S.T.A.B. Electronics – Instruments for Operating on Mutant Women

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S.T.A.B. Electronics – Instruments for Operating on Mutant Women LP Urashima 2014

Here is third vinyl only LP from the formidable S.T.A.B. Electronics – a project which has been steadily elevating their profile with each new release.  So in comparison to earlier albums, where ‘Instruments for Operating on Mutant Women’ particularly excels is that it somehow manages to hone the aggressive sound of the last LP ‘The Non Alliant II’ into even more focused form.  As with other S.T.A.B. Electronics releases their approach is marked with generally minimalist song structures, based on few layers of looped analogue rhythms and processed droning noise, where the unhinged vocals are again an absolute standout.  Likewise the range of sonic treatments applied to the vocals (flanged, distorted, delayed etc.), ensures the aggressive vocal approach is far from being one dimensional.

Although having a solid analogue quality, the recording is at the same time crisp and loud to really drive home the honed aggression.   As such rough and overblown atonal synth layers are arranged in loose rhythmic patterns and further processed to the point of a fracturing noise deluge.  Although the seething flanged vocals take a prominent and forthright position in the mix, these are also offset with well sourced dialogue samples to flesh out some of the thematic content.  The UK derived dialogue sample on the track ‘Aggressors’ (not sure where this is sampled from) is such an example which works perfectly with the blend of mid paced squelching/ pulsing/ burrowing layers, as the unhinged vocals ramp up the mood to greater aggressive heights.  Alternately the mid to higher end chaotic squall of ‘A Little Transgression’ brings to mind later era hyper rhythmic Whitehouse such as that found on ‘Racket’, although the vocals here retain the strong and identifiable stamp of S.T.A.B. Electronics.  Whilst ‘Ex Fat (For S.G.O.)’ encompasses a relatively passive, throbbing bass track, the subdued tone only services to amplify the seething anger of the vocal barrage. For the track ‘Defaced (Burnt with Acid)’ it contains snippets of an interview relating to the track’s theme (sampled from ‘current affairs’ type interview).  This dialogue is then countered by the first person lyrics (written from the perspective of the attacker) which are spat with insidious aggression over a queasy and stilted loop: being an example of conceptually strong and expertly executed piece from S.T.A.B. Electronics.  For the final track ‘Nothing More I Can Give (Marco’s Lament)’, this is obviously a specific tribute to Marco Corbelli, and in honour of his memory seeks an Atrax Morgue style route of looped power electronics minimalism, complete a lamenting synth line partially buried in the mix.

Noting this has been released on the cult label Urashima label, this contextually makes sense given Urashima are reissuing much of Atrax Morgue’s back catalogue on vinyl, as well as the fact that S.T.A.B. Electronics originally started as a tribute to the untimely passing of Marco Corbelli of Atrax Morgue.  However with a limitation of a mere 99 copies (the same with most of Urashima’s releases) this seems far too few for an album of this calibre. An obviously recommend release and really deserving of a larger print run.

IRM – Closure

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IRM – Closure CD Malignant Records 2014

With an underpinning shrill drone it takes a mere 19 seconds and four ultra-slow, echoed floor tom strikes for the new IRM album to explode in full force of what the project are recognised: i.e. layered noise/ drones of Eric Jarl, thick atonal bass guitar playing of Mikael Oretoft and the agonised dual vocals of Martin Bladh. Yet by equal measures by the time the album concludes its 50 minute span, a diverse array of soundscapes and moods have been explored, thus illustrating the expanding niche IRM have carved out in the experimental post-industrial underground.  Although at the outset of their career IRM were an adherent to a direct power electronics sound, over the course of four main albums they have evolved into something altogether different and now encompass a far more abstract, experimental and artistic take on the core abrasive elements.  ‘Closure’ is the fifth formal album from the group and features nine untitled tracks (…or could be considered as nine parts of a single work), and is evidently the third and final part of a trilogy which commenced with 2008’s ‘Indications of Nigredo’ EP and continued with 2010’s ‘Order4’ album.

After becoming familiar with the structure and flow of ‘Closure’ two elements clearly come to the fore.  Firstly the album functions as a focused collection of individual tracks and secondly it includes the use of prominent instrumentation such as floor tom/ tympani percussion (by Ulrik Nilsson), atonal cello strings (by Jo Quail) and even sections with recognisable bass melodies (…whereas previously the bass guitar has been predominantly used as a weighty abstract layer to bulk up the lower end of sound).  Also intriguingly a couple of album passages evoke a ‘high art’ theatre styled atmosphere through the narrative based spoken vocals.  The most prominent example of this is third track consisting of shimmering metallic textures, ticking clock, theatre audience noise and moody twilight bass melody, as Martin narrates a surreal dreamlike theatre scene which appears to deal with the murder or execution of the self (…possibly relating to an attempt at the expulsion of elements of the ego).  This psychological soundscape and surreal narrative is akin to a form of stream of consciousness (…perhaps like that which derived from an immersive hypnotism session), where this dreamlike/ nightmare narrative clearly begs a comparison to the current lyrical approach of Scott Walker.  Yet to have it said Martin’s vocal style substantially differs from the Mr Walker’s crooning, where Martin brings his own unique, urgent and visceral approach.  Interestingly a similar theatre narrative and surreal stream of consciousness approach to lyrical passages was utilized on the last album ‘Order4’. Yet that album was equally immersive as it was impenetrable due to the strict rules imposed (…four tracks of exactly 15 minutes each), which resulted in a singular piece spanning four interconnecting soundscapes/ movements.  As such the flow of the new album is much more conducive as a collection of individual tracks, which can be experienced either individually or as part of the greater whole.  Likewise with full lyrics being printed within the booklet a complex web of thematic inspiration is hinted at within the text 1, noting these range from short collections of words, abstract sentences and passages of dense narrative.  Yet  despite the lyrics being included in the 20 page booklet, deciphering a clear meaning is a complex one, given the often abstract and surreal context of their presentation.  Yet it is exactly this complexity of thematic approach which makes IRM such an engaging project, where the lyrical intricacy functions as sort a puzzle to be solved.

Putting thematic preoccupations aside, the fourth track of ‘Closure’ standouts due its employment of a differing and more varied vocal approach, where the clipped pronunciation and partly yelled vocals follow the stilted percussive structure, as rattled steel chains resonate in the background. Apart from its noted differences, many of the compositions do feature IRM’s modern era sound (…which sits somewhere between industrial drone to power-electronics soundscapes), featuring tense drones, slow atonal bass guitar strums and vocals alternating between spoken passages to agonised dual vocal lines.  Likewise others pieces function as a form of psychological analysis, where two differing vocal lines call and respond to a list of abstract words over a minimalist industrial drone.  Additionally with the sporadic inclusion of unusual sound elements such as a child’s wind-up toy, queasy laughing and lone crying/ sobbing, these aspects elevate the album’s surreal edge.

With IRM continuing to forge headlong into more ‘artistic’ realms, this will perhaps alienate some fans merely interested in the visceral and more direct side of the project. Yet equally IRM could not be accused of pandering to anyone’s expectations other than staunchly following their own creative muse, which in turn is further expanding the sound and focus of the project.  Bearing witness to the gradual evolution of IRM from their infancy has been an engaging and rewarding experience, being yet another step in the process of expanding outer limits of a recognisable sound IRM, where ‘Closure’ is a striking achievement on the part of the group.


 

  1. The lyrics make reference to ‘Onan’, who was a minor biblical character in the Book of Genesis: the second son of Judah, and who was killed by Yahweh (God). Interestingly religious scholars have interpreted that the execution resulted from Onan ‘spilling seed’ (i.e. sexual acts associated with non-procreation), and retribution for being unwilling to father a child by his widowed sister-in-law.  Yet despite the passing reference to Onan (which seems perfect for the scope of Martin’s lyrical obsessions), the balance of the lyrics do not provide any further hint at the myth and metaphor surrounding this religious figure.

 

En Nihil / Procession of the Black Sloth – Mask of the Predator, Flesh of the Prey

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En Nihil / Procession of the Black Sloth – Mask of the Predator, Flesh of the Prey MC Whispering Eye Recordings 2013

This split cassette features En Nihil – whom with I am already familiar with – and introduces the interestingly monikered Procession of the Black Sloth. But rather than just being a basic split, here each act have focused their material around the following concept: “The reality you know could change at any moment. What you once knew will never come back beyond this point. In the blink of an eye an existence of serenity and normality can change into a horrific, living nightmare. You are now just prey at the mercy of a predator”.  So clearly no happiness and sunshine to be found herein then.

En Nihil lead of the first side of the tape where is quickly becomes apparent for this release the project have forgone the recent brooding dark ambient template and opted for a death industrial to industrial noise style.  With a generally loose and rugged approach En Nihil’s side spans both the harsh and subdued. The first two tracks (‘The Death Collector’ and ‘Bone Trophies’) follow a general pattern of loosely structured industrial noise to evoke a stalking and seething death industrial tone.  ‘And Time Will Crumble With Their Bodies’ then functions to elevates the mood, consisting of layers crumbling static, loosely looped bass rumble and stabbing shards of noise, where these elements are structured to achieve a gradually elevating intensity.  For the final of En Nihil’s track, this steps into an all-out static noise squall and sporadic harsh and chaotic noise cut ups.  Despite this description it is not of a HWN style given the track ebbs and flows in intensity, building to noise crescendos and falling away again.

Moving onto the flip side the relatively young project Procession of the Black Sloth (PotBS) are a both a surprise and a revelation with their strong ‘cinematic’ death industrial offerings. The first track ‘Unexpected Demise’ features a clanging metallic structure which brings to mind early Megaptera. In other words it off to a great start.  When the vocals appear they are rather unique for the death industrial genre, having an aggressive guttural yell to unhinged shrieking style, which is more akin to underground metal spheres than typically of industrial or power electronics.  Across PotBS’s side the vocal delivery and sonic treatment is highly varied (echoed, delayed, flanged etc.) which makes the vocals a standout element of the project’s style and sound.  Following the opening cut the next offering ‘Take the Power’ pulls back on the aggression and contains a deep reverb drenched death ambient atmosphere, complete with distant wailing vocals and rattling chains (…the track then morphs into caustic death industrial in the latter half of the piece).   The remaining tracks (‘Under the Floor’, ‘The Only Way’ and ‘Discarded….Forgotten’) variously contain combinations of junk metal clatter, loose creaking noise, sweeping synth drones, distant echoed layers, scattered dialogue samples and diverse vocals which facilitate a general death ambient to death industrial tone.  Likewise across PotBS’s side of the tape there is a general suspense/ horror soundtrack vibe, which is evoked by snippets of movie dialogue or the vocal approach used to achieve same effect.   Thus in some ways the project’s approach brings to mind the heavy dialogue sample approach of Propergol, even if the end result of PotBS sounds rather different from this comparison.

This is a commendable split tape where both projects have approached the same conceptual theme but which has resulted in vastly different sonic results.  From my perspective each project turn in solid offerings, but if comparing the two it is a situation where the newcomer wins out in style and interest due to the ‘new project surprise’ factor.

The Grey Wolves – Blood and Sand

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The Grey Wolves – Blood and Sand LP 2014 Cold Spring Records

Not constituting a new album, this represents a welcomed reissue of this classic yet subdued album from The Grey Wolves on the most important of physical formats – vinyl! So for those late to the party, ‘Blood and Sand’ originally constituted half of a split cassette release from 1990 on Old Europa Cafe (Shock City was the other obscure project featured on the other half).  In hindsight what is rather special about The Grey Wolves side is that it showcased an atmospheric industrial noise style, rather than the politically charged, heavy power electronics sound the project are most recognised for.  This vinyl version is the second edition issued via Cold Spring Records who originally reissued the tape on CD in 2002.  For this latest edition the artwork has been slightly reinterpreted and the sound further boosted via further remastering.

As for the music, two lengthy track are presented (one each side of the vinyl), which spans an album of nearly an hour’s play time.  For the first title track ‘Desert Storm’ is a slow moving and tensely brooding piece containing sweeping sounds, throbbing rhythms and indecipherable radio voices which flits between semi-structure and a free form flow. This amalgam of disparate elements are then layered in such way to generate a tense yet muted modern technological warfare styled atmosphere.   The second piece ‘Gulf Breeze’ takes a similar tactic of wielding a tensile and caustic tone, yet does introduce (late in the piece) a heavily processed guitar/ kit drums based element within the noise layers.

With its suffocating battlefield ambience mixed with its atmospheric noise inclinations, one of the greatest aspects  of this album is a threatening undercurrent of aggression, with a sense it is ready to burst forth from the speakers in full sonic warfare at any moment. Whilst this aural obliteration never entirely eventuates, ‘Blood and Sand’ is no less of a release without it and highlights the tensile atmosphere which has been expertly created.  As such ‘Blood and Sand’ functions as a prefect example of the lesser know atmospheric noise side of The Grey Wolves.

Puce Mary – Persona

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Puce Mary – Persona LP Posh Isolation 2014

Puce Mary is the industrial/ power electronics project of Frederikke Hoffmeier who since 2010 been steadily raising her profile via a series of releases, each of which are displayed a gradual improvement in sound, focus and direction. ‘Persona’ forms the third official album.

‘The Course’ opens the album in fine fashion, featuring a strong distinctive throbbing industrial rhythm, fluttering higher pitched tones, metallic clanging structure and vocalisations delivered in a relatively subdued, distortion filtered style. This a blood boiling, fist pumping track and clear standout, where Frederikke demonstrates her skill of how to nail with clinical precision a structured industrial/ power electronics track.  Although potentially referencing Pharmakon in relation to this this track may on face value seem entirely lazy (given both projects are part of a new generation of female fronted underground industrial/ power electronics acts), this comparison has far more to do with the clinically sharp sound and rhythmic construction of this opening piece, than any perceived similarity in vocal delivery or the fact that both projects are helmed by women.  Following this extremely strong and focused opening cut, the sound takes a drastic left turn the following track ‘The Viewer’ is a lengthy and tensile cinematic styled soundscape with a muted undercurrent of rumbling bass, slow militant percussive beats, creaking metallic debris, shimmering atonal synths etc. ‘Gestures’ then arcs back towards a more focused style, where basic throbbing rhythms, atonal warbling synths and slow drawled vocals articulates a lethargic drugged out haze.

The instrumental track ‘Pigs’ opens the second side of the album, with a layered militant thrum and hissing distortion textures, and whilst threatens at breaking out into all out sonic chaos, never actually eventuates.  ‘Impure Fantasy’ is next and an another cinematic industrial soundscape styled track of sustained organ drones, abstract echoed layers, muted percussive textures and vocals which sit somewhere between spoken word and sampled movie dialogue.  The title track concludes the album and is the most minimalist track on offer.  Built with a basic and loose structure of slow menacing echoed bass layers, the track gradually coalesces into a vague structure as the screech distorted vocals are acerbically delivered.

With three tracks per side, interestingly the album seems follows an almost template approach, where a focused industrial/ power electronics track is followed by a cinematic soundscape and rounded out by another loose industrial composition.  Plan or coincidence? Not quite sure.  Noting the myriad of sonic expressions on display, ‘Persona’ is a diverse and varied album which is ‘industrial’ to its core given all its aspects are captured under this broad stylistic banner.  It is also a clear demonstration that Frederikke is not afraid to experiment with her chosen sound and direction for Puce Mary. Recommended.