Phurpa ‎– Chöd Ritual / Grotta Santarcangelo

Phurpa Chöd Ritual / Grotta Santarcangelo CD Old Europa Café 2017

Phurpa has been a rising name in the underground in recent years, which is somewhat expected given their distinct sound and approach which effectively sees this Russian group performing Bon ritual music in a Tibetan Buddhist tradition. Primarily based around chanted vocals of a Tibetan throat singing style, this is mixed with an array of abstracted and minimal traditional ritual instrumentation including horns, cymbals and various percussive implements. Having previously heard a couple of albums from the group, I was then surprised to discover that they now have 26 releases to their name which have been issued over the past decade. Although I have not been able to confirm it, I have an impression that the majority (if not all) of these releases are straight recordings of live performances, rather than studio albums.

On Chöd Ritual / Grotta Santarcangelo the album features a single track spanning close to 80 minutes, and which displays the sonic hallmarks of being a direct recording of one of Phurpa’s live rituals. Sparse percussive sounds provide a droning introduction to the album, before the low guttural throat singing chants arrive full force at around the two-minute mark, and by this stage the catatonic pacing of the vocal driven soundscapes has been firmly set. On occasion the mood elevates to crashing crescendos of cymbals, deep drawling horns, higher pitched atonal wailing thighbone trumpets and a general subterranean percussive thrum, where structurally these instrumentation driven passages are used to bridge and interlink the sections of the cavernous throat chanted vocals.

Having heard this album, in comparison to the others I have also heard, they are noted to be broadly in the same sonic palate and style, where it raises the question of whether you need to hear more than a couple of albums to gain a decent appreciation of what the collective is about. Personally I have enjoyed the experience of becoming acquainted with Phurpha’s atypical musical style and approach, but equally I perhaps don’t anticipate myself regularly revisiting these albums either. I also suspect that there is a far greater inherent power in being able to hear and experience Phurpa’s music in a live ritual setting, where an element of its sonic impact is likely to be lost in the recorded album format. Whether or not I get the opportunity to see the group perform live remains to be seen, but albums such these album’s do at least provide an opportunity to experience the ritual works of Phurpa.


Mz.412 Vs Folkstorm ‎– Live Ceremony

Mz.412 Vs Folkstorm Live Ceremony CD Old Europa Café 2015

With Mz.412 having infrequently graced the stage over the years, it was way back in 2000 (18th August) when two of the three members (i.e. Henrik Nordvargr Björkk and Jouni ‘Ulvtharm’ Ollila) teamed up to perform at the Collapse festival in Rostock, Germany. Being billed as Mz.412 vs Folkstorm at the time, this goes partway to explain the harder and harsher elements of this recording which incidentally was previously issued via Pagan Dance in 2004 in a limited edition of 412 copies. This has now been reissued by Old Europa Café with new artwork and the inclusion of additional bonus tracks not included on the original version.

Having previous heard the Mz.412 live album Hekatomb (recorded at Cold Spring’s 21st Anniversary show at The Garage, London, 5 March 2011 – reviewed here), that recording illustrated a more refined presentation of their existing studio works in a live setting. However on Live Ceremony, the recording is a far rougher sonic affair which would seem to reflect an approach of only partially relying pre-recorded segments of music, in order to focus on the live generation of distortion and feedback. Without the inclusion of actual track names, the seven live tracks have been referred at as Act I through Act VII. But by way of example, Act I includes a short fragment of the classic track God of Fifty Names which cuts through live scattered noise, while an additional dialogue sample more thematically aligned with Folkstorm. Vocals are also present in the live setting, but which are heavily treated and again reflect the Folkstorm angle to the live proceedings. As with Act I, a number of recognizable snippets of studio works are used over the seven live tracks, such as on Act III when Der Kampf Geht Weiter from Nordic Battle Signs is blended with the introduction of Deklaration Of Holy War from Burning the Temple of God. But these recognisable fragments of albums function as short interludes which bridge the live sections of loose distorted noise and on occasion tribal/ ritual rhythmic movements, while he final short Act VII relies on sample of a Penderecki styled choral work to conclude the set.

As for the bonus tracks, the two Folkstorm tracks are solid examples of the spitting noise and raw militant industrial meets power electronics material that the project was producing in the early 2000’s. However perhaps of greater interest are the two-short bonus Mz.412, where there is no indication as to which era these are derived from (although Nordvargr later confirmed these are from around 2006/07).  Mors Solum Initium Est is the first of the bonus offerings and is a darkly ritualistic affair with a deeply cavernous atmosphere, rattling metallic tones and distant wailing textures, and perhaps more reminiscent of early Archon Satani than typically Mz.412 – but an excellent track all the same. Congregation of the Abyss follows to round out the album and slightly differs given its focus on intensive multi-layered garbled to guttural roaring vocals and sweeping sub-orchestral undercurrent, which overall is a replication of the sound of the Domine Rex Inferum album and another decent track.

Being a generally loose, and at time chaotic live recording, this is a worthwhile document of the live performance, but perhaps not an essential release in Mz.412’s discography. But even in saying that, the inclusion of the two bonus Mz.412 tracks gives clear incentive to track this down.

Arktau Eos ‎– Catacomb Resonator

Arktau Eos Catacomb Resonator CD Aural Hypnox 2017

By way of background, the Finnish duo of Arktau Eos released their first three albums via Aural Hypnox label between 2006 and 2009, while the fourth and fifth albums were then simultaneously issued on Svart Records in 2012. Now after a 5 years absence Arktau Eos have returned with new material and again issued via Aural Hypnox, and although Catacomb Resonator is billed as the new ‘album’, in reality it features only a single track of 37 minutes in length.

Although all projects on the Aural Hypnox label can be broadly slotted under the ritual/drone/dark ambient categories, in the past Arktau Eos have displayed a greater degree of musicality and instrumentation than other roster artists, which on early albums made compositions feels to be more akin ‘songs’ than sonic ‘movements’. Yet that established approach has been forgone on Catacomb Resonator, given it has opted for a sprawling drone and vocal chant oriented framework. As I understand it, this album is a predominantly a vocal based work, where this both provides the focus and source material which has been subject of additional treatment and coupled with a minimalist backing of electronics (‘archaic bells’ are also noted on the cover as a sound input, but these are not individually detectable).

The use of word ‘catacomb’ within the title perhaps gives an immediate clue to the tonal depth and sonic reverb employed, which allows low deep chants to rise from the depth to central prominence, to then cyclically fall away only to rise and build again. Those vocal elements are then counterpointed by spartan synth elements which follows the same cyclic rise/ fall pattern.  Vocally speaking the chants do not appear to be articulating specific words or lyrics, and given the applied sonic treatments they resemble a drone ambient element. Likewise given the meditative and catatonic pacing of the track, it is very much a dark and minimalist sound you have to immerse yourself in to get the most out of it.

For me personally, I already have established favorite releases from the group which includes Mirrorion, as well as the sprawling double album Ai Ma Ra.  While for me Catacomb Resonator does not surpass either of those releases, this says more of its deviating approach than any sort of lack of quality, as regardless of my personal preferences all Arktau Eos releases to date have been of excellent quality (this included). Presentation wise Catacomb Resonator has been issued on both CD with screen printed foldout 7”ep sized cover, and on LP in two colour variations for the screen printed sleeve.

Atomine Elektrine – The Second Moon

Atomine Elektrine – The Second Moon CD Old Europa Café 2017

Operating since the mid 1990’s, Atomine Elektrine is perhaps Peter Andersson’s most well-known and recognized side project of raison d’être.  The Second Moon is the new and sixth full length album, if not including demo collections and live material which have also been formally released on CD.

With the project name being the Lithuanian word for ‘nuclear power plant’, there has always been and ‘Eastern Bloc’ angle to the sound and approach of the project, where it could also be suggested that the deep space elements and melodic passages sonically articulate the space program era of the Soviet Union. To then quickly speak of context, personally the project hit an absolute high mark with their second album Archimetrical Universe from 1999, which perfectly blended abstract deep space movements with more melodious compositions and occasionally beat driven programming. While the albums which followed experimented with this template, more often than not the abstracted and experimental elements took greater focus, but did not archive the same sonic coherence of Archimetrical Universe (although it must be said that none of the following albums could be considered lackluster or poor in quality by any means).

As a general observation The Second Moon builds on the template of 2015’s Laniakea album, which was framed around sparse and floating deep space drones, which are augmented with looping musical phrases which gives a nod to 1970’s era cosmic space synth music of Tangerine Dream and the like. Yet on this new album there feels to be a greater degree of cohesion and focus to the combination of the deep space drones and pulsing melodious elements. Structurally the album has a drifting and enveloping quality, where the drones and melodies elevate in intensity, to then recede again and build anew, which makes it an album length experience, rather than one focusing on individual musical pieces (featuring only five track, it still has an expansive run time given the shortest track is eight minutes and the longest twenty minutes in length).

Although I have followed and enjoyed all of Atomine Elektrine’s outputs over the years, equally I have found The Second Moon to be one of the most listened to of the last few albums, which is predominantly down to its refinement and balancing of its sonically abstracted and melodious parts. A cleanly designed, 4 panel digi-pack rounds out the presentation.

Raison D’etre/ Troum – XIBIPIIO. In And Out Of Experience

Raison D’etre/ Troum – XIBIPIIO. In And Out Of Experience CD Transgredient Records 2017

To speak of this collaboration between Troum and Raison D’etre, surely at this point they do not require any sort of detailed introduction. This is their second collaboration CD following De Aeris In Sublunaria Influxu from 2015 and evidently will include a third as part of a trilogy. Having heard the first collaboration, it can be regarded a decent album overall, but a general observation to be made is that it does not really amplify individual strengths, rather tends to reduce them into a more ‘typical’ dark ambient/ drone album. This however is not the case the with XIBIPIIO. In And Out Of Experience, which accordingly to sleeve notes is: “A creation of 9 separate “worlds”, existing only at the moment you immerse into it”. Certainly this is a very succinct way to describe the key strength of this album.

Obviously in approaching this as a collection of individual tracks or musical vignettes, the opening drone oriented track In den Wellen, ein Sehnen demonstrates a greater degree of drive and sonic animation than the first CD.  This sense of drive and movement continues with The Machine Starts to Sign, which features a looped and heavily tribal percussive thrum set against roiling background drones. Also of interest, selected tracks lean more heavily to one or the other projects individual sound, such as on Eigi Einhamr, where the sweepingly bitter-sweet drone-scape is more typical to Troum’s influence, while others such as Hang’-E-Lah has the detectable bleak melancholic edge and contact-mic metallic timbres are more typical of current era Raison D’etre. Dreiklang Aus Äther then charts a careful mid-point between the sound of both projects, including the lush swelling drones of Troum and the sacral ambient elements of Raison D’etre (including sampled and treated choir styled vocals). Late album track Expulsion of the False Self is another sonically animated piece featuring a driving looped bass rhythm, wailing type horn elements and swelling forceful drones and even an accordion thrown in for good measure!

Overall I have found this second collaboration CD from Troum and Raison D’etre to be more immediate in its impact and also perhaps aligns more closely to what I would have hoped or expected from a collaboration between these two heavyweight of the dark ambient and drone underground. While drawing from the sonic palate of both projects, here it amounts to something much more than ‘just’ a merging of their individual sound and approach. The stunningly detailed and multi-layered artwork of the 6-panel digi-pack rounds out the presentation of this very much enjoyed album.

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.

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.