Encephalic Death – Relentless MC Cipher Productions 2022
Cipher Productions have dug up another new project, this time from Bangalore, India. Relentless is apparently the debut tape from the project.
Fitting within a rudimentary death industrial style, five compact tracks feature on the cassette. Some of the material charts a sound based around blown-out throbbing oscillations or stark atonal rhythms. Other tracks opt to pull back on the throttle to revel in a spacious hollow sound, based around raw scrap metal, minimalist synth pulses, and general creeping menace. Smatterings of shrieking voices and other dialogue samples are also added to create an unhinged edge.
While Encephalic Death do not reinvent a death industrial sound in any substantive way, this is nevertheless a no-frills homage to the style, and delivers its sound with confidence and directness, albeit with a rather short runtime overall. A stickered foil bag and inset round out the packaging.
S.E.T.I. – The Sphere Of Density 2CD Zoharum 2020
Andrew Lagowski’s long-standing project continues to forge ahead with his now trademark deep space focused drone/dark ambient musings. For this recent release it features an album of new studio material, in addition to a live recording from the 2019 Wroclaw Industrial Festival.
For the studio material, it is characterised by galactic scale drifting drones, and with only five tracks spanning 114 minutes, it gives a clear hint at the slow pacing and evolution of The Sphere Of Density. Coupled with the monolithic widescreen drones are the tasteful use of sparsely melodious synths provide a hint of musicality and on occasion rise towards a tonal level which provides an oblique nod to the early Berlin school sound. Also of note, while the swelling melodious progressions are of a particular minor key scale, they are not overtly dark, rather contemplative and drifting in atmosphere. Sparse ‘alien-esque’ rhythmic phrases also appear on occasion but are subtle and unobtrusive while functionally adding an enigmatic mood. Yet the final track 11th Dimension stands out from the rest, with the inclusion of transmission signals and scattered radio chatter against a heavier and more forceful cosmic churn.
The live recording on the second disc was evidently based on improvisation and consequently differs from the studio material. Although the sonic undercurrent is still drone-ambient in flavour, the overall execution is slightly more post-industrial tinged, where tonal slashes, sonic shards and mechanised rhythmic whir variously interjects over the singular 40-minute span. The end result is both a sonically strong and enjoyable, but also mostly feels to be a bonus disc rather than equal half to the studio album.
Perhaps as an overall observation, Andrew has released pinnacle-level material for literally decades now, which makes it all the more difficult to stand out against his own discography. Yet sidestepping such a suggestion of Andrew needing to complete with himself, simply put The Sphere Of Density is yet another superb stellar sonic journey, where the vastness of deep space slowly unfurls within the inner mind’s eye. Six-panel digipack with exquisite graphic design rounds out the presentation of an excellent release.
Shrine & Mytrip – Descent 7”EP Amek Collective / Corvus Records 2022
For this short two-track release, these two Bulgarian artists have teamed up with an apparent intent on bridging the gap between their respective sounds. To be a little more specific on that assertion, Shine are typically known for deep cinematic dark ambience tinged with organic toned field recordings, while Mytrip is concerned with electronic-ambient soundscapes which also push towards rhythmic and beat-driven spheres.
The first track is Ruin Dweller is concerned with inky black tonal washes, deep guttural drones and lighter echoed textures to provide the perception of sonic depth. Minimalist orchestral synth pads provide a melodious edge, and a mid-paced flow pushing the track forwards its six or so minutes pass rather quickly. The flip side brings Dark Rays of Light which is a tad (‘ahem’) lighter, where the soundscape has a slightly less forceful ebb and flow, instead settles into a central melodious churn. Of note, the minimalist rhythmic textures sitting within the background have a clear fingerprint of Mytrip, while the widescreen shimmering textures bring clearly to mind Shine’s approach.
Ultimately Descent is a successful release that delivers an interesting but all too short EP of sonic material that sits comfortably at the sonics midpoint of the two contributing artists. A high gloss gatefold cover completes the package.
J. Campbell – The Cormorant LP VAKNAR 2021
To start off, I know virtually nothing about this artist or the label (or the parent label VAAGNER), although what initially caught my eye was the consistent visual aesthetic and clean design of the labels’ releases. It then transpires that the artist J. Campbell is Australian, while the music is bracketed under ambient and modern classical descriptors.
With The Cormorant being my introduction to the musical works of J. Campbell, this album has been on high rotation in recent months. An aching melancholia permeates all aspects of this album, where field records of gentle waves, floating synths, ebbing drones, and minimal static washes blend and interweave. The occasional use of sparse piano lines, violins and vocals interject a more direct melodious focus to proceedings, which generates a quite cinematic soundtrack-styled edge. More broadly, the pacing is slow and unhurried, where the compositional elements (field recordings, sparse atonal sonic clatter, melodious synth drones, and composed/processed instrumentation), are highly detailed and balanced, while the spacious widescreen production is of enveloping warmth, rather than cold detachment.
While the ambient and modern classical descriptors might be an overly dry assessment of what is sonically delivered, to this ear the overarching mood and atmosphere is strongly comparable to the dreamy ambient washes of Fennesz, as well as the more musically melancholy moments of Ben Frost’s recorded works. Yet, not wanting to be completely reductive on the basis of comparisons alone, these are mainly used to indicate the pinnacle musical level which The Cormorant inhabits. The physical edition vinyl is limited to a mere 90 copies, but also available digitally for wider distribution, particularly benefiting of an album that should be heard by a much wider audience.
Tehôm – Phobos CD Zoharum 2021
Tehôm is an old name for me, being a late-1990s project who recorded two decent ritual dark ambient albums prior the untimely death of sole member Siniša Očuršćak. With Miljenko Rajaković having assisted with some recording elements on 2000’s post-humous album Theriomorphic Spirits, he then decided to reactivate the project in 2010 as a tribute to Siniša. While I note a number of Tehôm albums have been issued since the project’s reactivation they have passed me by, so I have picked up the thread again with this recent release. As vaguely alluded to by the title, this is a live recording of Tehôm’s performance at the 2019 Phobos Festival (Wuppertal, Germany).
As with the earliest phase of the project, Phobos inhabits ritual dark ambient spheres. Thus earthen drones, guttural horns, and archaic ritualised sounds abound across the eight untitled interlinking movements. Pacing as expected is catatonically slow, wherein the most part deep percussive thuds function to articulate elemental forces rather than resembling human-derived rhythms, although a passage of tribal driven beat does appear in the latter half of the album. Additionally, moody orchestral-toned drones provide a melodious edge, while a human element sporadically comes to the fore with intense non-lyrical vocal chants.
At a shade over 40 minutes, the album is not a lengthy one by any measure but packs an impact in that runtime all the same. Likewise with the bulk and heft of the recording, and to further mention the detailed and forceful production, clearly this is a professional soundboard recording that has benefited from further mastering treatment. A six-panel digipack with suitable imagery rounds out the physical presentation of a very enjoyable release.