Lussuria- Standstill

Lussuria- Standstill 8xMC Hospital Productions 2017

Lussuria may not be the biggest or most well-known artist on the Hospital Production roster, but over the last decade this solo project of American Jim Mroz has issued a large array of releases which draws from a diverse sonic base, including: dark ambient, experimental industrial, muted noise, abstract techno and cinematic soundtrack styled sonic explorations. In then drawing together such a diverse sound palate, it is of interest that the end result contains a vague approximation of each chosen stylistic element, but where they are combined in such a way to sidestep the usual or expected traits of the genres being drawn from, and in the process evokes an intangible and at times mysterious aura.

To then speak of this new release, Standstill represents an exercise in stamina and endurance given that the eight cassettes feature a whopping 33 tracks (formatted as 29 tracks for the digital version), with a combined total playtime pushing almost the four-hour mark. In then choosing to issue such a monolithic release in today’s age of short attention spans, on run-time alone Standstill has to be acknowledged for its rather epic and time stretching efforts. Perhaps then of contextual interest is the fact that Jim Mroz was a contributing member who joined Dominik Fernow on Prurient’s 2017 album Rainbow Mirror – the three hour and twenty minute marathon  meaning Jim is no stranger to releases with an excessively elongated run-time.

When further considering the monumental length of Standstill it might be somewhat expected that it would be most sonically diverse. Upon listening that expectation is revealed to be true, where at times Standstill is the most purposefully musical release in Lussuria’s discography to date and consequently a fair departure from the oblique industrial and abstract techno infused experimentation of earlier works. Yet, regardless of the sheer stylistic diversity on display, the overarching mood is one of a cinematic sound-score which remains as stylistic hallmark of earlier material. Likewise while the fractured beats and rhythms of earlier works make sporadic appearances here and there, more broadly Standstill evokes a deft filmic quality and timeless atmosphere.

To talk of specifics, but without attempting the unnecessary task of describing all aspects of the release, an impression of some of the more notable moments found within the sprawling scope follow. As such the album opens with Tree of Marble, an excellent cut of hushed experimental electronica with strong underpinning tone of melancholia. Another early track Aegri Somnia channels a quite distinct archaic soviet synthesizer sound, while the combined piece Viaticum/ Spear Dance/ Companion Note features driving doom addled beats, minor keyed synth washes, and maudlin clean shimmering guitars to generate a mood driven piece of the highest order. Another combined track Acanthus Leaves/ Of Rage And Denial/ Lashes features emotive drones, radio chatter, orchestral synth washes and tribal percussion which strongly brings to mind the early 1990’s sound of Cold Meat Industry (and specifically artists such as Morthound or Deutsch Nepal), before shifting into a section of muted but driving techno-esque beats. Moving into the middle of the set list, Natura Liberari I-III – plays out as a minimalist and abstract contemporary classical piece of sparse percussion, cello piano and woodwind instrumentation, before later segments divert off into conveyor belt rhythms and looped choir like drones. Twilight Red stands out as a dark ambient track of the highest callable, where the deep sub-orchestral drones are very reminiscent of the best moments of mid era raison d’etre (and when first listening to this my mind wandered and forgot I was listening to Lussuria, where I then momentarily wondered which raison d’etre album I was listening to!). Cliff In The Red Tidal Wave shows yet more variety, by channeling a lurking, suspense styled atmospheric piece of minimalist horror stings and abstract creaking tonality, ritual chimes, and sparse clean guitar. Your Voice To Arise As Incense then completely stands out from the rest, given it is based around sampled male choral vocals (Russian? Not sure), before their tonal resonance of the vocals is harnessed and the track veers off into heady ritual drone territory. As for the final track of the entire set, De Svarta Porten strides into neo-classical and martial industrial tinged territory, but maintaining a forlorn and abstract edge through to the final moments.

With the overall massive run-time being what it is, it was simply not possible to consume this in a single sitting, rather it was approached in larger blocks of tracks over a number of listening sessions. But given the distinct individual focus of the tracks which make up Standstill, it means the material can be approached in this way without hampering its appreciation. In noting from the above description of particular standout moments, it perhaps indicates that not every moment of Standstill is of the same high level. Yet even with that said there is no poor quality or skippable content, which in of itself is an impressive feat when dealing with literally hours of music.

With its monolithic scope and creative diversity Standstill is a stellar release and the most varied and engaging material I have heard from Lussuria to date. But as this was issued in an physical edition of a mere 150 copies (already long sold out), this leaves only the digital version as the means in which to experience this. As a final comment, it is noted that Hospital Productions have previously issued similar 8xMC’s from a number of their artists. So perhaps like Alberich’s original 8xMC NATO-Uniformen from 2010 which was treated to a ‘best of selection’ reissue on 2xLP in 2014, in future Standstill may also be given the same ‘best of’ reissue treatment. We shall see.

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Stromstad ‎– New Devoted Human

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

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

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

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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

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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.

Kristoffer Oustad – Filth Haven

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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.