Rats For Serpents Spotlight

 

Pterygium – I Abandon Myself, I Become Myself MC Rats For Serpents 2017

Haraam – Al-Arba’Ru’Us MC Rats For Serpents, 2016

Broken Fingers – Jumonji Girl MC Rats For Serpents 2017

Rats For Serpents is a new Australian micro-tape label launched in 2016 and which focuses in the more difficult end of post-industrial listening, and although having only issued five releases issued to date there is clearly some interesting fodder on offer.

Pterygium is up first, where I Abandon Myself, I Become Myself is not a new recording, rather features material from 2013 which has been edited and assembled in late 2016. Differing quite significantly from the recent new recording (reviewed here), this industrial/ noise material is loose, rough and semi-improvised in feel. Commencing with a catatonic pace, and with a strong ‘basement ambience’ vibe, it features a murky grey to pitch black sonic tone. Gradually the piece evolves with forceful revving sounds and choppy noise squalls with scatty angular textures, and in the later segments some barely detectable processed vocals make an appearance. I get the feel that this material has perhaps been cut together from a diverse range of different recording experiments/ sessions, and although evidently featuring two untitled tracks, I could not pick an obvious break from one piece to the next. In then making reference to Pterygium’s latest release Grip, it must be said that this tape pales in comparison to the current sound, but these earlier recordings are interesting to see the evolution of the project.

Up next is the obscure project Haraam and seem to inhabit a midpoint between throbbing lower end noise and abstract dark ambience, which is loose and sprawling in scope. With the cover also featuring the tag line of: “Ultraviolent Capitalist Solutions For Ultraviolent Ideological Problems”, it is perhaps indicative of an oblique conceptual underpinning. Four tracks are featured which variously incorporate elements of bass rumbling soundscapes, muted blast furnace eruptions and sweeping widescreen moments, which are occasionally infused with (unidentifiable) field recordings. A positive sense of focus, direction and drive is featured which swings between minimalist and at other times chaotic, and while overall the tape is a decent one but the same time not genre defining or particularly mind blowing.

Third and final tape is from Broken Fingers and across its four tracks the most sonically diverse and original of the bunch.  ‘Indignation Death’ leads off and is a cinematically tinged experimental dark ambient piece with orchestral synth textures, sweeping bass drones and layered elements for added complexity, to create an excellent moody and restrained offering. Cross-Shaped Cut take a step up with some hard poly-rhythmic programmed beats and driving loops to create an excellent track of industrialized techno (i.e. Alberich comes to mind), which become looser and more chaotic as it progresses. Shadow Belly deviates yet again with a tribal industrial soundscape including Japanese chants, ritual percussion, washes of distortion and idling noise. Forth and final track Death Of Understanding is perhaps rather pedestrian as the start (i.e. a straight forward industrial noise workout), although thankfully shifts gears to more interesting with sampled Japanese dialogue and smatterings of Asiatic percussive elements in mid track extending through to its conclusion.

As alluded to above the Broken Fingers tape is the pick of the bunch based on its sonic diversity and overall originality. Packaging wise each tape feature dual sided, 4 panel photocopied cover inserts, housed inside a snap-lock bag and finished with ‘punch label’ sticker for a finish touch. Overall Rats For Serpents sound and aesthetic is worthy of investigation if any of the above sounds of interest.

Con-Dom – How Welcome Is Death To I Who Have Nothing More To Do But Die

Con-Dom – How Welcome Is Death To I Who Have Nothing More To Do But Die 2LP Tesco Organisation 2016

It has to be acknowledged that the approaching this review was a completely daunting task, and consequently it has been a long time in planning due to the magnitude of doing it adequate justice.  This is Con-Dom after all, being 15 long years since 2001’s magnum opus Colour Of A Man’s Skin vinyl set.  While Mike Dando has always used the Con-Dom moniker to explore all manner of manifestations of power and control (…and domination), on this album the thematic focus has turned inwards to something far more personal, which immediately sets it apart for the usual power electronics ‘arm’s length’ presentation and exploration of thematic concepts. To cut to the core of the album, How Welcome Is Death… is Mike’s reflection on his own mother’s death; his feelings and experience during the process; an exploration of euthanasia; and an observation of the institutional suffering resulting from how society addresses terminal illness. It also burrows deep into the question of what is the value of life where the quality of living is non-existent and particularly where the awareness of the individuals own circumstance has all but been lost to diseases such dementia.  To hammer home how personal the explorations of these questions would be to Mike, the cover and booklet features a series of unflinching photos of his mother Nora, which effectively illustrates her wasting away (…and as confronting as this is visually, it does not in any way feel voyeuristic). Musically speaking the material covers 3 sides of vinyl, with the 4th side featuring an etching of the Con-Dom ‘logo’ (…a crouching man, head bowed, but with bound wrists defiantly up-stretched).  Sonically the majority of the material on offer is subdued and more low-key by usual Con-Dom standards, thereby allowing its lyrics to be spoken and fully comprehended. The tracks are further augmented with dialogue samples and short snippets of what appear to be recordings of his own mother in nursing home or hospice, which then functions to illustrate the often banal context of the suffering of many at the end of their lives.

After a short introductory and sample of a rather twee ditty of a song celebrating the elderly (Grandad You’re Lovely (Silently Falling About), the upbeat mood is quickly obliterated by Living Death; a 13 minute track of invasive droning noise and double tracked, spoken vocals. Lyrically this is delivered from the first person perspective of Nora which charts both external observations and internal dialogue. Illustrating the descent into loss of bodily control and memory, it also includes some secondary lines of text which point accusations of financial embezzlement at Mike himself (…noting that paranoia is a symptom of dementia). After another short interlude piece, the title track then emerges are more typical of Con-Dom’s sound based around a thick wall of bulldozing analogue rumble, while the vocals are spoken in an authoritarian style, as if delivering proclamations from a pulpit (…although the style of delivery is the effective opposite of the message being articulated).  The following track Chocolates features an invasive throbbing bass rumble coupled with needling noise as the basis for Mike’s world weary reading out what is effectively amounts to a statement of intent of an unidentified person to commit suicide.  Lyrically it reveals an individual suffering from an incurable terminal illness, but who has the clear resolve to take their own life on their own terms before they were physically unable to do so. T4 is another lengthy track based on animated layered noise and vocal wails bleeding in and out of the mix, is coupled with a German language vocal sample which from details of the cover relates to a 1939 letter petition seeking a mercy killing for a mother suffering from Parkinson’s Disease (…although the track’s title of T4 also references a controversial Nazi era program involving forced involuntary euthanasia). Despite the subdued sonic tone of the bulk of the album, Just Fuckin’ Die stands out based on it hard and anthemic power electronics style of fractured loops and shuddering distortion, and the only vocals on the album which elevate to the trademark flanged aggressive barrage.  The fact that this track is even included on the album, with its brutal yet strangely maudlin lyrics, is testament to the blunt and unflinching honesty Mike has shown in exploration of its theme, no matter how unpalatable the expression of a personal internalised thought may seem when spoken out loud. Following this piece is Ending (Nora), a relatively calm track, being not much more than a cavernous rumbling mass, but with the inclusion of the incoherent mutterings, this may in fact be a recording of Nora’s dying moments (…the album finally concludes in the manner in which it starts with another short sample of a twee song again celebrating the elderly).

Without doubt How Welcome Is Death… is a searing and absolutely personal exploration of questions of the value of life in the face death and the manner in which people die in the modern age. As a result it is a thematically difficult album to experience and particularly more so for anyone who has experienced a similar process with the passing of a family member. Through this album Mike show how far ahead he is conceptually and highlights the human core of what he explores through the prism of Con-Dom.  Equally How Welcome Is Death… functions to hold a mirror up to the fallacy of the oft faux celebration of strength and the overt obsession with death that preoccupies so much of the post-industrial underground.  As articulated on this album it is not ‘at a distance’ detachment; this is raw human emotion; as lived and as experienced by Mike.  How Welcome Is Death… is a brave album in its brutal honesty and although matches the level achieved on a Colour Of A Man’s Skin, for the all the reasons set out above, stands separate and apart.

Pterygium – Grip

Pterygium – Grip MC Algebra of Need 2017

Pterygium are an Australia based solo project of Hank Gillett who recently had an excellent contribution on the Tesco Organisation Projekt Neue Ordnung II 4xLP boxset.  Noting also that I have previously reviewed Pterygium’s debut tape The Revival Of Unwritten Laws (reviewed here), while it was an interesting in concept and stylistic execution, at the same time was not a release that I returned to for multiple listens. However with Grips substantially differing in sound and approach to the debut, it has resulted in a tape that has been on high rotation for the last month or more.

In an attempt to categorise the sounds on Grips a general descriptor of ‘dark ambient meets industrial noise’ might be a good tag to apply given its multi-layering and dual focus of the majority of compositions.  Effectively the tracks are doubled-edged where maudlin elements mix with the abrasive; and the minimalistic yet melodic tones blend with sharper distortion squalls.  A comparison to other artists like Ke/Hil or Damian Dubrovnic is then highlighted, but not so much for sounding anything like either, rather Grips is similar by virtue of its cold, clinical and controlled approach, and where layers and loops are added and sub-tracked with clear compositions focus and intent.

The Male Antipathy leads off the 6 compositions with deep grinding drones, mid toned synths, yet the rising layered washes of static push the piece into headier territory.  Facult of Rapture then follows a similar trajectory, yet the distortion of this piece if heaver and more invasive. Playing with sonic depth and sparse composition A Child Council is an excellent example of sonic restraint to generate is maudlin atmosphere (…although the sharper static briefly makes an appearance late track). In the later part of the tape fractured minimalist rhythms, morse code blips and floating synths form the backbone on Quitting Towards a Solid Surface, while Drainout Extort is perhaps a standout for its sparse and meandering dour cinematic/ sc-fi type mood.

On Grips Pterygium have opted for an instrumental approach which is considered, refined and delivered with clear artistic intent, which is in clear contrast to some current current strains of underground post-industrial music which churns pure filth and nastiness. With its 6 tracks spanning a mere 34 minutes, the play time is short and leaving me wanting more (…much more in fact), but this is a far better position to be in rather than dealing with a release which simply drags for being overly long.  Don’t let the obscurity of the project or label deter you, this is high caliber stuff.

Kevlar – New Fears New Fights

Kevlar – New Fears New Fights LP Unrest Productions 2017

Since 2014 Kevlar have issued two full lengths and a cassette EP, with New Fears New Fights constituting their third full album. In then making a perhaps obvious comparison to earlier output, while I do like Kevlar’s prior albums (Alpha Strife and Criteria), at the same time I found they tended to not stay in rotation long in favour of other listening choices.  But it is from this perspective where New Fears New Fights standard apart, given there is an immediate sense of urgency, increased aggression and overt antagonism to this which elevates it to the next level.

To then comment on a projects within an industrial/ power electronics style, clearly there is no shame in reflecting inspiration, but this is also on the proviso that the end result needs to be more than a mere copyist project. Although direct comparisons can be drawn here to now classic elements from German and UK scenes (i.e. simple shuddering synth lines, layered loops, cascading distortion and antagonistic flanged vocals), with their focused and honed style Kevlar absolutely achieved a personal and most importantly a current take on this sound. 8 tracks feature on the album, with each spanning 4-6 minutes each, which should give an appreciation of the direct focus on display.

With a battle cry sample of “we must not be afraid to define our enemy”, Triumph Of Fear kicks in hard with driving loops buzzing distortion and crowd and alarm field recording adding to the overall tension. A great start.  With Power To Act feeling as if a lengthy bridging piece to the more focused Power Of Blade, with the later being a standout track of burrowing distortion, layered loops and flange treated if the attacking and antagonistic vocals which are mixed prominently upfront in the mix (…and which partly reminds of The Grey Wolves classic track Victory Through Violence). The title track then rounds out Side A with a stuttering rhythm, bulldozing drones and proclamation styled vocals. Another excellent track.  Mechanism opens Side B, and another example of simplicity creating fist pumping and blood boiling impact, achieved via urgent cascading loops, a general buzzing and queasy tonality (…and while a number of vocal samples are employed the main decipherable element is repeated word “incompatible”). Martyrs Crown with its brooding and atmospheric tone and looped method of construction reminds of German styled heavy electronics/ power electronics approach not too far from that of Ex.Order or early Anenzephalia. Despite is forceful tone, blown out oscillating noise and jagged tonal outbursts, Barbed Wire is entrenched with a morbid by aggressive tone to round out the album.

Based on Unrest Productions’ current roster, the label is shining a spotlight on the UK underground which from the outside looking in appears to be the strongest and most active underground scene currently operating, with Kevlar’s New Fears New Fights being a pinnacle example. Packaging wise the simple greyscale cover and insert features only basic information and functions to hammer home its direct impact. Although not reinventing the wheel Kevlar have issued an extremely impressive industrial/ power electronics LP and which is absolutely representative of the best of what the underground has to offer right now.

Am Not – The Developing World

Am Not – The Developing World LP Tesco Organisation 2017

Based on the debut album Unpunished from 2015 (reviewed here), Am Not made a strong impact on the underground. Now two years on Tamon Miyakita returns with his follow up, but this time noting a move from the original home of Unrest Productions to Tesco Organisation.

Before providing commentary on the music, an analysis of the album’s art is warranted given the cover appears to be embedded with layered symbolism. To this end an observation to be made is that the main image showing Helios, the Greek Sun God, and based on Plato’s Republic Helios is the symbolic offspring of the idea of ‘goodness’. This image is then overlaid with a semi-transparent photo of a modern skyscraper, while the album’s title is designed backwards and can only be read properly in a mirror’s reflection. An interpretation of this combined symbolism could be as a comment on whether the principle of progress and subsequent global hegemony forms part of the greater ‘good’ of the evolution of society, or in fact should be regarded with caution by developing countries as a controlling corporate agenda with negative consequences (…although these observations may be completely off the mark and others interpretations may yield other interesting and divergent results).

To then the speak of the music, the element of surprise which was generated via Unpunished has given way to a degree of expectation for this new album. Upon first listens the same song based format and meticulous approach to the construction of the tracks is noted, but at the same time the sound palate is more varied and less sharp edged or clinical, but instead opting for a rougher and harsher tone in its blend of industrial and power electronics elements. The detached and strongly observational lyrics delivered in an apathetic or deadpan style are again a standout, although the vocals on album tracks Martyr’s Little Helper 1, Market Penetration and Beleaguered and Native II do rely on a heavily flanged treatment to excellent result. Likewise the guest vocals courtesy of Martin Wilford/ Shift on The Hunt differ by being a heady barrage of unbridled anger, functioning as another layer within the sonic framework of forceful cyclic drones, spitting static and pounding junk metal clatter. White Crimes is a particular album standout, being a contemplative piece of subdued rhythmic programming, squelching/ fluttering noise and sustained drones, as the vocals drive home its clear message within a understated but anthemic style. Perhaps then constituting the ‘hit song’ of the album, Home is a revelation, with its melodious organ drone, swaying rhythm and cyclic percussive beat and now trademark spoken vocals (…which is a thematic imagining of the People’s Republic of China welcoming Hong Kong back into the fold in 1997).

With this album Am Not clearly demonstrates a project which understands its context and linage, but has taken such a template to make an individual, forward thinking thematic approach. With a highly varied sound over its 10 tracks The Developing World is no mere retread of Unpunished, but builds upon what has come before to exceptional result. The LP version comes with a full colour A4 12 page booklet with graphics and all lyrics, and overall is clearly another high recommendation.

Dødsmaskin ‎– Fullstendig Brent

Dødsmaskin ‎– Fullstendig Brent CD Malignant Records 2017

Dødsmaskin (…translating to ‘Death Machine’) are new project and signing to Malignant Records. ‘Fullstendig Brent’ is the debut from this Norwegian duo, and from a geographic perspective Norway has far less of a profile than say Sweden when dealing with this type of music. Thematically the album then deals with 17th Century witch trails, with the title translating to an approximation of the English words ‘holocaust’ or ‘completely burnt’ provides further conceptual context for its darkly hued drones and jaggedly erupting post-industrial soundscapes.

Crackling fires samples underpin the majority of the opening track ‘Baldom’, which is coupled with an archaic and forlorn atmosphere driven by a maudlin violins, mid track dour synth melody and later segment of intense fire blasting factory floor ambience (…aka solid death industrial). ‘Heksetimen’ follows with an offering of hollow, grinding drones and mood of lurking malevolence (…again with fire samples featuring as a prominent and consistent element), where this track also follows the format of the first track by evolving into a slow, pounding death industrial soundscape. ‘Christoffering Orning’ is the 10 minute centre piece, which commences with chanted religious proclamations, prior to leaping into a cinematically tinged, throbbing post-industrial soundscape with the anguished wailing a lone female (…clearly representative of the torture of an accused witch).  After the grinding intensity of this track, ‘De Ti – 1621’ takes a more atmospheric route, with a sparse echoed dark ambient soundscape, with floating female vocals (…but mid-track this also drives towards a grinding death industrial frame). For the final of the 5 tracks ‘Dømt På Sitt Liv Til Ild Og Bål’, it perhaps demonstrates the greatest degree of restraint with a distant tolling bell, manipulated micro-tonal textures, and a final segment consisting of a ‘duet’ between sparse strings and a tragically toned piano melody.

With ‘Fullstendig Brent’ featuring 5 tracks between 7 to 10 minutes each provides an overall run time of 42 minutes, yet given the presented material is varied and highly detailed in sonic scope the album feels much longer than this (…this observation is meant in a positive light). In sonically articulating its heavy weight theme, the means of recording is highly detailed, nuanced and expertly constructed, where passages of relative calm provides for balance and relief from other passages of highly tensile atmospheres. Likewise ‘Fullstendig Brent’ is noteworthy in that achieves a cinematic soundtrack feel (…rather than a more typical ‘song’ oriented framework), and consequently has resulted in a divergent and high caliber death industrial offering.