Sutcliffe Jugend – Relentless

Sutcliffe Jugend – Relentless 4xCD Death Continues 2019

Sutcliffe Jugend (SJ) have been on quite the creative run over the last thirteen years since their reactivation in 2006. During that time the group have not shied away from producing extended length releases, which has included the massive six CD set SLAVES (2016), and the double CD album The Hunger (2018). But now the end of the road has been reached, and evidently the project has come to an end, as prior to release of Relentless it was announced that SJ were no more and that this four CD set was their final statement. The title then constitutes a very succinct description of what to expect across its significant runtime.

In noting the stylistic arc of the group over recent albums, this album both aligns with and builds upon the of wider sonic experimentation of recent years. This means there is plenty of material of the partially structured industrial/power electronics, or loose guitar driven pieces resembling SJ’s take on noise-rock/doom-drone, but both approaches which are further complimented with visceral vocals with their strong psychoanalytical slant. Likewise, there is plenty of material of a more experimental and creatively divergent bent, which includes Bludgeoned (I am the one) (CD1), with an almost martial industrial feel like early In Slaughter Natives, given its clanging/ pounding framework and blaring sub-orchestral synths, yet the wailed and unhinged vocals sets it clearly within the SJ camp. Equally the wonky but controlled pulsing electronics and semi-crooned vocals of Worm (This Is The Rest Of Your Life) (CD1) stands apart given its muted melodious construct, but gradually becomes completely unhinged as the track progresses. A prominent spoken work narrative features on Pavlov’s Dog (The Artists Dilemma) (CD2), set against caustic throb and churning distortion, while the following track Different (I am a slave) (CD2) forms a minimalist tensile drone-scape with whispered vocals.

On a whole CD3 brings together a series of more minimal and subdued tracks where tone and tension take precedence over volume and harshness. The God (who craved his own death) (CD3), rates a mention with its shimmering, droning soundscape of melodious hum/chanted vocals which builds to muted noise squalls towards its end, while Scars (CD3) features minimalist micro-tonal tones, whispered vocals and loose plodding bass, while elevating tension is created though a myriad of wonky electronics. After the partial respite of CD3, the following CD4 ups the aggression again with a collection of looser and harsher PE driven tracks which arc back to a more ferocious era of the project (refer to Unleash the Fury, Violence and Stripped as key examples). Yet even so there are further surprises, such as the spoken narrative of Domestic, with its needling mid-toned electronics and sparse abstracted piano motif, and Endurance (in a world of pain), with its fast pulsing rhythmic electronics and unhinged distortion blended vocals.

Not to be content with the four main CDs, there is yet another album’s worth of material, available as a limited download card with the first 100 copies of the album. This bonus material is an effective addendum and continuation of the main collection of tracks, but perhaps siting towards the soundscape and rhythmically experimental end of SJ’s current sound. On the final track Poison (an ending), it is then a quite fitting conclusion to the entire release, being a in a dour and moody contemporary classically style, where a minimalist strings quartet and low spoken vocals characterize proceedings.

Given the massive expanse of material featured, the sheer diversity and length of Relentless is quite a thing to behold. In recent years other projects have opted for much longer releases, and with the most-high profile being Prurient’s extended album Rainbow Mirror (spanning 7 LP’s or 3CD’s). For comparative sakes, while Rainbow Mirror contains a range and engaging and sonically interesting passages, when taken in totality it never fully captured my full attention for the entirety of its duration. Yet to then refer this back to Relentless, it is significantly longer release than Rainbow Mirror, but has no difficultly in maintaining focus and interest over its substantial runtime. Perhaps Relentless won’t change your mind if the recent run of albums have not been to your liking, but for those who have been following SJ’s creative decade plus journey, Relentless is a very fitting final statement.

Mz.412 – Svartmyrkr

Mz.412 – Svartmyrkr LP Cold Spring 2019
Over their now 31 year career Mz.412 have never been the most prolific group, but equally have made their core releases iron clad statement of intent. Likewise, rather that sticking to a single sonic approach over the decades, they have managed to cover quite some stylistic territory under the broader ‘black industrial’ banner. That has variously included: rudimentary ‘factory floor’ framed industrial (Macht Duch Stimmme and Malfeitor); satanic inspired black industrial (In Nomine Dei Nostri Satanas Luciferi Excelsi); black metal infused black industrial (Burning The Temple Of God); militant industrial/ power electronics influenced black industrial (Nordic Battle Signs); neo-classical tinged black ambient (Dominie Rex Infernum); and bombastic neo-classical framed black industrial (Infernal Affairs).

When excluding their live albums, Svartmyrkr is the eighth formal album from the group and a long twelve years on from Infernal Affairs. With myself holding a personal mindset
that there may have not been another Mz.412 album, I was OK with that prospect, given the strength and importance of the back catalogue. But in 2019 we have been graced with a new album Svartmyrkr, which thankfully both meets and exceeds hype and expectation. Ten tracks constitute the 45-minute album, where the pounding drums, male choirs of the short Antra Helstraffet functions as the album’s short intro. This is followed by the brooding to bombastic neo-classical track Öppna Helgrind driven forwards by mid-paced militant percussion and strong gruff vocals of Nordvargr. With its
distorted industrial furnace blasts Codex Mendacium mines the earlier black industrial sound of years past, while Ulvens Broder sees the group at their most bombastic with a rousing militantly tinged neo-classical track. Ulvens Bleka Syster is of note by featuring crawling and seething orchestral strings of a clear Penderecki strain. The albums also contains some surprises, such as the moody black ambient track Burn Your Temples, True Change with its central acoustic guitar courtesy of Kristoffer Oustad. Likewise, the late album pairing of She Who Offers Sorrow and We Are Infernal, qualify as effective
album ‘hits’, with both being militant and bombastic neoclassical driven black industrial tracks of the highest order.

With Svartmyrkr released in early 2019 and appreciated over a number of months, it is clear that it is an effective culmination of everything which has come before. Not being a
mere pastiche of earlier elements, rather it has drawn together core sonics elements into a complete and unified whole, where Svartmyrkr both compliments and builds upon the significant legacy of Mz.412. Wholeheartedly recommended.

 

Striations – Vietnamization

Striations – Vietnamization DCD Old Captain/Eibon 2019

Striations is a name I am familiar with, being the industrial/noise/power electronics project of American Mike Finklea, but I must admit that I did not properly check them out until now, due to the quite daunting discography (close to 30 releases since 2011). Yet when I spotted the promo blurb stating this was the project’s ‘magnum opus’, I figured it was high time to investigate further. This version of Vietnamization is a CD reissue of the original tape on New Forces from 2018, but expanded with additional content (originally issued to close associates of the project). From the title alone the thematic preoccupations of this album are clear, focusing on the policy of the Richard Nixon administration to end US involvement in the Vietnam War, which functionally involved bolstering the role of South Vietnamese forces and simultaneously reducing American troops.

Two sprawling tracks (or ‘phases’) constitutes the original material (53 minutes), which feature an amorphous and continually shifting sound that corresponds with the listed sub-titles such as 1971 Army Recruitment Radio Advertisement, Secret War, and Automaton Squad. (18 sub-titled tracks span Phases 1 & 2). In an overarching sense spoken samples give way to violent noise and unhinged vocals, but just as quickly shift off into pensive throbbing synths and deep pounding rhythms, while fierce gunfire and jungle noise place the listener within the middle of the firefight. With heavy use of thematic samples this gives a real impression of listening to a soundtracked documentary – albeit with industrial, noise, and power electronics – with an ever shifting but interlinking sound palette interspersed with sections of dialogue. Likewise, segments of violent noise blend with restrained stalking soundscapes and function to highlight the variety and complexity of compositional approach. Yet despite the wealth of thematic samples employed, the meaning and message remains murky. It is unclear whether this is seeking to be a mere documentation of key events (including the arrogance and political failings of the American government during the conflict), a comment on the impact of war on both civilians and individual soldiers, or an analysis of the dark aspects of human nature during wartime action.

Phase 3: Operation Boundary Rider, Phase 4: Operation Shed Light and Phase 5: Operation Freedom Deal form the additional content not included on the original tape, and effectively constitute lengthy collages of TV reporting, media interviews, radio soundbites, and a mostly minimalist backing of soundscape-oriented battlefield ambience (save for one short section of composed rhythmic synths). Throughout this material the spoken voices take center stage and function to flesh out the conceptual backing of the core material on Phase 1 and Phase 2. While this material is certainly interesting, it perhaps does not warrant repeated listens when compared to the main tracks.

The promo blurb used the descriptive word ‘obsession’ to describe the overall methodology, which is spot on in my view, particularly given the meticulous approach to the presentation of its theme and sonic content. Vietnamization is an engaging and compelling release and reminds me of the totality of thematic obsession and sonic complexity of releases such as the 2007 double album Fentanyl Martyrs by Survival Unit, even if the end result is completely different. A six-panel double digi-pack with additional text and visuals rounds out an excellent release. But with a mere 300 copies I would not imagine this will remain available for too long.

Monocube ‎– Substratum

Monocube Substratum CD Malignant Records/Cyclic Law 2019

Like a monumental ancient breath issuing forth from the bowels of the earth, Monocube have returned with their fourth album of archaic soundscape ambience, issued again on Malignant Records but this time having been co-released by Cyclic Law. As an initial observation, on a whole Substratum has a more consistent sound palette overall than last album The Ritual (2016), which was more varied between tracks and on occasion used prominent musical motifs and ritual percussion. And while musical and melodic motifs are still employed here, it is in a much more subtle way, often semi-obscured within the elongated widescreen droning ambience.

Depth, breadth, and reverb play a huge part in setting the tone and atmosphere of the album, where early in the album foggy and enveloping twilight drones and deep throat chants characterize the lengthy Prima Materia. This piece seamlessly blends into Luft which is differentiated by its subtle and minimal plucked instrument (guitar?) and use of what may be field recordings of blustering storm winds, which perfectly offsets the elongated melodious drones. The semblance of natural field recording elements also weaves through the middle and later sections, providing the consistency in mood across the album. As with the last album, a number of tracks are based on collaborations, here featuring Visions on one composition, and Antti Litmanen of Arktau Eos on another, but without reading the liner notes to determine which tracks these are, their contributions are not immediately evident from sound alone – and again refers back to my comments on the consistent sound palette.

With the tone and atmosphere of Substratum fitting like a glove with similar archaic ambient droning material issued on both Cyclic Law and Malignant, this is another fine album to submerge one’s inner psyche with and effectively lose yourself over its hour-plus timespan.

BJNilsen ‎– Focus Intensity Power / Tape Dekay ‎– Decadimento Del Nastro – Decadenza Di Tutto

BJNilsen Focus Intensity Power LP Moving Furniture Records 2018

Tape Dekay Decadimento Del Nastro – Decadenza Di Tutto CD Old Captain/Narcolepsia 2019

From his first dark ambient project Morthound which had releases on Cold Meat Industry during the early 1990s, BJNilsen moved over to the Hazard moniker in the late 1990s, and from around 2004 onwards opted to record under his own name. Generally speaking, over the last 15 years BJ’s approach has been characterized by an experimental approach to sonically processing various natural and urban-based field recordings. However with Focus Intensity Power being the solo new album, it marks a decided shift away from the use of field recordings as it is a purely studio-based album, which according to the promo notes provides: ‘documents of improvised sessions using modular synthesizers, tone generators and test and measurement instruments’. Sonically this album has greater alignment with early Hazard albums than recent solo output and is certainly welcomed from these quarters. The 15-minute album opener Beam Finder is an elongated exploration of minimalist unceasing mid to lower range bass tones, coupled with micro-tonal static and machine idling drones which appear late in the track. This approach continues with The Sound Of Two Hands, although this is slightly more forceful and varied with the introduction of a ‘ticking clock’ element and other minimalist scattered electronics. The relatively short Flattened Space embodies a muted sub-orchestral tone blended with mechanical menace, while Table of Hours fits cleanly within a dark ambient drone frame of reference. The final of the five tracks, The Limits of Function, starts slow but gradually elevates with layered machine drones, and the second half of the track is driven forwards by a central rhythmic loop. In essence Focus Intensity Power is an effective celebration of sustained tonal atmospheres, which amounts to evocative sounds in their purest form. Sublime.

Moving on to the review of Tape Dekay, this is not a new project but a quite obscure side project of BJNilsen. In fact, before this debut CD only two tracks were previously issued from the project on two separate compilation releases dating from 1999 and 2008. Given that in recent decades BJ has mostly worked under his own name with manipulated field recordings/electroacoustic material, for Tape Dekay the sleeves have been rolled up to tackle the more direct fields of noise. But as might be expected with someone with such refined experimental compositional skills, these have been employed here to generate a clean and loud production. While ‘noise’ is the name of the game, it is also not ‘harsh noise’ by any stretch; this is more of an exercise in experimental noise and an exploration in tone and sonic construction technique. Although select passages build to a certain noise heft, including crumbling bass, static rumble, and slashes of sound, the album is also not harsh by typical measures. Other tracks employ a vague structure of off-kilter factory rhythms, driven forwards with weighty machine-like drones and monolithic industrial loops. With melodic elements being entirely absent (except for what sounds like processed male choirs in one track), the employed tone and the separation of sonic elements function to maintain detailed interest throughout. Likewise, given the level of meticulous construction which has been employed within compositions, there is a real sense of sonic complexity spanning the seven tracks.

Both of these albums from BJ Nilsen are certainly different in approach and equally enjoyable in their own right and chosen musical spheres. But from a purely personal position, Focus Intensity Power is the album which I have kept returning to over many months.

Terror Cell Unit ‎– God Took Everything Away From Us So Now We Will Take Everything From You

Terror Cell Unit God Took Everything Away From Us So Now We Will Take Everything From You LP In Solace Publishing 2019

Although issued in 2019, God Took Everything… is not a new recording from Terror Cell Unit; rather it is a reissue of a 30-minute cassette issued on Unseen Force in early 2018, where the four tracks swing from brooding mood to bristling tension.

With Isaiah 34 opening the album, it warrants consideration of the title’s biblical reference: in this context it can be surmised as Isaiah’s apocalyptic prophecy of God’s wrath against the nations of the earth. Unintelligible vocals introduce the track, before a plague of buzzing textures and maudlin synth lines bulk out the sonic frame. Things then ramp up mid-track with wailing alarms, pummeling bass, and noise-speared vocals for good measure. Perdition is next and uses simple oscillating bass heavy layers for direct impact, and again mid-track veers off in style and sound with stilted semi-rhythmic distorted noise. With this track acting as a bridge to Side B, the flip side opens with a completely storming track, God Chose Us, featuring grinding bass, muted synths, wavering drones, and urgent Morse code sonics. Here the first line of the brutal and unhinged vocals features a lyrical cry of “All things are possible through Jesus Christ. Love and Hate. Hate for you and the world you love”, and this seals the deal of this being blood-boiling material. But in balancing this aggressive and tensile mood, the heavier elements soon fall away to a lengthy brooding section of tensile heavy electronics, including wailing sirens, dialogue samples, and the return of an unhinged vocal barrage late in the track. On the final track God Will Forgive Us But God Will Never Forgive You is (again) split into two distinct parts, where the first is brooding and subdued, with controlled bass-driven loops and muted synths, gradually building with tensile intent before ramping up to squelching noise and a vocal barrage processed to the point of unrecognizability – again delivering the goods.

Noting that I became acquainted with this in quick succession to the Psalm 137:9 LP, this is another Terror Cell Unit release that absolutely delivers in spades. Strongly recommended.

 

Geography of Hell – 19 September 1985 Mexico City / 19 September 2017 Central Mexico

Geography of Hell – 19 September 1985 Mexico City / 19 September 2017 Central Mexico MC Hospital Productions 2019

The mysterious collective Geography of Hell have built up quite a reputation since 2008 despite little promotion and difficulty in getting their releases. The six cassettes and one 2xLP have mostly been issued on Hospital Productions (except for one tape on Lust Vessel), all of which have quickly sold out and are extremely difficult to track down given few people seem interested in on-selling them. In fact this new cassette is the first physical release from the project I have managed to obtain.

With the concept revolving around focusing on particular global disaster events, this new two track, 30-minute tape focuses on two major earthquake events in Mexico that occurred on the same date but 32 years apart. The first track features thick and laborious industrial noise which borders on being muted instrumental heavy electronics. Heavy waves of shuddering bass are blended with sustained mid-toned atonal noise textures. The overall mood is one of barren, windswept soundscapes of ebbing and flowing textures, which gradually builds in intensity over the 15-minute duration. The second track mines similar sonic territory to the first, with a controlled slow crawling pace. The inclusion of a rolling looped beat provides added forward movement and pacing. Again the thick low-end bass and full breadth of sound in the balance of the mix makes for an engaging result.

Overall this tape is far more sedate than other material I have heard from the project, and certainly leaning towards the ambient side of things. But the attention to detail and layering of material is evident and makes for very engaging listening. Packaging-wise, the black shell cassette is housed in a poly-bag with fold-out poster sleeve providing further visuals around the tape’s theme.