Salford Electronics – Communique No.2

Salford Electronics – Communique No.2 CD Tesco Organsiation 2017

Now that The Grey Wolves have ceased activity, former member Dave Padbury will be continuing in solo guide under the Salford Electronics moniker. In then noting that Salford is a suburb of Manchester, UK it may be reasonable to assume this is where Dave resides and it has duly informed the project title.

Perhaps of note, this debut Salford Electronics album was released a couple of months before The Grey Wolves final album Exit Strategy (reviewed here). Now having had a chance to listen to both albums in detail, there appears to be clear conceptual linage between the two (and perhaps this observation better frames Exist Strategy as being an album strongly influenced by the current sonic mind sent of Dave as evidenced on Communique No.2). Likewise, with reference to the soundtrack/ soundscape style of Exit Strategy, this mood also threads through Communique No.2 albeit in a far more controlled and ambient guise. The promo blurb also draws such parallels given its description of: “Salford Electronics is the follow up to The Grey Wolves – Communique 2 is a perfect Interzone eternal night noise or neon rain-soaked stalker science fiction vibrations for would-be blade runners, A soundtrack to the hollow hours empty of sleep”. Although ultimately differing in sonic execution, Communique 2 and Exist Strategy are two albums which work rather well together, given they explore similar thematic territory, but with slightly differing sonic result.

Given that Communique No.2 spans 41 minutes across ten interlinking tracks, it is best taken as a complete musical work. As such it is an album that is darkly moody and which sonically articulates a dystopian malaise of the dead hours of night, where the atmospheric industrial-noise/ dark ambient  soundscapes slowly ooze forwards in a minimalistic and cinematic guise. Here darkly moody elongated drones mix with sparse washes of noise, buzzing distortion, semi-buried rhythmic elements, but all the while maintaining a controlled and minimalist tone. But not being of studio construction alone, Prestwich is constructed around dank urban field recordings, minimalist electronics pulses and semi-buried radio chatter. Yet to speak of differences, This Sickness positioned at the centre of the album differs from the bulk of the album given its programmed/ electronic rhythmic structure.

With the effective ‘non-existent’ album artwork giving no visual reference points, it functions to redirect all focus on the musical framework, which reveals a highly detailed work of dank minimalist atmospherics and interspersed with occasional moments of biting tensile sonics. The fact that such a strong solo project has emerged from the ashes The Grey Wolves should be welcomed news, and hopefully bodes well for more high caliber material being delivered by Dave Padbury via the Salford Electronics moniker. Recommended.

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The Grey Wolves – Exit Strategy

The Grey Wolves – Exit Strategy LP Tesco Organisation 2017

So here we are, 14 years on from the last official Grey Wolves album Division released in 2003. Being many years in the making, Exit Strategy has also been announced as the final album from this long standing and rather revered group, with its release also coinciding with their final live ‘action’ at Tesco Organisation’s 30th Anniversary show in Mannheim in October, 2017. So as the saying goes, “all good things must come to an end” – and end they have, but not before this ‘exist strategy’ was devised.

Having spent some time becoming acquainted with Exit Strategy, from the outset there is no way of getting around the fact that the sound of the album is not representative of what would typically be expected from The Grey Wolves. This comment is then made in full acknowledgement that the project has over their 30+ years of activity covered a diverse range of sounds, which has included: atmospheric dark ambient; murky industrial noise; and harsh power electronics. However much of the perception of Exist Strategy not sounding like The Grey Wolves comes down the general cleanliness of the sound and the clarity of the production.  This situation would then seem to be somewhat explained by the album’s liner notes that: “Exit Strategy was produced, mixed, mastered with additional audio and artwork by Jerome Nougaillon” (aka Propergol – and perhaps tellingly if Exist Strategy were played to me without being told who it was, chances are I would have said it sounded like the sharp and clinical approach employed by Propergol). So, although far from confirmed, I suspect that Jerome had a central role in the creation of this album, and this may have gone as far as being responsible for reworking and finalising a range of source material and/ or unfinished tracks from the group. Whether or not the truth on how the album was completed comes to light, remains to be seen.

To then speak of the album’s construction and flow, it is an instrumental and soundscape oriented in style and approach. A heavy dystopian mood and cinematic atmosphere permeates the album, where this perception is duly confirmed by the promo blub which states: “The soundtrack to an as yet unmade Hong Kong splatter movie. A seemingly endless march through cinematic urban decay. The original sound reduced to its basic structure through loops, repetition, distortion and other alienation techniques. it’s time to think about an Exit Strategy. The sodium orange hours of the city make you believe in the apocalypse”. Yet given the ‘soundtrack to a non-existent film’ format, there is also a conspicuous absence of the trademark vocals which are without doubt a sorely missed element. But to speak of specifics, the opening track In Our Time is a strong and tensile introduction based around pulsing textures, driving drones, a lone pounding ‘beat’ and mid-toned static shards. The Precinct then steps up a notch in urgency with a shuddering obliquely rhythmic framework with is further coupled with radio chatter for further cinematic effect. Another track worthy of individual mention is In Too Deep with it scattered sweeping textures and sparse programmed ‘Morse-code’ type rhythm.  Seizure then deviates completely from a recognized sound, given its hard pounding programmed beats and static blasts resembles a type of industrial techno along the lines of Alberich (and for this reason alone is likely to be the most divisive track on the album). In rounding out the album Flatline uses a prominent movie dialogue sample of Samuel L Jackson, and while for me personally it negatively jars the overarching mood and would have been better excluded altogether, thankfully it is used only once and not repeated (as often dialogue samples tend to be in this type of music). Sonically speaking this track is a tensile blend of jarring (digital?) noise, sporadically rhythmic outbreaks and doom addled atmospheric drones.

Although this review may on face value appear to be overly critical, such commentary should be taken more as observations which highlight the clear differences between initial expectation and the actual reality of the final The Grey Wolves album. Ultimately Exist Strategy IS a strong and enjoyable album in its own right, but can only be acknowledged after getting over the initial expectations of what you may want it to be. So, if you are able to divorce yourself from expectations that this album should be something like The Grey Wolves’ magnum opus, and instead simply approach it for what it is, some excellent material awaits and functions as a sort of unexpected addendum to their established and celebrated legacy.

Tusen Ar Under Jord – Sandhavens Genklang

Tusen Ar Under Jord – Sandhavens Genklang LP Verlautbarung 2017

Although I was previously aware of this mysterious Swedish project, I have not had an opportunity to hear them until now, which was basically due to not being able to track down a copy of their limited debut tape.

Given the debut tape Sorgsendömet Fobos from 2013 was described as one which “transcends the border lines between drone, ambient and dark echoes of the past”, this follow up LP is noted to be a different beast altogether. Sonically speaking Sandhavens Genklang is rooted in a ‘exotic’ middle eastern sound, where it would appear this album is constructed from sampling and looping fragments of old and forgotten records which were otherwise reconciled to the dustbin of history. In resurrecting fragments of those sampled records, the music is mostly framed around prominent elements of hypnotic tabla percussion, melodious woodwinds, bowed traditional string instruments, wailing horns and tribal chimes, which generates an atmosphere of a dusty and bustling market place in some unnamed city in ancient times. The sampling of old records also means the finished recording contains prominent ‘artifacts’ of hiss, pop and crackle which adds to the sonic allure and general sense of sonic mystery and sets the tone far form being modern digitally produced recording.  On the visual front, the cover also exudes an exotic flavour, with the project name and title printed on a piece of cloth affixed to the cover, along with a postcard featuring a drawing of the pyramids of Giza and what may just be a UFO hovering above.

Essentially the strength of this release is it completely transcends any genre confines and thereby completely skews associated expectations to reside in its own musical sphere. Although being a highly atmospheric recording, equally it is not overtly ‘dark’ in mood, but does contain a quite uniquely exotic vibe and aura which will appeal to the sonically curious who are looking for something divergent from the usual underground ilk. Recommended.

Red Wine and Sugar – Dogs, Blood, Storms, Spiders

Red Wine and Sugar – Dogs, Blood, Storms, Spiders LP Index Clean 2017

Dogs, Blood, Storms, Spiders arrives as the formal debut album of Red Wine and Sugar, which following 2016’s compilation CD Chattels + The Confidence and Humour of John (reviewed here). Although earlier material was clearly experimental in approach, this album sees a greater reliance on minimalism and abstraction. Likewise with the Discogs ‘style tags’ listing: ‘musique concrète, ‘experimental’, ‘spoken word’ and ‘sound collage’, it provides further confirmation of this perception.

With the musical framework being abstract and minimal, it is primarily constructed around pulsing textures, wavering tones and further intertwined with various field recording fragments (with detectable elements including: incidental street noise; a broom sweeping concrete; wood wind-chimes; and environmental elements such as birds, crickets, frogs, rain etc.). Coupled with the sonics are the slightly twisted/ treated spoken vocals, which generate an unnerving effect based on their deadpan delivery. Lyrically it continues the established pattern of addressing and describing a range of personalized anxiety based scenarios and internalized dialogue/ observations (while some sections feels to have been quoted from a psychological therapy type manual).

To speak of specific tracks, Entering a Room When Others Area Already Seated sonically engenders a sullen and haunted atmosphere, which is derived from is discrete piano melody and abstract and minimalist strings (cello perhaps?).  View of the Room Darkened differs given it commences with a series of sparse organ styled synth stabs (and has a more surreal edge due to the greater twisted sonic treatment of the vocals), before shifting pace with moody minimalist sub-orchestral type phrase. For the final of the five tracks, Wherever You Go, Make it so You Were Barely Ever There is the most sonically active, being based around lots of up-close micro-tonal elements and contact mic’ed recordings, while the backing structure is a dour ‘sci-fi’ synth line and minimalist atonal beat.

Whilst noting its heavily experimental preoccupations, the album also contains a dark sonic streak which functions to tie together the overall mood.  To also mention its graphic presentation, interestingly it has been designed to include all lyrics thus it results in having more of the appearance of a printed inner-sleeve (and therefore immediately skews any initial expectations). Constituting a different and distinct release, this is also a recommended one.

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.

Aeoga – Obsidian Outlander

Aeoga – Obsidian Outlander CD Aural Hypnox 2017

Along with Halo Manash, Aoega are one of the original projects to be first released on Aural Hypnox back in 2004. Obsidian Outlander is their fourth album and comes three years on from 2014’s Temple Treye release (reviewed here).  While earlier Aeoga output is categorised by the focus on prominent percussive and ritual elements in combination with forcefully driving drones, Obsidian Outlander has a slightly less of an overt ritual bent and has more of an affinity to minimalistic dark ambient/ drone (…and perhaps of the likes of Troum). Although this minor identified deviation of sound might be ‘splitting hairs’ over current sound and direction, yet nonetheless is an impression which has remained during the review process.

Initiatory Boil opens the album and is a track of rattling percussive implements and loose rolling floor tom drumming which underpin an ethereal melody, while the following Rot Magnetism is far sparser with its deep bass addled drone and organ style melody (…and includes what may or may not be treated vocal chants).  The pairing of the two rather short tracks The Black Loom and Obsidian Towering sit at the centre of the album, where each contain the feel of a live recording and therefore perhaps sits more towards the overt ritual sound of earlier works (…the first with its cavernous floor tom percussion, sweeping ritual vocals and sparse synth elements, and the second being a minimalist and predominantly based around layered vocal hums and chants). As for the title track features as a lush but ominous drone-scape, which is orchestrally tinged and completed with ethereal disembodied vocals, which builds and swells as the piece progresses (…and easily the album standout). Rounding out the album is The Sublime Canvas and again sits squared within a droning dark ambient frame of reference, but also includes a prominent discordant organ element which builds to a number of imposing crescendos throughout.

With only 6 tracks covering 30 minutes of music, the slow pacing certainly draws you in, but then concludes far too soon given the run-time is more of an EP length than a full album (…and this alone impacts on the degree of aural immersion to be achieved).  But run time aside, as with pretty much all material issues by Aural Hypnox, this is strong and very enjoyable ritual dark ambient/ drone album. Available on both CD and vinyl, which incidentally is the first vinyl release for the label, and both featuring beautifully screen printed artwork and inserts.

Anima Nostra – Atraments

Anima Nostra – Atraments CD Malignant Records 2017
The collaborative duo of Henrik ‘Nordvargr’ Bjorkk and Margaux Renaudin have returned and in building upon 2016’s album ‘Anima Nostra’, that title has now been adopted as the as the moniker for the project’s continuation. Although taking clear cues from the debut (reviewed here), this sophomore album demonstrates a refinement and streamlining of musical approach. While also broadly drawing influence from the multi-faceted approaches of Nordvargr over his career to date, the involvement with Margaux Renaudin allows the music to chart new stylistic territory.

Rooted in the post-industrial crossroads of dark ambient, black industrial and neo-classical, ‘Atraments’ is still more varied and complex than those genre tags might suggest. Being musically focused and almost soundtrack in stylistic orientation, Anima Nostra’s compositions are darkly cinematic in scope. Driving martial percussion and slow distorted guitars loom large on selected tracks, which clearly nods to influence from blackened, doom-drone spheres. Yet these ‘band’ instruments are wielded in an heavily abstracted way, where the music never sounds like an actual ‘band’ (…and thankfully avoids any feel of constituting a metal pastiche, or a dreaded industrial/metal hybrid). Further textural variation comes in the ritualised elements such as gongs, chimes, meditative chants, choral chanting samples and treated vocal proclamations, which are combined with shrill strings, drawling brass horns and organ dirges which all woven together into a dense post-industrial sonic tapestry.

During a couple of moments a comparison with Trepaneringsritualen comes to mind, particularly given the use of gruff yelled/ sung vocals and rhythmic/ tribal styled framework (…such as is found on ‘Anima Nostra’ and the final cut ‘The Seal’, but within the context of this album the sound is more polished and refined). For further comparative purposes ‘Atraments’ also sits within the same general sonic sphere as late era Mz.412, yet the sound charts its own individualistic direction, with is powerful atmosphere articulating its own form of grim esoteric spirituality. Despite the sheer number of albums Nordvargr has been involved with over the decades, this is yet another album and project which has struck gold, thus making Nordvargr and Margaux Renaudin akin to modern day sonic alchemists. Recommended.