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.

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Sutcliffe Jugend – Relentless

Sutcliffe Jugend – Relentless 4xCD Death Continues 2019

Sutcliffe Jugend (SJ) have been on quite the creative run over the last thirteen years since their reactivation in 2006. During that time the group have not shied away from producing extended length releases, which has included the massive six CD set SLAVES (2016), and the double CD album The Hunger (2018). But now the end of the road has been reached, and evidently the project has come to an end, as prior to release of Relentless it was announced that SJ were no more and that this four CD set was their final statement. The title then constitutes a very succinct description of what to expect across its significant runtime.

In noting the stylistic arc of the group over recent albums, this album both aligns with and builds upon the of wider sonic experimentation of recent years. This means there is plenty of material of the partially structured industrial/power electronics, or loose guitar driven pieces resembling SJ’s take on noise-rock/doom-drone, but both approaches which are further complimented with visceral vocals with their strong psychoanalytical slant. Likewise, there is plenty of material of a more experimental and creatively divergent bent, which includes Bludgeoned (I am the one) (CD1), with an almost martial industrial feel like early In Slaughter Natives, given its clanging/ pounding framework and blaring sub-orchestral synths, yet the wailed and unhinged vocals sets it clearly within the SJ camp. Equally the wonky but controlled pulsing electronics and semi-crooned vocals of Worm (This Is The Rest Of Your Life) (CD1) stands apart given its muted melodious construct, but gradually becomes completely unhinged as the track progresses. A prominent spoken work narrative features on Pavlov’s Dog (The Artists Dilemma) (CD2), set against caustic throb and churning distortion, while the following track Different (I am a slave) (CD2) forms a minimalist tensile drone-scape with whispered vocals.

On a whole CD3 brings together a series of more minimal and subdued tracks where tone and tension take precedence over volume and harshness. The God (who craved his own death) (CD3), rates a mention with its shimmering, droning soundscape of melodious hum/chanted vocals which builds to muted noise squalls towards its end, while Scars (CD3) features minimalist micro-tonal tones, whispered vocals and loose plodding bass, while elevating tension is created though a myriad of wonky electronics. After the partial respite of CD3, the following CD4 ups the aggression again with a collection of looser and harsher PE driven tracks which arc back to a more ferocious era of the project (refer to Unleash the Fury, Violence and Stripped as key examples). Yet even so there are further surprises, such as the spoken narrative of Domestic, with its needling mid-toned electronics and sparse abstracted piano motif, and Endurance (in a world of pain), with its fast pulsing rhythmic electronics and unhinged distortion blended vocals.

Not to be content with the four main CDs, there is yet another album’s worth of material, available as a limited download card with the first 100 copies of the album. This bonus material is an effective addendum and continuation of the main collection of tracks, but perhaps siting towards the soundscape and rhythmically experimental end of SJ’s current sound. On the final track Poison (an ending), it is then a quite fitting conclusion to the entire release, being a in a dour and moody contemporary classically style, where a minimalist strings quartet and low spoken vocals characterize proceedings.

Given the massive expanse of material featured, the sheer diversity and length of Relentless is quite a thing to behold. In recent years other projects have opted for much longer releases, and with the most-high profile being Prurient’s extended album Rainbow Mirror (spanning 7 LP’s or 3CD’s). For comparative sakes, while Rainbow Mirror contains a range and engaging and sonically interesting passages, when taken in totality it never fully captured my full attention for the entirety of its duration. Yet to then refer this back to Relentless, it is significantly longer release than Rainbow Mirror, but has no difficultly in maintaining focus and interest over its substantial runtime. Perhaps Relentless won’t change your mind if the recent run of albums have not been to your liking, but for those who have been following SJ’s creative decade plus journey, Relentless is a very fitting final statement.

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.

Puce Mary ‎– The Drought

Puce Mary The Drought LP Pan 2019

Already three years since the release of the excellent album The Spiral (reviewed here), Frederikke Hoffmeier’s new Puce Mary album has finally been released. Although technically speaking the digital version of the album was available in October 2018, the vinyl version was plagued by delays and not released until April 2019. While not being entirely clear as the to the reason for the delay, it has been absolutely worth the wait to have this on vinyl.

In building upon the template of the last album, The Drought is another standout and it is a joy to behold the meticulous way in which Frederikke approaches noise as a compositional element to build tension. Each track is distinct in stylistic character, where sound elements are constructed for maximum impact: sustained noise comes to resemble shrill orchestral strings, while grinding bass loops and abstracted monolithic thuds provide vague rhythmic structures. Compositions are carefully layered to ratchet up the tension, as is expertly displayed on A Feast Before The Drought which runs a knife’s edge through to an explosive crescendo. To Possess Is To Be In Control charts slightly new territory by commencing with an almost modern classical tone and confessional spoken vocals, but soon enough the sound veers off into a tensile high-calibre industrial track. A similar nod to an experimental modern classical tone extends throughout the second half of the album, covering tracks such as Red Desert, Coagulate, The Size of Our Desire and The Transformation, where synth elements give the impression of shrill orchestral strings. But even with these shrilly melodious semi-orchestral moments, the compositions do not forgo scattered micro-tonal noise and pummelling industrial elements. Likewise, the mid-paced throb and sweeping distortion of Fragments Of A Lily has an undeniable fist-pumping quality, and the album concludes with Slouching Uphill, another expertly executed track of elevating tension and subsequent emotive release.

As an artist Frederikke Hoffmeier displays absolute mastery of her craft, and in the process has developed a sound which is immediately recognizable and wholly her own. Building on what has come before, but also pushing her sound further into uncharted territory, makes for another stunning and absolutely mandatory album.

Anakrid – Ugly/Pretty

Anakrid – Ugly/Pretty 7”ep Cipher Productions 2019

This is my first introduction to Anakrid, which is a solo project of Chris Bickel. The project then seems to have been active as far back as 1990, although the bulk of activity has been from the early 2000’s onwards. This short two track 7”ep is of an experimental abstract noise style, which primarily focuses on tone and detail than volume and harshness.

The first track Ugly is somewhat of a misnomer as the track constitutes a composition of elongated warm enveloping drones, which are tonally layered but minimalist in construction and feature a faint melodious resonance. Deep in tonal atmospherics, there is subtle complexity at play and makes for an enjoyable track, but which feels far too short in run time. In flipping over to side B, again it features a misnomer of a title. Pretty deviated stylistically by being significantly more animated with its meticulously layered approach, combining creaking metallics, cavernous tones, shrill mid-toned textures, sporadic gongs percussive like elements etc. At times reaches the shrill intensity of an orchestra string section tuning up, and in a fragmentary sense could be passed of as an atonal and abstracted contemporary orchestral track. But again the composition is far too short and it finishes just as quickly as it starts.

As alluded to above, the main criticism is the extremely brief run-time given how compositionally different but equally engaging these two tracks are. But that minor criticism can also be rectified by giving this a number of spins back to back to sate appetite. Black and white collage artwork rounds out and enjoyable, albeit short and sharp release.

Feberdröm – Blind Eden / Offerlammet

Feberdröm – Blind Eden MC Emesis 2018

Feberdröm – Offerlammet MC Emesis 2018

The Swedish project Feberdröm (translating to ‘fever-dream’) have been lurking around in the post-industrial underground since 2011 and amassed fifteen releases in that time (mostly issued on cassette). Emesis is then noted to be run by the same person behind Feberdröm, with these two tapes being the first items issued on the label. On the musical front Feberdröm are slightly difficult to classify, given they draw from a wide cross-section of underground sounds, including: industrial noise, abstracted rhythmic/ ritual movements, caustic heavy electronics, experimental guitar drone and other more ethereal atmospheres. But perhaps a descriptor of ‘abrasive ambient’ is a suitable catch all.

Blind Eden is then characteristic of this wide stylistic palette, where the track Blind Eden Falls is a particularly good example of moody droning atmospheres, abrasive textures and agonized ranted vocals. Likewise, the stilled rhythmic elements as featured on Death Of A Snake warrants a fleeting comparison to another Swedish project Stratvm Terror. Incinerators opens side B and mines a heavy electronics tone, as does the grindingly morose Concrete Apocalypse, while The Deed is Done rounds out the tape with sub-orchestral synth pads and a generally ethereal mood. On a whole Offerlammet is slightly less varied than Blind Eden, although there are abstract noise-scapes sitting adjacent to other tracks of programmed drums and atonal guitar drone. In fact Offerlammet is characterized by its greater reliance on guitar which is wielded in an experimental fashion than anything resembling standard playing, therefore resembles a doom-drones style at times – albeit without obvious riffs.

Given both tapes feature eight tracks each and both span 40 minutes, as a general comment I would say there are some excellent tracks which sit alongside more standard or typical ones. Thus perhaps then with a more focused and discerning track selection, it would take the material in a step up towards greatness. But even with that said, there is a lot to enjoy here and certainly nothing that it poor or woeful. Also for my own personal preferences, I find tracks which use abstracted guitars to be less engaging overall, which makes Blind Eden my pick of these two tapes. In noting the above, I imagine Feberdröm are a project to keep a watchful eye on.

Anemone Tube / Jarl / Monocube ‎– The Hunters In The Snow

Anemone Tube / Jarl / Monocube ‎– The Hunters In The Snow – A Contemplation On Pieter Bruegel‘s Series Of The Seasons CD The Epicurean / Auf Abwegen 2019

Being a three-way split of sorts, there is perhaps little point in trying to highlight who did what, particularly as their individual inputs combine and blend into a seamless whole. Yet even so, the sonic hallmarks of each project are clearly present throughout (depending on the track), which includes: the clinical and forceful ambient drones of Jarl, the archaic soundscape ambience of Monocube and the evocatively lush vs tonally harsh industrial ambience of Anemone Tube. Likewise, as is expressly stated in the title, conceptually the album is inspired by the Pieter Bruegel’s seasons paintings, of which five in the series are reproduced in the luxuriously designed eight panel double gatefold card cover, while the eight-page booklet provides further conceptually relevant liner notes.

Five tracks span just short of fifty minutes, which will give an appreciation of the long form and slow evolving compositions. Evidently composed over a span of five years, this is clearly evident in the meticulous detailing and the controlled and unhurried approach. The atmosphere effortlessly articulates the slow morphing ebb and flow of life and the cyclic nature of the seasons, and even more so when nature-based field recordings are employed within the sonic framework. The is also a huge spectrum of tonal variety employed, which makes each of the five compositions clear and distinct from each other, which spans the calm and contemplatively toned, to the compositions with greater tonal heft and force.

The Gloomy Day opens the album and embodies the mood implied by the title through sweeping minor key tonal washes and synth pulses. The Hay Harvest then significantly deviates though its use a manipulated micro-tonal contact mic recordings, lush sub-orchestral synth washes and further field recording elements (late in the track throbbing clinical drones and higher pitched sustained tones take over). The Harvesters then makes central use of field recordings, which are gradually overlaid with intense atonal synth drones and squalling distortion which makes for the noisiest composition sitting at the centre of the album. The muted synth melodies of The Return of the Herd are suitably bleak and forlorn, which is counterpointed with the forceful and intertwining crystalline drones of The Hunters In The Snow, which late track shifts into austere melancholia. With its widescreen atmospheric soundscape this final track morphs into the sound of whiteout snow blizzard which sweeps the album into concluding oblivion.

Given the glut of releases being issued year upon year in the broader dark ambient field, it is becoming increasingly difficult to stand out in the mass, yet this album has no issue in those regards. This is an album which immediately draws you into its sonic tapestry and thematic narrative and does not let up for the entire duration. Personally, I listened to this three times back to back upon receiving it, which is proof enough of this point, and further underlines my assertion that this album warrants your detailed attention, regardless of if the contributing projects are familiar or not. Conceptually, sonically and visually, this a veritable feast for the ear, eye and mind.