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.