Sutcliffe Jugend – Relentless

Sutcliffe Jugend – Relentless 4xCD Death Continues 2019

Sutcliffe Jugend (SJ) have been on quite the creative run over the last thirteen years since their reactivation in 2006. During that time the group have not shied away from producing extended length releases, which has included the massive six CD set SLAVES (2016), and the double CD album The Hunger (2018). But now the end of the road has been reached, and evidently the project has come to an end, as prior to release of Relentless it was announced that SJ were no more and that this four CD set was their final statement. The title then constitutes a very succinct description of what to expect across its significant runtime.

In noting the stylistic arc of the group over recent albums, this album both aligns with and builds upon the of wider sonic experimentation of recent years. This means there is plenty of material of the partially structured industrial/power electronics, or loose guitar driven pieces resembling SJ’s take on noise-rock/doom-drone, but both approaches which are further complimented with visceral vocals with their strong psychoanalytical slant. Likewise, there is plenty of material of a more experimental and creatively divergent bent, which includes Bludgeoned (I am the one) (CD1), with an almost martial industrial feel like early In Slaughter Natives, given its clanging/ pounding framework and blaring sub-orchestral synths, yet the wailed and unhinged vocals sets it clearly within the SJ camp. Equally the wonky but controlled pulsing electronics and semi-crooned vocals of Worm (This Is The Rest Of Your Life) (CD1) stands apart given its muted melodious construct, but gradually becomes completely unhinged as the track progresses. A prominent spoken work narrative features on Pavlov’s Dog (The Artists Dilemma) (CD2), set against caustic throb and churning distortion, while the following track Different (I am a slave) (CD2) forms a minimalist tensile drone-scape with whispered vocals.

On a whole CD3 brings together a series of more minimal and subdued tracks where tone and tension take precedence over volume and harshness. The God (who craved his own death) (CD3), rates a mention with its shimmering, droning soundscape of melodious hum/chanted vocals which builds to muted noise squalls towards its end, while Scars (CD3) features minimalist micro-tonal tones, whispered vocals and loose plodding bass, while elevating tension is created though a myriad of wonky electronics. After the partial respite of CD3, the following CD4 ups the aggression again with a collection of looser and harsher PE driven tracks which arc back to a more ferocious era of the project (refer to Unleash the Fury, Violence and Stripped as key examples). Yet even so there are further surprises, such as the spoken narrative of Domestic, with its needling mid-toned electronics and sparse abstracted piano motif, and Endurance (in a world of pain), with its fast pulsing rhythmic electronics and unhinged distortion blended vocals.

Not to be content with the four main CDs, there is yet another album’s worth of material, available as a limited download card with the first 100 copies of the album. This bonus material is an effective addendum and continuation of the main collection of tracks, but perhaps siting towards the soundscape and rhythmically experimental end of SJ’s current sound. On the final track Poison (an ending), it is then a quite fitting conclusion to the entire release, being a in a dour and moody contemporary classically style, where a minimalist strings quartet and low spoken vocals characterize proceedings.

Given the massive expanse of material featured, the sheer diversity and length of Relentless is quite a thing to behold. In recent years other projects have opted for much longer releases, and with the most-high profile being Prurient’s extended album Rainbow Mirror (spanning 7 LP’s or 3CD’s). For comparative sakes, while Rainbow Mirror contains a range and engaging and sonically interesting passages, when taken in totality it never fully captured my full attention for the entirety of its duration. Yet to then refer this back to Relentless, it is significantly longer release than Rainbow Mirror, but has no difficultly in maintaining focus and interest over its substantial runtime. Perhaps Relentless won’t change your mind if the recent run of albums have not been to your liking, but for those who have been following SJ’s creative decade plus journey, Relentless is a very fitting final statement.

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Feberdröm – Blind Eden / Offerlammet

Feberdröm – Blind Eden MC Emesis 2018

Feberdröm – Offerlammet MC Emesis 2018

The Swedish project Feberdröm (translating to ‘fever-dream’) have been lurking around in the post-industrial underground since 2011 and amassed fifteen releases in that time (mostly issued on cassette). Emesis is then noted to be run by the same person behind Feberdröm, with these two tapes being the first items issued on the label. On the musical front Feberdröm are slightly difficult to classify, given they draw from a wide cross-section of underground sounds, including: industrial noise, abstracted rhythmic/ ritual movements, caustic heavy electronics, experimental guitar drone and other more ethereal atmospheres. But perhaps a descriptor of ‘abrasive ambient’ is a suitable catch all.

Blind Eden is then characteristic of this wide stylistic palette, where the track Blind Eden Falls is a particularly good example of moody droning atmospheres, abrasive textures and agonized ranted vocals. Likewise, the stilled rhythmic elements as featured on Death Of A Snake warrants a fleeting comparison to another Swedish project Stratvm Terror. Incinerators opens side B and mines a heavy electronics tone, as does the grindingly morose Concrete Apocalypse, while The Deed is Done rounds out the tape with sub-orchestral synth pads and a generally ethereal mood. On a whole Offerlammet is slightly less varied than Blind Eden, although there are abstract noise-scapes sitting adjacent to other tracks of programmed drums and atonal guitar drone. In fact Offerlammet is characterized by its greater reliance on guitar which is wielded in an experimental fashion than anything resembling standard playing, therefore resembles a doom-drones style at times – albeit without obvious riffs.

Given both tapes feature eight tracks each and both span 40 minutes, as a general comment I would say there are some excellent tracks which sit alongside more standard or typical ones. Thus perhaps then with a more focused and discerning track selection, it would take the material in a step up towards greatness. But even with that said, there is a lot to enjoy here and certainly nothing that it poor or woeful. Also for my own personal preferences, I find tracks which use abstracted guitars to be less engaging overall, which makes Blind Eden my pick of these two tapes. In noting the above, I imagine Feberdröm are a project to keep a watchful eye on.

Sutcliffe Jugend – The Hunger

Sutcliffe Jugend – The Hunger 2xCD Death Continues 2018

Over the past twelve years Sutcliffe Jugend – the duo of Kevin Tomkins and Paul Taylor – have been rather productive and issued 20 releases in that time-frame. Specifically 2006 appears to be the particular point in time when the project was reactivated, following a five year gap from 1999’s viscerally direct The Victim As Beauty album, while also shifting towards wider sonic experimentation. Although today’s version Sutcliffe Jugend is a very different beast from the sonic brutality issued during the initial 1980’s phase, they have remained a power electronics act at heart and in overall attitude. But in forging new paths by dialing down on the all-out sonic assault and seeking out far more diverse sonic treatments and stylistic experimentation, this approach is in full display on this sprawling double CD.

On the early album track The Mute Shall Speak, the crisp digital noise squalls is perhaps partially reminiscent of later era Whitehouse, while Sehnusucht features a stuttering fast paced rhythmic programming coupled with jagged digital shards stabbing at the ears from the background. This track is also noteworthy as it demonstrates the vocals of Kevin Tomkins being in a strong trademark style, which are delivered in a drawling semi whispered rant which on occasion steps up to being half sung and half screamed. Lyrically the album is noted to be densely rendered, which have a particular psychoanalytical bent in various description of the power dynamic in personal relationships; first person internalised dialogue; and at times ‘stream of conciseness’ narration. Yet Cause comes as the first major surprise by featuring a ‘doom jazz’ sound of minimalist piano and double bass (and consequently wholly reminiscent of Bohren & Der House of Gore), yet further augmented with spoken vocals and swathes of minimalist backing distortion. But not to stop there, the sonic surprises just keep on coming, where Crushed delivers pump organ, synth drones, sparse xylophone and meditative spoken vocals, and Unashamed with its quirky programmed electronica. From there the rest of the first CD deviates through musique concrète (Dissonance); maudlin piano melody and abstracted strings (Angels Flying Into The Burning Gates of Hell); emotive sub-orchestral drones (A Room Full of Knives and Eulogy); while the closing track The Pain Will Take Everything Away is a doom drone oriented work with treated ethereal female vocals and moody bowed cello etc.

The second CD delivers a further ten tracks spanning an hour which builds upon the wide frame of experimentation of the first disc. The Lost is built around misfiring digital noise and a rabid vocal attack, but is quickly offset by the moody and contemplative Authors Note of sonically over-processed synth line. Blindfold charts more abstracted sounds and half formed melodies which at times verges on musique concrète, while the loose guitars of Dancehall Etiquette evokes the sound of noise rock (minus drums). Perhaps the only major misstep of the entire two CD set is All I have Forgotten, which sounds to be based on improvised abstracted piano and accompany cello, but sonically the tinkling piano awkwardly jars the prevailing album atmosphere. As for the title track, this arrives as a 15 minute monster of sprawling yet tensile shifting bass drones sub-orchestral elements, as the spoken vocals gradually ramp up in aggression to match the upward trajectory of the choppy and chaotic digital noise. As for the final album cut My Crumbling Walls, it is an instrumental offering it is quite cinematically toned with its building string orchestral elements, which build and recede in intensity.

Apart from the 2xCD version, there is a special bonus third digital album, recorded at the same time at The Hunger. Featuring 6 tracks across 50 minutes, this bonus album is limited to 100 by virtue of only being available via plastic business card sized plastic download card. On a whole the bonus album is more subdued overall, by broadly opting for a series of tensile sub-orchestral droning tracks, where vocals do not rise above a narrative whisper.

Given that 2016’s Offal and 2017’s Shame (reviewed here) were albums with a more singular sound and musical vision, The Hunger stands out by the sheer diversity displayed, and consequently is a far stronger album for it. Likewise, while unhinged aggression is an underpinning element of The Hunger, this is more a case of being implied through tonal tension and lyrical phrasing, rather than actual sonic execution. As an album issued so far into Sutcliffe Jugend’s extensive discography, The Hunger is an extremely well executed and sonically diverse collection of tracks, where it seems there is no shortage of musical and lyrical ideas, nor any sense of slowing down from the Sutcliffe Jugend camp. Recommended.

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.

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.