Stromstad – New Devoted Human LP Malignant Records 2017
This debut release from Stromstad is revealed to be collaborative album between the Finnish duo STROM.ec and Norwegian Kristoffer Oustad – and what a debut it is. With STROM.ec being recognized for a highly refined blend of industrial and heavy electronics and with Kristoffer Oustad inhabiting an evocative industrial smeared dark ambient sound, the creative collaboration between the two was always going to be an interesting one. Yet the creativity and flair on display completely exceeds any initial expectations.
Noting that each of the eight tracks are relatively confined (between three and six minutes each), this functions to generate a sense of urgency across the album, where its shifting and morphing elements draw from abrasive mechanical programming, controlled noise, lush sub-orchestral pads and gruff processed vocals. As an example, the fizzing/ buzzing looped static of the album opener Inherent Resurrection soon gives way to rolling tribal percussion and rough yelled vocals (clearly recognisable as those of STROM.ec), and functions very much as a statement of intent of what is explored over the balance of the album. Fever Wave Dream Function quickly following with woozy drones and off-kilter metallic clatter, shimmering synths and all underscored with a throbbing programmed element which leaps into heavily rhythmic section late in the track. The central buzzing tonality and stilted mechanical textures drives Blood Consciousness and when coupled with the gruff, slightly treated vocals is perhaps the piece most comparable to a straight STROM.ec composition. The sub-orchestral strains of Nattsvermer constitutes the first effective respite of the album, being a semi-melodious cinematic drone-scape which reminds of mid era raison detre (and particularly so where some distant choir textures are used). In a somewhat unexpected guest contribution, Grutle Kjellson from Enslaved provides vocals on Reluctant Traveler, another track of stilted mechanical rhythms and buzzing fissures of static mixed with moody orchestral textures, while Gruttle’s vocals range from spoken, guttural chants and urgent yells (a late track guitar gives a partial nod to the current prog metal direction of Enslaved). The title track is positioned towards the album’s ends is in some ways the most straight forward with rapid fire looped beat, tempered static and vocals relegated to the middle of the mix, but in the later half it veers off into moody sub-orchestral territory, while the final album track Kosto then deviates the most, with a synth derived neo-classical piece of moody swelling strings, and with a definite modern sci-fi edge to the sound.
Not being an overly long album, all the same it delivers a heavy impact across its multiple creative arcs, and which consequently makes it feel to be a much longer album than its actual run-time. While New Devoted Human could be said to be of the genres it draws from, at the same time it steps well beyond them given its inspired use and application of such influences. Effectively the album excels by the fact of how vital the finished result sounds, and in the process generates new creative ways of approaching recognizable genre sound elements. Issued on vinyl in gate-fold sleeve, CD or digital formats, it is simply a matter of taking your pick of preferred format. But as a word of advice, do not let this album pass you by.
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.
Claustrum – Funeral Fugues & Reminiscence † 1992-1997 CD Old Captain 2016
Claustrum are a Latvian project whom I am not at all familiar with, despite it seeming they have been around since 1992. But according to what background details I could dig up, evidently their sound has evolved over the years to include: dark ambient, industrial, neoclassical, martial industrial and power electronics. As per the (perhaps obvious) title, this album collects together 18 selected tracks from the first 5 years of the project.
Although featuring early Claustrum material, this includes material which is well above what you might usually expect from the fledgling steps of an artist, and covers some stellar dark ambient offerings and more fully completed neoclassical tracks. Contextually speaking about the first half of the CD features sacral dark ambient type tracks, and in more than a few fleeting moments brings to mind the likes of the highly regarded Raison D’etre, (…particularly with the use of church bells, sampled/ manipulated choir chants and dank subterranean atmospheres etc). But this is not a case of Claustrum drawing direct influence from Raison D’etre, particularly given that both projects commenced in the same year of 1992, therefore they both clearly evolved a similar sound in isolation of each other. On the later half of the tracks, a greater proportion shift towards neoclassical expression and features more heavily composed tracks which range from funeral organ dirges to rousing martial driven pieces etc. Regardless of styles covered, all of the featured tracks are on the shorter side (…given none exceed 6 minutes and most are around 3 to 4 minutes each), which provides the feel of short musical sketches rather than a holistically composed album, yet the musical flow still manages to meanders between pieces without jarring the general mood and atmosphere. Perhaps the only real musical missteps of the album is the darkwave styled ‘Instrument of Cacophony’ (…which include guitars and sung vocals), which to this ear sound clunky and awkward compared to the rest to the material, while some of the neo-classical elements do suffer from an overtly synthetic edge (…but is more of a minor observation).
As with most Old Captain releases, this has been issued as a cleanly designed digi-pack in a small edition run (250 copies here), which clearly functions to provide the label flexibility and scope to issue interesting obscurities such as this.
Henrik Nordvargr Björkk / Margaux Renaudin – Anima Nostra CD Cold Spring 2016
The long established, prolific and always dependable Henrik ‘Nordvargr’ Björkk, has teamed up with Margaux Renaudin – a name I do not recognise. Despite this unfamiliarity with one half of the collaboration, from the outset it is worthwhile acknowledging that ‘Anima Nostra’ is not too far removed from the sonic worlds Nordvargr inhabits, but equally that it is slanted towards the ritual/ rhythmic/ sub-orchestral sounds of MZ.412.
The pairing of opening tracks ‘Sunyata’, ‘Spiritus Omni’ take no time in setting the scene with driving tribal/ ritual percussion, guttural vocal chants, ominous sub-orchestral drones and drawling horns of death. Simply magnificent. ‘Morning Star’ is then a surprise feature, (being a reworking of an MZ.412 track), where the driving tribal/ ritual percussion and ominous droning foghorns of the original has been augmented with booming sub-orchestral horns, sweeping noise and additional vocals (both whispered and electronic treated). A further pairing of ‘Kmt’ & ‘Runik Haxagram II’ present high calibre abstract, ritualised/ percussive dark ambient soundscapes, while ‘Gjallarhornet Ljuder’ steps up with a track of sonically forceful, multi-layered power-drones. ‘Lavenement du neant’ functions as a particular album standout, which mixed a lamenting and extremely cinematic neo-classical melody, spoken female French vocals (assuming this to be Margaux Renaudin?) and driving poly-rhythmic tribal percussion. Absolutely sublime. Final album offering ‘Maladia Skandinavia’ sprawls out over a 9 minute expanse, and although ‘drone’ in intent, the tolling church bell and focused melodious chants (which themselves have been further treated into a droning texture), are further offset by rolling ritual percussion and forceful sub-orchestral tones.
Apart from being one of the strongest examples of ritual and neo-classical tinged dark ambient in recent memory (as well as being the closest Nordvargr has come to date in emulating the sound of MZ.412), the 6 panel digipack and 8 pages cover insert are also worthy of individual mention. Courtesy of Margaux Renaudin the cover features stunning graphic presentation of esoteric symbolism in metallic copper on black print. As a final comment, evidently since the release of this album the project has evolved into to more defined band and relabeled under the Anima Nostra moniker. Accordingly further material in this vein is an absolutely welcomed prospect: but in the interim the album ‘Anima Nostra’ is very much worthy of your attention.
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.
Kristoffer Oustad – Filth Haven CD Malignant Records 2015
Kristoffer Oustad of the duo based projects Kristoffer Nyströms Orkester and V:28 has recently moved into solo territory with ‘Filth Haven’, although I am only familiar with Kristoffer Nyströms Orkester’s album ‘Overlook Hotel’ as a comparative benchmark(given I am aware of V:28 by name only).
Regardless, the opening album piece ‘Elberton 1979’ is a strong composition using booming brass horns (of hell) to evoke a martial industrial tinged dark ambient tone. This is quickly backed up with ‘Anti-clockwise Rotation’; a hallucinationary tinged, subdued rhythmic industrial meets dark ambient piece and within the context of these first two tracks it demonstrates Kristoffer to be skilled in writing dark musical compositions within the general ‘CMI sound’. The third offering then comes in the form of the amazing 9 minute ‘Row Me Over’, being part soundscape and part dark ambience. With a backing of outdoor field recordings (forest sounds, creaking oars, croaking crows etc.), these blend with desolate and melancholic sub-orchestral synth drones and low level microtonal cracking metallic textures for excellent tonal impact. This piece represents a ‘sonic tapestry’ of the highest order and specifically reminds of the desolate bleakness of raison d’etre’s classic album ‘within the depths of silence and phormations’. ‘Liquidator’ features as another industrial tinged dark ambient track, with rumbling echoed elements, noninvasive sweeping textures and muted semi-orchestral drones to create a track with a general soundscape sprawl. Late album track ‘The Sun Maker’ is slightly more forceful with its blend of various creaking and rhythmic tones with octave shifting dour sub-orchestral elements and violin synth pads to evoke an melancholic edge, and then steps up again on the final track ‘The Arch’ with a looped and churning sub-militant industrial structure, which is heavily process with bass reverb and undercurrent of creaking metallic elements.
Seemingly stepping out of the shadows of his other collaborative projects, Kristoffer Oustad will no doubt establish his solo prominence through this excellent industrial/ dark ambient album. Likewise with ‘Filth Haven’ being quintessentially ‘nordic’ and bleak in feel, it is a more than suitable continuation of the legacy set down by the CMI (and related) troop.
In Slaughter Natives – Cannula Coma Legio CD Cyclic Law 2014
Clearly not being a project to rush their releases, the long-standing and cult revered In Slaughter Natives has resurfaced after a 10 year break from the last formal album ‘Resurrection’, which in turn was preceded by an 8 year gap between it and 1996’s ‘Purgate My Stain’. Despite these long passages of silence it is great to see that In Slaughter Natives is still active after all these years, considering that the debut release was issued way back in 1989.
Regardless of the slow pace of releases unquestionably In Slaughter Natives were hugely influential in establishing the ‘Cold Meat Industry’ sound and more broadly the northern European industrial underground. Likewise in hindsight it can be acknowledged that In Slaughter Natives were a precursor the ‘martial industrial’ genre, although their trademark orchestral industrial doom has stood out from and has not been replicated by the majority of projects of a ‘martial industrial’ style (which are predominantly influenced by early to mid-20th century history and era). Thus In Slaughter Natives stand apart with their distinctive and recognisable neo-classical compositions, which articulate a hellish atmosphere of religious laments and amounts to a sonic representation of purgatorial damnation.
With this necessary background out-of-the-way, evidently ‘Cannula Coma Legio’ is technically not the new album from the group, rather is billed a stop-gap release prior to the release of the actual new album in 2015. So for this release it contains 3 new tracks which are set alongside a series of reworked and upgraded versions of earlier material. Yet interestingly all of the material which has been brought together for this release works perfectly as a coherent whole. This has been achieved by the fact that new versions substantially differ from the originals versions to the point of being almost unrecognisable, and in a number of instances the original melodies and structural elements of known compositions only reveal themselves after multiple detailed listens. This is most evident for the updated versions of the earliest reworked material, where in some instances the programmed sound of the original versions have not held up fully with the passage of time. Yet the reason why the new versions work so well here, is that they have ben elevated to full bombastic orchestral intensity.
With ‘Cannula Coma Legio’ seamlessly merging brooding and understated neo-classical passages with sections of booming orchestral bombast, the greatest reference point is with respect of ‘Purgate My Stain’ (THE classic in In Slaughter Natives discography), an album with a slow building intensity which explodes into passages of orchestral doom at appropriate moments. Given this new album manages a similar sound and approach to ‘Purgate My Stain’, is clearly an indication of how ‘Cannula Coma Legio’ is appreciated around these parts.
Do not let the fact that this album is promoted as a teaser for the new album give any sort of impression that this material is second-rate. ‘Cannula Coma Legio’ is as strong as ‘Purgate Mt Stain’ thus demonstrating In Slaughter Natives are still an underground heavyweight. It is also fantastic to see the project releasing some of their strongest material some 25 years since the debut. Bring on the next release!