The Grey Wolves – Exit Strategy

The Grey Wolves – Exit Strategy LP Tesco Organisation 2017

So here we are, 14 years on from the last official Grey Wolves album Division released in 2003. Being many years in the making, Exit Strategy has also been announced as the final album from this long standing and rather revered group, with its release also coinciding with their final live ‘action’ at Tesco Organisation’s 30th Anniversary show in Mannheim in October, 2017. So as the saying goes, “all good things must come to an end” – and end they have, but not before this ‘exist strategy’ was devised.

Having spent some time becoming acquainted with Exit Strategy, from the outset there is no way of getting around the fact that the sound of the album is not representative of what would typically be expected from The Grey Wolves. This comment is then made in full acknowledgement that the project has over their 30+ years of activity covered a diverse range of sounds, which has included: atmospheric dark ambient; murky industrial noise; and harsh power electronics. However much of the perception of Exist Strategy not sounding like The Grey Wolves comes down the general cleanliness of the sound and the clarity of the production.  This situation would then seem to be somewhat explained by the album’s liner notes that: “Exit Strategy was produced, mixed, mastered with additional audio and artwork by Jerome Nougaillon” (aka Propergol – and perhaps tellingly if Exist Strategy were played to me without being told who it was, chances are I would have said it sounded like the sharp and clinical approach employed by Propergol). So, although far from confirmed, I suspect that Jerome had a central role in the creation of this album, and this may have gone as far as being responsible for reworking and finalising a range of source material and/ or unfinished tracks from the group. Whether or not the truth on how the album was completed comes to light, remains to be seen.

To then speak of the album’s construction and flow, it is an instrumental and soundscape oriented in style and approach. A heavy dystopian mood and cinematic atmosphere permeates the album, where this perception is duly confirmed by the promo blub which states: “The soundtrack to an as yet unmade Hong Kong splatter movie. A seemingly endless march through cinematic urban decay. The original sound reduced to its basic structure through loops, repetition, distortion and other alienation techniques. it’s time to think about an Exit Strategy. The sodium orange hours of the city make you believe in the apocalypse”. Yet given the ‘soundtrack to a non-existent film’ format, there is also a conspicuous absence of the trademark vocals which are without doubt a sorely missed element. But to speak of specifics, the opening track In Our Time is a strong and tensile introduction based around pulsing textures, driving drones, a lone pounding ‘beat’ and mid-toned static shards. The Precinct then steps up a notch in urgency with a shuddering obliquely rhythmic framework with is further coupled with radio chatter for further cinematic effect. Another track worthy of individual mention is In Too Deep with it scattered sweeping textures and sparse programmed ‘Morse-code’ type rhythm.  Seizure then deviates completely from a recognized sound, given its hard pounding programmed beats and static blasts resembles a type of industrial techno along the lines of Alberich (and for this reason alone is likely to be the most divisive track on the album). In rounding out the album Flatline uses a prominent movie dialogue sample of Samuel L Jackson, and while for me personally it negatively jars the overarching mood and would have been better excluded altogether, thankfully it is used only once and not repeated (as often dialogue samples tend to be in this type of music). Sonically speaking this track is a tensile blend of jarring (digital?) noise, sporadically rhythmic outbreaks and doom addled atmospheric drones.

Although this review may on face value appear to be overly critical, such commentary should be taken more as observations which highlight the clear differences between initial expectation and the actual reality of the final The Grey Wolves album. Ultimately Exist Strategy IS a strong and enjoyable album in its own right, but can only be acknowledged after getting over the initial expectations of what you may want it to be. So, if you are able to divorce yourself from expectations that this album should be something like The Grey Wolves’ magnum opus, and instead simply approach it for what it is, some excellent material awaits and functions as a sort of unexpected addendum to their established and celebrated legacy.

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Tusen Ar Under Jord – Sandhavens Genklang

Tusen Ar Under Jord – Sandhavens Genklang LP Verlautbarung 2017

Although I was previously aware of this mysterious Swedish project, I have not had an opportunity to hear them until now, which was basically due to not being able to track down a copy of their limited debut tape.

Given the debut tape Sorgsendömet Fobos from 2013 was described as one which “transcends the border lines between drone, ambient and dark echoes of the past”, this follow up LP is noted to be a different beast altogether. Sonically speaking Sandhavens Genklang is rooted in a ‘exotic’ middle eastern sound, where it would appear this album is constructed from sampling and looping fragments of old and forgotten records which were otherwise reconciled to the dustbin of history. In resurrecting fragments of those sampled records, the music is mostly framed around prominent elements of hypnotic tabla percussion, melodious woodwinds, bowed traditional string instruments, wailing horns and tribal chimes, which generates an atmosphere of a dusty and bustling market place in some unnamed city in ancient times. The sampling of old records also means the finished recording contains prominent ‘artifacts’ of hiss, pop and crackle which adds to the sonic allure and general sense of sonic mystery and sets the tone far form being modern digitally produced recording.  On the visual front, the cover also exudes an exotic flavour, with the project name and title printed on a piece of cloth affixed to the cover, along with a postcard featuring a drawing of the pyramids of Giza and what may just be a UFO hovering above.

Essentially the strength of this release is it completely transcends any genre confines and thereby completely skews associated expectations to reside in its own musical sphere. Although being a highly atmospheric recording, equally it is not overtly ‘dark’ in mood, but does contain a quite uniquely exotic vibe and aura which will appeal to the sonically curious who are looking for something divergent from the usual underground ilk. Recommended.

Red Wine and Sugar – Dogs, Blood, Storms, Spiders

Red Wine and Sugar – Dogs, Blood, Storms, Spiders LP Index Clean 2017

Dogs, Blood, Storms, Spiders arrives as the formal debut album of Red Wine and Sugar, which following 2016’s compilation CD Chattels + The Confidence and Humour of John (reviewed here). Although earlier material was clearly experimental in approach, this album sees a greater reliance on minimalism and abstraction. Likewise with the Discogs ‘style tags’ listing: ‘musique concrète, ‘experimental’, ‘spoken word’ and ‘sound collage’, it provides further confirmation of this perception.

With the musical framework being abstract and minimal, it is primarily constructed around pulsing textures, wavering tones and further intertwined with various field recording fragments (with detectable elements including: incidental street noise; a broom sweeping concrete; wood wind-chimes; and environmental elements such as birds, crickets, frogs, rain etc.). Coupled with the sonics are the slightly twisted/ treated spoken vocals, which generate an unnerving effect based on their deadpan delivery. Lyrically it continues the established pattern of addressing and describing a range of personalized anxiety based scenarios and internalized dialogue/ observations (while some sections feels to have been quoted from a psychological therapy type manual).

To speak of specific tracks, Entering a Room When Others Area Already Seated sonically engenders a sullen and haunted atmosphere, which is derived from is discrete piano melody and abstract and minimalist strings (cello perhaps?).  View of the Room Darkened differs given it commences with a series of sparse organ styled synth stabs (and has a more surreal edge due to the greater twisted sonic treatment of the vocals), before shifting pace with moody minimalist sub-orchestral type phrase. For the final of the five tracks, Wherever You Go, Make it so You Were Barely Ever There is the most sonically active, being based around lots of up-close micro-tonal elements and contact mic’ed recordings, while the backing structure is a dour ‘sci-fi’ synth line and minimalist atonal beat.

Whilst noting its heavily experimental preoccupations, the album also contains a dark sonic streak which functions to tie together the overall mood.  To also mention its graphic presentation, interestingly it has been designed to include all lyrics thus it results in having more of the appearance of a printed inner-sleeve (and therefore immediately skews any initial expectations). Constituting a different and distinct release, this is also a recommended one.

Trapdoor Tapes Batch 2017

Here is another batch of underground goodness from the ever-reliable Trapdoor Tapes label, with a short overview of each provided below.


Luke Holland – Purgatory Trapdoor Tapes 2017

Purgatory is another solo release from the Trapdoor Tapes head honcho, but upon further investigation it is noted to be a re-issue of a 2015 tape released on Altered States Tapes. Featuring a single track of around 16 minutes (repeating on both sides), the sound is rough yet muted, minimalist death industrial. Accordingly slow morphing and oscillating textures set a grim and minimalist mood, while the later section is differentiated by a dose of heavy thuds and distorted rumble. Short but effective and certainly to the point.


Luke Holland / Mama Baer – Split Trapdoor Tapes 2017

On Luke’s split with Mama Baer, each feature around 20 minutes of material. Luke takes the first side with two tracks of his death industrial meets industrial noise crudeness and which effectively bleed into one longer continues piece. While continuing its repetitive and minimalist approach, the sound is quite bit more animated than Purgatory, featuring splitting and grinding loops to hammer home an invasive industrial noise atmosphere. Being absolutely grim in tone, it also ratchets up its squalling intensity with late sonic textures reminiscent of distant wailing fog horns, and overall is more ‘on point’ material from Luke.

Having then not come across Mama Baer before, it is the solo project of A. K. I. Hjuler and based on this material this sits more towards an experimental industrial approach. The first track Matecto is a wonky layers soundscape of pulsing sound and swirling textures and processed chats/ vocalisations, while other random sound cut and slash across the track, while on Regina which follows and spans a sweeping dark ambient piece, fused with a heavy dose of spitting static. However, the final track Seaworld is not really to my sonic taste, based on its weird playful mood derived from programmed rhythms and stilted musical elements ( and two out of three is a reasonable strike rate though).



Nothinghunger – Livestock Management Strategies Trapdoor Tapes 2017

Nothinghunger, this is the (death) industrial project of Jael Edwards who is perhaps more recognised from his underground death metal band Ignovomous. However Nothinghunger is then not to be considered a ‘fly by night’ side project given it is reflective of his decades long interest in the post-industrial underground. Commencing with a sample relating to society control the first piece Illuminate quickly establishes a brooding mood of a churning mid paced rhythm, layered sustained drones and associated burrowing tones. The following cut Livestock Management opts for a more minimalist path of muted rumble, wavering drones and occasional dialogue sample, which all sprawls out over extended length. Only For Slaves rounds out the tape, following a similar path by featuring minimalist wonky loops, repeated sample and occasional tonal stabs for good measure.

In an overarching sense the approach displayed on of Livestock Management Strategies reminds of the no-frills death industrial sounds being explored on early Sound Source or Old Europa Cafe cassette tape releases from the 1990’s (or even the approach of Puissance as featured on their two early demos before they headed off into far more produced martial industrial and neoclassical realms). So while Nothinghunger certainly engender a sound rooted in the 1990’s northern European industrial underground (complete with a large number of dialogue samples peppered throughout), the resulting impression is this tape is not purposefully regressive, rather is the simply the resultant sound of Jael’s writing and recording process. Perhaps sitting midway between dark ambient and death industrial mood, this is a decent tape for those yearning for ‘that’ particular sound of yesteryear.


Rudolf Eb.er – 4444 Trapdoor Tapes 2017

Rudolf Eb.er (aka Ruzelstirn & Gurglestock), is someone I have been aware of for a long time, but admittedly have not familiarised myself with his recording output due to the rather imposing back catalogue. This tape now rectifies that and while I get the feeling the sounds on 4444 does not deviate from his established approach, equally I am not certain on this either. Anyway, on 4444 it feature disorientating and minimalist experimental industrial soundscapes, being framed around sustained yet sparse mid-spectrum tones, and static washes which are further augmented with lots of unidentifiable minute ‘up-close’ elements and on occasion a slow ritual like thudding beat.

Although four tracks are featured, these play out less as individual pieces, rather the tone is akin to listening to the audio track of an experimental film but without benefit of seeing the visuals, with this impression only being amplified by the fact that over the course of the tape with the sound randomly flicking or cutting between segments. Adding to the surreal edge are various morphed and twisted voices, choking vocal sounds and a multitude of field recordings elements, but also the material never sounds random or improvised, given it has been meticulously constructed (and also executed in line with the agenda of the artist which has been described on Discogs as:“Combining abreactive and cleansing actionism with sonic rituals and psychoactive acoustics, Eb.er generates audio-environments into which he plants grotesque psycho-magic rituals and tantric exercises to trigger a higher awareness”).

In essence 4444 has caught me by surprise and is an excellent and particularly rewarding experiencing if fully submitting to its slightly surreal and experimental approach (which is also a slight deviation from the harder and harsher focus of many of Trapdoor Tapes releases).


 

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.

Mytrip – Filament

Mytrip – Filament LP Amek 2016

Although not having come across this Bulgarian solo project before, sole member Angel Simitchiev has issued a dozen releases since 2007, with ‘Filament’ being his latest offering.  And although the project is billed as an ambient / drone project, this release operates at the border regions between dark ambient, drone, (modern) industrial and (abstracted) experimental techno, therefore encompassing a sound that defies easy categorisation.

‘All Black’ opens the album with a slow spiraling, vortex inducing drones (…think of a more mellow Yen Pox), while the following cut ‘Fibre Mask’ blends some excellent micro-tonal textures, smattering of keys, slow throbbing kick and deep ‘dub’ rhythm to drive the mood (…and consequently is the first album standout).  ‘Dust’ then rounds out the first side with a short piece of mid-toned shimmering synths, combined with deep bass addled drones and minimalist rhythmic programming towards the end for good measure.  Another album highlight in the form of ‘Lustre’ opens the flip side of the vinyl, which after an extended, laid back droning introduction adds a driving mid-paced kick-drum, moody synths and additional swirling drones.  ‘Adaptive’ regresses with sub-orchestral vortices and a dour synth melody (…coupled with some seriously heavy bass rumbles), while ‘Soft/ Outer’ closes out the album with a dark and heady mix of moody minimalist dark ambient, bass driven drones and laid back beat (…a sublime conclusion).

Sonically and visually this release would slot quite easily into the current rosters of the likes of Posh Isolation, Hospital Productions or Northern Electronics, which should give a clue to the hallmarks of this as a high quality production. Also after having used the group’s Bandcamp page to first sample this release, I can say that online listening does not do this release full justice, as the vinyl mastering really elevates the sound through its deep and heavy bass production.  Perhaps this release slightly deviates from the usual types of releases reviewed herein, but ‘Filament’ demonstrates some clever intermingling and styles and influences without being overtly slavish to any one particular genre. A slick matt card gatefold cover rounds outs the visual and physical presentation, with the music pressed on the black vinyl being worthy of investigation if this review has raised any interest or intrigue.

a malignant black plague

phragBE

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.