Stromstad ‎– New Devoted Human

Stromstad New Devoted Human LP Malignant Records 2017

This debut release from Stromstad is revealed to be collaborative album between the Finnish duo and Norwegian Kristoffer Oustad – and what a debut it is. With being recognized for a highly refined blend of industrial and heavy electronics and with Kristoffer Oustad inhabiting an evocative industrial smeared dark ambient sound, the creative collaboration between the two was always going to be an interesting one. Yet the creativity and flair on display completely exceeds any initial expectations.

Noting that each of the eight tracks are relatively confined (between three and six minutes each), this functions to generate a sense of urgency across the album, where its shifting and morphing elements draw from abrasive mechanical programming, controlled noise, lush sub-orchestral pads and gruff processed vocals. As an example, the fizzing/ buzzing looped static of the album opener Inherent Resurrection soon gives way to rolling tribal percussion and rough yelled vocals (clearly recognisable as those of, and functions very much as a statement of intent of what is explored over the balance of the album. Fever Wave Dream Function quickly following with woozy drones and off-kilter metallic clatter, shimmering synths and all underscored with a throbbing programmed element which leaps into heavily rhythmic section late in the track. The central buzzing tonality and stilted mechanical textures drives Blood Consciousness and when coupled with the gruff, slightly treated vocals is perhaps the piece most comparable to a straight composition.  The sub-orchestral strains of Nattsvermer constitutes the first effective respite of the album, being a semi-melodious cinematic drone-scape which reminds of mid era raison detre (and particularly so where some distant choir textures are used). In a somewhat unexpected guest contribution, Grutle Kjellson from Enslaved provides vocals on Reluctant Traveler, another track of stilted mechanical rhythms and buzzing fissures of static mixed with moody orchestral textures, while Gruttle’s vocals range from spoken, guttural chants and urgent yells (a late track guitar gives a partial nod to the current prog metal direction of Enslaved). The title track is positioned towards the album’s ends is in some ways the most straight forward with rapid fire looped beat, tempered static and vocals relegated to the middle of the mix, but in the later half it veers off into moody sub-orchestral territory, while the final album track Kosto then deviates the most, with a synth derived neo-classical piece of moody swelling strings, and with a definite modern sci-fi edge to the sound.

Not being an overly long album, all the same it delivers a heavy impact across its multiple creative arcs, and which consequently makes it feel to be a much longer album than its actual run-time. While New Devoted Human could be said to be of the genres it draws from, at the same time it steps well beyond them given its inspired use and application of such influences. Effectively the album excels by the fact of how vital the finished result sounds, and in the process generates new creative ways of approaching recognizable genre sound elements. Issued on vinyl in gate-fold sleeve, CD or digital formats, it is simply a matter of taking your pick of preferred format. But as a word of advice, do not let this album pass you by.


Atomine Elektrine – The Second Moon

Atomine Elektrine – The Second Moon CD Old Europa Café 2017

Operating since the mid 1990’s, Atomine Elektrine is perhaps Peter Andersson’s most well-known and recognized side project of raison d’être.  The Second Moon is the new and sixth full length album, if not including demo collections and live material which have also been formally released on CD.

With the project name being the Lithuanian word for ‘nuclear power plant’, there has always been and ‘Eastern Bloc’ angle to the sound and approach of the project, where it could also be suggested that the deep space elements and melodic passages sonically articulate the space program era of the Soviet Union. To then quickly speak of context, personally the project hit an absolute high mark with their second album Archimetrical Universe from 1999, which perfectly blended abstract deep space movements with more melodious compositions and occasionally beat driven programming. While the albums which followed experimented with this template, more often than not the abstracted and experimental elements took greater focus, but did not archive the same sonic coherence of Archimetrical Universe (although it must be said that none of the following albums could be considered lackluster or poor in quality by any means).

As a general observation The Second Moon builds on the template of 2015’s Laniakea album, which was framed around sparse and floating deep space drones, which are augmented with looping musical phrases which gives a nod to 1970’s era cosmic space synth music of Tangerine Dream and the like. Yet on this new album there feels to be a greater degree of cohesion and focus to the combination of the deep space drones and pulsing melodious elements. Structurally the album has a drifting and enveloping quality, where the drones and melodies elevate in intensity, to then recede again and build anew, which makes it an album length experience, rather than one focusing on individual musical pieces (featuring only five track, it still has an expansive run time given the shortest track is eight minutes and the longest twenty minutes in length).

Although I have followed and enjoyed all of Atomine Elektrine’s outputs over the years, equally I have found The Second Moon to be one of the most listened to of the last few albums, which is predominantly down to its refinement and balancing of its sonically abstracted and melodious parts. A cleanly designed, 4 panel digi-pack rounds out the presentation.

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.

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 – 4444 Trapdoor Tapes 2017

Rudolf (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, 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.