Various Artists – Epicurean Escapism I

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Various Artists – Epicurean Escapism I CD / DVD Silken Tofu / The Epicurian 2014

In August 2014 the third instalment of the Epicurean Escapism Festival was held in Berlin, when concurrently this ‘Epicurean Escapism I’ compilation was released to commemorate the first instalment of the festival from 2012.  So whilst such a post festival release would not ordinarily cause too much confusion, this is despite the fact that a compilation tape and accompanying DVD was already issued in 2012 in association with the first Epicurean Escapism festival (reviewed here), and intriguingly the majority of content on the original version is not featured on this set.  For this updated version it includes new and additional material from the majority of the same acts whom were featured on the original tape compilation.  Likewise the packaging here differs from the original in that it mirrors the style and formant of the ‘Epicurean Escapism II’ compilation (released in 2013), where the CD and DVD were housed in a catalogue booklet to provide a visual document of participating artists. Does all this amount to unnecessary confusion? Possibly, yet it is ultimately the quality and interest of this compilations content which is of far greater importance.

For the musical parts, Krank leads off the CD (the rebranded Kraang project of the John Murphy), but now featuring the inputs of Annie Stubbs and Till Brüggemann.  Here the project delivers a hazy and disorientating industrial soundscape of sporadic horns, loose loops, swirling industrial fragments and ritualised sonic clutter.  However the surprise comes with the edition of late night lounge/ jazz vocals courtesy of Annie Stubbs, where these ‘song’ focused vocals are clearly an interesting and divergent addition to counter the generally non-musical focus of the post-industrial soundscape.

IRM follow next and whereas a live track was featured on the original tape compilation, here they step up with an exclusive contribution in the form of a lengthy track ‘Triptych’.  This 17 minute track effectively which amounts to ‘medley’ composition which remixes material lifted from the conceptual triptych formed by 2008’s ‘Indications of Nigredo’ MLP, 2010’s ‘Order4’ and the recently issued 2014 album ‘Closure’.  Moving through three main segments, this track covers the majority of known and lauded elements of IRM and it almost goes without saying that the group are revered around these parts with this track being no exception.  Agonised physiological focused vocals, tense droning soundscapes, thrummed atonal bass, and crunching metallic noise mark the path, and whilst recognised elements of original tracks remains, these have been recontextualised into new and engaging forms to compete a strong and focused track.

For the third track Human Larvae and Anemone Tube have collaborated on an extended piece, noting that both previously featured separate tracks on the original tape.  With both acts having quite distinctive sounds, they have certainly achieved a pleasing amalgam here. Effectively containing two halves, the first part is an excellent slower burner of cyclic layered loops to generate droning power electronics soundscape, with the sharp distortion and delay treated vocals of Human Larvae sitting perfectly within the mix.  For the latter half the piece moves toward more serene quasi-orchestral drone to dark ambient territory, where I assume that Human Larvae’s aesthetic has driven the first half, whilst Anemone Tube the later.  All in all it is a great pairing of the divergent sound of these two projects.

Jarl – being the solo project of Erik Jarl of IRM – should be a relatively well-recognised project by now, whom presents the fourth and final track of the CD compilation.  Here Jarl deliver a monolithic 25 minute track ‘A Case Of Inbreeding: A Homage To My Doppelganger’, where Jarl does what he does rather well.  Essentially a subtle drone and low pulse mark the introduction, where there track forges a gradually droning evolution as additional looped layers and added at a glacially pace.  The atmosphere of the track balances the ominous with the serene and spans its length with ease and general fits the recognised Jarl sound.

Moving onto the DVD Martin Bladh presents a collection of his experimental short films under the rather self explanatory title of ‘Video Works’.  Following full immersion with these collected film works the overarching impression is that it is very much like being plunged rather voyeuristically into the personal mindset of Martin’s obsessions, which might have otherwise been conducted in private beyond prying eyes if not for the existence of these films.  Across the complete series of films the camera captures various obsessive scenes playing out, where the camera itself is occasionally visible in a strategically placed mirror, which functions to blurs the line between participant, observer and voyeur.  Essentially experimental filmmaking in its styling, the short video juxtaposes visual cuts ups of various scenes – some somewhat disturbing – being acted out, complimented with a soundtrack ranging from interview/ dialogue to industrial noise soundscapes.  The scenes across the five short films involve numerous cut up scenes which visualise different versions of physco-sexual themes which have been reflected across the bulk of his artistic output to date. Some of the various elements on display include the exploration of the self/ ego, sexual obsessions, death, murder, self-mutilation and self-castration.  Some obvious influences from Francis Bacon and Hermann Nitsch and the Viennese Actionist movement are clearly evident (and have been acknowledged by Martin himself), yet the central placement of his own obsessions at the core of his work, without flinching from any ramifications concerning how he may be perceived, clearly elevates his work to a point where it is wholly his own.  Brief context and associated impressions of each of the short film follows below:

  • ‘DES’ forms part of his artistic study of Martin’s fascination with the UK serial killer Dennis Nilsen, where this video is the video counterpart of the book of the same name and obviously exploring the same thematic material. Of particular interest is that some of the more poetic spoken lyrics of this piece were also utilised on IRM’s latest album ‘Closure’, which illustrates Martin’s cross pollination of themes and ideas across multiple artistic platforms. The film cuts between various stages scenes which also reflects the book’s content, and also uses extensive dialogue samples from both interviews with Dennis as well as audio sampled from an audiobook for Brian Master’s biography on Dennis entitled ‘Killing For Company: Case of Dennis Nilsen’.
  • ‘Cycle’ functionally operates as a visually comparative work, which appears to contrast a young and happy child (old home footage of who appears to be a young smiling Martin), counterpointed with visuals potentially relating to the person he has evolved into through the explorations of his obsessions, which is set to interview dialogue and sporadically harsh but generally subdued experimental industrial noise backing.
  • ‘Pig and Tomboy’ (the only film featured on the original compilation version), involves a naked seated figure and a standing aggressor in a pig mask who manipulates his compliant and possibly drugged subject. This main scene (amongst others) progresses seemingly in response to an audio collage of interview dialogue (which has been collated and contributed by Peter Sotos), which deals with a girl’s decent into drug use, prostitution and subsequent death by unknown means.
  • ‘Hole’ is the shortest film work on offer, which with its visual cutup of close up shots of teeth, lips and the inside of the mouth set to an anxiety inducing and skittish soundscape, is mostly abstract in its delivery and potential interpretation.
  • The title of the final film ‘Matt 5:29 – 30’ obviously refers to the biblical passage which states: “If your right eye causes you to stumble, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell.  And if your right hand causes you to stumble, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to go into hell”.  However here this passage has been reinterpreted in context of Martin’s own obsessive preoccupations. Thus within the film it shows two small mirrors placed at right angles in front of a short stool, where the naked figure of Martin (back to the camera) performs what is clearly meant to represent self-castration. Noting this has been a constant theme of Martin’s work and particularly as this was a central theme of the IRM album ‘Order4’, the film’s low droning soundscape and thematic preoccupations could be considered as a visual addendum to ‘Order4’.

Given that the content and concepts explored are obviously deeply personal to Martin, his film works are a bold display of his personal obsessions and perhaps internalised perceptions of himself. Whilst some may view the visual material as ‘shocking’, this is far from amounting to any sort of clumsy attempt at shock value. Although these video works may not clearly be of interest to all, but for anyone intrigued by Martin’s lyrical and conceptual preoccupations, these films provide further visual exploration.

Moving onto the visual presentation of the compilation set, within the oversized cardboard booklet ‘catalogue’ cover, Martin Bladh provides further art and writing under the title of ‘Victim and Executioner’. Across 24 pages it provides artwork and a range of writings providing additional information on Martin’s inspirations and obsessions. This includes quotes from third parties, personal impressions and background information framing the context of his own film works, in addition to a conceptual written piece ‘Off-Stage Slideshow’, as well as structural details for a theatre piece ‘Death of Narcissus II’. This additional visual and written material certainly makes for complimentary and interesting reading and functions to both confirm and refute some of the above impressions of Martin’s film works (particularly given the above review of the short films were written prior to reading this information).

Over the 3 years that the Epicurean Escapism festival has been operating it has quickly elevated itself to being at the forefront of multi-angled festival which seeks to bring together music, film, visual art. For those not able to attend in person, these releases are excellent documents of each of the events, to ensure there is a legacy beyond the merely the memory of those in attendance. This is also another fine example of how a well a compilation as a format can work when a focused and nonstandard approach is employed. Recommended.

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Last Dominion Lost – Towers of Silence

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Last Dominion Lost – Towers of Silence LP Silken Tofu / The Epicurean 2014

Although a semi-obscured project Last Dominion Lost do have a certain aura surrounding them which is particularly derived from the legacy of its various members.  Thus in their original early 90’s incarnation the project included two former SPK members – Dominik Guerin and John Murphy – who teamed up with John Evans to complete the trio.  Yet the material recorded during this initial formative period remained unreleased until 2004, when at the time Tesco Organisation issued ‘The Tyranny of Distance’ album as a historic archive of the group’s earliest recordings.  To then fast forward another decade, the sophomore album has now been issued which includes recent recordings made between 2012 and 2014.  Noting that Dominik Guerin has departed the group, for this album John Murphy and John Evans remain as the core members, who have enlisted the input of Julian Percy alongside guest contributions of Ash Wednesday, Till Brüggemann, Annie Stubbs, David Barrett, and Ricky Garrett.

What is revealed on initial listens is that ‘Towers of Silence’ is very much a direct continuation of the early industrial era – aka the pivotal 1970-80’s period during which the genre base elements were being set down.  Likewise given the pedigree of core members a direct lineage can be drawn to the tribal infused, percussive industrial sound of early pioneers SPK.  Certain tracks also draw linage with early industrial experimental soundscape works of Current 93, where incidentally John Murphy was involved with their seminal classic ‘Dog’s Blood Rising’ album.  However is not like Last Dominion Lost have purposefully aimed to sound ‘retro’ or ‘old school’, rather this is simply the project going about creating their brand of industrial music which reflects the both legacy of members and length of time being involved in the industrial and related underground music scenes.  Also what sets the sound ‘Towers of Silence’ apart from being merely being regressively focused is the James Plotkin’s mastering which has provided the album a sharp, loud, forceful and modern tenor.

Covering a wide myriad of tonal territory across its 10 compositions the range of sonic elements include shuddering/ wavering analogue synths, clanging metallic rhythms, maudlin vocals (spoken, chanted and disembodied evocations), wailing horns, stoic martial kit percussion, disorientating tonal pulses, warbling sound layers, etc.  Yet despite the diversity of sound on display one constant characteristic is an unnerving aura which weaves through ‘Towers of Silence’, regardless of whether the tracks encompass subdued soundscapes or embody industrial percussive clamour.

The first cut ‘Stagma’ represents a strong opening statement of clanging metallic textures, revving atonal synths, sporadic heavy percussion and aggressive vocal treatments – yet this piece hardly characterises the balance of the album.  The following ‘Sektor F’ then seeks to balance brooding analogue synths and gradually elevating metallic industrial outbursts (which becomes rather chaotic towards track’s end), complete with cyborg vocals which replicate those of the Daleks in their sonic treatment and which completely works despite what this description implies.  On ‘S.E.A.T.O’ the group merges an industrial soundscape with tribalised percussion, where the lamenting vocal line of John Murphy informs us to: “Leave us. We don’t Want You. You’re not relevant anymore. You have nothing that we need” etc. Here the vocals are drawled over subdued soundscape and rolling tribal/ militant percussion, which in their playing style are also clearly that of Mr Murphy – being forceful but equally understated.  ‘Caesium Sunrise’ then features as an excellent queasy atmospheric soundscape of wavering droning synths, garbled vocals and ritualised industrial clamour.  ‘Kavam’ potentially represents the most typical genre type track of the album, being a minimalist and loose experimental industrial soundscape which acts as a base for interview dialogue sample of a woman talking through a disturbing imprisonment ordeal.  Whilst not a bad track is a little lacklustre compared to the balance of the album (…and somewhat tellingly this piece is relegated to the end of the first side of the vinyl).

Moving back into a strongly focused tribal/ militant/ industrial style side B opens with ‘Hexatom’ – a track of sparse percussion, wailing horns and dominant half sung vocals. Although the track ‘Chlorpromazine’ would seem to be making a direct reference to a pharmaceutical drug used to treat schizophrenia, here the composition’s hazy and anxiety infused atmosphere is clearly more akin to as internal soundscape of a mentally unhinged mind.  ‘Chöd Ritual’ then arrives as another album standout and spanning yet more deviating terrain where percussive hand drumming, warbling vocalisations and sustained eastern tinged horns generate a track of sweepingly hazy tribal industrial.  For the final two album cuts ‘Minol’ spans a loose industrial/ noise soundscape with creaking metallic debris, whilst the final title track follows a similar path but is augmented with militant percussive thrum and wailing ethnic tinged textures.

Given that any new material from Last Dominion Lost was not an expected proposition, this has allowed the project used the element of surprise to deliver a categorically authoritative and quintessentially industrial album – where the descriptor of ‘industrial’ is used in widest context of the term.  The artwork and presentation of the album is also perfectly suited, being slick and understated and incorporating visual representations of the ‘Towers of Silence’ and the religious practice of using such structures for sky burials.  Whereas the debut was very much a historical document and testament to the past and early phase of the project, ‘Towers of Silence’ is very much a distinct marker for the rather promising future of Last Dominion Lost.  However let’s hope it is not another decade before the next album surfaces.

I.Corax – The Cadaver Pulse I: Sealed in a Radiant Larval Maelstrom / The Cadaver Pulse II: Mothelix Liquescent

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I.Corax – The Cadaver Pulse I: Sealed in a Radiant Larval Maelstrom CD Aural Hypnox, 2014

I.Corax – The Cadaver Pulse II: Mothelix Liquescent CD Aural Hypnox 2014

With I.Corax having been inducted into the Aural Hypnox fold via 2013’s ‘Cella Phantasma’ album, the label is now taking the opportunity to reissue their first two albums (via the Stellar Mansion series).  With both albums in their original form being released in 2003, for this reissue the packaging has been updated and redesigned in line with the established Aural Hypnox aesthetic, featuring stunningly designed card fold out covers and a range of printed card inserts.  Likewise noting the ‘I’ and ‘II’ title designation; effectively these two separate albums can be considered as companion halves.

Whereas the sound of many of the Aural Hypnox’s roster tend to be rooted in organic instrumentation, I.Corax’s sound differs slightly as their music sounds to be the result of sonic studio processing. Likewise with the use of analogue synthesizers and samplers, in addition to sound sources of more organic origin (such as field recordings, ritual instrumentation), the heavily processed yet highly detailed tone brings to mind the sound of label mate Zoat Aon.  But rather than being a loose comparison, this impression is specifically explained by the fact that sole Zoat Aon member Jaako Vanhala is also one half of I.Corax.  Stylistically both albums follow a similar template by featuring a series of tracks which interlink into a greater whole, thus given the transitions from one track to the next effectively go unnoticed, this allows the albums’ to sprawl out and gradually unfurl.  This interlinking structure also reflective of the fact that there are no individual track titles, rather just a series of ‘states’ (differentiated only with individual roman numerals).

On ‘The Cadaver Pulse I: Sealed in a Radiant Larval Maelstrom’ its characteristic feature is being a darkly brooding and intensely enveloping recording.  The multidimensional sound is in part imbedded in a drone framework, but at the same time also highly animated, where the swirling sonic textural mass is extremely dense in its multi-layered approach.  This works particularly well when the ‘ghosts’ of original sound sources (organic instrumentation, field recordings etc.) can be subtly detected within the mix.  At the album’s core there is an intense grinding momentum, and although abstract there is a real sense of movement and animation, but equally controlled to stop short of being chaotic.  Occasional fragments of ritualised chimes and shrill atonal woodwind type instruments feature, whilst alternate segments use looped sound elements (metallic sounds, scraping textures etc.) to provide a semblance of vague rhythmic structure.

As a counterpoint to the heavy molasses like tone of ‘Part I’, ‘The Cadaver Pulse II: Mothelix Liquescent’ is moderately lighter in atmosphere and offers some respite with its shimmering more ambiental form of sonic expression.  Here wavering drones and bending synth chords are mixed with processed natural environment field recordings and sporadic Asiatic chimes. Likewise a swelling ebb and flow style characterise proceedings here, where the hallucinogenic swirling tone and warm synth reverberations generates an overarching atmosphere somewhere between ritual ambient and abstract 70’s moog space synth experimentation.

With its focused roster of projects and generally infrequent release schedule Aural Hypnox has maintained an exceptionally high standard of release, where I.Corax is a project perfectly suits the label’s sound and aesthetic.  With the issue of these two companion albums they represent sonically detailed and animated recordings which transcend being mere background music and warrant a detailed and engaged attention.

 

Theologian & STROM.ec ‎– Hubrizine

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Theologian & STROM.ec ‎– Hubrizine CD Malignant Records 2014

On ‘Hubrizine ‘ Theologian have teamed up STROM.ec however rather than a typical 50/50 collaboration it seems that Strom.ec provided the base source material which Theologian has then shaped and sculpting it into its final form. Evidently this release also functions to celebrate the two project’s shared appreciation of Philip K. Dick, which is partially reflected and evidenced though what could be described as ‘sci-fi’ slant to the album’s general tone and atmosphere.

With regard to potential expectations this was always going to be clearly coloured by the fact that Theologian inhabit death industrial to power drone territory, whilst Strom.ec deliver sharp and clinical power electronics.  But rather unexpectedly ‘Hubrizine’ does not sound at all like as a collaboration of these two might suggest.  Whilst tonal influence from death industrial and power electronics is evident (and sporadically make their presence felt on selected tracks), these in the most part are sidelined rather than forming core album elements.  Thus the sound here is focused towards an experimental industrial and dark ambient slant, which combines celestial synth drones, twisted studio elements and generally subdued (yet sporadically abrasive) industrial rhythms.

Up first ‘Involuntary Dilation’ forms a rather lengthy ambiental introduction, which is essentially a wavering experimental soundscape, featuring a low clinical drone/ hum and skittish maudlin piano tune which is fractured and twisted through skilful studio trickery. This piece is most certainly is a subdued surprise and sets the album off a fantastic start.  The next piece ‘EM19’ encapsulates schizophrenic tendencies, where on the one level it is ambient and serene, yet on another it contains a clanging metallic industrial approach, complete with aggressive vocalisations.  A similar duality to compositional approach is also prevalent on ‘Ubik’ although the industrial/ power electronics elements are slightly more muted, refined and less chaotic.  With the title track located at the core of the album, it is a monster at 18 minutes long and encompassing sprawling dark ambient drone and subdued industrial noise which in the final minutes ramp up into a proper aggressive power electronics mode.  Alternately ‘World War Terminus’ is a cinematically scoped dark ambient piece, with unfurls with subdued emotional intent.  This is a sublime composition and certainly not the type of maudlin emotive track I would have ever expected from either act.

Noting that ‘Hubrizine’ originally formed a 2013 digital release (which was also given a physical release on cassette in a mere limitation of a mere 12 copies), this material is far too strong to fall into obscurity, hence clearly the reason for Malignant Records giving it a proper rerelease treatment.  The album particularly demonstrates the skilful approach Theologian has employed with using Strom.ec’s source material, where compositionally countering and divergent elements are blended and interwoven, to perfectly balance elements of aggression and serenity. Although ‘Hubrizine’ is a surprising album given its sound and direction is vastly divergent from initial expectations, but more importantly and to the point is a superb and mature release.

In Slaughter Natives – Cannula Coma Legio

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In Slaughter Natives – Cannula Coma Legio CD Cyclic Law 2014

Clearly not being a project to rush their releases, the long-standing and cult revered In Slaughter Natives has resurfaced after a 10 year break from the last formal album ‘Resurrection’, which in turn was preceded by an 8 year gap between it and 1996’s ‘Purgate My Stain’.  Despite these long passages of silence it is great to see that In Slaughter Natives is still active after all these years, considering that the debut release was issued way back in 1989.

Regardless of the slow pace of releases unquestionably In Slaughter Natives were hugely influential in establishing the ‘Cold Meat Industry’ sound and more broadly the northern European industrial underground.  Likewise in hindsight it can be acknowledged that In Slaughter Natives were a precursor the ‘martial industrial’ genre, although their trademark orchestral industrial doom has stood out from and has not been replicated by the majority of projects of a ‘martial industrial’ style (which are predominantly influenced by early to mid-20th century history and era).  Thus In Slaughter Natives stand apart with their distinctive and recognisable neo-classical compositions, which articulate a hellish atmosphere of religious laments and amounts to a sonic representation of purgatorial damnation.

With this necessary background out-of-the-way, evidently ‘Cannula Coma Legio’ is technically not the new album from the group, rather is billed a stop-gap release prior to the release of the actual new album in 2015.  So for this release it contains 3 new tracks which are set alongside a series of reworked and upgraded versions of earlier material.  Yet interestingly all of the material which has been brought together for this release works perfectly as a coherent whole.  This has been achieved by the fact that new versions substantially differ from the originals versions to the point of being almost unrecognisable, and in a number of instances the original melodies and structural elements of known compositions only reveal themselves after multiple detailed listens.  This is most evident for the updated versions of the earliest reworked material, where in some instances the programmed sound of the original versions have not held up fully with the passage of time.  Yet the reason why the new versions work so well here, is that they have ben elevated to full bombastic orchestral intensity.

With ‘Cannula Coma Legio’ seamlessly merging brooding and understated neo-classical passages with sections of booming orchestral bombast, the greatest reference point is with respect of ‘Purgate My Stain’ (THE classic in In Slaughter Natives discography), an album with a slow building intensity which explodes into passages of orchestral doom at appropriate moments.  Given this new album manages a similar sound and approach to ‘Purgate My Stain’, is clearly an indication of how ‘Cannula Coma Legio’ is appreciated around these parts.

Do not let the fact that this album is promoted as a teaser for the new album give any sort of impression that this material is second-rate.  ‘Cannula Coma Legio’ is as strong as ‘Purgate Mt Stain’ thus demonstrating In Slaughter Natives are still an underground heavyweight. It is also fantastic to see the project releasing some of their strongest material some 25 years since the debut. Bring on the next release!