Altar of Flies – Signaler CD Chondritic Sounds 2021
Altar of Flies is the long-running project of Swede Mattias Gustafsson, where I am personally more aware of the project by name and reputation than being familiar with the bulk of his rather imposing back catalogue. But of the handful of albums I have obtained, the general approach slots into a particular style of Swedish tape and electronics experimentation: meaning it is infused with a darker sonic hue than typical experimental fare. This new album was recorded in 2020 and spans five tracks in just over 40 minutes.
From the opening moments, a vein of darkly Nordic sounds abound, and where dour and deep rumbling textures blend with a variety of ‘concrète’ sonics which sporadically interject and duly falls away. The overarching tone then spans both bright and muffled sonics, while the creaking metallics and detailed tonal bluster provides for focused listening. Likewise, in rapidly shifting from forceful peaks of metallic tones to subtle and minimalist troughs, this functions to strongly accentuate the calmer moments. Various raw field recording elements also seem to feature, such as a steel tank being dragged over concrete to name just one, while other sonics elements then give the vague impression of arcing electricity, as well as the sound of archaic misfiring machinery in their death throes (as mechanical fluid leaks in random spurts onto the factory floor).
In a general atmospheric sense one track blends into the next, and most importantly it maintains focused interest over its run time. This is achieved by generating many fleeting mind’s eye visions, which could be creatively described as: being the depth of winter traipsing through an abandoned and derelict factory complex, where drifting snow is being blown in through the shattered windowpanes by the winter storm blustering outside. A four-panel digipack adored with bleakly abstracted imagery rounds out the physical presentation.
Blind Ruler Cursed Land – Chrysantheme Delirium MC Rum Fixion Records 2021
Blind Ruler Cursed Land is a side project to UGFC which takes a slightly different thematic slant by: ‘exploring various shades of cultural & moral decline, post-defeat societies and dark esoteric “fanaticism” fascinations’. With some further investigation, Chrysantheme Delirium appears to be the debut tape from the project (after a couple of digital singles from 2020), while thematically focusing on Imperial Japan.
Musically speaking the sonics issued under the Blind Ruler Cursed Land name is not worlds apart from the main project, although its stylistic framework is based more on drone and dark ambient with only fleeting tinges of martial industrial inspiration. Four interlinking compositions deliver a combined runtime of around 20 minutes of material, where the pacing is slow and atmospheric, letting musical segments slowly shift and change in a controlled drone-ambient manner. More specifically synth-based orchestral textures, looped structural drones, and various choir vocals are used, which functions to balance the sound somewhere between whimsical, melancholic, and uplifting. However, the final of four tracks In This Sign You Shall Perish introduces overt martial industrial elements, featuring air raid bombing sounds, speech samples, distant martial percussive pulse, and a rising storm of muted distortion, before the tape concludes with a sample of a stirringly nostalgic 1940’s era Japanese song.
To conclude on the album’s chosen theme, the promo text reveals: ‘Imperial Japan symbolism is just one gate left opened for you to come. Tread softly, but come wholeheartedly!’, which functions as oblique instructions for a sonically strong release. A full-colour, fold-out, doubled-sided j-card and transparent lurid fluorescent green tape round out the physical presentation.
Heretic Grail – A World Without Order MC Total Black 2021
Here we have a project that has been rather active in the last few years, but which is also couched in a reasonable amount of obscurity. Having then only been able to track down a couple of their releases to date, A World Without Order is the latest three tracks tape (billed as a ‘demo’), which delivers a bludgeoning and no-frills power electronics attack.
In quickly getting to the point the tape reveals static fried dive-bombing distortion is coupled with muted synth lines, squelching electronics and a caustic vocal barrage. This combined into relatively simple structures, but which are also delivered with control and intent. Likewise, with melodious oscillations providing for song-oriented structures, these are balanced with static and noise to provide an unhinged edge to match the intensity of the distortion-drenched vocals which are unintelligibly strained in their delivery.
With three short discrete tracks (two on side A and one on Side B), A World Without Order whets the appetite but is not long enough to properly satisfy hunger. Regardless, this is a tasty morsel for the time it sticks around.
H.C.O.D. – Instruments Of Destiny CD Chondritic Sound 2021
Instruments Of Destiny was originally issued in 2016 on tape via the US label Fieldwork, and now five years later has been given the reissue treatment on CD, featuring new artwork and remastering by Grant ‘Gnawed’ Richardson.
With respect to the project’s name, it is noted to be an acronym for Hideous Colors Of Decay which suitably describes sonic intent, and at the time of the original release Instruments Of Decay appeared to be the formal debut. Featuring seven tracks spanning around 60 minutes, the general approach draws a clear parallel with a northern European post-industrial ‘post-mortem’ sound, where, H.C.O.D’s approach is sprawling in scope and is a hotbed of caustic industrialized noise which bleeds out over greater length. Caked in sonic soot, the tone is one of analog filth where the tracks work on a dual-level involving sustained cavernous widescreen bass rumble over which mid-toned squall, higher-pitched ‘whistling’ feedback, and junk metal crunch is belched. Will to Oppression provides some variance with its centrally featured echo-tinged and half-chanted vocals, as does Mutilated Victory with its garbled and undecipherable dialogue sample. Perhaps with its singular overall approach, Instruments Of Destiny is something akin to a marathon crawl through a post-industrial dystopian nightmare of wrack and ruin.
A six-panel, matt digipack with suitably oblique and bleak imagery rounds out a very welcomed reissue.
Browning Mummery – Live / Berlin & Melbourne CDr Inner City Uprising 2021
Andrew Lonsdale’s long-standing post-industrial / experiment project Browning Mummery has been reasonably active in recent years, including both new studio material as well as sporadic live performances. Obviously, the title of this album indicates the live context of this release, but in being more than a straight live recording of a single show, this album features material culled from two live performances. The liner notes further confirm the four chosen tracks cover the full history of the project by spanning the years from 1984 to 2019, where the opening track Disintegration of Personality derives from one of the earliest tapes Obiter Scripta, originally issues in 1984.
With a wonky semblance, there is a deft mechanical ebb and flow to these experimental-industrial soundscapes, while cleanly dynamic noise and a metallic rhythmic churn also underpin the general atmosphere. Each track functions as a lengthy standalone composition, where the tonal framework is detailed in the layering and construction, and which on occasion rise to segments of muted tonal ferocity. Sampled and processed vocal chants appear on Slaughterhouse Sutra, as do choppy and slightly chaotic metallic shards, and off-kilter revving tones blended with misfiring industrial-noise textures. Foreign Devils on the Amber Road further differentiates itself with driving bass and programmed percussive rhythm, where the associated choppy sampling of orchestral movements and choir vocals becomes increasing unhinged and noise infused as the track progresses. With the first three tracks being recorded in Berlin in 2015, the fourth and final track Abandoned was recorded in Melbourne in 2019, and at a show, I was able to witness in person. While this track contains many of the same sonic elements of the earlier tracks (such as a loose mechanised churn, multiple sampled vocal textures, and sub-orchestral styled movements), the atmosphere has been pulled back to a contemplative ambient-industrial soundscape.
Given the clarity and force of the sonics on display, the recordings have clearly been taken directly from the soundboard and I assume to have been further treated with suitable studio mastering for release. The end result is a recording that functions excellently as an archival document of the live performances and as standalone listening.
UGFC – Ost LP Grom & Lord Records 2021
Following 2019’s Stalinist God (reviewed here), this is the second album I have heard from UGFC, which incidentally is an acronym of Uncle Grasha’s Flying Circus. As an immediate observation, Ost is again concerned with high calibre martial framed ambient-industrial soundscapes, containing a distinct hint of satire which I can’t quite put my finger on. But to also start with a comparison, with its prevalent tone of obscure martial industrial atmospheres Ost it is very much reminiscent of early Laibach, or other notable martial industrial projects like Toroidh.
Mother (Guilt) acts as a short introduction, framed around rolling kettle drums and sampled nationalist type song, which leads into Mother Lied (Zeppelin Dance). Here it features a central unwavering drone, slow martial percussive thrum, while whispered vocals and wailing air raid siren provides a brooding warlike mood. Von Richthofen’s Flying Circus then steps up the pace a notch with faster-paced industrial loops, loose mechanised clatter, and further nationalistic song sampling, while the back half of track is far more atmospherically melancholic despite maintaining a rougher industrial edge. On Side B the lengthy Hüzün Horns features ‘post-battlefield ambience’ at its finest, with thick bass-toned sub-orchestral drones and windswept barren bomb-blasted landscapes. The final track East Is The Best edges into anthemic territory with rousing martial percussion, industrialised loops, and gruff vocals which are later replaced with lamenting chants and church bells.
Not an overly long album by any stretch (totally just over 30 minutes), Ost still maintains a strong mood and atmosphere throughout which edge towards a more ambient-industrial mood overall. But of note, Ost functions to strongly demonstrate that it is still possible to create interesting results with a broader martial industrial style, which for a number of years fell out of favour due to the genre becoming rather tired and derivative through the mid to late 2000’s.
SRMeixner – A Silent War CD Black Rose Recordings / Oxidation 2021
Stephen Meixner of Contrastate has been recording and releasing music under this solo guise for many years now and generally speaking it involves a more abstract and darkly experimental sound than that of the main project (yet some indirectly similar sonic threads too can be noted too). With reference to this latest work the liner notes highlight A Silent War had its nexus in 2020 UK Covid lockdowns and was intended as a working basis for further recordings, but obviously evolved into this standalone work. Likewise, the liner notes provide further detail on the working methodology, which was inspired by 1980’s recycling projects and involved recontextualising sound sources contributed by close associates. Six tracks make up A Silent War which includes an element of social commentary but is which is also not overtly emphasised. This is weaved within the crisply refined electronics which slot neatly under a ‘dark ambient / experimental / post-industrial soundscape’ descriptor.
The title track opens the album exudes a performance art angle, which is mostly due to the tone provided by manipulated spoken word vocals, while the minimal shimmering soundscape is occasionally interrupted with moments of melodic percussive strikes. Breathe continues and is framed around multiple electric to semi-orchestral drones coupled with a centrally placed jittery tonal texture, while further vocal cuts up referencing the track title and its thematic aspect. The instrumental track Virtue Signalling brings more interweaving melancholic drones but also includes a wonky pitch-shifting tonal framework blended with vague mechanical rhythmic elements and other manipulated tones (piano note stabs perhaps?). In maintaining the prevailing sonic theme the minimalist but incessant plodding pulse of Unfinished Business characterises the first segments before shifting off into melancholic drone territory with fragile tonal respite. We Demand Tomorrow (or business as usual) slightly differs, given it contains some forceful electricity-toned textures, while late in the track it morphs into musically playful and percussive-driven elements. As for the final track Singing About Revolution, it is a short two-minute cut and the oddest and surreal offering of the lot, to the point of being quite jarring against the tone of the balance of the album (and therefore well-positioned at the album’s conclusion). Here there is a clear nod to Contrastrate thanks to vocals provided by Jonathan Grieve, and notable the lyrics are credited to Nina Simone to close the thematic loop.
A six-panel double gatefold cover with extensive liner notes rounds out the packaging of an expertly crafted yet equally understated album of experimental ambient & post-industrial sonics.
Jagath – Devalaya CD Cold Spring Records 2020
Jagath is a relatively new Russian ritual-industrial project concerned with recording in unconventional locations such as underground sewers, mine shafts, and other abandoned industrial spaces. This results in the spatial sonic timbre of such locations being infused with other musical elements including vocals and handmade instruments (while also specifically avoiding the use of digital means such as synthesisers). The generated sound then sees a blending of raw post-industrial metallics and more archaic ritual elements of the vocals and handmade instruments. Evidently, the chosen recording location for this album was a monolithic decommissioned oil tank.
A key aspect to Devalaya’s prevalent atmosphere is the slow and controlled pacing, where the five meditative tracks unfold over an extended length. Deep guttural throat chanting drenched with reverb and thick bass drones introduces the album on Agadah (Abyss), where the subsequent track titles allude to a journey or transformation of sorts (i.e. Utthana (Rise), Catu (Conversation), Devalaya (Temple), Nila (Darkness)). As part of the broader approach, passages of ritual throat chanting are seamlessly blended with reverb-derived drones and further interspersed with slow percussive segments, distant wind instruments, sporadic use of ritual chimes & mouth harp, and the ever-present interjecting shards of metallic textures. Some aspects of contributed sound are clearly identifiable (such as metal being dragged over concrete, or metal striking metal), while the source of many other sonic elements remains obscured. Also of note, a number of repeated sonic elements across the album strongly remind of Alan Lamb’s classic ‘wire music’ experimentation.
For the physical presentation, the six-panel digi-pack is adorned with stunning photos, including some images that appear to be from the actual recording sessions. All in all, Devalaya is an extremely engaging album of emotive atmospherics which blends archaic pre-modern ritual sounds with a current aesthetic of post-industrial decay. But given its minimalist construct and controlled pacing, it certainly does not sound to be the result of a project with eleven members.
Hive Mind – Hollow Slumber CD Difficult Interactions 2021
The American label Difficult Interactions issued the last rather excellent album by Hive Mind Elysian Alarms (reviewed here), and have quickly followed up with this newly issued item. However upon further investigation Hollow Slumber is not a new release, rather is a reissue of an earlier limited tape from 2008. On this version, the featured material is slightly extended in length and presented as a remastered 33.33 minute track, rather than being split over two sides of the original tape.
Being an exploration of extremely low sub-bass frequencies, this is music to be felt as it is much to be heard given its invasive sub-audible tone. As such catatonically slow modulated bass drones rise and fall throughout, as other subtle pulses and minimalist textural elements provide ever so slight variation. Equally, there is an ever glacial elevation in tone across its length, but that gradual shift in sound is nigh on undetectable as you are sonically enveloped in an ultra-dense fog of sound. As a comparative observation. given the deep tonal focus and churning minimalist construct, Hollow Slumber does beg a passing comparison to the likes of the subterranean industrial ambient excursions of Swedish artist Jarl.
With its extreme low-end and bass-heavy tone, Hollow Slumber is best appreciated on decent stereo and speakers where the volume can be turned up a couple of notches to give sonic breadth to the deep sub-bass frequencies and allow open-air propulsion of the enveloping sound waves. The resultant impact is the literal vibration of walls and windows as the sound waves can be felt filling the room like oozing black tar. This then clearly differs from headphone listening, as regardless of being armed with decent studio pair, the overloaded bass makes for a rather oppressive listening experience even at low volume. A four-panel digipack rounds out a rather tasty release.
Heart of Palm – Tropique Concrète: Collected CD Difficult Interactions 2021
Knowing effectively nothing about this project it has been approached at face value, where the album title then gives a clear indication it involves musique concrète experimentation. This is duly confirmed on the opening track Her Tears Shed In Paradises Grotto, which is based on field recordings of distant rumbling tropical thunder, lapping waves, sparse bird calls, and minimalist single note synth melody provides a forlorn yet dreamlike atmosphere. Elsewhere muted rhythmic metal clangs, looped field recording elements, and micro-tonal clatter provides a more ‘post-industrial’ vibe. Yet the overall tone and atmosphere is kept purposely subtle and moody thanks to the minimalist underpinning melodies, which on occasion includes a tropical-tinged guitar. Vocals also sporadically appear as an additional tonal element, but are treated with sonic smear which prevents interpretation, and which are further placed far off in the background of the mix for added obscurity.
As further alluded to by the album title, this release functions to collect material from a number of limited-edition tapes from 2016-2018 (plus 2021 bonus track), but notably it all hangs together strongly here as a standalone album of post-industrial inflected and darker toned musique concrète works. A six-panel pastel pink digi-pack adorned with suitable imagery provides further visual references to align with the coastal concept, which is then self-described as: ‘subconscious tropical concrète atmosphere & malaise’. The end result is a divergently intriguing album that is slightly left of centre of the usual type of material covered by Noise Receptor.