Henrik Nordvargr Björkk / Margaux Renaudin – Anima Nostra

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Henrik Nordvargr Björkk / Margaux Renaudin – Anima Nostra CD Cold Spring 2016

The long established, prolific and always dependable Henrik ‘Nordvargr’ Björkk, has teamed up with Margaux Renaudin – a name I do not recognise.  Despite this unfamiliarity with one half of the collaboration, from the outset it is worthwhile acknowledging that ‘Anima Nostra’ is not too far removed from the sonic worlds Nordvargr inhabits, but equally that it is slanted towards the ritual/ rhythmic/ sub-orchestral sounds of MZ.412.

The pairing of opening tracks ‘Sunyata’, ‘Spiritus Omni’ take no time in setting the scene with driving tribal/ ritual percussion, guttural vocal chants, ominous sub-orchestral drones and drawling horns of death. Simply magnificent. ‘Morning Star’ is then a surprise feature, (being a reworking of an MZ.412 track), where the driving tribal/ ritual percussion and ominous droning foghorns of the original has been augmented with booming sub-orchestral horns, sweeping noise and additional vocals (both whispered and electronic treated).  A further pairing of ‘Kmt’ & ‘Runik Haxagram II’ present high calibre abstract, ritualised/ percussive dark ambient soundscapes, while ‘Gjallarhornet Ljuder’ steps up with a track of sonically forceful, multi-layered power-drones.  ‘Lavenement du neant’ functions as a particular album standout, which mixed a lamenting and extremely cinematic neo-classical melody, spoken female French vocals (assuming this to be Margaux Renaudin?) and driving poly-rhythmic tribal percussion. Absolutely sublime.  Final album offering ‘Maladia Skandinavia’ sprawls out over a 9 minute expanse, and although ‘drone’ in intent, the tolling church bell and focused melodious chants (which themselves have been further treated into a droning texture), are further offset by rolling ritual percussion and forceful sub-orchestral tones.

Apart from being one of the strongest examples of ritual and neo-classical tinged dark ambient in recent memory (as well as being the closest Nordvargr has come to date in emulating the sound of MZ.412), the 6 panel digipack and 8 pages cover insert are also worthy of individual mention. Courtesy of Margaux Renaudin the cover features stunning graphic presentation of esoteric symbolism in metallic copper on black print.  As a final comment, evidently since the release of this album the project has evolved into to more defined band and relabeled under the Anima Nostra moniker. Accordingly further material in this vein is an absolutely welcomed prospect: but in the interim the album ‘Anima Nostra’ is very much worthy of your attention.

Concrete Mascara – Perennial Disappointment

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Concrete Mascara – Perennial Disappointment CD Malignant Records 2016

Excluding splits, cassettes, live recordings and album length ep’s, ‘Perennial Disappointment’ is Concrete Mascara’s latest and second ‘official’ full length album and with being released on Malignant Records will do doubt increase awareness of this leading American power electronics project.  Given in recent years there has been a recognizable American power electronics/ death industrial sound (…spearheaded by a broader collective of projects), Concrete Mascara have sharply deviated from this template and forged their own (and by now) distinctive sound.  Although the sound and style of ‘Perennial Disappointment’ does not drastically differ from the sound the project have previously explored, but at the same time there is a degree of refinement in compositional approach as well as a step up in sonic aggression and harshness.  To speak of such harshness, this comes down to the final mastering, which has made the album loud, crisp and rather unrelenting across its 40 odd minute span.

The short introductory piece ‘Flesh of This World’ (…based around ominous drones and dialogue sample referencing human technology in context of unexplained phenomenon), lulls the listener into a false sense of security before launching into ‘Area Trinity’, – an overdriven and barely structured static maelstrom and distortion roared vocals.  ‘Delusion of Sacrifice’ then features as one of the more structured pieces, which is based on a centrally prominent ‘machine gun’ beat, and with other rhythmic elements being semi-buried under mid-toned squall (…again with the vocals presented in an anguished delivery but processed to the point of indecipherability).  Mid album track ‘Mouth Of Flies, Tounge of Maggots’ provides some respite from the unrelenting harshness, being a divergent highlight, given it is a mid-paced rhythmic offering which has pared back on the noise squall (…and interestingly plays out like a modern homage to Genocide Organ’s track ‘At Judas’).  Following this is the final third of the album, where the remaining three tracks retain absolute intensity both in terms of sonics and delivery, where various combinations of spitting static, electrics shards, semi-buried but all out aggressive vocals are the order of proceedings.

Without doubt this is a great album in terms of Concrete Mascara’s discography. Yet at the same time it is noted that the mastering/ production of the album has pushed the sound to an overblown point where it has reduced sonic depth and general tonal separation.  Clearly there is substantial layering of structural elements, synth lines and other sonic detailing underpinning each track, but many of these elements are effectively buried due to the production which is harsh, overblown and brutally loud.  Although this is perhaps a minor gripe it is gripe all the same, given to this ear it slightly hampers what is otherwise a extremely strong and intense listen. Punishing indeed.

Manifesto – Exit

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Manifesto – Exit CD Reverse Alignment 2016

Manifesto is the solo project of Swede Magnus Zetterberg who has been issuing material under this name since 2000. Having previously released a series of albums, splits, live recordings and ep’s, ‘Exit’ is his latest 19th release and follows 2012’s ‘Rust’ album on Silken Tofu. Sonically Manifesto deal with soundtrack styled ambient music of a darker hue (aka ‘dark ambient’ for a more straight forward genre descriptor), which also fits within the recognizable traits of such music coming from northern European spheres.

Musically speaking dank sub-orchestral drones provide the sonic bedrock, which is then augmented with a meticulous level of textual sonic detailing. The sound palate is also embedded with a high degree of mechanized tonality and jagged industrial based distortion in a few fleeting moments.  Evidently Magnus has had formally trained in sound engineering and music production, with the results of this being absolutely demonstrated within the refined dark ambient approach on display. 5 tracks are featured, with each ranging from 5 to 13 minutes and which play out as variations on established dark ambient genre traits, where some pieces are dour and brooding, whilst others featuring driving and rhythmically pounding undercurrents.  Yet collectively the greatest impression of ‘Exit’ is a strong ‘cinematic’ atmosphere and specifically that of a dystopian science fiction type motion picture.

Although not necessary turning the tables of what can be expected from dark ambient music in 2016, this is still a complex, diverse and enjoyable listen, to very much constitute a soundtrack to a non-existent film. Mini gate-fold cardboard sleeve rounds out the packaging.

Satanismo Calibrio 9 – Kymah Rising

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Satanismo Calibrio 9 – Kymah Rising CD Old Europa Café 2016

The Italian based Satanismo Calibrio 9 are one of those projects I have been aware of by name, but have not previously heard until now.  Likewise given they have issued just short of 30 releases in their 10 years of activity, this means I don’t have a specific frame of reference to how ‘Kymah Rising’ compares, so have to review it ‘as is’.

Evidently ‘Kymah Rising’ is final release in the ‘Rising Trilogy’ and has been issued on the long running and respected Italian Old Europa Café.  This is their 12th release on the label and clearly fits within a ritual industrial/ dark ambient classification.  But by forgoing potential harder and harsher ‘industrial elements’, it is the organic ritual ambient elements on ‘Kymah Rising’ that allows to fit alongside the sound associated with the Finnish Aural Hypnox label.  Equally this then sets itself apart from its central and prominent use of layer vocals (male and female chants, screams, whispers etc.) which themselves function with obvious invocation based intent.

6 tracks in total feature, and by spanning 6 to 11 minutes each it is indicative of its sprawling catacomb oriented mood.  Echo and reverb play a key role in generating a murky droning atmosphere, where other ritual percussion, random thumbs and general industrial wasteland sonics bulk out the sound.  ‘Maha Kymah’ is an atmospheric standout with its thick drones, elongated chants and bass rumbling mass, whereas ‘Drifting in Perdition’ is less sonically weighty by use of its mid-toned drones.  Based on personal preferences, perhaps the vocals are too prominent and centrally focused for my liking, which tends to take away from the meditative aspects of the of the music (…I do acknowledge this as being a personal point of view rather than specific criticism).  ‘Rapture In Scorpio’ is one such vocal heavy example, however other pieces such as the title track ‘Kymah Rising’ strikes an appropriate balance between its sonic backing and understanding, chanted and whispered vocals.

Aimed squarely at a ritual focused industrial/ dark ambient sound, Satanismo Calibrio 9 have utilised a range of genre staples and twisted them into a sound which is not derivative of other similar projects or themed material.  No doubt the specific ritual aspects of this will be of further interest to those more versed in such matters, but I am afraid I am not one of them so can’t comment further.

Shredded Nerve ‎– In The Shadow Of What Never Was

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Shredded Nerve – In The Shadow Of What Never Was LP Chondritic Sound 2016

Shredded Nerve are a relatively new US industrial/ noise unit with a handful of cassettes and 7”ep’s to their name since 2013.  This is their first full length vinyl album, although I am then not sure if any of the cassette releases are themselves to be considered as proper full length releases.  So, although this can be broadly described as ‘industrial/ noise’, this rather rudimentary classification could also potentially be misleading, given it does not fully capture the diversity displayed on this complex and experimentally tinged recording.

Album opener ‘Closer To The End (in The Shadow Of What Never Was)’ kicks things off with a single LP sided track (18.5 minutes), which charts upward building motion over its lengthy span.  Despite being a single track there are distinct sections or ‘movements’ found within, where the initial crude scratchy loops and the minimalist ‘metal on metal’ experimental field recordings give way to a ritualized soundscape dirge (i.e. echoed percussion, watery textures and garbled vocalisations).  For the final third the mood shifts into industrial drone territory, including throbbing bass and mid toned fluttering textures which becomes progressively more chaotic through to tracks ends.

On the flip side of the vinyl it delivers 4 shorter tracks between 3 and 7 minutes each. The first half of ‘Stone, Lead and Gasoline’s is sonically excellent, being dour and contemplative in sound, mixing shimmering drones, minimalist synth melody and scattered textural field recordings (echoed knocking sounds, aquatic tones etc.).  Yet without warning the latter half of the track ‘flips a switch’ and lurches into piercing and stabbing noise which are structured as ‘industrial strength’ loops.  On the following track ‘Threat Becomes Clear’ it is very much a studio work out of source junk metal recordings, which have been roughly hewn into tonally jagged and fiercely intertwining loops. Conversely ‘Time Inside’ is piece of quiet restraint, where it is structured around vague ‘metallic scraping’ loops, there is distance and depth between sonic elements (…thereby allowing microtonal textures to come to the fore).  Overall is a track which clearly balances its underground industrial focus and more experimental leaning, and very much reminds on the sound a feel and industrial tape experimentation coming from the Swedish scene (i.e. Arkhe, Ochu, Niellerade Fallibilisthorstar etc).  ‘Without the Hindrance of Man’ concludes the album with a further understated experimental track. Being sparse and cavernous, it is highly atmospheric with grit and grime, based on crepuscular scraping textures, distant knocking resonances and what may be disembodied vocal groans.

Although at times quite experimental in approach, the sound ‘In The Shadow Of What Never Was’ is staunchly underground with its dirty and caustic feel.  Although I don’t know how this compares to earlier Shredded Nerve output, here the sound is very much focused on tone and atmosphere, rather than straight aggression or sonic extremity, where the results are varied, focus and above all else amounts to an appealing listening experience.

Tesla Sect – The Nikita Mill

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Tesla Sect – The Nikita Mill MC Cipher Productions 2016

Cipher Productions have dug up another act whom I have not heard of before, but according to the release blurb Telsa Sect are a duo from Adelaide, Australia, with this being their first release, being: A Dionysian exploration of tape decay, harsh electronics and the defect-prone qualities of analogue consumer electronics.

So, first up the packaging deserves a mention, with the tape being beautifully housed in an oversized and repurposed 7” tape reel cardboard box, with cover image separately affixed to the front panel (artwork courtesy of Mark Groves of Dead Boomers, Sabbatical etc.).  As for the sonics, the tape then covers around 30 minutes of music in total, the sound is one which is typically harsher than spheres covered by typical tape experimentation, whilst also being too loose and freeform to be classified as power electronics proper.  So essentially the sound is one which manages to have a foot in both camps without being slavish to either.  Some sense of structure comes from various stilted loops, but these also are in fractured and misfiring ‘idling machine’ style, to keep the sound loose and chaotic.  The tracks construction is also choppy and chaotic, although not sounding to be result of random improvisation either.  With no specific or individual tracks listed, there are defiantly segments or sections which are clearly akin to specific ‘tracks’, but at the same time it is best to simply enjoy this tape in its totality, where the sound swings from moments of restraint to others driven by sonic shards, creaking metal, bursts of electronic static and fractured loops etc. (…perhaps more succinctly described as sonic chaos delivered with direction and purpose).

Given its meagre limitation of 32 copies (perhaps dictated by the availability of the box it is housed in?), I assume this may already be sold out.  But if not, this should be checked out as a strong, non-typical sounding release in the fields of (harsh) tape experimentation.  As a final comment it is noted that each sides of the the tape is labelled ‘C’ and ‘D’, which then begs the question – where are sides ‘A’ and ‘B’? (…something to mull over…or perhaps not…).

quick fix of cassette fifth

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Luke Holland Odium 2xMC Moral Defeat 2016

Blut Bound & Gagged MC Trapdoor Tapes 2016

Luke Holland (head honcho of Trapdoor Tapes) has recently issues some more of his solo works on the Danish micro-label Moral Defeat (which mostly deals with tapes but has been known to delve into vinyl formats).  For this new double tape release it features 4 tracks (recorded in 2016, spread across the 4 sides), which amount to further explorations in minimalist industrial/ droning noise.

‘Traumatic Bonding’ opens the set and furrows a throbbing, modulating form, before forceful and blown out rumbling noise elevates the sound.  Nice.  Flipping over to Side B ‘Power And Control’ delivers idling noise and crumbling static to spawn a attitude of unmoving stasis, although the later introduction of a mid-paced pounding/ stilted beat provides some forward momentum.  Moving onto the second tape, whilst the title track ‘Odium’ does not overtly alter the sound or approach, it is delivered with grim intensity and more grinding and forceful than what has proceeded it.  The final of the 4 tracks ‘No Longer a Victim’ retains a similar forceful, driving and pulsing tone to ‘Odium’, but as with the entirety of the tape it maintains an obscure and introspective edge throughout.

With the stylistic approach being of an elongated and minimalist ‘rough’ industrial style, clearly the focus is on thick layers of analog filth which coalesce into meditative ‘noise-scapes‘.  Thus over the 4 tracks Luke positively demonstrates variations on this theme, which also displays differing degrees of sonic force depending on the track.

Moving on to the debut tape of Blut, they are a purposefully anonymous project on Trapdoor Tapes, which through both titles and artwork addresses it themes in a direct fashion.  To speak first of concept, although S&M themes are hardly a new idea, conversely over the decades it has perhaps been overused within the industrial underground, which has subsequently reduced its subversive and transgressive potential.  So while although Blut may have much deeper and personal interests in the themes broached, based on this tape it mostly comes across as a rather formulaic industrial trope.*

But what of the music? Well pleasingly, this tapes contains some excellent high calibre material.  The opening title track sees the use of some blisteringly flanged vocals, which are heavily processed to the point of emulating an echoed robotic style.  These are then mixed upfront to float over a grimy undercurrent of rough, grinding tones, idling clatter and crude dive-bombing textures.  ‘Whip Therapy’ continues is similar sonic guise, but the slow pounding, echoed oil barrel percussion gives it an excellent cavernous sonic depth (…and in part brings to mind a subdued version of Bizarre Uproar).   The minimalist industrial noise-scapes featured on ‘Slaves Lesson: Part 1 & 2’ are relatively loose form and meandering (with understand grinding filth and sex tape sample), but due to extended length are less focused and engaging than preceding material.  Yet the final two tracks on Side B return to focused gutter-noise/ power electronics, where ’Hog Tied’ is an exploration of looped caustic modulations, while final track ‘Punishment’ is built around queasy layers, distant blown out noise, buried industrial pulse and the inclusion of Blut’s rather trademark robotic vocal treatment.

By way of a concluding comment, if you are seeking a quick fix of obscure caustic analogue industrial fifth, these two cassettes absolutely fit the bill. Nothing more nothing less and you should know by now if you are the intended target audience.


* –  Although such themes have become in part a thematic mainstay of underground industrial music, in parallel a project like Bizarre Uproar has adopted such themes and pushed them far beyond being a cliché.  This has been achieved by main member Pasi making his personal fetishes and obsessions central to the project, which have been reinforced by his unflinching willingness to hold nothing back in his desire to publicly revel in filth and humiliation.  The consequence of this has been to demonstrate that ‘boundaries’ within the underground can still be pushed some 4 decades on from the origins of industrial music, and also functions make any other project broaching such themes without similar dedication appear shallow or merely surface level.