Pterygium – Stoic Ubiquity

Pterygium – Stoic Ubiquity MC No Rent Records 2020

Following Pterygium’s second excellent album Concealing The Past on Tesco Organisation (reviewed here), this new full length tape has just been issued on the American label No Rent Records.

On Stoic Ubiquity Pterygium have taken their established ‘dual edged’ sound and twisted this for more harrowing and harder results. This is immediately evident on album opener 100 Sin, with its massive bass undercurrent, vaguely orchestral yet heavily melancholic synth lines, buzzing static, and harshly impactful tonal blasts. Various sampled voices also float in and out of the mix, providing a fleeting human reference point within the sonics. God Was Incapable is notable as it provides some respite, with well-placed dialogue samples fleshing out the concept and set against mid-toned clicking loops and a catatonic yet pummelling beat. Late in the track the sounds of a church bell tolling, cawing crows, and mournful choirs add a gothic-tinged aesthetic. Force Feeding provides yet more metaphysical musings set to sweeping drones, overblown bass tones, and slashes of static that build to a squalling cacophony of shrill tones. Yet these soon fall away into a section of tragically sombre sub-orchestral melodies. A similar mood permeates final tracks A Tragedy At Point Blank and 36 Heart, given the use of brooding sub-orchestral tones blended with unhinged static blasts and an undercurrent of overloaded bass.

Being somehow more aggressive yet underscored with a greater degree of melancholy, Stoic Ubiquity is no mere re-tread of what has come before. Rather, it is a clear refinement and expansion of a style and sound that Pterygium is very much making his own; the layering, complexity, and attention to detail of the arrangements are clearly evident. At this point it perhaps goes without saying to not snooze on this, as its physical edition is a mere 100 copies. You know what to do.

Crawl of Time – Operation Black Widow

Crawl of Time – Operation Black Widow MC Fusty Cunt 2020

Crawl of Time is the solo project of Sam Montero Torres, who is one half of American power electronics group Terror Cell Unit. Operation Black Widow is the debut cassette album, following an early split release (2017) and a short promo tape (2019). Sonically speaking, Crawl of Time is not dissimilar to Terror Cell Unit, yet the differences are more substantial than the sonic comparison which could be made between Terror Cell Unit and Koufar (another side project helmed by the other half of Terror Cell Unit, to which Sam also contributes). Whereas Terror Cell Unit is focused on a hyper-aggressive sound with a cultural terrorist manifesto edge, Crawl of Time differentiates itself with a slow and laborious industrial noise / power electronics bent. Whereas in the former the themes at play are more of an observational documentary type, here there appears to be a broad focus on gangs and prison culture.

With the overtly aggressive elements slightly dialled down, the eight tracks are built around cyclic loops, well-sourced and placed samples, clean shredding mid- to higher-pitched drones, distortion, and squelching modular sounds. Vocals are predominantly spoken, sometimes with and sometimes without sonic treatment, but blend in within the mix. There are select tracks which stand apart, such as Tyrant And Slave (The Greatest War) with its stilted militant pounding beat, and Section V (Fratricide) with its harsh and needling noise assault approach.

The gold pro-pressed tape is housed in a zip-lock bag, along with an A5 booklet with collage artwork and lyrics, while the use of the ‘Parental Advisory: Explicit Lyrics’ logo on the cover is a nice touch of pitch-black humour. Over the one hour run time, Crawl of Time demonstrate a wealth of ideas and a meticulous approach to sonic compositions: the end result is unhurried and impactful, making for an extremely strong debut album. Clearly a project to keep an eye on.

Nokuit – Live at Cafe OTO

Nokuit – Live at Cafe OTO MC NKT 2020

My first introduction to Nokuit was on the Patterns Of Instability tape from 2017, which I described as ‘an abstract but very effective sound-score to a modern dystopian film’. That impression is equally applicable here, and is partially reflected in the promo blurb: ‘A soundtrack to a film that has left its screenwriters behind, the unshackled camera runs riot across the set before drifting in on itself and out into the world, asleep at the wheel’.

In kicking off the 32-minute live set, low crowd chatter can be heard at the start of the tape indicating the nature of the recording. But when the music hits its full stride, based on the tonal bulk, volume, and sonic detailing, I assume that the recording was taken directly from the soundboard and further tweaked and mastered in post-production. As a recording it unfurls as a singular interlinking live piece; segments of doomy synths from Patterns Of Instability are noted, blended with segments from other releases with which I am not familiar. Melodically melancholic synths and piano lines, and muted mechanized post-industrial debris, are the general order of the day. Charred and digitally crisp tonal slashes give a real sense of live improvisation, and are used to underscore and interlink the longer moody droning passages. News report chatter and other dialogue samples sporadically appear, further reinforcing the filmic quality, yet rather than being clear in intent or message they suggest a vague dystopian atmosphere.

Being far from a mere document of a live performance, Live at Cafe OTO is equally as strong a release as Patterns Of Instability. Although clearly aligned with the cinematically-tinged post-industrial / dark ambient sounds of the underground, I get the distinct impression that the artist behind Nokuit comes from a refined world of sound design and trained composers given the degree of tonal, sonic, and melodic refinement. But regardless of artistic angle, this is a worthy release and I am intrigued as to what will come from the Nokuit camp in future.

Leather Bath ‎– Nature’s Crackling Fire / Anarch Peak – Vitarium

Leather Bath Nature’s Crackling Fire CD Leather Bath, Inc. 2019

Anarch Peak – Vitarium CD Chondritic Sound, 2019

The common thread between these two releases is Greh Holger (of Hive Mind and the Noisextra podcast), who collaborates with John Weise as Leather Bath, and separately with Rodger Stella (formerly of Macronympha, Mother Savage, etc.) as Anarch Peak.

In turning attention to Leather Bath first, they seem to have been active since around 2012 with a clutch of releases, yet Nature’s Crackling Fire is the first album proper from the group. As might be suggested by the album title this can be described as experimental noise and musique concrète, with an underpinning drone framework. Two lengthy tracks feature, the 23-minute In Temporary Suspension and 17-minute Hunter Horn. Although the musique concrète descriptor is used, this is by no means stuffy or academic in tone. Likewise, with reference to the ‘noise’ descriptor, the sound is ‘detailed’ rather than loud, meaning there are tons of close-up micro-tonal sonic textures throughout. There is considerable depth, with various tonal elements sitting far off in the background, offset against the upfront elements, while speaker panning is also used for surround-sound immersion. In Temporary Suspension exudes an open tonal quality, with lots of space to breathe between the sound of stone, wood, and metal which is creaked, bowed, struck, and scraped. Hunter Horn differs from the first track with a greater focus on droning elements, scrabbling textures, and treated horn elements, while field recordings provide further natural and human resonances. Later the track involves a metal-on-metal tonal workout and echoed footfalls, which are dragged to their conclusion with animated windswept drones.

Moving on to Anarch Peak, the first thing to be noted is the psychedelic sci-fi style artwork that adorns the six-panel digipack. This sci-fi angle is reinforced with some abstracted surreal text included as part of the digipack. Sonically speaking, Greh handles the synthesizers and minimalist metal-derived inputs, while Rodger mans the theremin – by listing that instrument alone, it should be clear that Anarch Peak are not dealing with a harsh / junk noise approach. Two longform tracks make up Vitarium, the 37-minute Alpha in Dissent and 33-minute Driftglass. In the opening to Alpha in Dissent the atonal synths and theremin drones slowly unfurl, while some subdued metallic clatter is noted far off in the depths of the mix. Like an ebbing and flowing tide, the track slowly builds and recedes over extended passages. Not being chaotic or loud, the track does build up a certain bulk and tonal weight through the middle and later sections, where discordant wailing textures sit at the middle to lower end rather than resembling a high-pitched squall. In the last third, some doom-addled sub-orchestral synth melodies appear and sweep the track’s mood in a completely different direction, more into sci-fi territory (perhaps akin to being slowly dragged towards the event horizon by the gravitational pull of a black hole). Driftglass differs by being tonally fragmented and fragile, with subdued wonky tones, minimalist crackling textures, and low-level static, while a melodious organ-like drone slowly appears to provide focus and forward movement. The middle to back end of the track sonically articulates intertwining corkscrew spirals, while the final movement uses metallic tones in a stilted rhythmic fashion.

Neither of the albums are overly dark, but each is characterized by being experimental or artistic in tone in their own way. The material across both albums is animated and varied, with each making for a detailed and engaging listen. The above descriptions should clearly indicate whether either or both albums will be to your liking.

Steel Hook Prostheses – Wounds Bathed In Piss Water

Steel Hook Prostheses – Wounds Bathed In Piss Water DLP Breathing Problems Productions 2019

Wounds Bathed In Piss Water is not a new album by Steel Hook Prostheses, rather it is a reissue of an older obscurity. Originally issued as a CDr in 2007 in an edition of 100 copies on the Italian label Blade Records, few will have managed to hear this. The 2019 reissue has also been remastered for good measure. Generally, perhaps Wounds Bathed In Piss Water is less tonally sharp, refined, and clinical than current material from the group, but it nevertheless features the high calibre, US-style death industrial that the group assisted in defining. The medical obsessions remain as a thematic core, with smatterings of related dialogue samples. The vocals are heavily processed with smeared distortion, although their sound is not yet of the seething trademark style which would characterise later albums.

As a listening experience Wounds Bathed In Piss Water functions as a collection of individual tracks spanning three to six minutes each, allowing differing moods and sonic approaches to be explored. Graft is notable, with its blend of subdued death industrial and melancholic-tinged synths, over which the vocals feature in an upfront spoken style. Ether Dream also stands out with varied passages, swinging from fried static to machine rhythms with upfront vocals and onward to widescreen ambience. Rounding out the 11 tracks is Drifting Towards The Light, which – as the name might suggest – is a widescreen dark ambient affair of muted intertwining drones and deep echoed production. A bonus track has been added in the form of Hunting For Humans – Tribute To Schloss Tegal, which is a rather faithful, yet slightly more urgent, cover of the Schloss Tegal track of the same name.

With a high-gloss gatefold sleeve this is a solid release that fills a gap in the back catalogue, also illustrating the refinement of the group’s sound on subsequent releases following the original release of Wounds Bathed In Piss Water.

Absterbende ‎– Gebärmutter

Absterbende Gebärmutter MC self-released 2019

Sitting well within the depths of the post-industrial underground, here we have the debut tape from this obscure German project, which has links to another project, Die Kombination, and the Deutsch Asphalt label and distro. The title translates to ‘uterus’, derived from the Greek word root ‘hysteria’, which I have been informed provides a hint as to the thematic underpinnings. But with a predominantly instrumental presentation, and liner notes and track titles being in German, further interpretation of the theme was difficult (yet clearly something to mull over while listening to the tape if you can read the text).

The 12 tracks on offer span just over 75 minutes, and the material is perhaps better described as ‘movements’ rather than ‘compositions’. Consisting of longform / freeform layered synth oscillations and filthy analogue tones, the material is predominantly instrumental other than the use of psychological and addiction-related dialogue samples on two tracks on Side B. Sonically speaking, the tape displays an inherent paradox by being low-key yet at the same time animated. Gebärmutter contains sonic contradictions: minimalist yet detailed in layering and blending elements that are sonically forceful with others that are equally subdued. Being generally grey-hued, obscure, and unassuming, selected tracks feature wonky oscillating machine-like loops that drive the flow forward, while others have an incessant idling militant rumble blended with caustic bass tones.

For contextual rather than comparative purposes, the material featured on this tape sits somewhere in the dank in-between spaces characterized by the off-kilter industrial post-mortem sounds of Proiekt Hat, the long-form modulating synth experimentations of Atrax Morgue, and the subdued power electronics / heavy electronics tone of later-era Anenzephalia. Although not sonically derivative, those comparisons should nevertheless give a clear indication of the post-industrial furrow being ploughed by Absterbende. Gebärmutter is a tape I have both enjoyed and returned to for numerous repeat listens, which is clear enough indication of its quality. Although this tape is limited to only 50 copies, evidently a re-release on CD is to occur at some point which is a welcome proposition to give this greater coverage and reach.

Serration – The Open Mouth Of Infinite Destruction / Force of Damnation

Serration The Open Mouth Of Infinite Destruction CD Chondritic Sounds 2020

Serration Force of Damnation MC Total Black 2020

Serration have been on a bit of a roll in recent years with a slew of releases since 2018. If you have heard any of Serration’s prior material, both of these new titles continue the established sound of brooding and militant industrial / heavy electronics.

Turning to The Open Mouth Of Infinite Destruction first, from the outset saturated synth lines waver and dive-bomb in intertwining unison, while the heavily processed vocals are sonically smeared to convey an urgent mood, despite being wholly unintelligible. Inexhaustible Conflict follows in a similar vein but takes a gradual step up with a wailing siren texture and catatonic underpinning beat. A.P.C. embodies yet more tensile militant atmospheres, being a soundscape rather than rhythm-driven; the vocals, subdued and spoken, are heavily processed. The Storm Of Ash And Steel stands apart with what sounds to be a looped synth line replicating an orchestral tone against a backdrop of seething invasive mid-toned drones, and echo-panned production, while the final track is a live recording of A.P.C. made in Chicago in March 2018. Being slightly more hollowed in tone than its studio counterpart, given the noted absence of crowd noise it is clear this material is a recording taken directly from the mixing desk (if it was not identified as a live recording, it would not be immediately apparent). At only 22 minutes long, this is a short and to-the-point release. The packaging is rounded out with a six-panel digipack on heavy card stock with cleanly designed visuals.

Force of Damnation delivers a further five new tracks, also spanning around 22 minutes of material. W.I.T.W opens the tape; immediately obvious is how the vocals have been pushed to the fore and are all the more powerful for it, blended with urban guerrilla battlefield type recordings and seething / brooding synth textures. March Of Lies makes great use of laboriously intertwining synth layers, radio chatter, and hefty processed vocals. Further vocal variation is evident on Survive_Comply where, with reduced sonic treatment for the most part, they are intelligible; the backing is relatively subdued mid- to higher-toned synth drones and Middle Eastern crowd chatter. The tape rounds out with Grease And Blood, another mid-toned mass of seething synths, sonically charred vocals, and urban warfare / machine gun chatter. For the physical presentation a cleanly designed cover rounds out a thus far consistent visual aesthetic for the group, in a limited edition of 125.

Although perhaps splitting hairs between these two releases, the production of Force of Damnation is wider in sonic scope given the separation of its tonal elements, while the mood is ever so slightly more subdued. Yet this is an extremely minor critique: both releases are high calibre and very worthy additions to Serration’s quickly expanding discography, highlighting why the group have been receiving so many positive accolades of late.