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.