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.

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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.

Vril Jäger – Vril Jäger

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Vril Jäger – Vril Jäger LP Heiðrunar Myrkrunar 2016

Vril Jäger is a new project featuring Kim Larsen – better known for his main neo-folk project Of the Wand and the Moon, and Thomas Bojden – better known for his main martial industrial project Die Weisse Rose.  Perhaps then in making a concerted effort to side step any direct comparisons or similarities to their main projects, Vril Jäger stands apart by evoking an early to mid 1990’s ‘heavy electronics’ sound, but further augmented with ritual / martial styled percussion and sub-orchestral dark ambient elements. The music framework is then completed with dialogue samples and strong commanding vocals (both spoken and whispered with slight studio treatments being applied).  Thematically speaking the lyrics and dialogue samples reveal a focus on a variety of interlinked conspiracy theories and occult symbolism including: Vril Society/ Vril energy, electronic voice phenomenon (EVP), parallel dimensions, hollow earth hypothesis etc, which works rather well to present a strong conceptual base.

For the opening track ‘Vril-Ya’ presents a lengthy piece, assembled around ominous drones, slow booming Japanese war drums, atonal drawling horns and clattering ritual percussion, where the whispered and slightly treated vocals providing a ceremonial edge (…without doubt an excellent start).  Interestingly the following track ‘Maw of Kalki’ constitutes a direct channeling the atmosphere of early works of Predominance (a high compliment from these quarters), but noting the sub-orchestral synths and choral type vocals gives rise to this comparison, here it twisted to individual result with its martial / ritual percussion.  With the first side of the LP featuring only 2 lengthy track, instead the second side features 4, consisting of 2 short vignettes to bookend the other 2 middle tracks of 6 to 8 minutes each.  Following a similar sonic scope to the first side, ‘Through The Firmaments’ is a drawling soundscapes featuring driving ritual percussion and layered wailing horns, while ‘Radio Wyrd’ is noteworthy fort its shrill strings of rising dread as a backing to a documentary dialogue sample talks of EVP/ inter-dimensional phenomenon. ‘Sanctified by Constellations’ then concludes the album in short and simple guise, featuring a sparse yet achingly morose sub-orchestral melody, with a short poetic tome.

Despite the label promo stating that Vril Jäger should not be considered a ‘side project’, nevertheless it came to my attention on the basis of its members. But making good on their assertion that Vril Jäger is not a mere ‘side project’, it has still caught me by surprise me by how different it actually is when compared to initial ‘face value’ expectations.  As such Vril Jäger have arrived as a fully formed and thematically focused group, whom in the process have delivered an excellent debut album.  As a final note on the album’s presentation, whilst the spot varnished logo of the cover is slick and understated, it is also rather plain and uninspired, where the group’s photo presented on the back cover would have in my estimation made a more compelling front cover.

a malignant black plague

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Phragments All Towers Must Fall LP Malignant Records 2016

Black Earth – Diagrams of a Hidden Order MCD Black Plague 2016

‘All Towers Must Fall’ follows three years after 2013’s ‘New Kings And New Queens’ and is the first time that Phragments has had material issues on vinyl.  Musically this follows established and recognisable paths, and although the project self-referenced as a ‘martial industrial’ project (perhaps more relevant to earlier works), the music here contains far less orchestral bombast than that may imply on the surface of such a genre classification.  In actuality this new album could more easily be bracketed under a dark ambient frame, where ‘martial industrial’ elements form a broader undercurrent rather than being an upfront ‘martial percussive’ focus.  As such the martial and orchestral elements lurk underneath akin to the sound of battlefield wasteland, thus perhaps better descriptor for this could be ‘martial ambient’.

With the title track opening proceedings, the mood is darkly solemn which is driven forwards by deep, droning synth textures which emulate orchestral brass, whilst other stormy abstract elements swirl overhead.  ‘The Iron Well’ continues the solemn mood but also sees the use of some far off rolling martial percussion for good effect, while ‘Withdrawal’ contains a particular mood a restraint and resignation, which includes a muffled percussive underpinning, tensile cyclic drones and ‘foghorn’ textures create the bulk of the sound.  Without much of a central melodic focus, in an overarching sense the album is one which is heavily reliant on sonic texture to generate its mood.  Noting that it maintains a distantly sweeping atmosphere throughout, it is the slow drawling foghorns and martial orchestral textures which function to sonically illustrate windswept and war-scared wastelands.

Given that Phragments nails its approach with precision and flair, interestingly it is also noted that the vinyl pressing gives an added depth to the sound, which positively works to counteract some of the more synthetic sounding orchestral elements, but regardless overall ‘All Towers Must Fall’ is a strong an enjoyable album.

Moving on to Black Earth, they are a new Spanish signing to the Black Plagve roster, and are definitely a project gains inspiration from and leans towards a ‘metalists’ sound spectrum, but has ample caustic sonic elements to keep ‘industrialists’ happy.  The label description of ‘blackened noise’ should provide ample hint of the general style and sound.

‘Mantric Resonances Along Fields of Dissolution’ opens proceedings and is underpinned by a high degree of black metal originated riff and rasp.  Although features fuzzed out tremolo riffing and flailing hyper-speed drumming, rather than sounding typically black metal, the production is smeared with caustic washes of black noise, which becomes the predominant focus of the sonic palate.  Thus despite some ‘musical’ elements and instruments being discernible within the mix, the greater atmosphere is one of blown out industrial noise.  ‘Upon Labyrinths of Broken Mirrors’ pulls back on the sonic reigns so as to be more subdued in atmosphere, which illustrates a sense of cavernous depth and shrill quasi-orchestral tone (in part down to the atonal, angular and abstract riffing, which bring to mind the death metal approach of Portal).  With each track interlinking into the next, the third and final track ‘To Cloak a Nebulous Sun’ ramps back up to a wall of roaring tone and texture akin to screaming orchestral strings fed through a jet engine and undercut with hammering drums, wailing choirs and demonic vocals.

For comparative purposes Gnawed Their Tongues is referenced within the promo blurb, which is agreed to be pretty spot on, and with only 3 tracks and run time of around 18 minutes, this is short but solid example of the convergence and mangled cross pollination of sounds drawn from black/ death metal, dark ambient and industrial noise.

Various Artists – All My Sins Remembered: the Sonic Worlds of John Murphy

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Various Artists – All My Sins Remembered: the Sonic Worlds of John Murphy 3xCD The Epicurean 2016

With John Murphy passing away on the 11th October, 2015 it was inevitable that a tribute album would be released at some point.  Thankfully this rather daunting task was taken up by The Epicurean, the label of John’s most recent output as Last Dominion Lost, Krank and The Grimsel Path, who have done a stunning job of bringing this 3xCD/ 32 page booklet together.  Also, whilst I initially perceived this to be a straight tribute, the liner notes reveal the concept was already well underway in mid-2015, with an intention for all proceeds from the release to go towards John’s medical treatments at the time.

With the musical content spanning 3 discs there is simply too much to give a track my track review, but that also would be missing the point of what this release is about – that being to celebrate the life and musical legacy of John Murphy.  On this 3 disc set it provides a broadly chronological overview of the many projects John had collaborated with or been a member of over his 30+ year musical career (…although given the sheer number of projects, some of which whose activities span many years, a strict chronological order is simply not possible).  It is then of particular interest that of the 36 artists/ projects featured herein, it still does cover all projects John has been involved in, with there being many other high profile bands and projects he has collaborated with over the years not being featured, which only goes to further highlight the eclectic nature and expansive reach of John’s career.  But of those featured herein, in order of appearance across the 3 discs it includes: Mandrix, NEWS, WhirlyWirld, Associates, Hugo Klang, Krang, Orchestra of Skin and Bone, SLUB, Dumb and the Ugly, Whitehouse, Lustmord, Sooterkin Flesh, Genocide Organ, Vhril, Blood & Iron, Wertham, Bordel Militaire, Browning Mummery, MAA, Gerechtigkeits Liga, Krank, The Walking Korpses, The Grimsel Path, My Father of Serpents & Disciples of None, Of The Wand And The Moon, David E. Williams, Shining Vhril, Nikolas Schreck, Kniffeladder, Blood Axis, Naevus, Foresta Di Ferro, Die Weisse Rose, Andrew King, Zeena Schreck and last but not least Last Dominion Lost.

With recorded material spanning the 40 years between 1975 to 2015 it includes both studio and live recordings (some of which has remained unreleased until now), coupled with these are a selection of 5 newly recorded tracks where close friends and comrades pay tribute.  In its overall trajectory the chronological track selection commences with the more ‘typical’ (albeit eclectic) bands; moving through to experimental and industrial spheres and onward though to ritual and towards neo-folk/ martial industrial expression.  The combined set also functions to highlight the gradual evolution and mutation of John’s collaborative influences within the projects where he held a central creative role.  To speak of selected highlights (based on my own sonic inclinations), these include:

  • Whitehouse: ‘Live Action 4’ from 1983 is a 20 minutes a dueling synth workout of throbbing modulations and spitting static in early chaotic Whitehouse style.
  • Krang: ‘Dissonance 2’ from -1981-1983 highlights John’s own solo industrial noise approach from around the same time as he was collaborating with Whitehouse.
  • Orchestra of Skin And Bone: feature with an excellent song ‘Flame’ from 1996, consisting of screeching horns and rolling tribalised percussion, which draws (an oblique) parallel with John’s later tribal industrial band Knifeladder.
  • Lustmord: ‘Pure’ (a track lifted from 1986’s ‘Paradise Disowned’ album), is a grinding industrial noise soundscape from the period when John was involved, and showcases the early era of the project before it evolved into the more widely recognized dark ambient behemoth it is today.
  • Vhril: Being an early 90’s collaboration project between John and Ulex Xane, ‘Transcosmic Mutations’ delivers an excellent esoteric ritual industrial track of twisting and constantly morphing sonics.
  • Genocide Organ: Although John was never a member of the Genocide Organ, he did provide sound source material on 1999’s ‘The Truth Will Make You Free’ album. On their ‘untitled’ track the group have paid tribute with an instrumental piece which is quite subdued by the group’s usual standards, but given its droning and metallic scraping experimental/ industrial soundscape it clearly is homage to John’s stylistic approach.
  • Knifeladder: Being the trio of John, Hunter Bar and Andrew Trail, they feature with a previously unreleased 2007 track ‘Long March’, which is of their trademark song styled, tribal/ industrial percussive approach.
  • Gerechtigkeits Liga: On 2009’s track ‘Dystopian Dream’ it features a fantastic elephantine percussive stomp (courtesy of John) as the key driving element of this post-industrial dirge.
  • Krank: Being John’s predominantly solo industrial project, the 2011 track ‘Drain Sounds in the Well’ features his distinctive chaotic swirling industrial maelstrom of grinding layered synths, garbled vocalisations and a mélange of found sounds/ random tonal objects.
  • Forest Di Ferro: Being the trio of John, Marco Deplano and Richard Leviathan, they feature with the 2015 track ‘Kalagni – False Dying Dawn’, which is a subdued martial ambient piece of distant rolling drumming, lead accordion melody and lamenting vocals of John.
  • Last Dominion Lost: Being the trio of John, Julian Percy and Jon Evans, they feature with 2015’s ‘Hexatom Recrudesce’. This is an alternate version to a track from 2014’s ‘Towers of Silence’ album, being a twisting garbled mass of bass throb, scattered synths, found sounds, lone woodwind flute and evocation styled vocals.
  • Of The Wand and the Moon: present a new 2016 exclusive track ‘Death Rune’, which is a beautifully haunting funeral dirge of a track with central organ/ accordion melody, ritual chimes and chanted/ whispered vocals (…simply sublime).

If nothing else this release demonstrates the sheer diversity of musical involvement and output of John over the years, but though mid to later periods showcasing darker sounds and esoteric themes providing the thread to neatly knit it all together.  Regarding package it is stunningly designed, featuring photos of John’s own amulets and jewelry, while the 32 page booklet includes written pieces provided by Stefan Hanser (label head of The Epicurean), Jon Evans, Alan Bamford and Andrew King provides further insight regarding the life and wide reaching musical involvement of John and are broadly framed around significant periods of his musical career (i.e. Australia and first England period (1997-1984), second period in England (1996-2008) and the final period in Berlin (2008-2015)).

With its limitation of 750 copies, and exquisite packaging and graphic presentation apart from being a window into John’s expansive sonic world, it has more real world implications given that all proceeds from sale are to be donated to John’s widow. A worthy document, testament and above all a celebration of the life and legacy of John Murphy.

MZ.412 – Hekatomb

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MZ.412 – Hekatomb CD Cold Spring Records 2015

Noting it is already 9 years since the last formal full length ‘Infernal Affairs’, the legendary and revered MZ.412 have certainly slowed to a glacial pace in the recording of new material.  Although a new album is evidently in the works, this album represents a live recording from the group, captured during their performance at Cold Spring’s 21 Year Anniversary Show on the 5th March 20011 (The Garage, London).  For the show MZ.412 featured the 3 main members Nordvargr, Dradkh and Ulvtharm, in addition to the mysterious 4th member Werdernskog.  For the performance itself it features 14 ‘movements’ (Act I through Act XIV), which combine into an uninterrupted and seamless 56 minute span.

Noting that MZ.412 is in the main a studio based project, in a live setting it appears that the group relies on pre-sequenced sections, which are combined with live created and manipulated electronics.  As such various ‘musical’ segments have been lifted from MZ.412’s back catalogue to create the backbone of the live set, which includes: the infernal to militant neo-classical movements of recent albums, as well as the rhythmic industrial and ritualistic percussive smelters from earlier works.  Thus with the pre-programmed segments forming an interlinking framework, live generated sweeping drones, ominous noise grim electronics manipulations and static charred disembodied vocalisations have then been overlaid.  Noting there is no detectable crowd noise or applause, it is assumed this recording has been taken directly from the mixing desk, and whilst the somewhat removes it from its live presentation, the sound is nevertheless sound is strong, loud and forceful.

A slick 6 panel digi-pack rounds out the presentation and features live images from the performance, where all members appear as faceless quasi-religious figures delivering their infernal sermon.  ‘Hekatomb’ is a certainly a solidly enjoyable recording and a welcomed document of a rare live performance, but with the lack of new material it really functions to whet the appetite for new studio recordings from the project.

Praetorian Guard – Ever Bloom Those Flowers of Rome

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Praetorian Guard – Ever Bloom Those Flowers of Rome MC Trapdoor Tapes 2015

Praetorian Guard are a group focusing on militant tinged industrial soundscapes, being the collaborative result of Matt Casey and Ben Taylor of Ebola Disco and Andrew McIntosh of Screwtape (but also not sounding nothing like these projects). I have no idea if this is a one off recording collaboration or something more permanent, but ‘Ever Bloom Those Flowers of Rome’ appears to be their only available recording.

With the stormy industrial soundscapes on display, there is a miasmic swirl to the layering of sonic elements and general analog roughness to the sound, thus providing a muted windswept quality. Sustained synth textures and rumbling bass addled distortion provide the backbone, where a semi-buried militant orchestral feel is also apparat, but it is not really a case of there being prominent orchestral elements rather just a feel of this to drones and on sporadic occasion partially buried violins and trumpets (samples or synths? Not sure). In other segments a militant percussive thump gives a greater degree of movement, coupled with sampled choir vocals. Vocals are also featured throughout, taking a variety of guises, including: spoken style but blended low within the mix; pitch shift morphed beyond easy recognition; or agonisingly yelled to match the passages pushes towards slightly more chaotic and overblown territory.

Although the militant industrial atmospheres created do in part hit their intended mark, with the material spanning 2 hours and containing no individual tracks (elongated soundscapes span the entirety of each side of the tape), the overall release is in part ambling and aimless, thus ending up being a bit of a slog to maintain interest and focus for the entire duration. So although this tape suits its purpose in short doses, it is also something I have not listened to in its entirety of a single listening session. Regardless of whether Praetorian Guard are intending to continue as a project, some greater focus and shorter length would no doubt strengthen the end result.