Various Artists – Epicurean Escapism III

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Various Artists – Epicurean Escapism III CD/ DVD The Epicurean 2016

This has been announced as the final compilation in the series, which specifically commemorated the 2016 edition of the Epicurean Escapism Festival held in Berlin on 27 & 28 May, 2016 (…an event I had hoped to attend but unfortunately did not eventuate). As with earlier editions in the compilation series, the contents seek to draw together elements of music, video and artwork presented during the festival event.  On the musical front, it features an easily digestible number of tracks, consisting if single tracks from seven performing artists.  A quick run-down on each includes:

  • Noting the ‘infamy’ surrounding early Sutcliffe Jugend output, rather than continuing with over the top harshness and aggression, the project has instead pushed into more diverse experimental realms. ‘Amuse Boche’ is an example of this approach being an industrial soundscape of tribal-esque rhythmic structures, layered noise and vocals ranging from spoken to shrieked. As I have not really kept up with current output I am not sure if this track is representative of current era Sutcliffe Jugend, but regardless of this it is a pleasing track.
  • Alfarmania are up next and deliver a track of slow stalking paranoia, containing their trademark elements of distant cavernous clatter, wavering atonal synths, buzzing static, plodding bass and ragged agonized vocals, but also featuring a prominent Swedish dialogue sample. With a 12 minute span, the track takes its time to unfurl whilst upping the tension as it proceeds, but is also quite a bit more atmospheric than other more oppressive material from the project. Excellent.
  • Last Dominion Lost offer up the piece ‘To the Master a Long Good Night’, which evokes a twilight ritual industrial soundscape based on stilted percussion, sporadic gongs, scattered electronics debris and garbled spoken voices, (…and with its titled I believe is paying homage to the late John Murphy).
  • Although I am well aware that Nikolas Schreck has a long standing legacy associated with his band Radio Werewolf, they are not to my liking as I have personally never been a fan of material with a goth / rock slant. In solo guise Nikolas Schreck retains quite a flamboyant gothic undertone, where on this track ‘Lord Sutekh’s Dream’, he delivers an earnest song of prominent crooning male vocals and minimalist synth, atmospheric tabla and martial percussive backing. However like Radio Werewolf, the gothic frame of reference means this is simply not a style I am fond of, so there is not much more to say other than this a track for skipping during my repeated listens of this comp (…different styles for different tastes really).
  • Budras follow and shifts the sound back to more pleasing sonic territories. Noting the quite unique sound of the group (which is largely down to the agonized gruff vocals), here the track features a blend of rather unusual, droning atmospheres, industrial soundscapes and their now trademark vocal presentation.
  • Gerechtigkeits Liga follow and after a short rather throw-away ‘casio keyboard intro’, the track leaps headlong into an excellent ‘post mortem’ style composition. With a murky, lo-fi and blown out sound, there is a sense of a basic looped structure, but heavily layers to achieve complexity.  An excellent offering.
  • Skin Area then have the distinction of rounding out the CD, with a strong 10 minute track, here featuring a long form muted industrial noise soundscape. With a muffled and distant tone, the piece builds with rising static and forceful drones, as Martin Bladh’s strained vocals echo forth from the far background.  Building to a mid-track crescendo, the pieces then falls back to calmer and sonically open territory for the remainder of the track.

As with earlier editions, the cover is beautifully presented as a colour multi-page page booklet, including a selection of lyrics, text and art from contributing projects and which complements the musical content perfectly.  A notable inclusion is an essay by Uwe Schneider on the conceptual underpinnings of Dave Phillip’s work, which ties in with his performance and screening of video works at the 20016 Epicurean Escapism Festival.  Although Dave Phillips is not featured on the musical compilation, he is dedicated his own stand-alone DVD with the banner title of ‘Proceed With Inquiry’, which features specific video works, footage of prior live performances and another series of video art collaborations.  While there is a huge wealth of material to go through, a single video stands out as the critical centerpiece, while the rest can be considered as additional complimentary material.  This main work in (entitled simply ‘Video Action’) is a 20 minute video work which ties seamlessly with the accompanying experimental industrial soundwork. Musically the piece is framed around sharp sonic editing of micro-tonal textures, overblown distortion, atonal piano chords, multiple higher pitched sounds pushed to disharmonic orchestral intensity and treated ‘voices’ (both human and animal).  The piece has a strong and focused concept, where text and images which are edited with razor sharpness to outline a grim analysis of man’s development and technological advancement and the impact it has had on our humanity and our treatment of animals and the environment, and the broader sentiment of mankind being out of balance with a sustainable use of the earth’s resources.

A large part of the visual material focuses on the industrial nature of our society, coupled with the mistreatment of animals in the mechanized meat production industry and a consequence of such technological development.  To highlight just a few of the statements which personally resonated with me, these included: “The despair of our culture and civilization should be defeated by acts of total honesty”; “Cynicism is a popular defense mechanism”; and “Our technology has exceeded our humanity” (which of interest clearly implicates everyone with the use of the word ‘our’).  But for its unflinching gaze and the brutality of aspects of the subject matter, this seems to be used with clear intent to shock the viewer out of complacency and to highlight a central message of respect for ALL animal life.  The video also functions as a broader call to arms, but also does not offering any simple or easy solutions, other than to take personal responsibility for the consequences of one’s own choices and the wider implications those choices have.  To then make sure the message of ‘Video Action’ is not lost, the DVD is armed with subtitles in 9 different languages.  With a general observation that there is a lot of thematically derivative material circulating within the underground, Dave Phillips’ work is refreshing in its directness, solid conceptual framing and and immediacy of its impact.

As with earlier editions in the Epicurean Escapism series, this is another fantastically realized musical and visual set that can either constitute an excellent ‘stand-alone’ document, or a memento the 2016 Epicurean Escapism Festival event.

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Zyklon SS – Iron Division

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Zyklon SS – Iron Division MC Der Bunker 2016

‘Iron Division’ has been recently released on the artist’s own newly launched label ‘Der Bunker’ and sees Zyklon SS operating in very direct and powerful style, which builds upon and steps up from the material which has preceded it.

By pulling back slightly on the junk metal sound of earlier releases, whilst also replicating the hallmarks of a mid-90’s German power electronics/ heavy electronics vein, this tape is without doubt an extremely powerful one.  Drenched in analogue atmospheres, the end result is suitably punishing, whereas the sound production contains a clear tonal separation of its layers.  Generally speaking the tracks are constructed with a straightforward but very effective approach, which include: slow thumbing ‘oil barrel’ type beats, crude loops, shuddering bass and interweaving/ wavering/ synth lines to create a broad battlefield ambience. Vocals also take a central role as proclamations with a slight flanged treatment and being mixed upfront, whilst samples scattered throughout also flesh out its themes of racial disharmony, conflict and oppression.  Admittedly some tracks skirt quite close to an early sound of Genocide Organ, but when executed with such flair as is demonstrated here, this is no qualm at all.  As for particular standouts, the queasy and drilling intensity of ‘Bring Back the Camps’ is one, as are ‘Urteil’ and ‘Devil’s Guard’, which feature variations on a militant attitude, with strong and focused tracks of wavering synths and percussive industrial thuds.

Given that ‘Iron Division’ features 8 tracks it amounts to a full length ‘cassette only’ album, but when of this calibre it is highly unlikely to remain on cassette only, as before too long surely someone will opt to press this on vinyl. (…here’s hoping).

Shocktilt Magazine – Issue 2#

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Shocktilt Magazine – Issue 2# Styggelse 2016

Back in 2006 the first issue of Shocktilt was published (spanning 2 separate volumes in A5 at 80 pages each), with a tagline of: “a publication devoted to the more extreme aspects of the 80s cassette-culture”.  For whatever reason at the time I initially snoozed on tracking down a copy, and then when I did, it had already sold-out and is now impossible to find (attention: if anyone has a copy lying around they want to get rid of, please drop me a line).  Having regretted this lapse of judgement ever since, I at least now have a copy of issue 2# – published a decade on from the first, which this time is published in A4 format and 64 pages in length.

To compare visual style, whereas noise receptor journal seeks for clean layout and design, Shocktilt skews this with its all-out underground ‘zine visual assault.  With its rough layout and cut and paste ‘artwar’ aesthetic, it harks back to the look and feel of the 80’s industrial underground (…and carries it design aesthetic as a badge of honor).  The design is of course ‘no-frills’ and the binding is no more than two staples along the spine, which again is in line with a ‘back to basics’ ‘zine feel.  Thus with rough layout and crude artwork aesthetic, the attitude of the writing and context is suitably course (…which is meant as a direct compliment).  Also containing of a scrap book mentality of sorts, issue 2# features multiple interviews along with a wealth of ‘archival’ content in the form of reproduced flyers/ artwork (dating through the years to the 80’s) and inserts taken from various releases, along with various previously published and unpublished live photos.

With the small scale of font and the reduced size of archival material, Shocktilt 2# is absolutely jammed packed with artwork, photos and articles from both known underground projects and entities, as well as providing a wealth of information on a range of far more obscure acts, which might otherwise be assigned to the dustbin of history. A selected list of content includes: Deviation Social (interview), Proiekt Hat/ Hatband (interview), Korpes Katatonik/ Zero Kama/ Nekrophile Rekords (archival material), Ulex Xane (interview), John Murphy tribute, Con-Dom (archival material), Genocide Organ (archival material), Grey Wolves (archival material), Thurneman (interview), Blood Ov Thee Christ/ Club Moral (live photos) (…noting there is still FAR more content than listed here).

As for the version I have, it the one released directly by Styggelse, but another version is to published as a part of split issue the French ‘Neons’ ‘zine (where I understand Shocktilt will be printed as a folded A3 to avoid the A4 spine staples).  But as a ‘bonus’ to the Styggelse edition, my copy came with an additional  A5 ‘addendum’ booklet, containing a further selection of flyers, artworks and related content.  Regardless of whichever edition you track down, don’t make the mistake I did with missing Shocktilt 1#. A mandatory printed underground industrial publication.

Human Larvae – Behind Blinding Light

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Human Larvae – Behind Blinding Light LP Freak Animal 2016

Daniel Burfoot’s Human Larvae project has only issued 3 albums (including this) in 8 years since the debut was issued in 2008.  Although each have been individually strong and focused noise industrial/ power electronics releases, a gradual step up in refinement has also been noted.  Likewise while last album ‘Womb Worship’ (reviewed here) received high rotation, ‘Behind Blinding Light’ then contains a focused directness and immediacy beyond anything previously displayed by Human Larvae.  Working with wide variety of sonic elements and stylistic approaches, this new album contains a degree or familiarity and which beg parallels comparisons with the likes of IRM, Prurient and Grunt*, but Daniel cleverly has twisted them to his own ends under the Human Larvae banner.

‘Paradigm Shift’ leads off in exceptional ‘controlled tension’ style, where its subdued windscreen drone and detailed junk metal sounds displays depth in the recording and production. ‘Severing Sirens’ is the second track of stilted quasi death-industrial pounding structures and cathartic vocals, which gradually builds to a crescendo of aggression and feedback squall.  After reaching a particular peak the mood falls away to one of tense restraint, where he microtonal textures, shimmering static drones and distant choir like solo female vocals (perhaps a mythical ‘Siren’ of the track’s title?), while creaking sheet metal provides a sharper rusted industrial aesthetic.  The cathartic lyrics of ‘Isolation of the Stain’ and their gruff roared delivery brings to mind the approach of Prurient, although the musical undercurrent is more restrained than typical Prurient, where it balances between static, drone and feedback.

On Side B, the first track is ‘Psychosis’, where the guest vocals of Levas (of the Lithuanian project Pogrom), provides a deeper and harder masculine edge to a undercurrent of widescreen drones, which then take second stage to a rough and chaotic layering of junk metal and sprayed distortion.  At 10 minutes in length ‘Epiphany’ is an album highlight, where the elements of widescreen drone and clanging junk metal have been looped and structured into a focused rhythmic industrial/ power electronics track which perfectly balances structure and chaos (…where the elevating scraping feedback is used as an element to ratchet up the tension and augment the rough barked vocals of Daniel).  In the final third of the track the mood shifts to a segment built around looped clean guitar lines, which itself leads directly in the short track ‘Exit Elend’ to concludes the album.  This final piece, is then a back to basics display of a rough and shuddering industrial drone and course flange track vocals (repeating: “nothing changes” in a frantic yell).

Being the first Human Larvae album to be pressed on vinyl, this is an album which absolutely warrants such a pressing, where the collage artwork suits the sound and feel of the album.  Without being in any way derivative, ‘Behind Blinding Light’ is a strong, focused and sonically diverse industrial/ power electronics release which demonstrates full control over its sonic elements, both in the recording and their construction.  Recommended.

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* – while I acknowledge that these artists were mentioned in the promo text, this is not merely me ‘retreading’ the promo material, rather highlights that I completed agree with the comparisons (…although I don’t so much agree with the promo text’s comparison to Control).