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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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.

…Hagshadow’s Anti State Jugend…

ANTIchildLEAGUE – Holy Ghost CD Hagshadow 2016

Godlesstate – Godlesstate CD Hagshadow 2016

Sutcliffe Jugend – Shame CD Hagshadow 2017

For this label showcase it is important to highlight that Hagshadow is run by Gaya Donadio: an Italian national, yet long term resident of London and a staple of its underground scene as a gig promoter via the Hinoeuma the Malediction banner.  Although Gaya’s role as a promoter may have reduced somewhat over the last decade (…when compared to the monthly shows in the early 2000’s), Hagshadow has been operating as a label since 2008 (…and mail-order prior to that).

Up first is ANTIchildLEAGUE, which is the solo project of Gaya herself, where ‘Holy Ghost’ appears to be the third in a trilogy of album’s starting with ‘The Father’ in 2008 and ‘The Son’ in 2014. However I am afraid to say that apart from hearing a few selected tracks from ANTIchildLEAGUE over the years, I have not heard these other trilogy releases, so cannot comment on how ‘Holy Ghost’ continues or differs from their sound. With that said, what ‘Holy Ghost’ brings is a sharp and clinically edged industrial album which bristles with fierce energy. With its 13 tracks spanning 47 minutes, the general impression is that of a collection of tracks, where differing sounds and moods are explored throughout.  With the opening title track being more of a introductory piece (i.e. solo female religious styled singing), ‘I Hate You’ follows and is a sharp and buzzing piece of looped power electronics (…think of the clinical and clean tone of Haus Arafna), with Gaya’s vocals being aggressively spat and slightly treated (…an excellent start).  As the album progresses from there, a pattern is then noted where some tracks are constructed around rhythmic programming and minimalist synth pads, while others following a stricter adherence to industrial and power electronics expression. With the vocals covering everything from spoken whispers to banshee like wails, these also mirror the moods of the tracks which themselves range from calm yet tensile, to those of controlled and/ or unhinged anger.  With some absolutely excellent tracks in among other generally solid offerings, it is perhaps an appropriate time to dig into ANTIchildLEAGUE’s back catalogue to check out what I have already missed.

Up next is the debut album from Godlessstate, but rather than being a young new project, it has significant pedigree in being helmed by Patrick Leagas. Noting this former Death In June member departed in 1987 and continued recording under the Sixth Comm banner, for whatever reason I have never properly investigated his releases over the years. Yet now some 30 years on from the creation of Sixth Comm comes Patrick’s new debut solo project under the Godlesstate moniker, and being: “a personal attempt to codify audibly the somewhat unfathomable ritual religious practices of our collective pre history..”.  What has been created is a rather imposing experimental tribal industrial album, based heavily around intense soundscapes and complex rhythms driven by martial drumming and hand percussion depending on the track.  The album’s rhythmic focus is further complimented by chimes, wailing horns, dulcimer, mouth harp, sub-orchestral synths, field recordings and varied vocals (i.e. whispers, chants etc. which function mostly as backing layers than providing central focus).  Selected tracks feel entirely organic in presentation, while others opt for elements of programmed electronic percussion to merge the archaic and modern (…although the consequential atmosphere is rooted in an 80’s post-industrial approach). Likewise while exploring different sounds and moods, the rhythmic approach is noted to range from Middle Eastern styled to more Euro-centric rooted sounds. With straight forward tribal industrial tracks and others of fully fledged ethno-ambient expression (…and which brings to mind a classic but short lived CMI project Memorandum), all in all this is a varied and interesting tribal industrial styled album.

Moving finally on to Sutcliffe Jugend, over the years the aura surrounding the project has been maintained by the sheer force of the extremity of their early power electronics approach, and in particular their highly coveted ‘We Spit on Their Graves’ 10xMC box-set from 1982.  Noting then then potentially difficulty in maintaining such levels of extremity, some 25 years later it was during the late 2000’s that the duo of Paul Taylor and Kevin Tomkins pulled back on the extremity to allow a greater degree of variety and experimentation to their sound. Furthermore the pair currently seem to be on a bit of creative streak as 6 albums have been issued since 2016 (…including this one). Although I have not necessarily kept up with all of the recent releases, ‘Shame’ is a considered and controlled album (…by Sutcliffe Jugend’s standards), and includes close to 50 minutes of material spanning 5 tracks. The title track opens the album, and with being based around a discernible guitar, the sound is one quite close to that of noise-rock (…sans drums) – or perhaps doom drone where the riffing has sped up to less catatonic pace. Although some nosier synth slashes are included, the guitar elements remain as the main focus throughout and the track definitely expresses a song format which extends to the vocals delivered in a half shouted/ half sung wail. Despite the musical focus of this track being far from what I initially was expecting –  it most certainly works as a listenable and engaging approach. The following track ‘Sledge’ is then more experimental with sparse atonal plucked notes and percussive sounds, leaving the vocals to issue a semi-aggressive rant.  This mood of restraint continues on ‘Hurt’ with its tensile and suspenseful tone, yet conversely the vocals are far more chaotic and unhinged in delivery and sonic treatment. Moving into the back third of the album, ‘Bait’ opts for a straight forward, mid paced pummeling riff, pounding rhythmic thuds and synth squall which are combined into a song style, which is reinforced by the ranted, half sung/ half screamed vocals. For the final of the 5 tracks, ‘Blood’ is an instrumental piece which bookends the album with a lengthy industrial soundscape of looped drones and cinematically tinged elements, which is calm yet tensile in equal measures (…and consequently and excellent track). Although I do not know how reflective this is of other recent albums and despite its quite significant deviation for my own (…perhaps ill informed) expectations, I have very much enjoyed this album.

Various Artists – Poison Vol.II

Various Artists – Poison Vol.II MC New Approach Records 2017

Over the years the post-industrial underground has clearly placed a high degree of importance on packaging and presentation, and in this context the special wooden box casing of this cassette compilation immediately caught my eye.  With it then being noted the tape features recognized artists of Kontinent and Wertham (…and the contributions of a further 4 artists), it represented a coveted item to track down.  Likewise with only 6 tracks featured it warrants a brief comment on each contribution:

  • METEK open the set with their piece ‘Prey’ features suffocating tape hiss, slashes of radio static and choking bass riddled resonances, which teeter on an ‘industrial-noise’ edge between controlled and freeform (…and a solid intro piece as a result).
  • Kontinent follow with a dose of their heavy electronics sound on ‘Hive Mind’, and is an excellent piece of droning synths, static shards, layered noise and treated dialogue samples to create a heavily paranoid vibe (…and is one of the best and immediately impacting tracks I have heard from this newish UK project).
  • Wertham are up next and do what they do best on ‘Diagram For Delinquents’, which a bulldozing wall of muted ‘blown-out’ analog distortion which resembles hissing gas in loose looped form (…but perhaps the sound is also less immediate of can usually be expected from Wertham’s given the absence of Marco’s trademark and heavily accented vocal barrage).
  • See Through Buildings opens side B with ‘Ototoxic Agents’, which is direct in its loose and chaotic noise approach (…being squalling and freeform in its distorted mid to higher pitch sonic attack, but perhaps the least to my liking given typical noise sits within my listening preferences).
  • Deterge (…who I know by name only), feature their track ‘Hg(CH3)2’, being a minimalist and droning industrial track and gruffly yelled vocal which generates an excellently morbid atmosphere (…and another tape highlight).
  • Instinct Primal then concludes the set with ‘Resonant Peak 2’, and sits towards an experimental dark ambient sound of expertly crafted proportions (…shifting droning layers mingle with micro-tonal elements to create a widescreen and barren landscape styled atmosphere as a calm conclusion to the tape).

Overall I would say this is a strong compilation, but all the same is perhaps not quite to the level of a mandatory one. But with that said the packaging absolutely targets the fetishistic aspects of the post-industrial underground and certainly makes for and adds to the overall experience of listening to the contributions on the cassette and one I am glad to have tracked down.

Mytrip – Filament

Mytrip – Filament LP Amek 2016

Although not having come across this Bulgarian solo project before, sole member Angel Simitchiev has issued a dozen releases since 2007, with ‘Filament’ being his latest offering.  And although the project is billed as an ambient / drone project, this release operates at the border regions between dark ambient, drone, (modern) industrial and (abstracted) experimental techno, therefore encompassing a sound that defies easy categorisation.

‘All Black’ opens the album with a slow spiraling, vortex inducing drones (…think of a more mellow Yen Pox), while the following cut ‘Fibre Mask’ blends some excellent micro-tonal textures, smattering of keys, slow throbbing kick and deep ‘dub’ rhythm to drive the mood (…and consequently is the first album standout).  ‘Dust’ then rounds out the first side with a short piece of mid-toned shimmering synths, combined with deep bass addled drones and minimalist rhythmic programming towards the end for good measure.  Another album highlight in the form of ‘Lustre’ opens the flip side of the vinyl, which after an extended, laid back droning introduction adds a driving mid-paced kick-drum, moody synths and additional swirling drones.  ‘Adaptive’ regresses with sub-orchestral vortices and a dour synth melody (…coupled with some seriously heavy bass rumbles), while ‘Soft/ Outer’ closes out the album with a dark and heady mix of moody minimalist dark ambient, bass driven drones and laid back beat (…a sublime conclusion).

Sonically and visually this release would slot quite easily into the current rosters of the likes of Posh Isolation, Hospital Productions or Northern Electronics, which should give a clue to the hallmarks of this as a high quality production. Also after having used the group’s Bandcamp page to first sample this release, I can say that online listening does not do this release full justice, as the vinyl mastering really elevates the sound through its deep and heavy bass production.  Perhaps this release slightly deviates from the usual types of releases reviewed herein, but ‘Filament’ demonstrates some clever intermingling and styles and influences without being overtly slavish to any one particular genre. A slick matt card gatefold cover rounds outs the visual and physical presentation, with the music pressed on the black vinyl being worthy of investigation if this review has raised any interest or intrigue.

Theologian & The Vomit Arsonist – Nature Is Satan’s Church

Theologian & The Vomit Arsonist – Nature Is Satan’s Church DLP Cipher Productions 2016

Originally released as limited CDR in 2013 on Oppressive Resistance Recordings, Cipher Productions have seen fit to reissue this on vinyl with all new artwork and 3 lengthy remixes appended for good measure.  Thematically the album functions as a direct homage to to Lars Von Trier’s film ‘Antichrist’ (….or perhaps can be considered an alternate soundtrack of sorts?), and certainly manages to capture the mood of mental anguish and emotional desolation of the film.  Sonically speaking this music found herein is far removed from what might be typically expected from either project, where ‘Nature Is Satan’s Church’ features industrial orientated drones and minimalist dark ambient soundscapes (…which then verges on the isolationist ambient side of things at times). In then tying back to its inspiration source, this minimalism has replicated and expanded upon the the harrowing and starkly minimalist sound design (…which is only fleetingly employed within ‘Antichrist’), while each of the 6 album track titles specifically replicate each of the chapter titles of the film.

‘Prologue’ commences the 6 main album tracks and sets the scene with a moody series of orchestral type loops and a lone female choir vocal sample, which is clearly a nod to the music of film’s opening chapter.  This track then turns out to be the most ‘musical’ on offer (…which again is reflective of the film’s sound score) and functions as the gateway into a slow descent of creeping anxiety and rising dread. This is particularly demonstrated on the second track ‘Grief’ with is foggy enveloping ambience and sonically wintery landscapes, but later in the piece it ramps up with added windswept force (…including a section of echoed knocking tones which creates a haunted basement vibe for exceptional effect).  ‘Pain (Chaos Reigns)’ on Side B is structured around a series of minimalist but quite forcefully driving loops with gradually elevating momentum which culminate in foghorn styled intensity.  ‘Depair (Gynocide)’ continues the album’s established dank and oppressive minimalism mixing layered bass rumble, and a heavy dose of echo and reverb, while ‘The Three Beggars’ continues a comparable droning blast furnace styled approach. ‘Epilogue’ rounds out the final of the main album tracks with an general sense of stasis, where its gradual sonic fadeout drags the sound down into ultimate oblivion.

With the 3 re-mix tracks, these broadly maintain an underlying feel and mood of the source material, but also provides individualistic sonic flair on each.  Four Pi Movement features first with ‘Despair Remix’, where the mood of this piece features some prominent and driving ‘cosmic’ type synth elements.  Worms of the Earth follows with ‘Chaos Reigns Remix’, which is sonically more consistent with the source material, but here with the main augmented/ additional elements consisting of driving synth melody, sparse percussion and sampled Gregorian chants for excellent ritualistic result. Iszoloscope then rounds out the remixes (…and album overall) with ‘Pain Remix’, being a quite minimalist drone affair and generally closest to the sound of the main album tracks.

Having heard this previously this via its original CDR edition, I did observe that due to its sprawling scope, minimalist construction and continuous soundscape format, that if full and attentive listening was not facilitated you could get lost along the way as to exactly which track was playing.  While this is not in any way a criticism of the music, I do perhaps feel the vinyl format is a much better fit for this album as there is ongoing engagement with the material due to having to change sides as the album progresses.  As for the cover, the photography courtesy of Gretchen Heinel functions as a stunning visual counterpoint the featured sonics, which also appears to pay homage to the style, colour palate and visual mood of ‘Antichrist’. Overall this is an excellently realised release: from concept, to visual representation and ultimately its sonic execution and should not be passed over despite its limited pressing of 150 copies.