Grunt – Kraniometria

Grunt – Kraniometria 3” MCD Freak Animal 2019

Over the past decade Grunt have issued a stellar run of composed power electronics releases, yet Grunt’s new offering has reverted to harsh noise territory, featuring three tracks and around 21 minutes of material. Although this mini CD is concerned with harsh noise, that tonal spectrum is no stranger given it has been a staple element in Grunt’s sound where it has been employed as a core compositional element.

But on Kraniometria harsh noise is used as a free-flowing element, and evidently the end result has been edited from hours of recordings. The opening four-minute track Eschatological Uterus features a raw and blown out/hollowed out sound which has the fierceness and energy of arching high voltage electricity, while the multitude of layers employed gives it a multi-textural sound. Flowing between clear sections, it builds to chaos and recedes to moments of relative calm, rather than employing a singular one-dimensional tone.

The second track is Sex-Paralys-Appeal and under two minutes in length, again with electricity tones arching over a deft raw and heavy junk metal rumble. The title track clocks in at 15 minutes, and while following the same tonal spectrum as the first two tracks, the flow is more fiercely freeform, cutting between distinct sections and segments, including choppy and whistling overblown feedback and a late-track section of almost orchestral intensity, maintaining a prevalent intensity throughout.

Brutally loud, but roughly echoed and hollowed in depth and tone, this is a good short and sharp release to hear Mikko letting loose with noise under the Grunt moniker.

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Jaakko Vanhala – Cuts of Grace

Jaakko Vanhala – Cuts of Grace 3” MCD Freak Animal Records 2019

Evidently Jaakko had been working for many years on a full length follow up to 2012’s Here Be Lions. But instead the best fruits of that labour have been culled and issued as a five-track 21-minute mini CD, and literally not a second is wasted across its short span.

While I am not an avid noise listener, when I do so it warrants listening to the best and Jaakko is certainly widely recognized as a master of his craft. Yet Jaakko’s modus operandi is far from an improvisational ‘one take’ approach; rather the sonics are meticulously spliced together from a myriad of separate recording sessions, and this absolutely shines through in the end result. The scalpel-like precision of sonic editing generates an ever-changing and evolving chaotic sonic maelstrom which is simply a joy to listen to, particularly as the production tone is loud, crystalline, and detailed. Here the varying elements include rapid-fire screeching noise, shredding junk metal sonics, ripping distortion, sustained needling elements, and detailed micro-tonal textures that blend, overlap, and radiate off one another. Stereo panning between speakers functions to then further amplify the beautiful aural chaos, and on final track Sword of Death the use of a melodious synth undercurrent provides a vague orchestrally cinematic aura.

There is little point in completing a track by track review, although track titles do perhaps imply arcane and esoteric themes such as Iris Star and Blood Arcanum. Yet the above description functions to capture the essence of the mini CD and highlight the compositional approach of the recordings, which must be heard fully to appreciate this noise master at work. A mini cardboard-gatefold cover rounds out a slick presentation for a fantastic release.

Sutcliffe Jugend – Relentless

Sutcliffe Jugend – Relentless 4xCD Death Continues 2019

Sutcliffe Jugend (SJ) have been on quite the creative run over the last thirteen years since their reactivation in 2006. During that time the group have not shied away from producing extended length releases, which has included the massive six CD set SLAVES (2016), and the double CD album The Hunger (2018). But now the end of the road has been reached, and evidently the project has come to an end, as prior to release of Relentless it was announced that SJ were no more and that this four CD set was their final statement. The title then constitutes a very succinct description of what to expect across its significant runtime.

In noting the stylistic arc of the group over recent albums, this album both aligns with and builds upon the of wider sonic experimentation of recent years. This means there is plenty of material of the partially structured industrial/power electronics, or loose guitar driven pieces resembling SJ’s take on noise-rock/doom-drone, but both approaches which are further complimented with visceral vocals with their strong psychoanalytical slant. Likewise, there is plenty of material of a more experimental and creatively divergent bent, which includes Bludgeoned (I am the one) (CD1), with an almost martial industrial feel like early In Slaughter Natives, given its clanging/ pounding framework and blaring sub-orchestral synths, yet the wailed and unhinged vocals sets it clearly within the SJ camp. Equally the wonky but controlled pulsing electronics and semi-crooned vocals of Worm (This Is The Rest Of Your Life) (CD1) stands apart given its muted melodious construct, but gradually becomes completely unhinged as the track progresses. A prominent spoken work narrative features on Pavlov’s Dog (The Artists Dilemma) (CD2), set against caustic throb and churning distortion, while the following track Different (I am a slave) (CD2) forms a minimalist tensile drone-scape with whispered vocals.

On a whole CD3 brings together a series of more minimal and subdued tracks where tone and tension take precedence over volume and harshness. The God (who craved his own death) (CD3), rates a mention with its shimmering, droning soundscape of melodious hum/chanted vocals which builds to muted noise squalls towards its end, while Scars (CD3) features minimalist micro-tonal tones, whispered vocals and loose plodding bass, while elevating tension is created though a myriad of wonky electronics. After the partial respite of CD3, the following CD4 ups the aggression again with a collection of looser and harsher PE driven tracks which arc back to a more ferocious era of the project (refer to Unleash the Fury, Violence and Stripped as key examples). Yet even so there are further surprises, such as the spoken narrative of Domestic, with its needling mid-toned electronics and sparse abstracted piano motif, and Endurance (in a world of pain), with its fast pulsing rhythmic electronics and unhinged distortion blended vocals.

Not to be content with the four main CDs, there is yet another album’s worth of material, available as a limited download card with the first 100 copies of the album. This bonus material is an effective addendum and continuation of the main collection of tracks, but perhaps siting towards the soundscape and rhythmically experimental end of SJ’s current sound. On the final track Poison (an ending), it is then a quite fitting conclusion to the entire release, being a in a dour and moody contemporary classically style, where a minimalist strings quartet and low spoken vocals characterize proceedings.

Given the massive expanse of material featured, the sheer diversity and length of Relentless is quite a thing to behold. In recent years other projects have opted for much longer releases, and with the most-high profile being Prurient’s extended album Rainbow Mirror (spanning 7 LP’s or 3CD’s). For comparative sakes, while Rainbow Mirror contains a range and engaging and sonically interesting passages, when taken in totality it never fully captured my full attention for the entirety of its duration. Yet to then refer this back to Relentless, it is significantly longer release than Rainbow Mirror, but has no difficultly in maintaining focus and interest over its substantial runtime. Perhaps Relentless won’t change your mind if the recent run of albums have not been to your liking, but for those who have been following SJ’s creative decade plus journey, Relentless is a very fitting final statement.

Striations – Vietnamization

Striations – Vietnamization DCD Old Captain/Eibon 2019

Striations is a name I am familiar with, being the industrial/noise/power electronics project of American Mike Finklea, but I must admit that I did not properly check them out until now, due to the quite daunting discography (close to 30 releases since 2011). Yet when I spotted the promo blurb stating this was the project’s ‘magnum opus’, I figured it was high time to investigate further. This version of Vietnamization is a CD reissue of the original tape on New Forces from 2018, but expanded with additional content (originally issued to close associates of the project). From the title alone the thematic preoccupations of this album are clear, focusing on the policy of the Richard Nixon administration to end US involvement in the Vietnam War, which functionally involved bolstering the role of South Vietnamese forces and simultaneously reducing American troops.

Two sprawling tracks (or ‘phases’) constitutes the original material (53 minutes), which feature an amorphous and continually shifting sound that corresponds with the listed sub-titles such as 1971 Army Recruitment Radio Advertisement, Secret War, and Automaton Squad. (18 sub-titled tracks span Phases 1 & 2). In an overarching sense spoken samples give way to violent noise and unhinged vocals, but just as quickly shift off into pensive throbbing synths and deep pounding rhythms, while fierce gunfire and jungle noise place the listener within the middle of the firefight. With heavy use of thematic samples this gives a real impression of listening to a soundtracked documentary – albeit with industrial, noise, and power electronics – with an ever shifting but interlinking sound palette interspersed with sections of dialogue. Likewise, segments of violent noise blend with restrained stalking soundscapes and function to highlight the variety and complexity of compositional approach. Yet despite the wealth of thematic samples employed, the meaning and message remains murky. It is unclear whether this is seeking to be a mere documentation of key events (including the arrogance and political failings of the American government during the conflict), a comment on the impact of war on both civilians and individual soldiers, or an analysis of the dark aspects of human nature during wartime action.

Phase 3: Operation Boundary Rider, Phase 4: Operation Shed Light and Phase 5: Operation Freedom Deal form the additional content not included on the original tape, and effectively constitute lengthy collages of TV reporting, media interviews, radio soundbites, and a mostly minimalist backing of soundscape-oriented battlefield ambience (save for one short section of composed rhythmic synths). Throughout this material the spoken voices take center stage and function to flesh out the conceptual backing of the core material on Phase 1 and Phase 2. While this material is certainly interesting, it perhaps does not warrant repeated listens when compared to the main tracks.

The promo blurb used the descriptive word ‘obsession’ to describe the overall methodology, which is spot on in my view, particularly given the meticulous approach to the presentation of its theme and sonic content. Vietnamization is an engaging and compelling release and reminds me of the totality of thematic obsession and sonic complexity of releases such as the 2007 double album Fentanyl Martyrs by Survival Unit, even if the end result is completely different. A six-panel double digi-pack with additional text and visuals rounds out an excellent release. But with a mere 300 copies I would not imagine this will remain available for too long.

BJNilsen ‎– Focus Intensity Power / Tape Dekay ‎– Decadimento Del Nastro – Decadenza Di Tutto

BJNilsen Focus Intensity Power LP Moving Furniture Records 2018

Tape Dekay Decadimento Del Nastro – Decadenza Di Tutto CD Old Captain/Narcolepsia 2019

From his first dark ambient project Morthound which had releases on Cold Meat Industry during the early 1990s, BJNilsen moved over to the Hazard moniker in the late 1990s, and from around 2004 onwards opted to record under his own name. Generally speaking, over the last 15 years BJ’s approach has been characterized by an experimental approach to sonically processing various natural and urban-based field recordings. However with Focus Intensity Power being the solo new album, it marks a decided shift away from the use of field recordings as it is a purely studio-based album, which according to the promo notes provides: ‘documents of improvised sessions using modular synthesizers, tone generators and test and measurement instruments’. Sonically this album has greater alignment with early Hazard albums than recent solo output and is certainly welcomed from these quarters. The 15-minute album opener Beam Finder is an elongated exploration of minimalist unceasing mid to lower range bass tones, coupled with micro-tonal static and machine idling drones which appear late in the track. This approach continues with The Sound Of Two Hands, although this is slightly more forceful and varied with the introduction of a ‘ticking clock’ element and other minimalist scattered electronics. The relatively short Flattened Space embodies a muted sub-orchestral tone blended with mechanical menace, while Table of Hours fits cleanly within a dark ambient drone frame of reference. The final of the five tracks, The Limits of Function, starts slow but gradually elevates with layered machine drones, and the second half of the track is driven forwards by a central rhythmic loop. In essence Focus Intensity Power is an effective celebration of sustained tonal atmospheres, which amounts to evocative sounds in their purest form. Sublime.

Moving on to the review of Tape Dekay, this is not a new project but a quite obscure side project of BJNilsen. In fact, before this debut CD only two tracks were previously issued from the project on two separate compilation releases dating from 1999 and 2008. Given that in recent decades BJ has mostly worked under his own name with manipulated field recordings/electroacoustic material, for Tape Dekay the sleeves have been rolled up to tackle the more direct fields of noise. But as might be expected with someone with such refined experimental compositional skills, these have been employed here to generate a clean and loud production. While ‘noise’ is the name of the game, it is also not ‘harsh noise’ by any stretch; this is more of an exercise in experimental noise and an exploration in tone and sonic construction technique. Although select passages build to a certain noise heft, including crumbling bass, static rumble, and slashes of sound, the album is also not harsh by typical measures. Other tracks employ a vague structure of off-kilter factory rhythms, driven forwards with weighty machine-like drones and monolithic industrial loops. With melodic elements being entirely absent (except for what sounds like processed male choirs in one track), the employed tone and the separation of sonic elements function to maintain detailed interest throughout. Likewise, given the level of meticulous construction which has been employed within compositions, there is a real sense of sonic complexity spanning the seven tracks.

Both of these albums from BJ Nilsen are certainly different in approach and equally enjoyable in their own right and chosen musical spheres. But from a purely personal position, Focus Intensity Power is the album which I have kept returning to over many months.

Geography of Hell – 19 September 1985 Mexico City / 19 September 2017 Central Mexico

Geography of Hell – 19 September 1985 Mexico City / 19 September 2017 Central Mexico MC Hospital Productions 2019

The mysterious collective Geography of Hell have built up quite a reputation since 2008 despite little promotion and difficulty in getting their releases. The six cassettes and one 2xLP have mostly been issued on Hospital Productions (except for one tape on Lust Vessel), all of which have quickly sold out and are extremely difficult to track down given few people seem interested in on-selling them. In fact this new cassette is the first physical release from the project I have managed to obtain.

With the concept revolving around focusing on particular global disaster events, this new two track, 30-minute tape focuses on two major earthquake events in Mexico that occurred on the same date but 32 years apart. The first track features thick and laborious industrial noise which borders on being muted instrumental heavy electronics. Heavy waves of shuddering bass are blended with sustained mid-toned atonal noise textures. The overall mood is one of barren, windswept soundscapes of ebbing and flowing textures, which gradually builds in intensity over the 15-minute duration. The second track mines similar sonic territory to the first, with a controlled slow crawling pace. The inclusion of a rolling looped beat provides added forward movement and pacing. Again the thick low-end bass and full breadth of sound in the balance of the mix makes for an engaging result.

Overall this tape is far more sedate than other material I have heard from the project, and certainly leaning towards the ambient side of things. But the attention to detail and layering of material is evident and makes for very engaging listening. Packaging-wise, the black shell cassette is housed in a poly-bag with fold-out poster sleeve providing further visuals around the tape’s theme.

Terror Cell Unit ‎– Psalm 137:9

Terror Cell Unit Psalm 137:9 LP Bacteria Field ‎2018

Terror Cell Unit have been rather active in recent years and of the 11 releases issued since 2014, six were issued in 2018 and 2019 alone. Psalm 137:9 has functioned as my introduction to the project, being a strongly themed, high-caliber power electronics release. With the project being an American duo of Mackenzie Chami and Samuel Torres, it is quite apparent they are inspired by the UK/European ‘cultural terrorist’ approach to power electronics, but equally have ample elements to put their own stamp on this sound.

This release, based on track titles, cover images, and dialogue samples, is concerned with Timothy James McVeigh and the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing, which killed 168 people (including 19 children – 14 of whom are pictured on the album cover). Further information on different elements of this incident, details of American white supremacist movements, and associated government responses such as Operation Cleansweep, are also provided via dialogue samples, additional sleeve images, and inserts. Given this thematic focus, it then specifically warrants consideration of the album’s title of Psalm 137:9 noting that this psalm states: “Happy is the one who seizes your infants and dashes them against the rocks.” While some theological interpretations say it is intended to mean a desire for justice through the metaphorical death of one’s enemies (this explanation also expressly ignores the practice during biblical times of conquering forces killing infants to sever the bloodline of their adversaries), clearly this is not the context in which it has been employed here.

The album opens with Suicide Mission Part I (Planning) which is a throbbing, seething, mass of throbbing bass, dive-bombing textures, and raw vocals processed beyond recognition, with a similar mood following through to Suicide Mission Part II (Executing The Operation) which is fleshed out with a documentary sample regarding the ease of accessibility of firearms within America. Vocals are courtesy of Mackenzie Chami (also of Koufar) and are strong and distinct, but perhaps in the context of Terror Cell Unit a greater degree of echo and distortion treatment has been employed (which makes the vocals less overtly prominent than their presentation in Koufar). Fear God/Hate Man functions to elevate the mood with its framework of mid-paced swaying rhythmic loops, fiercely framed mid to higher pitched distortion, and heavily processed ragged vocals. Psalm 137:9 is even more unhinged, with rough structures, buzzing noise, and vocals repeating the psalm of the track’s title. In stepping down a touch on the ‘machine idling’ pulse of Swine Feasting On Their Merchants, the vocals are processed to the point of resembling a pig’s squeal, and later replaced with samples of squealing swine. Patriot’s Day further fleshes out the themes of the release through documentary dialogue samples, which are backed by elevating layered distortion that builds to a chaotic sonic mass. In closing the album, When The Chickens Come Home To Roost commences with the emphatically screamed lyric of “we only say what the bible says”, before launching into a blistering and shuddering track of barely contained revving loops and general sonic mayhem. Fantastic stuff.

Being sonically strong and thematically unflinching, this is an excellent modern power electronics release. Although clearly not reinventing the wheel, there are ample sonic hallmarks and compositional techniques that give Terror Cell Unit a sound of their own. Likewise, attitude and aggression play a big part in whether this sort of material works or not, but given that Terror Cell Unit have both of this in spades, the project are shaping up to be a favorite new discovery – albeit I am clearly late to the party. Recommended.