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.

 

Pterygium – A Blessing Withdrawn

Pterygium – A Blessing Withdrawn 7”EP Cønjuntø Vacíø 2021

Over a relatively short time span, Hank Gillet’s project Pterygium has demonstrated ambitious intent, as well as being something of a sonic chameleon that inhabits the in-between spaces between noise, dark ambient, and post-industrial spheres. Armed with this modus operandi, Hank has created a unique and now recognisable sound for Pterygium based on the well-received albums, including 2018’s Concealing the Past (via Tesco Organisation), and 2020’s Stoic Ubiquity (via No Recent Records).

For his first release on Cønjuntø Vacíø (a Spanish experimental label previously unknown to me), it is the first of Pterygium’s sounds on both vinyl as well as the shorter 7″ format. Delivering two instrumental tracks, Hank has opted to emphasise and showcase the dark ambient side of his sound. With a religious slant to the track titles (i.e. My Son, Keep Your Father’s Commandments and The Lord Is My Shepherd), this is also reflected in the sacral-tinged soundscapes, which seamlessly blend samples of ceremonial laments. Being brooding and contemplative overall, the tone stops short of edging into territories of overt sonic angst which has partially characterised earlier material.

For the sake of guiding comparisons this release would sit neatly next to the sacral post-industrial soundscapes of later-era raison d’etre, or the dark ambient side of Lussuria. As for the physical edition, this is a crystal clear, lathe cut 7”EP, with suitable sacral album artwork.

Lẽtum – The Face Of Life And Death

Lẽtum – The Face Of Life And Death CD Mathias Henriksson 2021

Personally, I have always viewed Lẽtum as one of the three pinnacle dark ambient projects emerging from the classic era of Cold Meat Industry, with the other two being raison d’etre and Desiderii Marginis. However, Lẽtum has ended up being lesser recognised and somewhat overshadowed given Lẽtum’s debut came out in 2001, which at that point in time the other mentioned projects were already well established. Yet now in 2021, it would be a significant mistake to continue overlooking Lẽtum given the project’s albums represent quintessential examples of sacral toned dark ambient music.

With reference to prior albums, I intently followed the project through to 2014’s The Fifth State of Grief, and while far from being a bad album I found it a slight letdown in comparison to prior releases due to some of the orchestral synth pads sounding overly synthetic, while a few melodious passages felt more suited to a dungeon synth style and therefore not typically what I would expect from a Lẽtum album. Consequently, 2019’s Shades Of A Lost World passed me by, where I only picked up the Lẽtum thread again with this new fifth album, which incidentally marks 20 years of activity of the project. I must then admit that The Face Of Life And Death has absolutely blown me away, and been the most listened to dark ambient album of recent times. As an initial observation, the emotively titled tracks are ample mood descriptors, such as: Shadows In The Abyss; Echoes From A Time Without End; The Hidden Vastness; A Seared Conscience; The Beauty Of Miserable Souls; Afraid Of The Void etc, and when coupled with the album title, it seems to allude to a broader concept of spiritual existentialism.

Musically speaking all of the hallmarks of sacral toned dark ambient music is here: the choral vocal textures; the ever-shifting inky black drones; the sparse doom addled rhythmics; the controlling creaking metallics; the deeply emotive orchestral melodies; the lamenting piano/church organ etc. Likewise, as far as dark ambience goes, it is an ‘all in’ scenario, where full immersion is required to appreciate the album in its totality, which spans eight tracks over 47 minutes. Without being a mere re-tread of what has come before, the lamenting minimalist soundscapes are expertly controlled and display clear compositional refinement and emotive depth in the delivery of such high calibre consecrated soundscapes. The end result is Lẽtum’s most sophisticated album to date, and now that I have since become acquainted with 2019’s Shades Of A Lost World, I would also categorise it as the strongest given it has that ‘special’ aura of an exceptional album.

Although The Face Of Life And Death does not flip the script on sacral toned dark ambience, this new recording from Lẽtum is delivered with such flair and emotive impact that it absolutely demands attention. Suitable imagery pressed as a four-panel digipack function to round out the physical presentation, for what is a highly recommended album from these quarters.

Various Artists – Time Ends – A Tribute to J.G Ballard’s Tetralogy Of Transformation

Various Artists – Time Ends – A Tribute to J.G Ballard’s Tetralogy Of Transformation CD The Epicurean 2021

Like many releases on The Epicurean label, they are often notable for their strong conceptual underpinning which is specifically applicable here. As per the promo text: Desiderii Marginis, Troum, Martin Bladh & Karolina Urbaniak and Anemone Tube have gathered to pay homage to the first four novels of British writer J.G. Ballard: The Wind From Nowhere, The Drowned World, The Drought and The Crystal World, which are often seen as disaster novels’. But for those unfamiliar with Ballard’s writings, the opening paragraph of the liners notes then provides adequate context: ‘Collins Dictionary defines “Ballardian” as something that is “resembling or suggestive of the conditions described in Ballard’s novels and stories, esp dystopian modernity, bleak man-made landscapes, and the psychological effects of technological, social or environmental developments”.’

With each artist contributing around 20 minutes of material, Desiderii Marginis leads off with The Wind From Nowhere, consisting of minimal orchestral drones, subtle field recordings, swirling arctic blasts, and muted choral vocals late in the track. Bleak and ominous in equal measures, this composition is an example of the sublime dark ambience which has categorised this project over the last decades of activity. The ever-creative Troum follow with two tracks: the first OUTSIDE (Archaic Landscape) has a rougher post-industrial tinged visage than the perhaps the expected ethereal ambient-drone. Here the intense sound is based around layered mechanical loops, insectile chatter and spoken vocals which are muted and semi-buried so as not to be immediately intelligible. The second track IN-SIGHT (Archaic Mind-Scape) is more typical of Troum’s highly evocative drone-scapes, being windswept and contained melodious tones and smatterings of nature-based sounds for good measure. Functioning as the most divergent track and positioned as the centerpiece of the album, The Poison Well is a track by Karolina Urbaniak & Martin Bladh. Sonically it is a minimalist experimental-industrial composition based on detailed loops, drones and musique concrete elements courtesy of Karolina. This then functions as the backing for various spoken passages which are delivered in the immediately recognisable voice of Martin which range from quietly enunciated through to an agitated theatrical delivery. Conceptually the utilised text brings in thematic elements beyond the immediate sphere of Ballard, but which align with Martin’s broader established obsessions. Anemone Tube functions to rounds out the album with three tracks which stylistically arcs back to the sound and tone of the Death Over China, given the notable use of field recordings that have been hewn into heady industrial looped soundscapes and underscored with dour synth textures. While the material also includes controlled mid-toned feedback, swirling minimalist noise, and other subtle droning passages, ultimately the end result is tensile, doom-addled dystopian atmospheres. Yet with little in the way of sonically transcendental tones (which is another usually notable aspect of the project), the featured material is still of a pinnacle level which Anemone Tube regularly achieves.

Coupled with the eighty minutes of music, the cover is accompanied by a detailed essay by Michael Göttert which expands on the album’s concept, as well as containing liner notes detailing the inspiration and approach of each artist, and including Alex Tennigkeit who contributed the striking cover artwork. This functions to further illustrate the conceptual depth on offer which makes this such a sonically and thematically engaging release. Currently, this release is available on CD, while a horrendously delayed double vinyl set is also slated for eventual release in late 2021. As a final comment, at this time of writing this review it was announced that The Epicurean is ceasing operation after a decade of activity. Given the stellar quality of the label’s productions over the years this is extremely disappointing to hear. But as a final release, this album is also a fitting swansong to everything the label has achieved in conceptually elevating what can be delivered within the post-industrial underground. Recommended.

Gruntsplatter & Wilt – The Trough of Armageddon

Gruntsplatter & Wilt – The Trough of Armageddon 2xCD Phange Tapes / Cipher Productions 2021

This split release is from two long-standing American projects and is conceptually interesting given each CD features a single artist who has used sonic source material from the other as the starting basis, and further sculpted and augmented it into their own material.

Gruntsplatter leads off with the first disc titled Indoctrination and functionally twists Wilt’s source material into Gruntsplatter’s own frame of reference, which means it is a textbook example of their crushing claustrophobic bleakness. Foreboding waves of corrosive sounds abound, with nary a fleck of light managing to piece the tonal gloom. Functionally, the tracks are minimalist but also operate as hefty atmospheric soundscapes, where multiple tonal layers combine into a grinding sonic mass. In generally articulating a barren post-apocalyptic landscape and ashen cloud atmosphere, the tonally windswept elements have a natural timbre, combined with others elements with a clear mechanical churn.

Moving onto the second disc, Wilt’s album is titled Repercussion and differs from Gruntsplatter’s side given it immediately displays a subtle spaciousness to the sonics. Melancholic and contemplative is the general flavour of proceedings, with an open and floating sparseness, coupled with the occasional tasteful use of minimal synth melodies. Although through the middle and back half of the album the sound of several tracks do contain a more forceful tonal bluster, and sees the use of abstracted mechanical rhythmic loops which gives a nod to the more typical sonic elements of Gruntspatter.

The end result of this collaborative release is one that displays the best elements of each project, and while there are subtle differences between each half, they are equally very complimentary as a combined release of high-grade, noise-industrial inflected dark ambience. The double gatefold dig-pack on thick card stock rounds out the cleanly designed and packaged presentation.

Trust Collective Batch 2021

Trust Collective cassette batch 2021

The Trust Collective label is notable for its wide range of releases across the post-industrial underground landscape, covering material from mellow dark ambient/ electronica to harsh industrial/ noise. Personally speaking, I have tended to gravitate more towards the calmer material on the label’s roster, thus following below is a brief rundown of a few of these types of releases from the recent cassette batches.

Appropriate Savagery – Chaos As Inevitable Addiction MC Trust Collective 2021

Based on the project name and title, the immediate impression is this is likely to be of a modern power electronics type, yet in truth that is far from the case. Instead, this tape delivers a blend of experimental dark ambient and post-industrial drift. Sonically speaking the material is a blend of metallic drones, slow rhythmical thrum, sparse field recordings, minimal orchestral styled synths and gloomy piano melodies. The resultant tone and mood duly chart a knife’s edge between ambient moments and more tensile atmospherics for great overall effect. Eight tracks in all make up an album lengths tape, housed in an oversized clamshell case.

Lessons In Hate – Painting of Desire MC Trust Collective 2021

Here is another release where the project name suggests something far harder and harsher than what is ultimately delivered. Lessons In Hate instead are concerned with focusing on instrumental ambient electronica, with slow shifting dour melodious synth and minimalist piano lines being the general sonic approach. With the seven tracks having a mellow melancholic flow, this is far from complex material, but moodily engaging all the same with a vaguely cinematic pretence.

Madrelarva – Nektar MC Trust Collective 2021

Previously unknown to me, Madrelarva’s approach is concerned with slow morphing ambient soundscapes, featuring sparse aquatic tinged tones and other distant windswept droning elements. Such elements are then further blended with shimmering melodious elements and sparse spoken vocals. The end results function as abstract soundscapes which glide forwards in an unhurried and unobtrusive fashion which works well as a general background ambience, rather than demanding focused and detailed listening. Although with that said a number of tracks on Side B feature wonky rhythmic mechanical loops for a more focused impact.

Volunteer Coroner – In the Garden of Blood And Bones MC Trust Collective 2021

For this new tape, moody post-industrial soundscapes and darkly tinged ambient electronics abound. As for its sonic elements muted structural loops and semi-melodious, repeating synth lines maintain forward motion and musical focus, and while on occasion scrabbling distorted textures appear, they remain subdued overall. Not being as dark or oppressive as suggested by track titles, this is a well-executed, dourly atmospheric release. The artwork by James Light also visually makes this release stand out from the trademark collage artwork of much of Trust Collective catalogue. Housed in an oversized clamshell with artwork insert.

Minamata ‎– Fukushima

Minamata ‎– Fukushima CD Force Majeure 2017

This is a slightly older CD and from a French project whose roots and activity extend all the way back to the mid-1980’s. In then being well aware of the project by name, this is however is my first proper introduction to the music of Minamata, so I can offer little in the way of comparisons to how this differs from or continues on with their earlier sonic approach.

On Fukushima it contains four freeform tracks of a cinematic experimental-industrial style that spans a runtime of around 45-minutes. Opening track tepKO commences with thick waves of semi-melodies sweeping tones blend and interweave, creating a stormy and roiling mass of sound over its nine-minute span. The second track at(H)oM commences with more subtlety but soon gives rise to calamitous crashing elements, thick melodious drones, and a disembodied voice cutting through the tonal mass. Charting more contemplative atmospherics, tsunaminamata features a sparse soundscape of panning and sweeping textures and angst-driven vocals, which shifts mid-track with rapidly buildings sonic peaks, and which metaphorically is like the swamping of land by continual tsunami waves. The final of the four tracks is eKlips, and is the longest track at 22 minutes. While not significantly different from the earlier material, does contain more direct song structures with segments of incessant pounding beat, radioactive blasting noise, dour cinematic synth melodies, and anguished vocalisations.

With the cover imagery on the six-panel digi-sleeve, as well as track titles, it is obvious this has been inspired by the Fukushima nuclear disaster of 2011. Consequently, the album plays out as a rather decent experimental-industrial soundtrack of sorts to the tragic events which unfolded. Worthy of attention and will certainly see me further investigating Minamata’s back catalogue.

Cent Ans De Solitude ‎– En Concert – El Diablo, Lille, France 29.11.14

Cent Ans De Solitude ‎– En Concert – El Diablo, Lille, France 29.11.14 LP Force Majeure 2020

Cent Ans De Solitude is a somewhat obscure French experimental noise-industrial project of Jean-Yves Millet who has been active since the mid 1980’s. Yet the obscurity is perhaps explained by the limited output from the project over the years, which has mostly on compilations rather than his own albums. To speak of one compilation contribution, the project notably was featured on the now cult classic Zyklon B cassette compilation from 1994 which was collated and assembled by Les Joyaux De La Princesse (LJDLP).

To then talk of this recent release, the visually striking Russian Constructivism-inspired cover artwork draws immediate attention, while the title denotes this album as being a live recording from 2014. La-Bas is the short intro piece based on dour melodious elements, shimmering noise and smatterings of muted vocal chatter opens the album, which later shifts off into a lengthy experimental noise passage of drone, bowed metal shrieks and sampled radio dialogue which encapsulates a moodily atmospheric and hollowed out tone. Given the live flowing format of the recording, it is not immediately clear where one track concludes the next commences, but the later half of Side A sees jagged and metallic tonality offset against a drone of increasing intensity, and by side’s end the tone has risen into a cavernously echoed cacophony of sound. Paysages Industriels opens Side B resets the sonic approach with melodious (piano?) loop and distant creaking junk metal tones. The next track Des Visages Et Des Ruines with its layers radio chatter, rising orchestral style synths, slow pounding martial beat and muted industrial noise reminds strongly of the martial industrial approach of LJDLP, which is a high compliment from these quarters. The Unacceptable Face Of Beauty follows and charts yet further stylistic territory with prominent looped orchestral elements taking focus prior to rhythmically percussive elements being introduced later in the track. Ailleurs is the final piece and reverts to tonal noise experimentalism of the first side, featuring shimmering drones, sampled dialogue and the shrieking of bowed sheet metal, while muted dour melody and heartbeat pulse appears late in the piece.

Of note, this live recording was first issued in 2019 on CD via Jean-Yves Millet’s own label Les Nouvelles Propagandes and now been given the vinyl treatment on ‘rust’ coloured wax, which is housed in full colour screen-printed, foldout sleeve. Despite being from a lesser-known artist within the post-industrial underground this is a wonderful discovery of highly varied and atmospheric experimental noise-industrial soundscapes. Very worthy of further investigation.

Hypnosmord – Thurnemanimprovisationerna / The Thurneman Improvisations

Hypnosmord – Thurnemanimprovisationerna / The Thurneman Improvisations MC Hypnosmord Förlag / Styggelse Tapes / The AJNA Offensive 2021

As alluded to by the title, this tape is inspired by Sigvard Thurneman who was a somewhat obscure Swedish occultist, serial killer, and leader of the criminal-esoteric society ‘Den Magiska Cirkeln’ during the 1930s. There are various oddities associated with the case (more than can be explained here), that warrant further exploration for the interested. It is worth noting that this tape is a companion of sorts to a book just released in English by The Ajna Offensive, Manhunter: The Story of the Swedish Occultist and Serial Killer Thurneman. As for the project Hypnosmord, this seems to be a collective of musicians where the main performer Hans K. Styggelsen is aided by Gammalsjul, Sten Röse, Hector Meinhof, Brynolf Ledung, and Siegfried Holst. The recordings on this tape features two 30-minute compositions, which function as sinister improvisational piano movements for the shadowy twilight hours.

Although the liner notes indicate that the hour runtime contains five suites, the material flows together continuously on each side of the tape. The overall atmosphere is distant, obscure, and forlorn; slow moving, minor keyed piano melodies float through the twilight ether, and on occasion devolve into sections where the playing becomes mere sparse atonal stabs at the ivory keys. Apart from the piano element there are scant backing elements of what sounds like the crackling of a gramophone needle, creaking wood, echoed bass thuds, passages of Swedish spoken vocals, unintelligible mournful wailings, distant vaguely rhythmic elements, and a variety of other unidentifiable haunting tones with a sinister-edged musique concrete sound. When all of these aspects are brought together with the spacious and reverb-tinged keys, it evokes a vision of a grand piano being played in a crumbling abandoned mansion, where the psychic barrier between the waking and spirit world is slowly dissolving in response to the improvised musical evocations.

Being very much music for late night solo appreciation and deep contemplation, this is an excellent underground obscurity of sinister spectral music. Limited to a mere 141 copies, a double-sided multi-panel insert rounds out the visual presentation.