Contrastate – The Illusion of Power

Contrastate – The Illusion Of Power CD Old Europa Café 2020

The Illusion Of Power comes eight long years after the last Contrastate album in 2012, A Breeding Ground For Flies (while 2016 saw the release of No Eden Without Annihilation, that is effectively a live collection and considered to be a ‘sister album’ to A Breeding Ground For Flies). So, given full-length albums from the illustrious Contrastate are a rare occurrence, this is reason for long-term fans to rejoice.

From a cursory review of titles and lyrics, it is fairly obvious that the album addresses the current state of England as a consequence of Brexit, while the artwork appears to refer to the wider refugee crisis facing Europe in recent years. As to the sound and style of Contrastate, since reforming in the early 2010s their approach to recording and production is clearly differentiated from the earlier phase of the project. The current era has a cleaner and sharper digital tone to production and a varied and layered approach to composition, where various musical fragments and rhythmical segments are woven together into longer compositional structures. This album follows this approach but its five tracks clock in just shy of 40 minutes, which differs from the usually lengthy releases. Of the five tracks, three are vocal-led, forming the start, middle, and end of the album, with each separated by two shorter instrumental tracks.

English Pastoral opens the album, and lyrically speaking it is a sorry indictment of the current political state of England as a consequence of Brexit, as well as a broader comment on the decline of an Empire and its standing on the world stage. Musically it spans close to 10 minutes and shifts through a number of phases: early sweeping neo-classical strings and doom-addled sub-orchestral drones act as a backing to spoken vocals, before shifting into a lengthy rhythmically-swaying passage with further monologue-based vocals. The first instrumental track Interregnum follows and maintains conceptual adherence, given the term means ‘a period when normal government is suspended, especially between successive reigns or regimes’. Sonically it features sparse piano and guitar motifs, coupled with subtle melodious drones and a variety of post-industrial textures (sped-up typewriter perhaps?). War Against The Other is the centrepiece of the album, and while no lyrics are printed for the track, it is strongly vocal-led; the vocals sound to be sung in both Latin and Arabic as a religious lament, while the musical backing charts an amorphous space between sub-orchestral drones, swelling classical strings, and scrabbling metallic, aquatic, and electric textures. Second instrumental track Appointment In Samarra maintains a metaphorical conceptual link, as the title would seem to be referring to John O’Hara’s 1934 novel of the same name. Incidentally, the title is a reference to W. Somerset Maugham’s retelling of an old Mesopotamian tale, relating to a character’s chance meeting with death, while in O’Hara’s novel it follows the main character Julian English over three days where a series of self-inflicted acts culminate in his suicide. Sonically the track follows an understated ritual ambient tone, which builds to a number of minor sonic peaks, but ultimately feels like a bridging piece to the final track Hard Border No Border. This final track is another lengthy affair that moves through a number of distinct segments. The first scattered, fragmentary, and atonal opening section gives way to an experimental passage of wonky and surreal tones, before abruptly shifting into a section based around a pulsing bass rhythm, to which the upfront spoken vocals are rhythmically-framed in response to increasing speed. The final moment of the track and album are then coupled with a rising melancholic orchestral melody. A sublime conclusion.

It perhaps goes without saying that The Illusion Of Power is an album that sounds only as Contrastate can, but to be more specific it clearly sits within the modern phase of the project, which commenced with Breeding Ground For Flies. Conceptually there are ample ideas to unpack, including myriad fragmentary sampled voices used throughout, which makes for attentive listening on repeat spins to unpack potential clues. The main impression I get from the album is that it is an almost sorrowful observation of the current state of affairs facing England, but that offers little in the way of solutions to what are indeed extremely complex issues and clearly not as simple as current populist politics presents them. If I am to level any criticism at The Illusion Of Power it is regarding its brevity, as additional length would be welcome. But this is hardly a criticism of the excellent material which is presented, and regardless of this, this is another exceptional album within the Contrastate discography.

Various Artists – Dies Natalis Invicti Solis

Various Artists – Dies Natalis Invicti Solis CD Live Bait Recording Foundation 2020

The Dies Natalis Invicti Solis compilation brings together twelve extremely varied tracks from both known and more obscure acts within the broader post-industrial underground. Devised in Autumn 2020 with a conceptual focus on the Northern hemisphere’s winter solstice rituals, miraculously all contributing artists managed to hit the required deadline, with the final result released in time for the end of 2020.

Kleistwahr, the long-running solo project of Gary Mundy opens the album with Despite It All, Still We Rejoice. Being a stark track of slow morphing melodious but abstracted guitar-based drones, it sets the introductory tone nicely given it resembles a dour organ dirge at times. Gnawed follows with Ritual In Depths (Protect Me From An Unconquerable Sun), being a track of doom addled death industrial in their now immediately recognisable style and sound. This comment of a ‘recognisable sound’ equally applies elsewhere, where the perhaps more well-known artists such as Brighter Death Now, Deutsch Nepal and Contrastate each brings a strong contribution in their particular trademark sonic styles. But to talk of the projects of perhaps less familiarity, ORD is one such project being a post-industrial ritual ambient project from Russia, who presents Winterdrone, being a track that balances a strong ritual undercurrent with muted caustic post-industrial debris. Murderous Vision somewhat differs from their usual approach, given their track May Diana is a collaboration with Crow Hill Gnostic Temple who deliver a theatrical spoken-word monologue over sparse windswept ambient backing which shifts towards a laboured death industrial style later in the track. The previously unknown to me Konstrktivists impresses with a rhythmic ritual industrial composition Future Days, where the shimmering drones and spoken and chanted vocals give a further unique edge. Envenomist’s We Live Here Now then charts the outer edges of the dark ambient void, with tensile drones elevated and receding from the inky blackness. Dream Into Dust Cycle’s End brings the sound back to an earthbound realm given its neo-classical focus with sweeping string and stoic percussion, while where the sparse distorted guitar pushes the sound ever so slightly towards goth and doom territories. Failing Light is another project I am not at all familiar with, yet Herord Walks In Nativity Night is a positive introduction of sparse yet evocatively rendered (guitar?) drones, while the compilation then closes out with a collaboration track between Theologian and The Vomit Arsonist. Raw Nerve is the result and faithfully blends recognisable elements of each project to create a forceful track based on sub-orchestral drones with death industrial pulse, and further rounded out with a charred vocal smear.

At their best compilations which are framed around a central theme and where contributing artists manage to submit their strongest works allows such compilations can become more than the sum of their parts. This is then a far cry from many compilations that do not hang together coherently, and in some cases feel as if contributing artists have submitted second-rate offcuts. Thankfully Dies Natalis Invicti Solis sits squarely in the former camp given that there are simply no dud contributions. Although is its early days of release, the greater impression is that Dies Natalis Invicti Solis stands with the best of what a compilation can achieve, and strongly reminds of the early classic compilations such as the Death Odours compilations on Slaughter Productions and the various Cold Meat Industry related compilations of the mid to late 1990‘s. A slickly design and beautifully printed six-panel eco-wallet covers off on the physical presentation, but 300 copies will not stick around long with a compilation of this quality.

Volunteer Coroner ‎– Disease Colony

Volunteer Coroner Disease Colony MC Cloister Recordings 2020

Cloister Recordings have again issued a project I am not at all familiar with, but it seems Volunteer Coroner is the solo project of Preston Weippert who is also involved with the Trust Collective label. Seemingly only active since 2018, over 10 releases have been issued by the project to date.

From the outset, contemporary ambient electronica sounds are immediately evident, where the melancholy-inflected synth lines draw on the lineage of the type of material issued via the Posh Isolation label. Sweeping sustained synths and slow abstracted loops form a backbone of sorts, where other harsher elements are added and subtracted, including aquatic churn, revving distortion, crumbling static, and looped scrap metal recordings, all of which provide a solid post-industrial heft to proceedings. Yet despite these harsher tones they never fully take over the core maudlin atmosphere provided by the ever-present sustained synth lines. Dialogue also occasionally features but is treated with echo and panning effects so that careful attention is needed to pick up the content of what is being said.

With a controlled pacing and slow evolving melancholic mood, Disease Colony is an excellent example of contemporary post-industrial sounds. Collage artwork and a printed insert housed within an over-sized clamshell case nicely rounds out the physical presentation of a very enjoyable tape.

Contrastate – Recorded Evidence II

Contrastate – Recorded Evidence II Black Rose Recordings 2020

Any new release from Contrastate is welcomed, and despite 2020 being what it has been, it has also given us both a new album as well as this compiled collection of tracks which we should clearly be thankful for. Intriguingly the title indicates this to be the second release in a series, but technically speaking there was no first ‘recorded evidence’ album. But I then assume it is perhaps referring to the False Fangs For Old Werewolves compilation collection from 2005?

Recorded Evidence II functions to bring together twelve tracks lifted from compilations, 7”EPs, and three other previously unreleased tracks. As a general observation, the tracks are presented in chronological order, spanning the years of 1993 to 2019, although the project was then inactive for around a decade between 2000 to 2010. This then means there is a difference in style and tone, where early material represents ritual ambient soundscapes, while the newer material has a clearer and sharper sonic production which includes rhythmic moments and song-like passages, but where those elements are woven into larger compositional tapestries. Early album tracks English Embers and Under The Line Laying North are perfect examples of the sound of early Contrastate, being darkly hued ritual ambient soundscapes, while the former includes a trademark monologue styled vocal line. The track Haunted located at the centre of the album from 2013 then marks a shift in the production sound and style which was evident after their reformation. With a clearer and crisp tone, here being of a sub-orchestral drone style, but with occasionally interjecting string and rhythmic stabs, while the late section has a beautifully dour film noir feel. The following True Believer is then noted as the original studio version of Have You Heard the Good News? from 2016’s live album No Eden Without Annihilation. But in a studio version is in a radically different form, with swirling textures, sparse piano melody, and prominent half-sung half-spoken vocals. Likewise, late album track The People Who Control The Information is notable as a quintessential example of modern-sounding Contrastate, featuring wonky rhythmic elements as an abstract soundscape coupled with strongly delivered upfront vocals.

Given the span of years this collection is gathered from, the production and approach to songwriting differs substantially from piece to piece. Yet given that there is literally no other group within the post-industrial underground that sounds like Contrastate, this allows the twelve tracks fit together neatly as a coherent collection of material. As for the packaging, CD is pressed in a mini-gatefold cardboard sleeve and features further detailed liners notes which provide occasionally humorous (mis)information on each of the selected tracks. A great collection.

Die Kombination – Signale

Die Kombination – Signale CD / 7”EP Endangered Species / D-A Tonträger 2020

Although Signale is the second full-length album from Die Kombination personally I have not heard the 2017 debut. But as per the saying ‘first impressions count’, Signale immediately makes a heavy impression based on the packaging and presentation alone. The standard edition* is anything but standard, being reminiscent of the lavish and sophisticated packaging of the early works of Der Blutharsch and Les Joyaux De La Princesse (LJDLP). As such the CD and 7”EP are housed in a black cardboard box with the project symbol and title printed in silver foil blocking. Additional insets then include: a photograph; stamped information card; and 16-page booklet held together with coloured twine. This beautiful presentation gives an immediate sense of dedication and attention to detail which absolutely sets the tone before any of the musical content is heard.

As for the music, Sopimus opens the album with a tone of bomb-blasted and ash-strewn landscapes, where sweeping winds and tensile sustained synth line are the main elements underpinning a lengthy Finnish speech sample. Brooding and intense, it immediately captures a tone and atmosphere often attempted but rarely achieved. A similar mood follows with Tali-Ihantala, where the stilted rhythmic synth elements have been over-processed to replicate the sound of exploding bombs. Narvan Marssi then comes as quite the musical surprise by featuring rolling martial snare drums and strident organ melody. The short track Interludium recedes into a furrow of deeply brooding slow synth melody, which functions as the introduction to Gefechtsverband Kuhlmey, which elevates into a grinding, mid-paced heavy electronics track of muted swirling tones and heavily echoed textures. Unternehmen Silberfuchs reverts to an atmosphere of minimalist battlefield atmospheres (again with lengthy dialogue samples), where synth and layers elements are added and subtracted over the course of its extended length. Playing out as a largely instrumental album, vocals then do appear on a single track Poltetun Maan, and are an absolute standout element. Here the track is based around atonal shuddering loops and sweeping widescreen textures, where the heavily processed vocals are of the classic-sounding heavy electronics type (treated with echo and distortion), and while unintelligible they sonically articulate a sense of baying anguish. The main album concludes with the short piece Erinnerung, an ambient industrial soundscape which in its features an achingly beautiful musical motif that carries through to the dying moments. To then mention the 7”EP, while it contains a further two tracks these feel to be more aligned with rounding out the thematic context of the set given they are original songs (1936 & 1942 respectively) from the period the theme of the album relates. With further reference to the theme, as titles and samples are not in English it makes it difficult to grasp the concept overall. Yet based on the title of one track (Operation “Birke”), it appears the theme relates to a conflict between Finland and Germany towards the end of WWII.

Musically speaking, clearly, there are passing shades of LJDLP, but perhaps a greater influence and homage to early 1990s German heavy electronics material such as early Predominance and Dagda Mor. Yet while such linage and inspiration are clearly noted, in no way does Signale sound to be a mere copyist as there is ample individual flair and considerable sonic and musical variety across the album. Likewise, when then sonics are appreciated in combination with the content of the lavish packaging, it ensures Signale is a mandatory album.

* – a private edition of 15 copies also exists, with the album on a cassette, with it and the 7”ep and other inserts housed in a vintage German metal ammunition box with the Die Kombination symbol sand-blasted into the paintwork.

Code Neda – The Inner Enemy

Code Neda – The Inner Enemy MC Cloister Recordings 2020

The new album from Code Neda features eleven tracks and continues on the same honed European industrial / power electronics / heavy electronics path laid down on 2019’s album Tomorrow Double The Body Count (reviewed here).

Simple but direct synth elements feature, which includes revving loops and loosely rhythmic structures to form the backbone of compositions, around which scattered distortion and other sonic textures interweave. Vocals are also an upfront element but heavily treated as an additional seething mass of sound. Tonally heavy and with its sonic elements clear and balanced, it gives the sound real impact and sense of blood boiling urgency, where the machine-gun rhythm of Best Friends Slaughter is a prime example. Dead Silence In Phnum Penh then charts a slightly more ominous and brooding tone where Tamon Miyakita of Am Not provides spoken vocals. For more variation, the looped element of The Scream provides a militant rhythmic underpinning akin to a rolling martial beat, while the final track Anfal Operation concludes the album as a heady and unhinged track of eruption noise, swirling distortion charred vocals and underpinning alarm pulse.

The Inner Enemy essentially functions as an album of eleven distinct tracks that play out as variations on the same core elements of sound. With each composition being sonically well thought out and expertly presented, Code Neda again presents material that showcases some of the best sounds of the current industrial / power electronics / heavy electronics underground.

Solus Varak ‎– Abyssal Mirror

Solus Varak Abyssal Mirror MC Polar Wounds 2020

Polar Wounds are a new discovery for me, being a micro-tape label from northern Russian. Intriguingly the label’s catalogue numbering is noted to be counting backwards from ten, so presumably, the label may cease activity to be when it reaches zero, yet I’m not entirely sure on that either. But to speak of this tape I know nothing of Solus Varak, where Abyssal Mirror is their latest tape of sweeping dark ambient soundscapes and post-industrial ruin.

Five tracks feature across this lengthy tape, with each broadly being freeform and flowing in approach, yet the material still displays a strong compositional underpinning. Accordingly the approach involves dour drones, minimalist and sweeping ‘isolationist ambience’ synths, distant field recording elements and sparse industrial debris which combine to create melancholic and contemplative soundscapes to cover off on the dark ambient description. The general ambient tone is then interrupted with other passages of distortion tarnished vocals and controlled mid-toned noise squalls which pushes the atmosphere towards more caustic post-industrial spheres. Yet even with these slightly harsher sonics, overall pacing is catatonically slow, to maintain a dour and controlled tone throughout.

Certainly don’t let the obscurity of the label or project fool you – this is excellent and high calibre stuff, where they pay off in its discovery delivers in spades. The tape edition seems to be limited to 40 copies, which is far too few for material of this quality. Recommended.

Maltreatment ‎– A Searing Path To Enlightenment

Maltreatment A Searing Path To Enlightenment MC Cloister Recordings 2020

This appears to be the debut release from Maltreatment where its approach is based around controlled power electronics blended with moments of charred noise. Five tracks make up this EP length tape.

Sonically the tape demonstrates a sort of split personality, which on one level features an undercurrent of brooding synths, but over which layers of chaotic and scrabbling higher pitch noise erupts. Vocals are also an excellent element, where they featuring as a hollowed out roar sitting off in the background, which sonically treated samples are also sporadically employed and function to hint at unpalatable themes. With the tonal spectrum charting a heavy low-end rumble to fierce higher pitch squalls, there is also the tone of raw scrap metal abuse sessions forming part of the recorded input. On more than one occasion the relatively loose approach to blending elements of brooding power electronics and scattered noise reminds of Prurient, but which should be read as a compliment and not criticism.

Packaging involves an A5 booklet housed in zip-lock bag where text and collage artwork functions to hammer home the chosen theme. With the credits then providing a thank you to ‘anger, depression, anxiety & drug use’, it gives a clear indication of the strongly negative vibes captured on this tape. Certainly a strong debut.

Robert Turman – Beyond Painting

Robert Turman – Beyond Painting CD Chondritic Sound 2020

Robert Turman is a long-standing American experimental musician who has been recording since the late 1970’s, and while I am familiar by name due to the early association with NON, I am far less familiar with his recorded output over the years. But to speak specifically of Beyond Painting, it is not a new album from Robert, rather it is the second reissue of an album from 2010, given it was previously reissued in 2013 on vinyl. As for the music itself, it was recorded back in 1990 yet remained unreleased for two decades until its first issue in 2010.

The lengthy opening track Soft Self Portrait sets the scene being a melodious dronescape with a tinge of melancholy to proceedings. The floating dronescape continues on Al Qa’ida, but the prominent mid-paced bass guitar line and counterpointed melody give a completely different feel and pace. On First Quarter it sees the return of an aching melodious undercurrent, where the slow shimmering drones seem to be guitar-based, and sonically reminds of the drone works of Troum for a comparative marker. With the musical landscape established across the first three lengthy tracks, the following four and equally lengthy completions play out as variations on themes. Effectively these slow-paced drones gradually unfurl, but over which intertwining yet minimalist musical motifs such as a piano line provide more detailed focus, while other elements such as unobtrusive vocal chants make a fleeting appearance.

Far from being a ‘doom and gloom’ underground release, this is a wonderful album of slow morphing contemplative and melancholia-tinged soundscapes. The physical pressing comes in four panel digipack, and as with all of Chondritic Sound’s releases, the chosen cardboard stock is of a thick gloss type that provides and a solid and high quality feel to the packaging.

Controlled Death / Rudolf ‎– Death Ceremonies

Controlled Death / Rudolf Death Ceremonies LP Cold Spring Records 2020

Here we have a split album from the long-standing Swiss artist Rudolf who has teamed up with Controlled Death which is a side project of Maso Yamazaki (aka Masonna). According to the promo blurb: ‘….a spontaneous meeting brought up their mutual interest in degraded and primitive black metal. Discussing their own latest black brews of sinister side projects gave birth to the idea of the ‘Death Ceremonies’ LP’.

Rudolf leads off Side A with eight short experimental tracks (titled Ende Leben (Hëxapoda Cëremonia) I through VIII), which are less than three minutes each. Of note, the sound is experimental and has a particular ‘micro-tonal’ approach, while exuding a strong ritual tone to proceedings. Scratchy ill-defined tones, creaking atonal strings, rhythmic footfalls tramping through forest undergrowth, windswept sonics and horrifying garbled vocalisations sit alongside layers of humming synths with a brooding tensile tone. The cumulative result is an atmosphere which is archaic and horrifying in the best way possible, and which feels far longer than the short run time of the vinyl side.

Controlled Death takes up Side B and is perhaps more stereotypical of a primitive and lo-fi death industrial approach. Eight tracks feature, with each titled Death Ceremony I through VIII. A typical approach is displayed across the vinyl side, where grim and laboured atonal echoed synths tones shudder and squirm, while distorted and agonised vocals sporadically erupt. As with other material I have heard from Controlled Death, the tracks commence and cut out without warning, which gives the impression that they have been culled from larger semi-improved recording sessions. Regardless of the truth of that, the abrupt sonic result functions to amplify the primitive tone and unrefined approach.

With each side of the LP sonically distinct, Death Ceremonies is an excellent conceptual pairing of two staunch underground artists intent on creating some of the most obscure sonic death worship. The LP comes pressed on 180gm vinyl in an edition of 400 copies.