TenHornedBeast – Death Has No Companion

TenHornedBeast – Death Has No Companion CD Cold Spring Records 2017

Having heard a number of early album’s from TenHornedBeast (around a decade ago now), it seems that I have not kept up with continued output over recent years.  From my memory of those earlier releases they encompassed dark ambient drone-scapes, but also verged of doom drone at times through the use of slow distorted guitars (and while I enjoyed them, they also did not stay in listening rotation for long and have not revisited them since). Yet Death Has No Companion has now thrust me back into the sonic world of TenHornedBeast and it has come as rather a bit of a refreshing surprise.

To speak of the album’s cover, straight off the mark the sound perfectly matches the atmosphere of the wintry imagery (photos taken by solo member Christopher Walton). This also reveals the core focus of Death Has No Companion as cold arctic drone-scapes, where sparse compositional minimalism give rise to widescreen barren vistas in the mind’s eye. Featuring only three tracks the album still spans 60 minutes, meaning the tracks are on the lengthy side (between 17 and 24 minutes each), thus take their in sonically unfurling. Being constructed around a base of slow morphing drones and sustained shimmering textures, additional elements provide tonal variation (such as sparse horn/ string like melodies, sustained lone piano notes and (perhaps?) treated gong tones). The middle track The Lamentations of Their Women is also the most animated of the three offerings, featuring a prominent cyclic loop, and with some more ‘metallic’ tones layers verges slightly towards a death ambient sound.

A general observation to be made is that the sound is rooted in a ‘classic’ 1990’s expression, which is perhaps reflective of Christopher’s long-standing involvement in the underground, extending back to his days in Endvra (and of interest this album being similar in part to the sonic minimalism of Endvra’s album The Watcher). Although elongated, meditative and heavily abstracted, there is still more than ample sonic nuance to be discovered which ensure this an engaging album and which can masterfully draw you into its cold and barren world. Based on this album, it now has me intrigued to investigate back catalogue of album’s which have previously passed me by.

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Henrik Nordvargr Björkk / Margaux Renaudin – Anima Nostra

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Henrik Nordvargr Björkk / Margaux Renaudin – Anima Nostra CD Cold Spring 2016

The long established, prolific and always dependable Henrik ‘Nordvargr’ Björkk, has teamed up with Margaux Renaudin – a name I do not recognise.  Despite this unfamiliarity with one half of the collaboration, from the outset it is worthwhile acknowledging that ‘Anima Nostra’ is not too far removed from the sonic worlds Nordvargr inhabits, but equally that it is slanted towards the ritual/ rhythmic/ sub-orchestral sounds of MZ.412.

The pairing of opening tracks ‘Sunyata’, ‘Spiritus Omni’ take no time in setting the scene with driving tribal/ ritual percussion, guttural vocal chants, ominous sub-orchestral drones and drawling horns of death. Simply magnificent. ‘Morning Star’ is then a surprise feature, (being a reworking of an MZ.412 track), where the driving tribal/ ritual percussion and ominous droning foghorns of the original has been augmented with booming sub-orchestral horns, sweeping noise and additional vocals (both whispered and electronic treated).  A further pairing of ‘Kmt’ & ‘Runik Haxagram II’ present high calibre abstract, ritualised/ percussive dark ambient soundscapes, while ‘Gjallarhornet Ljuder’ steps up with a track of sonically forceful, multi-layered power-drones.  ‘Lavenement du neant’ functions as a particular album standout, which mixed a lamenting and extremely cinematic neo-classical melody, spoken female French vocals (assuming this to be Margaux Renaudin?) and driving poly-rhythmic tribal percussion. Absolutely sublime.  Final album offering ‘Maladia Skandinavia’ sprawls out over a 9 minute expanse, and although ‘drone’ in intent, the tolling church bell and focused melodious chants (which themselves have been further treated into a droning texture), are further offset by rolling ritual percussion and forceful sub-orchestral tones.

Apart from being one of the strongest examples of ritual and neo-classical tinged dark ambient in recent memory (as well as being the closest Nordvargr has come to date in emulating the sound of MZ.412), the 6 panel digipack and 8 pages cover insert are also worthy of individual mention. Courtesy of Margaux Renaudin the cover features stunning graphic presentation of esoteric symbolism in metallic copper on black print.  As a final comment, evidently since the release of this album the project has evolved into to more defined band and relabeled under the Anima Nostra moniker. Accordingly further material in this vein is an absolutely welcomed prospect: but in the interim the album ‘Anima Nostra’ is very much worthy of your attention.

Dead Letters Spell Out Dead Words – No Words

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Dead Letters Spell Out Dead Words – No Words LP Cloister Recordings US 2016

With Trepaneringsritualen now being a widely recognized name within the industrial underground, prior to the launch of that project in 2008 sole member Thomas Martin Ekelund recorded under another style and moniker, namely Dead Letters Spell Out Dead Words (‘Dead Letters’ for short).  With Dead Letters being broadly bracketed under the genres of drone and dark ambient, the music is also more musical than those genre classifications might imply.  As for ‘No Words’ it a re-release of a 2010 tape featuring 3 lengthy tracks, which span an album’s worth of material (43 minutes).

On the musical front although being sonically lighter than the rather imposing ritual death industrial works of Trepaneringsritualen, conversely Dead Letters can be considered as being emotionally heavier than Thomas’ current project.  As such there is a real sense of melancholy and emotional desolation which weaves through the music, and which draws the listener deep within the confines of its depressive atmosphere.

The first side of the vinyl bring two separate 10 minute tracks under the same title of ‘No Words’.  Based on their combined title, these pieces are obviously instrumental, where the first track features a spartan (clean) guitar tune, with plodding bass and sparse, tonally shimmering dark ambient undercurrent. With an almost ambient ‘post-rock’ edge, the sense of melancholy and desolation is far greater than typical music of that genre, but mid track the mood builds to a sort of doom addled synth based crescendo.  The second track on Side A ebbs forward at a crawling pace as gradual drone layers are added, where later a layered drone guitars evoking a bittersweet melody of doom creeps into frame (…”crushingly uplifting” might be suitable oxymoron to use).  Side B delivers the single LP sided track ‘Forgive/ Forget/ Regret’, which spans 23 minutes.  Commencing very much as a sparse doom-drone track, of atonal bass thuds, it catatonically builds upon a sparse undercurrent of shifting ice like static.  Well into the second half a miserably depressing guitar line emerges into frame, along with a slow cyclic rhythmic pulse, and melodic synths to give a greater sense of song structure and movement, which continues through to the conclusion of the piece. Desperately and depressively sublime….

Given that Dead Letters back catalogue has in some way been overshadowed by Trepaneringsritualen, Cloister Recordings US should be commended for digging this release for a vinyl reissue treatment.  On the visual front the artwork visually articulates the emotional desolation found within, whilst the mastering courtesy of James Plotkin has perfectly polished the musical content for a new audience.  Being almost needless to say, this is a great release.

Unknown Artist – The Church Eternal / Musikalisches Opfer

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Unknown Artist – The Church Eternal MC Fanaticism 2015

Unknown Artist – Musikalisches Opfer MC Fanaticism 2016

This mysterious ‘anonymous’ project released 6 tapes during 2014 and 2015, being were issued on various tape labels and in different versions and editions.  Evidently the Fanaticism tape label was then established to draw together all musical works by the unnamed project under the single label and conceptual banner.  The consequential result has been the reissuing of the tapes with a unifying colour scheme of black and blood red J cards and solid black cassette tapes.  With reference to 3 tapes ‘Yirat HaShem’, ‘HaIOTh HaKODeSh’ and ‘Ecclesiastical Reich’, these broadly feature sacral tinged noise-industrial soundscapes. As for the other 2 tapes reviewed here, they build upon the established sonic base, but at the same time also displaying a greater restraint with respect of the harsher and nosier elements.

On ‘The Church Eternal’ it displays an approach which is more ambiental than the material on preceding tapes, but is still quite forcefully droning in sections.  The 28 minute piece on Side A is titled ‘Sancta Mater Ecclesia, Dominatrix Populorum’, which itself translates to: ‘Our Holy Mother, the Church , Mistress of the People’.  The lengthy has a type of cyclic, slow building droning noise approach, which elevates in intensity, including the use of loose jagged metallic reverberations, which eventually makes way for a heavy church organ dirge at the midpoint of the track. Following this, the piece pares back to almost silence, before slowing building again, being built around an ominous droning churn and slow atonal bass guitar (…or perhaps the thudding notes of a prepared piano?), which by tracks end has built back up to heavy ritualized droning noise. Interestingly its sacral experimental soundscapes bring to mind the non-metal sound of Reverorum ib Malact during more than one moment – which should be taken as solid praise.  Side B then features the track ‘Nulla Salus Extra Ecclesiam’ (translating to ‘No Salvation Outside the Church’), and is more restrained and catacomal in tone, which reminds of a less refined and sonically murkier version of raison d’etre current era of abstract industrialized dark ambient soundscapes.  Here deep and distant tones radiate out, shrill tone flutters overhead, slow percussion of doom provides some structural focus, with the human element is derived from ominous choir chants and French dialogue sample recites some form of speech/ sermon.  A fantastic enveloping ritual soundscape to simple get lost within its cavernous depths and arcane atmospheres.

Moving onto ‘Musikalisches Opfer’ it is another tape of newly released material, featuring 2 lengthy but untitled tracks (1 each side). Side A bring a piece with forward momentum driven by plodding atonal bass, where swirling loops and cyclic chants further elevates the piece.  A sacral dark ambient sound prevails, where the vocal chants become more anguished lamentations through the middle, which itself evolves into a cyclic grinding mass of analogue sounds (i.e. hum, drone and rumble) under which a sampled religious sermon is buried, being barely audible within the sonic mass (…and in the process very much reminding of old Archon Satani – in other words fantastic).  Side B bring another approximate 30 minute track, where a subdued low bass drone and even more distant buried religious sermons are used, over which a range of sparse atonal plucked and bowed string instruments and sampled choral chants creates an abstract modern classical feel. But things gradually morph away from this, given the cyclic drones ratchets up the tension to create something like subdued and sacral themed doom drone. Another very strong and extremely atmospheric offering.

Clearly these two tapes (along with the others released under the Fanaticism banner) have a certain amount of ‘kvlt’ obscurity and appeal given their presentation and its concealed thematic approach.  On the later front I am personally still sifting through the thematic clues of each of the 5 tapes to determine my own thoughts on an interpretation of potential stance or message, so won’t proffer any specific thoughts at this juncture (…particularly as there seems to be greater intent than merely seeking to invert the meaning of the overtly religious content).  But the mere fact that such clues are semi-buried and cloaked in obscurity, makes for all the more engaging listening.  I also do not have sense of whether the person behind this project may be from the post-industrial or black metal underground (or perhaps outside of any such scene affiliations altogether?), but irrespective of this these are extremely well executed tapes in terms of their sound, concept and presentation.

 

Demons in the Architecture tapes x 2

Culver  Fossils

Culver / Cathal Rodgers – untitled MC Demons in the Architecture 2014

Fossils / Cathal Rodgers – untitled MC Demons in the Architecture 2014

By way of quick introductions Cathal Rodgers is an Irish drone/ noise/ experimental musician who is also is behind this micro tape label and has issued a series of split cassettes featuring his work alongside others with a similar stylistic bent.

Culver are featured on Side A of the first tape, and whilst a project I am aware of by name I have not heard until now. However then noting that Culver have issued over 150 releases in the last 20 years, this immediately started to ring alarm bells about potential quality control issues. So after hearing the two tracks offered (‘Egyptian Incest (Part I) & (Part II)’), it seems my initial concern was not unfounded. Simply put Culver present 2 tracks of rather simplistic and snooze inducing drones mixed with some extremely basic guitar noodlings, were the compositional format simply drag on and on (…and on). The sound is sparse (not in a good way) with little to no variation throughout the two lengthy tracks which consequently is simply unengaging and rather a chore to sit though. I have no idea of whether these tracks are representative of the overall sound and approach on Culver’s voluminous number of other releases, but based on this I simply do not care to find out.

Moving onto Side B, Cathal Rogers, fares far better with two tracks of animated yet abstract tonal drones. A dank foggy atmosphere permeates the two tracks on offer, which are bleak but not necessarily dark in tone, Being multilayered in their approach, wavering sub-harmonic drones give a vague air of melodiousness, and as is characteristic with drone music the sonic approach follows a cyclic ebbing and flowing style. On occasion sonic hints of sparse and minimalist guitar tunes semi-buried within the mix can be detected, which provides a nice maudlin touch to the sound. Whilst sitting squarely within a drone frame of reference, these two lengthy tracks are both enjoyable and accomplished.

On the next split tape the Canadian project Fossils lead off Side A of the second tape, and features a single lengthy track ‘Histories Of Time To Come’ which is very much of an abstract industrial noise approach featuring lots of sparse scattered sounds and micro-tonal textures. The sound is also sparse and cavernous, where the distant wind-tunnel echoed drones provide lots of sonic room to feature and focus on the ‘close up’ metallic knocks and textural scraping sounds and some sporadic looped and treated voices. Given the looseness of sound I get the feel this is perhaps in part improvised, where is some later segments the sound becomes a touch aimless. Yet thankfully these are limited and generally speaking the piece is predominantly engaging throughout its length.

Cathal Rogers again rounds out Side B, here featuring 5 shorter tracks. With a heavier more brutal droning rumble, this is more akin to an industrial-noise approach, given it is based on rough and dank distortion, crumbling noise and a loose looped structure, which build in drawn out cyclic waves. A heavy echoed depth is also evident as is a speaker panning effect is also used for a greater degree of disorientation. To reference a specific track, ‘Seven Head and Ten Horns’  has a overblown feedback rumble, which starts to step into Sunn O))) territory, given it tonally sounds if a guitar is being used to create the distortion waves, whilst the slightly more structure loops of the final track ‘Revelation’ provide an subdued death industrial feel. Thus noting Cathal’s differing sonic approach showcased on both of these split tapes, this would be the pick and preference for my own sonic preferences and sensibilities.

Wilt – From Depths Profound And Inconceivable / A Daemonic Alteration

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Wilt – From Depths Profound And Inconceivable CD Fall of Nature 2015

Wilt – A Daemonic Alteration MC Fall of Nature 2015

Wilt are a project I was vaguely aware of in the early 2000’s but dropped off my radar for whatever reason, but if remembering correctly the project focused on experimental dark ambient with a slightly noisier slant. From a quick look at their ‘Discogs’ listing Wilt have remained continually active since 1999 and over the last 15 years have been extremely active in fact, with in excess of 70 releases to their name. Here are two new releases from the project, issued at the same time, but on differing formats. On the aesthetic front, it appears the group have evolved towards a more occult focus as evidenced by both by titles and the darker, yawning, black noise tinged dark ambient sound.

‘From Depths Profound And Inconceivable’ features 14 tracks (between 3 and 7 minutes each), with nearly 70 minutes of music. Although all generally dark and brooding in sonic texture, there is a myriad of musical angles on display; some being staunchly dark ambient, whilst others having a doom drone frame of reference due to the use of guitars (both distorted and clean depending on the track). A crumbling, distorted rumble which underpins many pieces indicates a rougher edge to proceedings; yet depth and space is also evident within the drone framework, thus providing a broadly expansive and enveloping tone. Regarding particular tracks, ‘Buried Temples of Belial’ starts the album strongly with sampled Tibetan throat chanting, before the introduction of a heavy and prominent (slow plucked) atonally distorted guitar.  Although the introductory programmed synths on ‘Into the Sightless Vortex of the Unimaginable’ are rather uninspired and stock-standard; later the sound morphs positively to include a multitude of caustic and distorted layers (abstract guitars and overblown ritual singing bowl playing?). ‘Shadowed Souls Around A Blazing Alter’ represents a particularly doom drone focused piece, of rising /falling static riddled cyclic guitar waves while ‘An Ancient Circle of Monoliths’ is a great example of the ‘yawning abyss’ style of echoed abstract synth derived dark ambience (including mid-range static coursing through the centre of the composition). After a series of both noisy and subdued droning styled pieces, the final album track ‘Desolate Mountains’ provides a nice deviation with its dour interweaving acoustic guitars and distant rumbling backing.

Moving on to ‘A Daemonic Alteration’, it forms another complete album with 9 tracks in all, but with each being on the shorter side the overall play time is far less than the companion CD. The title track which opens the tape includes buried mechanised rhythms which intermingle with crumbling sub-orchestral drones, whereas organ dirge tones and treated abstract guitars are added to ‘Fallen’ as a slight deviation to the ambient drone framework.  The short piece ‘Some Nameless Thing’ is then cut from a darker hue, with its layers and heavier toned bedrock distortion which cyclically push towards a death industrial tone. Side B opens with ‘A Shadowed Portal’ which is far weightier and crushing than preceding material (blast furnace walls of industrial distortion and doom drone feedback), before the sustained and elongated quasi-orchestral drones of ‘An Abyss Of Seething Chaos And Cerulean Splendor’ take over. The final track ‘Winter Solstice Procession’ maudlin mood of slow manipulated choir like textures, sparse clanging elements and minimalist undercurrent plays out like a raison d’etre cast off (from the early days of the project), which although hardly original, nails this sound and tone with flair.

To directly compare the two releases, the cassette comes across as the more focused work whereas the CD plays out as a sprawling collection of individual pieces, yet each demonstrates interesting ideas through their blending of elements drawn from black ambient/ dark ambient spheres as well as smatterings of a doom drone sound, without necessarily being slavish to either of these genres.