S.E.T.I. – The Sphere Of Density 2CD Zoharum 2020
Andrew Lagowski’s long-standing project continues to forge ahead with his now trademark deep space focused drone/dark ambient musings. For this recent release it features an album of new studio material, in addition to a live recording from the 2019 Wroclaw Industrial Festival.
For the studio material, it is characterised by galactic scale drifting drones, and with only five tracks spanning 114 minutes, it gives a clear hint at the slow pacing and evolution of The Sphere Of Density. Coupled with the monolithic widescreen drones are the tasteful use of sparsely melodious synths provide a hint of musicality and on occasion rise towards a tonal level which provides an oblique nod to the early Berlin school sound. Also of note, while the swelling melodious progressions are of a particular minor key scale, they are not overtly dark, rather contemplative and drifting in atmosphere. Sparse ‘alien-esque’ rhythmic phrases also appear on occasion but are subtle and unobtrusive while functionally adding an enigmatic mood. Yet the final track 11th Dimension stands out from the rest, with the inclusion of transmission signals and scattered radio chatter against a heavier and more forceful cosmic churn.
The live recording on the second disc was evidently based on improvisation and consequently differs from the studio material. Although the sonic undercurrent is still drone-ambient in flavour, the overall execution is slightly more post-industrial tinged, where tonal slashes, sonic shards and mechanised rhythmic whir variously interjects over the singular 40-minute span. The end result is both a sonically strong and enjoyable, but also mostly feels to be a bonus disc rather than equal half to the studio album.
Perhaps as an overall observation, Andrew has released pinnacle-level material for literally decades now, which makes it all the more difficult to stand out against his own discography. Yet sidestepping such a suggestion of Andrew needing to complete with himself, simply put The Sphere Of Density is yet another superb stellar sonic journey, where the vastness of deep space slowly unfurls within the inner mind’s eye. Six-panel digipack with exquisite graphic design rounds out the presentation of an excellent release.
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 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.
Tehôm – Phobos CD Zoharum 2021
Tehôm is an old name for me, being a late-1990s project who recorded two decent ritual dark ambient albums prior the untimely death of sole member Siniša Očuršćak. With Miljenko Rajaković having assisted with some recording elements on 2000’s post-humous album Theriomorphic Spirits, he then decided to reactivate the project in 2010 as a tribute to Siniša. While I note a number of Tehôm albums have been issued since the project’s reactivation they have passed me by, so I have picked up the thread again with this recent release. As vaguely alluded to by the title, this is a live recording of Tehôm’s performance at the 2019 Phobos Festival (Wuppertal, Germany).
As with the earliest phase of the project, Phobos inhabits ritual dark ambient spheres. Thus earthen drones, guttural horns, and archaic ritualised sounds abound across the eight untitled interlinking movements. Pacing as expected is catatonically slow, wherein the most part deep percussive thuds function to articulate elemental forces rather than resembling human-derived rhythms, although a passage of tribal driven beat does appear in the latter half of the album. Additionally, moody orchestral-toned drones provide a melodious edge, while a human element sporadically comes to the fore with intense non-lyrical vocal chants.
At a shade over 40 minutes, the album is not a lengthy one by any measure but packs an impact in that runtime all the same. Likewise with the bulk and heft of the recording, and to further mention the detailed and forceful production, clearly this is a professional soundboard recording that has benefited from further mastering treatment. A six-panel digipack with suitable imagery rounds out the physical presentation of a very enjoyable release.
Dead Boomers – Aspen Liberals CD Cipher Productions 2022
Dead Boomers – an Australian duo of Leith Thomas and Mark Groves – may be (‘cough’) dead, but Aspen Liberals functions as a compilation to collect together a selection of material from 2015-2020. This includes previously released tracks and others issued for the first time here. But prior to getting into the details of the release, to my mind, Dead Boomers always had a uniquely Australian edge. With the snide slang of the project’s chosen name (which incidentally pre-dates the ‘OK Boomer’ phrase by a decade), thematically the project has then been concerned with localised societal themes which sardonically address: the housing market; financial/banking systems; the wealthy upper-class; the ruling conservative political party (the ‘Liberals’); and the broader societal influence and interests of the ‘baby boomer’ generation. It is this approach I have found strongly satisfying, which contained serious observations and on occasion humorously deadpan commentary, which is far removed from more typical themes within the post-industrial underground.
As a general observation the overt and unhinged aggression of some of the earlier output (such as strongly displayed on the debut album The Pig In the Python), has been dialed down a few notches. This then functions to put the controlled method of sonic composition clearly on display. Despite the material on Aspen Liberals being culled from numerous recording sessions, it hangs together surprisingly well and spans a number of composed power electronics cuts, and a larger number of subdued, experimental spoken word and post-industrial soundscapes. With regard to the power electronics focus, Half Windsor and Escorted from the Building are both anthemic standouts with their rhythmic fist-pumping pulse, scrabbling scrap metal noise, and raw spat vocals. A Gentle Occasion is also of a power electronics frame of reference and uses simplistic structures of maximum effect, with a mid-paced pulse, minimalist noise and gruff bellowed voice. Yet in opposition to these focused tracks, other cuts like Afternoon Film Club focus on post-industrial soundscapes of rumble and echo, while the deadpan spoken vocals provide a detached observational commentary. The spoken word and almost musique concrete backing of Annual Rite perhaps leans towards some of Mark’s separate recorded works, while Place of the Pink Seashells has a tensile creeping atmosphere based around sustained drones and (perhaps?) atonal piano note. The album is rounded out with the monolithic 28-minute title track, which charts numerous segments across its span, including: unhinged clawing distortion; tensile drones; sparse experimental soundscapes; processed field recordings; spoken word narrative, and media reporting sampling.
The full-colour dig-pack and printed booklet functions to further illustrate the atypical approach of Dead Boomers within the underground, while full lyrics and notes on the meaning behind the title are included for suitable context. Given Aspen Liberals appears to be a swansong release, it is an excellent final document of the later era of the project and absolutely worthy of your attention even if you have not checked out Dead Boomers earlier.
Altar of Flies – Signaler CD Chondritic Sounds 2021
Altar of Flies is the long-running project of Swede Mattias Gustafsson, where I am personally more aware of the project by name and reputation than being familiar with the bulk of his rather imposing back catalogue. But of the handful of albums I have obtained, the general approach slots into a particular style of Swedish tape and electronics experimentation: meaning it is infused with a darker sonic hue than typical experimental fare. This new album was recorded in 2020 and spans five tracks in just over 40 minutes.
From the opening moments, a vein of darkly Nordic sounds abound, and where dour and deep rumbling textures blend with a variety of ‘concrète’ sonics which sporadically interject and duly falls away. The overarching tone then spans both bright and muffled sonics, while the creaking metallics and detailed tonal bluster provides for focused listening. Likewise, in rapidly shifting from forceful peaks of metallic tones to subtle and minimalist troughs, this functions to strongly accentuate the calmer moments. Various raw field recording elements also seem to feature, such as a steel tank being dragged over concrete to name just one, while other sonics elements then give the vague impression of arcing electricity, as well as the sound of archaic misfiring machinery in their death throes (as mechanical fluid leaks in random spurts onto the factory floor).
In a general atmospheric sense one track blends into the next, and most importantly it maintains focused interest over its run time. This is achieved by generating many fleeting mind’s eye visions, which could be creatively described as: being the depth of winter traipsing through an abandoned and derelict factory complex, where drifting snow is being blown in through the shattered windowpanes by the winter storm blustering outside. A four-panel digipack adored with bleakly abstracted imagery rounds out the physical presentation.
Blind Ruler Cursed Land – Chrysantheme Delirium MC Rum Fixion Records 2021
Blind Ruler Cursed Land is a side project to UGFC which takes a slightly different thematic slant by: ‘exploring various shades of cultural & moral decline, post-defeat societies and dark esoteric “fanaticism” fascinations’. With some further investigation, Chrysantheme Delirium appears to be the debut tape from the project (after a couple of digital singles from 2020), while thematically focusing on Imperial Japan.
Musically speaking the sonics issued under the Blind Ruler Cursed Land name is not worlds apart from the main project, although its stylistic framework is based more on drone and dark ambient with only fleeting tinges of martial industrial inspiration. Four interlinking compositions deliver a combined runtime of around 20 minutes of material, where the pacing is slow and atmospheric, letting musical segments slowly shift and change in a controlled drone-ambient manner. More specifically synth-based orchestral textures, looped structural drones, and various choir vocals are used, which functions to balance the sound somewhere between whimsical, melancholic, and uplifting. However, the final of four tracks In This Sign You Shall Perish introduces overt martial industrial elements, featuring air raid bombing sounds, speech samples, distant martial percussive pulse, and a rising storm of muted distortion, before the tape concludes with a sample of a stirringly nostalgic 1940’s era Japanese song.
To conclude on the album’s chosen theme, the promo text reveals: ‘Imperial Japan symbolism is just one gate left opened for you to come. Tread softly, but come wholeheartedly!’, which functions as oblique instructions for a sonically strong release. A full-colour, fold-out, doubled-sided j-card and transparent lurid fluorescent green tape round out the physical presentation.
SRMeixner – A Silent War CD Black Rose Recordings / Oxidation 2021
Stephen Meixner of Contrastate has been recording and releasing music under this solo guise for many years now and generally speaking it involves a more abstract and darkly experimental sound than that of the main project (yet some indirectly similar sonic threads too can be noted too). With reference to this latest work the liner notes highlight A Silent War had its nexus in 2020 UK Covid lockdowns and was intended as a working basis for further recordings, but obviously evolved into this standalone work. Likewise, the liner notes provide further detail on the working methodology, which was inspired by 1980’s recycling projects and involved recontextualising sound sources contributed by close associates. Six tracks make up A Silent War which includes an element of social commentary but is which is also not overtly emphasised. This is weaved within the crisply refined electronics which slot neatly under a ‘dark ambient / experimental / post-industrial soundscape’ descriptor.
The title track opens the album exudes a performance art angle, which is mostly due to the tone provided by manipulated spoken word vocals, while the minimal shimmering soundscape is occasionally interrupted with moments of melodic percussive strikes. Breathe continues and is framed around multiple electric to semi-orchestral drones coupled with a centrally placed jittery tonal texture, while further vocal cuts up referencing the track title and its thematic aspect. The instrumental track Virtue Signalling brings more interweaving melancholic drones but also includes a wonky pitch-shifting tonal framework blended with vague mechanical rhythmic elements and other manipulated tones (piano note stabs perhaps?). In maintaining the prevailing sonic theme the minimalist but incessant plodding pulse of Unfinished Business characterises the first segments before shifting off into melancholic drone territory with fragile tonal respite. We Demand Tomorrow (or business as usual) slightly differs, given it contains some forceful electricity-toned textures, while late in the track it morphs into musically playful and percussive-driven elements. As for the final track Singing About Revolution, it is a short two-minute cut and the oddest and surreal offering of the lot, to the point of being quite jarring against the tone of the balance of the album (and therefore well-positioned at the album’s conclusion). Here there is a clear nod to Contrastrate thanks to vocals provided by Jonathan Grieve, and notable the lyrics are credited to Nina Simone to close the thematic loop.
A six-panel double gatefold cover with extensive liner notes rounds out the packaging of an expertly crafted yet equally understated album of experimental ambient & post-industrial sonics.
Jagath – Devalaya CD Cold Spring Records 2020
Jagath is a relatively new Russian ritual-industrial project concerned with recording in unconventional locations such as underground sewers, mine shafts, and other abandoned industrial spaces. This results in the spatial sonic timbre of such locations being infused with other musical elements including vocals and handmade instruments (while also specifically avoiding the use of digital means such as synthesisers). The generated sound then sees a blending of raw post-industrial metallics and more archaic ritual elements of the vocals and handmade instruments. Evidently, the chosen recording location for this album was a monolithic decommissioned oil tank.
A key aspect to Devalaya’s prevalent atmosphere is the slow and controlled pacing, where the five meditative tracks unfold over an extended length. Deep guttural throat chanting drenched with reverb and thick bass drones introduces the album on Agadah (Abyss), where the subsequent track titles allude to a journey or transformation of sorts (i.e. Utthana (Rise), Catu (Conversation), Devalaya (Temple), Nila (Darkness)). As part of the broader approach, passages of ritual throat chanting are seamlessly blended with reverb-derived drones and further interspersed with slow percussive segments, distant wind instruments, sporadic use of ritual chimes & mouth harp, and the ever-present interjecting shards of metallic textures. Some aspects of contributed sound are clearly identifiable (such as metal being dragged over concrete, or metal striking metal), while the source of many other sonic elements remains obscured. Also of note, a number of repeated sonic elements across the album strongly remind of Alan Lamb’s classic ‘wire music’ experimentation.
For the physical presentation, the six-panel digi-pack is adorned with stunning photos, including some images that appear to be from the actual recording sessions. All in all, Devalaya is an extremely engaging album of emotive atmospherics which blends archaic pre-modern ritual sounds with a current aesthetic of post-industrial decay. But given its minimalist construct and controlled pacing, it certainly does not sound to be the result of a project with eleven members.
Hive Mind – Hollow Slumber CD Difficult Interactions 2021
The American label Difficult Interactions issued the last rather excellent album by Hive Mind Elysian Alarms (reviewed here), and have quickly followed up with this newly issued item. However upon further investigation Hollow Slumber is not a new release, rather is a reissue of an earlier limited tape from 2008. On this version, the featured material is slightly extended in length and presented as a remastered 33.33 minute track, rather than being split over two sides of the original tape.
Being an exploration of extremely low sub-bass frequencies, this is music to be felt as it is much to be heard given its invasive sub-audible tone. As such catatonically slow modulated bass drones rise and fall throughout, as other subtle pulses and minimalist textural elements provide ever so slight variation. Equally, there is an ever glacial elevation in tone across its length, but that gradual shift in sound is nigh on undetectable as you are sonically enveloped in an ultra-dense fog of sound. As a comparative observation. given the deep tonal focus and churning minimalist construct, Hollow Slumber does beg a passing comparison to the likes of the subterranean industrial ambient excursions of Swedish artist Jarl.
With its extreme low-end and bass-heavy tone, Hollow Slumber is best appreciated on decent stereo and speakers where the volume can be turned up a couple of notches to give sonic breadth to the deep sub-bass frequencies and allow open-air propulsion of the enveloping sound waves. The resultant impact is the literal vibration of walls and windows as the sound waves can be felt filling the room like oozing black tar. This then clearly differs from headphone listening, as regardless of being armed with decent studio pair, the overloaded bass makes for a rather oppressive listening experience even at low volume. A four-panel digipack rounds out a rather tasty release.