Morthound – Off The Beaten Track The Light Don’t Shine

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Morthound – Off The Beaten Track The Light Don’t Shine CD Raubbau 2015

For long term fans of Morthound the prospect of a new album was a wish which had long ago been abandoned; particularly given the Morthound name had been put to rest in 1994 when Benny ‘BJ’ Nilsen then forged headlong into more experimental realms (…opting to release albums for a number of years under the Hazard moniker before continuing on under his own name).  Yet not to let the project fall in to obscurity, Raubbau were good enough to give the complete back catalogue a reissue treatment in 2014 (reviewed here).  Noting there were a couple of live shows to celebrate this release, this evidently provided the inspirational spark for Benny to reactive the Morthound name and to record music of a darker hue. Obviously this then lead to some interesting speculation of exactly what may be encompassed on this new album, given if anything was to be gleaned from Morthound’s back-catalogue is its sheer stylistic diversity (…if not all out sonic schizophrenia).

Starting with the fast paced and slightly disorientating metronome ticking of ‘The Device’, this opening movement soon delves headlong into foreboding dark ambient realms of grinding mechanical drones and sub-harmonic orchestral textures (…a fine introduction indeed).  The following ‘Between Midnight and Dawn’ then follows as an 11.5 minute journey through twilight realms and is as nightmarishly tinged as the titles might suggest, including abstract horror styled strings and later continually swirling and morphing tense bass layers. ‘The Munich Manual’ is then notable for its beautifully rendered soundscape style, which has a very filmic ‘sound design’ feel based on the depth and clarity of the sound production.  Following a divergent path, the spitting, static infused ‘Disquieted’ is an experiment in tone and sound, which mid-piece morphs into a shuddering industrial-noise composition, complete with semi-buried but entirely mangled spoken vocalisations.  ‘Disembodied Voices’ then represents an excursion into subtle and minimalist bass drone territories, with slow morphing tonal washes and rhythmic formations which subtly shift over its length.  Choosing to finish the album on an ethereal high note, the final of the 6 track ‘The Black Forest’ revisits the ethno-ambient sound of ‘Spindrift’, where the driving but understated tabla percussion is underscored by maudlin ethnic tinged synth washes to create a rather transcendent album conclusion.

At a mere 47 minutes it is not a long album, but equally ‘Off The Beaten Track The Light Don’t Shine’ represents a strong comeback which comfortably sits within a mid-point between Benny’s musical output to date. Given the stark diversity and difference between each Morthound album to date, this new album continues in that tradition. Without doubt it makes clear nods to the darkly hued dark ambient of years prior and also includes a perhaps obligatory ethno ambient track. Likewise the production is reflective of the more academic and experimental recordings of more recent years, meaning it amounts to more than a mere retread of what has come before, whilst also being faithful to the Morthound legacy.  Currently there is no clarity around whether Benny intends for Morthound to continue beyond this point, but given there was a massive 21 year gap between this and the last Morthound album, perhaps it is best to not yet pine for another album just yet – rather simply enjoy it for whatever it may be if it ever eventuates.

 

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Halo Manash ‎– Haudattujen Valvoja

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Halo Manash – Haudattujen Valvoja CD Aural Hypnox 2015

Following the closure of the Forest Music ‘treelogy’ in 2009 (i.e. the trilogy of ‘Language of Red Goats’, ‘Am Kha Astrie’ and ‘Taiwaskivi’), Halo Manash returned in 2013 with the far more composed and musically focused released ‘Wesieni Wainajat’ (reviewed here).  Now a further two years on, Halo Manash have again resurfaced, where a shift back towards ritual ambient intent is noted.  With its musical scope being slightly rougher and droning in execution, evidently the seven ‘movements’ featured herein were previously presented live between 2013-2014 (in Russia Austria, Finland, Sweden and USA).  Furthermore the rougher ritualistic tone and focused droning atmospheres can then be put down to the use of predominantly homemade instruments and the methods of recording, which to quote from the album promo blurb: “the sonic-portals or liquid-entrances in ‘Haudattujen Valvoja’ are all authentic live recordings captured on tape with only two microphones in the group’s private Temple Hwaar”.

By way of providing a contextual link, the opening track ‘Wesieni Wainajat’, mirrors the name of the last Halo Manash album.  But unlike its more musical predecessor, sonically this track covers deep resonating bass notes, low whispered chanting and general catacombal ambience (cavernous echoes, dripping water etc.). ‘Aaveet’ then moves towards heavier and heaving sonics, as wailing atonal horns and distant metallic chimes provide tonal depth and (unobtrusive) atmospheric clatter, whilst ‘Kanto’ seeks slightly more focused paths, with a slightly woozy mid paced rhythmic bass throb which are coupled with a range of woodwind tones.  Late album track Haudattujen Valvoja’ then features as the most individually distinctive with its sparse but echo tinged percussive melody, coupled with distant drones and further whispered chants (in a word: entrancing). But without describing all compositions and their differences, it is of greater relevance that there is a high degree of tonal similarity across the 7 songs (and 72 minutes), which provides for all-encompassing ritualistic atmospheres to immerse oneself in such an elongated meditative journey.

If you have not been particularly taken by prior output from Halo Manash, ‘Haudattujen Valvoja’ will not alter your view; yet equally for all other devotees it is another mandatory journey into the netherworld of the spiritual subconscious.  Available in two editions; the first is the regular cardboard foldout cover with booklet and inserts; in addition to a beautiful limited versions which includes a rusted steel plate with special etched symbol and additional screen-printed inserts, all housed in a screen-printed cloth bag.

 

Jarl – Case 1959 – Dyatlov

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Jarl – Case 1959 – Dyatlov DCD Reverse Alignment ‎2015

Following the 2014 collaboration ‘Tunguska Event’ with Envenomist (reviewed here), (Erik) Jarl returns with the longest work of his career. Being comparable to the thematic angle covered on ‘Tunguska Event’, ‘Case 1959 – Dyatlov’ takes a similar approach of utilized an unexplained event to thematically frame the music. Here ‘Case 1959 – Dyatlov’ refers to the Dyatlov Pass incident of February 2, 1959 which resulted in the deaths of nine experienced hikers in the northern Ural Mountains, Russia. Through post-event investigations Soviet Investigators at the time determined the hikers had torn their tents from the inside in order to escape from an apparent threat and although the bodies showed no signs of struggle or external injuries, two victims had fractured skulls and broken ribs. Without clear explanation Soviet authorities formally concluded that an ‘unknown compelling force’ had caused the deaths, where the mysterious circumstances were further compounded by access to the region being prohibited for three years after the incident. Although details of events remains uncertain several theories exist, including: possible avalanche; a military accident; a naturally occurring phenomenon called ‘infrasound’* resulting in the party abandoning their camp; or the more bizarre such as a hostile encounter with extraterrestrial life. As was much the case with ‘Tunguska Event’ CD, here the album sonically engenders a tensile atmosphere and broadly mysterious tonal aesthetic.

Musically only 3 tracks are presented, with two tracks included on the first CD (43 minutes), and the single 61 minute track included on the second CD, but with such lengthy compositions it should be clearly indicative of an elongated dark ambient framework. On the first disc the 19+ minutes ‘Part 1 – Introduction’ quickly pulls the listener in with a sparely layered, sweepingly widescreen soundscape, augmented with clinically tinged pulses and throbbing bass textures, where each element rise and fall in prominence as the track progresses. Further ‘radio wave’ type layers increase tonal complexity and variation; whilst others have a more sub-orchestral sonic frame; meaning the soundscapes build to quite weighty swirling sonic realms, despite its minimalist feel.  ‘Part 2 – Barrier’ spans 23+ minutes and is slightly more ‘aquatic’ by featuring a ‘wet’ toned amorphously enveloping dark ambience. Again it is meticulously multi-layered in its sonic construction to create tonal variety and complexity, where a range of distant wailing tones and sporadic pulses are used in a very clever way to evoke a sense of rising dread. Some sparse metallic edge rhythmic elements provide yet more tonal variation within the swirling sonic mass, whilst low frequency bass pulses perhaps are representative of the ‘infrasound’ phenomenon (noting again that all elements follow a tensile upward trajectory over the track’s lengthy span).  The third and final ‘Part 3 – Aftermath’ is found on the second disc and spans a much greater length than the first two parts combined and although opts for much similar sprawling dark ambient sound, the mood here is one of clinical contemplation and methodical investigation.  In effect for the bulk of proceedings the piece has less movement, with more subtly in the shifting tonal soundscape (i.e. shimming crystalline drones, sparse metallic tinged sounds and underlying pulsing textures etc.).

Having heard a number of Jarl’s albums over the years, it could be said that there is certainly a tonal consistency with Jarl’s work, but to his credit he is able to create minimalist soundscapes of slow morphing sonics which retain listen-ability and interest over extended lengths. The cover images also makes a minimalistic aesthetic statement, obviously taking inspiration from the album’s theme, where the cover images shows cut/ torn/ distressed fabric. All in all another fine work from Erik under the Jarl banner.

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* – ‘infrasound’ can be defined as wind colliding with topographic features can produce low-frequency waves ranging from audible to sub-audible, which based on laboratory tests have induced powerful feelings of nausea, panic, dread, chills, nervousness, raised heartbeat rate and breathing difficulties in subjects. These effects, or that such sounds were mistaken for an impending avalanche, are theorised as the reason for the hasty camp abandonment in the Dyatlov Pass incident.

Prurient – Frozen Niagara Falls

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Prurient – Frozen Niagara Falls 2xCD / 3xLP Profound Lore Records 2015

From a personal perspective I have never become holistically acquainted with Prurient, which is mainly due to Dominick Fernow’s hyper productivity and the sheer volume of Prurient releases issued in the last 17 years (…well over 130 releases to date and not counting additional releases via his dozen or so side projects).  Consequently I have only sporadically dipped into Prurient’s discography over the years, but from these cursory explorations it revealed an artist pursuing many tangents within the broader scope of noise, industrial and power electronics.  Yet despite the harder and harsher spheres displayed on early works, more recently it has involved forays into programmed and synth driven material (including 1980’s horror soundtrack keys, through to electronica, dark-wave and techno), and in the process displaying varying degrees of success and failure (depending on the release).

But to speak of ‘Frozen Niagara Falls’ it is an album a number of years in the making and makes a strong statement of intent of where Prurient is at in 2015.  Specifically what is meant by this is that it feels as if Dominick’s current agenda is to (rather ambitiously) bring together the multitude of sonic directions and divergent stylistic threads previously explored. Interestingly Dominick has also employed the inputs of a drummer and guitarist to obtain usable source material (…where evidently the guest musicians recorded their inputs separately and were kept entirely in the dark of how their inputs may be eventually utilised).  But not to give the impression that this is a ‘band’ album, rather the sporadically utilized drums/ percussion and clean guitars are wielded more as samples which are woven through the broader sonic fabric, which includes all manner of layered electronics, noise squalls, programmed rhythms and darkness tinged synth melodies (…i.e. in a 1980’s John Carpenter horror style). ‘Frozen Niagara Falls’ also heralds a new and interesting choice of record label in the form of the predominantly metal focused Profound Lore Records; meaning it will be interesting to ponder what a more ‘typical’ metal listener might make of this.

With reference the aforementioned amalgamation of styles, this is demonstrated with absolute clarity on the opening track ‘Myth of Building Bridges’; being a piece which ‘bridges’ the gap between musical focused elements and harsher sonic textures.  Here the programmed synths provide the musical framework which are coupled with pounding industrialised percussion, static infused outbursts and distortion scarred vocals which represent another sonic layer rather than being anything lyrically decipherable.  ‘Dragonflies to Sew You Up’ quickly follows and delivers an early album highlight, being another track which spans the musical and the unstructured.  As such, unrelenting percussion hammers out the equivalent of a racing heartbeat, whilst the 80’s ‘suspense toned’ synths are pushed to the foreground and all the while Dominick roars out his confessional styled vocals.  It is only when the third piece ‘A Sorrow With A Braid’ arrives that it brings the first foray into direct noise, where scattered and loosely structured feedback and static experimentation maintain a mid to higher pitched ‘needling’ textures throughout.  ‘Traditional Snowfall’ is another harsher and loosely structured power electronics styled Prurient offering; yet the sustained synth notes (partly relegated to the background) provide a dour sensibility.  To again sidestep a straight industrial/ noise approach, ‘Shoulders of Summerstones’ is an entirely synth driven sullen affair of mid paced programmed rhythms and intertwining melodies, which are also reflected in Dominick’s deadpan spoken vocals.

Moving well into the running order, the tenth track ‘Greenpoint’ has the feeling of being the album’s centre piece; a 10 minute epic and varied sonic journey weaving from introductory acoustic guitar tune, cinematic synth washes and rhythmically throbbing industrial structures, over which spitting static and noise outbursts are ejaculated, before devolving again into calm synth washes and spoken vocals, where Dominick quietly intones stories of emotional wreckage and desolation.  Fantastic stuff.  Late album track ‘Falling Mask’ is another highlight, with its underpinning drones (…of doom), pulsing static blasts and screeching agonised vocals.  The album is then concluded with the lengthy 11+ minute ‘Christ Among The Broken Glass’, the most divergent and directly song structured piece on the entire album.  Containing a reflective and contemplative tone via a central clean ‘dark folk’ tinged guitar tune, additional elements include understated synths, sparse percussive elements and sampled sounds of a rain soaked late night urban environment. Given how musically focused this piece is, it is highly divergent from the bulk of the album and stands out all the more positive for it.

At a run time of 90 minutes ‘Frozen Niagara Falls’ is a sprawling album (spanning either 2xCD or 3xLP depending on the chosen format), where time is required for it to be digested and to allow it to settle into ones’ psyche.  Yet despite the sheer length and breadth of material presented, ‘Frozen Niagara Falls’ remains a coherent and focused record which arcs between aggression and restraint, as well as musicality and chaos.  But for all its successes, ‘Frozen Niagara Falls’ could have potentially been an album of grand failings given its apparent agenda to meld together diverse sonic elements (…and particularly that not all of Prurient’s recent recordings have been entirely successful in their experimentation). Thankfully such a grand failing has been avoided, where Dominick appears to have followed his own personal creative muse which has resulted in an album with vision, depth and maturity of expression.  With its drawing together of many sonic threads into a focused and engaging whole, ‘Frozen Niagara Falls’ is a striking album displaying Dominick’s bitter and abrasive catharsis, coupled with sporadic moments or reflective restraint. Recommended.