Human Larvae – Womb Worship

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Human Larvae – Womb Worship CD L.White Records 2013

Human Larvae is one of the newer guard of German projects, being the solo project of Berlin native Daniel Burfoot.  Choosing to operate at the edges of death industrial, power electronics and experimental noise, Human Larvae align comfortably with similar acts who function within the grey spaces between various abrasive underground ‘industrial’ related genres. Noting the solid debut album ‘Home Is Where The Hurt Is’ was issued in 2008, Daniel issued a 2011 tape as part of the refining of his sound to a razor-sharp point for this sophomore album.

‘Perdition from the Virgins Mouth’ opens the album in stunning fashion, where a gloomy, catatonically played piano note ring out against scratching junk metal tones, low bass thuds and agonisingly yelled/ distorted treated vocals.  ‘The Truth I Failed To See’ follows, yet operates in far more subdued territory, containing looped breathing sounds, understated wavering synth tones, distant conveyor belt rhythms and thematic dialogue sample.  ‘Slave To Violence’ steps up the tone in a more classic power electronics vein, relying on a bass loaded undercurrent, overblown metallic junk metal distortion and prominent screeched vocals, which in many ways reminds of the aggressive yet densely detailed sonic approach of recent Grunt material.  In more direct terms – excellent.  By pulling back on the throttle ‘Entwined In The Umbilical Noose’ delivers a lengthy track with a cavernous wind tunnel aesthetic.  Across its span the piece shifts through various segments involving: a lone organ dirge; grating tonal textures; wheezing noise and droning three note melody. Located towards the centre of the album, ‘Methods of Possession’ brings to mind the focused intensity of IRM, which is used as a positive comparison to highlight the quality found here.  This particular track works on multiple levels by merging chaotic micro-tonal sonic detailing with organic sounding drones, over which the layered, distortion saturated vocals are delivered with desperate intensity.

Given that the use of abuse related dialogue samples is by now considered ‘de rigueur’ for this type of material, this can lead to the listener being somewhat desensitised to the intended impact.  This is clearly not the case on ‘Wrapped In The Warm Sheets Of Mother Love’, being a track of driven distortion and burrowing noise, over which a sample referencing sexual abuse perpetrated by a mother (as recounted by the son) creates a strong and nauseating impact.  This nauseous tone remains on ‘Obsession Intermezzo II’ (despite containing a totally different sound to the preceding track), here featuring minutely amplified ‘wet’ textural sounds, low bass drone and menacing synth melody. The title track arrives as the concluding album composition, which expertly balances an atmosphere which is equally heavy as it is ominous. Here vaguely rhythmic drones, grinding textures, scattered junk metal noise and heavy echo distortion treated vocals are the order of the day, and whilst not necessarily covering new sonic territory for this style, Human Larvae nevertheless nails the sound perfectly.

Whilst ‘Womb Worship’ is not a long album at 43 minutes, not a single minute of its play time is wasted on any second-rate filler.  The mastering provided by James Plotkin is solid, hefty and suitably loud, yet also contains depth and tonal separation to allow the quieter tracks to breath with ample sonic space.  With its tonal diversity and threateningly weighty atmosphere (even in its quieter moment), Human Larvae have succeeded in delivering a diverse and distinctive sound.  By displaying an equal balance of aggression and restraint, ‘Womb Worship’ is delivered with an absolutely convincing degree of focus and control.  This album has already garnered extensive rotations around these quarters and is exactly the type of album to warrant many more repeat rotations in future.

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Shock Frontier – Mancuerda Confessions

Shock Frontier

Shock Frontier – Mancuerda Confessions CD Malignant Records 2013

Shock Frontier are a relatively new US project which has arisen from the ashes of the defunct dark ambient project Psychomanteum, but has intentionally diverted direction towards the noisier and harsher sides of underground electronic music.  To be more direct, Shock Frontier seeks to elicit through torturous means a corrosive blend of murky death industrial and atmospheric droning noise.

From the outset it is immediately apparent that ‘Mancuerda Confessions’ facilities a sounds which edges towards the noisy and chaotic, but also imbeds enough structure to provide direction and focus. With its ragged frequencies, fried electrical drones and loose rhythmic structure, the opening track ‘Paroxysm’ reveals a deep cut of corrosive ambience against which a dialogue sample implants a heavily misanthropic reality.  ‘Angels Upon Iron Horses’ then follows which amplifies its jagged industrialized textures, alarm siren pulse, grinding mechanised clatter and general tone of abstract industrial debris.  Thus within the snapshot description of first two cuts, their collective approach is representative of a sound dragged along a knifes edge of structure and chaos, which plays out in variation across the album’s whopping 72 minutes.

Over the course of the 9 album cuts the densely layered compositions align scathing noise with swirling distortion, which are further augmented by jagged rhythmic segments and metallic mechanised pulsations.  Yet to counterbalance these harsher aspects the compositions are underscored by corroded metallic drones and an overtly oppressive style of caustic ambience.  Complimenting the album’s general harrowing atmosphere, dialogue samples are scattered throughout which collectively function to hammer home a themes of societal decline and the debasement of humanity.  As far as comparisons go the promo blurb nominates Megaptera as a suitable one, however this is slightly off the mark as Shock Frontier have far more in common with the harsh and scourging death industrial sound of the Swedish project Stratvm Terror.

Where this ultimately album excels is with its sonic representation of humanity at its absolute worst – akin to the peeling back of the layers of polite societal servitude.  ‘Mancuerda Confessions’ is very much rooted in a horrific reality of humanities potential for cruelty and domination – be it derived from political or religious extremism, or via societal isolation, narcissism and emotional detachment.  Shock Frontier have expertly set such themes to sound in an extremely bleak and incisive way, which is certainly saying something as these ears are well attuned to similar material.  Ultimately there is a narcissistic realism to this album which manages to claw its way under your skin and for this alone this album manages to push the envelope of unsettling underground electronic music.

Regosphere / The Vomit Arsonist – Split

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Regosphere / The Vomit Arsonist – Split 7”ep Phange Tapes / Obfuscated Records / DumpsterScore Home Recordings 2013

One clearly positive aspect to split releases is that it provides opportunity to check out an act you might have otherwise missed.  Whilst I am already well acquainted with The Vomit Arsonist, for this split Regosphere is the newbie act for me.

The US project Regosphere step up to take the lead on the A side with their single track ‘Death, Like A Thief’.  Here the composition is a multi layered affair with a prominent mid paced pounding beat / pulse upon which wavering noise, loosely rhythmic metallic clatter and distortion drenched vocals are overlaid. Focused and relatively straight forward, in some ways it resembles a more subdued and lurching version of Mental Destruction, which is more than positive introduction to the group.  The group’s self described style of ‘anxiety electronics’ is also pretty much on the mark.

Another rising US act, namely The Vomit Arsonist, take up the flip side with their track ‘Mind Turns Violent’ and deliver a composition within their trademark blending of death industrial and power electronics.  The track is defined by a bass heavy, muffled and distortion overloaded production, where underneath this dank sonic mass an ominous droning synth and vague industrial rhythms can be detected, whilst the screeched vocals cut through with malice and spite.  Great stuff as expected.

The cover is a black and white doubled sided card fold out sleeve, including lyrics, which is a nice touch seeing as the vocal delivery and production on both tracks renders them indecipherable.  With a limitation of 300 this is a straightforward 7”ep with commendable tracks from both projects.

Arktau Aon – Ikuisuus Näkyy Luiden Läpi

Arktau Aon

Arktau Aon – Ikuisuus Näkyy Luiden Läpi CD Aural Hypnox 2013

With the revered and highly collectable cult label Aural Hypnox in self-imposed hibernation until recently (since 2009 to be exact), Arktau Aon is the first official release from the label since rising from its slumber.  Here we are presented a ‘lost’ archival release from 2005, previously forgotten and recently discovered within the label’s vaults.  Arktau Aon constitutes the collaboration of two Finlandish ritual / dark ambient projects (namely Arktau Eos and Zoat Aon), however in reality it is more a case of the merging of monikers than musical output.

Given the established and individually distinctive sounds of the two projects, it was initially assumed this album would sit within a ritualised dark ambient sphere (…i.e. somewhere in the middle of the refined dark ambient sound of Zoat Aon and the composed ritual ambient style Arktau Eos). However in actuality this is far more organic in approach than this initially held expectation.  This ‘organic’ assessment ultimately lies in the fact that this album does not use any synthetic sound sources, rather being entirely based on actual instruments including: gongs, chimes, disharmonic woodwinds, wailing horns, various percussive implements and chanted vocalisations etc.  Accordingly with the album’s total reliance on such real instrumentation it results in the mood being heavily imbedded with a traditional Asiatic and ritualistic styled atmosphere.

Regarding the length of the release it sits slightly on the shorter side, being a mere 31 minutes and consisting of 13 short ‘movements’ (which range in length from just over 1 minute to the longest track at 4.5 minutes).  Yet despite the short run time there is a high degree of variation between the ‘movements’, where some segments are relatively loose and abstract in style (…hinting at an improving approach to playing), with other tracks being focused and composed in their rhythmic/ percussive structures.  Although the sound, atmosphere and overall direction differs somewhat from expectation, what it ultimately represents is ritual ambient music in the truest sense of the term, made all the more so with the apparent lack of any synthetic or electrified instrumentation.

For packaging the release comes housed in a special screen printed cardboard box, complete with 2 handmade photographic inserts, which continues the handmade handicraft aesthetic of earlier Aural Hypnox releases.  Although this album may not achieve the pinnacle level of many of the other Aural Hypnox releases, it remains a strong and engaging ritual ambient excursion into the unknown.

Phelios – Gates of Atlantis

Phelios

Phelios – Gates of Atlantis CD Malignant Records 2013

For long term fans of the dark ambient genre there can inevitably be a degree of presumption of what a new album will sound like, particularly given the parameters of the style have now been long established.  So whilst Phelios broadly aligns within a dark ambient style, the project does manage to carve out a particular niche of their own with their animated and dynamic approach (…which is primarily achieved through the infusion of strong compositional structures).

On their previous offering (2010’s ‘Astral Unity’) that album encompassed a brooding cosmic / sub-orchestral style, which included the occasional use of prominent percussive / rhythmic structures. On ‘Gates of Atlantis’ Phelios has continued within this established template, but this time around have increased the focus on the deep tribal/ percussive aspects.  As such the opening title track is an excellent example of this approach with its moody sub-orchestral brass, mid paced tribal percussion and melodic song structures.  From this launch point the album then moves through a wide variety of sounds and textures. Some passages display a degree of restraint, such as the deep sweeping cosmic radiance of ‘Temple of Yith’, whist ‘Spiritual Possession’ storms out of the gloom with a pounding almost militant percussive streak set against doomy layered synth lines.  Mid album track ‘Hibernation’ arrives as another album highlight, delivering brooding widescreen drones which are underscored by rolling percussion which falls somewhere between a tribal and militant tonal aesthetic.  On the concluding track ‘Ascension’, as the title might suggest it is lighter in tone with a hint of the serene and the ethereal, which sets it apart from the heavy sub-orchestral gloom of material which precedes it.

Given that much of ‘Gates of Atlantis’ inhabits a strong compositional framework, its atmosphere is highly dynamic rather than benign or abstract, which is a pitfall dark ambient music can occasionally fall into.  Likewise in recognition of the song based structures, interestingly these seem to ever so slightly hint at influences from other ‘electronic’ music genres, which in part explains the individuality of Phelios’ sound.

For the cover imagery, this acts as a pertinent visual representation of the breadth and scope of the album (…a shadowy miniscule figure stands entirely diminutive against a massive imposing structure which extends out of frame…).  What this image visually articulates can be easily applied to audial aspects of ‘Gates of Atlantis’.  That is, Phelios composes music of such an imposing nature and colossal scale it all but dwarfs a mere human scale perspective.  In a word – monumental.

Propergol – Paradise Land

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Propergol – Paradise Land CD Tesco Organisation 2012

After dropping off the map following their sixth album ‘Ground Proximity Warning System’ way back in 2006, seemingly out of nowhere Propergol has made a rather welcome return.  In order to provide some necessary context for this new offering, over the course of their 16 year career Propergol have always articulated a certain filmic and cinematic quality to their sound.  However in the past this has been mainly due to the use of various movie dialogue samples scattered throughout their compositions.  Also given the heaviness and harshness of the earlier material was rooted in the merging of heavy industrial and power electronics, this new album has instead opted to elevate its production to a level which feels more as the product of a professional sound studio.  Thus this time around rather than just hinting at a cinematic sound through samples, ‘Paridise Land’ comes across very much as the backing audio track to various scenes of a nameless motion picture.  Here the production is deep and bass heavy, yet crystalline and clear, which adds a tonal heaviness to the sound which isn’t as reliant on harshness as earlier material was.

After a brief introductory piece (‘Running Scared’) the second track ‘911 Dispatcher’ presents a moody orchestral strings type of dark ambience (complete with scattered radio chatter), which clearly articulates the differing approach taken on ‘Paradise Land’.  Likewise although the following track ‘Ymene’ hints at the earlier approach of Propergol, here the sound is controlled with a tense and brooding heavy industrial sound, rather than being noisy and unhinged. ‘E.R.S’ is a great example of the merging of the old and new elements of Propergol by using a well placed dialogue sample (lifted from the ‘classic’ Hollywood era movie), as synth layers and scattered industrial debris creates an atmosphere which balances on a knife edge between the etherial and the ominous.  ‘Psycho Road’ is the track which comes closest to the harshness of earlier material (freeform scattered noise and wavering distortion), yet the digital crispness of the production clearly positions this in context of the balance of the album.  The following track ‘Escape From…’ reverts to calmer territory given it evokes a sweeping dark ambient soundscape, but keeps things on edge with a stalking bass pulse and tone of brooding menace.  Also worthy of a specific mention is late album track ‘Impossible Landing’, which is one of the most divergent tracks of the album, by virtue of being constructed with a programmed electronica beat, and moody synth textures which has far more in common with Atomine Elektrine than what Propergol would be typical recognised for.  That said, there is no complaint from these quarters as this an excellent understated electronica track. The album concludes with the mammoth 16 minute ‘Bleu Nuit’ which is the most experimental of the set, being a more abstract dark ambient/ electronica/ industrial cut up which moves through a number of somewhat disjointed segments and a myriad of dialogue samples.  Whilst not a bad track at all, it however lack the focus of the material which proceeds it, meaning the album does not finish as strongly as it otherwise might have.

Spanning just on 70 minutes, there is a lot of sonic texture and detail to take in.  Clearly some have lamented the lack of overt harshness here, which has in turn lead to accusations that Propergol have moved to an entirely dark ambient ‘lite’ version of their sound.  Whilst this is certainly not the Propergol of yesteryears, it is great to see a project so confidently forging a new era of sound via unexplored sonic territories and a wider sonic palate.