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

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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.

Red Wine and Sugar ‎– Chattels + The Confidence and Humour of John

REDWINE

Red Wine and Sugar Chattels + The Confidence and Humour of John CD Index Clean 2016

Perhaps I am missing the metaphor or slang reference of the chosen moniker, but regardless, the unusually named Red Wine and Sugar are an Australian duo featuring Mark Groves (of Dead Boomers, Von Einem etc) and Samaan Fieck (of Ghost Gums, Smash Tennis etc.).  Musically this CD revolves in experimental industrial spheres and is a re-release of their 2015 debut cassette ‘Chattels’ on Mazurka Editions, with the addition of the track ‘The Confidence and Humour of John’ (lifted from a 2016 Mazurka Editions cassette compilation).  The material has then been remastered for CD pro-pressed with a 4 panel digipack cover where all lyrics/ text are included.

Although musically describing this as ‘experimental industrial’, this is extremely restrained and minimalist in sonic execution.  A creepy mood and tensile atmosphere permeates the entirety of the album, while its structural minimalism generated through sustained drones, low semi-harmonic textures, distant radio static, fractured clatter, micro-tonal scrapings etc. Much of the impact of the album then comes from the lyrics and vocals, where a psychological/ analytical angle has been taken, as is evidenced by the lyrics focus on describing: personal desires; perceived failings; social perceptions; anxiety disorders (panic attacks etc.); and what may be text lifted from an instruction manual outlining management techniques to prevent re-offending (…’re-offending’ in exactly what manner remains unclear…).  Although the lyrics are constructed in such a way to form a disjointed mix of phrases, scenarios and thoughts, their impact is maximized given they are presented clear and upfront in the mix, being delivered in a low spoken whisper and in a cold a detached style and arc between being that of personal commentary, to that of an third person ‘observer’ perspective.

Of the 5 presented tracks, the pairing of ‘Often Burns Rarely Tans’ and ‘Bitter Almonds’ are particular standouts, by presenting variations on dour semi-melodious synths, looped drones, creaking metal and subdued static.  Likewise the final addendum piece ‘The Confidence and Humour of John’ is another excellent track of wonky, disorientating loops and rough textural clutter, whilst the multi-tracked vocals range from the upfront and clearly enunciated, to then being sonically warped and relegated to the background.

Given the collection of 5 tracks spans a little over 30 minutes, even in that short time-span it showcases a project with distinct musical ideas and thematic concepts, with the results being very much individualistic and not derivative of any particular genre or style. Minimalist in sonic scope, yet intense and affecting in final result, this is a recommended release.

Vhril – Vortex Psysynthesis

Vhril

Vhril – Vortex Psysynthesis CD Old Captain 2016

For this release Old Captain have seen fit to resurrect an obscure recording from Ulex Xane and John Murphy under the ‘Vhril’ banner, which was originally issued in 1993 via Ulex’s Zero Cabel tape label, and noting the timing of this release in mid-2016, it then fittingly coincides with the feature interviews with both in noise receptor journal issue no.4.  To firstly provide a short synopsis of the album’s thematic focus, an excerpt from Ulex’s liner notes states: “Vhril explored the esoteric concept of the Vril topos, the Black Sun and Thulean paths in an improvisational ritual setting”. Musically speaking, ‘Vortex Psysynthesis’ can then be bracketed under a ritual ambient / ritual industrial frame of reference.

On the opening track ‘Transcosmic Mutations (The Vile Vortices), it is a loose and long-form piece, featuring tensile analogue drones, and rhythmic clatter/ muffled rumble and wailing ‘air raid’ styled sirens, which in part bring to mind the most subdued instrumental elements of Streicher (…and particularly on the first half of the track).  However what completely sets the atmosphere apart is the array of gongs, Tibetan singing bowls, sparse percussive elements and oil barrel thuds etc. which all coalesce with ritualised intent.  Two shorter 5-8 minute pieces form the album’s centre (‘Sedona 1’ and ‘Sedona 2’), are tonally similar in that they are both calm and understated atmospheric works of shimmering ‘cosmic’ textures, and scattered ritual percussion, which could also perhaps be more flamboyantly described as ‘psychic emanations from the void’. On the fourth and final piece ‘Ipsissimum’, although skirts perilously close to a ‘new age’ sound (given its use of water samples, chimes, accordion and woodwind tune, distant wailing/ chanted female vocals etc.), it sidesteps being overtly twee by maintaining a darker and sparsely abstract sound.

Noting the four album pieces span the subtle and abstract through to track segments which are more driving and forceful, the overall sound and atmosphere maintain a meditative quality throughout, yet equally the first track is the clear standout in terms of focus and complexity of execution.  Given that Old Captain have been doing an exceptional job at digging up and re-releasing some exceptional underground obscurities of the past decades, this Vhril CD is no exception.

Consumer Electronics – Dollhouse Songs

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Consumer Electronics – Dollhouse Songs LP Harbinger Sound 2015

Returning relatively quickly with a new album following 2014’s ‘Estuary English’ (reviewed here), the reactivated Consumer Electronics (based around Phillip Best, his wife Sarah Best and Russell Haswell) continue on their newly forged and rather contentious path.  From a visual standpoint the Trevor Brown artwork of the cover immediately provides an obvious nod to Phillip’s former days in Whitehouse, and while not a bad cover by any stretch, personally I would have much preferred to see Phillip’s own collage work (as was the case with ‘Estuary English’), rather than one which harks back to Phillip’s past.  On the lyrical front ‘Dollhouse Songs’ delivers  another spite, disdain and anger fueled rant at the contemporary UK political landscape, coupled with selected tracks taking a cutting analysis of anxieties and neurosis relating to perceptions of self-worth.

‘History of Sleepwalking’ introduces the album with revving synths, arrhythmic beat and whispered vocals of Phillip, before machine-gun snare drum and ranted/ unhinged vocals split through the speakers (…an excellent start). The following track ‘Knives Cut’ then goes for the jugular with its high pitch digital noise squall and underscored with focused synth drones and blasting, overblown mid ranged bass, while Phillip’s vocals show some variation given the sardonic spoken style. With the noted lack of lead vocals from Sarah on ‘Estuary English’, this is rectified here, where she proves herself a worthy lead vocalist on ‘Condition of a Hole’.  Musically this track is built around a thumping mid paced ‘beat’, higher fluttering percussive elements, and distortion elements which swoop in and out of the sonic frame. Sarah then pulls no punches with a fierce lyrical attack and demonstrates she is a commendable vocalist who can hold her own (…particularly as the vocals are fully intelligible). Some respite comes on the instrumental track ‘Nothing Natural’, featuring an undercurrent of pulsing/ shimmering synths, over which splitting digital noise shards cut and slash across sonic landscape.  After originally being featured on a split 7” ep with the Sleaford Mods, ‘Murder Your Masters’ is included here (…another alternate ‘ambient’ version with Phillip on vocals was also included on the ‘Repetition Reinforcement’ 12’ep), where Sarah again takes the vocal lead.  Musically this is the specific track which when previously performed live raised accusations that Consumer Electronics had gone ‘techno’, but with its squelching beat (which in truth is more of a saturated pulse), hardly constitutes a form of techno any self respecting ‘techno’ fan would be associated with. Regardless, this ‘beat’ coupled with a minimalist underscoring drone, where Sarah’s vocals are front and centre and increase the anger of her earlier lead vocals, with her voice pushed to the point of breaking. That said, one minor observation is that she commences with a focused and vindictive rant, by track’s end it does sound if she is slightly running out of steam to maintain the early intensity (…but may also be indicative of the vocals being recorded on a single take?).  ‘The Push’ brings another track constructed with programmed ‘scattergun’ kick and snare percussion and squelching digital mayhem, as Phillip delivers another lucidly focused vocal barrage, ranting on the drive of politicians and bankers to sure up positions of power and profit gain at the expense of all (…rather diverged element then appears at track’s end, where it reverts to a poetic almost ‘beatnik’ spoken word section).  For the final track ‘Colour Climax’, which although not the most sonically over the top, is thematically the most harrowing piece, with its (in part) scalpel sharp analysis of the process of aging in the face of ailing health.  On this track Phillip’s vocals are spoken and understated throughout, placed high in the mix, atop a landscape of subdued bass rumble and fluttering digitized noise, where the lyrical content carves veins of sadness and (angered) resignation. Given such sentiments are not what would necessarily ever expect from a Consumer Electronics records, it still completely works in its spoken word capacity and in context of the balance of the album.

With 7 tracks and 35 minute playtime ‘Dollhouse Songs’ is a longer album than its predecessor, where the tracks are noted to be (relatively) structured and condensed into pieces of around 4 to 5 minutes.  Musically speaking, whilst not hugely divergent ‘Dollhouse Songs’ does feel to be a more holistically focused album than ‘Estuary English’ (…noting that the later could be considered a 22 minute collection of punishing tracks).  Yet equally ‘Dollhouse Songs’ and ‘Estuary English’ very much feel as being companion albums, particularly as the sound on both is equally harsh and digitally crystalline.  What this all ultimately means is, if you hated ‘Estuary English’ you simply won’t find anything to like here.  But if like me you found ‘Estuary English’ to contain some new ideas and approaches for Consumer Electronics, ‘Dollhouse Songs’ continues with this trajectory and from these quarters, it is another album I have hugely enjoyed over a significant number of repeat listens.

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

Sins

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.