Leila Abdul-Rauf – Insomnia

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Leila Abdul-Rauf – Insomnia CD Malignant Antibody 2015

From the initial moment of the opening track ‘Midnight’ where disembodied echoed female vocalisations float forth from the speakers in combination with a musty soundscape and distant chimes, it inevitably draws comparisons to the sound of classic female fronted CMI act Aghast and stands as a very strong and positive introduction to the album. Yet this initial comparison is quickly shattered as the album continues and moves through a number of hazy night-time atmospheres to present an overall musicality to eclipse the initial comparative impression.

Although ‘Insomnia’ is steeped in elements of dark ambience, it is also imbedded with a level musicality and evocative atmospheres which make it much more ‘filmic’ and soundtrack styled. Likewise the use of a floating and hazy trumpet throughout a number of the tracks, coupled with the clean sung haunting female vocals and understated piano provides a dusky and darkly hued night-time atmosphere. ‘He Sits in His Room’ deviates slightly with its more focused musical frame of plucked to sweeping synth notes and prominent ethereal female vocals (the late track sweeping trumpet solo again evokes a twilight feel).

The overarching mood of ‘Insomnia’ is one a bleak cinematic film-noir style, where the hazy solo trumpet gives a haunting late night cabaret vibe; akin to something from a David Lynch film where a vaguely nightmarishly edge lurks at the periphery of perception. In some ways the filmic musicality on ‘Insomnia’ feels rather alien to the larger focus and output of Malignant Records, but also illustrates that darkness can also be exquisitely beautiful. Divergently recommended.

Atrium Carceri & Eldar – Sacrosanct

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Atrium Carceri & Eldar – Sacrosanct CD 2012 Infinite Fog Productions

This is a bit of an older album which I have recently checked out, and whilst I am well aware of both projects, I have not necessarily listened to a great deal of their rather large discographies (each with 10 or so albums each to date). Likewise the projects should be recognized for their former association with the cult but now defunct Cold Meat Industry label.

So to establish where the sound of this collaboration might fall, generally speaking Atrium Carceri delve into a cinematic dark ambient sound, whilst Eldar have been more varied in the musical expression under a general ‘industrial’ banner, covering elements dark ambient, martial industrial and neo-classical etc.  Despite the differences in sound for each project, for this collaboration the sound palate has opted to largely stick to animated dark ambient realms.  Early album track ‘Tomorrow’s Dust’ is of the sweeping cinematic style with a darker undercurrent weaving throughout, whilst the programmed pulse provides an aspect of force to the compositions structure. ‘Freeman’ is a touch divergent with its minimalist programed beat (more akin to a rhythmic heart beat thump), mixed with sweeping yet solemn orchestral layers. Similar programming in the form of rolling tribal and electronics tinged percussion reappears on mid album track ‘Betrayal’, while occasional flourishes of musicality are also apparent, such as minimalist piano which features ‘So They Speak’ ‘SOL’ and ‘Burial’.

Ultimately what is delivered on ‘Sacrosanct’ is an album which sits staunchly within a dark ambient realm – a realm of dusky twilight and desolate streets filled with crumbling and abandoned buildings; and if you look closely at the mostly black cover, a darkened silhouette of a city skyline is featured which is a rather apt visual representation of the album’s mood. This a solemn and enjoyably immersive listen and although I would not put this is a ‘classic’ or even ‘astounding’ category, rather this is a strong and very enjoyable dark ambient album – nothing more, nothing less.

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Te/DIS – Comatic Drift

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Te/DIS – Comatic Drift LP Galakthorrö 2014

Following the debut 7”ep ‘Black Swan’ from 2013 (also released on Galakthorrö) Te/DIS – aka Tempted Dissident – have quickly followed up with their debut full length album to further hone their chosen 80’s tinged post-punk/ cold wave/ angst-pop amalgam.

While the tone of Te/DIS’s style is one which is influenced by ‘industrial’ music, the actual music is not harsh, nor in any way abrasive. Being very much in a bleak, cold and clinical analogue programmed guise, the straightforward and direct songs are mostly driven by mid based beats which intermingle with icy synths and rhythmic stabs. Likewise the vocals remain as a distinctive and trademark element where, where the clear male vocals are delivered in a commanding monotone style. Given the cold feel of the music is very ‘German’ in style, the vocals (albeit exclusively sung in English) suit the music very well; however I could imagine that these would be a ‘love’ or ‘hate’ element for some listeners. ‘Close Range’ begs a particular mention, with low slung bass driven groove and interweaving synth lines, which differentiates it from the stilted electronic patterns of earlier tracks. ‘Shootout with a Stranger’ is another particular album standout given its slight sonic deviation of doom addled minor tuned synths, throbbing bass and some animated mid paced drum machine/ high hat percussive elements, again completed with the commanding semi-sung vocal presentation.

If any criticism were to be leveled at ‘Comatic Drift’, it would be that there is a general ‘sameness’ to the overarching style and sound of the twelve songs and which is perhaps not as diverse as that demonstrated on the debut 7”ep. But aside from this very minor gripe Te/DIS’s formal debut album fits perfectly within Galakthorrö’s roster.

Stuzha – Butugichag

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Stuzha – Butugichag CD Ksenza Records/ Infinite Fog Productions 2015

Having not come across this Russian dark ambient project before, this is their second album since 2011 and as the name translates to ‘Severe Cold’ this along with the cover image gives a hint at the sonic preoccupations of this album. The liner note further highlight that the album is dedicated to prisoners of Kolyma Labour Camps, with the visuals also reflecting this theme within its 6 panel digi-pack. 4 lengthy tracks make up this album (average of 10 minutes a piece), which each containing their own version of a desolate icy pitched tone. Ultimately Stuzha deliver the aural presentation of glacial barren vistas, which at times approaches an isolationist ambient tone, although there is generally more underlying movement and sonic elements (such as sparse piano) to make this more animated than the pure isolationist ambient works of someone like Thomas Koner. Also on more than one occasion Northaunt comes to mind as an appropriate benchmark of the style and feel of this music, as does a number of other Cyclic Law related releases in a similar sound.

The opening piece ‘A Night By The Foot of the Mountain’ comes positively roaring out the of the speaking, with think walls of bass intoned drones and field recordings to match the title context (crackling fire, footfalls in snow covered ground, clanging gates, barking dogs etc.), thus generating a widescreen ‘mind’s eye’ picture in the process. ‘Uranian Mines’ follows and apart from its sweeping to rumbling drones, has a large portion of its sound based on slow scraping metallic textures, but is a rather laid back in overall mood. ‘Raging Blizzard’ is much as the title suggests, but this is the sound of it experienced indoors, as the muffled sounds of the storm and its whipping winds rage unabated outside (…late piece the tone elevates to the point where it sounds like the roof is going to be ripped off). The final album track ‘Lilac Polar Darkness’ is the most musical piece on offer and presents a slightly more serene tone of interweaving semi-orchestral drones and treated washes of sparse guitars which follow a broad ebb and flow style, as a mediative means to conclude the album.

In a general underground scene context and over the arc of the last decade (or more), Russia has been gradually elevating its status in underground ambient and industrial spheres, where this Siberian project released on a Russian label stands as a strong testament to the calibre of material coming from such quarters.

Sewer Goddess – Painlust

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Sewer Goddess – Painlust CD Black Plagve 2015

Since 2006 the Boston native Sewer Goddess (helmed by Kirsten Rose) has been delivering her particular brand of death industrial muck which on occasion verges on power electronics aggression. ‘Painlust’ is the new opus (and second album if not counting the live album ‘Disciples Of Shit: Live Waste’ from 2001), and a surprising one at that given it demonstrates a substantial evolution in sound. Essentially there has been a intentional streamlining and refinement of the project into a formal band structure (now including bass, drums and guitars), but not forsaking the grit and grime of the tone of earlier material.

‘Plague Axis’ open the album with a crushing death industrial sound; one of creaking metal, sustained minor key drones, pounding beat and screeched vocals to set the tone with grim intent. The following piece ‘My Grave’ the arrives as the first demonstration of the shift towards a structured ‘band’ focus, where the death industrial sound is augmented with slow pummelling Godflesh styled industrial styled guitars (albeit of a darker doom metal heaviness), here with Kristian’s vocals being in a distinctive drawled spoken style. ‘Flog’ follows a similar template of a mid-paced churn of guitar/ drums/ bass but here the drawled vocals are force-fed through a distortion treatment, with this track being a fantastic display of the evolved band driven approach. ‘Black Meat And Bones‘ is a song of a more forceful ilk, with a driving/ pounding percussive backbone, spitting machinery, screeched vocals and austere but shrill guitars, while the slow rhythmic drag and pull of the bass/ drums/ guitar of ‘Get the Rope’ achieves a very death industrial feel, despite its more typical band formation. Representing a grand conclusion ‘Melena’s Mask’ pushes back towards a mid-paced industrial guitar throb, heaving driving percussion and rhythmic machine backing, here Kristen’s vocals being multi-tracked to included drawled passages and screeched screams.

With 6 tracks at around 28 minutes, this is by no means a long album, but has compressed a massive sound into this short timeframe. The album artwork by André Coelho Sektor 304 is suitably grim and mechanical in style, although to my mind some of other images within the booklet would have made for a more striking cover. Noting I have appreciated what Sewer Goddess were about on earlier releases, ‘Painlust’ is a quantum leap forward in style and sound with the honed band focused sound a real revelation to behold.

Night Science – Issue V

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Night Science – Issue V Cipher Productions 2014

Here we have the fifth instalment of Chris Groves’ Night Science magazine, some long 4 years since the last and although the release of new instalments does not happen at a rapid rate, each issue is absolutely worth the wait.  Issue V is the biggest issue yet spanning a massive 158 pages; 8 detailed and lengthy interviews; a monumental 92 pages of live show and album reviews; and topped off with a CD of tracks from interviewed projects.  Artists featured in this issue include: Alberich, Niellerade Fallibilisthorstar, Hal Hutchinson, Anemone Tube, Mlehst, Skin Graft, Kazuma Kubota and Fragment Factory.

Here we have the fifth instalment of Chris Groves’ Night Science magazine, some long 4 years since the last and although the release of new instalments does not happen at a rapid rate, each issue is absolutely worth the wait.  Issue V is the biggest issue yet spanning a massive 158 pages; 8 detailed and lengthy interviews; a monumental 92 pages of live show and album reviews; and topped off with a CD of tracks from interviewed projects.  Artists featured in this issue include: Alberich, Niellerade Fallibilisthorstar, Hal Hutchinson, Anemone Tube, Mlehst, Skin Graft, Kazuma Kubota and Fragment Factory.

Although Issue V follows a similar visual and stylistic template, there has been a subtle refinement of design, where everything is slightly more clean and defined in presentation. The print quality has also stepped up a notch too, which is slick clean and very professional. Regarding the interviews, these are all detailed and long-form, being written specifically for each artist and generally speaking demands at least a cursory level of knowledge of the underground music being covered to get the most from the questions and responses.  As a specific example the Hal Hutchison interview introduction makes reference to an earlier interview in Special Interests Magazine, thus using that as a ‘springboard’ for a continuing series of questions. Having read all interviews in detail, personally the one from Alberich, Niellerade Fallibilisthorstar, Hal Hutchinson and Anemone Tube made for most immersive reading (based on my listening preferences).

Regarding the reviews these are uniformly excellent as Chris is a strong and descriptive writer, where his writing style is sharp and focused, intelligent and insightful and covering a wide variety of known and obscured releases in a broad industrial/ death industrial, noise power electronics and experimental spheres. He also clearly holds strong opinions on what in his estimation are less focused elements of a particular release and is willing to state his view. Likewise for those items which I have reviewed myself, on occasion I noted some divergent opinions that Chris and I have, which made for interesting comparisons of opinion and re-evaluation of said releases.

Moving onto the CD, to my mind this really functions mostly as a ‘taster’ for interviewed acts if readers are not familiar with their work, thus I have chosen not to review it as if were a typical compilation album. However I will say that in this day and age when most music is available to sample at the click of a mouse, it is commendable that Chris has continued to issue the sampler CD as part of the magazine.

For me personally, the strongest element of Night Science is the fact that Chris’ listening preferences contains only a partial crossover with mine, given a large portion of his listening is firmly entrench in the noise and related fields. This then means Night Science contains lots of lesser known projects and reviewed releases, making for very informative and immersive reading and listening (rather than simply me reading interviews and reviews of artists/ albums I might have covered myself). Without question Night Science is absolutely one of the strongest underground industrial/ noise/ power electronics print magazines out there and is mandatory reading, regardless of you initially recognize interviewed artists or not.

Deaf Machine – Transistor / Found Noises

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Deaf Machine – Transistor CD Raubbau 2008

Deaf Machine – Found Noises CD Raubbau 2008

The label Rabbau seems to be similar to myself, in that they have a soft spot if not all out obsession for early 1990’s Swedish industrial obscurities.  Deaf Machine is one such project whom were a short lived project of Mikael Svensson who was also a founding member of Megaptera before his departure leaving Peter Nyström to carry on. Deaf Machine also have a loose connection with the early era of the Cold Meat Industry label, noting that two of their tracks where included on ‘In the Butcher’s Backyard’ compilation from 1993.  In order to prevent Deaf Machine from languishing in total obscurity, Raubbau have taken the initiative to release the complete recordings of Deaf Machine (spanning 2 separate CD’s).

‘Transistor’ was the first recording from the project and given the original tape was issued in 1992 in only 10 copies it gives an indication of exactly how obscure the project was and no doubt this re-release will be the means for many to hear this music for the first time.  Looking back at the context of when this material was released, this was during a time when the Swedish death industrial sound was in its infancy and its key hallmarks were still being bedded down.  Likewise given its obscure muffled sound, and occasional scattered micro-tonal elements, there is partial a degree of affinity here with a ‘post-mortem’ style.  Thus ‘Transistor’ inhabits a loose analog sound, primarily built on fuzzed out radio static, cavernous bass addled tones, morbid tonal pulsations and slow thumping industrial rhythms, whilst on occasion radio songs and news reports randomly bleed into the mix.  Given the newly designed cover imagery features ice covered plants and frozen landscapes, it is a suitable representation of the cold industrial soundscapes found within.  The cover also features liner notes include text provided by scene notables Jason Mantis, Kyle Wright and Bauke van der Wal (among others) which provides context to the early impact of the group.

The second CD ‘Found Noises’ functions to collect together all remaining recordings from the group, which includes: 5 tracks from a 1992 split tape with Instant Cold Commando (2 of these tracks were also featured on the Cold Meat Industry ‘In The Butchers Backyard’ compilation); 1 track from 1995 on Harmonie’s Le Cénacle cassette compilation; 1 track from 1994 on Slaughter Productions Death Odors CD compilation; and 1 unreleased track (year unlisted).  For the sound of ‘Found Noises’ it follows the established stylistic template, however has been slightly honed in focus and execution to inhabit a darker and more forceful hue (whereas ‘Transistor’ was slightly more experimental in guise).  Radio chatter is still sporadically used, but the darker sound is augmented with garbled, chanted vocals and slow thrummed bass to bulk out the lower end of the sound.  ‘Reaction’ is a particular stand-out, with it muffled echoed soundscape and semi-buried maudlin synth line, while the movie dialogue samples and grinding death industrial sounds of ‘At The End’ and ‘Silent Intruder’ also draws parallels to the early works of Megaptera.  ‘Injection’ is the most divergent piece on offer with its focused electronic programming, while the final album track (and seemingly the final recording for the project) comes in the form of ‘Final Destination, which was originally featured on the now classic ‘Death Odors compilation.  Here the extended track is a great example of a mechanically driven, rhythmic death industrial soundscape, with floating layered synths etc. and showed much promise from a project which for whatever reason simply did not continue further (the cover includes a short interview with Mikael Svensson which covers the reason why).

With both CD’s representing a history lesson on one of the obscurest projects of the Swedish death industrial sound, Raubbau should be commended for resurrecting these recordings and issuing these albums for both posterity’s sake and general listening pleasure.