Monocube & Troum ‎– Contemplator Caeli

Monocube & Troum Contemplator Caeli LP Transgredient Records 2019

Although being familiar with both projects, the first thing that drew me to this album was the stunning gothic and celestial-tinged artwork. Upon investigation the visuals specifically tie in with the album’s theme which ‘denotes the antique notion and skill of immersing into the (night-) sky, in order to feel connected to the immeasurable dimensions of the universe and the unearthly powers. The celestial spheres and objects are interpreted as living entities, building a shelter for the earth and the humans, reflecting an eternal cosmic order and its principles. The sky is being watched with deep humbleness, amazement and praise’.

Circularis Et Perpetua opens the album, blending mournful drones and what appear to be treated choirs sitting in the middle to the back of the mix. Hitting its stride early, the tone swells in a cyclic rising and falling manner and hints at grandiose night-time vistas; this maintains consistency over the eight-minute span. In contrast to the ethereal mood that the choirs provide on the first track, a more earthbound perspective is articulated on Precessio Aequinoctiorum via the use of a lone male singing (courtesy of Monocube?), blended with widescreen enveloping drones. Stellae Errantis opens Side B, and is slightly less flowing than the preceding material as the caustic and tensile atmosphere sounds to be constructed around treated field recordings and layered foghorn drones. But the absolute highlight track is the final one, Digressio: an amazing piece of melancholy minimalism, based around reverb-drenched and catatonically plucked strings (acoustic guitar?), blended with widescreen melodious bass drones that rise and recede over an extended length.

If you enjoy the output of either or both projects, you will clearly find much to like with this release. While the first three tracks are enjoyably good, it is the fourth that is the absolute standout. Pressed in 200 copies in clear coloured vinyl, a full colour cover and insert rounds out the exquisite presentation.

 

Amphetamine Sulphate mini showcase

Amphetamine Sulphate mini showcase

While Philip Best needs no introduction, since 2017 he has been running the boutique publishing house Amphetamine Sulphate, which to date has mostly issued short story format ‘chapbooks’. Over the preceding years of activity Amphetamine Sulphate has built up a small yet very solid roster of fringe underground writers who collectively mine the darker recesses of the human condition. As a case in point: try your hand at describing any of the thematic preoccupations of their published books to an unfamiliar audience during polite dinner conversation and see how well it is received. Below are just two of Amphetamine Sulphate’s publications from authors who have direct links to the post-industrial underground.

Gary Mundy – Specialist Fabricator chapbook 2018

Gary Mundy is an individual who needs no introduction. It would seem that Specialist Fabricator is his first book. The text is written in the first person; although there are some textual hints that the narrator is Gary, this is never actually confirmed. Some sections of text urge caution against interpreting the content as being ‘true’, and may very well be embellished, which is also possibly alluded to by the book’s title. But regardless of the reality of all of this, the prose is cleverly crafted in memoir / diary type chapters. The 40-page book commences with an internalized conversation debating both what to write and in what style to present it. Later, the story settles down and is hung upon a number of intertwining threads: awkward childhood memories, authenticity and artistic motivations, recent episodes of declining mental health, and a wider story arc relating to the hospitalization and death of the narrator’s father. The text is cleverly meandering in its structure, deftly weaving these disparate threads into a collective whole without it feeling jarring or disconnected between storylines. There is an open and self-reflective feel to the text, which is also unpretentious given its moments of acknowledged self-consciousness. While I had no idea of what to expect from a book by Gary Mundy, I found this to be both engaging and disarming in the way I was vividly drawn into it, resulting in an unexpectedly enjoyable read.

Martin Bladh – Marty Page chapbook 2018

Martin Bladh is yet another person who needs no introduction and someone who I am already more than familiar with given his musical, written, and artistic output. The ‘story’ presented within Marty Page takes place over the span of four days. The individual of the title is apparently the captive of another (only referred to as Martin), subject to humiliating and torturous scenarios that culminate in Marty’s apparent suicide. Thus, the book is an incisive exploration of the knife-edge relationship between abuser and abused, victim and victimizer. The text is presented in a fragmentary style, where profile lists and time-stamped selections of descriptive words function to outline specific information or render snapshot scenes. An example occurring throughout the story is the detailed description of the pose of a naked body prior to a polaroid photo being taken. These are interspersed with dream diary entries, open letters to Marty Page, and draft and final versions of Marty’s suicide note. In its stylistic format, the book is akin to a script for a stage play, apt given the potential conceptual link to Artaud’s Theatre of Cruelty. Yet all is not as it seems. Given the book is introduced with a quote from Thomas De Quincey regarding jealousy and the attempted murder of a doppelgänger, there is a suggestion that Marty Page may be an alter ego of Martin himself (perhaps ‘Marty’ = Martin, while ‘Page’ = the pages of the documented journal). Whether or not this hunch is correct, the text and scenes outlined are very much consistent with the artistic obsessions that Martin has put on display for two decades now. The text is honed to its rawest elements and articulates a form of stylized and controlled violence with a particular focus on the individual body. The use of lists throughout (favourite films, actors, books, artworks, albums, songs etc.) is an opportunity to build upon the experience of the text itself, as the reader can choose to spiral out into additional reference material which has been of clear influence for both the story at hand and to Martin as an individual). Clearly this is not a story to ‘enjoy’ so much as to ‘experience’. It is unflinching and extremely well rendered in its chosen experimental style, meaning it is not to be approached flippantly.

Herukrat ‎– Darkness Over Najaf / Junta Cadre ‎– The Red Detachment

Herukrat Darkness Over Najaf LP Total Black 2020

Junta Cadre The Red Detachment MC Total Black 2020

While I have not heard the handful of prior releases from Herukrat, Darkness Over Najaf comes six years after the last album in 2014. It is common practice for the post-industrial underground to play with ambiguity. Yet this is not the modus operandi of Herukrat: the project is used to strongly project Jackson Abdul-Salaam’s own worldview following his conversion to Islam in 2014. The liner notes further explain that the album is concerned with the 2003 US invasion of Iraq, as well as Abdul-Salaam’s personal relationship with Islam.

Blood In The Sand Of Sectarian Nights opens the album with an Islamic call to prayer, before bursts of gunfire that place the listener in the middle of urban guerrilla warfare, with a palpable sense of urgency. Soon after, these field recordings are blended with bristling and seething synth lines, while the angst-filled strained and echo-treated vocals partly remind one of the early works of IRM. Steps of Faith follows, a caustically direct track where a central wailing synth loop provides the structure around which scrap metal abuse and harsh noise are overlaid, and vocals bellowed. The title track rounds out Side A with a fierce and barely structured squalling mass of mid- to high-toned distortion and semi-buried dialogue chatter; the personal proclamations of the vocals are particularly rabid (“My God has saved me”). Al-Adiyat opens Side B and offers clear respite by pulling back on the overt sonic chaos; this is a moody ambient track based on a low drone as a backing to Islamic prayer chanting (although the final moments imply military intervention through a helicopter hovering overhead while US soldiers conduct what sounds like a stop and search operation). God Has Delivered Me arcs back to tensile sonics, here with a buzzing fast-paced oscillating loop and Arabic chatter, prior to the arrival of Jackson’s throat-shredding vocal barrage. The final track is March 20th, 2003 which leave no question as to its preoccupations. Being a soundscape track based around a variety of field recording samples and minimalist drone, it is the intermixing of air raid sirens, missile fire, distant explosions, and Islamic prayer calls that give this a tensile sense of being holed up in a city in Iraq as the US ground invasion is underway.

Both the artwork and text of the cover further flesh out the album’s focus, but even without this visual material a blind listen will illustrate how thematically strong this album is; the sonics are perfectly executed, swinging from fierce and bristling to brooding and understated. The album has been mastered by Grant Richardson and has been issued in an edition of 199 copies, and this has been a very rewarding introduction to the project.

In moving on to Junta Cadre, this is another project of Jackson Abdul-Salaam, but this project differs from Herukrat both sonically and thematically. In terms of theme, The Red Detachment focuses on China’s Communist revolution under the guiding hand of Mao Zedong, aka Chairman Mao, evidently following on from the same theme on the debut tape (which I missed).

With Junta Cadre there is less white-knuckled rage on display, rather a heavy electronics / brooding power electronics approach. This understated tone leaves the burrowing, oscillating, interweaving synth lines to generate the atmosphere of the tracks, occasionally underscored with elements of metallic resonance. Vocals are delivered in a spoken ‘manifesto proclamation’ style, and with slight echo treatment sit submerged within the middle of the mix. The tape’s theme is further fleshed out with documentary samples in both English and Chinese interspersed throughout.

Six tracks span the 30-minute tape. Each demonstrates clear focus and control in compositional approach, further showcase the sonically and conceptually strong material produced by Abdul-Salaam.