Am Not – Auto

Am Not – Auto 7”ep Ant-Zen, Raubbau 2021

As an initial observation, the clean and refined power electronics approach of Am Not clearly lends itself to the established sound of Ant-Zen, so clearly makes for a positive pairing of project and label. Also, although Ant-Zen in recent years stopped producing physical media for main releases, they have however instead been issuing special short-run art editions of selected releases such as this. This white 7”ep is limited to a mere 100 copies and exquisitely presented with printing on acrylic glass, and with the vinyl and inserts housed in an electrostatic bag, further affixed with a special release sticker.

The Side A track Autopoa Now quickly establishes itself with a throbbing invasive drone and stilled beat framework, over which the slightly treated vocals of Tamon are urgently delivered, and with other layered textures added for good measure. Bioluminesence takes up the flip side, and is far more brooding in its atmospheric approach. Cinematic tension abounds, as melodious drones and mid-paced programming keeps a focused drive, while the treated vocals are mostly relegated to another tonal element.

With a mere 9 minutes of music, this is a short and sharp release, but sonically on point for Am Not’s composed and controlled approach. The special art packaging is simply the perfect icing on the cake.

Smell & Quim – Pushy Gothic Gnome Versus Charity Techno Gnome / Bulls Penis Soup

Smell & Quim – Pushy Gothic Gnome Versus Charity Techno Gnome CD Chondritic Sound 2020

Smell & Quim – Bulls Penis Soup CD Total Black 2021

The longstanding English group Smell & Quim has always held a special place in the underground based on their uniquely bizarre, nasty, and twisted oddball noise. Here we have two recent CD reissues from the group. The first is a remastered version of an ultra-limited tape from 1998 (Pushy Gothic Gnome Versus Charity Techno Gnome). The second is a current-era recording (Bulls Penis Soup), originally issued on an 11” lathe EP, now reissued on CD with an additional 30 minutes of material.

Pushy Gothic Gnome Versus Charity Techno Gnome is a two-track affair, both untitled and both nearing 30 minutes in length. The first track plays out as an elongated abstract ritual-industrial-noise affair, but the high-pitched treated vocals (emulating that of a gnome?!) and the tinkling of child’s toy instruments make for a wacky effect. The murky and echoed track lurches slowly forwards, with loose rhythmic elements, random funky bass lines, radio frequency distortion, and some general chaotic clatter thrown in for disorienting impact. The second track features more intensely layered soundscape murk, including cascading and crumble tones, creaking metal, more radio frequency static, and all manner of other random sonic junk thrown in for good measure. There is definite flow and elevation of intensity as the track slowly surges forward, but from mid-track a throbbing rhythm and hollowed-out tone is introduced which comes to characterise the back half of the track. Being an example of solidly murky industrial noise of a darker vein, with little in the way of humorous relief. As a final comment on the reissue, extra ‘WTF’ points are given for the cover image showing a gnome wearing an Amish hat and Grey Wolves t-shirt.

Jumping forwards some 23 years to Bull Penis Soup, not much has changed in the Smell & Quim camp and time has not wearied their approach to blending smutty humour with free-form noise. But of immediate note is the actual recordings themselves, which are clearer and louder, amplifying the loose sonic chaos, and highlighting a shorter and more direct approach to composing distinct tracks. Loose noise outbursts and repeated vocal lines of the opening track I Couldn’t Shoot My Muck quickly gives way to the free-form title track based on free-form kit drumming and erupting sonic commotion. The brilliantly titled I’ll Kick Your Fucking Cock Off is chaotic bliss, featuring an incessant fire alarm, interjecting vocals, and the random passage of a militant snare while someone chants: “NONCE – NONCE – NONCE – NONCE”. Bizarrely great. We Will Fuck You In The Arse follows and is another excellent cut of militant-tinged rhythm and choppy noise, complemented with a lyrical monologue revolving around the premise that Smell & Quim are indeed: ‘an arse fucking band. We fuck arses’ (and includes the specific namechecking of current members each being ‘arse fuckers’ – including more recent member Kate Fear). Another piece of bizarre brilliance. Mouth To Cock Resuscitation is perhaps where the Smell & Quim train careens off the tracks for me, as the rudimentary disco beat is a (ahem) flaccid accompaniment to the fierce needling noise – or could this be an intentional snide nod to late-era Consumer Electronics?! Who knows?! There are two extra bonus tracks. Filthy Cunts functions more as a free-form workout of blown-out noise and semi-buried tribal percussive thrum. The final track is Once Upon A Time in Memphis: a mellow instrumental drum kit-driven percussive piece that gives way to a rising tide of panned pulsing noise.

It is perhaps an obvious statement that Smell & Quim are an acquired taste, appealing to those who like their noise dark yet humorously bizarre, thus these CDs clearly sate the appetite for more of their special brand of underground industrial noise weirdness. While neither release is better than the other, and each has its own character and charm, you will already know if these are to your taste.

Hal Hutchinson – Cold Industrial Experience

Hal Hutchinson – Cold Industrial Experience CD Freak Animal 2022

Although I have heard only select releases in Hal’s extensive discography, I have the impression that typically his solo material is of a harsh noise scrap metal type. Cold Industrial Experience is the latest full-length, evidently ‘assembled’ in 2021.

Five tracks in all make up this instrumental industrial-noise album, and upon initial and subsequent listens I have been struck by how subdued and controlled it is overall. Clearly far less raw and brutal than other solo material I have heard, here the sonics have been hewn into a series of filthy industrial factory soundscapes, further structured around queasy wavering tones, monolithic loops, the slow semi-rhythmic beating of oil barrels, and controlled sheet metal abuse. This gives rise to a greater impression that a couple of tracks align with the later more subdued material of the Zyklon SS project – which speaks volumes of how the sonic timbre and the general industrial styled compositions appeal strongly to my stylistic preferences. The final album track Into Christ is perhaps the loosest on display, with heavy reverbed drenched catacomb rumble and sheet metal sonics. Although it does elevate to increased chaotic territory as the track progresses, even so, there is a ton of breathing space in the mix, and is far from being brick-walled and overloaded in production.

The six-panel digipack perfectly rounds out the visuals with impacts of black and white historic wartime images of twisted metal resulting from an obvious firestorm bombing campaign. An excellent album, but one which may catch harsh noise heads slightly by surprise.

Encephalic Death – Relentless

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

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

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

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

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.

Dead Boomers – Aspen Liberals

Dead Boomers – Aspen Liberals CD Cipher Productions 2022

Dead Boomers – an Australian duo of Leith Thomas and Mark Groves – may be (‘cough’) dead, but Aspen Liberals functions as a compilation to collect together a selection of material from 2015-2020. This includes previously released tracks and others issued for the first time here. But prior to getting into the details of the release, to my mind, Dead Boomers always had a uniquely Australian edge. With the snide slang of the project’s chosen name (which incidentally pre-dates the ‘OK Boomer’ phrase by a decade), thematically the project has then been concerned with localised societal themes which sardonically address: the housing market; financial/banking systems; the wealthy upper-class; the ruling conservative political party (the ‘Liberals’); and the broader societal influence and interests of the ‘baby boomer’ generation. It is this approach I have found strongly satisfying, which contained serious observations and on occasion humorously deadpan commentary, which is far removed from more typical themes within the post-industrial underground.

As a general observation the overt and unhinged aggression of some of the earlier output (such as strongly displayed on the debut album The Pig In the Python), has been dialed down a few notches. This then functions to put the controlled method of sonic composition clearly on display. Despite the material on Aspen Liberals being culled from numerous recording sessions, it hangs together surprisingly well and spans a number of composed power electronics cuts, and a larger number of subdued, experimental spoken word and post-industrial soundscapes. With regard to the power electronics focus, Half Windsor and Escorted from the Building are both anthemic standouts with their rhythmic fist-pumping pulse, scrabbling scrap metal noise, and raw spat vocals. A Gentle Occasion is also of a power electronics frame of reference and uses simplistic structures of maximum effect, with a mid-paced pulse, minimalist noise and gruff bellowed voice. Yet in opposition to these focused tracks, other cuts like Afternoon Film Club focus on post-industrial soundscapes of rumble and echo, while the deadpan spoken vocals provide a detached observational commentary. The spoken word and almost musique concrete backing of Annual Rite perhaps leans towards some of Mark’s separate recorded works, while Place of the Pink Seashells has a tensile creeping atmosphere based around sustained drones and (perhaps?) atonal piano note. The album is rounded out with the monolithic 28-minute title track, which charts numerous segments across its span, including: unhinged clawing distortion; tensile drones; sparse experimental soundscapes; processed field recordings; spoken word narrative, and media reporting sampling.

The full-colour dig-pack and printed booklet functions to further illustrate the atypical approach of Dead Boomers within the underground, while full lyrics and notes on the meaning behind the title are included for suitable context. Given Aspen Liberals appears to be a swansong release, it is an excellent final document of the later era of the project and absolutely worthy of your attention even if you have not checked out Dead Boomers earlier.