blast Furnace” CD 2000 Ant-Zen

Over the last few of years, Scott Sturgis has established himself as one of the finest musicians within the realm of dark music, through his electro-industrial sonicscapes as Pain Station, and his rhythmic noise as Converter (I’ve yet to hear the d.b.s. material).  The fact that the quality of each is of the utmost, well, that puts Scott in elite company, alongside the ultra-prolific Peter Andersson (Raison D’Etre, Stratvm Terror, et cetera…), Adi Newton (Clock DVA, TAGC), and a few more choice individuals.  Blast Furnace is consummate rhythmic noise, meticulously crafted, sculpted from metal and burnished in blood and sweat.  The title track stutters amidst whiplash, metallic percussion, discharging multiple layers of static ricochet noise, shifting the focus throughout.  The construction may sound familiar, but the results are anything but, as the locked in methodology is honed to a precision most excursions into rhythmic noise lack.  Rubber gloves massage the womb of “Be Broken” before metallic noise shatters into shards of noise that spray as shrapnel into the flesh of the ambience.  An ambience also punctured by snippets of glossy, distorted synths.  The gurgling miasma of rhythmic, throbbing noise that introduces “Red Crystal” ventures off into the distance before a rippling retort drags the noise back into focus, amidst injections of virulent metal and jackhammer pummelled bleats of ripping noise.  Oily electronics squelch amidst awkwardly stumbling rhythms, finally ending up in a valley of screams, moans and contorted vocalizations. Nothing is ever still, nothing follows a simple path; even amidst an abundance of loops, this music is in constant motion, multiple layers adding multiple perspectives.  And the noise is NOISE, not some simple bastardisation of the rhythms-molars grind, mountains crumble, buildings implode, all with Scott’s amiable assistance.  (Even the calmer moments spit and flail, straining the sonic straightjacket.)  There is so much to soak up here it is beyond listing. Just buy the damn disc! (Yes, that is most definitely a recommendation.) –JC Smith

Coph Nia (Swe) “That Which Remains” CD 2000 Cold Meat Industry

When the bio steals all of my potential comparisons (Sephiroth, Lustmord, Raison D’être and even snippets of Dead Can Dance) what am I supposed to do other than wholeheartedly agree?!  However one thing that sets this stellar debut apart from these other groups is the occultist/ritualistic side that steeps itself in Crowleyan mysticism (again it sounds like I am simply rehashing the album bio – that is, if it didn’t also happen to be true).  The gaping depths of CMI’s traditional dark ambient sound are evoked from this CD’s opening passages with lurking drones, muffled ritual clatter and haunting quasi-chanted vocals.  The ritual/occult aspects are more obviously explored on ‘Opus 77’, with prominent male spoken vocals (reciting Crowley’s concept of Will) along with fleeting segments of a lone female chant that could quite easily pass for Lisa Gerrard.  While I could personally do without the prominent male vocals of this piece, they are not so much of an issue as to become a distracting (and therefore detracting) element.  On the other hand, I have to say that some truly flesh-crawling screams, wails and wickedly demonic voices add an extremely unnerving air to the otherwise sweeping and classically-tinged dark ambience of ‘Doppelganger’.  With further reference to vocals, the interplay of commanding male and fragile female vocals embellished with acoustic guitars ensures the introduction of complementary elements to the track ‘Sanctus’ – but rest assured, the deeply resounding dark ambience is never too far from the surface (and particularly wallowed in on the following piece ‘Holy War pt. 2’).  ‘Our Lady of the Stars’ throws the preceding offerings to the wind by embracing a stunning piece of gothic tinged neo-classical resplendent with soaring female vocals, organ tune and sparse yet booming percussion – but rather then dwelling on a description of its aura, this piece simply needs to be heard to be fully appreciated.    The title track caps the album with a lengthy dark ambient slab of sound texture, where particular care is taken with the use of sparsely placed haunting choirs and slowing unnerving shifts of sound – again a track where full immersion is the only solution and the perfect way to usher the album unto oblivion.  It seems that there was some sort of mini bidding war surrounding this artist with both CMI and World Serpent Distribution being the main players.  Either way at least this album has now been released and can be fully appreciated.  As always Kaptain Karmanik has done a stunning job on the cover with images of cemetery statues in tones of black, silver, grey and purple.

Death in June (Eng) / Fire+Ice (Eng) “We Said Destroy 7”ep 2000 Frehdheit

A most  surprising track from DI6, ‘We Said Destroy’ contains a framework of industrial experimentation created via loose and echoed metallic rhythms that push the track forward, whilst being mixed together with an underscore of noise, spoken vocals, sampled voices and assorted drones(the track even finishes with a locked groove that gives off the aura of a bizarre carnival tune loop).  While ‘We Said Destroy’ is completely different to what most would ever expect from Douglas, this is still a fantastically creative piece and shows there is much more the DI6 than just their familiar apocalyptic folk sound. (And unless you have been living under a rock for the past twelve months, you would know the concept of this track it aimed at the circumstances surrounding DI6’s split with former label World Serpent).  Fire + Ice on the other hand create a quiet folksy organ dirge on ‘The Unquiet Grave’ completed with the trademark morose vocals of Ian Read.  Mid track sweeping violins and female vocals really add flair to the sorrowful atmosphere.  Packaging is also aesthetically pleasing, with blue foil stamped symbol and dragon presented on the cover.

Death in June (UK) “The World that Summer” CD 2000 NEROZ

This album, which was originally released as an LP way back in 1986, has now been re-released (for the first time on CD) in a beautifully and immaculately presented digipack of black embossed roses and red foil stamped writing.  Held within the musical framework of this album there are classics like ‘Torture by Roses’ and ‘Break the Black Ice’ (both emotive apocalyptic folk odes that would become such a staple of later works) that have stood the test of time very favourably – if not being entirely timeless.  On the other hand, the production sound of some other tracks point to the time when they were captured (such is the new wave up-tempo drum sound of‘ Come Before Christ and Murder Love’) likewise clearly marking the progression ofDI6 over the years.  The falsetto vocalisations of David Tibet (going under the alias Christ ‘777’ for this album) on ‘Love Murder’ are simply bizarre, floating over a light melancholy yet wispy keyboard tune.  ‘Rule Again’ is another new wave inspired song that ever so slightly hints at martial themes in regard to the steady beat and lone trumpeter, whilst lyrical focus points to Crowleyan derived inspiration.  For the lengthy soundscape presented on ‘Death of a Man’ it is surprising in that this is quite similar to the quieter trench warfare soundings tracks that can be found on the last Turbund Sturmwerk album “Weltbrand” – yet amazingly these two comparative pieces were recorded 14 years apart, again highlighting the timeless aesthetic that Douglas and entourage have been able to evoke over the years.  The final three tracks of the album come with ‘Reprise 1’, ‘2’ and ‘3’ which are actually alternate(vocal-less) versions of ‘Rule Again’, ‘Break the Black Ice’ and ‘Blood Victory’, bringing the total play time to nearly 70 minutes.  As it seems like there is a plan tore-release many of the DI6 back catalogue with refurbished packaging, it is good news for individuals like me where there are annoying holes in my DI6 collection, especially in regard to the older items.

Death in June (UK) “Brown Book” CD 2000 NEROZ

Another classic and out of print Death in June album has finally been re-released on CD for the first time.  The digipack is presented in light camouflage green with gold foil stamped totenkompf skull and title emblazoned on the front.  Additionally the cover insert is printed on high gloss paper with photos and text from the original release – also including a photograph of a much younger Douglas Pearce.  As the actual recording harks back to 1986-87 (similar to ‘The World that Summer’), ‘Brown Book’ includes well-known songs intermixed with other tracks of soundscapes, speeches and general experimentation.  The lineup for this recording includes Rose McDowall, David Tibet (credited as Tibet ‘93’), Ian Read (among others), and their individual contributions can be heard on various tracks throughout the album.  The best known DI6 pieces here include ‘Hail! The White Grain’, ‘Runes and Men’ and ‘To Drown a Rose’, all of which follow the apocalyptic folk tangent and thus do not require further description, as anyone who even had a passing interest in the group will be aware of this style and sound.  The more experimental numbers include ‘Red Dog-Black Dog’, which is built around hummed female vocals overlaid with a echoed male voice reciting a cryptic storey, and ‘We are the Lust’, which consists of heavy percussion, haunting sound textures and vocals (the track basically avoids any reliance on a main tune).  ‘Punishment Initiation’ is a fantastic mixture of non-standard percussion, keyboard soundscapes and acoustics with the pained vocals of David Tibet really adding flair.  The following piece is also the title track, consisting solely of a German chant that Douglas says is as controversial today as when it was first released (when first released the album was banned in Germany).  The last real track, ‘Burn Again’, has an almost Spanish flamenco sound with its lightly plucked acoustic guitar, which is the lone musical element presented alongside David Tibet’s vocals.  As has become a staple of Death in June albums over the years, the last three tracks are  mixed versions or ‘reprisals’ of other album tracks – here including ‘Hail! the White Grain’, ‘To Drown a Rose’ and ‘Runes and Men’.  Though not my all-time favourite Death in June album, this is still an essential item for my collection.

Death in June (UK) “but, what ends when the symbols shatter?” CD 2001 NER

Death in June (UK) “Rose Clouds of Holocaust” CD 2001 NER

These two albums see the scheduled re-release of the DI6 back catalogue, and when they were released back in 1992 & 1995 respectively, were somewhat considered as brother and sister albums due to their strict adherence to the now benchmark apocalyptic folk sound.  And with the current label advertisement proclaiming “the most important Death In June releases of the last decade“, how could it have been more accurately put without sounding like an understatement or exaggeration?  Originally presented in jewel cases, the re-released versions see the albums now housed in individual digi-packs that have used combinations of pressed embossing and foil stamping.  Whilst the packaging pays homage to the original artwork, the digi-packs also include high gloss printed cover inserts that quite thrillingly incorporate additional images from the periods that the albums were recorded, creating rather majestic covers for each album.  Forlorn and nostalgic, tragic and melancholic – the gamete of these emotions are encapsulated within an overriding framework of despair that spans both albums and the years that they were conceived.  With the atmospheres of both albums being built on an acoustic guitar framework, they are further embellished with keyboard layers, backing vocals (male and female), trumpet, bass guitar, percussion, melodica etc, creating a continuity of simplicity yet an air of diversity.  If we are then to look at individual tracks, it becomes apparent that there are simply no fillers on either disc.  And it is quite astounding as to the number of DI6 classics that these albums contain.  From ‘Death is the Martyr of Beauty’, ‘Little Black Angel’, ‘The Golden Wedding of Sorrow’, ‘Ku Ku Ku’ and the title track off ‘but, what ends when the symbols shatter?’, through to ‘God’s Golden Sperm’, ‘Omen-Filled Season’, ‘Symbols of the Sun’, ‘Luther’s Army’, ’13 Years of Carrion’ and likewise the title track off ‘Rose Clouds of Holocaust’ it highlights how magnifically strong these albums are when viewed either individually or as a representation of just how far Douglas has evolved DI6’s sound by the early to mid 1990’s.  Referencing alternate tracks on ‘but, what ends…’, ‘Daedalus Rising’ is particularly harrowing due to the urgency of the guest vocals presented David Tibet.  The same can be (partly) said for ‘This is Not Paradise’ (again on ‘but, what ends…’) which sees David’s spoken vocals delivered in both English and French, presented over a soundscape of calling of gulls in a costal setting and mid paced strumming of the acoustic guitar.  Mr. Tibet also guests on ‘Rose Clouds….’ where the presentation of his vocals on ‘Jerusalem the Black’ are rather subdued, but certainly contain his trademark style.  With David providing one last collaboration, ‘Life Books’ closes ‘Rose Clouds…’, seeing the amalgam of both Douglas’s and David’s (spoken) vocals in a rather sparse soundscape (with David in the ending moments hissing “it’s a dream, it’s a dream…wake up, wake up”).  Likewise including the immortally controversial line “The swirling sounds of swastikas, like rotor blades of thought, threshing the wheat out from the chaff’ (spoken in deadpan voice by Douglas) to conclude the album, it is a perfect example of a type of lyric that on face value seems to articulate one idea, however after delving deeper into its ambiguous symbolism has a much more profound meaning.  Basically I cannot speak highly enough of either of these albums, and if you were to only own one DI6 CD in your collection it most certainly would be one of these.  If Death in June remains as an enigma to some readers out there, either of these albums would be the absolutely perfect introduction.

Death in June (Eng) “All Pigs Must Die CD 2001 NER

After the diversion from the ‘classic’ Death in June sound on the two previous albums “Take Care and Control” & “Operation Hummingbird” (due mainly to having been recorded in collaboration with Albin Julius), the question being asked was: – ”what sound will the new Death in June album encompass?”  Particularly when it became apparent that Albin would not be involved with this particular recording.  Well, to address this question, the seemingly blunt titled “All Pigs Must Die” provides the official response.   Splitting the album into two halves and two sounds, it encompasses half-celebratory yet scornful apocalyptic folk nostalgia and half industrially harsh experimental noise-scapes. The more acoustic ‘classical’ DI6 sounding tracks were recorded in collaboration with Andreas Ritter (of German neo-deutsch folk project Forseti). Whilst on the flip side, it seems the noisier experimentations were recorded by Douglas alone and are similar in approach to those tackled on the ‘We Said Destroy’ 7” (see above review) of last year.  Firstly making reference to the acoustic tracks, interestingly these don’t contain any sort of martial percussion (which seems to be a popular element of current neo-folk acts), rather utilising trumpet and accordion as the main backing elements.  Likewise with the absence of any other backing elements of keyboard melodies, vocals and strings it has created quite a stripped back and rather direct approach to DI6 apocalyptic folk sound.  With the title track commencing proceedings, the acoustic strains are offset with trumpeters, accordion tune, folk whistle, and vocals almost being in the form of a chanted and repeated mantra (and certainly representing a solid beginning).  Boyd Rice guests by providing a spoken word introduction to ‘Tick Tock’, which is a stunningly spiteful acoustic guitar waltz presented via cyclic strumming and semi-romantic accordion tune.  ‘Disappear in Everyway’ taking on the acoustic/ trumpet/ accordion basis, reverts late in the piece to again use the repeated mantra of the album title.  ‘The Enemy Within (Strange Days)’ with it’s vocal line “these are strange days for you and me and Germany…but we have honour and with that we’ll win”, sung over a rather epic and atmospheric acoustic guitar playing, makes me wonder if this (along with other lyrical hints) could in any way be interpreted as an ode to DI6’s new label Tesco Organisation? (…you decide…).  Boyd Rice guests again at the start of ‘We Said Destroy II’ prior to Douglas presenting another immaculate acoustic number, with the following track ‘flies have their house’ accommodating a stunningly forlorn and depressive aura evoked via atmospheric trumpeting and meandering accordion tune (the last minute of the track regresses to a melange of voices, noises, song samples etc).  Moving into the experimental side of the album, ‘with bad blood’ acts as a bridging number given the extremely noisy and spiteful reprisal of ‘tick tock’.  The basic structure of the former acoustic track seems to have been fed through distortion and manipulating equipment, with the vocals re-recorded with unbridled anger, sitting alongside discordant piano tones and other demonic vocalisations.  ‘No Pay Day’ takes on the aesthetic of the prior track yet is even more spiteful, lacking any sort of tune, rather opting to have the drawled acerbic vocals as the main focus.  ‘We Said Destroy III’ is another partially reworked piece – here taking on the form of ‘We Said Destroy II’ and further destroying it with static feedback, echoes and noise.  ‘Lord of the Sties’ consisting of a spoken vocal piece, takes various German and English recited lyrics, amassing these into a loose framework of distortion and noise.  The final track, ‘ride out!’ as a piece does not entirely align itself with either of the experimental/industrial or acoustic framework, but rather as a perfectly constructed piece of manipulated deep brass orchestral loops and indecipherable vocals, and is a great diversionary piece to conclude this new offering.  Overall, the collaboration with Andreas Ritter on the first half has incorporated an increased neo-folk aura to the DI6 sound (mainly due to the swaying accordion melodies), yet also I would have to say these tracks could be viewed as some of Douglas’s strongest acoustic works to date. Especially with having melded the traditional forlorn reflective mood with a very sharp and very spiteful edge.  Even if I am not aware of all of the details surrounding DI6’s split with WSD, the lyrical content throughout the album seems that these events have has a profound impact on Douglas to the point where it has been both the inspiration AND obsession for the new album.  Whilst I initially found the lyrical focus unnecessarily blunt and somewhat lacking the ambiguity or spirituality of earlier lyrics (and I question to if they will have the longevity of other DI6 lyrics), I can say that this album IS a very strong release, albeit short at around 40 minutes.  Given I have only an advance copy of the CD at the time of review, I am certainly interested to see what the artwork will comprise of.

Deison (Ita) “Dirty Blind Vortex” CD 2000 Crionic Mind

Deison is a name that I was familiar with, not so much with the actual music, but the their name until this recording. So after this introduction, the best overview I can give is Deison’s style that it runs the gamut between sinister dark ambience and oppressive death industrial motifs.  Grinding and obliquely tuneful, ‘dream:morphology’ is a dense looped soundscape with dialogue sample being derived from David Lynch’s ‘Eraserhead’ which adds to the bleak yet slightly surrealistic edge.  Radio frequencies and sporadic voices blend together with fractured sound layers on ‘inside sources’ to a bleak conclusion – as does ‘novamalia’ but rather opting for a bass soaked and muffled industrial sound with slight orchestral undercurrent.  Whipping the atmosphere into an electric frenzy, ‘lodge, hlny’ is rather chaotic and somewhat improvised with loose groupings of loops and sharper textures that resemble electric wire distortion, whilst the sparse shimmering minimalism of ‘silenzio’ is sporadically punctured with bursts of machine looping clatter to add to the oppressive aura.  With the writhing electronics and fog like atmospheres of ‘Out of Spasm’, it laboriously accrues intensity to become rather weighty by the time it has passed the five minute mark.  ‘Symptomatic Headache’ creates the track with the least muffled production with sharp and twisted electric pulses swirling at a higher sonic range.  This higher, sharper sonic edge is again replicated on ‘Terminal Suck Sick’, however there are fewer aspects to the sound stratum creating a broader electric oriented air.  Diving headlong back into death industrial musings, ‘Automatic Pain II’ is quite fantastic with orchestral undercurrent that is massacred with full warfare samples (machinegun ablaze, bullets whisking by close overhead).  The final album track ‘Dirty Intercourse’ clocks in at over 12 minutes, being a broad soundscape of dense undercurrents with more improvised textures sounds, samples and malfunctioning machine idling noise laid over the top.  In that it appears that Deison has collaborated on various tracks with sshe retina stimulants, government alpha and baal (among others) it has resulted in a more diverse sound palate between compositions whilst retain a specific genre focus.  Having said that, the album is sonically dense and tonally bleak to create an album of cruel musical intentions.

Dernière Volonté (Fra) “Le Feu Sacre” CD 2000 Hau Ruk

Being signed to Albin Julius’s (of Der Blutharsch infamy) label, you could expect this to have a stylistic slant towards martial/neo-classical, which is in fact right on the mark.  This is another group that has arisen from seeming obscurity but has managed to produce an astoundingly solid debut album that warrants comparisons to the likes of Tribe of Circle, LJDLP and Der Blutharsch – in other words, top notch! In amongst a generally martial framework, selected songs seem to utilise sampled and looped classical snippets that enhance the forlorn atmosphere and likewise provide a timeless aesthetic.  Other tracks, such as ‘Nous maintenons notre histoire’, contain spoken vocals sitting above a looped percussive base, deep resonating horns, sweeping strings and folkish flute tune.  For yet another comparison, the slow and depressive aura of ‘Der kinder nacht’ seeps from the speakers much in a similar style to the brooding works of Raison d’être, with unnerving shifts of sounds and sparse hints of choir vocals and violin tunes.  ‘Le Coeur ombre’ is more warlike in its clanging metallic percussion and pounding tympani, acting as an inspiring counterpart to the slow brooding tune enshrined in the violins and piano.  This battle oriented vibe is again present on ‘Der Zorn gottes’, but is here produced with constant rolling snares and quite massive epic horn melody (finally completed with sampled vocal phrase pertaining to the track’s title).  Both epic and forlorn, ‘Marchefunèbre’ contains slow snare drum work, marching alongside a brooding organ tune and understated piano accompaniment, whilst a flute tune floats slightly above.  By far the folksiest track on offer is ‘Les tambours’, mainly due to the prominence of the flute and deeply sung male vocals, while the backing music sustains a quite rousing marching tune.  On a different tangent the production sound of ‘Mères de nos souffrances’ holds quite an distant aura with its echoed and resonating piano tunes playing off against each other, which at just under three minutes is far too short (but I guess that this late in the album oblivion is slowly approaching, thus there is no point putting off the inevitable).  While there might be multitudes of new groups popping up in the ever growing neo-folk/neo-classical genre, if they all produce albums of this calibre the scene can only be all the stronger for it.

Dissecting Table (Jap) “Memories” CD 2001 Triumvirate

The distinct industrial noise madness created by Ichiro Tsuji is again explored on the new Dissecting Table, where four tracks or ‘memories’ are presented, giving a total play time of around 40 minutes.  From the opening segments it is apparent that whilst the same auras you would normally associate with this project are present, that the tracks have also taken on a (partial) format that is more akin to the construction of a full band than a sole individual.  ‘Memory I’ with screaming noise feedback, fast paced metallic programmed percussion and buzz saw bass guitar all give the aura of listening to a hybrid of a grind band and noise project (the guttural distortion of the vocals additionally rendering them in a death metal guise).  Retaining a free form flow, the track chops and changes between segments, yet it is when  incorporating the structured parts, they appear to be the most composed that Ichiro has used.  ‘Memory II’ commences with an ominous slow paced bass tune and programmed pounding beat, that apart from some metallic noise in the background interestingly could easily be passed off as a full band!  Things continue in this fashion including the screeched vocals following a clear verse/chorus/verse format, whilst the middle segment contains electronic pulsating sounds highlighting a diversion from the metallic feedback (additionally with static blasts and a clanging church bell).  Given the squelching feedback chaos of ‘Memory III’, it shifts through a variety of noise and percussive segments, and is far removed from the more structured ‘band’ sounding elements of the first two pieces and a nice diversionary l offering.  The final ‘Memory’ of the CD swings back to the fast repetitive percussion, obliterated bass tune and trademark vocals, before swinging off onto other tangents of semi-to-unstructured tangent, electronic weirdness, programmed dub etc.  In that I find that most people have a love/ hate relationship with Dissecting Table, for those who have succumb to Ichiro’s chaos before, prepare for yet another all out onslaught! 

Dodsdomd (Swe) “Everburning Evil Fire” 7” CD 2000 L.S.D. Organisation

Another L.S.D. Org. release presented in the dual packing of a pleasingly designed gloss cardboard slip sleeve, inside a screen printed canvas slip case. Although Dodsdomd were, like so many other projects, introduced on the “Esthetiks of Cruelty” DCD set, the two tracks on this transparent green vinyl (to match the full colour cover) are admittedly less raucous and chaotic as the sucker punching track included on the said compilation.  Atmospherically noisy, the title track makes use of an unusual vocal treatment for the semi-whispered voice whilst mid-ranged, loosely looped rumbles intersperse further with sections of static derived noise and high pitched squeals acting as the combined ‘musical’ counter part.  The very title of ‘Fleshgrinder’ gives an indication of what to expect, and the track itself furiously amasses into a focussed whole after a short build up.  Machine gun-style loops and multi layered high end noise reach such a point of intensity that it actually sounds as if the vinyl is faulty, and its incessant (but of course deliberate) crackling adds yet another roughly hewed loop in amongst the many.  Despite all its hellish noise it does reach an unusual atmospheric tone that all too quickly fades away (I don’t know how I would fare listening to a whole CD of something like this track, but it is good over the one side of a vinyl EP).  Two sides, two tracks, and two interesting styles within Dodsdomd’s power electronics/noise focus make this quite an interesting item

Sally Doherty and the Sumacs (Eng) “Sleepy Memory” CD 2000 Tiger Records

Rather than constituting a new album, this is actually a re-release of Doherty’s debut of 1998, but now with proper distribution via WSD (I assume that it may have originally been self-released).  Quite a bit more song-oriented than Sally’s “Empires of Death” soundtrack of 2000, her vocals take centre stage as varying instrumentation is used to embellish the 13 tracks.  The vocals themselves are sung in a quite contemporary style, although hints of a Middle Eastern influence can also be detected.  The songs also tend to hold a classical feel due to the instrumentation, which includes piano, flute, cello, violin, harp and classical guitar.  ‘Watching the Horses’, which builds the musical framework on meandering piano and string accompaniment, is quite a dreamy song with Sally’s vocals being both that of lead and backing, whilst the tablas percussion on ‘Lake-Linear’ gives a clear nod to Middle Eastern inspiration, as do the vocals.  The title track is clearly one of my favourites of the album, with this being attributed to the soaring vocals and piano/ violin playing that leap into a number of more urgent segments.  On ‘Fast Approaching Silent’, the piano’s minor keys give a darker, moodier aura, and is assisted by the sparse backing vocals and accompanying flute tune, while my penchant for the mixture of strings and grand piano is satisfied on the slightly depressive track ‘Voice’, which is also really the last proper track of the album (if we do not include the 1 minute instrumental piece, ‘Waiting’).  Generally this album reminds me of the more fragile moments of The 3rd and the Mortal’s works or even the recordings of ex 3rd vocalist Kari Rueslatten (when she was not trying to be a pop princess!).  Basically this a quite a contemporary and beautiful collection of emotive songs.

Droneaement (Ger)/The Infant Cycle (Can) “Klab (Phonorecord)” LP 2000 The Ceiling

Coming from a label I was not previously aware of, this features one artist I have heard (Droneaement) and one I have not (I don’t need to spell it out for you do I?!). The first Droneaement peice, ‘ER-9 noise transmission.wav’, is very much akin to what the group’s moniker and track title would allude to, given it presents thick sonic waves of mid to low range register, with keyboard notes forming a slightly glitched sound.  Interesting this track moves into regions I would have not expected from the group, utilising a programmed beat segment to push things along in a mid-paced, almost groovy sound.  Here as much as the drones are not noisy or assaulting, neither are the beats, rather opting to be under stated, consisting of low toned bass kicks and light percussion.  Mid way through, the drones slip off into the background upping the antics of the beats and slight driven noises and squeals yet still retaining the mid paced groove.  Overall this track could particularly sit alongside any number of recent Ant-Zen releases of the dark electronica persuasion.  Track 2 for Droneaement (‘331/3 rpm acoustictransmission.wav’) on the other hand is a surging mass of low end psycho-acoustic tunings – layer upon layer building into a bleak monolithic structure, where even the surrounding inky blackness appears to shimmer.  For my mind-set track 1 is good but track 2 is where the real deal is at (I have always been a sucker for droning dark ambience).  Flipping the clear vinyl over,  The Infant Cycle has only 1 track to their side, a piece that starts out with a section of good old classic drones that morph into slightly evasive sound textures.  Things continue on in such a guise until it unexpectedly breaks into a dub/beat segment!  Sharp and snappy percussion categorise the programming, yet ever present in the background are some semi-melodious keyboard drones. The format meanders along where the beats (and selected samples) are added and subtracted at a number of points – with this both jarring and assisting the flow (in a good way that is!).  Again I would have to comment that this piece has quite a bit in common with cut up electronica style of the current Ant-Zen roster.  For interest this release is more than simply a split LP as both projects have assisted in the construction of each other’s tracks by providing the basic source sounds and assorted noise treatments, likewise with Droneaement providing the handmade covers (grainy card with minimalist screen-printing and image attachment).

Exotoendo (Fra) “Push Kara” CD 2000 Athanor

Although “Push Kara” is only the second album by this French project, it seems that the group has already split up. This is indeed very unfortunate news considering the quality of the ritualistic dark ambience that they have created here and on their previous CD (on Old Europa Café) a few years back.  Although not mentioned in the cover liner notes, I have heard rumours that this CD was recorded in some sort of industrial vat, which partly explains the sparse resonance of the drone atmospherics.  The Tibetan Buddhist derived inspiration also points to the ritualised sounds that seep gently into the mix at appropriate moments – perfectly creating ritualised dark ambience.  Both wistful and arcane deep drones meander forth from the speakers, and are later set amongst sparse notes (played on wind or string instruments) and light percussion (in the form of chimes and wood/metal implements) that mark the ritual aspects.  Occasionally a chanted vocal appears, sounding like a disembodied soul marking its mournful presence.  As one track morphs into the next, some highlight more extroverted segments, whilst others work with a minimalist aesthetic, yet the slow evolving direction and flow of the album make discerning where one piece finishes and another starts quite a difficult task indeed.  From this perspective it means that the CD is quite a good tool for meditative practise, or otherwise as apiece of music to which you can simply succumb without having a change of tracks break the feel and flow of the warm spiritual atmospheres being evoked.  While Exotoendo may not have a huge name within the dark ambient field, this does not prevent me from recommending this highly.

Fennesz (Aut) “03_02_00 Live at Revolver, Melbourne” CD 2000 Touch

At only sixteen and a half minutes this live recording is a mere snippet of the set Christian Fennesz hammered out on his powerbook during a sweltering summer evening show.  Static riddled and constantly fragmenting, this CD conjures up an oddly engulfing sound, with higher pitched tonal notes giving off a shifted modem type of sound.  Within the contest of these sound textures, a sparse direction is found with the inter linking sample elements creating a rough drone type flow, constantly splintering off on new tangents.  A middle segment gives the impression of someone scanning frequencies on a short wave radio – not that any voices are ever heard, mind you, but instead the barren soundwaves give off an electric hum.  An extremely noisy and chaotic framework is used around the nine minute mark with a sampled tune being obliterated in the distorted static mix, amongst multitudes of other quite fierce noise textures.  Things do calm down for the final part of journey as another sample tune and gentle static and glitched elements create a somewhat meditative state.  Although the packaging is not worthy of a mention, if you have appreciated Christian Fennesz’s experimental soundscapes before, this CD will not disappoint,

Fennesz (Aut) / Rosy Parlane (NZ) “Live” 3” MCD 2000 Synaesthesia

This CD is quite stunning both musically and in the discreet miniaturised packaging that houses the3” disc.   The live recording showcased here was undertaken at an afternoon barbeque when number of the Mego crew were in Melbourne, Australia, in February,2000 as part of the ‘What is Music?’ festival. Although totally improvised between the two artists, it does not sound as such, working both perfectly in the drone and digital glitch sound styles.  Two untitled tracks make up the 14 minutes of music, with both inhabiting a similar sound framework while holding their own distinctive aura.  Track 1contains calm static glitched loops at the foreground, with sparse drones crawling below that actually reveal a slow moving melody as they surge forward.  Sparse and highly atmospheric, it creates an emotive air in which to revel and ultimately lose yourself (I first heard this when it was played on the radio as I drove home in the small hours from a Scanner performance, with the track complementing both the time and my mood perfectly).  Track 2 offers a touch more rhythm and melody, with the slow format being fed through distortion effects to disguise the original soundsources.  Here the glitches are still present but generally less dominant – but nevertheless a similarly stunning aura is evoked.  Nothing else to add but that this is quality stuff indeed, and clearly shows the genius of artists who can create such sounds in an improvisational format.

Folkstorm (Swe) “Information Blitzkrieg” CD 2000 Old Europa Café

While this is the first Folkstorm CD off the ranks, you might also note that two other CDs were released in the same year (and are likewise are reviewed below); yet despite the sudden rush of releases it appears that “Information Blitzkrieg” dates back to 1999.  All the same Mr Nordvargr has certainly been busy with this project to record three albums (four, if you include the ultra limited MP3 exclusive “Culturecide Campaigns” CD) in between operations of his main project MZ.412 – and having dropped that project name it should be pricking up a few ears.  I will certainly admit that one of the charms of Folkstorm is its raw, almost crude styling, which ultimately alters from the more polished sounds of MZ.412.  Likewise, by not being constrained by other members, Folkstorm appears to be a very direct channelling of Nordvargr’ side as into these no frills aggressive power electronic movements.   Apart from an unusual sampled opener (a 1940s-1950s stage song sampled in its entirety with no modifications except for an underlying analogue drone), the real meat comes with ‘This is War’ at track 2.  Noise, loops, distortion, dialogue samples and then even more distortion for good measure – this should give you an idea of what to expect! Beginning with a drum sample that I am certain was originally from MZ.412’s “Nordik Battle Signs” album, ‘Haus Betula’ arrives as a sprawling mass of a throbbing electronic bass loops that is morphed ever so slightly over its length, whereas the harsh layers and blow-torch noise of ‘Alle Sagen Ja’ act as incinerating agents to samples of Third Reich speeches and military songs that have the misfortune of finding themselves inserted into the crushing mix of searing atmospheric noise.  Low fi, mid-paced distortion box noise simmers just below the boiling point throughout ‘M.H.S.M’ as the inserted dialogue samples are almost completely lost in the somewhat subdued grinding layers, while ‘We Control You (1989)’, with its fast and aggressive percussion, obliterated vocal smatterings and slight static, is a great but(at just under 2 minutes) disappointingly short track.  Concluding the album with aggressive militant atmospheres – and even a hint of structural melody -‘Beendigung: Opus Rex’ uses a lengthy format to construct the various layers of samples, dialogue, noise, programmed sounds to an engrossing result.  Overall there is a definite comparison to be made to MZ.412, almost seeming like a stripped back and raw power electronics version of that project. Folkstorm is a more than capable project to provide you with an ample fix of culturecide.

Folkstorm (Swe) “Hurtmusic” CD 2000 Old Europa Cafe

Marching into battle, snare drum in martial alliance, Folkstorm welcomes sonic bloodshed via this scorching live presentation.  Mixing samples, raw, nerve to the flame, feedback squeals, ultra-distorted loops of machinery noise and what sounds like mangled retching from within the throat of abused guitars (?!), Folkstorm plow through fields of death with relentless revelry.  The blanched in distortion vocals rage maniacally, the chaotic spiels an integral part of the Folkstorm grinding crush of sludgy noise.  Despite the fact that the recording has a very controlled atmosphere, one can almost sense the heat and feel the sweat and ear-shredding reverence that a show of this purely assaulting nature must have inspired.  Sheer, sonic, wrapped in distortion so thick it crackles like bacon on a skillet, like napalm on living flesh, brutality!  What more can I say?  (And, yes, this music can hurt!)  -JC Smith

Folkstorm (Swe) “Victory or Death” CD 2000 Cold Spring

“Victory or Death” is the third Folkstorm release, yet like the debut, “Information Blitzkrieg”, was also recorded back in 1999 and therefore predates the live recording“ Hurtmusic” captured in March 2000 (the live CD was incidentally released second in queue).  Seething noise, slow bass pounds, repeated vocal phrase and high pitched squeals sees the stockpiling of sonic weaponry from the get go of `Stolz’, giving no ground as it trudges forward (later stamping on the noise accelerator and becoming all out chaotic).  Fast analogue throbs characterise the main section of ‘Feldgeschrei’, and are pushed through further distortion and treatment throughout the track. By being simple and direct this piece nonetheless creates an additive result- particularly at loud volumes.  Again analogue loops constitute the backbone of ‘Harsh Discipline’, and are combined noisy and very crunchy sonic textures while slow non-rhythmic beats and distorted vocals rise from the mix (later the track sounds as if it may collapse under the crushing weight).  For a bit of education we are taught the principles of ‘Propaganda’ (on a track of the same title) as a slow pitch shifted voice discourses on the subject whilst high-pitched squeals and blistering looped noise bores incessantly into your skull.  ‘We are the Resistance’ makes use of a stunning main section of deep tribal/industrial beats, again with sections of looping noise and sampled dialogue swirls to the backing – here too simplicity and directness win out.  ‘Funreal Force’ (which is surely a typo) takes no prisoners as it builds on abase of muddied, bubbling textures, directly attacking with bursts of high-pitched noise.  Hints of slow percussion appear but seem only to increase the aggression of noise to screaming intensity as the whole shrill atmosphere is amplified (does it get any better than this?!).  Taking an overall comparison of albums, I would have to say this is my favourite of the three as it appears to be slightly more worked through and also more militant and direct in atmosphere.  To add to this the chaotic loops, static and noise have all been given a very pleasing production that additionally tends to accommodate a greater differentiation in sound between tracks.

Gae Bolg and the Church of Fand (Fra) / Omno Datum Optimum (Fra) split 12”EP 2000 Cynfeirdd

The first of a trilogy, this split instalment is limited to 333 copies.  Up first is Gae Bolg, who are extremely traditional in their medieval/gothic song construction, with the male vocals sounding like a morose bard against a segment of guitar and wind instruments.  Interestingly this slow tuneful segment is then juxtaposed against a section of absolutely pummelling tympani percussion as the track cuts back and forth between these segments for its duration. Basically, whilst being very traditional, it still remains an unusual blend of folk and martial neo-classical.  The second track presents a much less musical structure, opting rather for a soundscape of drawn out flute notes, disembodied voices, and archaic sounds (that actually remind me quite a bit of the ritualistic sounds of Psychonaut), and overall leaving me slightly edgy and unnerved.  The flip side of the EP by Omno Datum Optimum is not far removed from the first, and mixes gothic chanted male vocals and tympani percussion  with a more full and brooding orchestral sound that is slightly more sweeping in its musical vision(distant strings, horns, snare drumming and subdued piano all add to the beautiful atmosphere).  Omno Datum Optimum’s second piece slowly rises as a deep cello movement with accompanying orchestral drones, chanted male vocals and deep percussion.  By gradually increasing the intensity of each musical element, this track seems even more engulfing than the first despite its more limited musical movement and direction.  With full colour cover and inset this relatively new label is presenting some quite stellar releases that should at least pique your interest if neo-classical sounds are your thing.

The Galerkin Method (USA) “The Galerkin Method” 2000 MCDR self released

This must be one of the most bizarre releases I have been sent to review in this issue, given that The Galerkin Method meld contemporary song writing with everything from ethnic Indian sounds to European waltzes within their musical style.  With the group centring around Stefany Anne, it would appear that she is responsible both writing the basis of the songs and vocal duties (that incidentally due to the infusion of an Indian influence are therefore quite comparable to the vocal style of Lisa Gerrard). The opener ‘Whatwas’, with its hammered dulcimer provides a certain ethnic slant and a distinctive individualistic sound for the project (despite the drumming taking a march like approach and other instruments such as guitar and flute acting as backing elements).  The accordion waltz on track two ‘Hale’ is enhanced with violin, bass drums, guitar and Stefany’s vocals and apart from holding a traditional sound, has a fleeting Mr Bungle type weirdness (however revealing nothing that I could directly put my finger on).  The third track, ‘Carmina B’ delves into the alternate musical auras of the first two tracks (the European and the Indian), resulting in a heightened sense of a surrealist nightmare playing out in the crevices of the mind (and to think I considered some of Novy Svét’s compositions to be out there!)  Free form and ever so slightly folksy in feel, ‘this perplexing frost’ is the most straightforward song on presentation, yet the ethnic slant of the female vocals, along with accordion and violin provides the necessary continuity to preceding tracks.  ‘Longitude/ Latitude’ is reminiscent of the traditional eastern experimentations that the Tea Party delved into on their early releases – here the track using a moody dulcimer tune, layers of radio voices, violin and the ever present, urgent yet angelic female vocals.  The darkest number is left to last via melding a brooding accordion tune (again) with the dulcimer and vocals of Stefany, prior to it picking up quite a bit of pace, galloping along with bass guitar and drums.  Whist certainly an interesting recording I am still left a little bemused as what to make of this, but the closest overall description I can think of is imagining the music that Lisa Gerrard would create whilst on a chemically induced outing…in other words strangely enticing!

General Magic (Aut) “Rechenkönig” CD 2000 Mego

Any CD that can sample Barney the Dinosaur on the opening track certainly shows a sense a humour that cuts against the grain of the often ever so serious academic ‘art-noise’ scene.  Primarily of the static/glitch oriented sound for which the Mego label is so well known (which is not surprising since General Magic is comprised of the founders of Mego!), the 26 tracks on this album generally range in length from a mere 30 seconds to just shy of five minutes.  Random programmed/sampled tunes, percussive elements and diverse digital static all seem to have been fed through distortion-inducing computer programs to create off kilter and quite disorientating sonic textures.  No tracks really stand out over the rest, yet each one explores its own little territory generally framed by the original source material utilised.  Moreover, given the cut-up nature of the album, it can as easily be played through from start to finish or alternately via the random selection button, yet still finding that you arrive at the same result of listening to playfully complex and sometimes confusing sonics.  I quite quickly run out of ideas of how to describe an album of this style, and would thus prefer to keep this review short and sweet.  While this will certainly please aficionados of the Mego sound, this CD might not be the best introduction for newcomers to this label.

Gerome Nox (Fra) “Blood-Red Poppies” CD 2000 Moloko

Taking an overall concept centring on murder and serial killers, this solo artist has produced a CD which ranges from dense and disturbing death industrial soundscapes to more traditional industrial guitar chug riffs.  Also used quite extensively to embellish the themes of the CD, numerous sampled dialogue pieces are used to occasionally chilling effect.  More guitar oriented pieces like ‘On the Road’ are not presented so much in, say, a Ministry vein, but are closer to how guitars were integrated into In Slaughter Natives’ “Sacrosancts Bleeds” CD.  ‘Mass Destruction’ is a touch cheesy due to the up-tempo programmed beats and cyclic heavy guitar strumming, yet things do start to get interesting around the start of the following piece, ‘Monologue Two’ (as there are no guitars), which relies on subdued keyboard drones and scattered sounds to create a tense atmosphere further enhanced by the statements of a serial killer (recounting how he was forced to have oral sex with his mother).  This vibe is carried through the title track, which at over 11 minutes is introduced with crime scene dialogue, and later encompasses massive furnace blasting sound textures, echoed metallic clatter, creeping footfalls and buzzing flies – these elements create a mental picture of a killer returning to the murder scene (and with tracks of this quality I wonder why the guitar tracks were ever included!).  ‘Hell’s Kitchen’ does a somewhat reasonable job of mixing the darker soundscapes with slightly abstract guitars – yet again my comments on the guitar element remains.  To finish the CD, ‘A Tribute’ features a male and female voice reeling off an exhaustive list of killers (some well known, others less so), and while this is an interesting idea that is set to backing sounds that are reminiscent of Megaptera, it unfortunately comes off as tedious and drawn out (considered that it spans 18 minutes).  While the guitar pieces might not be bad at all, the darker soundscapes are much more distinctive and are really where the gems of this CD can be found.  The cover imagery remains true to the title and is presented in a simply and cleanly designed digipack.

Gothica (Ita) “Night Thoughts” CD 2000 Cruel Moon bc

Gothica’s “Night Thoughts” is a beautifully lush and orchestral oriented album with moving compositions and sweeping operatic female vocals.  From the opening strains of ‘Stagione Oscura’ the mood is set in full classical mode, with fleeting gothic oriented influences filtering through as the album progresses.  Ornately structured compositions add a certain depth to the album with combinations of both real and synthetic instrumentation providing a layered effect.  As these sounds are aligned with prominent classically-oriented female and restrained male vocals, it is not hard to draw parallels with the almost legendary Dead Can Dance. The tribalesque percussion and slow keyboard dirge of ‘Spirits of the Dead’ is particularly noteworthy, with the more oppressive themes of the track embodied in the subdued male vocal lead.  Slightly baroque in styling, ‘Proserpina’ is a flowing mass of meandering vocals, violins and keyboards that would not have been out of place on Dead Can Dance’s classic “In the Realm of a Dying Sun” (indeed, several other tracks bear this comparison).  The late album track, ‘The Pure Nymph’, encapsulates a slow down-vibed orchestral movement that in my mind would have been better without the electric guitar solo noodling, yet this is not so prominent that it can’t simply be ignored.  For one of the most active and up-tempo pieces, ‘Lost in Reverie’ strides forward with orchestral keys and strings – female vocals remaining a powerful central focal point.  At mid song a commanding piano segment appears with auspicious result – fading the track to its conclusion.  Of the 12 compositions, (which on average hover around the 3-4 minute mark), each explores its framework in moderate detail, created an album of maturity in relation to Gothica’s orchestrally gothic stance.

Haus Arafna (Ger) “für immer” 7”ep 2000 Galakthorrö

There are always certain groups that I know I should have checked out a long time ago (with Haus Arafna being one such project), but for whatever reason this did not happen until now.  Knowing their cult status in the power/ heavy electronics game, I must say that the vocals on these tracks were not entirely what I was expecting – but I have also been made aware that on previous tracks the vocals were far less tuneful. Anyway, packaging on this 7” is stunning with fold out card cover, printed vinyl sleeve and black wax and canvas ribbon to hold everything in place.  Title track presenting a piece of queasy analogue electronic static and rough grinding rhythms, the male vocals are partly commanding/ partly monotone in presentation that are quite a diversion for the often screamed distorted style of the genre.  ‘Amputation cures’ sees the vocals presented in a more urgent, slightly distorted guise, as loose noise loops and discordant tunes writhe in sparse groupings.  Side B offers up ‘no right to live’ – a great piece of mid paced static, grinding textures and plenty of rough and heavy percussive sounds to compliment the sometimes subdued, sometimes commanding (but alway clearly sung) vocals of Mr Arafna. The fourth and final piece ‘rebels have no king’ slows things down to a crawling pace, including the anaesthetised vocal delivery sitting over slow drawn out textures and occasional noise & static blasts that give off a very morbid atmosphere.  Due to my tardiness in becoming acquainted with this project, I now have the annoying and arduous task of attempting to track down their prior releases. Recommended.

The Hollowing (USA) “Sepsis” CDR 2001 Live Bait Recording Foundation

With this project hailing from Brooklyn New York, it would seem that this bustling metropolis could be seen as a metaphor for the material that the Hollowing produce.  Dense, chaotic and certainly crowded, the compositions clearly mark the experimental industrial noise style of the project.  From the outset ‘Selected’ shows this focus using static, noise, numerous tuneful elements samples etc, that are massacred in a distortional grinder.  Spitting forth-furious anger the track does not let up and forges quickly into the next piece ‘Cloning Process’.  With a bizarre (almost) rhythmic loop, it appears that an underlying sound might just be sampled from a computer car game!  Vocal (or is it a sample?) of a whispered and indecipherable guise can just be detached as the partly structured, partly improvised piece continues.  ‘The Quickening’ samples and again massacres a number of orchestral loops that are mixed in with the static blasts and growled/ distorted vocals and despite being quite chaotic the piece does mange to obtain a brooding and tense flow.  ‘Chapter 186’ is built on distortional static, in amongst what might just be urban field recordings creates a rather freeform piece.  The track is occasionally punctured with an aggressive vocal wail that is good for the first few times becomes a tad monotonous in that it is used throughout much of the 6-minute track.  A more subdued atmosphere is evoked on ‘Passage of Regret’, seeping out of the speakers as a soundscape of quite metallic clatter and rather forlorn semi tuneful sounds (is it a horn or treated vocals or just a synth created texture?).  Partly tribal-esque in intention, the pounding beat of ‘Blood on the Stones’ is the skeleton on which voice samples, distortional sounds, looped vocals etc are draped to flesh out the repetitive cyclic piece.  Static driven minimalism is the flavour for ‘Exist’, of which a vocal sample appears occasionally during the 13 minute journey with some of the sound textures being akin to the sounds within an underground train tunnel (and could well be just that).  Last piece ‘Heartless Resurgence’ is a bit of a bizarre piece with ritualistic improvised percussion and vocal chants built up with bird samples and fleeting orchestral samples (I am not entirely sure of what to make of this piece as it seems to really sit apart from the other album tracks – even though they are rather diverse themselves).  Overall I would have to say that the Hollowing definitely show some good ideas on this CDR, which will no doubt be honed even further on future recordings.  Also with what is becoming rather a trademark of Live Bait releases, this comes housed in a DVD package.  Lastly, with artwork designed by Peter Shelton, for those who know why this name is rather infamous on the TUMORlist, will get a kick out of knowing he is still lurking somewhere out there! (hint: and I quote from the album cover “Wanted by the FBI – Peter Shelton”).

House of Low Culture (USA) “Submarine Immersion Techniques Vol. 1” CD 2000 Crowd Control Activities

Well, this album by House of Low Culture is certainly winning hands down as one of the most surprising recent CDs that I have been sent, mainly as its primary instrument is an electric guitar (and thus less likely to be fit into Spectrum’s sphere of interest).  While this might be true of most ‘guitar’ albums (read: rock, metal, etc),here the stylistic slant of strange looping riffs, vague melodies, layered distortion, feedback and samples ensures it has that certain resonance that aligns it so well with a darker experimental style.  As for the emotional atmosphere, I wonder if it is a mere coincidence that track 2 is entitled ‘Damnation of a/Dead Man’, and that segments of it remind me of the sparse yet depressive guitar musings that Neil Young provided as the soundtrack to Jim Jarmusch’s similarly titled film “Dead Man”. (A latter track’ C.F.T. (demo)’ hammers this impression home more solidly, maintaining the same desolation evoked through the poetically told black and white film).  On the other hand, ‘(Study for) in the Streamline’, has little if anything in common with guitar generated tones, and alternately opts for samples of a dialling modem, random clatter and cut-up soundscapes.  ‘Another tragic one: hands sold by poachers’, arrives somewhat at middle ground, mixing elements of a depressive guitar tune and static-riddled backing that verges on a subdued power electronics/white noise type of sound. Track 8, ‘Submarine Immersion Techniques III’. it does exactly that by sinking into a crushing mass of mostly non-musical distortion and slow noise induced riffs.  The final track, ‘It Approaches’, is almost entirely a death ambient piece of crushing bass and wavering tones, rising and falling in intensity throughout.  While a slight deviation from what CCA have previously released (but then again they have released items ranging from tribal ambient to power electronics), this is a fabulous album that has been brought to my attention one of a number of new groups working in with experimental guitar sounds.

Ikon (Aus) “The Shallow Sea” CDS 2000 Nile

Acting as a taster to the upcoming album “On the Edge of Forever” (although credited here as a ‘single version’), the title track is a magnificent slab of partially acoustic up-tempo gothic rock.  A bass guitar melodically (and prominently) plods alongside the constant kit drumming, while the acoustic guitar strums the main tune -the accompanying electric guitar acts as a soaring and embellishing element rather than as the main focus.  A couple of down-vibed interludes only add to the wide screen vision, with the accompanying vocals ranging from understated singing to partial whispers.  The second track, ‘As I Recall’, takes a much more prominent programmed focus in the percussive department, yet still remains quite up-tempo as both keyboards and a drawn-out electric guitar hold the tune.  The middle ground of this five track release consists of a demo version of ‘Closing In’, while the last two tracks encompass two live songs recorded at the May 2000 Death in June/ Ikon show (reviewed last issue).  As mentioned in that review, an up-tempo version of DI6’s ‘Fall Apart’ was showcased, with the stunning results captured here.  Not simply being a cover, this is Ikon taking the essence of the said track and shaping it to be very much true of their sound.  Encompassing a sincere attitude and lacking that certain pretentiousness present in many gothic groups, I have found this to be a very pleasing introduction to the works of Ikon, despite their having been around MUCH longer than Spectrum.

Inade (Ger) “Alderbaran” CD 2001 Cold Spring

No, no…. before you flip out this is not a new Inade release, rather a repressing of the now much sought after first Inade CD (and at the time of writing the ONLY true full length Inade CD if you do not count the Burning Flesh tape re-release).  Birthed originally in a double fold out digipack cover, this version is housed in a standard jewel case & with minor alterations to the font and print colour, but with the cover still doing justice to the mystical & cosmic radiance of the original artwork.  Whilst I am generally loathed to undertake full in depth reviews of re-releases (unless they have changed drastically in some way or I didn’t hear them first time around) I would rather use this as an announcement to people who are yet to obtain an item.  Anyway to keep it brief I can’t recommend this highly enough, thus if I am are going to go all the way in compliments I may as well do this properly!  Now to have it said, given the milestone that Lustmord’s “Heresy” represented in dark ambient way back when. This album has taken the basis of that sound to create just as much of a landmark release in the esoteric heavy electronics sound (how is that for big words?!…Yes, you better believe me when I say that this is that good!).  If you missed this first time round, be warned! I’m sure the re-press won’t be hanging around long and should have you salivating for the highly anticipated second album ‘The Crackling of the Anonymous’.

Institut (Swe) “A Great Day To Get Even” CD 2000 Cold Meat Industry

Sweden’s Institut hail from the punishing, repetitive percussion and tortured machinery loops school of rhythmic noise, heavier on the noise as it is dispersed in greasy peals of harrowing feedback and caustic screech.  The rippling mayhem of “Landing Target” flutters like the tail of an irritated rattlesnake, like an agitated helicopter prowling the skyways for victims to slaughter with the swish of its blade.  “On The Highway Picking Up Speed” adds some clipped and flayed dynamics to the mix, as bursts of grind and shriek noise perforate the metallic flesh of the white noise asphalt; the result is a wild ride along steaming byways littered with metallic carcasses and bleached bones.  The piston pummel rhythm of “Black On Red,” sounding like the looped splat of brains on concrete, pounds down an iron door, unleashing some exceedingly harsh vocals.  The rhythm is almost mesmerizing, monotonously insistent.  Twelve tracks in all, a quality punch and squeal affair.  –JC Smith

IRM (Swe) “Oedipus Dethroned” CD 2000 Cold Meat Industry

Oedipus Dethroned is a staunch declaration of hatred ignited by the frailties of self, of being human, the weakness of the flesh, and the inherent misconception (or slippery truth) that all men are created in God’s image.  What good is image without substance, if it is nothing more than borrowed; what good is image when it is wrapped around a scarred soul and made to suffer in ways that God would never have conceived (unless He is a malevolent being…).  The blistering screech, stomp and blood pumping, grind and squeal power electronics presented here is evidence of the torment of existence.  The thematic thread sutured into the sonic body is self-revelation through self-mutilation, corruption, defilement…only achieving stasis through death.  (Death of self  = Death of God, the ultimate ‘father.’)  A scalpel plunges into virgin flesh during “The Celebration Of The Untouched Skin,” the ultra-processed vocals spewing, “This is beauty,” as it seeks release through the ‘ultimate abortion.’  All of this amidst sludgy electronics caked in choral samples, the lie initiated via the inclusion of faux pas spiritual elements among the increasingly riotous noise.  “The Disease” invites infection as feedback injects the heaving clamour and pummel of brutal cataclysmic noise to “My utopia-the plague” (conveyed through a seemingly bloodied larynx!).  “The Stage-Surgeon” is Christ, the shaper of clay (man), a deceptive manipulation, the only safety achieved in the grips of Death: “Death and God: the Total Annihilation.”  The thematic focus throughout this amazing disc is honed to crystal clarity, amidst the roiling sonic turbulence.  Oedipus Dethroned is one of the most provocative presentations within the genre of power electronics that I have yet to hear.  Mandatory is an understatement! –JC Smith

Isomer (Aus) “the lotus eaters” MC 2001 self released

For regular readers, some might remember a review of a tape by David Tonkin featured in the last issue.  Well David returns with this tape now under the Isomer banner to explore some further eclectic ambient/industrial experimentations.  With an introductory sample philosophising on moral decadence and the media, ‘baby fuck me please’ is a concoction of angry muffled death industrial textures that drop to the lower end of the sound spectrum.  Voices are barely detectable in all the chaos as the layers are pushed to the extreme with cyclone like intensity.  Followed by ‘dispossessed’, this track builds on a lo-fi subdued rumbling drone, overlaying scattered fractured electronic snippets of sound as it meanders along.  ‘Package deal option’ uses a more direct approach with a ridged and echoed percussive structure that begs a comparison to rhythmic industrial sound of the like of Morgenstern. However with a partly improvised personality it is not unlike having your neurons misfiring during an alcohol induced hangover.  I would have to say that the title track is clearly the best piece on here with its sturdy death ambient approach.  With a lo-fi drone constituting the backbone, a repeating structure of sparse clatter is overlaid along with a bizarre repeated sample (a woman stating softly “don’t steal….you’ll feel so much better”)  Further melding in sparse yet foreboding keyboards and sampled choir, it build an intense atmosphere akin to Megaptera, and highlights how good this project is when all the elements hit their mark. Diving headlong into increasing intense territories the lengthy track is an attention grabber for its entirety.  On the other hand ‘Compressed formula’ forges a quirky experimental sound constructed with an assortment of blips, pulses and bass heavy elements, that sits somewhere between a digital and industrial aesthetic in its partly structured, partly scattered construction.  Final track ‘call to arms’ gives the rhythmic industrial sound another bash with its fast paced pounding arrangement.  Once the initial structure is forged, it is gradually morphed and tweaked whilst constantly introducing new elements and in the process amplifying the intensity.  Maybe this tape is not as clearly focused as the debut tape, however demonstrates some positive ideas and some clear highlights, thus should be viewed in context of a project forging its own niche.  Contact isomer@start.com.au if interested.

Karceral Flesh (Fra) “Bienvenue” 10” EP 2000 Athanor

After being introduced to the group via their rather anthemic organ tune/martial percussive track on the VAWS “Thorak” compilation, this vinyl has come as a slight surprise mainly due to its inclusion of tracks with a more rhythmic percussive rather than specifically martial orientation.  Also, as there was some indication that Les Joyaux de La Princesse was partially involved in this release (though the cover gives no specific details), if anything I expected that it might have been on the opening track, ‘Tout Est Nuit’, with its slow synthetic yet slightly orchestral tones. An extremely short piece of deep storm cloud drones, `L’Attente’ quickly moves into the third track ‘Stutka Dance’ which, after beginning quite atmospherically with air-raid like drones and subdued static, evolves into a mid-paced/up-tempo forceful percussive track.  The first track of Side 2 is ‘Agitation’, another mid-paced rhythmic piece that is actually quite complex – its clanging metallic layers result in a catchy composition.  ‘Defile 2’ hints at the orchestral/martial grandeur of Karceral Flesh’s contribution to the Thorak compilation (‘Defile 1’) and is the best track here with massive stately pounding percussion and brass and organ oriented tune.  The final track, ‘Souvenir’, is a deeply muffled soundscape of shifting tones and barely discernable orchestral sounds that rise in prominence (proportionate to the time elapsed) only to surge into a complete firestorm of orchestral industrial noise (this piece easily claims second place to the best track).  Grey vinyl and immaculately presented slip cover presents the visual side of a release that, while slightly different to what I was expecting, is by no means a disappointment.

Karnnos (Por) “Deatharch Crann” CD 2000 Cynfeirdd

Alongside Lady Morphia, Karnnos’ debut CD is one of the best discoveries within the apocalyptic folk scene.  And likewise with Cynfeirdd, they are a relatively new label that have consistently come up with quality releases, making it worth your while to keep a keen eye on them –  particularly if neo-folk/ neo-classical works are of interest to you.  As for Karnnos, they hail from Portugal and have a very distinctive, shimmering & warm enveloping aura to their folk drive soundscapes and acoustic odes.  Instrumentation of the three member group ranges from electric & acoustic guitars, mandolin, flute, bagpipes, viola and synthesizers (to name but a few), expertly interwoven irrespective if the track is ambient in nature or traditionally song styled.  ‘As life is carved on wood and blood’ builds a song framework of acoustic guitar, flute and viola that transports the listener’s mind far from the mundane aspects of life to revel in visions of European mysticism.  ‘The streams of longing, solitude and the one-eyed death’ takes on the more meandering soundscape style, highlighting the differentiating elements of song and soundscape collated on this album.  Also, the vocal range used, from the groups native tongue through to English – (even when the latter is used), it is the particularly heavy accent, builds another distinctive sound into the compositions.  On the fifth track (the acoustic driven ‘A tree of union under the lost divided, lost spirits’) I can not even begin to fathom up words to describe its haunting depressive beauty – other than having such a profound effect, making you feel as if your own soul is collapsing.  Late album track ‘Loki, Wizard of Lies’ is a darkly aggressive looped composition with a vocal mantra repeating the title that gradually leads into another fantastic ode, ‘Land of Stags’ which mixes drawn out classical synth lines & martial snare percussion with resonating acoustic riffing.  The final track ‘In the pale, pale night’ starts as a dark looping collage evolves into a depressive guitar driven tune – hence being a track that perfectly covers the two aspects of Karnnos’ sound.  As for the cover, it is presented as a gatefold card sleeve with an additional booklet, superbly presents the visuals for the music on offer.  In passing I simply cannot recommend this album highly enough.

Kettle (Aus) “With my left eye closed” 3”CDR 2000 label:KETTLE

Packaged between two tin plates, the concept of this CD revolves around the aural interpretation of a medical condition suffered in the right eye of the artist (i.e., closing the good left eye to perceive the world through the sight of the deteriorating right eye).  With three tracks and just short of 20 minutes, the compositions blend one into the next as fractal sonics of clinical static and electronic induced noises and drones.  Mostly in the mid-ranged tonal velocity, things are rough around the edges, but the sounds never reach a high-end pain inducing pitch.  Sections of sounds and noise align themselves and bridge one into the next, holding an aesthetic of new sound art/ minimalist noise experimentation with a convincing dark and slightly menacing edge.  I guess this material has a comparison that could definitely be made to the new direction of Hazard, which only further highlights the quality of this.  The format of the label releasing 3” CDRs is also a way to present short snippets of the works of Australian sound artists in intriguing packaging.

KK Null (Jap) / Moz (USA) “a split release” CD 2000 Crionic Mind

Having witnessed a couple of KK Null performances in previous years, I was expecting massive doses of (post) guitar manipulated distortion, yet surprisingly Mr. Null has taken a whole new approach to his experimental noise using samplers/sequencers to fuse a technoid aspect within his wall’o’noise approach.  Whilst the experimental noise distortion elements are still clearly the main focus on the first track ‘KXYL’, it is the sampler/sequencer that weaves a clear rhythm and structure into the composition – a sizzling molten mass of mid level distortion merged with cathartic rhythmic elements creating a modern yet tribal aspect to its repetitive aura.  With a title only a Japanese artist could come up with, ‘Giant walking in a tunnel of libido’ initiates a mid paced beat sequences that is progressively tweaked into a slow churning whirlpool of static and noise, while the disorientating fast paced speaker fading and distortion attack of ‘Psychopathic Surfing’ is more flowing freeform experimentation.  Leading onwards ‘Hypnocide’ contains an almost psychodelic (yet tribalesque) percussive sound (which is great I might add!) The final KK Null piece ‘quid pro quo’ is a short seizure inducing attack on the senses!  Certainly different to what KK Null is typically know for, it is however great to see further progression and experimentation from such a well renowned noise artist.  In clear opposition to KK Null, MOZ opts for ultra dense and bleak soundscapes of death ambient intension – the first track ‘release value’ has a low bass oriented rumble that is shattered with a stunning (yet fleeting used) static pulse, being the perfect aural interpretation of the title.  ‘Wage Slave’ ups the ante a notch or two, building structure with aggressive guttural loops, mid to high end electronic feedback and gruesomely distorted vocals.  Barren glacial electronics characterise ‘degradation of divinity’ – ever ebbing and flowing with bleak tension (this is fantastic yet far too short at under four minutes).  ‘Imperialism’ on the other hand is an attacking mass of structured pulse, furnace blasting distortion and firestorm textures, being clearly inspired by the negative connotations of its name.  One can again visualise the aura of a track embodying the title ‘Funeral Procession’, with its solemn keyboard melody and the slow gait of the programmed structure.   Final track for both MOZ and the CD is ‘Asylum’. A fantastically echoed resonance via metallic scrapings, slow chime/ gong and scarce structure, all blended into a cavernous and unnerving result (fleetingly bringing to mind selected works of Robert Rich).  For anyone unaware Crionic Mind, they are really starting to solidify their presence as a premier underground label, with such a split release only hammering home such a perception.

Kraang (Aus) “URO: 1981-83” LP 2000 Tesco Organisation

This Kraang LP showcases some selected experimental noise compositions that soloist John Murphy recorded during the early 80’s under the original name Kraang Music.  To offer a personal perspective, these recordings are nearly 20 years old, which means that I was only 5 when these noise experimentations were first evoked!  Anyway, by virtue of the period during which these pieces were recorded, the LP inevitably encompasses an old school style; however, given the amount of old school industrial noise and power electronics currently being produced, there is certainly a clear niche for such an album in the current market, despite its status as a historic document.  With 4 lengthy compositions being showcased (2 per LP side) and whilst encompassing improvised industrial noise, clear direction and flow within the pieces are specifically evident.  Frequenting neither piercing high end static or guttural bass tones, the noise squeals, looped feedback and chaotic clatter are all framed in a mid-ranged pace and tonal velocity.  Segments of noise are approached and established before being manipulated, tweaked and basically destroyed to form the basis of the next segment that in turn suffers a similar fate.  Fleeting voices are detected on ‘Man is Meat’, yet appear to be sampled in that they are not generally discernable.  In its entirety, the LP generally flows together as one mass of experimental noise despite being divided into 4 sections or ‘tracks’ — having said that, the final track ‘URO’ is the most atmospheric one on offer, striding along with muffled hurricane intensity alongside metallic scrapings and random textured noise – very grand indeed!).  As for the cover, this is particularly stunning due to the reflective card stock used, all in all creating a very ‘Tesco’ look to the LP’s presentation.  While John Murphy is known for his workings with Lustmord during the early days through to Death in June more recently (and plenty more in between), it would appear that he has never diverted from some sort of involvement in the postindustrial underground.  This LP really serves as a celebratory document to this dedication, to be likewise viewed in conjunction with his new projects, Knifeladder and Shinning Vril, both of which are currently raising their profile.

Lady Morphia (Eng) “Recitals to Renewal” CD 2000 Surgery

Lady Morphia would seem to be a relative new comer to the English neo-classical/ apocalyptic folk scene, with this being the first official album after a few self-released tapes and CD’s.  Taking cues from the likes of Death in June & Der Blutharsch, Lady Morphia have come up with a fantastically strong album that whilst reflects the generates it’s own distinctive aura.  ‘Prologue: Hope and Despair’ is the first track that utilises a sampled Polish knighthood song, prior to the introduction of slow martial beats and neo-classical orchestrations that mark the second half of the track.  ‘Sun Spirits’ is a track of pure joy with an acoustic driven tune, classical backings, church bells, sporadic tympani/snare drumming and clean sung vocals of defiant quality.  The xylophone accompaniment to the acoustic strains of ‘Heimat’ are nothing short of magic – as are the clarinet and oboe elements that follow the main guitar and vocal tune.  Some fantastic dark ambient atmospheres can be found on ‘The Mirror of Shame’, containing shimmering textures, disembodied vocals, chimes, water samples (and the like), expertly crafted into a deep atmospheric piece.  ‘Wings of Survival’ is an urgent acoustic guitar ode, uses sparing elements of piano, tympani and assorted percussion to build its aura, whilst the following track ‘Beauty Decay’ interestingly contains a heavy eastern influence over the slow tune/soundscape.  Another celebratory acoustic ode is found in ‘Brothers’, expertly mixing oboe and acoustic guitars with heavy and stately percussion, that overall holds an amazingly distant & forlorn atmosphere.  ‘Palingenesis’ is one more dark ambient piece – offering a ticking clock, distant snare drumming and whispered vocals (among other elements), whilst Ernst Jünger recites from one of his writing.  And it is this element of Ernst Jünger alone that solidifies one of the heavy influences present on this album, to the point where it has been specifically dedicated to his memory.  The slower and more reflective ‘Parhelia at the Precipice’, is yet another magical acoustic driven track that leads the album towards the final track ‘Epilogue: Spero-de-spero’ – a beautiful yet forlorn piano melody sweeping the album into morose oblivion.  For Lady Morphia’s first widely available release, they have certainly produced an album of stunning diversity, with all elements reflecting a heavy European flavour.  Falling mere millimetres short of being an instant classic, this is as close as one could come and only speaks leagues of what to expect from Lady Morphia in future.

LAW (USA) “Our Life Through Your Death” CD 2000 Triumvirate

Our Life Through Your Death is an exhilarating, sometimes jarring, always intense exhibition of embryonic salvos (it was constructed in 1996) launched by one of the most fascinating and original bands within the realm of experimental/noise/ambience music (it touches every base, and more), LAW.  As orchestrated by Triumvirate co-founder, Mitchell Altum, LAW weld together a compelling blend of uncommon electronics, harsh, machinery infused ideals, and disjointed rhythmic deployments, creating a foundation of immense sonic strength upon which the human element (guitar, bass, sparse vocals) brings it all to life.  The music is raw and unfettered, cluttered, but with imaginative focus, less refined than later material, not as hard-wired, more hot-wired and coarse, like being caressed by talons of steel wool.  The highlights are abundant and ever shifting, each listen bringing different revelations, but here are a few that continually stand out.  The hornet’s stinging whine that pierces multiple layers of shackled, murky noise during “Vision Flashes To Red,” finally sinking into a miasma of unnerving ambience upon which a garbled voice declares, “Our life through your death,” appropriately setting the disc in motion.  Wading through the wastelands of lost souls, an ambience taut with torment and haunting despair resides at the core of “Abrasion,” an ambience annihilated by the corrosive, caustic howl of guitar and whiplash reverb percussion that flutters in spasmodic retaliation.  It is a resurrection by chaos, the lost souls battered into oblivion by Pandemonium’s gnarled fists.  Brilliant!  The mouth of sinister tongues that licks the marrow from within the broken bones of “Unseen Existence,” an ambience of constantly shifting turbulence; tongues like juggled razors, scraping and fluttering, procuring sustenance…(and a warped, backwards looped classical passage…?!).  The brittle acoustic guitar intro to “Betrayal Of The Flesh,” that ends up being devoured by soldier stomping percussion and choppy, fragmented guitar, while an undercurrent of molten tides recedes, leaving a blasted terrain upon which Mitchell drenches the listener in roaring feedback so visceral, it threatens to draw blood.  The fidgety cymbals and drums of “100 Degrees,” plowing a path for a yawning guitar that ferociously prowls around the mechanized drive inherent to this track, a caustic, harrowing evisceration of controlled, groaning noise.  There is much more here, enthralling and strange and unlike anything else you have ever heard.  Period!  –JC Smith  (A slightly different version of this review appeared in Outburn.  http://www.outburn.com)

Les Joyaux de la Princesse (Fra) “Croix de Bois / Croix de Feu” 10” EP Les Joyaux de la Princesse

How could one approach writing a review of this release without touching on the packaging first?  This 10″ EP was sold in 900 copies by subscription only, and upon payment one received an official subscription ticket.  Not all that stunning, you say? But when considering that this subscription ticket it is packaged in a grey card A2 sized folder and over wrap ribbon (in the colours of the French flag, of course) that holds in place a 2-track clear flexi-disc vinyl, the special aura of this release begins to be unfold.  Regarding the official release itself, the red vinyl is housed in an oversized 10”x14” booklet cover (also in blue, white, and red, with gold twine along the spine), with numerous pages of French text and 1920’s images relating to the theme of the release (which evidently relates to French nationalism and a mystic organisation operating around the time).  While there might be constant argument for and against such high priced limited edition releases, when the finished product comes together as this one does, I am happy to fork over a bit more money for such special packaging.  And what of the music?  The title track side of the 10” commences with deep orchestral keyboard layered drones that gradually build and overlap along with distant sweeping choir voices that add a human element.  The intensity is later increased via a diversion away from the opening segment with more prominent orchestral melody mixed with warlike bombing backing noise.  Commencing the second discernable track (still on side 1), are sampled French speeches set against a deeper orchestral melody (although snare percussion can also be detected).  A sampled and partly looped music hall song is used to mark the commencement of the third piece, and although this is again built around French speech samples and orchestral keyboards, it creates a much more doom-laden and apocalyptic atmosphere.  With the first side really driving home an overall morose and forlorn orchestral atmosphere, the second side of the 10” comes as a partial surprise given the use of quite fierce static to fire blast the keyboards and yet again more era speech and crowd samples (concluding with another music hall song that is sampled in its entirety, without alteration).  The following segments again fall back to the presentation of the classic LJDLP sound (forlorn and distant sounding orchestral soundscapes); however, with the looped samples of brass instrumentation it really lifts the atmosphere to the next level.  The flexi-disc contains two short pieces – one  being a slow evolving keyboard-based tune that is more classical then orchestral,  the other more of a noisescape with radio voices, warlike atmospheres and distant drones . Both are nice bookend pieces to the main 10”.  Overall this might not be as epic as the previous “Exposition Internationale: Paris 1937″ 7” (but it still comes quite close), it is more along the lines of the “Aux Petits Enfants de France” CD.  Given that this is most likely already sold out, I shudder to think what price this will fetch on resale.  A word of advice – be diligent in ordering such items up front to avoid paying through the nose for it later from unscrupulous collectors.

LS-TTL (USA) “el-es-tee-tee-el” CD 2000 Dragon Flight Recordings

The first release by Brian Coffee’s LS-TTL is a fascinating, slow moving descent into the mechanized Hell of a splintered mind (the booklet claims this is “The soundtrack for the untitled film of the mind.”), sonicscapes of suffocating darkness that subtly morph from forlorn and foreboding, to agitated and tortured.  Where lots of dark sonicscapes are moist, signifying a conviction to something living, or at least once alive, LS-TTL is very dry (not cold, but dry…), devoid of human allegiance…and yet, human elements continually peek through.  The songs stretch, peeling off layers of the flaking metallic epidermis from the body of sounds; sounds emanating from a desolate outpost, the machinery whine and engine clatter toiling in solitude, awaiting…what?  (Or is that the mind cracking?) Metallic insects scramble about, antennae twitching in static communication, above a sombre synth drone during the opening “drktual.”  During the next few tracks, the LS-TTL manifest is aligned, amidst subtle, yet distinctive, tonal shifts and looped choppy noises, creating a foundation of unease.  The atmosphere of “eraf” is blanketed in harsh winds that erode any connection between humanity and existence, while nauseating undertones (the impatient struggle for something more-a sense of incapacitation is present) are tattooed with grinding gears and almost human screams…almost… (Listen to how the human element persists, even out here in the furthest reaches of desolation.)  Humans (?) moan like cows being led to the slaughterhouse during “tro,” amidst murmuring synths and clattering noises (weary gears grinding forth, a conveyor belt procession) and much spattered blood, all bound together by a thread of desperation.  Eerie and discomfiting.  Low rumbling bass tones (like dead bodies being dragged about) carve rituals into the ebony hide of “orc,” before radiant tones scour the senses as “calmix” commences.  Through echoed tides of wind swept chaos, ricochet syringes of noises are injected into the flesh, a climax of hallucinatory disorientation; everything sounds like it would send a Geiger counter into the red, adorned in radiation and corrosive reverb.  All simmers uncomfortably on “amesch,” agitation at bay, crackling and swirling but, somehow, contained.  (And then there is the untitled bonus track, which veers into alien territory-the ambience suggests unearthly allegiances–hinting of things to come for LS-TTL?)  A fascinating, well-thought out trek through the barren hub of isolation within the mind, and the vast wilderness of uncertainty and despair (and madness, and horror) that resides within one’s self.  ~JC Smith

The Machine in the Garden (USA) “Out of the Mist” CD 2001 Middle Pillar

Third album for this US project (& second album on Middle Pillar), sees a slight alteration in musical focus, being more heavily reliant on martial/orchestral themes and moving away from the darkwave/electronic sound of the last album (although structural influence from these sectors are still evident).  As for the opening track ‘fates and furies’, it is a rather grand, pompous instrumental marching tune, solidifying the perception of new territory being explored.  The acoustic strains of ‘Valentine’ bring to mind a classic apocalyptic folk sound, yet the sometimes delicate, sometimes soaring vocals of Ms. Summer Bowman add the necessary flair of individually.  The following track ‘oh dear’ constructed purely around multi-layered female vocals is very reminiscent of Karri Rueslatten’s solo work only highlights the vocal abilities of Ms. Bowman to carry a complete song using only her voice.  ‘Failure’ is the first (and only) track to see the vocals of Roger France used. Presented as an accompaniment to a sweeping beat and guitar oriented ethereal/electronic piece.  More fantastic folk oriented acoustic guitars are displayed on ‘every thing she is’ – here the mood presented creates a bitter-sweet composition.  Slow shifting orchestral melodies on ‘wasted time’ hold a brooding focus, and while the music seemingly wants to break its invisible tethers, this never actually eventuates, thus remaining subdued throughout.  ‘Never again’ contains fragile guitar musings, being further embellished by female vocals and grand piano/ synth tunes, that is partly carried through to the more commanding strains of the final track ‘fade’ (the track being partly darkwave and partly orchestral results in a fantastically ominous piece to close the album).  Basically I would have to say that with the altered orientation of musical approach, combined with the groups already clearly evident musical talent, this CD is clearly a positive progression from the previous album.

Maruta Kommand (Eng) “holocaust rites” CD 2000 Kokamph

Maruta Kommand is a relatively new entity rising out of the English scene, and via this release has also seen the birth of a new label (run by one of Maruta Kommand’s members, Andi Penguin). The CD represents a debut for both project and label.  As for the compositions of Maruta Kommand, they have generated an interesting blend of electro-industrial dance floor oriented musing and harsher tones of a death industrial guise.  While I will not shy away from the fact that I have a general distaste for the former style of music, when coagulated with the later, it has created a quite palatable cross genre cocktail.  After a short introductory segment, the rigid battle tank rhythms of ‘Executioner’ storm into earshot with rough metallic percussion, assorted programmed noise, fleeting synth tune and morbidly distorted vocals.  On an alternate tangent and being more electro than death industrial, ‘Mass Grave’ is a fast paced noisy programmed piece heavily reliant on slamming percussion and wavering synth textures that is certainly club oriented in style.  While a good track, it is the following piece ‘European Deathmarch’ that is much more to my liking, containing striking dark undercurrents of noise, haunting synth textures and acerbic vocals, as the complete track gradually morphs towards slow crushing programmed percussion (that while end up being quite prominent do not detract from the ashen atmosphere).  Dialogue samples and orchestral melody introduction of ‘Cultural Suicide’ converge with mid paced programming, synth generated noise and again the vocals with a fair wack of distortional bite – the rough texture to the sound production rounding everything out nice and harshly.  Homage is duly paid to death industrial pioneer Roger Karmanik/ Brighter Death Now on the track ‘Karmanik Jugend’, constructing a pyre of crunchy, often free from distorted and grinding (former) synth textures, resulting in a piece that could have easily been lifted off B.D.N’s “the slaughterhouse” CD (and mind you this is meant as the greatest of compliments).  With dredging noise and slow programming ‘War on Life’ has a fleeting comparison that could be made to Megaptera, yet the haunting female vocals and violin accompaniment really sets this track on an individual high and is clearly one of the best on the album.  ‘Hanging on the old barbed wire’ being the last true album track (not including two bonus electro-industrial remix tracks – one by Melek-Tha) is a scarred landscape of barren metallic reverberations and spare snare hits constantly increasing intensity over the 7 minutes, again using female vocalisations to great effect.  In passing, for a debut CD Maruta Kommand have certainly created a mature and diverse album that clearly has cross genre appeal.

Daniel Menche (USA) “crawling towards the sun” MCD 2000 Soleilmoon Recordings

In recent years Daniel Menche might not have been quite as prolific when compared to the number of items released in the early to mid 90’s, nonetheless here we have a new snippet of Mr Menche’s current experimental activities.  As always the visual side of this is superb, with the artwork on the disc acting as the main focus. Housed within a slimline jewelcase with no slick (the CD image encompasses a rather bleak painting of the sun created by Eric Stotik who has been responsible for artwork on earlier Menche CD’s).  From artwork to title – Daniel Menche has always had a knack of conjuring up fantastic titles to accompany his soundscapes, with this outing being no exception.  Essentially ‘crawling towards the sun’ forms a single track at just a touch over 20 minutes, with the subtleties and complexities of copious layers of shifting noise are amassed – and as the title suggests, is a slow moving piece overall.  Sonic textures churn at the deeper end of the sound scale giving off a searing cosmic resonance via a shimmering sound aesthetic.  Cyclically the track builds intensity as the varying elements shift in and out of alignment yet remaining as drawn out drones throughout.  At its loudest, the track is still pretty subdued, using not volume to enhance the track, rather opting for increasing the mid range tonal layers to evoke sonic intensity.  It is as a whole a less organic piece than previous recordings. Could it be that Mr Menche is leaving behind his earthbound sonic experimentations to explore the sonic intensity of the cosmos?  Either way I am happy to blindly follow, using only the experimental sounds Mr Menche to lead the way.

Mnortham (USA) “Breathing Towers” CDS 2000 Dorobo Limited Editions

Taking on a somewhat academic approach to experimental soundworks, this disc is much like the experimental wire music that Alan Lamb has explored, incidentally also released on Dorobo.  With one track at 21 minutes this is, as the cover states, a `stereo recording inside two hollow steel towers with wind blowing across the open bases’.  While not as broad in scope in comparison to Alan Lamb’s recordings of telegraph wires, there is still a very similar resonance in the sounds recorded. While there would also appear to be less outward movement to the piece when compared to the Alan Lamb recordings (obviously wires are more susceptible to various external forces than a solid steel structure), the limited movement of the piece creates another comparison to the slow evolution of Thomas Köner’s minimalist and isolationist soundworks (evident primarily in the rumbling depths of the sounds captured, that sit at the very low end of the sound wave spectrum).  Both metallic shimmering sounds and more organic wind-type textures can be discerned within the framework amongst other cavernous bass sound layers that all add up to creating an archaic, otherworldly vibe.  The sounds at various points pick up and become more outwardly aggressive, seemingly attuned to weather patterns at the time of the recording, thus generating visions in the mind’s eye of numerous storm fronts sweeping across the landscape.  In regard to the scope of the sound, it is a fine release that involved nothing more than someone recording and mastering it, but in the process has captured a soundscape that contains elements that would appeal to fans of experimental soundworks, minimalist drone music or isolationist ambience.

Morgenstern (Ger) “cold” CD 2001 Ant-Zen

New CD from Andrea Börner has expanded on the death industrial sonics of 1999’s “zyklen” album into a more diverse palate of tribalised power noise/power electronics, yet with a clear Morgenstern twist.  While this might not be entirely evident from the bone grinding textures and wailing atmospheres of the opening title track, it is on the second track ‘horny being’ that things really take off.  Strained keyboard textures tensely build until the incorporation of rhythmic pulsations that threaten to implode the speakers due their bass heaviness.  Crispy and highly strung, the composition continues to build an almightily intensity which is nothing short of sonic bliss.  ‘Hypnotized’, built on a death industrial looped base, mixes in a power, noise and static beat structure to create a clanging dance floor result (imagine older Imminent Starvation with a handful more distortion thrown in for good measure).  The ridged typewriter beat of ‘blow away my reason’ works the main audible level, while a whole other world of low bass rumbling sounds sit low in the mix and builds occasionally with semi melodious sound (a vocal sample also repeats the track’s title throughout).  Fast paced power electronic looped feedback creates a rather catchy track on ‘insight’ and I’ll be damned if the searing distortion drenched vocals are those of Andrea, as these are fierce enough to match any male vocal of the genre!  ‘Interlude’ is a quieter more aquatic sounding affair, with far off idling machines, surreal vocalisations and unnerving field recording sound textures, yet ‘hinrichtung durch raum und zeit (re-edit)’ reclaims the noisier distortion and looped based sound.  A radio voice chatters incessantly whilst the sonic noise gains strength and momentum finally letting loose with a bass rhythm so damn heavy it coagulates into a barely discernable loop.  Minimalist percussion can likewise be detected, building the track over its lengthy yet repetitive format.  ‘Combat Zone’ without doubt obliterates all offerings that precede it, with a pure sonic attack on the senses.  Bass heavy and static driven, it builds to a point where a few pivotal sounds (at the higher end of the sound spectrum) swoop in at odd angles to reek havoc on the eardrums.  The vocals are also rather phenomenal – metallic and alien like – never really rising out of the distortional hurricane.  After such an attack, ‘eye’ is thankfully a quieter affair being a rather beautiful and subdued tune complete with sampled choirs radiating in the background of the mix.  Sounding akin to a rhinoceros tap dance, the beat is fractured and stilted including a number of piano plucked sounds that (if I am not mistaken) has been sampled from another Ant-Zen release – namely the CD by Passarani.  Before you actually realise it, the beat section has taken over the composition completely and it is only a matter of time before it again veers off into in percussive driven, distortional noise territory.  The last track of the 60 minute disc arrives in the form of ‘over’.  Framing itself with another track of looped death industrial proportions, it is both seething and brooding over its length, rounding out the track and album with some further samples choir sounds.  Overall this is certainly a more diverse release than ‘zyklen’. Thus it will really depend if you can appreciate more structure and beat oriented tracks within a broad death industrial styling, but for myself this presents no problem whatsoever given the sheer finesse by which these elements are intermixed into the Morgenstern sound.

Murderous Vison (USA) “suffocate…the final breath” CDR 2001 Twenty Sixth Circle

This project is the solo vision of Stephen Petrus, who also know for his work in the duo In Deaths Throes and for running Live Bait Recording Foundation.  Here, Stephen offers up a coagulated cacophony of bass laden atmospheres, with tracks appearing to have been culled from two prior releases and includes a number of exclusive tracks.  While given the collection format, the flow might not be as focused as one would expect for an album proper, yet this does not prevent one from succumbing to the individual atmosphere of each piece.  The opener ‘Book of fears’ could have ended up being quite grating, yet the sharpest sonic elements have been blunted by the production to given a thick wall of fluctuating noise and industrial drones.  As each individual track plays out it gradually becomes evident that despite the atmospheres that each evokes, that there is a common thread present throughout.  In essence each track encompasses thick slabs of slow moving sound that have a dense and slightly muffled sound production.  While ‘deathwretch’ might have a greater windswept atmosphere, ‘yersinia pestis’ has cavernous minimalist frame, ‘body count rises’ a noisier improvised sound and ‘the pomes ov urine’ a non musical bass pulse, the majority of the pieces rely on a common production theme.  Regardless, the greatest diversion to be found is ‘anthropophagy (regurgitation)’ in that this is a collaborative piece with Baal and features a rather prominent tribal beat/ percussion elements that creates an engrossing effect when sandwiched with the dense nature of the underlying sound.  Lastly with the cover stating that the recordings were “induced in trance like states” it is also a rather apt description for the overall atmosphere.  This is an interesting listen particularly if noise ambience in the vein of Grunsplatter is your thing.

Nasopharyngeal (USA) “Endless” CD 2000 Crowd Control Activities

“Endless” is a very good title for this CD as this the feeling you get when listening to the one track, 74-minute odyssey.  Back to basics old school electronica is what we have here, sounding mostly improvised in the way it is pushed in varying directions through the course of its journey.  The programmed drum machine beats (of a mid-paced style) are almost a constant throughout, as the random bleeps, noises, and grinding/droning electronics do their thing.  However these are not really beats that one can dance to; rather they act as both a bridging element and a focal point – in the flow of the sound they are just more elements for the composer to manipulate and twist as he sees fit.  Likewise elements of the backing electronic layers seem to amass, sweep through the speakers then dissipate before periodically re-converging later (with hints of tunes occasionally arriving as lone keyboard notes, only adding to the hazy atmospheres created).  The virtually ‘endless’ stream of sounds collated on this CD are composed in a surprisingly engaging and coherent manner, despite this having ended up being quite a short review!  And talk about ‘surprising’ – between this and the House of Low Culture CD, CCA have once again come up with the goods, but with projects that are quite unlike anything they have previously released.

Necrophorus (Swe) “Gathering Composed Thoughts” CD 2000 Dragon Flight Recordings

For those wondering, this is not a new album, rather (as alluded to in the title) a compilation of earlier Necrophorus tracks, select re-workings of others, and two tracks from the limited 10” picture vinyl entitled “Yoga” (which was reviewed in full way back in Issue 2#).  The two lengthy and meditative tracks entitled ‘Yoga – part 1’ and ‘Yoga– part 2’, open the album. Although fleetingly infused with Middle Eastern melodies, the somewhat minimalist dark ambient styling of these tracks is akin to the most recent full-length Necrophorus album, “Drifting in Motion.” ‘Spiritchasher’, the third track, is one of the most recent compositions on this release, consisting of tonal shifts of sound, outbursts of semi-metallic clatter, and groans emanating from seemingly unhuman sources – all generating an unnerving aura.  It has to be said that the reworking of ‘Sophysis’, (formerly on the first Necrophorus album) is nothing short of brilliant, that slowly sweeps along over 10 minutes with depressive melodies, atmospheric tonal waves, gong chimes and even field recordings of singing birds  As the album progresses it becomes evident that the earlier recordings are also the most rigidly composed,  much like the compositions of Peter Andersson’s main project, Raison d’être. These earlier tracks usually work around a composition of layered keyboards and the sparse interplay of down-vibed melodies, sometimes with prominent tribal-esque percussion.  As for as light deviation, ‘The Dormant Being’ is quite neo-classical in construction and even operatic despite its lack of vocals (stranger still, this sounds as if it could fit perfectly as a keyboard intro to an album by any atmospheric black metal band, as is the case with the following track, ‘A second very heavy grief’).  If I did not know otherwise, I would swear that the track ‘Soporific’ was recorded at the same sessions for the self-titled Fata Morgana album that the infamous Mortiis had operating as a side project a few years back!  At just a shade away from being cheesy (as was the case with Fata Morgana), this is admittedly quite a good number! To conclude the album, a better choice could not have been made with ‘In Mourning’, that rather than opting for a depressive air, presents a quite uplifting neo-classical and almost baroque piece including percussion that is just short of being mid-paced programming.  While the flow of the album might at times feel a little disjointed, this is really only due to the fact that it was never planned to be an album proper, rather a release showcasing the progression of this project over time. As a collection of good individual tracks this is worth your attention if you have a fleeting interest in any of Peter Andersson’s musical output.

No Festival of Light (Swe) “If god lived on earth, we would break his windows” CD 2000 Fluttering Dragon

The new opus for this premier anti-Christian project returns with a rather tongue in cheek album title, possibly representing a finger in the face of ultra evil types.  Low bass rumbles offset with looped vocal snippet repeating “the greatest trick…didn’t exist” introduces the CD on ‘The Unexisting Trick’. Yet, as the album shifts forward it is evident that the clinical minimalist sound of the last CD (on Functional Organization) has been mixed up with earlier more suffocating dark ambient styling.  The second track ‘7405926’ starts by jumping between hypnotic minimalism and blasts of harsh static, yet things solidify creating dense dungeon like atmospheres, deep groans and tribal percussive beats that come full circle back to electronic noise manipulations.  Distant flutes and bass heavy percussive sounds shift ‘Onomaka Brush’ into quite rousing tribal guise, continuing in this fashion throughout, whilst also introducing some deathly sounding fog horn blasts (possibly summoning the minions of blasphemous cherubs from the underworld!).  Slightly symphonic in tone, (due to the drawn out synth textures), ‘Day of Wrath’ resembles a mixture of raison détre and desiderii marginis, particularly with the use of clanging metallic sounds and sampled choir chanting and could have easily been culled from outtakes of either of the aforementioned groups (in other words a damn fine composition).  Rather urgent percussion makes up the basis of ’Deus Otiosus’ with some sort of sampled voice (a ritual chant perhaps?) and other radio type voices buried underneath.  Midway through additional percussive sounds are introduced to embellish the triabalised aura, whilst static minimalism adds a diversion to the final passage prior to the percussion having one final spin.  Encompassing a track of rough dark ambience, ‘Jigoku-Source of Eternal Joy’ meanders along slowly with loosely constructed loops and choppy percussion in a guise of darkly muffled production.  To bring the album full circle the final track is an adaptation of the opening piece, but at the beginning the full vocal sample is heard but once (“the greatest trick that devil ever pulled was convincing the world he did not exist”).  After this the vocal loop reverts to the shortened version over a partially ominous underlying drone and semi-melodious synth passage.  Certainly this album is another fine product from the Swedish dark ambient/industrial underground, even if it has originated from one of the lesser-known groups.

Northaunt (Nor) “The Ominous Silence” CD 2000 Fluttering Dragon

After releasing “The Ominous Silence” as a self produced CDR, Northaunt were signed to Polish record label Fluttering Dragon and re-released it (with bonus material).  It also sounds like the album might have been re-mastered, as the music seems to have a little more crispness and clarity to their atmospheres.  Mixing rain drenched field recordings with synth-generated textures, ‘Might and Misanthropy’ commences the proceedings, awash with sweeping bass tones, an understated piano tune, and a mournful violin passage that gives it a very dark ambient/neo-classical hybrid feel.  At close to 13 minutes, things meander along slowly, veering off on a couple of darker, more subdued tangents, including an acoustic guitar interlude, a section of folk oriented flute and tortured vocal shrieks akin to what is found in black metal.  The track `Northaunt’ rumbles on in a cavernous guise with shifting sound treatments buried in the mix, later with harsh whispers and a barely accentuated piano tune.  More field recordings and an industrial noise pulse make up the backing of ‘Der bor en frost her inne’, while an acoustic tune form the main musical counterpart.  Gradually things take a ‘darker’ turn (by that I mean `good’!) with dark factory clatter and a sustained (synth-produced) string movement.  ‘De sorte traer’ again utilises the acoustic guitar in amongst an intricately textured sound backing and pained spoken vocals reciting a passage in the projects native tongue.  ‘Running out of time’ reminds me somewhat of early raison d’etre with sweeping layers, chant like drones and church bells, however the track remains distinctive with multiple samples of ticking clocks and a lone voice somewhat desperately stating the track’s title.  On first hearing ‘In rain’ the piano tune appeared a little out off time, but on subsequent listens the off kilter playing only enhances its charm.  ‘And I Fade Away’ is a little more experimental than the previous tracks with its mid-paced keyboard tune set amongst dungeon-like clatter, dripping water and far off noises (attention is held in the fore with some spoken vocals).  One of the bonus tracks ‘Pain is better’ extends the atmosphere of the CD perfectly with its darkly composed acoustic guitars and piano accompaniment.  Field recording textures and spoken vocals flesh out the musical skeleton, likewise remaining through the middle minimalist section that includes some fantastically haunting vocal wailing from former Aghast member Nacht (the vocals sounding as if they are emanating from a far off cavernous depth).  ‘Ode’ is another newer track (and likewise the final musical piece) that operates in a dark ambient guise of sparse ominous rumblings, extended drones and again some great vocal contributions from Nacht, to create a quite unnerving atmosphere. The CD has an enhanced feature that incorporate a rather bleak video of ‘a funeral inside‘ (another bonus track).  The music of the video is yet another pearl of a song, encompassing and ultra depressing atmosphere evoked through acoustic guitar, piano and backing field recordings (along with the use of a number of dialogue samples).  As for the video, it uses a series of black and white images (illustrating themes of the track’s title) that have been merged into real media file slide show, however via the use of a zoom and pan feature within the images it creates the perception of film (and is certainly well done overall).  Basically the overall aura of this release quite reminds me of Ildfrost’s ‘Natanel’ CD, although this is somewhat less composed with a larger variety of sound sources.  What I guess I am getting is that a comparison can be made to the overall dark atmosphere and morose classical feel of the stated item.  The atmospheres presented definitely show clarity of ideas and I think the use of natural field recordings as a backdrop really enhances the depth of sound.  Piano movements, string sections and acoustic guitars are used sparingly, and only enhance the atmosphere at the appropriate times.  A CD definitely worth checking out and a group I will certainly be keeping an eye on with future releases.

Novy Svet (Aut) “Cuori Dipetrolio” CD 2000 Hau Ruk

The beyond bizarre Austrian project Novy Svet are back with their second full length CD; however here things seem a touch more subdued, and less focussed on the sounds of a drunken accordion player that figured prominently on the first disc.

A slower conglomeration of tuneful sampled loops often make up the framework of the tracks. This is the case with track 2, ‘Punished with Longing’, a relatively straightforward orchestral/martial piece that nevertheless bears the trademark vocals of the Novy Svet sound (the same goes for ‘Utopia’, with its ritual sounding hypnotic loops and low, crooning male vocals).  The acoustic guitar loops on ‘Traicion’ are a nice touch in amongst a slow ritual type beat (and again the morose vocals), while ‘Un canto sobre el amor’ is hands down the most twisted track of the album. This can really only be described as Austrian folk reggae, but it’s still highly listenable and very enjoyable.  ‘Sin Fin’ contains a dredging bass loop, creating a slight death industrial sound that is only enhanced with scaping textures, whilst the vocals remain a low whisper – all in all representing a pleasing shift in focus.  The sluggish doublebass tune and infrequently plucked guitar morph into their own loops on ‘Linea Alba’ before branching out on yet another tangent and evoking in the process an immaculate late night drug hazed vibe.  Clocking in at over 22 minutes, the last track is a miasma of ritual beats, loops scattered sound, vocals, etc., that lasts for around4 minutes before lapsing for 16 minutes into a comatose silence, only to reappear to conclude the album with a quirky type folk/lounge track that is more reminiscent of the first CD.  Without a doubt this is Novy Svet through and through, but on this second album they have produced something that might just be more palatable for average underground listeners who are not regular frequenters of bizarre song-styled albums.

Novy Svet (Aut) “Aspiral III” 10”ep 2000 White Label

Novy Svet, (the group of the moment for me), return with another release, with the musical direction on this recording having been directed by an old school industrial loop aesthetic and mixed with a large dose of the group’s quirkiness.  A slow musing piece, the opening track ‘origen’ is built on a slow industrial looped beat and barely discernable melody, with the male vocals carrying the tune in a lamenting style.  The rather rough looping aesthetic plays through to the following piece ‘re delle cose’, but with the use of shrill a violin loop, clanging percussion, and treated vocals it creates a fantastically disorientating miasma of sound.  Third track ‘panika’ builds various loops of horn instruments to a groggy sway over a solid base of grinding elements and sampled vocal loops to generate this increased industrial aspect to the Novy Svet sound.  ‘Rituale-’ has a fantastic aura of echoed atmospherics that acts as the foundation to mid paced looped strings, bass guitar tune and percussion, including the most chaotic and upfront vocals I have heard from the group.  With loops falling in and out of sync, all adding to the bizarreness that Novy Svet are able to pull together for their unique style.  Side B caused me a bit of frustration prior to realising that the grooves have been cut from the inside edge out. However, maybe I should have taken notice of the fact that the spirals printed on the labels of opposing vinyl sides already seemed to indicate this (one other thing I did however note was that the word ‘dogstar’ is etched into side A, whilst ‘godstar’ is etched into side B.  Make of this what you will!)  Here only one lengthy track is presented (‘noyol quimati’), opting for a rather bland cyclic and tribal piece of slow percussion and assorted sound loops and the trademark vocal being more close to spoken or drawled being recorded quite low in the mix as the track catatonically plays out.  Not the worst Novy Svet piece, but clearly not the best either.  Being released on the White Label this is of course pressed into while vinyl, with a textured cover and gold foil motif stamp are simply stunning (and limited to mere 200 copies).

Novy Svet (Aut) / Der Blutharsch (Aut) “Inutiles” 7” 2000 WKN

Talk of an infuriating release – limited to a ludicrous 99 copies – the first time I played this heavyweight clear vinyl, it appeared that it was only one-sided (with only the Novy Svet track being evident).  To make things even more perplexing, the grooves of the vinyl revolve from the inside to outside edge!  After a few rotations of the Novy Svet track – followed by a few curses! – I ended up emailing Albin to see if my copy was somehow a mis-pressing, as there simply did not appear to be a Der Blutharsch track on it.  Well, as was then pointed out to me, it seemed that the answer was right under my nose all along: the 7” was indeed single-sided, but the two tracks were grooved one next to each other (meaning that you have to physically place the needle outside the normal lead in groove, to be able drop into the groove of the Der Blutharsch track!).  Up-tempo and even slightly cheesy in tone, the Novy Svet number melds standard kit drumming with low register piano tune and organ with (as always) bizarre semi-chanted vocals doing their thing.  Not the best track from them I have ever heard, but still unquestionably Novy Svet.  As for Der Blutharsch, this is where the real action is – a top-notch piece and alone worth the price of this expensive vinyl.  An emotive violin introduces the piece (to later arrive again midsection) whilst elements of rousing chanted vocals, slow pounding drumming, ritual percussion and a deep resonating orchestral horn melody build a stunning atmosphere, with slightly tweaked spoken vocals embellished with vitriolic flair.  This is certainly Der Blutharsch at their stunning best, which is nothing less than what I had hoped for when ordering this.  One last thing to mention about the vinyl is that there is no protective locked groove at the outside edge, meaning that if you are not in close proximity to the stereo when the track finishes, the needle simple drops off onto the (still rotating) record platter! For all its physical nuisances, it is as if Albin stated that `my records shouldn’t be too easy to play.  Always take care when listening to Der Blutharsch’.  Sound advice when considering this one… And before I forget to mention it, the packaging has a simple but nicely arcane hand screen printed image of martyr and eagle on (you guessed it!) brown card.

Ordo Equitum Solis (Ita) “A Divine Image” Picture 7” EP 2000 World Serpent Distribution

I have generally found that, while they may look more stunning, on most vinyl picture discs the sound often suffers more than that of standard vinyl (tending to accrue higher amounts of crackles and hiss).  Is this due to the different type of material required for pressing? Who knows.  Anyway this O.E.S is quite picturesque in visual presentation – basically the image of the velvet clad female half of the group clinching it for me!.  With the title track up first, ‘A divine image’ is an up-tempo, dreamy keyboard number, with atmospheric programmed percussion and angelic female choir vocals that give way to singular sung main vocal line that in style has quite a similarity to Madonna (I have heard this comparison before)!.  From the pop aspect of the vocals, the meandering piano line that sneaks in at selected moments only adds to the quite pop-influenced sound and creates a very nice track overall.  On the flip-side, ‘Before the Morning Rose’ harks back to their more traditional neo-folk sound, with acoustic guitar tune and interplay of male and female vocals.  An accordion and keyboard following the tune of the guitar is likewise a nice touch.  This release is yet another item in the World Serpent series of 7” picture EPs that have also included items from Backworld and Belborn.  Who will be next, you may ask?

Ordo Rosarius Equilibrio (Swe) “Make Love, And War (The Wedlock Of Roses)” CD 2000 Cold Meat Industry

The first track, “Beloved Kitty And The Piercing Bolts Of Amor,” is an amusingly looped piece of aged samples juxtaposing a rough-hewn German vocal (probably culled from WWII, or thereabouts) as it urges on an obviously aroused female to the brink of orgasm.  (Well, okay, the female participant may just be sampled from an adult film, but there are timbres within her…um, ecstatic revelatory cries upon every obvious thrust, that seem born of times long ago…)  It is a strangely appropriate introduction to the agenda spirited by Tomas Petterson’s newly christened Ordo Rosario Equilibrio.  With the exit of Chelsea Krook from the (moist) folds of Ordo Equilibrio, Tomas has changed the band’s name to Ordo Rosario Equilibrio: “the wedlock between equilibrium & roses-Ordo Rosario Equilibrio/The Order of Roses & Balance”.  Even without her dispassionate, monotone sexuality (her vocals always expressed the conflict of fire and ice, an arousing confluence of voluptuous sensuality expressed amidst bland recitation…the recitation of the prostitute, the sexual deviant, drenched in carnality to the point of listlessness), the prevalent sexuality still dominates.  (As extracted from within the carcass of the dead…)  Through the tracks that follow, Tomas’ lyrics deliciously romanticize a restrained erotica amongst apocalyptic visions, be it the erotica of decay (“Make Love, And War”), or of transformation (“Never Before At The Beauty Of Spring”), or of corrupt spirituality (“Ashen Like Love And Black Like The Snow”).  The music is acoustic guitar driven, but not without an abundance of synth and sampled textures.  An amusingly pompous prelude to simmering finality, as mankind destroys itself between the split, scarred and bloodied thighs of Mother Earth…and all Hell is unleashed!  Quite intriguing! –JC Smith

Orplid (Ger) “Barbarossa” 10” EP 2000 Eis & Licht

Orplid have over the past few years slowly been raising their profile within the underground, melding quite stunning acoustic guitar apocalyptic folk odes with more neo-classical movements.  Having already released a CD (in a two different formats), 10” ep, and MCD (these being the items I am aware of), ‘Barbarossa’ represents the new vinyl release.  Taking a more tribal-esque/ neo-classical stance, Side A offers up a lengthy track of deep warlike ancestral drumming, organ tune and clean sung vocals in the German language that borders on a deep classical/chanting style.  Further layers of sweeping winds and vocal choirs, adds to the flair of the piece, but in most part this track strides onward at a consistent pace despite morphing through quieter and louder segments.  The flip side of the vinyl commences in an even more epic style with mournful choirs radiating sorrowful melodies over a backing of distant bombing.  Things slip back into a quieter forlorn classical synth melody, only to be overshadowed by a rather stern and aggressive German voice reciting a speech/written passage for the remainder of the piece (the underlying musical element remains throughout).  The next and final piece seems to take its que from the prior piece as it is much more aggressive, clearly evident from outset of shrill wail of air raid sirens.  With a track of epic orchestral proportions, marching footfalls add to the pounding martial rhythms, further completed with deep orchestral brass instrumentation and soaring strings to create a grandiose war-mongering aura.  For the multi-faceted elements that Orplid incorporates into their style, they certainly handle each brilliantly melding them together in the creation of music with a strong folk and classical European flavour.

Ozymandias (???) “Karnak” CD 2000 Ramses Records

Being an album that was recorded with direct influence and inspiration derived from a trip that the artist undertook to the Egyptian temple ‘Karnak’, I assumed there might have been quite a bit of Middle Eastern influence infused within the compositions.  Yet this is not the case with the music, which is quite standard classical piano melodies and tunes.  Despite the music not having a clear relationship with the subject matter, it is clear that the songs are from a formally trained musical mind within the scope of the melancholic and understated piano meanderings.  The 12 tracks are quite subtle in style and are all solo pieces, without multiple layers.  Although superbly written and executed, this album is not partially dark, brooding or bombastic, which are generally the common themes threading through most current neo-classical albums. I am thus unsure to which segment of the underground this would really appeal, as it is essentially the type of CD my father (quite a connoisseur of classical music) would listen to.  Nonetheless this is interesting.

Panzar (Swe) “Panzar” 7″ Pic 2000 Panzar

Panzar is another project by Sweden’s most prolific manipulator of sonic darkness, Peter Andersson.  To list all of the projects in which he is involved would be an exercise in futility, as by the time you read this a few more may have arisen!  Anyway, this 7″ by Panzar is a scintillating teaser for something more (I hope).  “Inertia” casts metallic synth shadows over blasted sonic terrain, while percussion drops like bombs from the heavens.  The background, the smudged sonic canvas that this bombardment corrupts, is reamed by radiant strands of feedback (or wiry synths) and muddy, obscure vocals.  This canvas seems to (possibly) incorporate textures derived from Heid and/or maybe Hollow Earth, but they are stretched, kneaded and gnawed on in such a way as to distinguish itself as a singular entity dispersing dread.  “Tensor” includes German vocals as they wind through a latticework of thick, molten white noise, upon which clanking percussion, marching off into death, steers a panzer tank into oblivion… It is restrained, contained, insistent, deceptively sinister, the rumble of the tank crushing everything in its path….  It’s amazing the way, with each of Peter’s many projects, an actual distinction of sound and focus can be gleaned.  The only thing I ask of Panzar is more, please!  –JC Smith

Poota (Aus) “Chunks” 3”CDR 2000 label:KETTLE

Poota is a collaborative project between Andrew Kettle (aka KETTLE) and Loyd Barrett (aka Brainlego) that has been operating from some 4 years with no official releases until now.  This release is the amalgam of what the artists’ felt was the best material derived from 1998 recordings (studio and live) and, by the artists’ own admission, showcases `skill and spontaneity; innocence and experience’.  The first thing that is evident is that the cut-up, glitched framework of both their individual projects have been somewhat amassed together within these recordings, creating broad collages of intertwined malfunctioning electro static, rhythms and samples.  The first of the cdr’s five tracks appears to work on two levels – one presenting a broad deep undercurrent, the other a mid-ranged scattered rhythmic element that generates a mostly soothing sound presentation.  This framework is again utilised on the second track, yet as here many more sonic layers are drawn upon (mainly at the high end spectrum) to create overall a more chaotic offering.  Likewise, with its focus on a high-end blip tune, it evokes a galactic spatial aura that later transforms into stunning and solidly focussed deep rhythm (that might just be comparable to segments of Atomine Elektrine’s “Archimetrical Universe” CD).  Track three brings a drawn out playful style to its odd manipulations of a quite crunchy, centrally focussed mid-paced beat.  Pure sonic experimentation abounds on the forth piece, where gradually shifting sounds, static and (tune/beat/voice) samples generate a loose focus to the occasionally fierce and quick-paced sonics.  The fifth and final track is simply stunning due to its use of a sampled segment of Indian tabla drum percussion to create a brooding atmosphere.  With this central sample offset against a subdued tune and understated electronic treatments, the track presents an excellent blend of traditional and modern sounds.  Despite the artists’ acknowledging that this release offers more of a ‘historical fragment … than a new work of evolution in music’, it is still a fine example of the creativity of the underground/experimental music scene in Australia.

Predominance (Ger) “Nocturnal Gates Of Incidence” CD 2000 Loki Foundation

A wind from the outer reaches of space and time (it caresses the cool flesh of infinity) arises “From Ancient Aeons,” accompanied by strange, almost ritualistic vocals of a cryptic origin; they seem ancient, culled from some banished realm of forsaken obscurity.  (The sensation is like that of an American Indian chanting…)  Synths rise to sway and harshly rub the bass textures, the mood one of mysterious allegiances of anomalous pedigree, as clanking, muddy percussion and subtly sinister tones climb the invisible walls of a vast abyss.  My initial take on Nocturnal Gates Of Incidence was that it was not quite on par with the excellent Hindenburg LP.  Of course, they are two very different creations, and repeated listens have moved it, quite possibly, beyond that mighty signpost, and definitely down dark highways of unexplored space that many of the dark sonicscape practitioners on the (amazing!) LOKI label traverse.  “Aurora Borealis” resonates with stern, anxious vocal/choral aspirations wrapped in swarthy, brooding synths.  The trepidation-laced lyrics transcend the imposed limitations of time (“Open the gates of incidence/Where all began and everything ends”) and plead for rescue from the clutches of eternal dismay (“Save our souls from the blackness/The stars remain like eyes of the fairies”).  “If The Last Star Burns Out,” possibly the darkest exploration here, is ignited by metal on metal percussion crashing on the bruised hide of the sporadic engines of emptiness.  The sprawling emptiness is dappled with tones that evoke unease via scattered noise discharges: snowflakes of cracked metal, stinging lashes of grim discomfort.  The possible ramifications of what would transpire if the last star burned out are expressed in clearly enunciated tones, a foreboding observation of deliciously rendered darkness.  The synth waves of “Once They Arrive” swell with an odd, optimistic beauty, while appealing, German accented vocals expound on the imminent arrival of…something (other beings, of interstellar origin?…or is this a more divine apotheosis?…) that will arrive, crossing eons of time, and link all that has been with all that is… Nocturnal Gates Of Incidence is one of the rare occurrences in dark sonicscape music in which the varied vocals and vocal approaches really broaden the sonic palate, adding drama and perspective.  A remarkable, cosmically explorative presentation! -JC Smith

Psychonaut (USA) “Liber Al Vel Legis” advance CDR 2001 Athanor

After being delayed due to copyright issues over the use of imagery and text associated with the estate of Aleister Crowley, this album (recorded back in 1998) is finally obtaining an official release (the bio further states that this was actually the first recording of Michael Ford under the Psychonaut banner). Anyway, given that this album predates the last Psychonaut release (likewise on Athanor) it actually encompasses a different sound and focus.  Where ‘The Witch’s Sabbath’ was predominantly based on cathartic tribal and rhythmic percussive works. Here there is a more sparse musical outline containing often a heavy emphasis on spoken (yet slightly echoed/ treated) vocals that recite passages from Crowley’s: The Book of the Law (particularly conducting the ‘Ritual of Liber Samekh for the Attainment of the Knowledge and Conversation of the Holy Guardian Angel’).  Minimalist in nature, the backing sounds contain sparse collages of echoed and resonating textures seeming to aim at evoking a hypnotic state where the mind can transcend its earthbound surrounds (particularly when contemplating the words being spoken) and from this perspective the description of ‘Astral Musick’ is an appropriate portrayal of the shimmering syth textures.  That said, there are a number of tracks that do contain sound elements that crop up on later recordings, particularly the loose frameworks of tribal percussion and sustained and wavering non melodious wood wind instruments. Overall these are used as complimentary elements to the main framework.  I would have to attest that this recording has a much greater ritualistic air then the tribal movements of the other Psychonaut recordings I have heard, and for this reason alone this CD is more engaging.  Again and as with the previous release, this will be of specific interest for those who have a more than a passing interest in ritualistic magic particularly of the Crowleyian variety.

Puissance (Swe) “All Hail the Mushroom Cloud” MCD 2000 Fluttering Dragon

Well, while this is meant to be the ‘new’ MCD, it seems that the tracks were actually recorded back in 1998, which has me wondering if these were recorded around the time of the last album, ”Mother of Disease” (not counting the re-mix album ”War On”, which also contained 2 new tracks).  While this MCD is good, it is a little disappointing when compared to an MP3 track I have heard, a brand new piece called ‘A Call to Arms’ which is, in my opinion, closest to the pinnacle of what Puissance can create.  Anyway this CD comes in a deluxe digipack and contains 4 tracks or ‘acts’ relating to the mini-album’s title.  While the heavy orchestral/industrial framework is still utilised, there seems to be a underlying looped element to many of the sounds, giving the industrial underbelly a more modern edge than noted on previous offerings. Reasonable convincing synth choirs soar as a backing to ‘Act 1’, while other elements focus on mid-ranged string segments.  Mid-paced and reasonable repetitive, there is no real divergence from the main focus once it is established. All 4tracks have a clear similarity in direction and approach, meaning that each of the pieces are generally on par with each other and all contain the trademark mid-paced brooding orchestral framework and industrial martial aura.  (‘Act IV’ differs only slightly in that it has a tinge of folkish element created via a flute tune, thus making it the best track here).  If you have already heard Puissance’s music then you already have an opinion of it, and this MCD presents nothing that would alter that perception– good or bad, depending on your persuasion.

Puissance (Swe) “A Call to Arms” 7” EP 2001 Selfless Recordings

Having referenced the title track of this 7” in the above review, it seems this fantastic composition has finally been furnished with an official release on new American label Selfless Recordings.  And talking of ‘A Call to Arms’ – guttural yet slightly metallic percussion and a lone flute tune introduce this mid paced orchestral epic.  Soon after, sparse chimes and a slow piano tune builds the composition up to the next level, whilst the incorporation of martial snare drumming and layers of orchestral choir voices ensures Puissance’s musical sights are set high.  With this track building up until the final moments, this is essentially the pinnacle of what (I knew) Puissance has the potential to create.  Likewise throughout this track a monotone voice recites a page from the Puissance manifesto, however the philosophy here seems to have taken a step away from the previous “destroy everything” attitude towards a metaphor of a fatalistic martyr figure (“It’s a pointless struggle but we will fight them….still losing I’m sure, but at least alive, for a short while longer”).  The spoken passage is further reprinted on the cover, being well written and serious, highlighting a certain maturation from earlier slightly more simplistic written passages that Puissance used as lyrics.  ‘Religion of Force’ (the side B track), is instrumental and whilst not quite as epic as side A, is more of an industrial/ martial evocation.  Rigidly sharp and atmospheric mid paced percussion strides forth from the outset, set alongside sparsely constructed and relatively non musical atmospheric wavering sound layers (slivers of treated radio voices can also be faintly detected).  By no means would I say this is a bad track, rather it just tends to take a back seat to side A.  Pressed into white vinyl and limited to 880 (I’m unsure if this is a minor attempt at controversy), the cover is simplistic yet effective in design, and certainly worth checking out.

Pure (Aut) / Ultra Milkmaids (Fra) “s[e]nd” CD 2000 Vacuum

When it comes to experimental ‘art-noise’, this disc displays the kind of sounds that I tend to appreciate the most.  This is basically derived from the perspective that while not particularly musical, the sounds rather work with a drawn out aesthetic and is therefore akin to sprawling drones – albeit more minimalist and fragile by virtue of the experimental style.  Shimmering, warm tones radiate fragility from the album’s outset, and with such sounds being akin to what I know of Ultra Milkmaids, I am also assuming that Pure covers similar territory when recording solo.  In small segments the drawn-out textures become intentionally disjointed and fractured as if the CD is miss-tracking; yet the music’s ability to pull this off convincingly is just part of the CD’s charm.  The slow evolution of content means that one track meanders into the next, emphasising the minimalist nature of the sound works presented.  Regardless, the atmospheres created gradually evolve from warm textures on the first few tracks to more clinical and glacial sounds, such as on the lengthy 14 minute third track.  Although there are never any real tunes and melodies to be detected within this release, it works with sparse electronic harmonies and tones to give a fleeting ‘musical’ reference to the sound.  Track six is quite a bit more quirky and playful with textured sound glitches, but this is really only a fleeting moment of increased intensity within the complete album.  Overall this is an album that can be enjoyed both as foreground or background listening, and I have quite enjoyed what is on offer.

Raven’s Bane (USA) “sorrow breeds” CDR 2001 Live Bait Recording Foundation

This project a solo excursion by Profane Grace member Robert Cruzan and I imagine this little snippet of information should peak a few interests. While the ghostly atmospheres of the main project are less evident here, death ambient would still certainly be an appropriate description for this.  Dense, slow evolving loops, machine orientated hums/drones and shimmering drawn out keyboard textures construct the quite minimalist auras of each offering, as if presenting various telekinetic transmissions from the netherworld.  Likewise even without track titles such as ‘plaguehost’, ‘shrine of sufferance’ and ‘cacophony’, the sound already contains a deathly morbid edge that is enough to give the listener an aural peek into the shadow world.  From the liner notes, it seems that this monotone and minimalist nature of the recordings has a specific purpose to generate a plane for the mind to escape to and I will certainly vouch for this fact as when playing this CD whilst going to sleep it creates an aura that is never too jolting, thus the perfect counterpart for pre-sleep contemplation.  Now having said this, as the album progresses the aura of the tracks gradually become more urgent and damning in tone, marking a clear direction and evolution of each piece in relation to the next.  The fact that this is a CDR and limited to only 100 copies, the aesthetics of the colour card cover have been immaculately presented utilising the graphic talents of Mike Riddick (who incidentally produced the cover of Spectrum #3!).  Putting non related topics aside, this is worth checking out.

Boyd Rice & Fiends (USA) “Wolf Pact” CD 2001 NEROZ

Before you ask, no it is not a spelling mistake, the working title is in fact Boyd Rice & ‘Fiends’ & not ‘Friends’ as was the case with an earlier album.  Anyway, with the auspicious accolade of accommodating the creative inputs of Boyd Rice (of course), Albin Julius and Douglas P, this alone will provide ample reason to generate a significant amount of interest in this project.  Recorded in Adelaide (Australia) during February, 2001 this is a rather eclectic album that blends selected elements of the music created by its contributors on an individual basis (those being NON, Death in June or Der Blutharsch), creating a diverse recording project.  ‘The Watery Leviathan’ opens with a celebratory acoustic folk piece, resplendent with backing keyboard melodies, chiming church bells and understated percussion as the spoken/ sung vocals of Boyd are presented in an unassuming style.  Title track ‘Wolf Pact’ is another dreamy acoustic/keyboard number (although there is always a darker undercurrent scratching beneath the surface) where Albin presents spoken vocals in his native tongue alongside choir like backing vocals.  Unyielding martial sounding loops and whispered vocals of Boyd introduce ‘World’s Collide’, which is further embellished with sparse keyboards, acoustic tune and orchestral layers, whilst ‘Fire Shall Come’ with its gruffly shouted vocals and heavy stately percussion is reminiscent of the DI6’s track ‘C’est Un Reve’.  ‘Bad Blood’ works itself into quite a cascading church organ dirge, where spoken vocals are further lopped, treated are added to the mix (although remains quite hard to follow/decipher).  ‘Rex Mundi’ with its slow neo-orchestral/martial sound is comparable to the first Der Blutharsch album if not the works of TMLHBAC, yet with the spoken vocals of Boyd and constant whip cracking (most often associated with DI6 recordings), it creates a positive mix of the distinctive styles.  ‘Hamlet’ is a rather abrasive melange of screamed/ spoken vocal loops that is further manipulated and tweaked, then leading into ‘Bad Luck and Curses’ that is a short piece of manipulated/reversed snippet of Boyd’s spoken vocals.  ‘Murder Bag’ presents an unusual sounding rhythmic industrial piece with hints of discordant trumpet playing and segments of movie dialogue the source of which I’m not entirely sure of (on a hunch it could they be snippets taken from still long awaited ‘Pearls Before Swine’ that both Doug and Boyd star in).  After playing through the sparse soundscape of ‘Joe Liked to Go (to the Cemetery), ‘People Change’ reverts to the acoustic guitar format mixing in more of Boyd’s spoken vocals and odd backing samples and sounds (Albin at the mixing desk I assume?!).  Introduced with storming rain, this is used as a partially manipulated platform of ‘The Reign Song’ whereby Boyd speaks his mind further, while the lengthily titled ‘The Forgotten Father/ The Tomb of the Forgotten Father’ clearly has the stamp of Albin all over it with its rhythmic yet classical approach (however it is less like his Der Blutharsch material, and more comparable to the material he recorded with Douglas as Death in June).  Piano melody and yet more vocals from Boyd complete the vocal portion of the track before late in the piece it tangents off into a heavy martial percussive guise with xylophone and orchestral elements marking a heftier sound.  Final track ‘The Orchid and the Death’s Head’ marks a soundscape style of deep drones, understated sparse tune and various sampled and spoken vocals that build intensity through to the dying seconds.  Not that this album will really need any encouragement to sell, it is both a diverse and intriguing amalgam of recording influence.

Salt (Ger) “re.wasp” 3”CD/ box 2000 Ant-Zen

As much as a piece of art as a musical release, the landmark 100th Ant-Zen item is a celebration of the man behind the Ant-Zen empire – the one and only Stephen Alt.  Packaged in a sturdy cardboard slide box, the 3” CD is housed in a miniature gatefold pouch, along with a series of thirteen postcards that illustrate and display the graphic design genius of S.Alt.  Basically I would have been more then happy with the release on the packaging front, regardless of quality of musical content, yet the music is also top quality, consisting of two tracks – part noise soundscape and part glitch riddled technoid experimentation. ‘One’ shifts forward at a minimalist pace for a few minutes prior to a rather prominent and very engaging electro static rhythm whipping things into a low-key frenzy.  From here, constant yet fractured layers build, overlap and fall away, repeating loose cycles in a partly electric, partly mechanical guise.  ‘Two’ again runs with an electro static framework with varying frequencies characterising initial segments.  Glitched sounds take a more prominent position on this piece, forging tonal layered experimentations until things sweep off in a mass of throbbing static intensity.  Falling somewhere between noise experimentation and power electronics this is certainly a nicely hued and quite blistering intense composition.  Of course with this item being limited, some searching might be required.

Sator Absentia (Fra) “Mercurian Orgasms” CD 2000 Dark Vinyl

Sator Absentia is Cedric Codognet, whose work I had previously heard on the Asmorod CD, Involution Toward Chtonian Depths.  Sator Absentia incorporates some of the elements of that disc, while chiseling out its own variations of melancholic darkness tinged with weirdness.  “Sounds Of Mercurian Devotion” opens with a scratchy violin (spectral timbres stolen from Lovecraft’s Erich Zahn…?) caressed by tonalities of discomfort (matching the violin, they are almost vocal, though of ludicrous allegiance).  Additional mood is coloured by beautifully sparse (tears like plucked icicles) acoustic guitar and scattered background voices (a crowd, a mass…except for the laughter…), all shrouded under a cloak of midnight synths.  Tectonic plates shift during “Panorama,” extricating a violin born of the darkest agony in the process.  An ache is wound into the strings, distraught, tattered bowing drawing out both the pain and despair in lusciously stroked cadences.  Low rumbling fills the void, a platform upon which the brittle violin performs.  The vista grows more expansive as the track stretches, ominous synths rising to lick the strings, the saliva causing the violin bow to slide sporadically… Absolutely riveting!  Processional percussion etched with slivers of splintered, moaning violin opens “Enter The Red Garden Of Frustration.”  The mood is fraught with ritual, as if something is about to commence.  But that possibility is deemed impotent, the only thing the music inspires is sadness of an undefined nature, not simply born of depression, but of something more tactile (yet elusive).  The music on Mercurian Orgasms has a quirky underbelly, despite the inherent dark foundation, that seems most enigmatic; the violins, in particular, seem bowed by hands of unearthly origin.  Impressive! -JC Smith

Scorn (Eng) “Greetings from Birmingham” CD 2000 Hymen

For all intents and purposes, the new full-length Scorn album looks and sounds like an extension of the ‘Imaginaria Award’ CD EP reviewed last issue – meaning that the previous item was really a taster to this, the main dish (it also seems the original title of this has been altered from the previously alluded “no joke movement” – however this slogan graces the inner sleeve).  As for the music, the grating, gutturally heavy drum’n’bass/hip hop flavoured tunes are again presented here in all their tweaked and repetitive glory.  The twisted and morphed pulverizing textures, deep sweeping tones and big (slightly tweaked) slow pounding beats characterise this modern yet underground sound that Mick Harris (aka Scorn) has made as his trademark.  After a one minute intro, the standard snare sound on ‘Can But Try’ has a really tweaked snap to it, with all other elements likewise pushed to the extreme.   With barely a melodic moment to be found on ‘Still On’, the track opts for sparse otherworldly sounds with combinations of kick, snare and high hat.  Throughout the album there are a number of tracks that are presented in different versions, but some appear to be similar in name only (as is the case with ‘Told you can tell: part 2’).  A late album track, ‘Closedown’, achieves a mild groove to the crunchy beats, with smatterings of droning sounds hinting at a sparse tune that is book-ended by a quirky sporadic piece called  ‘Part Of’ that, with a few segments of clanging cymbal abuse, works quite well.  Rounding out the CD are a throw-away 11 second noise piece and a one minute outro beat, all in all another good album of darkly menacing drum and bass music.

The Seventh Dawn (Aus) “The Age to an End Shall Come…” CD 2000 Nile

This new project comes from none other than Chris McCarter (of Ikon infamy) and his sister Susan McCarter.  Taking its cues from a neo folk perspective, the instrumentation (handled by Chris) consists of acoustic guitar ballads and folkish keyboard tracks.  With Susan predominantly handling the vocals, the dreamy and restrained delivery helps evoke arcane visions that are particularly evident on baroquely styled ‘He’s not Playing for the King’.  The minor piano keys of ‘In Light and Roses’ are fully embellished with orchestral layers, acoustic guitars, chimes and marching snare beats – this is also one of the few tracks to feature the vocals of Chris.  Apart from being a fantastic song, overall this somewhat comparable to the composed works of Ordo Equilibrio whilst containing hints of Death in June (when it is stripped back to a lone trumpet, percussion and acoustic guitar).  A slight diversion is toyed with on ‘In my Lonely Hours’, where the down vibe of the synth backing remains the same, despite the main focus arriving with programmed up tempo beats, rhythmic bass, and clanging keyboard tune.  Whimsical atmospheres float gently from the speakers on ‘1881’ as (again) lightly strummed acoustics and unassuming classically inspired keys swirl from background to foreground – Susan’s vocals are a constant joy throughout.  Almost aggressive, the final track ‘The Rosin Bridge’ holds a slightly ominous air, with a focus on heavier rolling beats while the darker melody is reflected in and enshrouded by the main vocals, again those of Chris.  10 tracks in all and housed in jewel case with a beautiful full colour cover, I would imagine this album would have the ability to appeal to a number of scenes ranging from industrial, neo-folk, gothic (or potentially even contemporary) given the sweet yet beautifully sorrowful compositions showcased here.

Skincage (USA) “Axon” CD 2000 Malignant Antibody

I must admit that I put off the task of reviewing this CD for some months.  Essentially each time I listened to it I found my mind swimming in its multidimensional sonic whirlpool of sampled and re-contextualised sound, leaving me unable to transform the experience into words (well, now the time has finally come…)  ‘Axon’ is the first release on the new Malignant Records side label, Malignant Antibody, which is run by none other than Phil Easter, creator of the sampled and manipulated sonic bliss of Stone Glass Steel and Iron Halo Device (as well as Malignant’s web technician and Malignant Sound Technologies’ knob twiddler).  Immediately evident is the fact that Malignant Antibody highlights a certain focus and direction away from that of the main label, with this flagship release forging into quite cinematic sounding territories.  Given that this is also the realm that Stone Glass Steel frequents, it is no surprise to hear that Skincage utilises a similar sampling and construction ethic inherent in S.G.S compositions, although Skincage approaches its musical aesthetic from a completely different angle to create a more subversive tone (for my interpretation, it could be the outward view gained from being trapped inside a decrepit society – much as the moniker suggests the operation of this idea on a much more personal scale).  Akin to scanning radio bandwidth for signals, solo artist Jon Ray chops, splices and tweaks his way through myriads of samples – whether random noise, static, beats, rhythms, violins and whatever else you could possibly imagine.  Brooding melodies, crumbling textures, aural clutter, machine pluses, hydraulic hisses, radio voices, modem dialing sounds, sublime static, angelic vocals, resonating chimes, insectile scramblings, tribal percussion, telephone conversations, Gregorian chants – the list of samples that can be individually detected is simply endless.  Yet even with providing such a list, it is less WHAT is being sampled than HOW it has been interpreted, collated and further manipulated to ingeniously engrossing effect.  Assessing some of the pieces individually, ‘Household Gods’ (being central to the album) stands out prominently over the preceding tracks, due to its bizarre rhythm sequences and fleeting classical tunes.  Horrific sounds intermixed with angelic voices and urgent orchestral blasts characterise `Relapse’, all wrapped in a very sharp and sonically crisp production which is exemplary of modern sound techniques.  Later segments of this piece are more orchestrally sparse and generally less threatening in tone.  With subversively subliminal packaging note suggesting that ‘Struck by the Arrows of Artemis’ be played on rotation, the darker hypnotic undercurrents are more likely to induce nightmares than to soothe, despite being balanced off with a prominent sample of a child’s toy (now that I think about it, this element indicates more sinister implications).  Anyway, with all the sampled calamity of most of the album, the final track ‘The Bruised Mandala’ seeps off into the distance as a fantastic soundscape of orchestral minimalism.  Too composed and active ever to be considered dark ambient, yet at the same time not sufficiently composed to be bona fide songs, the finished album is a perfect example of ‘cinematic isolationism’.  Based on this debut release, I am expecting BIG things to come from both the artist and the label.

Silbernacht (Ger) “Nacht ohne Sterne” demo MC 2001 self released

Receiving this tape in the post, the letter introduced the material on this cassette as potentially being described as “..symphonic gothic or symphonic black.  Sometimes it sounds like cinematic music”.  Well I can say that this sounded promising (or at the very least a little intriguing), but what you actually get with this 4 track/ 28 minute tape is rather bland and very synthetic sounding classical/ organ oriented music.  While there is a level of skill evident in the execution of the compositions, the actual music comes across as being uninspired, and as if the player has executed it with technical proficiency but forgotten to put any emotion into the playing.  Selected pieces have a feel of soundtracks used in old horror movies (you know those with the slightly flamboyant yet gothically grounded organ dirges), but overall the music does not really contain a specific dark streak.  Given that the tracks seem to simply meander along, there is no real hook nor focused direction to the material, and in many spots you are left feeling as if you’ve starting reading a book midway through and attempting (unsuccessfully) to follow the storyline. Touches of swirling winds, and some more epic and grand keyboard notes bring to mind some of Mortiis’s early works, yet it is the gothic slant to the sound that avoids Mortiis being used as a huge comparison.  Maybe I’m being a bit too harsh, but when I reflect on this I really lack any specific feeling (be it love or loathe) hence the ‘uninspired’ comment.  You decide.  Available for $5 US in Europe or $10 US rest of world if interested contact: Frank Esser, Kempener Allee 108 D-47803 Krefeld, Germany.

Silk Saw (Bel) “4th Dividers” CD 2000 Ant-Zen

This is another artist on the Ant-Zen roster that I had not heard up until this item, and yet again presents another group that I want to become better acquainted with their back catalogue.  Fitting into the trademark Ant-Zen ‘Technoid’ sound, the track dynamics are often structured around and slowly built on repetitive beat sequences that create clinical yet quite groovy, chilled-out sounds that have a certain ambient flair despite their composition.  The snappy beats of ‘Safe Area’ are particularly infectious and make it hard not to be tapping along, as is also the case with ‘No Twists No Turns’ (but here a bigger throbbing bass sound is the main percussive element, with clicks, pops, chimes and the like making up the remainder).  For some respite the treated, looped and manipulated guitar strums of ‘Pave the Way’ are the main focal point, resulting in quite a dark musical exploration without any use of percussive beats.  ‘Ratchet Mechanism’ hints at a quirky source of inspiration despite the track being quite vertically rigid in its beat programming, and also marks the start of the second half of the album containing other similarly quirky and slightly more bizarre compositions (just reference ‘Wrong Door’ if you want to know what I mean!).  With most of its 12 tracks ranging between 3 and 8 minutes, it results in quite a lengthy CD that explores the subtleties and dynamics of each composition.

Sleeping With The Earth (USA) / Combat Astronomy (USA) “Split Compact Disc” CD 2000 Troniks

A rainstorm introduces the listener to Sleeping With The Earth; it is a deceptively organic tease.  As rain batters and thunder erupts in violent peals, an undercurrent of malevolent, slashing noises (I hear voices amidst tortured machinery) rises to overwhelm the torrential downfall, meshing to make a more potent assimilation of said rainstorm.  Ultra-manipulated voices (I think it’s voices-it might just be noise incoherently screaming amidst slaughter…), distorted into shades of thunder that shred like talons of metal, gleefully rip at the organic base, mangled sounds dispersed in tattered sheets of inflamed metal and gouged flesh.  A brilliant introduction to the meticulously designed dynamics utilized by Sleeping With The Earth.  “Deliver Us From Evil” slowly ascends from depths unknown, a black mass marching on the heels of the song’s wary sonic navigator… Release is never attained; one is left with an impression much like an itch unscratched.  “What Have I Done?” plods unmercifully through fields of ground bone and gristle, a death march of low rumbling, monotonously rippling distortion punctured by clattering knives (…think Brighter Death Now, circa Necrose Evangelicum).  Powerful stuff, exquisitely presented; even amidst the fury unleashed here, there always seems a purpose (well, except maybe the mutual masturbation of the Big Tex assisted “This Is My Room,” a still amusing affair that gains quite a bit of sonic mass as it evolves).  Combat Astronomy commences with a sound like skin being ripped off the hide of an android.  As “Tiat02” unravels, murky sub-currents of grime are beaten on with metal pipes that assume a ratcheted rhythm.  Though maybe less focused than Sleeping With The Earth, Combat Astronomy utilize a variety of noisy approaches in the manufacturing of their mayhem.  Subterranean loops of blood surge through iron veins, clotting in a diseased artery crusted in metal (hence, the clanking metal din) on “J-Vax.:”  A percussive loop is splattered with progressively more caustic abrasions during “NOMAN.”  “Hut” sounds like the laughter of looped, cut and splice, hiccuping machinery, while an avalanche of sonic discord tumbles through the belly of a white noise tornado during “Archon.”  Seventy minutes of maliciously rendered abuse!  I look forward to more from both of these artists… –JC Smith

The Soil Bleeds Black (USA) “Quintessence” CD 2001 World Serpent Distribution

Representing the fifth album, it seems the Riddick brothers have further re-evaluated and refined their approach of neo-medieval folk music, and to my ears this is their strongest recorded work to date.  Shunning the shorter pieces and soundscape interludes, these tracks embody a much longer length and are predominantly built around darkened acoustic guitar ballads.  Likewise the actual vibe of this CD is much more morose and melancholic with less emphasis on the whimsical yet ridged minstrel type atmospheres of prior recordings with an improved flow.  The male vocals have also gone through a slight stylistic change, where rather than presenting caricatures, here they are  quite simply and cleanly sung (and as always complimented with the vocals of Eugenia Houston).  Basing the album around five tracks (‘earthe’, ‘air’, ‘fyre’, ‘water’ & ‘quintessence’) the first track a brooding piece of acoustic guitar sentimentalities is embellished with various percussive elements, wood wind instruments and even a trumpet.  The darker acoustic folk tangent of ‘air’ uses the Eugenia’s voice as the vocal lead whilst xylophone, recorder, stately drums, church bells and trumpet all add to the foreboding atmosphere.  The cyclic and repetitive guitar strumming of ‘fyre’ brings to mind selected tracks of Ordo (Rosarius) Equilibrio, yet the embellishing of woodwind instruments, percussion, marching beats etc creates a fantastic and individualistic celebratory flavour – both male and female vocals presented in unison. With a minimalist ambient introduction, ‘water’ falls back into morose acoustic musing territory, that is both subdued and epic.  Again elements of drum and wood percussion, synth layers, recorders, whistles etc make up the backing, providing the basis for dual male female vocals that are used as both backing and lead (ranging from soaring to chanting).  Final track ‘quintessence’ again embodies the morose acoustic guitar style and is some 15 minutes in length.  With the percussion presenting heavy slow pounding beats and multi layered woodwind instruments it presents the prefect basis for the Euginia’s vocals, with the lyrics being noted to being an ode of the four elements referenced in the first four tracks.  After the five minute mark, the track falls away into a rather engaging dark ambient soundscape, presenting an aura of being in lost in a dark woodland during the middle ages, that later makes way for a hidden track.  This instrumental piece is yet another fantastic acoustic guitar track (I can say I have always been a sucker for acoustic folk guitar tunes) that sees the multi layered guitar along with percussion, woodwind tunes, dulcimer and even a stunning trumpet interlude.  This album is easily the pinnacle of what the TSBB have recorded to date and now sees the group further aligning themselves with the current neo-folk movement where particular comparison to the like of Atataxia can be made.  ‘Quintessence’ will certainly not disappoint established fans of the group, but will also create an opportunity for those who might not have been totally enamoured with previous albums to rediscover the group via the gem that is this album.

Somatic Responses (UK) “augmented lines” CD 2001 Hymen

With the bio stating this is the second CD release for Somatic Responses, this is however is my first introduction to the group.  Mixing elements of drum’n’bass, break beats and darker aspects of electronic experimentalism, this has resulted in a complexly twisted listen.  Amazingly atmospheric, ‘rnb’ utilises an undercurrent of shimmering drones that are overlaid with sharp and puncturing beat and groove arrangements, which highlighting a key characteristic of the album.  Using this aspect of dual layers in the creation of the compositions, it has created quite an engaging listen.  Essentially each element of beats or tuneful undercurrent could stand on their own, yet it is when they are mixed together that it is a truly great listening experience.  ‘Automata (sonic empire)’ being a composition of slamming mid paced beats and noise treatments, there is an always detectable, subdued & partly tuneful drone melody.  The more frantic programmed beats of ‘catacombs’ surge the piece forward, yet grounding it with the dark twist of the brooding melody (that partially hints at the style of Beefcake).  The fantastically titled ‘perfumed ammo’ provides enough deadly and sweet sentiments with its cranking beats and wistful tunes, that sweep along through a myriad of morphed segments.  A ridged and complex drum’n’bass style is utilised on ‘critical path’ with its rather direct and sharp approach that only becomes heavier and more distorted as the piece progresses.  Again exploiting the dual composition focus to maximum effect, the moody tune textures of ‘u.d.t’ is mixed alongside fractured and fast paced freeform beat structures creating a aural panoramic vision.  Ominous synth tunes of ‘cs bastardo h’ takes centre stage prior to a dense and fast paced beat cranks things up a notch and gradually dragging the composition into noise and distortion obliteration. The final track ‘engines of desire’ is a rather catchy composition with pulsating rhythms and blips sandwiched in with mid-paced beat programming and atmospheric tone for a sense of completion.  In conclusion, whilst less classical/orchestral in orientation than label mates Beefcake, this does share similarities in the actual break beat composition framework and wide screen sweeping musical backing, thus subsequently this gets my tick of approval of being another impressive release from the Hymen camp.

SONA EAST (Bel) / Hypnoskull (Bel) / Tunnel (Bel) “fucked by others’ attitudes” 7” picture disc ep 2001 Nocturnus

Delving into ‘shake your booty’ territory, the three projects that inhabit this release all embody a heavy rhythmic noise approach (think industrial strength techno – or even technoise) and are incidentally all projects of one Patrick Stevens.  Further noting that the vinyl 7” plays at 33 rpm at least this ensures maximum play time for the three compositions that are presented herein.  SONA EACT are up first with their track ‘the external inputphase’, that uses a grinding analogue drone introduction, prior to the track quickly leaping into an extremely heavy mid paced beat.  With a searing metallic resonance its basic structure is set in stone, using a repetitive framework to drive its message home (with a short interlude in the middle the track quickly stomps back in for one final rhythmic rotation).  HypnoSkull on the other hand up the speed just slightly on ‘push>eject>return’, with a slightly muffled yet no less weighty programming.  With the basic structure set, the piece is tweaked, twisted and generally fucked with, likewise including machine gun blasting noise.  Some sort of bizarrely morph vocal snippet jumps in at random moments (never to actually be deciphered) as the track continues on its short, sharp and HEAVY delivery – that is incidentally credited as being a live recording.  By virtue of submitting a lengthier track, tunnel get a side to themselves (which is a project between Patrick and his wife Meike) to present their piece ‘I know your attitude’. Opening with slightly distorted and cynically delivered female vocals that are retained throughout the track, alongside a muffled fast-paced programmed beat.  With the programmed sequence of the track being slightly more complex than those on side A, on face value there appears to be more movement with this piece particularly as further noise and sound layers are added and tweaked over a longer time span. However to get to the crux of the matter this is yet another addictive beat oriented track.  Overall the three tracks presented all use a weighty and direct approach to their dance floor oriented noise anthems that work particularly cohesively as part of this vinyl.

Sophia (Swe) “Sophia” CD 2000 Cold Meat Industry

Encompassing a side project of Peter Petersson (aka, the male half of Arcana) you would immediately know this is going to be a project worthy of a listen.  While there is a certain song writing style and sound that hints at Peter’s work from his main project, here the orchestral and neo-classical hymns come in a much heavier, martial and aggressive guise.  The sweeping orchestral melodies are kept relatively harsh and commanding due to a heavy reliance on brass instrumentation, while the ever-present booming tympani and snare percussion resembles the thousand footfalls of a charging army.  Intermixed with the massive orchestral tracks are less musical ones that work more on the premise of illustrating windswept soundscapes of a recently deserted battle field.  These subdued tracks break up the album in a very positive way – they work well on their own whilst bolstering the epic mood of more composed numbers, much like the bridging tracks on Turbund Sturmwerk’s “Weltenbrand” CD.  ‘Sigillum Militum XI’ deserves a mention on its own as the building atmosphere it encompasses is very reminiscent of the constantly building aura of In Slaughter Natives ’Purgate my Stain’ CD (the following track yet another all out brass and snare percussive battle hymn that towards the end sinks into a morose french horn tune).  With massive tympani percussion echoing and resonating as if it was recording in an underground cavern, ‘Sigillum Militum XIII’ enshrines its only tune within the stunning multi layered, deep Gregorian chants of Peter – and given the atmosphere the vocals generate they are really a revaluation unto themselves.  The last track opting for another windswept soundscape integrates clanging church bells and far off martial percussion signalling the end whilst illustrating to my minds eye the victors striding off into the distance (a sparse and mellow piano tune takes up the final gasping minutes).  The only complaint I could really raise in relation to this album(as has been my complaint with all of the Arcana albums thus far) is that, at a touch over 40 minutes, it is simply too short and leaves me wanting more.

Stone Glass Steel (USA) “corruption/ redemption” 10” EP 2001 Spectre

Well, Spectre’s lunacy continues with this release (part of the 10 x 10” EP series with each item in the series limited to 100), particularly as this 10” vinyl is housed between two steel plates that are held together with by metal nuts welded into place.  Additionally the printed cover sheets are glued to the face surfaces of the metal, whereby a rectangular piece of glass has been further attached over the SGS logo.  And with the ‘glass’ and steel’ and elements represented, it is the image of a concrete wall/ drain depicted on the cover that encapsulates the ‘stone’ element of the package’s concept.  Basically this has easily created one of the most impressively packaged items that I own, made all the more sweeter considering it is a SGS release (particularly as new SGS material has been rather light on the ground in the past few years).  With Phil Easter (aka eyespark) at the helm, he has taken a topical issue from the TUMORlist e-group and used this for inspiration of one of the tracks.  Some time back when a discussion raged over whether or not the orchestral derived keyboard sounds presented an authentic enough sound, this inspired Phil to record a track using only samples derived from actual classical/orchestra recordings.  Well, ‘corruption’ is the final result, with this piece being rather astounding as it sounds as if all elements were recorded specifically for this composition and not collated in a cut and paste method.  With shrill strings, ominous brass instrumentation (and every other orchestral sound you care to name), the track swings effortlessly through urgent passages, to layers of brooding atmospheres, to subdues romantic sentimentalities.  Without having any sort of scattered cut up sound to the final production, ‘corruption’ comes across like a very modern and experimental orchestra composition by virtue of it being seamlessly spliced together.  Without it ever sounding disjointed or messy, it simply speaks leagues of Phil’s ability to be able to take an idea and bring it fruition with stunning result.  On the flip side the track is more typical of SGS – but then again what is ‘typical’ when considering the diversity of sound that has been previously presented under this banner?  Anyway, ‘redemption’ takes on a framework of throbbing bass, and multi layered sounds ranging from the shrill to the subdued – yet incidentally it is these quasi string elements that enables the track to achieve coherence with the track on the opposing side, despite sounding completely different.  Heavy percussive sounds increase the pace of the track to a quick trot, as the varying layers morph into increasingly free form structures.  With the track both grounded with bass and percussion yet evoking emotive and atmospheric elements with the higher-toned layers, this is certainly SGS back in fine form.  Not to end there, when the deep structural sounds are later removed, it enables the track to evolve into a sparsely shifting soundscape with wide screen cinematic scope prior to a chugging rhythmic pulse and plodding beat drawing together the far reaches of the track to morph it into its chaotic and noisy conclusion.  If the above sounds too analytical, it is due to the shear complexity that SGS compositions contain, ensuring the reviewers task is a rather difficult one – as I can certainly attest.  Notwithstanding, this is an absolutely stunning release, but with this item being sold out prior to its official release I don’t like your chances of securing a copy of your own.

Stratvm Terror (Swe) “Genetic Implosion” CD 2000 Old Europa Café

The third Stratvm Terror CD (two Old Europa Café releases-Pariah Demise and this one-sandwiching the excellent Pain Implantations, from Malignant) is a slathering, noisy affair drenched in moist feedback and much controlled chaos, more directly noisy than either of the previous discs.  As constructed by The Master, Peter Andersson (if you do not already know who he is, your CD collection is sorely lacking…), and Tobias Larsson, Genetic Implosion is an exercise in sonic disarray of the highest standards.  “Uranium” opens the proceedings with the slow ascent of compressed factory clatter amidst flames that voraciously lick at the swiftly charring hide.  The tones are at first reminiscent of the shifting of tectonic plates that Peter has utilized in some of his other projects (specifically, Raison D’Etre, circa In Sadness, Silence And Solitude, as well as “Saifeiod” from Death Odors II), a kind of slow erosion of the earth from within.  But the force and ferocity in which the flames devour (flames-actually, this may be more indicative of the radioactive burn of the uranium of the song’s title…maybe…), recorded at such close range, withers the weak: it is a molten flood that singes to the marrow.  It is the ambience of noise (not power electronics, nor dark sonicscape, per se, more the middle ground…where I’d like to her more bands explore-reference Dagda Mor’s The Border Of The Light as a prime example of where I am coming from), honed to perfection.  Metal bends and screeches during “Static Systematic Cloning,” the stentorian machinery moan birthing razor sharp tentacles of searing feedback in the process.  “Cox” surges and crackles amidst more factory clatter, the pulsing undercurrent signifying life amidst the sonic discord.  “Bleeding” gushes forth from the sonic wound, more of the ever-present caterwauling feedback lashing with malicious intent (a virulent cobra strike) amidst distressed samples.  The final three tracks on the disc were recorded live at the Nursery Festival in Stockholm, Sweden, during June of 1998.  Though not quite as sonically dense (which may just be live production versus studio production), these tracks still rage with earnest, frothing glee.  Bony fingers scratch rusted metal during “Swelter Deformation,” building in intensity as flaking timbres dig frayed fingernails into the mounting sonic melee; this bleeds into “Gore,” a frothing denouement of ragged percussion amidst agitated metallic squalor.  Unquestionably one of 2000’s finest releases.  As with all of Peter Andersson’s endeavors-Mandatory!   ~JC Smith

STROM.ec (Fin) “Dogs Of Total Order” CD 2000 Freak Animal Records

Radioactive ambience infused with irritably rustling, static-drenched pulsating noise fries my speakers (and the hairs on my arms) as the incendiary agenda of Finland’s most malicious export, Strom.ec, is aligned on the introductory track, “Neuroscan.”  As accompanied by doused in gasoline and set on fire vocals, the relentless, steamroller dynamics are fused into a surly amalgamation of no frills power electronics.  Ricochet metal percussion is drowned in reverb washed vocals and precision machinery squeal, an exercise in disorientation, during “General Enemy.”  Crematorium scorched white noise and harsh, rabid (desperate…) vocals ignite “Can You See The Light,” while the body of one being burned alive bounds haphazardly about, blackened bones beating on the unforgiving walls, a flailing percussion procured from within the molten, skin-melting embrace.  The distorted loops that open “Pillhead” are straight out of Deutsch Nepal’s abundant reserve, but the sound that corrodes them is abusive, a flurry of convoluted noise skirmishes, humming bass tonalities and the sparse vocals cranked to demonstrative rage.  A rippling screech of sound, like the wailing of a prehistoric siren, is decimated by gurgling feedback and vocals that, for all intents and purpose, eagerly gnaw at the bone and sinew of the charred body of sound, ambushed by the sheer ferocity of vitriolic expression.  Through the freewheeling use of noise, as well as a prominent incorporation of reverb, STROM.ec acknowledge their industrial forefathers, while forging their own brand of intense power electronics.  An upcoming release on the Malignant side-label Black Plagve should further their status as one of the preeminent purveyors of power electronics fury. – JC Smith

Strom.ec (Fin) “Glass Cage” 7” EP 2000 Kaos Kontrol

Highly acclaimed Finnish project Strom.ec return after their successful debut CD (reviewed above) with a vinyl offering of 3 live tracks recorded either in August 1998 or July, 2000.  With massively chugging power electronic looped rhythms with spiteful and fully distorted vocals bleed into the mix, ‘in a glass cage’ is a fantastically punishing and aggressive in manner.  Second track ‘hypnoosi’ sees a diversion away from the pure death industrial/ power electronics with a programmed almost techno styled rhythm, however underlying noise and spoken/ echoed vocals retain a heavy and intense flavour.  Side B contains a lengthy single track ‘you or them’ is a brooding offering of mid ranged static and distortion.  Things do solidify for a minute or two in via looped noise of flame-thrower like intensity.  Radio voices are detectable sporadically in-between the looping framework of loud noise (or even louder noise) and for this reason alone this sounds most like it would have been a partly improvised live recording.  A worthy item if the CD was to your liking.

Sturmovik (Ger) “Feldweihe” LP 2000 Tesco Organisation

Sturmovik’s debut album being built on what sounds like deep orchestral melodies, it is as if these have been further buried under tons of concrete and steel, giving a very muffled and distant (not to mention distinct) aura – and, mind you, this is said in the most positive of lights.  Alternate intermixed elements also include metallic scrapings, noises, radio voices/samples evoking comparisons to subdued noise industrial material.  ‘Stahlhauch’ (the second track) is a perfect example of this orchestral/industrial mixture by interweaving rhythmic looped noise, subdued yet slightly searing texture, radio vocals and a slow evolving classical melody.  An all out World War II atmosphere is toyed with on ‘Volk im Feuer’, which comprises threatening rhythms, static, and the sound of low flying bombers.  It is quite difficult to find words to describe the depths of the orchestral melody on ‘Schicksalswg’, yet the other elements of jumbled snippets of radio voices, songs and martial drumming build the piece to a chaotic conclusion.  Battle tank clatter and atmospheres of full scale trench warfare (including bombers swooping close overhead) introduces ‘Sonnengefecht’, with these sounds giving way to a fantastic sampled and looped classical melody to conclude the first side of the LP.  The title track opens side B with an extremely hefty rhythmic noise loop and martial percussive element, with the latter soon becoming the focal point.  Shifting through a few other passages of rhythmic experimentation (all with a WWII aura of course), ‘Feldweihe’ abruptly stalls to make way for ‘Der Toten Ruhe’, a rather crushing mixture of orchestral and chanted choir layers compacted under a corroding slab of noise.  The martial battle hymn evoked through a clear melody and percussion indicates that ‘Gluhende Front’ is not all that far removed from what Der Blutharsch produced on his debut full length.  The final track, ‘Davon Geht Die Welt Nicht Unter’, opts for a subtle exit, slinking away with slow subdued loops, scattered vocals samples and fleeting segments or orchestral sound (a 1940s-era music hall recording can be detected in the dying moments).  Whilst the cover might be a simplistic slip sleeve, this is, as with all Tesco vinyl releases, presented with immaculate layout and quality card stock to capture that special ‘Tesco’ aura.  Destined to be a much sought after rarity – that I am quite sure of.

SubArachnoid Space (USA) “These Things Take Time” CD 2000 Release Entertainment

House of Low Culture is a guitar-oriented project that is nevertheless very much at the experimental end of the spectrum in regard to its finished product.  On the other hand, Sub Arachnoid Space is very much a guitar band and sounds like a band proper; yet by approaching their compositions from a sweeping, improvised perspective, they ultimately end up creating quite a hallucinogenic journey.  It is even more amazing to read that this release was recorded during a live to air performance that is partly evident in the music, which takes a sparse and loose framework of each instrument, then melds them into a completed composition.  In regard to the musical direction, it is interesting to note that this is more firmly rooted with the meandering bass melody and atmospherically flexible mid paced drums, while the guitar creates sparse roaming tunes that are more often than not enshrined in swirling feedback and drawn out organ notes.  Despite mostly sounding like a group of musicians in a band format, it is quite easy to find yourself swept up in the trance-like atmosphere and transported off into the often untapped cavities of your own mind, only assisted by the fact that the 7 untitled tracks (‘A’ through ‘G’ titles)merge into each other, never really giving the listener a hint as to where one piece finishes and the next begins.  Given the ‘band’ oriented sound of this album, this may not appeal to all fans of the types of sounds that Spectrum generally covers, but I have found this to be a refreshingly great album that has been a nice diversion from the multitude of similar albums that I receive for review.

Substanz t (Ger) “tripped experiences” CD 2001 Hymen

While containing that certain accessibility that most Hymen releases embody, this release is even more focused and a commercial tip with vocalist contributions on a number of pieces, but thankfully this has not been traded off by removing the deeper brooding intelligent compositions.  Working on one level with a break beats infused trip hop style and on the other with minimalist drone oriented melodies there is a lot to discover and explore.  ‘Nexus’ launches Substanz t’s third album – a sleek blend of trip hop breaks, whispered vocals and exquisitely haunting ambient synth melodies. ‘Really Good’ shifts with a mid-paced bass driven guise, and crisp echoed beat structures. Again there is no escape from the slowly chilled trance melodies. Increasingly complex, the breaks become driving, as do the tuneful elements. ‘Le contact de ta voix’ is the for the most part one of the most focused pieces with the beats and programming yet lacks the underlying brooding elements which make the preceding tracks so exceptional. Incorporating mildly funky bass lines and focused beats, this is quite club oriented, but for my personal tastes is not as strong as other pieces.  With what could be described as galactic programming sounds, ‘new-u’ takes lethargic flight held aloft by flighty. yet understated female vocals.  Shifting the beats from subdued to focused breaks it enhances the mood to no end, with the deeper synth sounds reappearing.  ‘Was it god’ with its heavy beat, and trip hop focus, includes a rap MC vocal contribution which itself is not entirely bad, however isn’t so impressive as to be indispensable.  ‘Unique’ on the other hand has a fantastic sparsity with sustained synth textures and sounds with slow non-distracting bass/ beat programming – vocals likewise subdued being presented in the form of a low whisper.  Melancholic trip hop, with drone like melody and mild breaks ensures that ‘Hypnotised by bee’ floats along unassumingly, whilst presenting visions of cold urbanism.  Particularly impressive is the minimalist & forlorn piano line used late in the piece merges classical and cutting edge sounds given the track a somewhat timeless aura even despite the framing break beats.  ‘SOLution’ with its prominent snappy breaks and urgent beat programming, these are offset against moody synth textures and angelic female backing vocals.  By way of a plodding bass melody and slow plucked guitar tune the mood of ‘black’ is a morose yet atmospheric one, only grounded by the straight forward kit & symbol percussion.  The closing piece ‘unite’ chooses a lounge type vibe with sprinkled keyboard noodling, that has slight misgivings about until the track busts out with snappy kit percussion beats of hip hop flair (groove oriented indeed).  Those of you who have purchased material from this label would have a good idea of what to expect from this, with this being a rather pleasant diversion form other sonic weight that my ears are regularly subjected to.

Sutcliffe Jugend (Eng) “XI” 7″EP 2000 Death Factory

Side V contains two tracks, or what seems like two tracks; there seems a distinct break between segments at least, and since there are no track titles listed…well… The first track is doused in nausea drenched vocals, rubbery, upon which the lash of abusive percussion smacks the soft gray matter of a demented, legion of maniacs, hive mind.  This succumbs to a looped ambience that cruises along darkened streets and through back alleys, as fingernails of dread existence (aligned by insidious motives, insidious desires…) scratch at the back of the cranial cellar.  The second track (or second half?) is an eruption of bleached insanity power electronics, lubricated, fists of nails noise that shreds an unwilling orifice as unintelligible vocals deliriously expound teeth grinding gibberish.  (Whew!)  The silence that follows is pierced by what sounds like some seafaring loon (be it 1. A fish eating, diving bird or 2. A crazy person…) off in the distance.  Weird, and subtly disturbing.  VI continues along a similar path, successfully lulling the listener into a state of anticipation via ground bones ambience that simmers uncomfortably, the tension growing progressively more prominent until an abrupt thrust of needles into the tympanum (in the ear) rattles all thought amidst the high-pitched attack.  And yet, it all has the essence of control, restraint, and the unmitigated joy in torture.  Control is annihilated towards the end as a regurgitative flow of truly sick vocal administrations is unleashed, vomituous tides in line with what the deranged, drooling occupant of an insane asylum might spew.  Some of the best work Sutcliffe Jugend have yet to produce, convincingly powerful documents of unfettered lunacy.  -JC Smith

Sunn O))) (USA) “The Grimmrobe Demos” CD 2000 Double H Noise Industries (2xHNI)

With what appears to be only bass and guitar used for this recording, it is quite difficult to find words that might adequately describe the sonic weight and intensity captured in these sub-bass drones and harmonics.  Sunn O))) present what are essentially guitar compositions, yet ones that are played at such a lethargic pace while the overriding guttural distortion creates a drone-oriented framework that is at some remove from a typical ‘band’ format (from this perspective, the liner notes description of the music as `doom:power:ambient:drone:invokation’ is spot on the mark).  The CD’s  3 tracks still clock in at just short of 45 minutes, further highlighting the almost catatonic pace of playing.  Likewise, often hidden under the weighty, down-tuned bass and guitar drone  elements are distant and atmospheric guitar riffs and other general noodlings that work to add more fleeting layered elements to the otherwise crushing tonal textures.  As for the main melodies of the songs, these are quite deceiving and difficult to grasp due to their slow pace.  Basically the tracks drag you along on their individual journeys, where only a few preceding musical notes are remembered.  Essentially this prevents the overall song structure from being deciphered in its entirety, suggesting that the tonal harmonics are the main identifiable musical element.  Whilst you can certainly hear the guitar/bass elements on these tracks, clearly the style and focus of the actual playing allows you to transcend `listening’ to these elements as you normally would.  I must admit that at first I was a little apprehensive about the project, simply due to its ‘guitar’ orientation; but after hearing Sunn O))) I am thoroughly glad that I have.  For a very broad comparison this might be like a beefed up and slowed down concoction of the heaviest elements of Novatron.  The cover is also damn fantastic in imagery and presentation, consisting of a trifold heavy card sleeve with separate card band to hold the CD in place.

Sunn O))) (USA) “00 VOID” CD 2000 Double H Noise Industries (2xHNI)

Although this is the second album from the power ambient drone doomsters Sunn O))), on ‘OOVoid’ I believe that the group have reworked parts of “The Grimmrobe Demos” sessions into the basis of this album.  To partake in a bit of name dropping, this album was recorded under the guidance and direction of one time Kyuss bass player Scott Reader (and anyone who knows Kyuss will be familiar with the guttural, stoner rock bass sound for which they are renowned) making Scott an obvious choice to consult regarding heavy bass-oriented production.  On this album the same style, framework and direction as the debut CD is clearly followed; however, when translated through Scott Reader’s production, it has created a guitar power drone framework where each instrument layer is both cleaner and even more guttural and ominous than before.  The same goes for the higher end layers, that achieve a greater level of atmospherics when they are fleetingly used.  With 4 track presented to illustrate the ‘OOVoid’, the album achieves a play time of just short of 60 minutes, with the pace of the tracks akin to watching a piece of dead flesh slowing shrivelling under the incessant attack of the blazing sun (or SunnO))) in this case!).  Interestingly, one of the four compositions (‘Rabbits’ Revenge’) is actually a Melvin’s cover – not that you would ever recognise it as such, again due to the song’s morphed transformation into a guitar drone soundscape (with hints of percussion to be sparingly detected in the backing of this track).  The cover of this (a standard jewel case) might not be quite as special as “The Grimmrobe Demos”, however the graphic art does make up for this.  I can also say that I was rather surprised to see an excerpt from the William H. Gass novel The Tunnel quoted on the cover; yet given the absolute desolation and desperation it conveys it certainly does set a similar mood to that of the music.  In conclusion, either of the Sunn O))) releases would be a recommended starting point as both have their particular charms in relation to sound and presentation.

Terra Sancta (Aus) “Anno Domini 2000” MCDR 2000 Terra Sancta

For a debut recording this is a surprisingly strong work that suitably aligns itself with the early to mid sound of the infamous Cold Meat Industry label (with the sole project member incidentally also being a CMI list member).  Terra Sancta takes its cue from stunning acts like Raison d’être and Desiderii Marginis, which is less a criticism of plagiarism than an indicator of the depth and maturity that has been achieved on this first official recording. I even feel that any of these tracks would have nestled perfectly into the line-up of either of the two now legendary ‘Death Odours’ CDs released on Slaughter Productions.  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 are used positively as compositional elements, and are particularly noteworthy when a sorrowful (sampled) violin tune rises briefly out of the depressive undercurrent of the first piece, ‘Desert Earth’ (late in the piece the sparse textural elements take on the guise of searing desert winds whipping up a blinding sandstorm).  ‘The Infinite Lurking’ is not as gentle as the title may suggest, and commences calmly with multi layered choir vocals before fierce mid-ranged layers arc into the composition (illustrating the final death throes perhaps?). Things do calm down again, but only very briefly before massive drawn out keyboard drones and catatonic melodies commandingly stride into contention and remain for the majority of the piece.  A Middle Eastern flavour is apparent on ‘Lithified’ with a (again sampled) wind instrument melody that gives way to a mid-ranged slow keyboard tune(evoking a distant mournful aura) set against sounds of slowly dripping water and other assorted field-type recordings.  The only other point I can make is that, while there is no complaint with the sound and production, I get the feeling that a good bit of mastering work on this recording would have assisted in further evolving it from great to brilliant (but, all things considered, this is a minor point).  I will admit that I have constantly whined about the lack of quality Australian acts that align themselves with Spectrum’s content, but a least now a few noteworthy projects are beginning to surface. Contact: terra_sancta@hotmail.com,

This Empty Flow (Fin) “Nowafter” CD 2001 Eibon Records

With the bio stating that this is to be filed under “dark”, it is not much of lead to go on, but further on, when it references the Cure and Pink Floyd as musical reference points it sparks intrigue.  Anyway, after having given this CD a wealth of listens, I can say that I don’t entirely agree with providing merely two musical reference points. Rather I’d lump massive amounts of praise on this by saying that it is an absolutely astounding album by further incorporating elements of how Portishead and Radiohead approach their song writing and production.  Musically diverse, instrumentally intricate, and stunningly written, each track is leagues apart from the next, yet there is still a perfect cohesion to the dark musical streak that interweaves all elements into a full album.  From the quirky electronica/pop/rock of the album opener ‘Jen(N!)i Force’, it sets the scene for something quite different for both Eibon Records and the underground scene in general.  The wide screen musical aesthetic of “marmite” certainly brings to mind some of the most depressive moments of Radiohead, here the with the mellow tune seething out into the bleak horizon.  The quirky pop of ‘Stilton’ is only made more bizarre by the high pitched male vocals, as the track swings along with programmed drums and left field guitar melodies.  Another touch of Radiohead melancholia is employed on ‘shoreditche’ and when it eventually breaks its tethers, this track really takes flight in wide upward spirals.  With a bleak organ dirge, driving bass and xylophone tune, things couldn’t get weirder on ‘and also the drops’ until the vocals (both lead and backing) are presented with a flamboyant air akin to those of David Bowie – and by all accounts none of this should work, but does in stunningly superb fashion.  On ‘one song about solitude’, the Cure reference can be seen clearer than on any track preceding it – here the slow kit drumming having a beautiful cavernous echo, as fragile morose vocals bleed their themes over a tune of plodding bass and subdued keys (and if you were to wallow in melancholy the last half of this track would be the prefect accompaniment….).  The slinky bass and kit percussion driven dub type atmosphere has a Portishead touch to it, but obviously the male vocals and other touches of depressive guitar, synth and piano lines have given this a life and character of its own.  With the intricate opening guitar lines of ‘Drops’ can’t help but be reminded of Katatonia’s recent musical approach, but this takes that atmosphere up a fair few notches when it kicks in with a full compliment of guitars, drums and clean vocals, all generating a sweetly sorrowful sound that meanders forward effortlessly increasing with passion and emotion.  Returning to a Cure-esque aura on ‘Angel’s Playground’ the drawn out drums, synths and vocals create the bed on which the mournful lone guitar line reclines upon (‘Hunger’ likewise plays out is very comparable format). In terms of background to this album, it does not represent the first for the group, rather a release that includes new tracks, as well as tracks lifted of an earlier album and limited promotional CD. (To my ear the early album tracks of quirky yet dark pop/electronica would constitute the most recent recordings, whilst the latter portion of the album encompass the more subdued depressive compositions – those being the earlier works).  Despite the subtly detectable differences in recording styles between tracks, the overall re-mastering has presented a release that works as if it were always intended to be the one album.  Lastly, if there were any release of this issue to be able to crossover to the mainstream and make it big, clearly this is it (and partly due to this encompassing a more palatable band framework). Nonetheless I will say that Eibon are by no means exaggerating when they claim This Empty Flow is one of the greatest undiscovered bands on the planet.

Tribe of Circle (Fra) “Rien ne disparait jamais vraiment…” CD 2000 Athanor

Athanor have come up with the goods again by releasing the debut album of this group (after a 7” on Hau Ruk that I am yet to hear).  To begin with, the primary ‘tool’ used by this project in the creation and categorisation of their sound is the looping of segments of music which, depending on what is sampled, alters the focus and style of the sound.  A short military tattoo-type bagpipe tune (including bodhran percussion) introduces the album followed by `When tears turn into solidarity’ that melds a short looped female vocal and deeper solid loops, heavy noise and unusual percussive sounds gradually meld into a loose driving collage.  The metallic clanks, aggressive scrapping sounds, choir-like textures and crushing percussion of ‘Colours of Europa’ each introduce themselves at different points gradually building on what the previous loop had brought forward, yet things take a stunning twist when a highly rousing orchestral loop (comprising of horn and string section) leaps from the speakers mid song and takes the forefront for the reminder of the track in simply stunning fashion. Deep ritual sounds and shrill orchestral textures ensures that ‘Evil is a point of view’ (I assume this would have to be a tongue in cheek title) is an emotionally unnerving listen, that in shades brings to mind Raison d’être due to the desolate tones of the sampled choir vocals.  ‘In this Land!’ redefines driving percussion via its presentation of incessant mid ranged looping floor tom rolls, underscored with more spare sound textures and bass melody (but never really becoming tuneful) in a sort of old school industrial fashion.  Continuing in similar vibe (in a vague round about way) ‘Coranic Submission’ infuses rousing crowd noise and whip crack beat (an ode to Death in June perhaps considering Douglas P is greeted on the cover).  Title track and concluding piece, packs a fair punch mixing a ritual/martial/neo-classical loops into a crushing blend, with one segment revealing the unnerving sound of a pulse monitor cutting out only to hear spiteful laughter echoing off in the backing.  Vocal chants, screams and German speech samples further add to this unnerving chaotic air, opting to shake the listener right to the last minutes of the album (only for a sampled merry go round carnival tune to appear in the dying seconds – simply weird).  Of this group I can say that I had previously heard comparisons made to the likes of Deutsch Nepal (in relation to the sound loops) and Der Blutharsch (in relation to the orchestral/militant sound), both of which I would agree with entirely.  Apart for the quality of the music the brown and sepia tones of the digi pack cap this off as an extremely solid debut album.

Trifid Project (Wld) “Trifid Project (featuring: james plotkin, matthieu, sheila mata, yves & marie daubert)” MCD 2001 Vacuum

Quirky, very experimental and tripped out, this multi-collaborational project revolves around the electronica end of the musical spectrum.  Complex beat/blip sequences introduce the MCD on “Rubber Chick”, not really containing a tune as such rather using melodious bass sounds and the programming to take the track through its paces.  Being even more bizarre, the limping gate of beats and fractured structure of ‘alice’ is melded with a peculiarly vocalised and computer treated French accented female voice.  Track 3 ‘zickzack’ is credited as being created only by James Plotkin, opting for a cut up experimental collage, ranging from crystalline textures to tonal outbursts and quite similar to various Mego artists.  ‘The nine’ runs the straightest edge of all track that precede it via using  dense up-tempo styled beats and lashing bass guitar driven rhythms, creating one of the more user friendly compositions of the MCD.  At over 5 minutes it is one of the longer tracks, using its timeframe to morph off on tangents while still retaining a common theme of a darkened electronica groove.    ‘Psalm 66’ from its outset contains dense bass reverberations, distant guitar riffing, building atmospherically echoed drum percussion and some understated female vocals.  Basically of all the pieces of the MCD this is the track the best suits the cover art that depicts a number of wave/ surfer images, particularly due to the guitars accommodating a jangly tone associated with instrumental surf inspired music.  Final track ‘Nebula’ despite being too short, is a rather a spacious and minimalist drone piece reflecting its title with occasional vocal snippets added for good measure.  Whilst this is an interestingly complex and intricately produced recording, I am also of the opinion that this is almost too diverse for its own good.  I guess this must be one of the difficulties of having 5 people collaborate on a project, whilst only recording an EP’s worth of material.

Troum (Ger) “Framapeis/ Var 12” ep 2000 Moloko

Although representing my first introduction to Troum, I am aware that this is the project of one Stefan Knappe of Drone Records and Maeroir Tri fame.  Containing a shimmering crystalline resonance, ‘Framadies’ gradually envelops the room, with sweeping and subdues harmonics.  Gently the atmospherics are pushed in more areas of louder volumes that coincides with the increasing intensity of the tonal shifts.  Late in the track things become quite heavy on the rhythmic side, accommodating a rather crushing echoed tone, marking a much heavier drone aesthetic for the remainder of the track.  ‘VÁR’ on the other hand is more focused and intense from the outset, with grinding drones, and assorted attacking noise layers.  Due to the faster pace it is able to generate an atmospheric and inwardly swirling vortex, thus creating a track that becomes tighter and more enveloping as it progresses, achieving a comparable sound to that of Yen Pox (incidentally of which an upcoming album sees these two groups collaborating).  Anyway in terms of this track, I guess that drone works don’t come any more sophisticated than this.  Given these two tracks were recorded back in 1997 & 1998, I am very interested to hear what Troum have been producing on more recent offerings and particularly the above mentioned collaboration.

Various Artists (Wld) “deafness is not a gift” CD 2001 Deafborn Records

Picking a selection of (clearly) noise oriented artists, Deafborn Records have produced a premier themed compilation, with the quote of the cover expanding on this topic: “those who are unwilling to listen are not much better off than the deaf”.  With all track contributions being exclusive, it ensures that interest in this should be at peak level.  Reminding me somewhat of the style & focus of StateArt’s: How Terrorists Kill compilation, one should really have an appreciation of hectic noise and power electronics to tackle this (or certainly be willing to subject yourself to some rather ear shattering and brain numbing compositions).  Cazzodio introduce the compilation clearly spelling out its focus with an all out punishment of atmospheric noise melding partial structure into the chaos as the metallic percussion forges forward (with select noise layers following suit and overall reminding me of Stratvm Terror’s noisiest pieces).  On ‘bilaterally unwanted’, Grunt showcase a sustained high end noise approach with an underbelly of weighty distortion that is certainly focused, if not a touch one dimensional.  Regardless, the blistering noise, throbbing distortional structure and vocals presented as expulsions of violent static certainly ensures Rectal Surgery’s track is worthy of a particular and individual mention. At the quieter end (and to provide just a hint of respite), Anemone Tube’s track starts off with a lower key approach having a touch of a death industrial framework with distortional static amassing in the background that gradually crawls towards the foreground – achieving submission through a subversive approach.  Continuing on (and being far from subversive), the Death Squad track is a fantastic freeform & chaotic yet atmospheric piece that uses prominent screamed and further distorted vocals (that is certainly reminiscent of the Con-Dom or Grey Wolves approach).  Despite this compilation being mastered VERY loud, somehow Macronympha (the American noise specialist) manages to be even louder than most, with a partly fragmented piece of metallic/electronic oriented noisescape.  DL on the other hand creates an aura of a slightly more experimental noise aesthetic with some choppy, some atmospheric sounds along with wavering short band radio scanning elements (yet it is the sporadic moaning of a distant human voice that is a bizarre and slightly unnerving addition).  Einleitungszeit is a fierce beast to contend with due to high end piecing distortion writhing above a dense and slow metallic percussive base.  Working both on structured and freeform levels, the vocals meld into the mix sometimes providing focus but mostly adding to the sonic chaos.  Lefthandeddecision’s piece contains a hint of rhythmic structure with the mid ranged rumbling static affair, but does not progress terribly far as the piece is less than three minutes in length.  Admittedly Satori contribution stands out more than most, mainly as they are much more subdued starting with slow tonal shifts of sound and far off noise, building further with blasts of crunchy static (nice!).  The final track on this compilation is offered up by Skalpell, presenting a track of noisy dark ambience generated via pulsating undercurrents inter-spread with freeform static, dialogue samples and a cyclic tune that certainly ensures ‘purgatorium’ is a memorable conclusion.  Without having made reference to all tracks, other pieces are presented by Narbenerde, Murnau, Irikarah, Government Alpha & Mourmansk150 which take this 16 track compilation up to a play time just shy of 75 minutes.  A release that your ear specialist is highly unlikely to recommend (unless to first dislodge that nasty wax build up!).

Various Artists (Ita) “Death Odors” CD 2000 Slaughter Productions

I am not going to undertake a proper review of this, given it is limited re-pressing of a much sought after cult compilation.  If anything, this ‘review’ is a reminder call to those who after missing it the first time around, might still be looking for a copy.  Issued as the first CD release for Slaughter Productions back in 1994 in a 1000 copy edition (until this point S.P had been operating solely as a tape label), this item has almost become a cult classic, that also spawned the successful follow up Death Odours II CD of 1997.  Many of the names on this compilation are now cult classics in their own right, including the likes of Megaptera, Raison Détre & Archon Satani, with many of remaining acts likewise being well recognised (such as: Inanna, Atom Infant Incubator, Runes Order, Alio Die, Allerseelen, Con Sono and Grey Wolves).  For those interested take heed of this message and do not miss out on this second opportunity given this re-release is in an edition of a mere 500 copies.

Various Artists (Wld) L.S.D. Organisation various releases 2000/ 2001

Just as I was going to print, a batch of new items and advance copies from L.S.D. Organisation arrived in the post, and after a quick perusal it was evident that they were certainly worthy of a brief mention in this issue.  Likewise if 2000 was the year that this new label started to really generated a lot of positive interest, I’ll be damned if they’re not making a bid for world domination in 2001!  Just read the following to see what is out and what is upcoming! As for the official releases these included:

Puissance (Swe) “Genocide” 7” 2000 L.S.D. Organisation Packaging: Sepia toned clear vinyl and card cover, with postcards, insets and screen printed cloth bag.  Music: The two trademark and well worn sounds of Puissance are showcased here with 1 side of the neo-classical/ orchestral style and 1 side of brooding industrial ambience.  As strong as anything they have released before. Edition: 300 copies.

Cloma (Fin) “Provokaattori” 7” 2001 L.S.D. Organisation Packaging: Clear red vinyl, full colour card cover, postcard and screen printed cloth bag. Music: Oppressive industrial noise/ ambience (with samples) plays out on one track and rhythmic industrial on the other, both forming a solid and intriguing introduction to this project. Edition: 300 copies.

As for the upcoming releases these include:

IRM (Swe) “Four studies of a crucifixion” 2 x 7” 2001 L.S.D. Organisation Packaging: 1 x solid yellow vinyl & 1 x solid red vinyl, (both with gloss colour covers), full colour 8 page booklet, 4 x colour postcards, 2 x screen printed cloth bag, 4 x buttons, poster, t-shirt, all housed in a wooden box (5 different types of boxes limited to 100 each). Music: IRM just keeping getting stronger.  Massively brooding power electronics pieces, which sees their sound becoming slower, heavier and even more intense.  With their trademark vocals included on 3 of the 4 tracks, most interestingly 2 of the pieces see the use of chimes and non-harmonic trumpet!  More amazing & brilliant material from these relative newcomers. Edition: 500.

Iron Justice (Swe) “Post” 2×7” 2001 L.S.D. Organisation Packaging: 2 x vinyl, black and white 8 page booklet, 4 x black and white postcards, 2 x screen printed cloth bag, 2 x posters, 4 x buttons, t-shirt, wooden box with metal logo (250 x white box, 250 x black box). Music: Stepping away from their pure power electronics/ noise approach of their debut 7” and LP, this new material sees the group morphing their sound into a pounding metallic (read: machine gun!) rhythmic framework yet still including harsh screamed/ distorted vocal attacks.  Without totally forsaking their harsh power electronics sound, this is easily the best material I have heard from these two guys. Edition: 500.

NOD (Swe) “The story of the three little pigs and the big bad wolf” 2001 4 x 7” L.S.D. Organisation Packaging: 1 x navy vinyl, 1 x coffee vinyl, 1 x red vinyl, 1 x green vinyl, colour poster, 4 x buttons, 4 x colour postcards, full colour 8 page booklet, t-shirt, 4 x cloth bags, wooden box with metal logo (boxes presented in 1 of 4 different colours). Music: Many facets of sound and approach are showcased by this project including:- Deep industrial/ power electronics musings (where on 1 track this is offset against the reading of the above fairy tale):- pummeling rhythmic industrial/noise with aggressive spoken/ shouted vocals:- subdued soundscapes (with on track using female sung and spoken vocals):- various mixtures of the above elements, etc.  Diverse and certainly intriguing from another former ‘Estheticks of Cruelty’ compilation artist! Edition: 500.

In wrapping up this miniature spotlight (in lieu of full reviews of each release) other items to look out for in 2001 from L.S.D Organisation include, vinyl releases from Ah Cama Sotz, Slogun and Merzbow.  Considering that everything I have seen coming from this label is executed with extreme precision & attention to the finest detail, this year they will surely solidify L.S.D Organisation as the new ‘IT’ label (which is more than warranted in my eyes).

NOTE 2012: Anyone who has followed this label since its inception would know that of the upcoming releases listed above, only the Iron Justice release transpired as planned.  IRM came out as a 10”EP and NOD as a CD, both on CMI.

Various Artists (USA) “Middle Pillar Presents: BUTOH – The Dance of Darkness” CD 2000 Middle Pillar Presents

BUTOH is a compilation whose main theme centres around the aural exploration of Japanese dance theatre, and each of the featured artists have presented tracks that interpret this ‘dance of darkness’.  A short segment of tribal drumming and fractured noise loops (by Kobe) introduces the proceedings, followed quickly by A Murder of Angels with a cinematic yet nightmare inducing soundscape (liquidous shimmering sounds, discordant bell chimes, factory loops, forlorn chants constitute the mix).  The soaring female vocals and beat-oriented track by Mors Syphilitica encompasses an ethereal flair due to the melody and style, with the following track by The Machine in the Garden also having an ethereal element, but one that is generated through more gothic programmed means.  On ‘Chrysalis’ The Unquiet Void truly astound with an engulfing peek into the expansive depths of cinematic dark ambience. Here the depth and breadth of sound sucks you into its vortex, as the percussive elements become an increasing focal point as time elapses.  Sumerland, a male vocal/piano- oriented ethereal project, present a entitled track ‘Morpheus’ that, apart from the main mentioned elements, utilises keyboard backings, percussion, etc. to build its brooding mood.  A Murder of Angels impress yet again on ‘Vesel of the Incubi’, which interestingly moves away from the strictly dark ambience of the first track towards a heavier reliance on percussion with each of the sound elements being blended perfectly.  The gothic oriented style of Wench’s track does not really catch my ear positively, yet this has more to do with my own musical preferences.  This also partly extends to the second track by The Machine in the Garden and the remix track by The Mirror Reveals, due to the heavy reliance on what I consider to be somewhat cheesy keyboard programming.  Not to be marred by these, Thread presents a quite bizarre electronic piece consisting of beats, programming and soundscape elements. Zoar opts for a quirky mixture of dark keyboard melodies and industrial beats (that lean towards a dance style), but actually manage to pull this off quite well by not going overboard with the beat programming whilst including a few subdued guitar riffs that follow the main melody.  The Unquiet Void have also been given the opportunity to present two pieces, and their second track is a remix of a track from the project’s debut album.  Static glitches and disembodied voices float over the original track, which has also undergone some slight cut-up treatment whilst retaining its sweeping cinematic dark ambient aura.  Being introduced by Kobe, the compilation is likewise closed by another tribal percussive piece that has been further treated with industrial noise loops.  Judging from the intro/outro by Kobe, it would be quite interesting to see what the group would sound like if the tracks were longer than the 1-2 minutes presented here.  As with all Middle Pillar releases, the CD is housed in a stunning card fold out cover.

Various Artists (Swe) “Nihil” DxLP 2000 Cold Meat Industry

This double LP collection spotlights four of Sweden’s most virulent practitioners of fiery, agitated noise, kind of a more concentrated extension of the ideals and abusive agenda featured on the double CD, Estheticks Of Cruelty compilation from 1999.  Each of the four participants is given one side upon which to convey their own special brand of noise.  IRM get things rolling with the molten stomp and shimmering feedback squeal of “The Cult Of The Young Man.”  Through a mouthful of highly processed, phlegm-coated vocals, the track continues along thematically similar terrain as the brilliant Oedipus Dethroned CD: self-destruction through Christ.  Each of the five tracks meticulously winds lurching rhythms through fields of flesh stretched taut and awaiting autopsy, a self-dissection sliced by scalpels of intense vocals spewing concentrated streams of rage.  It is a cacophony of hyper-focused, all encompassing hatred, of God and self!  “Euphoria (Rebirth)” wraps things up with a ferocious battery of noise that tumbles like boulders of compressed bone, beating on vocals that urge one into a loop of self-immolation.  The IRM side is worth the price of admission; I’m in firm belief that they are one of the best power electronics bands around!  Catching my breath…and on to side two.  Institut gets positively explosive as the white noise tsunami that is “Autohypocrisy” clatters and crashes maniacally.  Through clenched teeth windstorms, Institut batter an array of found sounds into a screech, ratchet and clamor assimilation of absolute chaos; they sound like the pissed of half-brother of Dissecting Table.  Probably the best track yet by Institut, who apply a more skittish, scratchy, shuffling rhythmic approach to their lone other track (more in line with the material on their debut CD, Great Day To Get Even).  A looped giggling child introduces one to Nod’s contributions on side three. Of course, this amusing pretext is buried beneath a barrage of combustible noise, bent on brutalizing through sheer force and monolithic heft.  Synths wage battle in the background, adding an almost melodic texture, while vocals psychotically rant amidst the reverb drenched clutter.  A female recites the strange tale of “The Girl And The Giant,” a fairy tale told amidst exhaling noise that becomes (once again) melodic and distorted towards the end.  Very odd!  There is much variety to the Nod tracks, including everything from reverberant noise to a storyteller’s approach to lyric recitation.  Intriguing.  IRM side-project, Sharon’s Last Party, wrap things up with six incendiary tracks of crackling, distortion frosted noise (well, five, as “Love Never Ends” is just a quirky song filled with…love, a snippet, a sample, from another era).  “When Love Came To Your House” ripples with streamers of feedback that fall like shards of metallic confetti; an uproarious wave of noise and incensed vocals spill forth, a convulsive, rusted din that flays the eardrums.  “Never Learned To Love You” is adorned in machinery ground static that percolates below vocals seeking those who understand that “Submission is a gift,” sonically submitting to the pounding sway of the percussion.  Four sides of impressive power electronics noise, though it must be noted (again) that the price of admission is paid back with interest during the phenomenal IRM side.  -JC Smith

Various Artists (Wld) “Salvation Bloodletting” CD 2001 Live Bait Recording Foundation

Some quite positive recommendations were forthcoming regarding this religious dogma themed compilation even prior to it being released, and when after perusing who is featured, I can see why.  Featuring many up and coming projects, including many from the American scene (9 of the 14 projects are from America) it a positively collated collection of dark ambient, death industrial oriented tracks.  Being one of the more senior projects of the compilation, Amon get things started with a densely heavy dark ambient movement of low end shifting atmospherics (and anyone who has heard Amon before should know the high quality of material to expect).  Baal/Berith is up next and appears to be a live collaboration between Baal and Murderous Vision.  Their track ‘Checotah Blood Cult’ presents a collage of deep drawn out sounds that contains quite a sharp and metallic resonance – solidifying into an increasingly urgent composition with the incorporation of a tribal percussive element.  The Hollowing on their track also take on a percussive sound by presenting a bizarre amalgam of tribal chants, ridging and incessant pounding beats, noise and horn blasts etc. that is as if you have been transported to deep within the jungles of South America to witness the rituals of a cannibal cult. No Festival of Light feature their track ‘The Onomako Brush’ (lifted from their latest CD “If God Lived on Earth we Would Break His Windows”), and is basically a great piece of rousing tribal percussion and subdued undercurrent of ambience.  Origami Arktika mark a shift away the trial percussive sounds with a mid volume piece of droning and aquatic sounding dark ambience that becomes quite complex via multi layering technique including elements that appear to have derived from environmental recordings.  Being the first recording I have heard from German project Azoikum ‘Mein Ist Die Rache’ is a great track of tense death industrial proportions, where repeated radio voices (speaking on religious themes) alongside gruff distorted vocals are mixed into a throbbing a spiralling mass of blunted noise textures).  Rising French project Nothvs Filivs Mortis create a monumental death ambient track of cavernous and resonating textures.  Catatonic in pace, blasphemous choirs chant in the background, whist scattered voices puncture the dense mass of sound that forges forward with sound elements converging into increasing structure (and this track certainly gives Megaptera a run for their money!).  Deison’s track is somewhat subdued when compared to the tracks on their recent ‘Dirty Blind Vortex’ CD – with the piece crawling along with sustained drones and dense programming to introduce a morbid chopsticks styled keyboard tune mid way through.  Nothing being a project name I am aware of, ‘Self Spiller’ is however my first introduction to their actual music.  Representing a great track, it incorporates an unusual blend of dark electronica and death industrial programming, to create a mid paced heavy percussive piece.  Slowvent add further weight to the American ‘noise ambient’ sound via a track that I might just have mistaken for a Gruntsplatter piece if I weren’t closely following the play list!  Static riddled and bass heavy, Slowvent’s track shifts along with distortional weight in a partially structured rumbling mass of speaker imploding intensity.  Gruntsplatter up next opt to infuse a power electronics aesthetic into their noise ambient sound.  With higher end static noise over a hefty slab of bass sound, it is the perfect counterpart to present some sickly screamed and distorted vocals.  Building in intensity throughout, it morphs through a muffled sound, finally arriving a much clearer but no less harsh production.  In Death’s Throes amaze with their piece ‘Slay the Savior’ which is a massive sounding death industrial piece.  Noisy yet highly atmospheric it shifts through free form structure like a cadaver lost and ambling through the catacombs.  Raven’s Bane present a louder and noisier track when referencing their recent CDR (also on Live Bait) particularly due to the use of a much more forceful structure whipped into a swirling mass.  Lefthandeddecision tackles final piece of the compilation. A bulldozering number of grinding distortion that might just contain some sampled voices somewhere under all those crunchy textures!  This is without doubt a strong compilation from start to finish which both points to the quality of material submitted and in which the play order that it has been compiled.

Various Artists (Wld) “Ten Years of Madness: Behind the Iron Curtain” 2xCD 2000 Achtung Baby!

With the variety of cult acts on here this double CD compilation will not need much talking up to sell its limited pressing of 1000 copies (some of those names being: Inade, Turbund Sturmwerk, Der Blutharsch, Blood Axis, Ostara, Novy Svet, Les Joyaux de la Princesse etc).  Essentially this is a celebration and document of the first 10 years of the Achtung Baby! web site that operates out of Russia and focusing on post-industrial and related music styles.  It seems that there was an earlier version of this compilation including a few different tracks was released on double cassette. However as far as I am aware it was not widely available and may have only been distributed amongst the featured artists.  Anyway, with this version of the compilation including the input of Sanctum, First Law, Skrol, Dissecting Table, Cyclotimia, Troum, Dream into Dust, Ataraxia (amongst many others and having a total of 27 artists in all), it is a classic collection of artists and their individual works that ensures an extremely diverse, yet well conceived and executed compilation.  Housed in an oversized A5 card sleeve, the 16 black pages (with silver print) contains imagery for each group (along with basic project information) and other text and pictures associated with the compilations theme.  Recommended.

Various Artists (Wld) “The Pact….of the Gods” CD 2000 Fremdheit

Being a sister compilation to the recently re-released compilation “The Pact: Flying in the Face”, this CD covers tracks from quite a few well-known suspects of the neo-folk movement.  The late William Burroughs, who (along with Ian Read) was partly responsible for the original compilation idea, introduces the CD at the commencement of the rousing apocalyptic folk number by Changes.   With intricate acoustic guitar strumming and commanding vocals singing about the world’s impending demise, the short length (a mere two minutes) of ‘Waiting for the Fall’ does not do justice to the fantastic atmosphere evoked.  This is followed by Der Blutharsch, where Albin and entourage present a quality martial/ritual percussive-type track that nevertheless doesn’t break new ground for the group.  The Fire+Ice track is another fantastic apocalyptic folk piece with the morose vocals of Ian Read embellished by bodhran percussion, violin and acoustic guitar.  The Ataraxia track contains a similar feel to the preceding Fire+Ice piece; yet the multi-layered vocals (ranging from spoken to operatic) of Francesca Nicoli are the real gem here and even call to mind Alzbeth’s vocals vocals in the now defunct The Moon Lay Hidden Beneath a Cloud.  Allerseelen surprises with a piece of slow and heavy percussion and looped violin melodies (in amongst various other sound elements), which is followed by In Gowan Ring tackling a traditional folk piece, ‘The Rolling of the Stones’, thus evoking a gentle folksy aura that gradually builds to a jig.  The prominence of the female vocals on Camerata Mediolanense’s track, which sound quite like those of Francesca Nicoli, makes me wonder whether this is an Atraraxia side project – and the track itself is a live recording of massively martial oriented percussion with keyboard and melody encompassing the tune.  The quite stunning brooding soundscape of ‘Der Gefallene Engel’ by Blood Axis (which previously appeared on the “Saturn Gnosis” 2 x 10” compilation) is included here, and while I would have preferred to hear more new material, I have been placated by its sheer quality.  Shinnig Vril is up next, and their sound differs significantly to what they displayed on the split CD with Knifeladder – here the track encompasses an organ dirge with other random scaping sounds and deep ritual percussive throbs.  The start of the Mee track is quite impressive with strained and emotive female vocals, however as things progress the vocals become increasingly over the top that just don’t sit well with me.  Not to be fazed by this, the following intricate and introspective acoustics and lone male vocals (sung exclusively in German) of Forseti work particularly well when embellished by flute, cello and bodhran percussion.  Ostara are likewise featured here, having lifted a track from the “Secret Homeland” album – this composition, ‘The Reckoning’, is a fantastically romantic celebratory waltz.  Markus Wolff’s project, Waldterfel (assisted by Michael Moynihan and Annabel Lee of Blood Axis), tender an aggressive folksy piece of driving percussion and booming vocals while layered violins direct the tune.  David Lee’s 1 minute piece is more of a spoken word track with some backing keyboard noodlings, and the compilation is finally closed by the Australian group Bestianity, who present a very aggressive soundscape of various loops, spiteful vocals and freeform drum kit percussion.  The number of well recognised names on the compilation should be reason enough to obtain a copy.

Various Artists (Aut) “Wo Die Wilden Kerle Wohnen” 7”ep 2000 Rauhnacht

Representing a release on a new and quite obscure sub label of WKN/ Hau Ruk (Albin Julius’s label) this is a 4 track compilation of Austrian artists (namely: Allerseleen Allgrena, Der Blutharsch and Novy Svet), and with the title translating roughly to “where the wild things are” this partly explains the more avant-garde and playful nature of each of the bands offerings.  To also tie in with the title, the cover depicts 4 mini-bike riders wearing masks associated with the mythical creature Krampus.  Allerseelen, are up first with a rhythmic marching soundscape piece that actually reminds me of a couple of Deutsch Nepal tracks off their ‘deflagrations of hell’ CD (however the female vocals do give this piece a sense of consistency to other Allerseelen,  pieces).  Built around a constant mid paced beat, chimed tune and noise loops, the vocals are presented in a layered guise to create a hypnotic track.  Allgrena being a group that I am not familiar with, present their track as an interesting piece of sound and rhythmic experimentations to create an off kilter aura.  Moving on to side 2, I have never really agreed with the description of Der Blutharsch’s songs as being ‘kinky military music’, yet this describes this particular track perfectly, given the playful organ tunes sitting in amongst the looped and heavily rhythmic marching chimes and beats.  Fleetingly violins and vocals appear but do not distract the focus off the heavy percussion that remains the focal point throughout.  The Novy Svet track does its best to be even more bizarre than normal, with their track – a slow and plodding tuba and accordion driven tune, underscored with deep percussion and the trademark morose male vocals (and every time I hear this track I can’t help but picture a procession of elephants!).  If you have any interest in the featured artists, this a decent item to track down.

Vedisni (USA) “Architects and Murders” CD 2000 Dragon Flight Recordings

In what I believe is the debut album for Vedisni, dense industrial cacophony is ritualistically toyed with in a brooding and harsh manner, so much so that on several occasions I found myself making comparisons to Stratvm Terror (particularly the ‘Pain Implantations’ CD).  Outbursts of static shards are spat from the speakers, occasionally becoming so blisteringly loud that it almost constitutes a fierce noiserelease – as is evident during various points on the first track ‘Fnord, as gift’.  The second track, ‘Mercurious Apex – Blue Psyche’, holds an underscore of slightly symphonic keyboard tone accentuating the grinding mid to low ranged textures that build and multiply to static fury, while later simmering down to a very nice section of rhythmic pulses and catatonic keyboard melodies.  Some aspects of this release have me somewhat convinced that the individuals involved in this project may have something to do with the metal scene, however I have difficulty in putting my finger on specific elements (maybe the occasional screeched vocal is somewhat of a start). This is not to say that this sounds like a metal album at all, rather in stylistic terms it sounds akin to how someone accustomed to playing metal would approach a dark industrial release.  This is by no means a criticism, but merely an observation about how one genre may influence the product of another.  Anyway, having made reference to the vocals, it is on tracks like ‘Where Duspen Sky Failed and GurdjieffFled’ that the vocals unfortunately jar against the dark ritual pulses and venting of sonic fissures, creating a somewhat distracting element.  Regardless, the album strides onward, continuing with the grandiosely titled ‘A Sword into a Cup, as Seven Insects Proclaim’, which contains both brooding ritualistic percussion and subdued symphonic textures that again morph into screaming washes of static (here the vocals are given the full static work over and fit in quite well).  The final track, the fantastically entitled ‘Driven East Like Another’s Menace’, is the most fragile composition on offer, commencing with very subdued low clangs, far off voices and sweeping sounds that all give rise to a very cavernous sound, whilst sections of barely discernable morose keyboard melodies add to the aura (the keyboard segment gradually gives rise to more classically inspired sounds that likewise beg a partial comparison to Caul).  Towards the final third, bludgeoning feedback commences its gradual obliteration of the composition, akin to the sound of metallic maggots as they bore into the sonic tapestry.  The music on this very active CD is not content to stay in one place for long, instead choosing to tangent off from the main themes of the tracks, particularly since the five compositions range in length from 7 to 16 minutes.  With this relatively new label having dredged the American underground, thus far they have unearthed a number of decent releases. This is certainly one of them.

Darrin Verhagen (Aus) “Hydra” CD 2000 Dorobo Limited Editions

With what seems to be a constant demand for Darrin to produce the soundtracks for experimental dance theatre, “Hyda” is another such release based around a water- themed dance production by the Chunky Moves collective.  Despite the dance side of things containing the prior mentioned water theme, the soundscapes presented are actually sharp and clinical experimental electronics.  Also the label contains a warning that the CD `contains traces elements of soft ash’, which refers to one of Darrin’s earlier solo experimental soundworks released with the “Soft Ash” title – snippets from this can be occasionally identified.  The first track, ‘Prelude’, contains acoustic/glacial type reverberations with fleeting radio voices gradually building the track to a heightened point of all-out chaos by solidifying other electronic static and sonar sonics.  Track 2, ‘Carnage’, is simply that, with its massive static over-driven rhythmic electronic mayhem and heaps of left field improvised noise to keep you on your toes.  ‘Aftermath’ calms proceedings considerably by slipping into an introspective track of subsonic isolationist musings, and is akin to listing to a rumbling thunderstorm far off in the distance.  A fleeting orchestral string melody seeps into this piece to create quite a stunning apocalyptic feel quite reminiscent of the quieter tracks of Shinjuku Thief’s “The Witch Hammer” CD (another of Darrin’s projects, if you were not aware); yet the incorporation of more modern rhythmic production in the track’s last segment partially negates this earlier comparison.  ‘Sirens’ reverts to the deep electronic soundscape and radio voice type format before bridging into the final piece, ‘Seduction: Asphyxia’, that is a lengthy excursion into dark ambient territory with suffocating drones and the occasional blip of a submarine’s sonar.  Within this piece’s framework static and subtle glitch cut-up elements become more prominent as time passes, including prominent telegraph wire generated textures (Alan Lamb is credited for the use of these samples from his stunning “Night Passage” Album, which is also on Dorobo).  All in all this is an engrossing and suffocating conclusion to the CD.  Given that I missed the actual stage show to which this soundtrack relates (and that the CD contains very little of what one might envisage being used by a dance company), I am now very intrigued to what the performance would have encompassed.  Regardless, the beauty of this CD is such that it can stand on its own as a cutting-edge soundwork, independent of the original context for which it was commissioned.  Lastly, the cover image sums up the aura of the music perfectly – a body floating face down in perfectly still water, with ripples emanating only from the point where the body has just submerged below the surface…

Vox Barbara (USA) “(De)constructing Ghosts” CDR 2000 Little Man Records

Having no success in finding a label willing to release Vox Barbara’s second album(now this is a situation that I can’t really understand), Frank Smith of the project has pressed and released this via his own label (as was the circumstance with the first album).  Limited to an edition of a mere 200, the handmade origami-styled packaging is a novel and eye-catching way to present the release, including a sleeve insert containing extensive notes on the background to the recording.  As for that concept, the basic premise of the album centres around the use of illegal software that supposedly has the ability to tap into and isolate historical sound energy that is believed to be encoded within all sound waves emitted.   Various sound sources, field recordings and other aural scraps were fed through the software to arrive at a sound palate that was altered only slightly through looping, layering and collation to arrive at the final product.  Less organic and tribal than the first album, this CD is a mechanical blend of experimental dark ambience with noisy electronic overtones. The first two tracks play up these two angles, the first being a static-induced surging loop (akin what I would expect a binary code to sound like), the second with a low pulse rumbling off into the far distance with a minimal grinding loop sneaking in from an oblique angle.  ‘Ritual Dissection’ runs the gamut of spare dark ambience, but is better described as a field recording captured in the hull of a monolithic rusting tanker.   The depth of this track is quite breathtaking, yet essentially subdued, with a multitude of sound fragments being the subtotal of the whole.  The metallic scrapings, cluttered bass tones and indecipherable voices of ‘Liver Dance’ give way to a loose machine loop, with the following piece ‘Artificial Curiosities’ again seeing the appearance of the voices that are mutilated in a churning sonic mass(additionally a segment of fantastic tensile ambience breaks forth for the remainder of the track).  The spinning vortex of ‘Perforation Bite’ rotates into a dizzying mass of droning textures – both relaxed and evasive, concluding with sharp static feedback to further scrape your raw eardrums.  ‘Silicon Phantom’ is yet another pearl, mixing(again) sharp static and glitch oriented loops with warm throbbing drones.  The metallic and highly rhythmic percussion of ’Tabernacle Mirror’ harks back to the tribal aura of the first album, with a lone chanted vocal further embellishing this reference. ‘Theatre of the Uninhabited’ returns to darker, more drawn-out territory to see the album to its end – the shimmering bleakness made all the darker with tribal/ritual hand percussion.  Disembodied voices fleetingly appear to inject an air of urgency during the last minutes of the album.  I can say that there are few if any artists that produce works comparable to Vox Barbara’s sound, which is surely a compliment when considering the multitude of underground projects that have a similar style and direction.  It is a shame that an artist with such a focussed vision for creating albums of world class material has thus far been denied an official release other than on his own label.

Wilt (USA) “the black box aesthetic: zeitgeist movement 1” CD 2001 the Retrix

One characteristic thread that appears to tie together the relevantly sparse American underground scene is that of a slighter noisier aesthetic, with Wilt being no exception.  Despite working within the realms of sparse resonating dark ambience, Wilt’s compositions contain a sharp distortional edge evident from the opening track (‘opening the black box’) that sees dense keyboard melodies soaked with inky noise.  This introductory perception is not lost on the remaining tracks that span almost the entire CD format (over 70 minutes), with the 17 compositions ranging from short pieces of under 2 minutes up to the 9 minute mark at the longest.  Metallic clangs and bamboo wind chimes add a surreal edge to the windswept sound of ‘searching for a corner’, while ‘nothing is exact not even nothingness’ is a more weighty and densely liquidous sounding isolationist piece.  ‘Containment of aluminium and stone’ uses a framework of echoed metallic clatter to create slightly chaotic reverberations whilst containing a vague direction and focus. On the other hand ‘approaching singularity’ is a more atmospheric piece that uses a hefty low-end bass tone to amass the piece into veritable representation of a black hole at work.  Although less than two minutes ‘static trench’ uses its short span to attempt to implode the speakers with low end choppy frequencies, with my sound system being more than thankful once this track has played out to its conclusion.  ‘Arabidopsis: seedlings in culture’ reveals a sinister edge to the subdued drone frequencies, that gradually reveals others layers of scattered sounds that revolve in loose framework patterns, building continually to increased noise intensity over its length.   ‘Thermodynamic equilibrium’ builds its blazing noise intensity that in full flight could easily constitute a power electronics piece if it weren’t for the lack of vocals, with the following piece ‘sculpture of rust’ also holding the sharper edge of static frequency yet melding it with cyclic drones to rather atmospheric result.  Sinking back into dense, subdued isolationist mold ‘expansion of consciousness’ the rotating singular drone ebbs the piece forward, adding further tonal drones along the way.  To bring the album full circle, keyboard melodies are to be found on the short piece ‘closing the black box’ where it should be noted that apart from the intro and outro pieces, there is little (if any) tuneful or melodic elements throughout the vast majority of the album, rather concentrating on the manipulation tone and frequency.  With regard to packaging the card gatefold cover is likewise a nice addition for the visual side of the music’s aesthetic via bleak, yet non-descript images.  Diverse and engaging Wilt are one emerging project to keep an eye on, particularly as they have two upcoming releases on both Crionic Mind and new label AdNoiseam.

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