a malignant black plague

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Phragments All Towers Must Fall LP Malignant Records 2016

Black Earth – Diagrams of a Hidden Order MCD Black Plague 2016

‘All Towers Must Fall’ follows three years after 2013’s ‘New Kings And New Queens’ and is the first time that Phragments has had material issues on vinyl.  Musically this follows established and recognisable paths, and although the project self-referenced as a ‘martial industrial’ project (perhaps more relevant to earlier works), the music here contains far less orchestral bombast than that may imply on the surface of such a genre classification.  In actuality this new album could more easily be bracketed under a dark ambient frame, where ‘martial industrial’ elements form a broader undercurrent rather than being an upfront ‘martial percussive’ focus.  As such the martial and orchestral elements lurk underneath akin to the sound of battlefield wasteland, thus perhaps better descriptor for this could be ‘martial ambient’.

With the title track opening proceedings, the mood is darkly solemn which is driven forwards by deep, droning synth textures which emulate orchestral brass, whilst other stormy abstract elements swirl overhead.  ‘The Iron Well’ continues the solemn mood but also sees the use of some far off rolling martial percussion for good effect, while ‘Withdrawal’ contains a particular mood a restraint and resignation, which includes a muffled percussive underpinning, tensile cyclic drones and ‘foghorn’ textures create the bulk of the sound.  Without much of a central melodic focus, in an overarching sense the album is one which is heavily reliant on sonic texture to generate its mood.  Noting that it maintains a distantly sweeping atmosphere throughout, it is the slow drawling foghorns and martial orchestral textures which function to sonically illustrate windswept and war-scared wastelands.

Given that Phragments nails its approach with precision and flair, interestingly it is also noted that the vinyl pressing gives an added depth to the sound, which positively works to counteract some of the more synthetic sounding orchestral elements, but regardless overall ‘All Towers Must Fall’ is a strong an enjoyable album.

Moving on to Black Earth, they are a new Spanish signing to the Black Plagve roster, and are definitely a project gains inspiration from and leans towards a ‘metalists’ sound spectrum, but has ample caustic sonic elements to keep ‘industrialists’ happy.  The label description of ‘blackened noise’ should provide ample hint of the general style and sound.

‘Mantric Resonances Along Fields of Dissolution’ opens proceedings and is underpinned by a high degree of black metal originated riff and rasp.  Although features fuzzed out tremolo riffing and flailing hyper-speed drumming, rather than sounding typically black metal, the production is smeared with caustic washes of black noise, which becomes the predominant focus of the sonic palate.  Thus despite some ‘musical’ elements and instruments being discernible within the mix, the greater atmosphere is one of blown out industrial noise.  ‘Upon Labyrinths of Broken Mirrors’ pulls back on the sonic reigns so as to be more subdued in atmosphere, which illustrates a sense of cavernous depth and shrill quasi-orchestral tone (in part down to the atonal, angular and abstract riffing, which bring to mind the death metal approach of Portal).  With each track interlinking into the next, the third and final track ‘To Cloak a Nebulous Sun’ ramps back up to a wall of roaring tone and texture akin to screaming orchestral strings fed through a jet engine and undercut with hammering drums, wailing choirs and demonic vocals.

For comparative purposes Gnawed Their Tongues is referenced within the promo blurb, which is agreed to be pretty spot on, and with only 3 tracks and run time of around 18 minutes, this is short but solid example of the convergence and mangled cross pollination of sounds drawn from black/ death metal, dark ambient and industrial noise.

Hiroshi Hasegawa / Leid-Linie – Hiroshi Hasegawa / Leid-Linie

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Hiroshi Hasegawa / Leid-Linie – Hiroshi Hasegawa / Leid-Linie CD Cipher Productions 2016

For any long term readers of noise receptor journal, it is abundantly clear that straight up harsh noise is not a big part of what I listen to and write about, so please excuse any technical faux pas on my part (…and on with the review).

Hiroshi Hasegawa (he of other recognized Japanese noise projects Astro and C.C.C.C.) leads off this split album and features a single 21 minute piece psychedelic noise maelstrom.  Although clearly to be filed under ‘noise’, this is far from being HNW, given it is far more complex and dynamic in approach.  Elements of screeching/ creaking junk metal, children’s’ voices, church bells and straight up static are fed into a sonic blender and treated with a heavy dose of echo and reverb to creating wildly varied sound.  An immersive quality is generated from is wildly lurching sound which cuts from moments of relative calm to sections representing an all-out noise assault.  Sonically the mix is extremely loud and crystalline, including lots of micro tonal detailing, cut up textures, whipping static and rabid vocals towards tracks end, but also retains a sense of direction and purpose in its execution (I am not sure if ‘psychedelic noise’ is the correct reference here, but it certainly jumps to mind for me personally during more than one moment).

As for Leid-Linie’s half (a solo project of Sascha Mandler), it features 4 tracks spanning 17 minutes in total, with the recordings spanning from 2009 to 2013.  In general the approach remains to feature rabid, spitting textures, high speed cut ups and high tones static which spew forth as a cascade of harsh static, but like the first half these are juxtaposed with calm retrained moment to generate a complete sense of depth and dynamics.  Some of the underlying elements have a grim and caustic ‘post-industrial’ tinged sonic aesthetic, which means Leid-Linie’s side is less ‘psychedelic noise’ than Hiroshi Hasegawa’s offering, although the final track from 2013, with its panning high speed cut ups and pulsing structures does certainly push close to that sound.

Although I doubt that harsh noise will ever become a main focus of my listening habits, I can certainly appreciate there is a degree of unbridled ‘elation’ when choosing to fully immersing oneself, and for that reason alone this album has been an enjoyable experience.

Red Wine and Sugar ‎– Chattels + The Confidence and Humour of John

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Red Wine and Sugar Chattels + The Confidence and Humour of John CD Index Clean 2016

Perhaps I am missing the metaphor or slang reference of the chosen moniker, but regardless, the unusually named Red Wine and Sugar are an Australian duo featuring Mark Groves (of Dead Boomers, Von Einem etc) and Samaan Fieck (of Ghost Gums, Smash Tennis etc.).  Musically this CD revolves in experimental industrial spheres and is a re-release of their 2015 debut cassette ‘Chattels’ on Mazurka Editions, with the addition of the track ‘The Confidence and Humour of John’ (lifted from a 2016 Mazurka Editions cassette compilation).  The material has then been remastered for CD pro-pressed with a 4 panel digipack cover where all lyrics/ text are included.

Although musically describing this as ‘experimental industrial’, this is extremely restrained and minimalist in sonic execution.  A creepy mood and tensile atmosphere permeates the entirety of the album, while its structural minimalism generated through sustained drones, low semi-harmonic textures, distant radio static, fractured clatter, micro-tonal scrapings etc. Much of the impact of the album then comes from the lyrics and vocals, where a psychological/ analytical angle has been taken, as is evidenced by the lyrics focus on describing: personal desires; perceived failings; social perceptions; anxiety disorders (panic attacks etc.); and what may be text lifted from an instruction manual outlining management techniques to prevent re-offending (…’re-offending’ in exactly what manner remains unclear…).  Although the lyrics are constructed in such a way to form a disjointed mix of phrases, scenarios and thoughts, their impact is maximized given they are presented clear and upfront in the mix, being delivered in a low spoken whisper and in a cold a detached style and arc between being that of personal commentary, to that of an third person ‘observer’ perspective.

Of the 5 presented tracks, the pairing of ‘Often Burns Rarely Tans’ and ‘Bitter Almonds’ are particular standouts, by presenting variations on dour semi-melodious synths, looped drones, creaking metal and subdued static.  Likewise the final addendum piece ‘The Confidence and Humour of John’ is another excellent track of wonky, disorientating loops and rough textural clutter, whilst the multi-tracked vocals range from the upfront and clearly enunciated, to then being sonically warped and relegated to the background.

Given the collection of 5 tracks spans a little over 30 minutes, even in that short time-span it showcases a project with distinct musical ideas and thematic concepts, with the results being very much individualistic and not derivative of any particular genre or style. Minimalist in sonic scope, yet intense and affecting in final result, this is a recommended release.

Liebestod ‎– Beta Male

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Liebestod Beta Male LP Chondritic Sound 2016

Having not come across Liebestod before, ‘they’ are the solo project of LA based Jesse Sanes, with ‘Beta Male’ being the first LP following a self-titled cassette from 2014.  Thematically the album deals with the physiological narrative of an isolated and volatile loner who chooses to become a lone gunman to inflict retribution on society at large; but with this being handled is a sophisticated way so as to not be solely about white knuckled male rage and aggression.  This is also reflected in the tone and mood of the album where there is a general degree of restraint displayed in sonic qualities, which in turn functions to racket up tension and overall atmosphere.

With the 6 tracks being in the order of 3 to 5 minutes ‘Beta Male’ is not a lengthy album, but each track functions as distinct, singular pieces with direct and focused ideas.  As such ‘Godlike’ a strong opener with crushing synth stabs and fluttering noise and something akin to a beeping alarm/ siren.  As the layers gradually build in complexity and aggression (amassing into mid-paced atonal pounding rhythmics), flanged vocals also feature but subservient to other more forceful elements.  Moving quickly into ‘The Third Man’, it builds a solid base of junk metal loops to military marching jackboot effect, which are further overlaid with sporadic noise squalls and junk metal commotion and more antagonistic and fiercely presented roared and distorted vocals.  ‘Alpha Male’ then deviates into slightly more experimental realms with a minimalist soundscape of spoken vocals, low humming drones and high pitched ‘beeps and blips’ tones, which is very much a track of tensile atmospherics.

Sitting somewhere between a heavy electronics and power electronics sound, side B opener ‘Home is Where You’re Free’, uses an array of idling bass rumble, modulated noise, harsh feedback and mid-toned textures, but all balanced and mixed into an evenly tonal soundscape.  ‘The Public Hero’ then pushes a more focused sound, which emulates a structured European power electronics sound (think early Ex Order).  Here the piece relies on bass rumble, waving mid toned ‘needling’ textures, with the heavily echoed and flanged vocals being a particular standout element.  Final album track ‘Consumed in the Role’ comes across as a confessional/ cathartic piece and excellent album ender.  Atonal wavering/ idling synth layers intermingle with grinding/ droning feedback and sparse ‘oil barrel’ junk metal tones, with the distant ‘dictaphone’ spoken vocals, being partially buried.

For it apparently outwardly harder and harsher sounds, these have been expertly mixed to be balanced within the mix, so the end result is not typically over the top or blown out, noting the mood displays a mood or stalking restraint which only ramps up to full aggression on a few selected moments/ tracks.  In the end what Liebestod the delivers on a music front is a grim and tensile approach to an industrial noise/ power electronics style, but delivered with focused control to generate an enthralling result.  The washed out photocopier tone aesthetic of the cover, and insert with relevant text and imagery, rounds out a very strong release, both conceptually and sonically.

Kneeling Knave – The Messiah Complex / Involuntary Admission

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Kneeling Knave – The Messiah Complex / Involuntary Admission 7″ep Altered States Tapes 2016

Kneeling Knave are a new Melbourne based ‘industrial’ project, which is a solo project of Cooper Bowman who has previously issued a number of releases under the Roman Nails banner, which itself is a project focusing on experimental techno/ electronica.  However in order to sidestep the stylistic slant of Roman Nails, Kneeling Knave opt for more a direct death industrial/ power electronics sound.

‘The Messiah Complex’ leads off Side A leads off with a strong industrial throb and some understated percussive textures to generate a mid-paced and minimalist style.  The vocals are then delivered in a harsh and distorted style, which provides a death industrial to muted power electronics slant to proceedings. Flipping over to Side B, it features ‘Involuntary Admission’, being a slower lurching track of stilled bass thuds and intertwining pulsing atonal synth lines.  Some understated ‘high-hat’ programming late in the piece, which themselves gives a nod to the approach of Cooper’s other output, however (again) the rough distorted vocals make an appearance to keep the mood squarely in the industrial underground.

Although having a thick analogue edge, the sound is also not overly rough in sound texture and execution.  Likewise with the understated programmed/ percussive elements, the overall impression is that Kneeling Knave leans towards the sound, direction and style of the Galakthorro label roster, albeit in slightly less refined terms.  So all in all this is a short yet enjoyable debut 7”ep from this new project.

Kommando RJF – untitled

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Kommando RJF – untitled MC Styggelse / Chefsideologens Bolag 2014

Originally released as part of super limited edition boxset of the ‘Sweet Slow Suicide’ album (reviewed here), a few copies have now been issues as a separate and standalone release.

Featuring material from the same album recording session, this tape contains a couple of unreleased tracks as well as alternative versions of main tracks, so it can very much be considered an an addendum ‘Sweet Slow Suicide’. So what this means in a sonic capacity, is it delivers crude analogue power electronics that wavers between the aggressive and the morbid.  Spitting static, dank analogue vibrations, sustained synth textures, agonized/ roared vocals and a heavy doses of reverb are the main elements of approach.  ‘Fuck Rehab’ leads off and is as strong as anything on ‘Sweet Slow Suicide’ where the wailing vocals given it a perfect unhinged edge, whilst on ‘Those About to Die’ draws its agonized tone out over a 9 minute stretch.

Given that ‘Sweet Slow Suicide’ should be an easier release to track down and is the main album, that should obviously be the first point of reference, but if that amounts to an obsessively positive listen (which it should), look no further than making the effort to locate a copy of this – a 6 track, 32 minute excursion into the depths of morbid Swedish underground power electronics.

Vhril – Vortex Psysynthesis

Vhril

Vhril – Vortex Psysynthesis CD Old Captain 2016

For this release Old Captain have seen fit to resurrect an obscure recording from Ulex Xane and John Murphy under the ‘Vhril’ banner, which was originally issued in 1993 via Ulex’s Zero Cabel tape label, and noting the timing of this release in mid-2016, it then fittingly coincides with the feature interviews with both in noise receptor journal issue no.4.  To firstly provide a short synopsis of the album’s thematic focus, an excerpt from Ulex’s liner notes states: “Vhril explored the esoteric concept of the Vril topos, the Black Sun and Thulean paths in an improvisational ritual setting”. Musically speaking, ‘Vortex Psysynthesis’ can then be bracketed under a ritual ambient / ritual industrial frame of reference.

On the opening track ‘Transcosmic Mutations (The Vile Vortices), it is a loose and long-form piece, featuring tensile analogue drones, and rhythmic clatter/ muffled rumble and wailing ‘air raid’ styled sirens, which in part bring to mind the most subdued instrumental elements of Streicher (…and particularly on the first half of the track).  However what completely sets the atmosphere apart is the array of gongs, Tibetan singing bowls, sparse percussive elements and oil barrel thuds etc. which all coalesce with ritualised intent.  Two shorter 5-8 minute pieces form the album’s centre (‘Sedona 1’ and ‘Sedona 2’), are tonally similar in that they are both calm and understated atmospheric works of shimmering ‘cosmic’ textures, and scattered ritual percussion, which could also perhaps be more flamboyantly described as ‘psychic emanations from the void’. On the fourth and final piece ‘Ipsissimum’, although skirts perilously close to a ‘new age’ sound (given its use of water samples, chimes, accordion and woodwind tune, distant wailing/ chanted female vocals etc.), it sidesteps being overtly twee by maintaining a darker and sparsely abstract sound.

Noting the four album pieces span the subtle and abstract through to track segments which are more driving and forceful, the overall sound and atmosphere maintain a meditative quality throughout, yet equally the first track is the clear standout in terms of focus and complexity of execution.  Given that Old Captain have been doing an exceptional job at digging up and re-releasing some exceptional underground obscurities of the past decades, this Vhril CD is no exception.