Caul – The Long Dust

Caul the long dust

Caul – The Long Dust CD Malignant Records 2013

Caul’s gradual ascent from murky dark ambient depths to more serene musical fields has been a slow process over some sixteen years and multiple albums, which has certainly been a positive evolution to bear witness to.  Yet during this metamorphosis rather than leaving behind core aspects of their sound, it has been more a case of augmenting the haunting dark ambient drones with more musical aspects.  As such the maudlin atmospheric layers remain, acting as the base for the instrumental elements (including: percussion, bass, guitars, piano, orchestral strings & brass, sparse vocal textures etc), which are seamlessly woven into the musical tapestry.

Whilst acknowledging the continued presence of a dark ambient undercurrent, it is the addition of the more musical elements that have had a profound effect on the overall mood.  Accordingly the word ‘ethereal’ comes prominently to mind when reflecting on the tonal characteristics and overall atmosphere of current Caul material.  As a result the definitive mood presented can be described as being in a ‘4AD’ atmospheric style, reminiscent of number of acts coming from that legendary label.  In fact some compositions with their orchestral and semi-tribal percussive elements play out very much like an instrumental Dead Can Dance song, which is a compliment to the quality of the song writing.

For those who have not followed Caul since their last album released on Malignant Records way back in 1998, you will be in for quite a surprise as to how far Caul’s musicality has been pushed over the intervening years.  However for those who have keenly followed Caul’s progression, this is another welcomed step in their evolutionary process.

Navicon Torture Technologies – Your Suffering Will Be Legendary

NTT your suffering will be legendary

Navicon Torture Technologies – Your Suffering Will Be Legendary 2CD Malignant Records 2013

‘Your Suffering Will Be Legendary’ does not herald the return of Navicon Torture Technologies (NTT), but resurrects a collection of bonus tracks that were originally packaged together with ‘The Gospel of the Gash’ double album (…mind you in a super limited box set of 100 copies).  Incidentally ‘The Gospel of the Gash’ which was released in 2009 also constituted the final official release from NTT before Lee Bartow relaunched under the new guise of Theologian.

Regarding the eighteen tracks that make up ‘Your Suffering Will Be Legendary’, these are not merely left over studio material, but constitute collaboration tracks from eighteen different artists, both well known and obscure.  For posterities sake the acts which feature alongside NTT include (in order of appearance): Aun, Black Sun, Cenotype, The [Law Rah] Collective, Inswarm, Covet, Autoclave I.I, Herbst9, Hecate, Jarboe, Deutsch Nepal, Fragment King, Kristoffer Nystroms Orkester, Prometheus Rising, Steve Moore, Eidulon, Troum and The Bird Cage Theatre.

Given the magnitude of material here (which spans two CD’s and a total play time of a whopping 143 minutes), there is little to be gained by slogging through a track by track review.  Yet to provide an overall impression, the music sits mostly within a droning/ dark ambient style, with some pieces pushing towards heavier death industrial and power electronics spheres (being entirely consistent with the varied sound NTT is recognised for).

Despite its collaborative nature all tracks are of a high quality standard that manage to hang together as a consistent and coherent album.  Clearly this can be put down to NTT’s base material providing a degree of tonal consistency, which has allowed contributors to weave their own varied elements into the compositions.  Although that there is nothing on here which could be deemed as a weak contribution, conversely some of the stand out moments to this ear includes:

  • Covet – ‘I Won’t Survive In A World Without You’: understated dark ambience with maudlin piano and orchestral melody which evokes a bleak cinematic atmosphere.
  • Autoclave I.I – ‘An Exercise in Pain-Extended Version’: warm enveloping drones, wide screen choral vocals textures and thunderous percussive underbelly.
  • Herbst9 – ‘Eclipsed By A Blue Star’: a tribal infused, cavernous dark ambient monster that stretches out over 20 minutes.
  • Deutsch Nepal – ‘Victvm Vermis’: meditative drones with a fantastic tribal rhythm element and clean sung echoed vocals.
  • Fragment King – ‘Gumrot (decaying face edit)’: upfront mid paced IDM programmed beats offset against a droning undercurrent.
  • Eilulon – ‘Pillars of Flesh’: Dread filled catacomb ambience combined with deep orchestral elements, slow pounding beat and part yelled part sung vocals.

Beyond the musical sphere, the packaging is also exceptional and mirrors that of the DVD sized, multi panel fold out cover of ‘The Gospel of the Gash’.  Either as an essential bookend to ‘The Gospel of the Gash’, or otherwise as a stand-alone release, ‘Your Suffering Will Be Legendary’ is a welcomed more formal addition to NTT’s legacy.

Grunt – Someone is Watching / Europe After Storm

Someone is Watching

Europe After Storm

Grunt – Someone Is Watching CD Force Majeure 2011

Grunt – Europe After Storm CD Force Majeure / Industrial Recollections 2012

These two albums are not new, instead are re-releases from the lengthy Grunt back catalogue.  Incidentally the combined material was recorded in 1998 with ‘Europe After Storm’ also containing some live tracks from 1999.  Whilst both albums clearly sit within the European power electronics genre, here there seems to be a general reliance on oscillating synth textures for a basis of the sound.  This aspect effectively highlights a clear difference between older and newer material, as recent Grunt albums appear to focus on self produced and specifically recorded sounds (sheet metal, effects units, homemade noise apparatus etc.).

In its original version ‘Someone Is Watching’ was first issued on tape in 1998 and given its limitation of 128 copies it clearly warrants this less limited CD repress of 500 copies.  Likewise as is suggested by the title, the album’s concept focuses on CCTV / video surveillance and the associated control that a faceless authority seeks to impose by such technological means.  Album opener ‘Watch Your Back’ feature a prominent synth drone, a crumbling mass of distortion and high pitched processed vocals which sweep and pan trough the mix over the extended 9 minute length.  Definitely a great start and with the track being heavy and noisy but at the same time structured and loosely composed, it establishes the prevailing theme throughout the album.  Interestingly ‘You Can’t Hide’ is quite reminiscent of Propergol’s ‘Cleanshaven’ album, due to the prominent use of movie dialogue samples and subdued ominous atmosphere, yet as ‘Cleanshaven’ was also released in 1998, the question is who might have influenced who, or are the similarities a mere coincidence?  Towards the middle of the album ‘Secrets Of Technology’ takes a much looser approach and is particularly heavy with an overloaded noise productions and metallic clatter, with the distorted vocals barely being able to break though the sonic mass.  Regarding the concluding arc of the album, the final three tracks each contain a notable controlled sweeping noise aesthetic, which evokes a stalking and threatening type mood that certainly suits the album’s concept.

Moving onto ‘Europe After Storm’ it has a slightly more storied history as it was first issued as four track cassette in 1998, before being reissued on CD in 2001 with three additional studio tracks and four live tracks.  This version contains the same material from the 2001 CD release but is packaged here is a standard jewel-case.  Although from the same era, from the outset it is evident that ‘Europe After Storm’ differs from ‘Someone Is Watching’, given it sonically it is more brutal and less atmospheric as a result.   ‘Project Eden’ opens ‘Europe After Storm’ and descends with an assemblage of rough loops, drilling synth elements and heavily processed vocals and a building mass of distortion and random clatter.   On the other hand ‘N-Force’ uses a sustained synth drone to provide a somewhat filmic quality to a backdrop of modulated noise, which is soon crushed by the following track ‘Blood On Concrete’ with squalled noise layers and prominent anger filled power electronics vocals.  Alternately ‘Peacekeepers’ stylistically shifts the sound towards a death industrial tone, due the heavy droning synth line and distant noise and sampled dialogue, although the later half of the track does morph into a proper power electronics blizzard.  ‘Cleansweep’ rounds out the collection of studio tracks, which loosely knits together layers of pulsing noise, dialogue loops and chaotic vocals. Of the four live tracks, these conceptually fit the studio tracks (two studio tracks from ‘Europe After Storm’ feature in live version), but within the live context there is a looser and heavier presentation, including the vocals that come across as more prominent and forceful.  Sonically it seems the live tracks may involve the  use of a backing track (…I could be wrong on this point), which are augmented with live noise and vocals.  Yet either way the live tracks are a solid live representation of studio material.

Clearly both of these older Grunt albums contain strong and focused material, which differ slightly in sound and style consistent with their differing themes.  Likewise both albums have stood the test of time positively and can hold their own within the context the current crop of newer power electronics releases.  Yet when these earlier albums are compared to the current Grunt album ‘World Draped in A Camouflage’, it only emphasises how far Mikko Aspa has pushed his project and the levels of sophistication he has achieved within his chosen power electronics framework.

Maison Close – Maison Close

Masion Close

Maison Close – Maison Close CD Force Majeure 2012

Maison Close is not a new project/ album, rather is a ten year anniversary repress which has been reissued in much the same presentation and content as the original release.

Regarding its genre Maison Close could be described as something like noise infused dark ambience, which verges on a windswept power electronics sound.  As such the sonic palette consists of sustained analogue drones, sweeping ominous textures and slow grinding loops which evokes a partial linage to the early Loki Foundation heavy electronics style – think Predominance, Dagda Mor, Ex.Order and early Inade.  The overall atmosphere generated by the heavy use of dialogue samples is also reminiscent of what Propergol would later do with the same concept, yet Maison Close generates a more consistent soundtrack type atmosphere due to the singular source which the movie dialogue is sampled from.

Regarding its usage of sampled dialogue, thematically the album focuses on the 1971’s motion picture ‘Johnny Got His Gun’ which makes for great conceptual fodder.  Although the movie is in effect an anti war tome told from the perspective of an severely wounded soldier, here Maison Close have focused on aspects which address the existential fear of being mentally cognisant, but trapped in a comatose and non-responsible body with the following panic and terror which would ensue.  Noting the albums visuals have also been lifted from the movie, the album very much plays out as an alternate experimental soundtrack to the source material.

Noting the calmer arc of the first half, things step up on mid album track ‘Tom-nihil-rec’ that contains the first use of prominent vocals, presented in an agonised power electronics style that soar above the sonic undercurrent of grinding and crumbling noise.   The track ‘Pain’ also utilised prominent vocals, which achieves an agonizing climax with its combination of swelling distortion and deranged vocal delivery.  ‘Interferences’ mines a similar vein to Brighter Death Now’s death ambient sound, which here combines a cavernous echo chamber ambience with a prominent singular mid range piecing tone that burrows deep into your psyche and making this track anything but easy listening.  A heavy noise squall and agonised vocals then reappear on ‘Eclats de vie’ before one final section of sampled movie dialogue to conclude the album (“SOS help me… SOS help me…” repeated…).

Given where others have taken this sort of sound in the years following the original release, I would not necessarily call this classic or ground-breaking.  Yet it is still a solid album all the same which had successfully merged its overall tone and atmosphere with its conceptual context.

Abre Ojos – Häxan

abre ojos

Abre Ojos – Häxan DVDr not on label (self released) 2012

Abre Ojos are a project that I have only been made aware of recently, but from their self-described tag line of “improvised sound and vision for dystopian meditation” it provides a strong indication that the project is concerned with more than just its audial aspects.  Further investigation reveals that Abre Ojos functions as a staunchly multi-media project where the visuals as a counterpoint to the music are considered an integral part of the overall whole.  Evidently ‘Häxan’ is their fifth release since 2009.

Conceptually the album has utilised a 1922 silent film titled ‘Häxan – Witchcraft Through the Ages’ as an initial inspiration source (…albeit with a intention of inverting the message of the film).  Likewise visual elements from the film have been sampled and in turn manipulated and processed beyond recognition.  The end result is a multi-media album containing specific visuals for six tracks (which incidentally span 66.6 minutes to obviously align with the conceptual content).

Given the multi-media nature of the project it would be remiss not to mention the visual aspects first which are certainly a visual feast of kaleidoscopic effects. Here the viewers’ retinas are treated to multi-coloured miasma of computer generated geometric shapes which are constantly shifting and morphing into new patterns and sequenced formations. During some sections the visuals are limited to a swirling mass at the centre of a black screen, whilst during others they extend across the entire visual frame.  Although it is somewhat difficult to describe the visuals in words*, they are most definitely hypnotic to watch and constitute the perfect visual backdrop for this type of music in a live setting – of which Abre Ojos do exactly that when playing live. (*Hint: the album covers gives a good indication of what to expect).

Coupled with the visuals the audio elements consist of some excellent archaic drones and cosmic dark ambience, where each of the six tracks follow a similar sound palate and sonic structure.  Effectively this is droning dark ambience done with a heavy dose of pulsing cosmic radiance, bass heavy rumblings and sections of jagged tonality that avoid becoming all out noise.  Likewise there is a heavily processed aspect to the sustained synth textures and cyclic drones, which are also occasionally underscored by slightly more animated pulsing rhythms and crystalline metallic elements.  Yet this is not to say that ‘Häxan’ is a totally alien soundscape bereft of human aspects, as ritual chimes and processed vocals (ranging from whispers to chanted choir like textures) are sporadically utilised, thus providing some earthly grounding to the material.  To give some more focused and comparative markers, ‘Häxan’ has a certain linage with the dark ambient material coming from the likes of Malignant Records or Loki Foundation – think Phelios, Phaenon, Sphäre Sechs, Blood Box etc and possibly the abstract elements of Inade for suitable reference.

From the liner notes evidently both the music and visuals are interactive and were performed and recorded live in the studio, which is surprising as both the music and visuals come across as far more considered and composed than a live studio recording might suggest.  However due to the similarity of the sound across the six tracks ‘Häxan’ is best approached as a singular metamorphosing and meditative composition.  Likewise despite being a multi-media project when approached from a mediative listening perspective the music is such that it can actually stand on its own as a pure audio piece.

Noting this is a self released production the overall packaging and presentation is slick and professional and although the physical release was limited to a mere 50 hand numbered copies, the full release is available for viewing or download via their website and bandcamp pages.  At this point Abre Ojos may be an obscure project to many, but based on ‘Häxan’ further attention is warranted.

http://abreojos.net/

http://abre-ojos.bandcamp.com/

Various Artists – Epicurean Escapism

EE

Various Artists – Epicurean Escapism MC / DVDr The Epicurean / Silken Tofu 2012

Not a typical compilation in the traditional sense, here we have a multi-media document that was issued as a companion release for a live festival of the same name (held in Berlin on 7th of July 2012).  This release features all artists who performed live, including:  IRM, Krank, Anemone Tube, Jarl, Human Larvae, as well as further contributions from Dissecting Table and Martin Bladh (who both presented video screenings at the festival).  Although festival compilations can often be somewhat uninspired, ‘Epicurean Escapism’ avoids this pitfall in term of both the artistic contributions and the packaging and presentation (silver bubble wrap pocket sleeve and pro-duplicated tape).

Krank (an old resurrected project of John Murphy) is first up, presenting a dose of ritual industrial sounds – multi-tracked vocals and myriad on tonal textures are the order the day here.  Anemone Tube follow with a remixed track from the excellent ‘Dream Landscape’ album, presenting a multi-dimensional dark ambient track constructed field recording and droning synth textures – great stuff as expected.  The next track is a devastating live attack from IRM, here presenting the title track from their last album ‘Order4’.  Built on a base of heavy droning distortion and crumbling static Martin Bladh’s vocals suitably unhinged, sounding if he is pushing himself to an absolute point of collapse.  Jarl rounds out the first side of the tape and present an animated yet meditative ambient track consisting of a multitude of clinical throbs and pulsing elements, and a looped bass line that is quite reminiscent of early Deutsch Nepal.

Flipping over to side two Human Larvae present two short tracks in quick succession. The first is a layered dark ambient / industrial track with an ominous droning atmosphere, whilst the second drives a more static riddled power electronics tone including obligatory yelled/ distorted vocals.  As my first introduction to Human Larvae both are solid and enjoyable tracks in their given styles.  Dissecting Table follows whose track is the longest of the compilation, but from my perspective is the weakest (…but to qualify this view I have never been a huge fan).  The track presented here is freeform noisy industrial, with cascading waves of distortion and heavy dose of digital clatter, rounded out with aggressive processed vocals in the dying minutes.  Anemone Tube return to conclude the music part of the release with a calm and melancholic track, built on a dour synth line and ‘composed’ field recording elements – again an excellent contribution.

In addition to the music, a short art film by Martin Bladh is presented entitled ‘Pig and Tomboy’.  Experimental filmmaking in its styling, the short video juxtaposes visual cuts ups of various disturbing scenes being acted out (…Martin Bladh and an accomplice in a pig mask).  These images play out seemingly in response to an audio collage of interview dialogue which has been collated and contributed by Peter Sotos (…dealing with a girl’s decent into drug use, prostitution and subsequent death by unknown means).  Interestingly in some sections the footage is filmed via the reflection of a mirror, where the tripod camera that has captured the scene is clearly visible in frame, which raises questions of whether the audience is a mere passive viewer, or perhaps an active voyeur just out of frame.  The video certainly warrants more analysis and dissection than can be provided here, but it is uncompromisingly executed by Martin Bladh, which should be no surprise at this point given his artistic endeavours to date.

From packing to the multiple formats of contributed material, it provides ‘Epicurean Escapism’ with a clear point of difference from the more ‘standard’ approach to a festival oriented compilation. Yes this is ludicrously limited at 100 copies, but worthy of investigation all the same.

Trepaneringsritualen – Ritualer, Blot & Botgöring

TxRxP

Trepaneringsritualen – Ritualer, Blot & Botgöring LP Strömkarlen / Verlautbarung 2012

Although not constituting a new album from T x R x P, this is a welcomed vinyl reissue of their debut cassette from 2008.  As the tape was issued in an almost unobtainable run of 75 copies it is a positive to be given the opportunity to obtain an insight into the early works of this project via this re-release.

From the commencement of the first track it is clearly evident that the sound of ‘Ritualer, Blot & Botgöring’ differs from the more composed and occult / ritualised sound of recent material.  Rather the sound presented here is of the lo-fi murky death industrial type, which draws parallels and comparisons with the more ambient works of Brighter Death Now.  As such the prevalent atmosphere could be hyperbolically described as ‘the creeping dread of the unknown’, or ‘the rising horror of what might be lurking in the basement’.

‘Bloodletting Ritual’ opens the album and delivers a cavernous echoed undercurrent offset with gritty, lo-fi grinding textures.  ‘Black Heaven/ White Hell’ follows with a sporadic knocking percussive element coupled with mid to high pitched noise squeals, before settling into a grinding bass loaded furrow (…the track bleeding out over an extended 13+ minutes).

‘Knife Play’ opens the second side and is slightly more animated with its bass percussive pulse again being partially buried by echoed lo-fi muck, before falling away into a muffled ambient segment with occasional rasping vocalisations.  Alternately ‘Bestraffning & Beloning’ is one of the more composed tracks of the album, with a slow pounding beat and oscillating noise frequencies providing the death industrial rhythm, and is one of the main contenders for the aforementioned Brighter Death Now compassion.

With the overall presentation, the design of the predominantly black LP sleeve is simple and classy, adorned with images of trephination (both medieval woodcuts and photographic examples).  Noting that this was issued with a print run of a mere 250 it is anticipated that copies won’t hang around for too long.