Contagious Orgasm / Kadaver – A Tragedy Without A Border Line CD Wrotycz Records 2011
Just so is stated up front, I will admit that I am not intimately familiar with the musical outputs of either of these contributing projects. However I am at least aware that the Israeli project Kadaver works within a broad power electronics and death industrial sound, whilst the long active Contagious Orgasm from Japan has traversed many sounds across experimental, noise, industrial and ambient spheres over the last 25 years.
For this collaborative album, three lengthy tracks are presented spanning between 17 and 21 minutes each. However in actuality the three tracks give the impression of being part of a singular and much larger album length piece, which spans aspects of experimental industrial, noise, and ambient. Given the sprawling nature of the tracks the relatively loose and freeform nature of the compositions is openly displayed, which flow and evolve through multiple segments, rather than adhering to a more focused and composed structure. As such some diverse sonic elements are utilised, ranging from flaying noise, micro-tonal field recordings, humming synth textures, spoken vocals samples, sampled and treated string quartet/ piano samples, pulsing distortion, hazy ambience and droning soundscapes etc. Likewise with the loose combination elements it achieves a hallucinogenic aspect to the bizarrely tinged atmospheres. Effectively the album’s success is in its ability to evokes a dreamlike state, where tracks veer from the intensively nightmarish to the outright weird without being jarring or disjointed.
With my lack of familiarity with both projects I can’t really say which aspects of this may lean towards each individual project, however this may be a moot point as this album has certainly been a surprising and unexpectedly challenging listen. Given the ‘out there’ aspects, clearly this would be an album suited for the more sonically adventurous, rather than for those wanting their fix of a particular genre.
Abandoned Asylum – Derelicts Of Distant Hope CD Malignant Records 2013
Although apparently formed in 2004, ‘Derelicts Of Distant Hope’ represents the formal debut album from this Polish project and yet another new addition to the Malignant roster. Upon cursory listens, this album (to my minds-eye at least), appeared to present Abandoned Asylum’s version of the ‘brooding menace of deep recesses, caverns and crypts’ style of dark ambience. However this initial impression seemed to be rather at odds with the track titles, which are more indicative of galactic and deep space themes, evidenced through titles such as ‘Intersellar Transmissions’ and ‘Shades Of Nebular Images’. Yet regardless of this potential misinterpretation of the sonic picture on my part, Abandoned Asylum delivers some excellent dark ambient material. Here some expertly construct soundscapes of interweaving/ spiralling /drifting drones are to be found, intermixed with mechanised static and a sound production with a deep and echoed clarity. Likewise rather than being minimalist in tone, tracks follow an ebb and flow technique which builds to intense dark ambient crescendos.
The deep monolithic tone of ‘Drifting in Constant Eclipse’ sets itself apart from other album tracks due to its prominent use of gregorian/ choral styled chants, which works extremely well within context of the material, but also brings the inevitable comparison to raison d’etre. ‘Amongst Shapes Unknown To Man‘ sits at the core of the album and is slightly more animated than preceding material, based on a centrally prominent waiving element which cyclically rises to prominent heights, only to recede, repeat and increase in intensity with each rotation. ‘Echoes of Forgotten Origins’ within its slightly heavier and grinding soundscape of deep sub-orchestral horn (and possibly buried choral vocals), features a great late track inclusion of a singular tone akin to a lone submarine depth sounder, which acts as a sonic beacon with the inky blackness. Alternately the cavernous windswept drones of ‘Storms In the Endless Void’ builds to an intense climax and in the process sweeps the album to its conclusion.
Although not a long release at 43 minutes, ‘Derelicts of Distant Hope’ is a focused and well executed album, which does not reinvent the wheel, so much as deliver the goods within the established parameters of the dark ambient genre.
Shift – Hatet / Misären 7”ep Untergeschoss / Filth & Violence 2013
Evidently this 7”ep represents Shift’s ode to Malmö – and this is not meant as a celebration, given the words of the artist: “This is part one of my tribute to Malmö, the shithole I come from.”
‘Hatet-Misären (Kackerlackorna)’ takes the lead and is straight forward and menacing in atmosphere with mid toned static drones, cavernous slow pounding beat, radio chatter (in Swedish?) and buried vocals which ramp up during various sections throughout (…random car horns and traffic noise leads the track to its conclusion). ‘Motstånd-Handling (Duscha Först, Gasa Sen)’ takes up the flip side and starts with more radio samples (…again Swedish?), but is heavier and more forceful than side A. Here the track is focused on a cascading/ crumbling layers of distortion, along with sporadically used harsh vocals. There is little to no variation in the track, just a great example of a forceful and barely composed power electronics style, underscored with harsh distortion charged vocals.
Short and sharp ‘Hatet / Misären’ sees Shift in fine, if not slightly looser and regressive form (given the tracks appear less refined than other current material), but still delivering two harsh and no-frills power electronics tracks. The cover constitutes a photocopied sheet which suits this lo-fi and well executed 7”ep, issued in a limitation of 200 copies.
Phragments – New Kings and New Queens CD Malignant Records 2013
Phragments finally return with new recorded material, some 5 years on from the last full length ‘Earth Shall Not Cover Their Blood’, also issued on Malignant Records. However interestingly the promo material indicates that rather than heralding a new direction for Phragments, this new album should be considered as a special and stand alone release. So from the first cursory listen it is evident that for this album at least Phragments have moved away from structured neo-classical (and occasionally martial infused) compositions, instead opting for more a more abstract dark ambient version of their sound. Likewise the six ‘chapters’ (as referred to on the cover) which make up ‘New Kings and New Queens’, have effectively been composed into a singular flowing 32 minute composition.
Noting its subdued tone and distant stormy atmosphere, the main focus is obviously not on any overt neo-classical elements, yet there are orchestral tonal elements buried in the mix giving the impression of a ghostly and muted neo-classical atmosphere. Here vast widescreen drones are underscored by a muffled orchestral tonality, which evokes a stoic and serious mood which evolves and unfolds at a catatonic pace. Yet the sustained solemn procession gives way to sacral atmospheres on both ‘When Memory Fails, We Disintegrate‘ and ‘New Queens’, given both utilise cathedral sized organs and quasi brass horn type drones.
Packaging wise, the CD is housed in a beautifully presented in a large odd sized 8 panel fold out cardboard cover, the imagery of grey wintery mountain-scapes are a suitable visual representation. With deft compositional skill Phragments have delivered an commendable orchestral dark ambient album.
Steel Hook Prothesis – The Empirics Guild Malignant Records 2013
Steel Hook Prothesis (SHP) are by now a well established name in the US scene and are certainly recognisable for their darkly sinister atmospheres created via a twisted mixture of dark ambient, death industrial and power electronics. ‘The Empirics Guild’ represents their first proper album since ‘Atrocitizer’ which was released in 2008.
‘Rendering Human Tallow’ opens the album with a horror soundtrack type vibe (aka a lone piano melody), but this is soon engulfed in a maelstrom of blasting distortion, which on closer attention is actually heavily processed vocals. Thus within the space of the first few minutes the oppressive tone of the album is clearly and forcefully established. Given SHP’s demonstrated skill in creating broodingly sinister soundscapes, here the tracks are loosely contracted into ‘movements’ rather than typical songs. Likewise with their use of rasping and seething vocals which are heavily treated with scalpel sharp distortion, these have become are a particularly impressive trademark. ‘Debrided Necrotic Tissue’ is noteworthy for its use of echo treated medical dialogue sample within a dark ambient guise, before shifting into sweeping distortion territory and completed with the trademark vocals. Likewise the following track ‘Gula’ is impressive and pushes the tone up a notch with apocalyptic brass horn styled synth layers, metallic pounding rhythms, sweeping tonal noise and distortion flayed vocals. Alternately late albums track ‘Disease Incubator’ allows slightly more breathing space with its lengthy excursion into sparse cavernous drone territory, whilst ‘The Blood Cough’ is reminiscent of the noisiest aspects of another highly regarded death industrial project Stratvm Terror.
Clearly the overarching mood of the album is heavy and morbid thanks to the dark ambient and death industrial elements, whilst the power electronics aspects provide a sonic counterpoint by being sharp and focused, but never overbearing within the sonic template. Essentially ‘The Empirics Guild’ is clearly recognisable as the work of SHP, who have within their established template delivered an impressive addition to both their own and Malignant catalogues.
Iron Fist of the Sun – Who Will Help Me Wash My Right Hand CD Cold Spring 2013
The rather prolific Iron Fist of the Sun (IFOTS) returns with a new album and continues with the now trademark Princess Diana themed artwork, yet it is not immediately evident whether this thematic material also extends to the lyrics and song titles.
Putting questions regarding conceptual content aside, the album opens with the subdued track ‘For You I Will‘, which utilises a repeated bass riff as the main focus, coupled with spoken vocals (…rendered indecipherable due to the distortion treatment), whilst a morse code ‘bleep’ delivers a coded message. ‘The Dog Has No Master’ follows and is also relatively subdued with its deep bass pulse, scattered tonal noise and distortion warped vocals. Thus it takes until the third track ‘Be Forever Green’ to really ramp up into a more ‘standard’ IFOTS power electronics sound, where all sound elements (i.e.queasy loops, pounding percussion and aggressive vocals) are tonally sharp and cleanly separated in the mix. The longest track on the album is the excellent 12 minute ‘Saltpurse’, which during its first half is clinical and morbid in atmosphere with multiple pulsing elements and low synth drones. Alternately the second half of the track is defined by excellent static riddled and melancholic synth layers over which aggressive vocals are delivered (…partly bringing to mind the sound of Nyodene D). The tile track then concludes the album, which is constructed with heavy and sharp multi-layered ‘laser precision’ digital distortion – again with the trademark distortion laced vocals.
With only five tracks and a play time of 36 minutes, this is a relatively short release, yet with its meticulously constructed sound and sharp and clear production, it is another fine example of the varied approach IFOTS has taken to his particular style of industrial and power electronics.
Shift / HH – Full Weight Of The Opposition 10”ep Unsound Recordings 2013
Rather than constituting a split release this is a collaboration between these two UK based acts and features three tracks which traverse the border regions of power electronics, noise and industrial (…to great result I might add).
‘Pigshit’ is a monolithic track which takes up the first side of the vinyl and features a sustained and crushing bass drone, upon which a loose mass of heavy metallic scraping sounds and looped junk noise are overlaid. Vocals then arrive as a fully separate sound layer (sitting high within the mix), being distorted and harsh, but also using sparingly throughout the track. On the vinyl’s flip side ‘Truth Is Conflict” takes a similar sonic approach again utilising loosely constructed loops of metallic resonance and bass grinding intensity, again including the sporadic use of heavy power electronics vocals. The third and final track ‘Their Fall Will Be Harder Than Ours’ differs slightly due to the heavy bass loops giving a sense of stilted rhythmic intensity over its extended length. Also setting this track apart are the vocals which are subdued and spoken in delivery, which works extremely well as a point of difference to a usual harder, aggressive and distorted power electronic vocal style.
Given all three tracks are expertly executed and have been recorded and mastered for sheer punishing effect, this 10” is an excellent and ferocious listen which is also testament to the high quality of the current crop of power electronics / noise / industrial acts operating out of the UK.
Budrus – Canine Visions IX CD Freak Animal 2013
Budrus are an unusual and difficult to categorise project which covers some diverse sonic territory whilst managing to amass it into a coherent whole. Skin Area might be a good comparison in this regard, but not for a comparison to their sound, rather with respect of Skin Area’s own diverse mixture of industrial and non-typical industrial elements. Given their diverse musical influences Budrus arrive at their own sound through a mixture of abstract pounding industrial, guitar based instrumental drone, (almost) martial atmospheres and power electronics attitude evidenced by the gruff, yelled vocals presented without distortion treatment (other than light echo).
In some ways the opening track ‘Canine Vision I’’ is the most straightforward, with its droning analogue synths and aggressive upfront vocals evoking an industrial/ power electronics tone, before the introduction of drums and synth layers which have a vague martial industrial sensibility. This martial sensibility is also evident with the pounding rhythm of ‘Greet Me’, which offsets the loose guitar drones, distorted noise layers and unhinged vocals. The excellent ‘Shores of Glass’ delivers a spare melancholic drone tracks of sweeping tonal textures, sparse kit drums and slow clean guitars, with the mood being altered by the aggressive vocals appearing mid track. Likewise late album track ‘Wake up!’ is an excellent example of the eclectic nature of the project: the vocals hint at power electronics aggression, the synth and percussion hint at martial / industrial genres, yet the the clean and distorted guitars pushes the composition into a sound realm all its own.
Despite its varied musical expression ranging from sparse to focused and heavy, the overarching mood remains a melancholic one, either forming the main focus or remaining as the undercurrent to the more aggressive segments. Beyond musicality comment is warranted regarding the visual presentation. Given that I consider the artwork of any release to be of central importance, to my aesthetic sensibilities the cover and logo do not do this album justice, and on face value it carries a visual feel more suited to a crust punk band or similar. As such I have pondered whether this album might have been better represented with something altogether different. Notwithstanding this aesthetic criticism, ‘Canine Visions IX’ is a varied and ultimately difficult album to categorise, yet one which should confound expectations and reward those adventurous enough to check it out.
The Vomit Arsonist – Reason MC Nil By Mouth Recordings 2010
Given this tape obviously predates the excellent ‘Go Without’ album from 2012, it illustrates sole project member Andrew Grant in slightly less refined form, but still resulting in an interesting and solid release.
‘Lifeless’ opens the tape with a grinding pulse and loosely constructed metallic factory clatter all wrapped up in a cavernous tonal aesthetic, upon which the aggressive, echoed distorted vocals are spewed forth. ‘Environment’ plays with similar sound, but comes across as more aggressive in the vocal department (“GIve me one reason. Give me one fucking reason”), whilst also evoking a melancholic tone due to some some depressive synth lines. The highlight track of the tape is found in the form of ‘Existence’, which features layered ominous descending synth drones and distortion drenched vocals, which although simple in construction absolutely hits the mark. Alternately ‘Purpose’ opts to deliver an aggressive and loosely looped power electronics piece, which makes way for the final track ‘Ten Suicides’ which is a cover of a Bloodyminded song. Although less bleak than the original, it does manage to match the intensity within the frame of The Vomit Arsonists’ sound.
Packaging is suitably DIY for the tape format, including black spray painted case and photocopied card inserts which are housed in a sealed mini ‘garbage bag’ style sleeve.
Sickness / John Wiese – Amnesia 7”ep Freak Animal 2011
Although I am by no means an expert in noise appreciation, here we have a short and sharp studio collaboration 7” from two heavyweights in the noise genre. Cut at 45rpm, four tracks are presented (two per side) ranging in length from 2 to 2.5 minutes. This is supremely chaotic stuff, but not of a chaotic improvisational style, rather this is meticulously constructed and layered brutal noise, where the multiple layers and segmented cuts ups and individually audible within the sonic mass.
The first cut ‘Bright Region Xanadu’ is crisp and tonally heavy, with its full spectrum dynamic harsh noise including intense cut ups and avalanches of scattergun noise. ‘Excise’ follows and has slightly more breathing room with a pulsing bass undercurrent acting as a base for driven harsh noise and interjecting distortion. ‘Featherweight’ is slightly more freeform with its heavy tonal squalls and wretched crescendos of distortion, which although dense is sonically clear with an abundance of minute tonal detail. Final track ‘Back to Xanadu’ feels slightly more ‘constructed’ due to its use of broken loops, yet random cut ups and metallic overloaded distortion keep things suitably chaotic.
Basically ‘Amnesia’ is a short, heavy, intense, no-frills and absolutely to the point 7”ep, highlighting the focus and dynamics that can be achieved with harsh noise, as well as the control of two artists who have honed their skills to razor sharp intensity over multiple years and releases. In a word – brutal.