Am Not – Auto

Am Not – Auto 7”ep Ant-Zen, Raubbau 2021

As an initial observation, the clean and refined power electronics approach of Am Not clearly lends itself to the established sound of Ant-Zen, so clearly makes for a positive pairing of project and label. Also, although Ant-Zen in recent years stopped producing physical media for main releases, they have however instead been issuing special short-run art editions of selected releases such as this. This white 7”ep is limited to a mere 100 copies and exquisitely presented with printing on acrylic glass, and with the vinyl and inserts housed in an electrostatic bag, further affixed with a special release sticker.

The Side A track Autopoa Now quickly establishes itself with a throbbing invasive drone and stilled beat framework, over which the slightly treated vocals of Tamon are urgently delivered, and with other layered textures added for good measure. Bioluminesence takes up the flip side, and is far more brooding in its atmospheric approach. Cinematic tension abounds, as melodious drones and mid-paced programming keeps a focused drive, while the treated vocals are mostly relegated to another tonal element.

With a mere 9 minutes of music, this is a short and sharp release, but sonically on point for Am Not’s composed and controlled approach. The special art packaging is simply the perfect icing on the cake.

Smell & Quim – Pushy Gothic Gnome Versus Charity Techno Gnome / Bulls Penis Soup

Smell & Quim – Pushy Gothic Gnome Versus Charity Techno Gnome CD Chondritic Sound 2020

Smell & Quim – Bulls Penis Soup CD Total Black 2021

The longstanding English group Smell & Quim has always held a special place in the underground based on their uniquely bizarre, nasty, and twisted oddball noise. Here we have two recent CD reissues from the group. The first is a remastered version of an ultra-limited tape from 1998 (Pushy Gothic Gnome Versus Charity Techno Gnome). The second is a current-era recording (Bulls Penis Soup), originally issued on an 11” lathe EP, now reissued on CD with an additional 30 minutes of material.

Pushy Gothic Gnome Versus Charity Techno Gnome is a two-track affair, both untitled and both nearing 30 minutes in length. The first track plays out as an elongated abstract ritual-industrial-noise affair, but the high-pitched treated vocals (emulating that of a gnome?!) and the tinkling of child’s toy instruments make for a wacky effect. The murky and echoed track lurches slowly forwards, with loose rhythmic elements, random funky bass lines, radio frequency distortion, and some general chaotic clatter thrown in for disorienting impact. The second track features more intensely layered soundscape murk, including cascading and crumble tones, creaking metal, more radio frequency static, and all manner of other random sonic junk thrown in for good measure. There is definite flow and elevation of intensity as the track slowly surges forward, but from mid-track a throbbing rhythm and hollowed-out tone is introduced which comes to characterise the back half of the track. Being an example of solidly murky industrial noise of a darker vein, with little in the way of humorous relief. As a final comment on the reissue, extra ‘WTF’ points are given for the cover image showing a gnome wearing an Amish hat and Grey Wolves t-shirt.

Jumping forwards some 23 years to Bull Penis Soup, not much has changed in the Smell & Quim camp and time has not wearied their approach to blending smutty humour with free-form noise. But of immediate note is the actual recordings themselves, which are clearer and louder, amplifying the loose sonic chaos, and highlighting a shorter and more direct approach to composing distinct tracks. Loose noise outbursts and repeated vocal lines of the opening track I Couldn’t Shoot My Muck quickly gives way to the free-form title track based on free-form kit drumming and erupting sonic commotion. The brilliantly titled I’ll Kick Your Fucking Cock Off is chaotic bliss, featuring an incessant fire alarm, interjecting vocals, and the random passage of a militant snare while someone chants: “NONCE – NONCE – NONCE – NONCE”. Bizarrely great. We Will Fuck You In The Arse follows and is another excellent cut of militant-tinged rhythm and choppy noise, complemented with a lyrical monologue revolving around the premise that Smell & Quim are indeed: ‘an arse fucking band. We fuck arses’ (and includes the specific namechecking of current members each being ‘arse fuckers’ – including more recent member Kate Fear). Another piece of bizarre brilliance. Mouth To Cock Resuscitation is perhaps where the Smell & Quim train careens off the tracks for me, as the rudimentary disco beat is a (ahem) flaccid accompaniment to the fierce needling noise – or could this be an intentional snide nod to late-era Consumer Electronics?! Who knows?! There are two extra bonus tracks. Filthy Cunts functions more as a free-form workout of blown-out noise and semi-buried tribal percussive thrum. The final track is Once Upon A Time in Memphis: a mellow instrumental drum kit-driven percussive piece that gives way to a rising tide of panned pulsing noise.

It is perhaps an obvious statement that Smell & Quim are an acquired taste, appealing to those who like their noise dark yet humorously bizarre, thus these CDs clearly sate the appetite for more of their special brand of underground industrial noise weirdness. While neither release is better than the other, and each has its own character and charm, you will already know if these are to your taste.

Hal Hutchinson – Cold Industrial Experience

Hal Hutchinson – Cold Industrial Experience CD Freak Animal 2022

Although I have heard only select releases in Hal’s extensive discography, I have the impression that typically his solo material is of a harsh noise scrap metal type. Cold Industrial Experience is the latest full-length, evidently ‘assembled’ in 2021.

Five tracks in all make up this instrumental industrial-noise album, and upon initial and subsequent listens I have been struck by how subdued and controlled it is overall. Clearly far less raw and brutal than other solo material I have heard, here the sonics have been hewn into a series of filthy industrial factory soundscapes, further structured around queasy wavering tones, monolithic loops, the slow semi-rhythmic beating of oil barrels, and controlled sheet metal abuse. This gives rise to a greater impression that a couple of tracks align with the later more subdued material of the Zyklon SS project – which speaks volumes of how the sonic timbre and the general industrial styled compositions appeal strongly to my stylistic preferences. The final album track Into Christ is perhaps the loosest on display, with heavy reverbed drenched catacomb rumble and sheet metal sonics. Although it does elevate to increased chaotic territory as the track progresses, even so, there is a ton of breathing space in the mix, and is far from being brick-walled and overloaded in production.

The six-panel digipack perfectly rounds out the visuals with impacts of black and white historic wartime images of twisted metal resulting from an obvious firestorm bombing campaign. An excellent album, but one which may catch harsh noise heads slightly by surprise.

Dead Boomers – Aspen Liberals

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.

Totenrune / Sarin Snow – श्रवो अक्षितम् / Κλέος Άφθιτον

Totenrune / Sarin Snow – श्रवो अक्षितम् / Κλέος Άφθιτον 7”ep Novichok 2022

Here is a quick dose of Novichok poison, being another split 7″ep in the ongoing series. This release sees the Australian Totenrune paired with the American Sarin Snow, who have each sought to thematically focus on a warrior archetype derived from the ancient world.

Totenrune leads off with an instrumental track based around muted buzzing oscillations which are partially buried under multitudes of raw metallic textures and general static fizz. Being consistently seething and edging towards the chaotic, the layering still remains paced and controlled, while equally infused with a distant and hollow tone. Despite the general bulk and heft of the track’s layering, the end result is far less brute force than other material I heard from Totenrune, here achieving imposing industrial noise result. Sarin Snow then takes up the flip side, which is immediately characterised by a queasy and swaying synth line, further blended with sparse and echoed metallic clatter, faint rhythmic pulse, tensile drone, and numerous other crumbling textures. The ominous vocals feature as another layer of distortion smear, and while being unintelligible, all the same they give the strong impression of being a harbinger of doom.

With both tracks focusing on generally controlled and contemplative atmospheres, each project duly impresses on this short split, and again commendably demonstrates the strength of Novichok’s label vision. Double-sided, pro-printed sleeve and insert rounds out the presentation.

Blind Ruler Cursed Land – Chrysantheme Delirium

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.

Heretic Grail – A World Without Order

Heretic Grail – A World Without Order MC Total Black 2021

Here we have a project that has been rather active in the last few years, but which is also couched in a reasonable amount of obscurity. Having then only been able to track down a couple of their releases to date, A World Without Order is the latest three tracks tape (billed as a ‘demo’), which delivers a bludgeoning and no-frills power electronics attack.

In quickly getting to the point the tape reveals static fried dive-bombing distortion is coupled with muted synth lines, squelching electronics and a caustic vocal barrage. This combined into relatively simple structures, but which are also delivered with control and intent. Likewise, with melodious oscillations providing for song-oriented structures, these are balanced with static and noise to provide an unhinged edge to match the intensity of the distortion-drenched vocals which are unintelligibly strained in their delivery.

With three short discrete tracks (two on side A and one on Side B), A World Without Order whets the appetite but is not long enough to properly satisfy hunger. Regardless, this is a tasty morsel for the time it sticks around.

H.C.O.D. – Instruments Of Destiny

H.C.O.D. – Instruments Of Destiny CD Chondritic Sound 2021

Instruments Of Destiny was originally issued in 2016 on tape via the US label Fieldwork, and now five years later has been given the reissue treatment on CD, featuring new artwork and remastering by Grant ‘Gnawed’ Richardson.

With respect to the project’s name, it is noted to be an acronym for Hideous Colors Of Decay which suitably describes sonic intent, and at the time of the original release Instruments Of Decay appeared to be the formal debut. Featuring seven tracks spanning around 60 minutes, the general approach draws a clear parallel with a northern European post-industrial ‘post-mortem’ sound, where, H.C.O.D’s approach is sprawling in scope and is a hotbed of caustic industrialized noise which bleeds out over greater length. Caked in sonic soot, the tone is one of analog filth where the tracks work on a dual-level involving sustained cavernous widescreen bass rumble over which mid-toned squall, higher-pitched ‘whistling’ feedback, and junk metal crunch is belched. Will to Oppression provides some variance with its centrally featured echo-tinged and half-chanted vocals, as does Mutilated Victory with its garbled and undecipherable dialogue sample. Perhaps with its singular overall approach, Instruments Of Destiny is something akin to a marathon crawl through a post-industrial dystopian nightmare of wrack and ruin.

A six-panel, matt digipack with suitably oblique and bleak imagery rounds out a very welcomed reissue.

Browning Mummery – Live / Berlin & Melbourne

Browning Mummery – Live / Berlin & Melbourne CDr Inner City Uprising 2021

Andrew Lonsdale’s long-standing post-industrial / experimental project Browning Mummery has been reasonably active in recent years, including both new studio material as well as sporadic live performances. Obviously, the title of this album indicates the live context of this release, but in being more than a straight live recording of a single show, this album features material culled from two live performances. The liner notes further confirm the four chosen tracks cover the full history of the project by spanning the years from 1984 to 2019, where the opening track Disintegration of Personality derives from one of the earliest tapes Obiter Scripta, originally issued in 1984.

With a wonky semblance, there is a deft mechanical ebb and flow to these experimental-industrial soundscapes, while cleanly dynamic noise and a metallic rhythmic churn also underpin the general atmosphere. Each track functions as a lengthy standalone composition, where the tonal framework is detailed in the layering and construction, and which on occasion rise to segments of muted tonal ferocity. Sampled and processed vocal chants appear on Slaughterhouse Sutra, as do choppy and slightly chaotic metallic shards, and off-kilter revving tones blended with misfiring industrial-noise textures. Foreign Devils on the Amber Road further differentiates itself with driving bass and programmed percussive rhythm, where the associated choppy sampling of orchestral movements and choir vocals becomes increasing unhinged and noise infused as the track progresses. With the first three tracks being recorded in Berlin in 2015, the fourth and final track Abandoned was recorded in Melbourne in 2019, and at a show, I was able to witness in person. While this track contains many of the same sonic elements of the earlier tracks (such as a loose mechanised churn, multiple sampled vocal textures, and sub-orchestral styled movements), the atmosphere has been pulled back to a contemplative ambient-industrial soundscape.

Given the clarity and force of the sonics on display, the recordings have clearly been taken directly from the soundboard and I assume to have been further treated with suitable studio mastering for release. The end result is a recording that functions excellently as an archival document of the live performances and as standalone listening.

UGFC – Ost

UGFC – Ost LP Grom & Lord Records 2021

Following 2019’s Stalinist God (reviewed here), this is the second album I have heard from UGFC, which incidentally is an acronym of Uncle Grasha’s Flying Circus. As an immediate observation, Ost is again concerned with high calibre martial framed ambient-industrial soundscapes, containing a distinct hint of satire which I can’t quite put my finger on. But to also start with a comparison, with its prevalent tone of obscure martial industrial atmospheres Ost it is very much reminiscent of early Laibach, or other notable martial industrial projects like Toroidh.

Mother (Guilt) acts as a short introduction, framed around rolling kettle drums and sampled nationalist type song, which leads into Mother Lied (Zeppelin Dance). Here it features a central unwavering drone, slow martial percussive thrum, while whispered vocals and wailing air raid siren provides a brooding warlike mood. Von Richthofen’s Flying Circus then steps up the pace a notch with faster-paced industrial loops, loose mechanised clatter, and further nationalistic song sampling, while the back half of track is far more atmospherically melancholic despite maintaining a rougher industrial edge. On Side B the lengthy Hüzün Horns features ‘post-battlefield ambience’ at its finest, with thick bass-toned sub-orchestral drones and windswept barren bomb-blasted landscapes. The final track East Is The Best edges into anthemic territory with rousing martial percussion, industrialised loops, and gruff vocals which are later replaced with lamenting chants and church bells.

Not an overly long album by any stretch (totally just over 30 minutes), Ost still maintains a strong mood and atmosphere throughout which edge towards a more ambient-industrial mood overall. But of note, Ost functions to strongly demonstrate that it is still possible to create interesting results with a broader martial industrial style, which for a number of years fell out of favour due to the genre becoming rather tired and derivative through the mid to late 2000’s.