Rats For Serpents Spotlight

 

Pterygium – I Abandon Myself, I Become Myself MC Rats For Serpents 2017

Haraam – Al-Arba’Ru’Us MC Rats For Serpents, 2016

Broken Fingers – Jumonji Girl MC Rats For Serpents 2017

Rats For Serpents is a new Australian micro-tape label launched in 2016 and which focuses in the more difficult end of post-industrial listening, and although having only issued five releases issued to date there is clearly some interesting fodder on offer.

Pterygium is up first, where I Abandon Myself, I Become Myself is not a new recording, rather features material from 2013 which has been edited and assembled in late 2016. Differing quite significantly from the recent new recording (reviewed here), this industrial/ noise material is loose, rough and semi-improvised in feel. Commencing with a catatonic pace, and with a strong ‘basement ambience’ vibe, it features a murky grey to pitch black sonic tone. Gradually the piece evolves with forceful revving sounds and choppy noise squalls with scatty angular textures, and in the later segments some barely detectable processed vocals make an appearance. I get the feel that this material has perhaps been cut together from a diverse range of different recording experiments/ sessions, and although evidently featuring two untitled tracks, I could not pick an obvious break from one piece to the next. In then making reference to Pterygium’s latest release Grip, it must be said that this tape pales in comparison to the current sound, but these earlier recordings are interesting to see the evolution of the project.

Up next is the obscure project Haraam and seem to inhabit a midpoint between throbbing lower end noise and abstract dark ambience, which is loose and sprawling in scope. With the cover also featuring the tag line of: “Ultraviolent Capitalist Solutions For Ultraviolent Ideological Problems”, it is perhaps indicative of an oblique conceptual underpinning. Four tracks are featured which variously incorporate elements of bass rumbling soundscapes, muted blast furnace eruptions and sweeping widescreen moments, which are occasionally infused with (unidentifiable) field recordings. A positive sense of focus, direction and drive is featured which swings between minimalist and at other times chaotic, and while overall the tape is a decent one but the same time not genre defining or particularly mind blowing.

Third and final tape is from Broken Fingers and across its four tracks the most sonically diverse and original of the bunch.  ‘Indignation Death’ leads off and is a cinematically tinged experimental dark ambient piece with orchestral synth textures, sweeping bass drones and layered elements for added complexity, to create an excellent moody and restrained offering. Cross-Shaped Cut take a step up with some hard poly-rhythmic programmed beats and driving loops to create an excellent track of industrialized techno (i.e. Alberich comes to mind), which become looser and more chaotic as it progresses. Shadow Belly deviates yet again with a tribal industrial soundscape including Japanese chants, ritual percussion, washes of distortion and idling noise. Forth and final track Death Of Understanding is perhaps rather pedestrian as the start (i.e. a straight forward industrial noise workout), although thankfully shifts gears to more interesting with sampled Japanese dialogue and smatterings of Asiatic percussive elements in mid track extending through to its conclusion.

As alluded to above the Broken Fingers tape is the pick of the bunch based on its sonic diversity and overall originality. Packaging wise each tape feature dual sided, 4 panel photocopied cover inserts, housed inside a snap-lock bag and finished with ‘punch label’ sticker for a finish touch. Overall Rats For Serpents sound and aesthetic is worthy of investigation if any of the above sounds of interest.

Con-Dom – How Welcome Is Death To I Who Have Nothing More To Do But Die

Con-Dom – How Welcome Is Death To I Who Have Nothing More To Do But Die 2LP Tesco Organisation 2016

It has to be acknowledged that the approaching this review was a completely daunting task, and consequently it has been a long time in planning due to the magnitude of doing it adequate justice.  This is Con-Dom after all, being 15 long years since 2001’s magnum opus Colour Of A Man’s Skin vinyl set.  While Mike Dando has always used the Con-Dom moniker to explore all manner of manifestations of power and control (…and domination), on this album the thematic focus has turned inwards to something far more personal, which immediately sets it apart for the usual power electronics ‘arm’s length’ presentation and exploration of thematic concepts. To cut to the core of the album, How Welcome Is Death… is Mike’s reflection on his own mother’s death; his feelings and experience during the process; an exploration of euthanasia; and an observation of the institutional suffering resulting from how society addresses terminal illness. It also burrows deep into the question of what is the value of life where the quality of living is non-existent and particularly where the awareness of the individuals own circumstance has all but been lost to diseases such dementia.  To hammer home how personal the explorations of these questions would be to Mike, the cover and booklet features a series of unflinching photos of his mother Nora, which effectively illustrates her wasting away (…and as confronting as this is visually, it does not in any way feel voyeuristic). Musically speaking the material covers 3 sides of vinyl, with the 4th side featuring an etching of the Con-Dom ‘logo’ (…a crouching man, head bowed, but with bound wrists defiantly up-stretched).  Sonically the majority of the material on offer is subdued and more low-key by usual Con-Dom standards, thereby allowing its lyrics to be spoken and fully comprehended. The tracks are further augmented with dialogue samples and short snippets of what appear to be recordings of his own mother in nursing home or hospice, which then functions to illustrate the often banal context of the suffering of many at the end of their lives.

After a short introductory and sample of a rather twee ditty of a song celebrating the elderly (Grandad You’re Lovely (Silently Falling About), the upbeat mood is quickly obliterated by Living Death; a 13 minute track of invasive droning noise and double tracked, spoken vocals. Lyrically this is delivered from the first person perspective of Nora which charts both external observations and internal dialogue. Illustrating the descent into loss of bodily control and memory, it also includes some secondary lines of text which point accusations of financial embezzlement at Mike himself (…noting that paranoia is a symptom of dementia). After another short interlude piece, the title track then emerges are more typical of Con-Dom’s sound based around a thick wall of bulldozing analogue rumble, while the vocals are spoken in an authoritarian style, as if delivering proclamations from a pulpit (…although the style of delivery is the effective opposite of the message being articulated).  The following track Chocolates features an invasive throbbing bass rumble coupled with needling noise as the basis for Mike’s world weary reading out what is effectively amounts to a statement of intent of an unidentified person to commit suicide.  Lyrically it reveals an individual suffering from an incurable terminal illness, but who has the clear resolve to take their own life on their own terms before they were physically unable to do so. T4 is another lengthy track based on animated layered noise and vocal wails bleeding in and out of the mix, is coupled with a German language vocal sample which from details of the cover relates to a 1939 letter petition seeking a mercy killing for a mother suffering from Parkinson’s Disease (…although the track’s title of T4 also references a controversial Nazi era program involving forced involuntary euthanasia). Despite the subdued sonic tone of the bulk of the album, Just Fuckin’ Die stands out based on it hard and anthemic power electronics style of fractured loops and shuddering distortion, and the only vocals on the album which elevate to the trademark flanged aggressive barrage.  The fact that this track is even included on the album, with its brutal yet strangely maudlin lyrics, is testament to the blunt and unflinching honesty Mike has shown in exploration of its theme, no matter how unpalatable the expression of a personal internalised thought may seem when spoken out loud. Following this piece is Ending (Nora), a relatively calm track, being not much more than a cavernous rumbling mass, but with the inclusion of the incoherent mutterings, this may in fact be a recording of Nora’s dying moments (…the album finally concludes in the manner in which it starts with another short sample of a twee song again celebrating the elderly).

Without doubt How Welcome Is Death… is a searing and absolutely personal exploration of questions of the value of life in the face death and the manner in which people die in the modern age. As a result it is a thematically difficult album to experience and particularly more so for anyone who has experienced a similar process with the passing of a family member. Through this album Mike show how far ahead he is conceptually and highlights the human core of what he explores through the prism of Con-Dom.  Equally How Welcome Is Death… functions to hold a mirror up to the fallacy of the oft faux celebration of strength and the overt obsession with death that preoccupies so much of the post-industrial underground.  As articulated on this album it is not ‘at a distance’ detachment; this is raw human emotion; as lived and as experienced by Mike.  How Welcome Is Death… is a brave album in its brutal honesty and although matches the level achieved on a Colour Of A Man’s Skin, for the all the reasons set out above, stands separate and apart.