Puissance – Let The State Collapse

Puissance – Let The State Collapse 3xCD Infinite Fog Productions 2018

In terms of historical context, Puissance (the Swedish duo of Fredrik Söderlund, Henry Möller) spearheaded and were a front runner of the martial industrial/neo-classical movement of the mid 1990’s. That sound was particularly big by the turn of the century and extended through to the mid 2000’s, but the style gradually fell out of favor due to the scene being flooded by lacklustre second tier acts and bland releases. But in parallel to that, Puissance gradually honed and evolved their own approach, and garnered strong praise and a loyal following with their apocalyptic and misanthropic worldview set to rousing neo-classical infused martial industrial movements.

Noting that Puissance been mostly inactive over the last decade (save for a single track Nox issued in 2014 on the Pylons Of The Adversary split album), Let The State Collapse functions to collect together various scattered threads issued outside of the main albums, including: the first two demos; a number of 7”EP’s; various compilation appearances; interlude tracks written for other bands; the Hail The Mushroom Cloud EP; the War On compilation collection; as well as a number of previously unreleased alternate versions. Although for reasons unexplained, it is noted that 1997’s Totalitarian Hearts 7”EP has been omitted from this set.

CD1 starts from the earliest Puissance works with the inclusion of the fledgling steps of the group as illustrated on their first two demos. The first demo Krieg from 1995 sits squarely within a rough post-industrial soundscape style, where the muted and ominous mechanical drones and stilted factory rhythms evoke abstracted orchestral undertones, but overall Krieg is a minimalist death-industrial affair than a neo-classical one. Releases the same year, the second demo Obey, Hate, Die then showcases a marked shift towards orchestral neo-classical sound and martial drumming sensibilities, which would become the main focus of the debut album Let Us Lead released a year later in 1996 (in fact, a number of songs from Obey, Hate, Die where included in upgraded and more powerful versions on the debut). Apart from archival completion, the importance of the inclusion of these demos here is that they illustrate how quickly Puissance evolved over an extremely short space of time, where the following collection of seven tracks from various 7”EP’s highlights the further honing of their sound. Of particular note is A Call to Arms from 2000, which is a rousing track framed around a melancholy infused piano line and strident martial rhythmic backing. Anthemic and apocalyptic is the best way possible.

Moving onto CD2, it functions to collect together five tracks from various compilations; eight interlude tracks contributed to the albums of underground black metal bands; and three previously unreleased alternate versions. In an overarching sense the majority of the tracks on this set are short instrumental neo-classical/ orchestral pieces, which reflects their role on the original releases. This however makes for slightly patchy listening and flow between tracks, and where some tracks suffer from a slightly over synthetic orchestral sound. But these are also minor issues, given the benefit of them having been complied on one CD for convenience, and for which many of these I have not heard before previously. Standouts of this CD include: Speak My Voice (instrumental); An Incarnations Dream (which features rousing sampled choral vocals and pounding militant rolling snare drums), and the beyond epic unreleased version of Biological Waste and A Call to Arms (instrumental).

CD3 rounds out the set and collates the Hail The Mushroom Cloud EP and the War On compilation. Hail The Mushroom Cloud was originally issued in 1999 shortly after the third album Mother Of Disease, where the four tracks are titled Act I through Act IV. With each track being instrumental, they are noteworthy for the first use of a purposefully synthetic programming sound for the underpinning militant beats and rhythms, which would become a mainstay of Puissance’s sound through the mid 2000’s. Sampled choral vocals also feature heavily to further amplify the neo-classical bombast of these tracks. Following the Hail The Mushroom Cloud EP is the War On which in its original form was a remix complication of sorts. Featuring eight tracks it effectively lifted two of the most militantly bombastic/neo-classical songs from each of the first three Puissance albums (Let Us Lead, Back In Control and Mother Of Disease), provided those tracks a sonic refurbishment and update, and combined them with a further two unreleased tracks. The inclusion War On tracks here is clearly welcomed addition, as it again illustrates the rousing Wagnerian heights Puissance reached with their martial industrial/neo-classical hymns.

For me personally, this collection strongly showcases the rapid evolution of the project and hits a particular sweet spot of Puissance’s martial industrial/neo-classical sound which extended to through to the early 2000’s. The period showcased on this set was somewhat superseded by the albums from the mid 2000’s forwards, which shifted to a more streamlined song based format, with a much heavier focus on programmed rhythmic beats which at times bordered on militant and misanthropic angst-pop structures. But to conclude on this release, the lavish digi-book cover and newly designed artwork does this set complete justice. Apart from being a beautiful physical archive piece, it has been a very rewarding and nostalgic experience to revisit the early and most productive period of the project. Recommended.

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Himukalt – Come October

Himukalt – Come October MC Found Remains 2018

Following quickly on the heals of the recent Knife Through The Spine vinyl LP issued on Malignant Records, Come October is the sixth release since 2016 from Himukalt, which is the solo project of Nevada based Ester Kärkkäinen.

With a sound that is rough and decidedly gritty, the analogue derived tones are soot and rust infused, while the vocals feature as emotional and bile drenched (aka echo distorted/ treated). Minimal structure is employed throughout, based around crude abstracted rhythmic programming, choppy static, shuddering distortion and occasional tonal blasts, but the end result is an industrial noise ‘post-mortem’ style than anything typically of a harsh noise variety. The minimalist approach to sound and composition gives a clear nod to the likes of the psychological and death obsessed sounds Atrax Morgue, while the sonic treatment of vocals renders them for tonal impact rather than decipherable intent. Yet based on their at times pained delivery, I gather their lyrical content functions for a degree of personalized catharsis that anything resembling a role for externalized ‘entertainment’.

Opening track Ruined-Raped is an absolute stormer and functions to illustrate Ester’s command of compositional restraint, as well as the perfect execution of controlled tension in building it to a liberating release. Again and Again is another standout track, structured around a rhythmic percussive junk metal loop, upon which fluttering textures, distortion smears and treated agonized vocals are laid, where all elements are gradually elevated in intensity over its elongated length. Apology uses composed minimalism in the best way possible, where wavering tonal elements, needling drones and apathetic but heavily treated vocals gradually makes way for throbbing beat before abruptly concluding. For the late track No Longer Her Dominant, a pathological atmosphere pervades proceedings, which carefully balances the minimalism of its tonally droning sonics, where it is also the only track where the spoken vocals are (partially) decipherable.

In a relatively short space of time Ester has clearly garnered positive attention within the underground, which is solely down to the strength and intensity of her output. With six tracks feature on Come October, and running to just short of 40 minutes it makes it an effective album length tape, and is as good a place as any to either be introduced to or otherwise better acquainted with Himukalt. For the physical edition, the tape is professional printed, with clean graphic design, and comes with a download code for those so inclined.

Kontinent – Pornography of Power

Kontinent – Pornography of Power MC Unrest Productions 2018

As an initial comment I am not sure if Kontinent should be referred to as a ‘side project’ of Kevlar, however putting such designations aside, Kontinent is the solo project of one of the duo behind Kevlar. In then noting that Kontinent’s past releases have broadly been within a modern post-industrial/ power electronics style, this is no different to what is displayed on Pornography of Power, albeit there is a noted increase in aggression and sonic fieriness.

This new release follows relatively quickly on the back of 2017’s album Statis, where Pornography of Power is another expertly crafted release, featuring eight brisk and focused tracks within an industrial meets heavy/ power electronics framework. On the thematic front, song titles such as Pure Power, Bring Back The Violence and Higher Civilisation provide a hint at preoccupations, given the vocals can only be deciphered in a fragmentary fashion due to sonic treatment. Yet the cover imagery provides further context, which of note includes an image of Anders Breivik and a quote appearing to be attributed to him, being: “violence is the mother of change”. As for the sonic content, the detailing and layering of the tracks provided variation and complexity throughout, where looped elements converge and intertwine, while gradually falling in and out of sync to disorientating effect. The distorted and echo treated vocals make them a standout element in their anger infused, proclamation styled delivery.

To some degree there is a certain blurring of lines between the sound, style and approach between Kontinent and Kevlar, which is be expected given who is involved. Yet there is simply no complaint on this point if the high calibre material such as this continues to be issued from both projects. With Pornography of Power being limited to 123 pro-duplicated tapes, I suspect this may get a re-issue on vinyl at some point, which would be a welcomed prospect.

Compactor ‎– Technology Worship

Compactor Technology Worship CD Oppressive Resistance Recordings 2018

Compactor is the latest project from long standing New York underground musician Derek Rush, who is perhaps best known for Dream Into Dust, as well as other collaborative projects A Murder Of Angels and Of Unknown Origin. Yet within the context of Compactor, Derek has forgone using own name, instead adopting the moniker ‘The Worker’, who is an employee of a corporate entity known as Waste MGT (aka Waste Management). To then set the scene for this review, prior to listening to this album I had heard a couple of Compactor tracks here and there, and from those noted a fair dose of influence from underground club-related genres. In truth, those elements were not typically to my liking, but by way of comparison they are effectively absent from Technology Worship, which then functions to frame this album far more towards my own listening preferences, namely post-industrial sounds of power electronics and noise-infused industrial.

To first speak of the sound of the project, this deviates quite significantly from the musical approach which Derek has produced in the past. On face value this would seem to be derived from the approach of using a range of obsolete technology, and bending and abusing the output to desired effect. On select occasions it perhaps leaning towards the cleaner and rhythmic sounding end of the underground industrial spectrum (i.e. that labels like Ant-Zen typically deals with), where album opener Ease Of Use is a clear demonstration of this approach with its mid-paced pounding industrialised rhythm. Yet equally, there are numerous other tracks which are in no way rhythmic derived or focused, rather focus on varied frameworks of distorted loops, flayed noise and splitting and glitched distortion. Vaporware stands out from the bulk of other material given the greater spaciousness of its industrial noise soundscape, although the track evolves into a harsh crumbling distortion workout at the end. The partly rhythmic but fully ominous and tensile structure of Screen Hypnosis is another excellent track, but at just short of three minutes is far too short.  Final album track Church of Virtual Reality spans close to eleven minutes, being a good sonic representation of a grinding distortion and furnace blasting sonics.

In essence Compactor is effectively the most straightforward and direct music I have heard from Derek to date, but where he has applied a heavy degree of compositional focus and control which in turn has achieved a tonally varied output. By embracing elements of sonic chaos but bending these to structural and focused effect, Technology Worship is an solid and direct listen within a clean industrial noise and power electronics infused style, further bolstered by a strong thematic concept.

It Only Gets Worse ‎– Fireplace Road

It Only Gets Worse Fireplace Road MC Cloister Recordings/ Black Horizons US 2018

When I was first heard about this project I was unaware that it is another musical outlet for Maurice De Jong, he of the more widely recognized projects Gnaw Their Tongues and Aderlating. For this project Maurice has provided the music and has teamed up with American Matt Finney to provide lyrics and vocals, and based on the project name I perhaps excepted this would be death industrial type music, however that assumption was completely wrong. What is featured is a bit of an odd blend of post-rock musically sensibilities, ambient soundscapes and late 1990’s/ early 2000’s beat drive electronica.

On the opening untitled track a mellow post-rock mood comes through strongly, which is framed around piano and synths rather than guitars, while the following track Jackson dives headlong into a piece of mid paced kit drumming, programmed beats and squelching bass rhythm, with the guitars again being an understated element. In forging further variation, a mood of uplifting melancholy permeates the upbeat Lee, which is mostly derived from the layered shimmering synths. However to speak of less successful moments Painting On Glass contains fractured programmed elements which jar against the mood of preceding tracks. Beyond the music, the vocals on various tracks are spoken in a heavily inflected southern American drawl, which are musings on life, tragedy and loss, but handled in a poetically oblique and non-direct style.

Six tracks feature on the pro-duplicated tape, with around a total of around 24 minutes minutes of material, and while the end result caught me by surprise, it is an enjoyable tape all the same. So, if you are at all curious leave your expectations at the door as this is nothing like Maurice’s usual output, where perhaps the closest comparison is the less known side project Seirom which in the past has delivered some beautiful cinematic quality, droning instrumental post-rock/ shoegaze styled soundscapes.