Angel Simitchiev & Linus Schrab – Airborne

Angel Simitchiev & Linus Schrab – Airborne MC AMEK Collective 2021

Although this tape is a collaboration I am only familiar with one of the contributors prior work, being Angel’s main recording project Mytrip. So given I am not familiar with any of Linus’s music it feels like I am then unintentionally downplaying his contributions. But on that front a strong impression I get from this tape is it is very much like a more mellow and ambient version of the sound and tone of Mytrip‘s music, except where the use of rhythmic structures and beats in that project have been excluded here.

Airborne features in the order of 45 minutes and seven tracks of instrumental music, where there is a cinematic edge to the general ambient drone and electronica drift of proceedings. Opening track Initiation has a continuous cinematic streak, further underscored with muted post-industrial rumble. On the following track This Is Our Garden, the fragile intertwining melodies and slow programmed pulse of has a strong experimental electronica tone, which would not be out of place with current material being issued on the Posh Isolation. A Smoke That Will Never Clear then see the merging of cinematic drone and slow rhythmic bass pulse, while the title track as the final piece on Side A which offset sustained higher pitched tone with sweeping sonics and dour melody line. Side B delivers a further three compositions, where Phoenix Down is a short introductory track of muted tensile loops, before leading into the Spores of Humanity. This extended offering is based on muffled industrial rumbling textures while minimalist melodious lines float above. As the piece progresses, the tone takes a step up through the gradual increasing of sonic layering and sustained tonal loops, but the constant feel retains a forlorn mood. This feel continues on the final track Hope Singals, yet the final more active moments of shimmering and sweeping melodious tonality bring to mind the late era works of Fennenz.

Given the various noted references to ambient electronica and cinematic drift, Airborne can very much be appreciated as a soundtrack to a nameless dystopian focused film. The end result is a very enjoyable tape for the melancholic moods it evokes with ease.

Cryptophasia – World Of Illusory, World Of Pain

Cryptophasia – World Of Illusory, World Of Pain LP Cloister Recordings 2021

Cryptophasia is an new American/ Russian duo, where the atypical imagery and design of the gatefold artwork, orange/gold vinyl pressing, and the translucent orange outer slip-sleeve provides a strong initial impression of this being different from typical underground fare. Likewise, despite having listen to this LP numerous times, there is an amorphous aspect to its sound and general sonic approach which defies easy genre classification within a broader post-industrial sound.

In general terms the album can be thought of in two sonics halves, where the track World of Illusory leads of Side A, which overall is moody and contemplative and of a sound and style of an earlier 80’s ritual industrial approach. As such vocal chants, filmic drones, organ melodies, muted horns, ritualised clatter, and wonky industrial textures abound, where the pacing is both slow and considered. Female spoken vocals also feature on I’m On The Inside, which are offset by a mid-toned droning loop and slowly repeated three note piano melody. As for the second sonic half, the lead off track on Side B is Word Of Pain and functions to indicate a more focused aggression displayed the back half of the album. Here the mood elevates towards a composed power electronics tone, where the ritual elements are paired back and the harder industrial textures and aggressive male vocals are brought to the fore. Condemn Me is a great example of this blends shuddering textures, queasy distortion, unintelligible dialogue and distant yet urgently yelled ‘megaphone’ vocals. As for the final track The Nightmare is a concluding highlight, which much like the album overall splits its sound between the moody ritual industrial approach with harder, aggressive and nauseating tones.

Although not an overly long album, given its variety of sonic ideas on display World Of Illusory, World Of Pain feels far longer than its relatively short runtime. Clearly rooted in post-industrial spheres, it draws equal influence from early ritual industrial soundscape experimentation as well as more modern power-electronics abrasion. But there is still a large individual streak at play here which makes this stand apart from many of its contemporaries, which is no easy feat within the current post-industrial underground.

JT Whitfield – Pressed Pill

JT Whitfield – Pressed Pill 7”ep Damned Gates Recordings 2021

The name JT Whitfield was vaguely familiar when I received this, although equally I could not immediately place it. But with further investigation it is noted that JT is a Texas based artist operating within the underground and specifically the in-between spaces where noise, industrial, dark ambient and experimental techno collide. In further contemplating the abstracted skull image of the cover and the unintelligible font (which is somewhere between a black metal logo and calligraphic scrawl), it belies the actual musical content pressed on the wax.

As for those sounds, the 45prm 7”ep features two tracks of lumbering, caustic and stilted industrial rhythms which equally hints at a tone of experimental noise and industrial techno without fully embodying these either. A thick fractured bass pulse and fleeting horror synths kick things off on Press 1, while further fractured off kilter rhythmic elements keep thing darkly wonky. Slowly tidal washes of rising distortion are added for good measure and there may be a vocal line in there too – or is that just another noise texture? Not quite sure. Press 2 follows on the flipside, and contains more of a mutated techno kick combined with mid toned scrabbling textures, but it too retains an off kilter and slow-paced forward roll. Also, although not specifically recommended, I did note that this can also be played at 33prm without sounding wrong and actually provides an positive ‘screwed’ effect – meaning that of a drawling drugged haze provided by the slower speed.

The limited run pressing of 50 copies also comes with a series of screen-printed insets, rounding out a decent little release, issued on this boutique Melbourne based label.

Haare ‎– New Age Of Death

Haare ‎– New Age Of Death CD Aussaat 2020

New Age Of Death was fittingly issued in the final month of the ‘plague year’ of 2020, and followed quite quickly on the heals of the Brain album also on Aussaat (reviewed here). For this new offering, it features four lengthy tracks of freeform psychedelic and ritually tinged experimental noise.

Thunderbolt Gate Invocation opens the album with slow paced meandering serpentine coils of sound, warped tones and thick bass focused aquatic rumble. There is a sparse calmness to proceedings, where the heavy use of echo and reverb provides hallucinogenic effect. The slow unfurling pace continues on Phowa which opts for a more straight down the line doom-drone oriented offering, where the abstracted bass guitar distortion is sonically notable, but does become more freeform as the track progresses. The title track is the longest piece at 20 minutes, consisting of a thick washes of hollow wind-tunnel styled textures, and minimalist underpinning bass drone, while a slow swirling churn to proceedings remains throughout. Final track Maitreya elevates a ritualised and psychedelic sound above all, framed around a central shimmering tone given the impression of a hurdy gurdy, further combined with a variety of sparse ritualised chimes.

Based on the length of the four tracks and their overall slow pacing, clearly this is an album on the much calmer end of what Haare do, so certainly an album contemplative and meditative appreciation. A mini-gatefold card cover rounds out the dark vein of psychedelic spirituality nicely, with the physical edition limited to a mere 200 copies.

Sa Bruxa – Gnosis

Sa Bruxa – Gnosis CD Dunkelheit Produktionen

Gnosis functions as my introduction to Sa Bruxa, yet ten or so releases have already been issued since 2016 on various formats (digital, CD and cassette). But in then noting that the project name translates to ‘the witch’ in Sardinian, it provides a strong indication that there is likely to be a ritualised sound at play. This turns out to be correct and being self-described as ‘hexed electronics’, where there is a darkly archaic ritual ambient/industrial timbre to proceedings.

The album features nine distinct but untitled compositions, each around six to ten minutes each. With a slow unfurling of its ritual sonic tapestries, Gnosis displays substantive musical ideas and sonic detailing across the album’s 65 minutes. Each distinct piece is frames around a variety of tonal elements, variously including: dank subterranean drones, bleak but strangely unidentifiable field recordings, tribal rhythmic elements, ritual percussive clatter, and on occasion abstracted garbled/chanted vocals and dour rudimentary synth melodies. Thus, with the core of the material seemingly being framed around seething field recordings and coupled within real instrumentation and occasional vocals, it pushes the overall tone well away from a cleanly produced studio sound, and one which at times gives a slightly more modern nod to the ritual sonic spheres of the cult Nekrophile Rekords roster.

In an overarching sense there both clear character and atmosphere at a play on Gnosis, which makes for a rather sullen experience given its darkly claustrophobic and soot-infused pitch-black atmospheres. Thus with reference to text on the digi-pack which states: ‘Gnosis is a journey into occult emotional soundscapes, articulated in ten nameless rituals’, rather than being a statement of bluff and bluster it is a very spot on and accurate description of what the album delivers.

Smell & Quim – Cuntybubbles

Smell & Quim – Cuntybubbles LP Cheeses International 2020

Look at the cover. Stare at the detail. Take in all of its garish, oddly surreal and theoretically offensive but more specifically hilarious visual elements. Even without reading a further description of the sonics found on Cuntybubbles, the cover is a clear statement of what to expect. Thus with the visuals being an effective counterpart of the sonics, it all combines to create a complete package of disturbed yet satirical improvised noise weirdness that only Smell & Quim can deliver. It then perhaps goes without saying that Smell & Quim are very much an acquired taste, and in my early years of getting into the post-industrial underground in the late 1990’s I found their surreal and absurd approach off-putting for my ‘too serious for my own good’ attitude at the time, so consequently I never deep dived into their now rather extensive catalogue. But with the passage of time, it means I am approaching Smell & Quim completely different light with an older mind.

The opening track Cleopatra Frankenstein kicks off in fine form with a mid-paced lumbering elephantine rhythmic stomp further blended with mutant noise. Later this gives way to a spoken word passage akin to a BBC radio story, and also sees the backing with shamanic drumming and random pop beats which cuts in and out. The very English titled Old Spunker is an extended length track framed around rhythmically looped sex noise (not kidding), elongated loops, and other sonic randomness, while a rising wall of wind tunnel noise elevates in the background. The fantastically titled Jimmy Saville – Timelord concludes Side A, in a short track of layered vocal cuts up and pulsating noise. Side B brings a further four tracks of sonic weirdness. Another fantastically titled Quim Reaper charts a sound akin to Smell & Quim trying their hand at death industrial, where a soundscape of grinding echo textures and descending synth tones acts as the backing to a looped vocal stating ‘and now we’re going to die’. Bang Out Of Order further delivers with a brute force industrial noise flair in all its overloaded distortion and bluster yet Smell & Quim stamp their trademark eccentricity through the inclusion of a sampled nationalist type song. The Cuntybubbles Variations follows and is the track where things get seriously weird – if they were not weird enough already. Being a track split into five parts it plays out as an LSD tip gone bad, chopping between noise cuts ups, odd spoken word, and more vaguely structure and rhythmic sonic passages. Rounding out the album is The Wicker Thing and returned to BBC radio story territory, with tolling church bells, minimalist countryside soundscape field recordings, spoken word vocals and a concluding acapella rural folk ditty sung by what I presume is an aging farmer.

As can be gleaned from the above, this is a rather sonically diverse and darkly surreal album as to be expected from the group, but is a strong and coherent album too, functioning on its own internal logic which pulls you into its weird and bleakly humorous sonic world. I have read the commentary of others that Cuntybubbles is as strong as their any of their best prior material, but I will leave it up to other long-standing fans to determine the validity of that. As a final note, this release sees the relaunch of UK label Cheeses International which has been inactive since the early 2000’s.

Hypnosmord – Thurnemanimprovisationerna / The Thurneman Improvisations

Hypnosmord – Thurnemanimprovisationerna / The Thurneman Improvisations MC Hypnosmord Förlag / Styggelse Tapes / The AJNA Offensive 2021

As alluded to by the title, this tape is inspired by Sigvard Thurneman who was a somewhat obscure Swedish occultist, serial killer, and leader of the criminal-esoteric society ‘Den Magiska Cirkeln’ during the 1930s. There are various oddities associated with the case (more than can be explained here), that warrant further exploration for the interested. It is worth noting that this tape is a companion of sorts to a book just released in English by The Ajna Offensive, Manhunter: The Story of the Swedish Occultist and Serial Killer Thurneman. As for the project Hypnosmord, this seems to be a collective of musicians where the main performer Hans K. Styggelsen is aided by Gammalsjul, Sten Röse, Hector Meinhof, Brynolf Ledung, and Siegfried Holst. The recordings on this tape features two 30-minute compositions, which function as sinister improvisational piano movements for the shadowy twilight hours.

Although the liner notes indicate that the hour runtime contains five suites, the material flows together continuously on each side of the tape. The overall atmosphere is distant, obscure, and forlorn; slow moving, minor keyed piano melodies float through the twilight ether, and on occasion devolve into sections where the playing becomes mere sparse atonal stabs at the ivory keys. Apart from the piano element there are scant backing elements of what sounds like the crackling of a gramophone needle, creaking wood, echoed bass thuds, passages of Swedish spoken vocals, unintelligible mournful wailings, distant vaguely rhythmic elements, and a variety of other unidentifiable haunting tones with a sinister-edged musique concrete sound. When all of these aspects are brought together with the spacious and reverb-tinged keys, it evokes a vision of a grand piano being played in a crumbling abandoned mansion, where the psychic barrier between the waking and spirit world is slowly dissolving in response to the improvised musical evocations.

Being very much music for late night solo appreciation and deep contemplation, this is an excellent underground obscurity of sinister spectral music. Limited to a mere 141 copies, a double-sided multi-panel insert rounds out the visual presentation.

Beckahesten – Vattenhålens Dräpare

Beckahesten Vattenhålens Dräpare CD Cyclic Law 2020

Sweden’s Beckahesten is a recently formed trio of musicians: Peo Bengtsson, Per Åhlund, and Viktoria Rolandsdotter. Blending the darkly gothic bleakness of mid 1990s Cold Meat Industry-style dark ambience with a more archaic-edged ritual ambient sound, Beckahesten certainly surprise with their debut album. The promo blurb also provides a glimpse of its tonal aesthetic through the following description: ‘Their sound lingers within the shadow lands of ritual and folklore where solemn harmonies and rhythms intertwine with lyrical poetry, becoming rites and omens. Taking its name from an ancient folk tale of a horse that takes children onto its back to then bring them to a nearby lake and drown them.’

Opening track Förnimmelsen immediately brings shades of the classic sound of Aghast, with whispered vocals and shifting icy soundscapes, albeit here with a slightly elevated sub-orchestral tone. The following track Ropet abruptly shifts to an almost doom drone texture due to its thick affecting bass; yet, the sweeping synth pads and chanted male vocal arcs provide a clear Nordic ritual ambient underpinning. The pairing of Skuggan and Dödsfålen deviates further, where the sublime shadowy soundscapes and twilight ambience are driven forwards with slow ritual percussion against which the sparse and achingly subtle vocals of Victoria are delivered as chants and invocations to twilight omens. Hotet is the final and longest track at over 10 minutes, a solemn evolving track of throbbing drones, ritual chimes, sweeping synths, and the commanding sung/chanted vocals of Victoria, while the rhythmic musical backing elevates to cresting crescendos before receding again.

This debut album is clearly not a lengthy one at a mere 36 minutes, but it packs significant impact into that timespan, with a sound that is both individualistic and aware of its influences. The album in its physical form is available on CD, or vinyl if that is preferred.

Infinexhuma – Frontier

Infinexhuma – Frontier DCD Alchemy Labor Unit 2021

Infinexhuma are a previously unknown project for me, but seven albums including this new album have been issued since 2018. With 12 lengthy tracks spanning 100 minutes and two separate CDs, three of the tracks feature collaborations with Blood Box, NERATERRÆ, and Common Eider, King Eider. Given the album collaborators, this is an album to be filed under a broad dark ambient banner.

The first notable feature is the artwork of Frontier’s six-panel digipack, which features images of monolithic elements of nature, including the ocean and mountains, coupled with other earthbound visuals and abstracted colours and shapes. This gives a strong indication that the sound is one which is concerned with sonically articulating the colossal scale of the elemental forces of nature, although at times the tone could also pass for galactic-scale dark ambience and cosmic deep space drone. Accordingly, this means a large part of the album in concerned with spiraling corkscrew drones that seamlessly blend widescreen sub-orchestral atmospheres and rhythmic emanations from cavernous depths. Far from being one-dimensional, there is a meticulous approach to composition and complex sonic layering, where hints of vocal chants, chimes, and other abstracted field recordings are dotted throughout, further adding to the sonic depth. Yet, rather than the general mood being a sedate or catatonic affair, the overall tone has bulk, heft, and strong sonic drive, making for a commanding sonic presence. Given how strongly active the tone is, this invites detailed attention and focus rather than receding to be mere atmospheric background music. Apart from the deep sub-orchestral spheres and isolationist ambience sonics, there are a few further curve balls thrown in on the second disc. One example is In The End, which features a mutated driving industrial electro beat that, along with the gruff half-sung emotive vocals, makes for the most deviating and anthemic song-focused track of the album, a genuinely positive surprise. Equally the mid-section Every Door flirts with a passage of clinical-tinged death industrial bluster before the late section introduces loosely played and abstracted guitar riffing.

Much of the material found on Frontier very much aligns with the monolithic dark ambience of similar material on the likes of Loki Foundation or Malignant Records, and this is a comparative marker of the quality found here. Yet, the willingness of Infinexhuma to push their sound beyond strict genre confines on selected tracks makes for a refreshing listen, and an excellent album overall.

Contrastate – The Illusion of Power

Contrastate – The Illusion Of Power CD Old Europa Café 2020

The Illusion Of Power comes eight long years after the last Contrastate album in 2012, A Breeding Ground For Flies (while 2016 saw the release of No Eden Without Annihilation, that is effectively a live collection and considered to be a ‘sister album’ to A Breeding Ground For Flies). So, given full-length albums from the illustrious Contrastate are a rare occurrence, this is reason for long-term fans to rejoice.

From a cursory review of titles and lyrics, it is fairly obvious that the album addresses the current state of England as a consequence of Brexit, while the artwork appears to refer to the wider refugee crisis facing Europe in recent years. As to the sound and style of Contrastate, since reforming in the early 2010s their approach to recording and production is clearly differentiated from the earlier phase of the project. The current era has a cleaner and sharper digital tone to production and a varied and layered approach to composition, where various musical fragments and rhythmical segments are woven together into longer compositional structures. This album follows this approach but its five tracks clock in just shy of 40 minutes, which differs from the usually lengthy releases. Of the five tracks, three are vocal-led, forming the start, middle, and end of the album, with each separated by two shorter instrumental tracks.

English Pastoral opens the album, and lyrically speaking it is a sorry indictment of the current political state of England as a consequence of Brexit, as well as a broader comment on the decline of an Empire and its standing on the world stage. Musically it spans close to 10 minutes and shifts through a number of phases: early sweeping neo-classical strings and doom-addled sub-orchestral drones act as a backing to spoken vocals, before shifting into a lengthy rhythmically-swaying passage with further monologue-based vocals. The first instrumental track Interregnum follows and maintains conceptual adherence, given the term means ‘a period when normal government is suspended, especially between successive reigns or regimes’. Sonically it features sparse piano and guitar motifs, coupled with subtle melodious drones and a variety of post-industrial textures (sped-up typewriter perhaps?). War Against The Other is the centrepiece of the album, and while no lyrics are printed for the track, it is strongly vocal-led; the vocals sound to be sung in both Latin and Arabic as a religious lament, while the musical backing charts an amorphous space between sub-orchestral drones, swelling classical strings, and scrabbling metallic, aquatic, and electric textures. Second instrumental track Appointment In Samarra maintains a metaphorical conceptual link, as the title would seem to be referring to John O’Hara’s 1934 novel of the same name. Incidentally, the title is a reference to W. Somerset Maugham’s retelling of an old Mesopotamian tale, relating to a character’s chance meeting with death, while in O’Hara’s novel it follows the main character Julian English over three days where a series of self-inflicted acts culminate in his suicide. Sonically the track follows an understated ritual ambient tone, which builds to a number of minor sonic peaks, but ultimately feels like a bridging piece to the final track Hard Border No Border. This final track is another lengthy affair that moves through a number of distinct segments. The first scattered, fragmentary, and atonal opening section gives way to an experimental passage of wonky and surreal tones, before abruptly shifting into a section based around a pulsing bass rhythm, to which the upfront spoken vocals are rhythmically-framed in response to increasing speed. The final moment of the track and album are then coupled with a rising melancholic orchestral melody. A sublime conclusion.

It perhaps goes without saying that The Illusion Of Power is an album that sounds only as Contrastate can, but to be more specific it clearly sits within the modern phase of the project, which commenced with Breeding Ground For Flies. Conceptually there are ample ideas to unpack, including myriad fragmentary sampled voices used throughout, which makes for attentive listening on repeat spins to unpack potential clues. The main impression I get from the album is that it is an almost sorrowful observation of the current state of affairs facing England, but that offers little in the way of solutions to what are indeed extremely complex issues and clearly not as simple as current populist politics presents them. If I am to level any criticism at The Illusion Of Power it is regarding its brevity, as additional length would be welcome. But this is hardly a criticism of the excellent material which is presented, and regardless of this, this is another exceptional album within the Contrastate discography.