Folkstorm – Folksongs

folkstorm

Folkstorm – Folksongs CD Old Europa Café 2011

Keeping up with the continual output of the hyper productive Henrik ‘Nordvargr’ Björkk is a rather monumental task, meaning on occasion certain albums slip under the radar at the time of release.  ‘Folkmusic’ is one such album, which although a couple of years old deserves some belated praise and attention.

To slightly backtrack, Folkstorm was laid to rest in the early 2000’s but did not stay dormant for long, with the 2005 album ‘Folkmusik’ heralding the return of the reanimated Folkstorm corpse.  ‘Folksongs’ is the third post resurrection album which delivers some of the most focused and streamlined harsh industrial musings produced by the project to date.  Notably the looser and (potentially) semi-improvised sound of earlier material has been overhauled here with ‘song’ based structures (…which evidently has been the result of experimenting with new musical equipment).

Over the 11 album tracks the refined ‘song’ based approach blends clinical industrial rhythms, militant drum machine beats, pulsing/ burrowing/ wavering noise, crumbling static, shredding distortion etc.  However with reference to the structured elements it is necessary to point out that the beats and rhythms are very much of the mechanised factory type, and are clearly not of an industrial dance variety.  Similarly with its hard and generally minimalistic programmed structures, complimented with vocals ranging from morbidly spoken through to roughly yelled (…all distortion treated mind you), it brings to mind comparisons to the early sound German stalwarts Haus Arafna (…a compliment no doubt).

Although the overall sound embodies an old school analogue type feel, the album has a brutally loud, crisp and sharp production which suits the harshness of the music perfectly. Likewise whilst ‘Folkmusic’ retains a core sonic aesthetic of aggressive harsh industrial, there are a number of tracks where it forgoes aggression for slower ominous death industrial atmospheres, meaning there is a wide degree of sonic diversity across its relatively short 40 minute span.

Noting that Nordvargr has never opted to create ‘easy’ listening music, Folkstorm is clearly a project which sits at the harder end of what he produces.  However even if you think you already know what Folkstorm is all about based on earlier output, you are likely to be rather surprised of how different ‘Folkmusic’ actually is.  Although the tracks are constructed with ‘typical’ harsh industrial elements of stilted rhythms, squelching noise, power drilling textures and an atmosphere of abrasive yet clinical morbidity, it is their focus and song structure which comes through so strongly and makes this an album with such immediate impact.

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RMEDL / K11 – Chthonian Music

RMEDL

RMEDL / K11 – Chthonian Music CD Cold Spring Records 2012

To provide an overview of the conceptual focus of this album, the promo blurb provides some succinct and useful insights: “This multi-dimensional collaborative opera (audio installation and concept album) is a bridge between the conception of sound within the contemporary art scene, post-industrial culture and the avant-garde black metal musical scene. It focuses on creating a dialogic development between radical forms of concrete music, unorthodox sounds, conceptual arts and experimental recording practices of acoustic phenomena”.  To counterbalance this ‘academic’ explanation, ‘Chthonian Music’ is the result of a site specific sound installation project which was prepared and presented in an archaic underground vault (or according to the liner notes: “ancient etrusian hypogeum sited in Cecina, Italy”).  If this later description is a tad confusing, a series of photos presented on the cover illustrates the archaeological space to be a series of long narrow tunnels connecting with a larger high ceiling vault.

With regard to the sound aspects of ‘Chthonian Music’ the album has been created via the collaboration of an expansive list of contributors, including: Francisco Lopez, Christina Kubisch, Massimo Bartolini, Seth Cluett, Y.E.R.M.O., Seven Guitars, Luciano Maggiore, Gianluca Becuzzi, Andrea Marutti, Philippe Petit, Deadwood, Utarm, Burial Hex, Aderlating, Nordvargr and L’Acephale.  However when considering the sheer number of contributing artists in context of the confined installation space, it is not clear from the liner notes whether contributing artists played live during the original performance, or whether source sound material was remotely submitted, which was in turn manipulated in real time during the installation by the project coordinators (Sandra Gronshi and Pietro Riparbelli).  Despite such questions, where this album ultimately succeeds is that it transcends being merely an interesting idea and manages to connect the dots between multiple genres and emphasise their sonic overlap.  It is also of interest to note that the album spans both ‘low’ (underground) and ‘high’ (academic experimental) art.  As such ‘Chthonian Music’ embodies musique concrete, experimental sounds, sweeping drones (abstract, harmonic and disharmonic), and the sonic dissonance of underground black metal (evoked through angular riffing and flailing drums).  Such sounds also intertwine with other genres including segments of contemporary classical composition and ritual ambient soundscapes, which provides a diversity of sonic terrain yet still maintaining a coherent feel.

On the opening track ‘Mundvs’, natural woodland field recordings (insects, rain and distant thunder) mix with deep and rumbling bass drones before abstract distorted organ harmonics fleshes out the sound, resulting in a relatively gentle album introduction.  Although the album consists of 3 tracks, the second composition ‘Katabasis’ is split into 5 separate parts which play out as very much as individual tracks (rather than combining into a singular monster 55 minute composition).  To provide a quick rundown of each segment:

  • Part 1: ritual gongs/ chimes sit in the foreground, as experimental tones and      layered ominous drones gradually build to moments of shrill intensity.
  • Part 2: sub-bass drones mix with doomy acoustic guitars and croaked vocals,      where the piece gradually elevates itself to ecstatic heights with its mechanised grinding loops, chanted vocals, dissonant black metal riffing and hammering metal kit drumming. This is black metal channelled in a very avant-garde manner and this is how I imagine current era SWANS would sound like if they ever tried their hand at black metal.
  • Part 3: after the onslaught of the prior track, the next segment presents a      melancholically beautiful piano piece, where the composition is loose, free flowing and heavily reverb treated, which is in turn underscored with a variety of other drone based elements. Mid track an organ takes over as the leading instrument to draw the track towards its conclusion.
  • Part 4: is more tonally abstract, being constructed with field records/ musique      concrete sounds and tense harmonic droning elements, before descending into a      maelstrom of random metallic clatter, guitar reverb/ feedback and chaotic freeform kit drumming.
  • Part 5: merges abstract musique concrete and ritual ambient elements with what sounds to be slow rumbling and reverberating doom drone guitar – however as a guitar is not listed instrument on the liner notes, this element may in fact be a heavily treated organ tone.

For the final album track ‘Nuktelia’ it draws the album to a conclusion with a broad assemblage of the various sounds which precede it.  Here the tone and atmosphere is one of an expansive cavernous space, where a lone violin plays out a maudlin melody against a backdrop of windswept drones.  Later in the track, noise feedback, abstract riffed guitars, pummelling percussion and a moody piano tune each take turns in making an appearance.

For what is a rather academically focused concept album involving the contributions of a large list of artists, ‘Chthonian Music’ hangs together extremely well as a varied yet coherent and immersive album.  There is a lot to like here, whether it is channel the most abstract aspects of underground metal or flirting with more academic experimental sounds.  As such the role of the project coordinators’ in organising the original sound installation and this complimentary album to formally document the event should not be underestimated.

raison d’etre – enthralled by the winds of loneliness

RD

raison d’etre – enthralled by the winds of loneliness (redux) CD Old Europa Café 2013

With the sheer number of years Peter Andersson has been musically active as raison d’etre obviously his project is extremely well recognised within the industrial / dark ambient underground.  However for new listeners of dark ambient (and related) scenes, there may be a degree of unfamiliarity with raison d’etre’s rather imposing back catalogue, particularly due to number of earlier albums being out of print for some time (…or maybe I am totally wrong on this point and newer listeners have already downloaded the entire back catalogue – who knows?!).  Regardless, as this review blog celebrates the physical aspect of a release as an important and integral aspect, it is an opportune time to revisit this ‘redux’ version of raison d’etre’s second album from 1994 (which incidentally has been issued one year prior to it being a 20 year anniversary edition).

For the ‘redux’ treatment, rather than merely being a remastered version it seems that Peter has used original sound sources (which have been re-sampled and restored) to re-record original programmed sequences, which have then been mixed and mastered to reflect the original album atmosphere.  This has evidently been painstaking undertaken to provide a new multi channel recording, which has allowed a new stereo mix with greater dynamic range and professional upgrade to the sound (which is effectively the opposite of a level boosted and over-compressed remastering technique). So when comparing this ‘redux’ version to the original the sound quality is notably deeper and more expansive, where a multitude of previously hidden textural sound details are clearly audible and sit balanced within the mix.  This is not to say that the original was one-dimensional however it does sound much flatter, muffled and less dynamic in comparison to this ‘redux’ version.  In short the sound is impeccable, crystalline and breathes with both subtlety and intensity.

Likewise rather than approaching this review as if it were a brand new album, it is probably more appropriate to reflect on its historic context within the artist’s discography. Accordingly one of the hallmarks of this earlier era of raison d’etre is the presence of an almost ‘new age’ tone to the music – albeit much bleaker and darker – due to the use of occasional flutes and woodwind instruments, wind chimes, ritual gongs, melancholic orchestral synth textures and the trademark religious choral vocals. ‘Enthralled by the winds of loneliness’ also illustrates raison d’etre at a transitional point in the evolution of their sound.  Whilst the album still sits squarely within a composed song structured realm, it displays a more confident, flowing and elongated compositional style, which differs quite drastically from the rigid and shorter track compositional style of the debut album from the year prior.  This album also illustrates the emergence of abstract droning aspects, which would be elevated to take a much greater focus on later albums.   Within this framework the overarching mood is one that embodies ominous, sacral and monastic atmospheres evoked through solemn percussion, Gregorian chants and string textures (which occasional rise to shrill intensity), whilst other segments plumb the depths of ominous drones, ritual gongs and devastatingly bleak solo choral vocals.  Apart from the 7 main album tracks, 4 bonus tracks are included here for good measure, including 2 from the ‘Conspectus’ tape and 2 from other compilation appearances.  Given these bonus tracks were recorded during the same era as the main album tracks, they at least sonically complement the remainder of the album and do not feel pointlessly tacked on – as is often the case with bonus material.

With its sleekly improved, professional and crystalline sound, the inclusion of 4 additional complimentary tracks and beautifully presented in a 6 panel digi-pack which has reworked elements of the original artwork, there is much discover/ rediscover here (as the case may be for either old or new fans).  Effectively Peter has delivered a reinvigorated version of ‘enthralled by the winds of loneliness’ which is a pleasure to be re-acquainted with.