Sutcliffe Jugend – The Hunger 2xCD Death Continues 2018
Over the past twelve years Sutcliffe Jugend – the duo of Kevin Tomkins and Paul Taylor – have been rather productive and issued 20 releases in that time-frame. Specifically 2006 appears to be the particular point in time when the project was reactivated, following a five year gap from 1999’s viscerally direct The Victim As Beauty album, while also shifting towards wider sonic experimentation. Although today’s version Sutcliffe Jugend is a very different beast from the sonic brutality issued during the initial 1980’s phase, they have remained a power electronics act at heart and in overall attitude. But in forging new paths by dialing down on the all-out sonic assault and seeking out far more diverse sonic treatments and stylistic experimentation, this approach is in full display on this sprawling double CD.
On the early album track The Mute Shall Speak, the crisp digital noise squalls is perhaps partially reminiscent of later era Whitehouse, while Sehnusucht features a stuttering fast paced rhythmic programming coupled with jagged digital shards stabbing at the ears from the background. This track is also noteworthy as it demonstrates the vocals of Kevin Tomkins being in a strong trademark style, which are delivered in a drawling semi whispered rant which on occasion steps up to being half sung and half screamed. Lyrically the album is noted to be densely rendered, which have a particular psychoanalytical bent in various description of the power dynamic in personal relationships; first person internalised dialogue; and at times ‘stream of conciseness’ narration. Yet Cause comes as the first major surprise by featuring a ‘doom jazz’ sound of minimalist piano and double bass (and consequently wholly reminiscent of Bohren & Der House of Gore), yet further augmented with spoken vocals and swathes of minimalist backing distortion. But not to stop there, the sonic surprises just keep on coming, where Crushed delivers pump organ, synth drones, sparse xylophone and meditative spoken vocals, and Unashamed with its quirky programmed electronica. From there the rest of the first CD deviates through musique concrète (Dissonance); maudlin piano melody and abstracted strings (Angels Flying Into The Burning Gates of Hell); emotive sub-orchestral drones (A Room Full of Knives and Eulogy); while the closing track The Pain Will Take Everything Away is a doom drone oriented work with treated ethereal female vocals and moody bowed cello etc.
The second CD delivers a further ten tracks spanning an hour which builds upon the wide frame of experimentation of the first disc. The Lost is built around misfiring digital noise and a rabid vocal attack, but is quickly offset by the moody and contemplative Authors Note of sonically over-processed synth line. Blindfold charts more abstracted sounds and half formed melodies which at times verges on musique concrète, while the loose guitars of Dancehall Etiquette evokes the sound of noise rock (minus drums). Perhaps the only major misstep of the entire two CD set is All I have Forgotten, which sounds to be based on improvised abstracted piano and accompany cello, but sonically the tinkling piano awkwardly jars the prevailing album atmosphere. As for the title track, this arrives as a 15 minute monster of sprawling yet tensile shifting bass drones sub-orchestral elements, as the spoken vocals gradually ramp up in aggression to match the upward trajectory of the choppy and chaotic digital noise. As for the final album cut My Crumbling Walls, it is an instrumental offering it is quite cinematically toned with its building string orchestral elements, which build and recede in intensity.
Apart from the 2xCD version, there is a special bonus third digital album, recorded at the same time at The Hunger. Featuring 6 tracks across 50 minutes, this bonus album is limited to 100 by virtue of only being available via plastic business card sized plastic download card. On a whole the bonus album is more subdued overall, by broadly opting for a series of tensile sub-orchestral droning tracks, where vocals do not rise above a narrative whisper.
Given that 2016’s Offal and 2017’s Shame (reviewed here) were albums with a more singular sound and musical vision, The Hunger stands out by the sheer diversity displayed, and consequently is a far stronger album for it. Likewise, while unhinged aggression is an underpinning element of The Hunger, this is more a case of being implied through tonal tension and lyrical phrasing, rather than actual sonic execution. As an album issued so far into Sutcliffe Jugend’s extensive discography, The Hunger is an extremely well executed and sonically diverse collection of tracks, where it seems there is no shortage of musical and lyrical ideas, nor any sense of slowing down from the Sutcliffe Jugend camp. Recommended.