Last Dominion Lost – Abomination of Desolation

Last Dominion Lost – Abomination of Desolation LP The Epicurean/La Esencia 2017

The sound of Last Dominion Lost has always been rooted in an early primitive industrial expression, and particularly within the archetype established by SPK on their first two albums. Yet it must also be said that Last Dominion Lost have never sounded purposefully regressive; rather their sound is reflective both of the age and creative lineage of its members (which itself in part links back to SPK). It is also unavoidable to observe that the death of key member John Murphy in 2015 looms over this album, particularly as it features his contributions made before his untimely passing. Yet even in the face of John’s death, the remaining members of Jon Evans and Julian Percy have regrouped and forged ahead, being joined by the former sessional member Till Bruggeman now as a full-time member.

While the previous album hinted at influences from early SPK, this album builds upon that influence within their own sound to deliver what is their most well realized album to date. In its broadest sense, these tracks are shorn of any feeling of being a predetermined ‘song’ format, instead they are showcased as disorientating ‘movements’ which follow their own patterns and internalized logic and elevate atmospherics over any display of overt aggression. As such, sporadic garbled whispers, yells and cries from the asylum mix with treated radio voices, shattering glass, atonal rhythmic elements (generated from a multitude of atypical percussive sources), pulsing/sweeping/brooding synth lines, abstract guitars/bass and generally perplexing tones/sounds. These elements then intermingle in the best way possible by never feeling unduly chaotic, unplanned or improvised; rather the material feels to be the result of the meticulous composition of non-musical elements to create wonky and disorienting industrial soundscapes. This is not a long album by any measure given it features 10 tracks over 40 minutes, but with the tracks being generally in the order of four minutes each, they bleed one into the next as part of a greater whole and from this perspective it is of far less importance to highlight individual tracks. Although, to speak of an individual element, John’s distinctive wailing vocalizations scattered throughout the album are a welcome reminder of his involvement and legacy.  Sound-wise the production is clean, loud and tonally separated, which in the listening provides a painstaking level of detailing across its deeper bass-addled elements and upfront micro-tonal textures.

With the sheer glut of post-industrial albums being issued over the years, thankfully albums like this come along to clearly establish how things should be done, which is then based on the degree of professionalism applied to the writing, recording and production and which is further reflected in the graphic design and presentation of the sleeve. On all fronts, this is a clear highlight of 2017.

 

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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.

Militia – New European Order

Militia – New European Order 2xCD Old Europa Café 2017

Back in around 1996 I was made aware of Militia well before I heard any of their music, thanks to a full page advert for the original 3xLP edition of New European Order (featured in Issue 7 of Audio Drudge magazine from 1996). I was then introduced to their music a couple of years later via the now classic War Against Society 3xLP compilation, and needless to say I was instantly hooked by their heavily percussive, martial-tinged industrial music and immediately tracked down the New European Order album.

Fast forward some 21 years from the original release, here we have the New European Order album issued on double CD. With the cover featuring the same artwork my obvious first impression was that this is a straight re-release. However upon further investigation it is revealed to be the same material, but having been completely re-recorded. While I am generally dubious of projects or bands who choose to re-record earlier albums (particularly in instances where the original already has a degree of recognition), thankfully here the end result maintains the mood and spirit of the original.  In fact if I was not aware that this was a re-recording, perhaps I would have taken this as a heavily polished ‘remastered’ version rather than a re-recording. On the production front the biggest difference to note is that the general murkiness of the original has been removed in favor of clarity, volume and a separation of its sonic elements. This has created a sweepingly atmospheric sound where the foggy, distant and forlorn ambience of the original remains at its core, but the sound is cleaner and elevated in production terms (as is particularly the case with the sharp and pounding oil barrel percussive elements). The music ranges from brooding sub-orchestral movements to rousing percussive industrial oil barrel attacks; the lineage and comparison to early Laibach or Test Department looms large, but in the case of Militia they thankfully never succumbed to using cheesy electronic/dance elements. Yet even with such comparisons, in 2017 it is clear that Militia have made their mark on this percussive and sub-orchestral driven approach, and can also stand proud in not deviating from their core approach and thematic intent over the years.

Where New European Order excels (be it in this or its original form) is in its juxtaposition of brooding soundscapes and driving metallic percussive pieces, where the pieces of brooding ambience set a solemn tone which functions to amplify the mood of the heavily percussive and driving industrial tracks. A variety of samples (some entirely new) are then scattered throughout the album, and when combined with the inclusion of a number of vocal-led tracks, the underpinning ideology of a socialist position and anarchist worldview is more clearly articulated, given the samples and vocals on the original version were mostly buried in the mix and partially indecipherable as a result. The track listing is noted to be almost identical to the original, with only a slight adjustment to track order on the first disc, whereas the title track is featured as a completely different version.

Although in revisiting this album after many, many years (both the original recording and this new version), rather than finding the re-recordings a jarring or off-putting experience, they are adequately faithful and respectful to the original recording, while having more than ample differences to make it an enjoyable standalone experience.  With a clean and slickly designed six panel digi-pack sleeve and the added inclusion of lyrics, this new version is very much worth checking out – be it as an older fan revisiting this new version of the album, or as a new listener checking out the album (and perhaps the group) for the first time. Recommended.

Celebrity Appreciation Society – Selected Case Studies Volume 1: Loss of Innocence

Celebrity Appreciation Society – Selected Case Studies Volume 1: Loss of Innocence MC Institute of Paraphilia Studies 2016

Here we have an anonymous project which according to the cover claims to have been recorded in Orania, South Africa – but considering that Orania is an ‘Afrikaner-only’ South African town I suspect this is a case of ‘bait and switch’ tactics. Yet besides the question of who is behind the project, Celebrity Appreciation Society has an interesting thematic framework given its focus: “is interested in exploring the obsession developed by large groups of people for public characters. Actors and actresses, models and singers, starlets and porn stars, historical characters and victims of heinous crimes: whenever a human being reaches the limelight, hordes of fans will develop questionable urges that can turn admiration into sexual obsession that often leads to trolling and stalking activities”. On Volume 1 of an ongoing series, the focus is on the public figures of Anne Frank and Dana Plato (actress who played Kimberly Drummond on Different Strokes and died of a drug overdose in 1999), with each being dedicated a side of the tape.

A large part of the sound is focused around samples of interviews and other associated dialogue, the music is mid to higher pitch in tone, with sustained sonic elements ranging from windswept to whistling/ needling elements, while the vocals when sporadically used are then another layer of blown out feedback. With an elongated method of composition and with the sound being clear and crystalline, it perhaps points towards a digital method of recording and production, given the overt lack of analog murkiness. Although not being an overly long tape (around 20 minutes), it nevertheless makes a strong impact in its short run-time, though Side B is more direct and forceful overall.

Noting the highly conceptual nature of this material, the personalities it explores and the questions it raises through the presentation of its ideas and concepts are just as important as the sonic elements, and for me at least this dual aspect of sonics and theme is exactly what I appreciate in underground industrial spheres. Two printed double sided fold-out inserts provide further conceptual context, where I perhaps now need to track down Volume 2 in the series.

Sadio / Caligula031 – Sadio / Caligula031

Sadio / Caligula031 – Sadio / Caligula031 LP Freak Animal Records/ Elettronica Radicale Edizioni 2016

On this split the Finnish Sadio (a collaborative project between Grunt and Skin-Graft) have teamed up with the Italian Caligula031 (side project of Wertham main man Marco Deplano), and is ultimately a release which sits at the depraved and nastiest end of power electronics.

Sadio take on Side A with 3 tracks of ‘basement torture’ electronics which are even less structured than those on the debut album Sophisticated Methods In Torture (…which itself was an exercise in direct aggression over detailed or meticulous studio recording).  With more similarity than difference across the first two pieces Inhale the Animal Filth and Slavemarket, the result is absolutely rough, raw and ripping.  Here the sound, whilst having a solid lower end, is more prominent at the mid to high spectrum with overblown and hollowed out tones, barely controlled feedback squalls and occasional barked vocals rising to the surface.  The clear impression is the material has perhaps been recorded live in studio, with recording levels being max’ed out in the red, and followed with limited (if any) post production. The third and final track Innocent And Pure then shows a fair bit more restraint and opts for a slow building atmospheric cut of sweeping and fluttering mid tones and bulked out with heavier bass rumble and with the late track murky vocals being vomited somewhere off in the distance of a cavernous warehouse.

Caligula031 then encompasses a voyeur’s ‘sleaze perspective’ on Side B (4 tracks and around 20 minutes of material), which thematically focus on heroin addition and the depravity of the ‘fix’ lifestyle. Needle Park – Platzspitz 1990 is the opening piece of extremely murky, idling machine clatter to set a general mood of stasis, thus leaving ample room for the forceful vocal torrent to remain prominently throughout. Following on Nothing Comes For Free is excellent for its minimalism which is constructed with two sustained but counteracting tones (…one needling texture and the other at the mid to lower end), which allows Marco’s heavily Italian accent vocals to sit front and centre within the track. Sponge of the Sidewalk follows and is framed around subdued bass rumble and dialogue sample referencing addiction, prostitution and criminality (…which appears to have been lifted from a UK talk show), while Sob Story is the final of four tracks and is another piece of hollow mid-toned textures and heavily processed vocals.

Packaging is noteworthy for its simple white sleeve and sticker, which has been further ‘augmented’ with flecks, drips and spatters of real blood, while a double sided insert includes further thematic imagery.  Clearly a release for those knowing exactly what they are in for, and not for the squeamish or ‘scene tourist’ types, thus with its limitation of 250 copies this would be sufficient for this nasty and no-frills release to find its intended audience.

Contact caligula031@gmail.com for availability.

Rats For Serpents Spotlight

 

Pterygium – I Abandon Myself, I Become Myself MC Rats For Serpents 2017

Haraam – Al-Arba’Ru’Us MC Rats For Serpents, 2016

Broken Fingers – Jumonji Girl MC Rats For Serpents 2017

Rats For Serpents is a new Australian micro-tape label launched in 2016 and which focuses in the more difficult end of post-industrial listening, and although having only issued five releases issued to date there is clearly some interesting fodder on offer.

Pterygium is up first, where I Abandon Myself, I Become Myself is not a new recording, rather features material from 2013 which has been edited and assembled in late 2016. Differing quite significantly from the recent new recording (reviewed here), this industrial/ noise material is loose, rough and semi-improvised in feel. Commencing with a catatonic pace, and with a strong ‘basement ambience’ vibe, it features a murky grey to pitch black sonic tone. Gradually the piece evolves with forceful revving sounds and choppy noise squalls with scatty angular textures, and in the later segments some barely detectable processed vocals make an appearance. I get the feel that this material has perhaps been cut together from a diverse range of different recording experiments/ sessions, and although evidently featuring two untitled tracks, I could not pick an obvious break from one piece to the next. In then making reference to Pterygium’s latest release Grip, it must be said that this tape pales in comparison to the current sound, but these earlier recordings are interesting to see the evolution of the project.

Up next is the obscure project Haraam and seem to inhabit a midpoint between throbbing lower end noise and abstract dark ambience, which is loose and sprawling in scope. With the cover also featuring the tag line of: “Ultraviolent Capitalist Solutions For Ultraviolent Ideological Problems”, it is perhaps indicative of an oblique conceptual underpinning. Four tracks are featured which variously incorporate elements of bass rumbling soundscapes, muted blast furnace eruptions and sweeping widescreen moments, which are occasionally infused with (unidentifiable) field recordings. A positive sense of focus, direction and drive is featured which swings between minimalist and at other times chaotic, and while overall the tape is a decent one but the same time not genre defining or particularly mind blowing.

Third and final tape is from Broken Fingers and across its four tracks the most sonically diverse and original of the bunch.  ‘Indignation Death’ leads off and is a cinematically tinged experimental dark ambient piece with orchestral synth textures, sweeping bass drones and layered elements for added complexity, to create an excellent moody and restrained offering. Cross-Shaped Cut take a step up with some hard poly-rhythmic programmed beats and driving loops to create an excellent track of industrialized techno (i.e. Alberich comes to mind), which become looser and more chaotic as it progresses. Shadow Belly deviates yet again with a tribal industrial soundscape including Japanese chants, ritual percussion, washes of distortion and idling noise. Forth and final track Death Of Understanding is perhaps rather pedestrian as the start (i.e. a straight forward industrial noise workout), although thankfully shifts gears to more interesting with sampled Japanese dialogue and smatterings of Asiatic percussive elements in mid track extending through to its conclusion.

As alluded to above the Broken Fingers tape is the pick of the bunch based on its sonic diversity and overall originality. Packaging wise each tape feature dual sided, 4 panel photocopied cover inserts, housed inside a snap-lock bag and finished with ‘punch label’ sticker for a finish touch. Overall Rats For Serpents sound and aesthetic is worthy of investigation if any of the above sounds of interest.

Con-Dom – How Welcome Is Death To I Who Have Nothing More To Do But Die

Con-Dom – How Welcome Is Death To I Who Have Nothing More To Do But Die 2LP Tesco Organisation 2016

It has to be acknowledged that the approaching this review was a completely daunting task, and consequently it has been a long time in planning due to the magnitude of doing it adequate justice.  This is Con-Dom after all, being 15 long years since 2001’s magnum opus Colour Of A Man’s Skin vinyl set.  While Mike Dando has always used the Con-Dom moniker to explore all manner of manifestations of power and control (…and domination), on this album the thematic focus has turned inwards to something far more personal, which immediately sets it apart for the usual power electronics ‘arm’s length’ presentation and exploration of thematic concepts. To cut to the core of the album, How Welcome Is Death… is Mike’s reflection on his own mother’s death; his feelings and experience during the process; an exploration of euthanasia; and an observation of the institutional suffering resulting from how society addresses terminal illness. It also burrows deep into the question of what is the value of life where the quality of living is non-existent and particularly where the awareness of the individuals own circumstance has all but been lost to diseases such dementia.  To hammer home how personal the explorations of these questions would be to Mike, the cover and booklet features a series of unflinching photos of his mother Nora, which effectively illustrates her wasting away (…and as confronting as this is visually, it does not in any way feel voyeuristic). Musically speaking the material covers 3 sides of vinyl, with the 4th side featuring an etching of the Con-Dom ‘logo’ (…a crouching man, head bowed, but with bound wrists defiantly up-stretched).  Sonically the majority of the material on offer is subdued and more low-key by usual Con-Dom standards, thereby allowing its lyrics to be spoken and fully comprehended. The tracks are further augmented with dialogue samples and short snippets of what appear to be recordings of his own mother in nursing home or hospice, which then functions to illustrate the often banal context of the suffering of many at the end of their lives.

After a short introductory and sample of a rather twee ditty of a song celebrating the elderly (Grandad You’re Lovely (Silently Falling About), the upbeat mood is quickly obliterated by Living Death; a 13 minute track of invasive droning noise and double tracked, spoken vocals. Lyrically this is delivered from the first person perspective of Nora which charts both external observations and internal dialogue. Illustrating the descent into loss of bodily control and memory, it also includes some secondary lines of text which point accusations of financial embezzlement at Mike himself (…noting that paranoia is a symptom of dementia). After another short interlude piece, the title track then emerges are more typical of Con-Dom’s sound based around a thick wall of bulldozing analogue rumble, while the vocals are spoken in an authoritarian style, as if delivering proclamations from a pulpit (…although the style of delivery is the effective opposite of the message being articulated).  The following track Chocolates features an invasive throbbing bass rumble coupled with needling noise as the basis for Mike’s world weary reading out what is effectively amounts to a statement of intent of an unidentified person to commit suicide.  Lyrically it reveals an individual suffering from an incurable terminal illness, but who has the clear resolve to take their own life on their own terms before they were physically unable to do so. T4 is another lengthy track based on animated layered noise and vocal wails bleeding in and out of the mix, is coupled with a German language vocal sample which from details of the cover relates to a 1939 letter petition seeking a mercy killing for a mother suffering from Parkinson’s Disease (…although the track’s title of T4 also references a controversial Nazi era program involving forced involuntary euthanasia). Despite the subdued sonic tone of the bulk of the album, Just Fuckin’ Die stands out based on it hard and anthemic power electronics style of fractured loops and shuddering distortion, and the only vocals on the album which elevate to the trademark flanged aggressive barrage.  The fact that this track is even included on the album, with its brutal yet strangely maudlin lyrics, is testament to the blunt and unflinching honesty Mike has shown in exploration of its theme, no matter how unpalatable the expression of a personal internalised thought may seem when spoken out loud. Following this piece is Ending (Nora), a relatively calm track, being not much more than a cavernous rumbling mass, but with the inclusion of the incoherent mutterings, this may in fact be a recording of Nora’s dying moments (…the album finally concludes in the manner in which it starts with another short sample of a twee song again celebrating the elderly).

Without doubt How Welcome Is Death… is a searing and absolutely personal exploration of questions of the value of life in the face death and the manner in which people die in the modern age. As a result it is a thematically difficult album to experience and particularly more so for anyone who has experienced a similar process with the passing of a family member. Through this album Mike show how far ahead he is conceptually and highlights the human core of what he explores through the prism of Con-Dom.  Equally How Welcome Is Death… functions to hold a mirror up to the fallacy of the oft faux celebration of strength and the overt obsession with death that preoccupies so much of the post-industrial underground.  As articulated on this album it is not ‘at a distance’ detachment; this is raw human emotion; as lived and as experienced by Mike.  How Welcome Is Death… is a brave album in its brutal honesty and although matches the level achieved on a Colour Of A Man’s Skin, for the all the reasons set out above, stands separate and apart.