Tvpla – Mountain of the Opposer

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Tvpla – Mountain of the Opposer CD Malignant Records 2016

Tvlpa are a purposefully ‘mysterious’ Gothenburg group who surfaced in 2014 and features an unnamed collective of members.  With 7 digital releases under their belt already, ‘Mountain of the Opposer’ is Tvpla’s debut album on a physical format, complete with a ‘manifesto’ included on the 6 panel digi-pack.  Containing elements of an early industrial & ritual ambient sound, this album contains an amorphous sound and mood which I can’t quite seem to put my finger on regarding either its immediate linage or inspiration.  A wide variety of sonic styles and approaches are covered over the 9 tracks and 58 minutes, and although certainly composed, there feels to be a looseness to the execution, meaning I am not sure if there was a degree of improvisation in the playing and recording process.

Broadly speaking the tone of album is framed around pulsating atonal textures, distortion infused drones and garbled proclamations which coalesce into analogue toned soundscapes.  Some pieces are very much ritual and ambient in scope, while other ratchet up a spitting, distortion infused shuddering industrial edge.  Likewise given that each track functions as a standalone piece which displays its own sound and mood, ‘Mountain of the Opposer’ is an album which functions as a collection of tracks, rather than all material being part of an interlinking longer piece.

Having been actively listening to ambient/ industrial etc. music for 20+ years, there is a degree of expectation of what an album will deliver, before even hearing it.  Pleasingly this album has bucked this trend and caught me by surprise given it has been an odd album to get my head around. Case in point is with the ‘Mountain Sermon’ is a bizarre album standout, with its central grinding looped synth melody, and echoed vocal proclamations, sounding something akin to a 70’s psychedelic satanic synth workout.  Alternately album closer ‘Descent and Rebirth’ is perhaps the most straight forward piece of the lot, and given its ritual chimes, singing bowls and ambient droning aesthetic, meaning it would not be out of place on the Aural Hypnox roster.

Given its eccentricity in sound differentiates it from pretty much anything else I have heard recently ‘Mountain of the Opposer’ represents a positively divergent album, which not many albums can claim in an overly saturated industrial/ ambient underground.

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Genocide Organ – Obituary of the Americas

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Genocide Organ – Obituary of the Americas LP Tesco Organisation 2016

It may have been a long time between drinks but if Genocide Organ have proven anything by now, it is that each new album is honed to razor sharpness before being disseminated to the masses.  To put this in context it has been 5 years since 2011’s ‘Under-Kontrakt’, where for comparative sake I was recently I was asked to review an album from project which has issued over 70 releases in the same time span.  Clearly with the later scenario, it is nigh on impossible get a proper handle on a project with that many releases, so apart from raising question of quality control, surely too many releases also results in the dilution of artistic intent and impact?  One group who have never function in this capacity is Genocide Organ, having issued a mere 9 main album releases in their now 30 year career – and each album is a monolithic statement of artistic intent which still maintains impact and influence today (…if I were a recording artist, I know that creative path I would seek to travel).

Back when I reviewed ‘Under-Kontrakt’ (reviewed here), I made comment about a reduction in aggression being: “akin to a nihilistic resignation of circumstance which can descend with age and the passing of years”. What this new album demonstrates is the subdued mood of ‘Under-Kontrakt’ was perhaps a temporary mindset, as ‘Obituary of the Americas’ is a ‘back to basics’ expression of aggression and anger, and whilst my cursory impression was it is a solid album, the directness of ‘Obituary of the Americas’ also felt like a partial side step.  However after returning to this album over the months since its release, I have now become accustomed to it in detail which has altered my initial impression.  Given many subtler elements went by unnoticed on initial listens, these have now come the fore and function to highlight the degree of complexity and refinement within its seemingly ‘straightforward’ framework.

Thematically this album directs a sharp focus on the socio-political landscape Latin America/ South America, which indecently has captured the attention of the group in the past.  Here the group displays full immersion into this overarching concept and focuses upon covert government operations for power and control (including the corruption and oppression it brings), along with themes of poverty, drug running and militia organizations, which have all shaped and influenced the region.  Noting that others have already made a detailed dissection of context and themes, it does not warrant repeating here (…refer to David Tonkin’s Heathen Harvest review here if interested), but its core sentiment is neatly conveyed by the slogan on the back of the cover which states: “If you are worthless in a region, you are worthless in all regions”.

The 8 album tracks extend to just over 40 minutes, and with each generally around 5-6 minutes in length, meaning each piece honed for maximum impact.  On face value the tracks are constructed around straight forward cyclic and looped structures, over which dialogue samples are laid.  But apart from the core elements there are also many more sub-strata details to provide depth and complexity.  The vocals are also a standout aspect of the album, which are diverse in both in sonic treatment and stylistic delivery.  Opening cut ‘Autodefensa’ hits hard with revving and downward cascading drones, elevating/ pulsing static noise, dialogue samples and scattered gunfire.  The apathetic distortion treated vocals feature prominently and are delivered in Spanish for added thematic weight (…I not sure if Wilhelm Herich already speaks Spanish, or if the lyrics were learnt for this track, but regardless, it demonstrates full dedicated to the theme even if the meaning of the words are missed by non Spanish speakers).  Another early standout is ‘I Don’t Wanna Die’ with its buzzing loops harsh fizzing static, which with the spoken vocals provides sense of urgency and desperation. ‘Escuela De Las Americas’ contains a slightly less direct tone with its lurching industrial loops, ‘Morse code’ static, and layered dialogue samples and spoken vocal sermon, and shows with apparent ease of how the group can execute and strong and well defined concept with absolute clarity, despite the abrasiveness of the sonic delivery.  The final pairing of track ‘Kaibil’ and ‘Todo Por La Patria’, are similar with their looped, throttling synths, grinding noise and stilled bass thuds grind onwards and function as the backing to centrally focused dialogue samples (but as these are in Spanish, the detailed meaning is lost – although the sentiment of its call for liberty and revolution is unmistakable).

To their credit Genocide Organ have never wavered from their own established agenda, and keep forging ahead based on their own drive and regardless of criticism (…or even praise for that matter). To think that they have been honing their craft for 3 decades and have not faltered along the way is yet further testament to their ongoing focus to their chosen mission. ‘Obituary of the Americas’ is another mandatory Genocide Organ release and 2016 highlight, and while the limited LP version may have already disappeared into both fanatics and collectors vaults, an unlimited CD edition remains as the obtainable version.

 

Consumer Electronics – Dollhouse Songs

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Consumer Electronics – Dollhouse Songs LP Harbinger Sound 2015

Returning relatively quickly with a new album following 2014’s ‘Estuary English’ (reviewed here), the reactivated Consumer Electronics (based around Phillip Best, his wife Sarah Best and Russell Haswell) continue on their newly forged and rather contentious path.  From a visual standpoint the Trevor Brown artwork of the cover immediately provides an obvious nod to Phillip’s former days in Whitehouse, and while not a bad cover by any stretch, personally I would have much preferred to see Phillip’s own collage work (as was the case with ‘Estuary English’), rather than one which harks back to Phillip’s past.  On the lyrical front ‘Dollhouse Songs’ delivers  another spite, disdain and anger fueled rant at the contemporary UK political landscape, coupled with selected tracks taking a cutting analysis of anxieties and neurosis relating to perceptions of self-worth.

‘History of Sleepwalking’ introduces the album with revving synths, arrhythmic beat and whispered vocals of Phillip, before machine-gun snare drum and ranted/ unhinged vocals split through the speakers (…an excellent start). The following track ‘Knives Cut’ then goes for the jugular with its high pitch digital noise squall and underscored with focused synth drones and blasting, overblown mid ranged bass, while Phillip’s vocals show some variation given the sardonic spoken style. With the noted lack of lead vocals from Sarah on ‘Estuary English’, this is rectified here, where she proves herself a worthy lead vocalist on ‘Condition of a Hole’.  Musically this track is built around a thumping mid paced ‘beat’, higher fluttering percussive elements, and distortion elements which swoop in and out of the sonic frame. Sarah then pulls no punches with a fierce lyrical attack and demonstrates she is a commendable vocalist who can hold her own (…particularly as the vocals are fully intelligible). Some respite comes on the instrumental track ‘Nothing Natural’, featuring an undercurrent of pulsing/ shimmering synths, over which splitting digital noise shards cut and slash across sonic landscape.  After originally being featured on a split 7” ep with the Sleaford Mods, ‘Murder Your Masters’ is included here (…another alternate ‘ambient’ version with Phillip on vocals was also included on the ‘Repetition Reinforcement’ 12’ep), where Sarah again takes the vocal lead.  Musically this is the specific track which when previously performed live raised accusations that Consumer Electronics had gone ‘techno’, but with its squelching beat (which in truth is more of a saturated pulse), hardly constitutes a form of techno any self respecting ‘techno’ fan would be associated with. Regardless, this ‘beat’ coupled with a minimalist underscoring drone, where Sarah’s vocals are front and centre and increase the anger of her earlier lead vocals, with her voice pushed to the point of breaking. That said, one minor observation is that she commences with a focused and vindictive rant, by track’s end it does sound if she is slightly running out of steam to maintain the early intensity (…but may also be indicative of the vocals being recorded on a single take?).  ‘The Push’ brings another track constructed with programmed ‘scattergun’ kick and snare percussion and squelching digital mayhem, as Phillip delivers another lucidly focused vocal barrage, ranting on the drive of politicians and bankers to sure up positions of power and profit gain at the expense of all (…rather diverged element then appears at track’s end, where it reverts to a poetic almost ‘beatnik’ spoken word section).  For the final track ‘Colour Climax’, which although not the most sonically over the top, is thematically the most harrowing piece, with its (in part) scalpel sharp analysis of the process of aging in the face of ailing health.  On this track Phillip’s vocals are spoken and understated throughout, placed high in the mix, atop a landscape of subdued bass rumble and fluttering digitized noise, where the lyrical content carves veins of sadness and (angered) resignation. Given such sentiments are not what would necessarily ever expect from a Consumer Electronics records, it still completely works in its spoken word capacity and in context of the balance of the album.

With 7 tracks and 35 minute playtime ‘Dollhouse Songs’ is a longer album than its predecessor, where the tracks are noted to be (relatively) structured and condensed into pieces of around 4 to 5 minutes.  Musically speaking, whilst not hugely divergent ‘Dollhouse Songs’ does feel to be a more holistically focused album than ‘Estuary English’ (…noting that the later could be considered a 22 minute collection of punishing tracks).  Yet equally ‘Dollhouse Songs’ and ‘Estuary English’ very much feel as being companion albums, particularly as the sound on both is equally harsh and digitally crystalline.  What this all ultimately means is, if you hated ‘Estuary English’ you simply won’t find anything to like here.  But if like me you found ‘Estuary English’ to contain some new ideas and approaches for Consumer Electronics, ‘Dollhouse Songs’ continues with this trajectory and from these quarters, it is another album I have hugely enjoyed over a significant number of repeat listens.

Various Artists – All My Sins Remembered: the Sonic Worlds of John Murphy

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Various Artists – All My Sins Remembered: the Sonic Worlds of John Murphy 3xCD The Epicurean 2016

With John Murphy passing away on the 11th October, 2015 it was inevitable that a tribute album would be released at some point.  Thankfully this rather daunting task was taken up by The Epicurean, the label of John’s most recent output as Last Dominion Lost, Krank and The Grimsel Path, who have done a stunning job of bringing this 3xCD/ 32 page booklet together.  Also, whilst I initially perceived this to be a straight tribute, the liner notes reveal the concept was already well underway in mid-2015, with an intention for all proceeds from the release to go towards John’s medical treatments at the time.

With the musical content spanning 3 discs there is simply too much to give a track my track review, but that also would be missing the point of what this release is about – that being to celebrate the life and musical legacy of John Murphy.  On this 3 disc set it provides a broadly chronological overview of the many projects John had collaborated with or been a member of over his 30+ year musical career (…although given the sheer number of projects, some of which whose activities span many years, a strict chronological order is simply not possible).  It is then of particular interest that of the 36 artists/ projects featured herein, it still does cover all projects John has been involved in, with there being many other high profile bands and projects he has collaborated with over the years not being featured, which only goes to further highlight the eclectic nature and expansive reach of John’s career.  But of those featured herein, in order of appearance across the 3 discs it includes: Mandrix, NEWS, WhirlyWirld, Associates, Hugo Klang, Krang, Orchestra of Skin and Bone, SLUB, Dumb and the Ugly, Whitehouse, Lustmord, Sooterkin Flesh, Genocide Organ, Vhril, Blood & Iron, Wertham, Bordel Militaire, Browning Mummery, MAA, Gerechtigkeits Liga, Krank, The Walking Korpses, The Grimsel Path, My Father of Serpents & Disciples of None, Of The Wand And The Moon, David E. Williams, Shining Vhril, Nikolas Schreck, Kniffeladder, Blood Axis, Naevus, Foresta Di Ferro, Die Weisse Rose, Andrew King, Zeena Schreck and last but not least Last Dominion Lost.

With recorded material spanning the 40 years between 1975 to 2015 it includes both studio and live recordings (some of which has remained unreleased until now), coupled with these are a selection of 5 newly recorded tracks where close friends and comrades pay tribute.  In its overall trajectory the chronological track selection commences with the more ‘typical’ (albeit eclectic) bands; moving through to experimental and industrial spheres and onward though to ritual and towards neo-folk/ martial industrial expression.  The combined set also functions to highlight the gradual evolution and mutation of John’s collaborative influences within the projects where he held a central creative role.  To speak of selected highlights (based on my own sonic inclinations), these include:

  • Whitehouse: ‘Live Action 4’ from 1983 is a 20 minutes a dueling synth workout of throbbing modulations and spitting static in early chaotic Whitehouse style.
  • Krang: ‘Dissonance 2’ from -1981-1983 highlights John’s own solo industrial noise approach from around the same time as he was collaborating with Whitehouse.
  • Orchestra of Skin And Bone: feature with an excellent song ‘Flame’ from 1996, consisting of screeching horns and rolling tribalised percussion, which draws (an oblique) parallel with John’s later tribal industrial band Knifeladder.
  • Lustmord: ‘Pure’ (a track lifted from 1986’s ‘Paradise Disowned’ album), is a grinding industrial noise soundscape from the period when John was involved, and showcases the early era of the project before it evolved into the more widely recognized dark ambient behemoth it is today.
  • Vhril: Being an early 90’s collaboration project between John and Ulex Xane, ‘Transcosmic Mutations’ delivers an excellent esoteric ritual industrial track of twisting and constantly morphing sonics.
  • Genocide Organ: Although John was never a member of the Genocide Organ, he did provide sound source material on 1999’s ‘The Truth Will Make You Free’ album. On their ‘untitled’ track the group have paid tribute with an instrumental piece which is quite subdued by the group’s usual standards, but given its droning and metallic scraping experimental/ industrial soundscape it clearly is homage to John’s stylistic approach.
  • Knifeladder: Being the trio of John, Hunter Bar and Andrew Trail, they feature with a previously unreleased 2007 track ‘Long March’, which is of their trademark song styled, tribal/ industrial percussive approach.
  • Gerechtigkeits Liga: On 2009’s track ‘Dystopian Dream’ it features a fantastic elephantine percussive stomp (courtesy of John) as the key driving element of this post-industrial dirge.
  • Krank: Being John’s predominantly solo industrial project, the 2011 track ‘Drain Sounds in the Well’ features his distinctive chaotic swirling industrial maelstrom of grinding layered synths, garbled vocalisations and a mélange of found sounds/ random tonal objects.
  • Forest Di Ferro: Being the trio of John, Marco Deplano and Richard Leviathan, they feature with the 2015 track ‘Kalagni – False Dying Dawn’, which is a subdued martial ambient piece of distant rolling drumming, lead accordion melody and lamenting vocals of John.
  • Last Dominion Lost: Being the trio of John, Julian Percy and Jon Evans, they feature with 2015’s ‘Hexatom Recrudesce’. This is an alternate version to a track from 2014’s ‘Towers of Silence’ album, being a twisting garbled mass of bass throb, scattered synths, found sounds, lone woodwind flute and evocation styled vocals.
  • Of The Wand and the Moon: present a new 2016 exclusive track ‘Death Rune’, which is a beautifully haunting funeral dirge of a track with central organ/ accordion melody, ritual chimes and chanted/ whispered vocals (…simply sublime).

If nothing else this release demonstrates the sheer diversity of musical involvement and output of John over the years, but though mid to later periods showcasing darker sounds and esoteric themes providing the thread to neatly knit it all together.  Regarding package it is stunningly designed, featuring photos of John’s own amulets and jewelry, while the 32 page booklet includes written pieces provided by Stefan Hanser (label head of The Epicurean), Jon Evans, Alan Bamford and Andrew King provides further insight regarding the life and wide reaching musical involvement of John and are broadly framed around significant periods of his musical career (i.e. Australia and first England period (1997-1984), second period in England (1996-2008) and the final period in Berlin (2008-2015)).

With its limitation of 750 copies, and exquisite packaging and graphic presentation apart from being a window into John’s expansive sonic world, it has more real world implications given that all proceeds from sale are to be donated to John’s widow. A worthy document, testament and above all a celebration of the life and legacy of John Murphy.