Phelios – Human Stasis Habitat / Ionosphere – The Stellar Winds

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Phelios – Human Stasis Habitat CD Loki Foundation 2016

Ionosphere – The Stellar Winds CD Loki Foundation 2016

What can be said of cosmic and deep space focused dark ambient music in 2016 that has not been said before?  Clearly such a style and sound has generated a huge volume of material over recent decades and continues to do so given it is now an effective micro–scene within the broader post-industrial underground.  Yet for such music to ultimately work, it is about capturing a particular essence which elevates the music from bland background music to a level which can be fully engaging and hold interest throughout. In this context Loki Foundation have been at the forefront of such a style and sound and continue to release leading examples of galactic soundscapes and droning dark ambience, where the new releases from Phelios and Ionosphere constitutes some of the strongest material of this type.

Up first is the new album ‘Human Stasis Habitat’ from Phelios, which is 3 years on from the ‘Gates of Atlantis’ album on Malignant Records (reviewed here).  With 7 tracks spanning 49 minutes, sonically speaking and despite having a ‘cold deep space void’ focus, this new recording engenders a warmer and enveloping tone overall.   Apart from its slow morphing soundscapes, there are particular movements where buried melodious and rhythmic bass tones surface, such as found on ‘Light Curve Wave’.  Likewise ‘Spectral Momentum’ has a sacral tone generated through its distant like bell toll and sub-bass melodies and choir-esque textures, while the concluding track ‘Eye of Terror’ showcases a slow booming ritual pulse and deep fog horns as a call to oblivion.  The packaging and presentation is also perfectly suited, with images of cosmic clouds and completes geometrical shapes spanning a 6 panel digi-sleeve.

Moving on to ‘The Stellar Winds’ from Ionosphere, this is not a new album, rather a re-release of their second album from 2007, released in a limited run on CDR via Avatar Records.  For this new edition the album has been remastered and includes two additional tracks.  Although being in a similar sonic world, Ionosphere’s sound on this album is a much colder is tone and is mechanically tinged its sound and construction.  Based predominantly on layered loops, the 13 interlinking tracks (45 minute play time), are constructed with elevating intensity, where swelling drones and muted radiating sub-orchestral melodies form the backbone off which a range of atonal minimalist metallic clatter and fragments of mechanical churn are hung.  Vocalisations are also sporadically used, but these are rendered indecipherable as garbled radio chatter.  Noting that the varying sonic elements are drenched in reverb and echo, it facilitates suitable cavernous depth, where although the sound is on first impressions quite minimalist, on closer listening is unassumingly varied and complex.  Whilst not deviating substantially in form one of the additional track on offer ‘The Atom Abundance’ does manage to stand out from the rest due its far more driving and forceful tone.

Although both Phelios and Ionosphere have their basis in the same genre traits, both of these albums carve their own sound and particular niche, and are both masterfully atmospheric in their individualistic sound.  Through these releases Loki Foundation again demonstrate why they are still a leading label for this particular style and sound.

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Shift – Ruminations / Uncodified – Maybe All Is Not Completed

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Shift – Ruminations 10”ep Unrest Productions 2016

Uncodified – Maybe All Is Not Completed CD Unrest Productions 2016

Shift’s ‘Ruminations’ ep was first issued in 2015 in an cassette edition of 100 copies on DumpsterScore, but in my estimation this was far too few copies given the quality of the release.  Luckily the project had the same view with it being reissued on vinyl via their ‘home’ label and in a larger edition of 205 copies.

Following on from the monumental ‘Altamont Rising’ album from 2014 ‘Ruminations’ features around 20 minutes of material over two lengthy untitled tracks. Noting that Shift’s sound has evolved over a number of releases to gradually step into more aggressive power electronics territory, ‘Ruminations’ continues this evolutionary process. So whilst Shift’s trademark laborious layering again forms the general approach, here the layering is also used for maximum dynamic impact.

Track 1 quickly beds down a number of loops to provide basic structure which set the scene (i.e. idling machines, slow metallic thumps, loop of a youth yelling something unintelligible etc.). But things REALLY kick in when the distortion flayed vocals arrive (mixed prominently upfront), followed by yet more sonic layers of what can only be described as ‘jet engine’ powered distortion. As such the layered elements are gradually added which slowly build the track to monumental proportions and then sustained for the remainder of the piece. Likewise with its multi-layered approach the sound is thick and loud where each layer is clearly balanced within the mix to create a colossal sound. Track 2 then side steps the direct power of the first side somewhat by being a touch more subdued, although the sound still maintains a crushingly heaviness. As such the piece is constructed around intertwining queasy ascending/ descending atonal analogue drones, coupled with a slow rhythmic thud whilst the roared/ distorted vocals sit more to the centre of the mix (…yes, another great track).

It seems Shift are really going from strength to strength which is evidenced by the gradual refinement and honing of their overall approach towards more aggressive power electronics realms. Although being characteristically of the sound which can be recognised as that of Shift, the increased urgency and aggression of these tracks really given it a more focused and direct impact. Thick vinyl pressing and double sided cover rounds out the physical packaging. Recommended.

Moving on to Uncodified, this solo project of Corrado Atlieri has been rather prolific since 2011 (19 releases and counting – with a number being splits or collaborations), with ‘Maybe All Is Not Complete’ the latest full length album.

8 tracks spanning 40 minutes are featured on the album which very much constitutes direct and clinically tinged industrial noise and ‘instrumental’ power electronics given the distinct lack of vocals.  Buzzing and burrowing mid-toned frequencies swarm alongside micro-tonal textures and further coupled with basic rhythmic structure and whipping static etc.  These varying elements are then assembled through layered mode of construction which provide further form and direction.  As such it is the sonic layering, tonal separation and the panning of sound between speakers which adds to the general complexity of the material on offer.  Although much of the sound is loud, sharp and in most part clinical, there is also a coarse underbelly of corrosive scrap metal racket and hollow tonality, of which ‘Deception’ and ‘Overhead’ are particularly excellent examples of this duality of sound.  The final track ‘The End Is Never One’ delivers quite a sonic surprise given it approaches ‘heavy electronics meets dark ambient’ territory, and with its melancholic drones and layered sweeping windswept textures it is a serene and contemplative conclusion to the album.

When compared to the last solo full length ‘Hardcore Methodology’ from 2014 (reviewed here), this new album has a far greater degree of focus and urgency, which has consequential elevated its sonic impact. A simple black and white 4 panel digi-pack rounds out a ‘no frills’ but expertly executed album, which very much suits and fits within the sound and attitude of the expanding Unrest Productions roster.

Isomer – Three Kestrels

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Isomer – Three Kestrels LP Tesco Organisation 2016

Over a span of 15 years David Tonkin aka Isomer has generated quite varied output within the broader post-industrial underground, which has resulted from a shift in the methods of recording and production.  Of the greatest influence in the process has been the move away from the use of computers during the early days, towards the current era relying on analogue synths and individually generated sonic inputs (noise equipment, found sounds etc). Noting also that Isomer was silent between 2011 and 2015, during this period David focused on his side project Rope Society, which saw him expanded his sonic palate to rougher industrial/ junk metal/ noise, which in part has now bled back into his main project.

To talk of the new album ‘Three Kestrels’ comes 5 years on from the ‘Nil By Mouth’ EP, which itself was released to coincide with a live performance at a Tesco Organisation related festival in Germany at the time.  Given this EP included heavy inspiration from and homage to a ‘German’ power electronics sound, ‘Three Kestrels’ is a logical continuation of that sound, but perhaps oriented along a more restrained and stalking approach which also draws upon elements of heavy electronics and death industrial styles.  From this perspective the opening cut ‘Mourn’ is an excellent example of a sound which sits at a midpoint between such genres traits, featuring rough elongated drones and crumbling industrial noise with a melancholic edge, where the treated vocals are also a standout element.  The following ‘No Reply’ is slightly more in a ‘classic’ power electronics vein which mixes a queasy/ throbbing synth and rough squalling distortion, where the utilised dialogue samples counterpoints the track’s title against the apparent faithful issuing their prayers.  Then in shifting gears down a notch, ‘Basic Terrain Data’ encompasses a death industrial tone of associating drones and bass throbbing rhythms and micro-tonal textures as the dialogue samples articulates scenarios of societal unrest and violence.  ‘Gods and Men’ rounds out Side A with a solid example of crude industrial rumble and static featuring a thick, bass driven morass and junk metal clatter/ barked vocals.  

Moving on to Side B, ‘Induction’ reminds of the stasis based approach of Proiekt Hat, where the repetitive throbbing loops and rumble sets the scene for a prison based dialogue sample which outlines various systems and processes within within a prison complex, yet ultimately functions to outline a nightmare of banal incarcerated boredom.  Yet even with this implied negativity, the track manages to engender a ray of hope through a lone voice advising that there is nothing wrong with feeling suicidal, but not to give up as you never know how far away success is.  With its sustained drone, modulating textures and dour melody ‘730’ feels as if a bridging piece to the concluding title track which is another clear standout to these ears (as with the album opener).  Framed around a base a modulating synth rumbles, the distant and distortion scarred roared vocals (although unintelligible) articles a strong and emotive edge, with their emotional impact further increased through the sustained, minor keyed melody cutting a strong melancholic tone.

In a discographic sense ‘Three Kestrels’ is perhaps David’s strongest and most well rounded release.  Likewise with its focus on rough heavy electronics and subdued power electronics, it is such that it sonically warrants and benefits from its vinyl pressing.  Apart from the greater bulk of material pushing towards a sharper and aggressive tones, it is of note that a mournful and melancholic thread underscores the album.  This more emotive edge seems to be clearly rooted in some significant personal upheavals David and his family have been working through during the period in which this album was recorded, which only adds to the depth and impact of its final result.   A great album.

Vril Jäger – Vril Jäger

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Vril Jäger – Vril Jäger LP Heiðrunar Myrkrunar 2016

Vril Jäger is a new project featuring Kim Larsen – better known for his main neo-folk project Of the Wand and the Moon, and Thomas Bojden – better known for his main martial industrial project Die Weisse Rose.  Perhaps then in making a concerted effort to side step any direct comparisons or similarities to their main projects, Vril Jäger stands apart by evoking an early to mid 1990’s ‘heavy electronics’ sound, but further augmented with ritual / martial styled percussion and sub-orchestral dark ambient elements. The music framework is then completed with dialogue samples and strong commanding vocals (both spoken and whispered with slight studio treatments being applied).  Thematically speaking the lyrics and dialogue samples reveal a focus on a variety of interlinked conspiracy theories and occult symbolism including: Vril Society/ Vril energy, electronic voice phenomenon (EVP), parallel dimensions, hollow earth hypothesis etc, which works rather well to present a strong conceptual base.

For the opening track ‘Vril-Ya’ presents a lengthy piece, assembled around ominous drones, slow booming Japanese war drums, atonal drawling horns and clattering ritual percussion, where the whispered and slightly treated vocals providing a ceremonial edge (…without doubt an excellent start).  Interestingly the following track ‘Maw of Kalki’ constitutes a direct channeling the atmosphere of early works of Predominance (a high compliment from these quarters), but noting the sub-orchestral synths and choral type vocals gives rise to this comparison, here it twisted to individual result with its martial / ritual percussion.  With the first side of the LP featuring only 2 lengthy track, instead the second side features 4, consisting of 2 short vignettes to bookend the other 2 middle tracks of 6 to 8 minutes each.  Following a similar sonic scope to the first side, ‘Through The Firmaments’ is a drawling soundscapes featuring driving ritual percussion and layered wailing horns, while ‘Radio Wyrd’ is noteworthy fort its shrill strings of rising dread as a backing to a documentary dialogue sample talks of EVP/ inter-dimensional phenomenon. ‘Sanctified by Constellations’ then concludes the album in short and simple guise, featuring a sparse yet achingly morose sub-orchestral melody, with a short poetic tome.

Despite the label promo stating that Vril Jäger should not be considered a ‘side project’, nevertheless it came to my attention on the basis of its members. But making good on their assertion that Vril Jäger is not a mere ‘side project’, it has still caught me by surprise me by how different it actually is when compared to initial ‘face value’ expectations.  As such Vril Jäger have arrived as a fully formed and thematically focused group, whom in the process have delivered an excellent debut album.  As a final note on the album’s presentation, whilst the spot varnished logo of the cover is slick and understated, it is also rather plain and uninspired, where the group’s photo presented on the back cover would have in my estimation made a more compelling front cover.