Sentenced for Life – Cold on the Blue

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Sentenced for Life – Cold on the Blue LP Prison Tatt Records 2015

Having not come across the Australian Sentenced for Live before, evidently this vinyl is a limited repress of an even more limited cassette version released in 2011, which musically demonstrates a loose and unrefined approach to its crude power electronics and skuzzy industrial noise. Likewise with the project’s moniker, crude home-made tattoo styled graphics and well sourced introductory samples, each of these elements provide more than a cursory hint at thematic preoccupations; that being of drug culture, criminality, underclass aggression and threatened violence.  Two lengthy vinyl side spanning tracks are featured here, with each being just short of 20 minutes.

‘Broken & Corrupt I Bleed Like A Cunt’ takes up the first side, which features rough grinding layers of spitting analogue static to provide a loose cyclic structure. Yet despite its rough sonic aesthetic there is cavernous tonal depth to the sound, which only elevates its loathsome and paranoid inducing atmosphere. Although talking up the full side of LP there are distinct segments within the composition, with a gradual shift from one to the next, including the late segment which contains a distant death industrial thump. Overall the first side sits squarely within more subdued, but heavily layered, industrial noise soundscape territory and maintains an excellent control over its tone and pacing, creating a paranoid tone of lurking but unseen menace.

‘In The Guts Of A Low Mongrel Dog’ takes up the second side and after the relative subdued industrial noise approach of the first track, it ratchets up the mood a few notches into more direct power electronics pretence.  Here the first segment containing a heady dose of grinding distortion and forceful pounding structures to drive its chaotic squall. The more lengthy mid to end sections then slightly reduce the forceful approach, with a laid back and atmospheric control to its low pulsing throb and grinding atmosphere (yet is still more direct overall than the first side).

Clearly the primitive analogue atmospheres and swirling industrial noise morass begs a passing reference to elements of Streicher (as a older comparison) or maybe Alfarmania (as a more contemporary one), but these comparisons are most relevant when both comparative acts are functioning in a more elongated soundscape capacity. Although Sentenced to Life not necessarily bringing anything new to this sort of material, they have nailed their chosen sound with clear intent and delivered a very strong and convincing release in the process. There is also a very positive ‘obscurity factor’ at play given ‘Cold on the Blue’ is Sentenced for Life’s only release to date and an excellent one at that. Recommended if you can track a copy down.

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Aural Hypnox: recent batch of cassettes

The ever intriguing Finnish label Aural Hypnox continues their release campaign of special handmade editions from their expanding label roster. Here are four recent releases, all in limited special edition packaging and exclusively presented on the cassette format. Noting the stunning attention to detail that Aural Hypnox have demonstrated in the past to all sonic, visual and physical aspects of their releases; these new releases are further testament to their unwavering vision and perfect execution of it. A brief rundown on each is provided below.

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Aeoga – Impaled By The Midnight Chant MC Aural Hypnox 2014

Aeoga’s tape features two separate live recordings from 2014, yet both live recordings feature the same three interlinked compositions. As demonstrated by this tape, Aeoga are flag bearers for the recognised sound of the label; a sound which embodies the epitome of ritualistic dark ambient soundscapes built around sparse instrumentation, wailing ritual horns and sustained drones. As with much of this music presented within a live setting a cyclic approach is evident were there sound gradually builds to then fall away again, however on this tape the sound is quite a bit heavier and grindingly forceful than the bulk of Aeoga’s studio output. Likewise despite featuring the same tracks, both recordings (1 per side of the tape) come off quite differently in tone and feel, therefore warrant individual attention. Packaging for the tape includes an oversized cardboard box with screen printed insets and special package of incense.

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Lingua Fungi – Azure Beyond Aural Hypnox 2014

The recent Aural Hypnox inductees Lingua Fungi see their second release on the label in the form of this short two track cassette. The first of the two untitled tracks takes up Side A with sustained (mid toned) celestial tinged drones, which also embodies a slightly rugged and forceful edge to its cyclic revolutions. Sprawling out over a 10 minute span this first piece is generally subdued, but also too active to be truly meditative in tone. On the other hand Side B is far more musical in scope featuring a maudlin melody and plucked and bowed string instruments which intertwine within radiating and warmth exuding drones. Simply sublime. Oversized screen-printed cardboard box, inserts and special incense packet rounds out the presentation.

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Aural Hypnox – Underworld Transmissions III MC Aural Hypnox 2015

This third edition in the ‘Underworld Transmissions’ provides two more séance recordings from various members of the Aural Hypnox collective, which explains the use of the label name as the project moniker. Side A features ‘Séance IV / 2014 (July 2014)’, being a hazy atonal soundscape of shifting analogue drones and creaking sonorities which cyclically build to forceful sonic impact. Side B then features ‘Séance I / 2015 (January 2015)’, which follows similar sonic paths, although is imbedded with a more mysterious tone within its droning dark ambient frame. Both tracks are absorbing in a very positive way and packaging comes in the form of a small screen-printed cardboard box and mini-booklet insert.

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Templum N.R. – Spectrum CCCXC: Transitio MC 2015

The mysteriously named Templum N.R. are the newest addition to the roster, but evidently is the first and only release to be widely promoted, as all future releases can only be obtained by responding the subscription letter provided with the release.  The evocatively titled ‘Whispers Echo into a Monolith’ is the first of two tracks, where its title gives a strong ‘mind’s eye’ impression before the piece even starts.  Sonically it delivers a miasmic piece of pulsing analogue drones mixed with plenty of rough and scattered textual elements, ritualistic percussive sounds and swirling disembodied vocalisation to make a very strong and forceful initial impression.  The second of two tracks ‘The Glow Breathed Out from the Aphotic Depths’ seeks deviating paths and after a ritualistic chimed introduction it delivers a stunning piece of contemporary classical styled music, where cyclic violins motifs and deep bowed cello drive the tone of the piece with gradually building intensity.  Late in the piece some quite forceful trial percussive elements and chanted vocals drive the piece to its conclusion.  Oversized screen-printed cardboard box and inserts and canvas patch rounds out the packaging, and with the focused force of the music it will be extremely interesting to see how the Templum N.R. concept evolves.  Recommended.

Atrium Carceri – Metropolis / Aegri Somnia – Monde Obscure

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Atrium Carceri – Metropolis CD Cryo Chamber 2015

Aegri Somnia – Monde Obscure CD Cryo Chamber 2015

The Cryo Chamber label is helmed by Simon Heath of Atrium Carceri and since 2012 has primarily functioned as a ‘24 bit’ digital label, but also releases selected ’16 bit’ CD’s for those like me who are still clinging on to a belief in the importance of the ‘physicality’ of a release (…even if in the instance of Cryo Chamber this technically amounts to a reduction in sound quality).

‘Metropolis’ is Atrium Carceri twelfth album since 2003 (with seven albums issued via the defunct Cold Meat Industry label), and noting that the project is self-described as ‘cinematic dark ambient’ this is particularly spot on for what can be expected. As such the eleven tracks spanning 53 minutes of ‘Metropolis’ very much constitutes a soundtrack for a non-existent film, perhaps something with a mysterious sci-fi slant to the story.  As the album progresses, different tracks engender different moods and atmospheric approaches.  Oscillating from abstract and foggy dark ambience to brooding musically composed segments, the later includes sullen rhythmic passages and other musical elements such as piano melodies, floating synths or orchestral synth pads.  Noting the ‘filmic’ quality, a nice thematic touch is the scant character details provided within the cover, which hint at a broader story arc that the music is framed around.  Being highly refined and very professional sounding, with particular attention  to tonal depth and sonic layering, it is worthwhile noting that Atrium Carceri contributed music for a computer game ‘The Old City’ (this soundtrack has also been released on Cryo Chamber).  Clearly this is an album which will be highly appreciated by staunch dark ambient devotees, although for those who prefer slightly harsher and less refined tonalities of industrial music mixed with their dark ambience may find this album a touch too refined (…although of note the concluding track ‘The Machine’ contains elements of more grating sonorities).

On the other hand Aegri Somnia are a new signing and project to the Cryo Chamber roster, whose approach is generally more abstract and earth bound than Atrium Carceri. This is the most part due to a large proportion of ‘Monde Obscure’ being based on strong undercurrent of field recordings made in a variety of abandoned urban locations.  As such the tonal atmospheres are darkly hued, articulating sparse cavernous spaces and crumbling empty ruins.  The field recording elements play a large role in this by sonically articulating creaking doors, scattered metallic textures, dripping/ splashing water, shuffling footfalls etc., which are augmented with abstract synth pads, vague floating ‘minor keyed’ musical touches (i.e. sparse piano notes), distant disembodied whispered or chant like vocals, sporadic chimes and sparse percussive flourishes .  Accordingly these elements are subtly combined and presented for utmost effect, where they never overwhelm the sound palate, but work to positively in a minimalistic fashion to generate barren and desolate wasteland soundscapes.  ‘Les Temps Ont Change’ deserves a particular mention where its ritualistic chimes and reverb drenched moody piano melody is used excellent and more focused effect, as does ‘Noir et Blanc’ with its sampled choral vocal chants.  For all its general abstractness ‘Monde Obscure’ does an excellent job of creating engaging and sonically detailed widescreen atmospheres, which dually functions to demonstrate the diversity and creativity which can still be found within the rather bloated scene that is the dark ambient genre in 2015.

MZ.412 – Hekatomb

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MZ.412 – Hekatomb CD Cold Spring Records 2015

Noting it is already 9 years since the last formal full length ‘Infernal Affairs’, the legendary and revered MZ.412 have certainly slowed to a glacial pace in the recording of new material.  Although a new album is evidently in the works, this album represents a live recording from the group, captured during their performance at Cold Spring’s 21 Year Anniversary Show on the 5th March 20011 (The Garage, London).  For the show MZ.412 featured the 3 main members Nordvargr, Dradkh and Ulvtharm, in addition to the mysterious 4th member Werdernskog.  For the performance itself it features 14 ‘movements’ (Act I through Act XIV), which combine into an uninterrupted and seamless 56 minute span.

Noting that MZ.412 is in the main a studio based project, in a live setting it appears that the group relies on pre-sequenced sections, which are combined with live created and manipulated electronics.  As such various ‘musical’ segments have been lifted from MZ.412’s back catalogue to create the backbone of the live set, which includes: the infernal to militant neo-classical movements of recent albums, as well as the rhythmic industrial and ritualistic percussive smelters from earlier works.  Thus with the pre-programmed segments forming an interlinking framework, live generated sweeping drones, ominous noise grim electronics manipulations and static charred disembodied vocalisations have then been overlaid.  Noting there is no detectable crowd noise or applause, it is assumed this recording has been taken directly from the mixing desk, and whilst the somewhat removes it from its live presentation, the sound is nevertheless sound is strong, loud and forceful.

A slick 6 panel digi-pack rounds out the presentation and features live images from the performance, where all members appear as faceless quasi-religious figures delivering their infernal sermon.  ‘Hekatomb’ is a certainly a solidly enjoyable recording and a welcomed document of a rare live performance, but with the lack of new material it really functions to whet the appetite for new studio recordings from the project.

raison d’etre – Collected Works

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raison d’etre – Collected Works CD Infinite Fog Productions 2013

The long standing and highly revered raison d’être can be classified as one of the pinnacle acts and pillars of the second wave of the dark ambient scene, noting the first wave was pioneered by the dark ambient genre founder – Lustmord. But whereas Lustmord over the years has plumbed the dark depths and uninhabited cavernous recesses of the earth; then later turning focus on deep space themes; raison d’être has instead maintained a constant focus on an inward looking spiritual approach, evoked through sacral ambient soundscapes. By now raison d’être have carved their own dark ambient niche which can cut to the core of the inner psyche. Essentially the feeling of religious laments bleeds through all aspects of Peter’s music and one which draws on the spiritual capacity of the human condition. This for me is where Peter excels with his musical works.

So what we have here should be self-evident from the title – a collection of tracks, drawn together under the banner of a compilation album. However given the consistent thematic threads that runs through Peter’s works, this album does not feel like a compilation of disparate compositions. This is assisted by the fact that the majority of the compositions come from the later era/ current sound of the project, where the majority of tracks date from between 2001 to 2010 (with 1 track from as far back as 1999). As such the album’s style is based on long form soundscapes compositions of subterranean drones, sampled and slightly treated sacral chanted vocals, distant ritual chimes, scraping metallic textures, sparse piano (on selected tracks) and the ever present quasi-orchestral synth pads.

If you are already well acquainted with a large proportion of Peter’s work there are no surprises to be found here, but this for me is simply not an issue give the pinnacle level in which he operates. Artwork also comes courtesy of Martin Bladh, who has painted a series of ‘death mask’ pictures of Peter Anderson at various stages of his life (thus far) and presented across the 4 panel digi-pack. Recommended – as is pretty much the case with all of raison d’être’s output.

Praetorian Guard – Ever Bloom Those Flowers of Rome

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Praetorian Guard – Ever Bloom Those Flowers of Rome MC Trapdoor Tapes 2015

Praetorian Guard are a group focusing on militant tinged industrial soundscapes, being the collaborative result of Matt Casey and Ben Taylor of Ebola Disco and Andrew McIntosh of Screwtape (but also not sounding nothing like these projects). I have no idea if this is a one off recording collaboration or something more permanent, but ‘Ever Bloom Those Flowers of Rome’ appears to be their only available recording.

With the stormy industrial soundscapes on display, there is a miasmic swirl to the layering of sonic elements and general analog roughness to the sound, thus providing a muted windswept quality. Sustained synth textures and rumbling bass addled distortion provide the backbone, where a semi-buried militant orchestral feel is also apparat, but it is not really a case of there being prominent orchestral elements rather just a feel of this to drones and on sporadic occasion partially buried violins and trumpets (samples or synths? Not sure). In other segments a militant percussive thump gives a greater degree of movement, coupled with sampled choir vocals. Vocals are also featured throughout, taking a variety of guises, including: spoken style but blended low within the mix; pitch shift morphed beyond easy recognition; or agonisingly yelled to match the passages pushes towards slightly more chaotic and overblown territory.

Although the militant industrial atmospheres created do in part hit their intended mark, with the material spanning 2 hours and containing no individual tracks (elongated soundscapes span the entirety of each side of the tape), the overall release is in part ambling and aimless, thus ending up being a bit of a slog to maintain interest and focus for the entire duration. So although this tape suits its purpose in short doses, it is also something I have not listened to in its entirety of a single listening session. Regardless of whether Praetorian Guard are intending to continue as a project, some greater focus and shorter length would no doubt strengthen the end result.

Downfall of Nur – Umbras E Forestas

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Downfall of Nur – Umbras E Forestas CDep Ksenza Records/ Infinite Fog Productions 2015

Ordinarily I would not review black metal releases despite having followed the arc and evolution of the genre since the early 1990’s. Downfall of Nur are something a bit different; an Argentinian 1 man band who plays furiously epic folk tinged black metal which is seamlessly blended with passages of ritual dark ambience. Although considered an ‘ep’, the 4 tracks here span 38 minutes, thus being longer than many ‘classic’ full length black metal albums.

Featuring a staunchly organic tone and the seamless weaving of forest based field recordings into the mix, the sound has a very earthy feel (..and to expand this description further, it is a tone of dank moss strewn undergrowth; devoid of light, deep under a forest canopy). In some way could draw parallels with the Cascadian Black Metal band Fauna, while other sections remind very much of the Portuguese neo-folk/ dark ambient hybrid group Karnnos. Vocals when present not a prominent element, featuring a throaty rasp which in some moments resembles the vocals of post-prison Varg (which isn’t actually a negative comment as the comparison might suggest).

Album opener ‘Sa Aurora De Sos Asatros’ sprawls out over an 11 minute expanse and through a number of segments of epically riffed to tremolo played guitars. The drums are pleasingly ‘live’ sounding in their playing with an organic edge to their production and thankfully avoiding the dreaded overproduced ‘click track’ sound. Mid track some synth use appears but is understated as a singular melody line which interweaves with and counterpoints the guitars. The second offering ‘Su Canticu de Sol Montes’ is a piece purely focused on ritual ambient spheres, where the dour echoed woodwind playing, ritual drums and ‘distant storm’ field recordings begs a particular Karnnos comparison. ‘Lunas Anthigas’ then launches headlong into a raw, furious and flailing black metal drumming storm, which maintains an epic folk edge to its riffs (mid track it recedes into a storm addled soundscape before launching back into a black metal guise). The final self-titled track includes a slight change in mood, where although the drums are still flailing in intensity, the riffs have a slightly less aggressive edge being forlornly epic in tone, whilst the second half of the track contains elements akin to a post-black metal style (…surely that description will have some black metal ‘purists’ running for the hills…).

With ‘Umbras E Forestas’ Downfall of Nur have produced a recording which displays conviction and passion and which effortlessly shifts its mood from black metal to ritual dark ambience. Not being a mere traditionalist/ copyist type band, they are managing to do something interesting within a black metal style, which to a greater degree has lost power through sheer repetition of the sound over the last decade/s.