IRM – Anthology 2CD Autarkeia 2012
Is it really thirteen years since the then young upstarts IRM burst onto the power electronics scene with their debut ‘Red’ album? I guess the answer is ‘yes’ as here we are with an ‘anthology’ released to celebrate the fifteen year anniversary of the formation of the group (…time certainly seems to pass quickly). Starting in 1997 as a two piece and consisting of Erik Jarl on music and Martin Bladh on vocals, IRM issued a single demo ‘The Green Tape’ in 1998, before the debut vinyl only ‘Red’ album the following year. Likewise in the intervening years they have since evolved into a trio, with Mikael Oretoft joining on bass on 2007 to further flesh out their powerful and oppressive industrial/ experimental/ power electronics soundscapes.
Although very much driven by a standard power electronics framework in their formative years, IRM’s sound was still varied and forceful, and by demonstrating an intelligent if not obsessive streak with their inspiration and conceptually varied themes they quickly garnered a loyal following. Likewise over the subsequent passage of years IRM have further honed and refined their sound into something particularly unique and individual, consequentially elevating themselves into a league all their own (…refer to the last album ‘Order4’ as evidence in chief). Referencing their style IRM evoke sound structures ranging from meticulous experimental/ industrial soundscapes (shimmering metallic drones, subterranean bass, echoed percussive elements and an array of other tonal textures), through to harder and harsher power electronics aspects. One constant however has been the yelled and slightly treated vocals which have remained a trademark throughout.
‘Anthology’ itself is split into two halves, consisting of a collection of studio tracks (CD1), and another collection of live tracks recorded at various ‘live actions’ (CD2). The studio material includes an unreleased piece in addition to a collation of tracks from various sources, including: ‘Sweetness Will Overcome’ comp, split 10”ep with Skin Area, ‘Four Studies For Crucifixion 10”ep, ‘Nihil’ 2LP comp and two tracks from the ‘The Green Tape’. With the studio tracks presented here in reverse chronological order, it provides the listener with a clear perspective of the evolutionary arc of the group: from the hard and clinical earlier programmed sound, to the later more freeform framework with a greater reliance on organic sound textures and elements of real instrumentation (freeform bass, disharmonic strings, stilted piano notes, sparse percussion etc).
The first studio track on CD1 is the unreleased 2008 track ‘Order’ and appears it may have been recorded during the same recording sessions for the ‘Order4’ album. Here the track is intense and domineering in its musical delivery, consisting of slow throbbing bass, seething industrial tones, experimental sound textures and dual tracked spoken and yelled vocals found on more recent IRM material. Regarding the balance of the studio tracks, it is the ‘Four Studies For Crucifixion’ compositions which stand out as particularly focused, being constructed around pulsating industrial soundscapes, urgent, emotive vocals and disharmonic trombone wails. These four tracks are also probably most representative of the transitional point between the earlier forceful sound approach of the group, and the burgeoning looser and more experimental focus of later material. However when referencing earlier IRM material, the five tracks from the ‘Nihil’ vinyl only compilation certainly hit hard (…clinical, throbbing, heavy and harsh power electronics on display here), and represent a clear document of why IRM garnered such high praise early in their career.
Moving onto the second disc the thirteen live tracks are derived from seven ‘live actions’ recorded between 2002 and 2011. The live tracks however are not presented in any sort of chronological order, rather the listening experience has been enhanced by the re-ordering and further mixing of tracks to present a singular flowing set. Although slightly looser in presentation, the sound is faithful and recognisable as live renditions of their studio counterparts, and in many instances the vocals appear more urgent and unhinged in their delivery. Referencing a specific live track (and final album track at that) ‘Sebastian’ is a stunning example of live experimental minimalism, constructed with a nonstandard power electronics element of repetitive and sustained disharmonic piano notes, coupled with agonised flanged vocals – an exceptional end to an exceptional release.
Beyond the music, the packaging is stunning and has been given the special Autarkeia 2CD box set treatment, with distinctive embossed digi-pack / box cover, including colour booklet with lyrics and artwork courtesy of vocalist Martin Bladh. Ultimately ‘Anthology’ is not a mere collection of scattered tracks, rather represents a strong document of the group’s history and as with all IRM’s outputs this is mandatory listening, made all the more essential by the stunning packaging.