raison d’etre – In Sadness, Silence And Solitude / raison d’être – The Stains Of The Embodied Sacrifice

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raison d’etre – In Sadness, Silence And Solitude DCD :retortae: 2014

raison d’être – The Stains Of The Embodied Sacrifice DCD Ewers Tonkunst 2012

Noting raison d’etre have in recent years been facilitating a program of reissuing of earlier albums here are yet two more albums in this ongoing re-release agenda.  However rather than these representing mere reprints, each of these new versions have been substantially expanded through the inclusion of a second disc of additional content.

‘In Sadness, Silence And Solitude’ represents the earlier of the two, being originally released way back in 1997 (…it may also be of interest that this album holds a rather special place for this reviewer, as it was one of albums critiqued in the first issue of Spectrum Magazine from 1998).  To provide context within raison d’etre’s own discography, ‘In Sadness, Silence And Solitude’ presented a large stylistic leap away from composed song structures of earlier material.  Effectively the sound shifted towards abstract droning territory by evoking barren windswept soundscapes, but maintaining links with the past through fleeting flourishes of Gregorian vocal chants, chimes, sparse ritualistic percussion, wailing horns, swelling quasi-orchestral synth melodies and morose piano notes.   On the first disc it contains 6 original album tracks, which have been augmented by an additional 2 live tracks as well as a previously unreleased composition.  For the second disc of this expanded edition, it contains 13 additional pieces, by bringing together 9 previously issued compilation tracks and further 4 unreleased compositions. Noting that all of the material spread across the 2 discs derives from same time period (1996-97, with some being live versions of the main album tracks), they display a stylistic similarity which greatly assists in collective coherence of the listening experience.  Additionally all tracks of this 2 disc expanded edition have been fully restored and remastered for optimal sonic impact.

Regarding ‘The Stains Of The Embodied Sacrifice’ this constitutes an expanded edition of raison d’etre’s most recent album from 2009 (excluding the two live album released in 2010 and 2012 respectively).  On the first disc it contains the original album tracks (without augmentation), which follow raison d’etre’s established framework of abstract soundscapes and sparse monastic chants.  However the sound is also slightly more animated and layered on ‘The Stains Of The Embodied Sacrifice’, with a greater focus on sonic elements which embody a jagged, scrapping and metallic tonality, as well as scant harmonic/ disharmonic piano notes and sparse angular orchestral strings and brass tones.  Noting the intense and occasionally invasive sound quality, ‘The Stains Of The Embodied Sacrifice’ very much manages to balance a duality of sound and approach.  Thus the album is imbedded with an atmosphere which sways from being angelic and serene, to a feeling of being heavily oppressive (…something akin to the hellish torment of the damned).  For the expanded edition, disc 2 contains 6 additional tracks (spanning 60 minutes) which constitute previously unreleased early versions of the original album tracks.  Seemingly with these bonus tracks being constructed from the same sound sources as the main album tracks, they very much feel like alternate remixed versions.

Both releases come housed in 6 panel fold out digi-card covers which faithfully recreates the original album artwork and provides a new physical platform in which raison d’etre can continue to be appreciated as one of dark ambient’s exceptional and enduring artists.  All to do now is wait for the imminent release of new album ‘Mise en Abyme’ to see what it reveals.

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Blitzkrieg Baby – Kids’ World EP

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Blitzkrieg Baby – Kids’ World EP MC Beläten 2014

Promptly following the 2013 debut, the twisted musical offspring of Kim Solve has returned with this cassette only EP (…also available digitally).  But rather than constituting new music, this release features a collection of unreleased tracks and previously issued compilation appearances.  Also interestingly this ‘EP’ has a total play time in the order of 40 minutes, which dwarfs the shorter length of the debut at 33 minutes. Confusion is the key it seems!

The first side of the tape collects together 4 previously unreleased compositions and opens with the title track, being a mid-paced militant industrial ditty, featuring a stoic mid-paced industrial beat, ominous horns and commanding spoken/ sung vocals delivering sarcastic lyrics describing lost innocence and violence desensitisation. ‘Loop’ follows and sits more towards a dark ambient/ death industrial sound of grinding (…you guessed it) loops, complete with a recorded diary entry articulating a bleak scene of subtle menace and paranoia.  Up next ‘The Swine Supremacy’ again morphs in style, being a plodding rhythmic industrial soundscape with the cleaver use of spoken vocals which recite random phrases in ‘media newspeak’ styled delivery.  Noting the variety displayed on the first three tracks ‘Those They Could Not Fuck, They Killed’ shifts yet again, being an instrumental track which is an excellent example of an ominous widescreen industrial soundscape, further accentuated by catatonic bass thuds.

For side B of the cassette it brings together 4 previously released compilation tracks and 1 previously unreleased track. The strange yet intriguing track ‘Half Pig Half Man’ is up first, where shuddering, off kilter loops provides the basis and a degree of urgency for the sardonic vocal mutterings.  ‘Broken Child’ follows in subdued fashion and contains a morose atmosphere of wavering synths, rhythmic bass loops, upon which understated and fragile sung vocals are overlaid.  ‘Incinerator Symphony No. I’ is a standout offering, here evoking the best of the pummeling and shuddering bleakness of ‘The Slaughterhouse’ era Brighter Death Now, where sparse harmonic notes (xylophone perhaps?) provides a nice sonic touch.  ‘Children In Uniform MMXIII’ (an alternate version to that featured on ‘Porcus Norvegicus’), returns to composed song based approach with militant rolling beats, shrill orchestral strings and yelled/ echoed vocals.  This version is noted to differ from the original by the orchestral string being pushed to the background and a plodding bass brought to the fore.  On the final track ‘Your Happy Place’, it is the track which deviates most significantly from the material which precedes it (…to the point of feeling almost tacked on), given it is a composition which flirts closely with dark industrial pop style.  Here a plodding bass, two-step beat and programmed synth drive the piece forward, complete with spoken vocals and synth break flourishes (…whilst interesting, this style is something these ears are typically accustomed to).

Noting the ‘Kids’ World EP’ brings together earlier existing material, where this succeeds is with its further display of the wide variety of sonic approaches and playful nature that Blitzkrieg Baby employs under the ‘industrial’ banner.  Likewise with its even greater deviance in sound and approach than was displayed on ‘Porcus Norvegicus’, it raises the question of exactly where Kim will take the project on the upcoming sophomore album?

The Grey Wolves / Wertham / Survival Instinct – Ramraiding Thee Abyss

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The Grey Wolves / Wertham / Survival Instinct – Ramraiding Thee Abyss LP Old Europa Café / Elettronica Radicale Edizioni 2013

Here is a new three-way split/ collaboration album which in many ways reflects the past, present and future of the contributing acts, whilst also remaining devoted to the underground scene from which they have been collectively spawned.  Obviously the Grey Wolves and Wertham should already be well-known, however this LP also functions to introduce Survival Instinct who are noted to be: a splinter cell and an exit strategy, of and from, the Grey Wolves”.  Noting the potential ambiguity of this statement that seems to allude to a potential end to the Grey Wolves, this may or may not in fact be the case.  Or perhaps it is just a solo project of either of the Grey Wolves members David Padbury or Trevor Ward?  Not too sure on this point, so on with the review.

Noting the aggressive atmospheric noise meets power electronics tone of both the Grey Wolves and Wertham, in an overall sense this LP delivers exactly what is expected.  Thus ‘Ramraiding Thee Abyss’ opens with ‘No Good Deeds Will Be Left Unpunished’, which is appropriately a three-way collaboration, where the layered, mid-range fluctuating distortion and partially buried vocalisations combine into a heavy and urgent statement of intent.  ‘Latin Day (Flashback – Ipswich Agro)’ quickly follows and sees the Grey Wolves operating in the vein of their classic sound.  That is to say it includes vague shuddering industrial rhythms which are caked in layers of noise filth, as antagonistic echoed vocals deliver an unintelligible sermon. ‘Shankill Butchers’ sees Wertham functioning on their own, delivering intense cyclic, mid to low range rumbling distortion, with a heavily treated vocal attack.  Straight forward and to the point with it scathing layered noise approach, TV reporter dialogue samples are also used to flesh out thematic context.  ‘Rise Above the Flames’ then follows and is the first solo offering of Survival Instinct and based on this track they are a very promising act.  This piece takes a subdued and brooding approach which leans towards a death industrial sound.  Here the production is less based on overloaded distortion, rather opting for composed and echoed treated tribal/ mechanical rhythms mixed with atmospheric noise.  Certainly an excellent introduction to the project.

For the flip side of the vinyl Wertham in collusion with Survival Instinct deliver an instrumental track ‘Towards a Dark Horizon’ which charts a course of composed industrial factory rhythms and an undercurrent of generally subdued sweeping and crumbling clamour.  The Grey Wolves then appear again in solo guise on ‘Edging Ever Closer’, which is more atmospheric than typically grating, again with layered droning noise, scattered electronics and unhinged vocalisations.  ‘Friday Night Boot Party’ is another solo offering courtesy of Wertham, here looped conveyor belt sonics combine with atmospheric burrowing noise, which underscore the distortion infused vocals which are barked in delivery.  The album is then concluded by another solo track from Survival Instinct, where moody synth textures of ‘New Phase Dawns’ counterbalance mid paced jagged industrial loops and sporadic heavy bass tone blasts.  Another great moment from this new project.

Without sounding like a patchwork of various projects, the three contributing acts manage to find common and complimentary ground on ‘Ramraiding Thee Abyss’, be it on solo standalone tracks or in otherwise collaborative guise.  Likewise given the sheer number of years the Grey Wolves have been in existence as an active scene contributor (…28 years and counting), it is great to see that they have lost none of their urgency, antagonism and attitude.  Pressed in pristine black vinyl (THE perfect format for this type of release), and with a slick gatefold sleeve adorned with suitable ‘cultural terrorist manifesto’ type statements and imagery, this album is everything it was hoped it could be, and in fact delivers more, given the strength and distinctive sounds of the Survival Instinct solo cuts.

U-731 – By All Means…

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U-731 – By All Means… CD Black Plagve 2014

U-731 are a new American signing to the Black Plagve roster, being helmed by one Gordon Lazarus who has previously operated under the name Defiler, before taking up the current U-731 moniker.  Yet noting this is U-731’s debut album, rather strangely the promo blurb also highlights that ‘By All Means…’ represents the swansong for the project.  Incidentally Gordon intends to continue under the banner of United Front, however it is not at all clear whether United Front will continue with the sound and thematic content of this particular release.

Armed with this album U-731 clearly demonstrate they are an act that can stand on an equal footing with other US acts, and most particularly: Steel Hook Prosthesis, The Vomit Arsonist, Gnawed and Nyodene D.  In fact such name-dropping goes beyond mere sonic comparisons, as 5 of the 7 album tracks were produced in collaboration with John Stillings of Steel Hook Prosthesis (three tracks) and Andy Grant of The Vomit Arsonist (two tracks).  Although this is oriented towards the scathing side of death industrial music, U-731 set themselves apart by weaving in a pessimistic dark ambient undercurrent, meaning they achieve a gloomier tone than their aforementioned peers.   Speech and documentary dialogue samples also constitute a large part of U-731’s sonic aesthetic, where these are intertwined seamlessly within the soundscapes to articulate a range of topics including: medical procedures, conspiracies, secret societies, covert government actions and WWII politics.  Via this framework U-731 conjures seething atmospheres driven by caustic droning synths and mechanised industrial debris, which sporadically lets loose in a more focused death industrial style (and occasionally nearing power electronics intensity).

For the opening track ‘Forced Neurotic Displacement’ it features an ominous undercurrent of heaving bass aggressiveness, minor key synths and corrosive outbursts, against which the trademark electric/ static hissed vocals of John Stilling are spewed forth.  From this first introductory track it establishes a superb foundational offering.  John Stilling again makes an appearance with his seething vocals on ‘The Mechanics of Embalming’ which sit atop grinding mechanised industrial loops and a medical based dialogue sample addressing the track’s title.  Stepping away from a collaborative framework mid album track ‘Freedom, Reaction-Resistance’ sees Gordon Lazarus operating without external input.  Here the track conveys a lo-fi, paranoid infused soundscape of drones, distant metallic clatter and speech samples addressing conspiracies and secret societies, before ramping up with looped distortion of crushing intensity.  Being another collaborative offering, the following track ‘F.E.M.A Care’ is the first of two tracks to feature the contributions of Andy Grant, who is in ultra-aggressive form where the anger of his vocal delivery has been ratcheted up few notches (…which is certainly saying something). This track commences in a subdued dark ambient fashion as a documentary sample articulates government conspiracies relating to covert martial law programs, before elevating to power electronics intensity with crushing distortion and static drenched/ emotion wracked vocals.  In deviating from the material which proceeds it, ‘Sun Gan/ Last Rites’ functions to conclude the album in brooding fashion, where relentless waves of static and morose synth textures usher in a radio broadcast (Winston Churchill?) announcing war had been declared on Germany as a consequence of their invasion of Poland in 1939.  Later in the track the mood shifts through the use of choir vocal samples and the sound of exploding shells and gunfire which usher the album into oblivion.

Whilst the influence of Steel Hook Prosthesis’ and The Vomit Arsonist’s is undeniable on their collaborative tracks, rather than being a potential negative, their contributions are incorporated seamlessly into the album’s overall concept and sound.  Certainly ‘By All Means…’ is a full realised, expertly executed and genre refined recording which is also one of the strongest debut albums issued in recent memory (noting that Shock Frontier’s debut of 2013 – reviewed here – holds a similar accolade).  Recommended.

Halo Manash – Caickuwi Cauwas Walkeus

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Halo Manash – Caickuwi Cauwas Walkeus CD Aural Hypnox 2014

Any new release from Halo Manash is welcomed news and whilst this is technically not a new recording this will constitute an unheard album for most listeners.  Effectively this album is a re-release of the impossibly limited original version, issued in 2009 in a ridiculous edition of 29 copies.  This current version comes in 444 standard copies and 49 special wooden box-set copies and has been issued on the new Stellar Mansion series, which has been established under the Aural Hypnox banner, with a mission statement of: “…presenting past Helixes transmissions, sent back from distant stars…”.

With the title translating to ‘Afar Echoes the White Light’, the album captures the trademark ritual ambient music of Halo Manash, which is also most comparable to the abstract stylistic slant of the Forest Music trilogy of ‘Language of Red Goats’, ‘Am Kha Astrie’ and ‘Taiwaskivi’.  Of the 5 interconnecting compositions (spanning 43 minutes), they flow forward at a catatonic pace, where each ritual ambient movement merges seamlessly with the next.   Interestingly the promo blurb outlines that this album has been recorded using only acoustic instrumentation with no studio overdubs, which makes its droning ritual atmosphere all the more engaging.

To facilitate full immersion into the album’s atmosphere, slow ritual chimes function to provide some melodic undertones and a vague sense of structure, whilst slow thumping ritual percussion provides a heartbeat like pulse to proceedings.  Likewise a droning ritual undercurrent is created by the percussive notes of gongs and chimes which shimmer and ring out as echoed reverberations, whilst wood wind instruments and horns mournfully wail somewhere off in the distance.  Ultimately this is extremely ‘visual’ ritual ambient music which articulates emanations from the spiritual either and gives rise to mind’s eye visions of: a hazy twilight setting; forest branches spanning overhead forming a natural cathedral; tendrils of incense smoke rising from a makeshift altar etc.

Noting the limitation of the original edition, it is a certainly a welcome addition to Halo Manash’s discography to have this album issued in a more generous number.  Likewise it is worthwhile noting that the material herein is as strong as any Halo Manash have released to date and should allay any concern that this material might have been considered second-rate thus warranting its original limitation.  As with all Aural Hypnox releases, this is issued in special handmade cardboard cover, here featuring archaic card stock and completed with screen printed images.  Again Aural Hypnox deliver ritual ambient of the highest order and a feast for the eye and ear.