Leather Bath ‎– Nature’s Crackling Fire / Anarch Peak – Vitarium

Leather Bath Nature’s Crackling Fire CD Leather Bath, Inc. 2019

Anarch Peak – Vitarium CD Chondritic Sound, 2019

The common thread between these two releases is Greh Holger (of Hive Mind and the Noisextra podcast), who collaborates with John Weise as Leather Bath, and separately with Rodger Stella (formerly of Macronympha, Mother Savage, etc.) as Anarch Peak.

In turning attention to Leather Bath first, they seem to have been active since around 2012 with a clutch of releases, yet Nature’s Crackling Fire is the first album proper from the group. As might be suggested by the album title this can be described as experimental noise and musique concrète, with an underpinning drone framework. Two lengthy tracks feature, the 23-minute In Temporary Suspension and 17-minute Hunter Horn. Although the musique concrète descriptor is used, this is by no means stuffy or academic in tone. Likewise, with reference to the ‘noise’ descriptor, the sound is ‘detailed’ rather than loud, meaning there are tons of close-up micro-tonal sonic textures throughout. There is considerable depth, with various tonal elements sitting far off in the background, offset against the upfront elements, while speaker panning is also used for surround-sound immersion. In Temporary Suspension exudes an open tonal quality, with lots of space to breathe between the sound of stone, wood, and metal which is creaked, bowed, struck, and scraped. Hunter Horn differs from the first track with a greater focus on droning elements, scrabbling textures, and treated horn elements, while field recordings provide further natural and human resonances. Later the track involves a metal-on-metal tonal workout and echoed footfalls, which are dragged to their conclusion with animated windswept drones.

Moving on to Anarch Peak, the first thing to be noted is the psychedelic sci-fi style artwork that adorns the six-panel digipack. This sci-fi angle is reinforced with some abstracted surreal text included as part of the digipack. Sonically speaking, Greh handles the synthesizers and minimalist metal-derived inputs, while Rodger mans the theremin – by listing that instrument alone, it should be clear that Anarch Peak are not dealing with a harsh / junk noise approach. Two longform tracks make up Vitarium, the 37-minute Alpha in Dissent and 33-minute Driftglass. In the opening to Alpha in Dissent the atonal synths and theremin drones slowly unfurl, while some subdued metallic clatter is noted far off in the depths of the mix. Like an ebbing and flowing tide, the track slowly builds and recedes over extended passages. Not being chaotic or loud, the track does build up a certain bulk and tonal weight through the middle and later sections, where discordant wailing textures sit at the middle to lower end rather than resembling a high-pitched squall. In the last third, some doom-addled sub-orchestral synth melodies appear and sweep the track’s mood in a completely different direction, more into sci-fi territory (perhaps akin to being slowly dragged towards the event horizon by the gravitational pull of a black hole). Driftglass differs by being tonally fragmented and fragile, with subdued wonky tones, minimalist crackling textures, and low-level static, while a melodious organ-like drone slowly appears to provide focus and forward movement. The middle to back end of the track sonically articulates intertwining corkscrew spirals, while the final movement uses metallic tones in a stilted rhythmic fashion.

Neither of the albums are overly dark, but each is characterized by being experimental or artistic in tone in their own way. The material across both albums is animated and varied, with each making for a detailed and engaging listen. The above descriptions should clearly indicate whether either or both albums will be to your liking.

Ergomope – Етиологии

Ergomope – Етиологии 2xMC AMEK 2019

AMEK are a Bulgarian underground experimental label and while I have not followed all of their output, from what I have heard they are releasing a decent amount of atypical post-industrial music. In this context I have not come across the Ergomope project before, but that is also perhaps explained by the fact that Етиологии appears to be their only release to date.

Opening with short experimental and evocative piano motif which has been layered and treated in studio, it immediately catches attention in the most positive of ways, before shifting off into a length 15-minute track framed around grey hued sonic treatments of obviously urban based field records. But not to be based on raw field recordings alone, those elements are coupled with sonically melodious and shimmering drones which blend and intertwine and carries the material forward at a generally unhurried pace. Likewise, though a number of tracks the minimalist field recordings elements have been looped for vaguely rhythmic effect, while on occasion the drones and field recordings elevate in pressure and force towards an heavier post-industrial frame of reference, where the sound builds to a peak before recedes again. In other sections there appears to be what sounds like abstracted playing of a treated piano, and sections of shrill orchestral strings and percussion which have been mutated in a studio environment. Of individual note, lengthy track Whiteout functions as a sort of album centrepiece given its more prominent musicality, including layered piano playing, plucked string instruments, and elevating melodious drones late in the track.

Clearly there is lot to digest across the two cassettes, amounting to a run time of around 80 minutes. But with emotive experimental ambiental music such as this, appreciation is rewarded from an unhurried listening, allowing the shifting and morphing sonics to unfurl at their own pace. For the sake of comparison, the likes of the material released on Touch, and specifically the likes of Fennesz and BJ Nilsen comes strongly to mind, which is testament to the quality of this material, despite its relative obscurity. In then noting that the Black Sea is referenced in the promo text, and is a title of a Fennesz album, perhaps my comparative impressions are more than mere coincidence? Either way this has been both an enjoyable and rewarding listen.

Entre Vifs – Offranfe et Partage

Entre Vifs – Offranfe et Partage CD Aussaat 2019

Despite having releases extending back 30 years, I am less than familiar with Entre Vifs’ output, but I am aware they are an exponent of a ’bruitism’ approach to music – aka ‘the art of noise’. The material on this new album is derived from live recording sessions using a variety of homemade electronics and noise equipment (as pictured in the booklet), and recorded as a duo March and April, 2018.

Four tracks span 74 minutes of ‘bruitism’ focused sonics, with the longest piece being 23 minutes, and the shortest being nine. Despite what I assume is the improvisational nature of the recordings, the tracks have compositional flow where there is a real sense of ‘cause and effect’ between the presented sounds, which is indicative of interplay between the two members during the recording sessions. Sonically speaking the sound features raw blown out metallic textures, blended with moments of stilted rhythmic pummeling. Further variety comes in the form of creaking atonal junk clatter, slashes of random electronics sonics and wonky bowed springs. Recording wise the tone is textured and detailed and while ‘noise’ derived, it is not harsh noise by any stretch and fits more within a rough industrial noise frame of reference. Consequently this means there is space for the layered sounds to breath within the mix, while sounds rapidly panning between speakers functionally increases the disorientating effect of the mid-paced industrial noise maelstrom. Beyond my more pragmatic descriptions, the title of the third track is also quite an apt descriptor of the album overall, titled A Benevolent Storm Front.

Being sonically textured, highly detailed, chaotic and warped, yet somehow strangely soothing at the same time, Offranfe et Partage is an intriguing and enjoyable listen, even if I am I am not sure to how often I may revisit this. But in being both noisy and clearly artistic in approach, the agenda to functionally realise ‘bruitism’ has been achieved.

Schloss Tegal – Psychometry

Schloss Tegal – Psychometry DLP La Esencia Records 2019

Thirteen long years have transpired since the last Schloss Tegal album, so you could have been forgiven for thinking a new album was an impossibility – yet here it is. Granted there was a two track 7” ep Procession Of The Dead (Undead) released in 2017, but that release did not include new music, rather featured a remix of an old track and another live recording from 2008.

Based on first impressions of Psychometry, the stunning sleeve design of the gatefold vinyl with spot varnished geometric patterns needs to be acknowledged. In my estimation this visual presentation does absolute justice the album’s conceptual themes, which themselves hark back to 1999 Black Static Transmission. Although the artwork of that earlier album let it down somewhat in term of feeling slightly amateurish in early computer-based design. Sonically speaking, Psychometry also feels to have clear linage to Black Static Transmission rather than the direct sound employed on 2006’s album The Myth Of Meat (which is explained by its source material having been drawn from sounds recorded in a working abattoir). But apart from focusing on sonic differences, Psychometry still embodies a particular sound established and easily recognized as that of Schloss Tegal. This means it is too sonically forceful to be described as dark ambient, but equally is not abrasive enough to become noise/industrial.

From the outset the album delivers grim maelstrom drones blend with dour muted melodies, while other erupting fissure of sounds seem to articulate the tearing at the hidden fabric of one sub-conscious (refer to Pyschpompus and Incorporeal Being as prime examples). The Invalid Earth is an early standout with its throbbing ritual pulse, swirling drones and disembodied radio chatter. Krononaut (Time Zero) articulates further churning emanations from the void, complete with prominent EVP voices, and based on their scratchy semi-unintelligible it gives off an unnerving and eerie effect (EVP recordings appear on a number of tracks throughout). Black Vessel then delivers a foreboding tumult of layered electronics and is one of the more direct and heavy tracks on display. Moving towards the end of the album Body Farm delivers a tensile, and shrilly cinematic composition, but which is far too short in run time. As for the concluding track We All Become Gods blends deep cinematic tinged textures with widescreen drones and (again) with an unnerving disembodied voice.

Over their discography Schloss Tegal have excelled at sonically articulating a psychic space which blends the real and perceivable with an ‘unknowable otherness’ of inter-dimensional states. Without question Psychometry is another excellent example of this approach. In a general sense this feel of being a collection of individual and separate tracks rather than the sprawling and interlinking movements on Black Static Transmission. But this is only a compositional observation and not in any way a criticism. Not to call Psychometry a ‘return to form’, as that would allude to some sort of prior drop in quality of output, rather Psychometry is a welcomed and long-awaited continuation of unique sound and approach that Schloss Tegal have always displayed. Recommended and absolutely worthy of investment in its stunning physical edition.

BJNilsen ‎– Focus Intensity Power / Tape Dekay ‎– Decadimento Del Nastro – Decadenza Di Tutto

BJNilsen Focus Intensity Power LP Moving Furniture Records 2018

Tape Dekay Decadimento Del Nastro – Decadenza Di Tutto CD Old Captain/Narcolepsia 2019

From his first dark ambient project Morthound which had releases on Cold Meat Industry during the early 1990s, BJNilsen moved over to the Hazard moniker in the late 1990s, and from around 2004 onwards opted to record under his own name. Generally speaking, over the last 15 years BJ’s approach has been characterized by an experimental approach to sonically processing various natural and urban-based field recordings. However with Focus Intensity Power being the solo new album, it marks a decided shift away from the use of field recordings as it is a purely studio-based album, which according to the promo notes provides: ‘documents of improvised sessions using modular synthesizers, tone generators and test and measurement instruments’. Sonically this album has greater alignment with early Hazard albums than recent solo output and is certainly welcomed from these quarters. The 15-minute album opener Beam Finder is an elongated exploration of minimalist unceasing mid to lower range bass tones, coupled with micro-tonal static and machine idling drones which appear late in the track. This approach continues with The Sound Of Two Hands, although this is slightly more forceful and varied with the introduction of a ‘ticking clock’ element and other minimalist scattered electronics. The relatively short Flattened Space embodies a muted sub-orchestral tone blended with mechanical menace, while Table of Hours fits cleanly within a dark ambient drone frame of reference. The final of the five tracks, The Limits of Function, starts slow but gradually elevates with layered machine drones, and the second half of the track is driven forwards by a central rhythmic loop. In essence Focus Intensity Power is an effective celebration of sustained tonal atmospheres, which amounts to evocative sounds in their purest form. Sublime.

Moving on to the review of Tape Dekay, this is not a new project but a quite obscure side project of BJNilsen. In fact, before this debut CD only two tracks were previously issued from the project on two separate compilation releases dating from 1999 and 2008. Given that in recent decades BJ has mostly worked under his own name with manipulated field recordings/electroacoustic material, for Tape Dekay the sleeves have been rolled up to tackle the more direct fields of noise. But as might be expected with someone with such refined experimental compositional skills, these have been employed here to generate a clean and loud production. While ‘noise’ is the name of the game, it is also not ‘harsh noise’ by any stretch; this is more of an exercise in experimental noise and an exploration in tone and sonic construction technique. Although select passages build to a certain noise heft, including crumbling bass, static rumble, and slashes of sound, the album is also not harsh by typical measures. Other tracks employ a vague structure of off-kilter factory rhythms, driven forwards with weighty machine-like drones and monolithic industrial loops. With melodic elements being entirely absent (except for what sounds like processed male choirs in one track), the employed tone and the separation of sonic elements function to maintain detailed interest throughout. Likewise, given the level of meticulous construction which has been employed within compositions, there is a real sense of sonic complexity spanning the seven tracks.

Both of these albums from BJ Nilsen are certainly different in approach and equally enjoyable in their own right and chosen musical spheres. But from a purely personal position, Focus Intensity Power is the album which I have kept returning to over many months.

Amph ‎– Control

Amph Control LP Verlautbarung 2018

Amph are a Swedish duo operating since 2010 (well according to Discogs), but I am only familiar with their contribution to Verlautbarung’s 2013 compilation Stein: Interpretationen Eines Geologischen Materials Und Seiner Symbolik. My observations of Amph’s track After Nature was that it ‘opts for a queasy pulse and micro tonal layered sounds which are fine granted and detailed. The track is minimalist in structure but highly animated and rather forceful by tracks end and a great example of tape experimentations with a darker undercurrent’. To then provide context to this review, this earlier impression is equally applicable to this new LP.

Features two lengthy untitled tracks (one each side of the vinyl), there are definitive ‘sections’ and ‘movements’ on display. Early in the first track it features a ritual tinged industrial throb, deep heaving breathing textures, shimmering micro-tonal textures, and disembodied garbled but unintelligible vocals. Through the middle section the track becomes more mid-tone drone oriented, but this is also underscored with looped field recordings, creaking wood and metal which coalesce into quite raucously animated territory, and calms down again through the late section, complete with muted pump organ drone. Side B follows a similar trajectory, but the underlying abstracted field recording elements are looped into subtle rhythmic form. With an open and widescreen production it contains a very organic and rural sonic atmosphere, where wind-chimes and elongated drones maintain a dark edge, and thankfully far from anything remotely ‘new age’. In moving through other sonic segments, it features forceful melodically muted drones, twilight atmosphere of crickets chirping in a field, and creaking micro-tonal textures and other forceful loops.

Although with only a few releases under their belt, Verlautbarung continue to issue extremely strong and sonically divergent releases, with Amph clearly continuing this trend. With the cover featuring an image of a lit match, as a nice physical touch the cover has itself been spot charred with a lighter flame.

 

Ochu – Unproduktiw

Ochu – Unproduktiw LP Verlautbarung 2018

Ochu is the solo project of Swede Love Rosenström, and while he has been recording as Ochu since the early 2000’s I am only familiar with recent output (although I then have a vague appreciation that his current material has elevated experimentation and dialled down slightly on a harsher noise and heavier industrial aesthetic).

With the current approach based on meticulous layering and blending of textural sonic detail, Ochu’s material in highly animated and sonically nuanced. Likewise, by avoiding any semblance of stuffy academic experimental music, there is clear force and intent at play where the results are engaging and above all vital. Much of the assembled sonic content appears to have been generated from field recording or contact mic based recording sessions, but those inputs have been further manipulated and abstracted to achieve textural density and complexity. The opening track Struisvogelpolitiek is a great example of this, with tonally load creaking wood and metal, where the ‘micro-tonal’ recordings have been elevated to a loud and overblown tone which bridges the organic and the mechanical. Humos De Existencia Estática is a slow burn of a composition, where a jagged yet muted loop is overtaken by an invasive and incessant drone which fractures and multiplies in intensity, while the other rough echoed loops are used for vague ‘train carriage on tracks’ rhythmic effect.

Förnuftsflimmer (Partiellt Anfall) opens Side B are draws out a minimalist ritualised pulse which is blended with a series of forceful mechanical drones, while further micro-tonal textures are elevated to the forefront of the mix. Contra-tasking functions as a short interlude of a fractured grinding loop, which is followed by the lengthy track Segments of Destination concludes the album. Commencing with a spacious mix and again with a focus on micro-sonic detailing (i.e. rocks, wood, metal), the various elements amalgamate into loosely elevating loops, as a deep, muted bass rumble elevates with storm-front intensity. Yet clear restraint is still employed, as rather than building the track an overblown climax, the storm-front passes by and gradually recedes into concluding oblivion.

In both the sound, style and graphic presentation Unproduktiw clearly side stepped any of the typical clichés which could be levelled at the post-industrial underground, and is an album of passion and dedication to a personal sonic craft. Clearly bridging the gap between musique concrete experimentation and roughly hewn post-industrial soundscapes, Unproduktiw is a clever and expertly executed release. Recommended.