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

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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.

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Distel – nord / Veil of Light – Head/Blood/Chest

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Distel – nord 7”ep Beläten 2015

Veil of Light – Head/Blood/Chest 12”ep Beläten 2015

Since the last batch of tapes reviewed from the Beläten stables the label has grown substantially in profile and output. To this end the releases have evolved from tapes alone by stepping out with a number of vinyl pressings. Here are two more recent vinyls which highlight the label’s focus on ‘post avant-garde pop’, but again which highlights the diversity of sounds which can be captured under this banner.

Up first is the relatively new ‘angst pop’ duo Distel from the Netherlands, with this being their fourth release since 2010 (album, mini-album and two 7”ep’s). Fitting very much within a programmed synth-pop style, the cold electronics and ‘angst’ tag clearly directs it towards an audience of the lighter moments of the Galakthorrö label discography. The title track is a driving programmed percussive and synth heavy minor keyed mid paced song, complete with understated half sung male vocals and perhaps drawing reference to the Knife at their quirkiest. This is followed by ‘Zelf’ is then slightly more understated in its programming and abstract with the application of melody, to create a darkly twisting mood. The final of 3 tracks ‘raaf’ takes up side B, which is a longer form, more understated angular track built around a low techno throb, and interweaving elements, includes sparse synths and morphed vocals. All in all a very tasty, darkly hued synth-pop 7”ep.

Veil of Light from Switzerland are next, fitting more within a ‘post-punk’ frame of reference and have 5 releases out since 2013 (album, 7” single, MC ep, digital ep and this 12” ep). This 45rpm 12”ep contains 4 tracks (2 per side), where opener ‘All You Have’ demonstrates a clear adherence to ‘classic’ hallmarks of an 80’s post-punk style and sound where stoic mid paced kit percussion, gothic tinged keys and atonal male vocals are wrapped up in a sparse and deep analogue toned production. Simply sublime. Although following a similar tone, the sparse bass drum kick on ‘Adonis’ is processed to sound akin to exploding mortar shells, which giving the track a particularly distinctive edge. The first track on Side B ‘purple’ lightens the mood somewhat with a heavier focus on lighter synth melodies and slightly snapper and more urgent programmed percussion, with additional sparse synth stabs and emulated trumpet bursts. The final of the 4 tracks ‘MMZ’ – pulling back on the drive, the percussion is slow and understated, with the mood being driven forward by a lone guitar melody and single counterpointing synth line which builds to quite shrill crescendo heights over its length. Although quite ‘classic’ in sound and ‘retro’ in feel, Veil of Light manage a sound which replicates an obvious personal obsession for 1980’s post punk but deliver their music without sounding jaded or cynical.

Te/DIS – Comatic Drift

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Te/DIS – Comatic Drift LP Galakthorrö 2014

Following the debut 7”ep ‘Black Swan’ from 2013 (also released on Galakthorrö) Te/DIS – aka Tempted Dissident – have quickly followed up with their debut full length album to further hone their chosen 80’s tinged post-punk/ cold wave/ angst-pop amalgam.

While the tone of Te/DIS’s style is one which is influenced by ‘industrial’ music, the actual music is not harsh, nor in any way abrasive. Being very much in a bleak, cold and clinical analogue programmed guise, the straightforward and direct songs are mostly driven by mid based beats which intermingle with icy synths and rhythmic stabs. Likewise the vocals remain as a distinctive and trademark element where, where the clear male vocals are delivered in a commanding monotone style. Given the cold feel of the music is very ‘German’ in style, the vocals (albeit exclusively sung in English) suit the music very well; however I could imagine that these would be a ‘love’ or ‘hate’ element for some listeners. ‘Close Range’ begs a particular mention, with low slung bass driven groove and interweaving synth lines, which differentiates it from the stilted electronic patterns of earlier tracks. ‘Shootout with a Stranger’ is another particular album standout given its slight sonic deviation of doom addled minor tuned synths, throbbing bass and some animated mid paced drum machine/ high hat percussive elements, again completed with the commanding semi-sung vocal presentation.

If any criticism were to be leveled at ‘Comatic Drift’, it would be that there is a general ‘sameness’ to the overarching style and sound of the twelve songs and which is perhaps not as diverse as that demonstrated on the debut 7”ep. But aside from this very minor gripe Te/DIS’s formal debut album fits perfectly within Galakthorrö’s roster.

Cold Life – Cold Life / Military Position – Anti-Human

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Cold Life – Cold Life MC Trapdoor Tapes 2014

Military Position – Anti-Human MC Trapdoor Tapes 2015

Here is another batch of releases from Trapdoor Tapes which function to collectively illustrate the diversity of ‘industrial’ material being issued by the label.

For the Cold Life tape this would appear to be their debut tape, which is focused on analogue, synth driven, minimal industrial to post-punk music (which I must admit seems to be relatively in vogue in recent years).  5 short-ish tracks feature here (being repeating both sides of the tape), where the material is structured around simplistic programed mid-paced to up-tempo beats, over which the straight-forward synth melodies generally follow. Vocals are then overlaid in a partly spoken/ sung style, which are also partially treated with a flange or vocoder effect depending on the track. There is also a rough ‘under-produced’ and noise infused feel to the production which gives it a degree of sonic grit and texture, which obviously works well with the analogue tape format. The mid tape track ‘Safe’ slightly deviates from the general approach described above, by featuring a darker edge to its soundscape, built around a minor keys synth line and more subdued programming.

As demonstrated on this tape Cold Life nails its chosen analog electronic post-punk style with flair and a certain ‘no-frills’ directness. Although not necessarily bringing anything new to the table this will obviously be of clear interest for those into this style.

Military Position on the other hand is the solo project of Harriet Kate Morgan which focuses on crude analogue industrial expression mixed with elements of a muted power electronics tone. This 22 minute tape features 4 tracks (2 each side) with the visual presentation opting to skew the typically expected colours and visual themes.

‘We Rot’ commences the tape with a relatively simplistic heavy and ominous toned analogue industrial loop (being gradually morphed over its length), and slightly flanged spoken vocals brings to mind the delivery of vocals of Puce Mary – which no doubt is based on the fact that both projects being female fronted and inhabiting a similar sonic style. ‘Destruction and Abuse’ follows, being constructed with ‘idling machine’ sounding loops, where the spoken vocals are mostly buried under the sonic mass (a section consisting of a ‘whipping’ loop is tacked onto the end before it cuts out as the side finishes). ‘The Personal is the Political’ opens the second side of the tape, although is listed on the cover as the final of the 4 tracks. With its apathy inflected and mild echo and distortion addled spoken vocals, it again bringing to mind the vocals of Puce Mary, which here are combined with rumbling bass tone and minimalist death industrial pulse. This is the standout of track of the tape by nailing a convincing analogue death industrial sound. The final track ‘Privileged and Weak’ contains a couple of segments, including a short interlude of heavy mid-paced pounding industrial beat and flanged vocals (great!) which cuts out somewhat abruptly before the main section arrives with slow and queasy oscillations (proceeding through a few sectional rotations before cutting out due to tape length).

Overall ‘Anti-Human’ is a solid offering insofar as it demonstrates some strong ideas from a project finding its feet. This is not faultless tape, noting that added volume for sonic punch and more layering of elements for extra complexity and diversity would steps things up a notch.  But such quibbles aside, more importantly it displays all the hallmarks of having the right sound, direction and ideas: where the approach of Military Position will no doubt be further refined with future releases.

Armour Group – Live Assault / German Army – German Army / Word of Life Church SS

Scan 25German Army C32 Artwork by Luke Holland trapdoor tapes

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Armour Group – Live Assault MC Trapdoor Tapes 2014

German Army – German Army MC Trapdoor Tapes 2014

Word of Life Church SS – Death Pig MC Trapdoor Tapes/ Magik Crowbar 2013

By way of a brief label introduction, Trapdoor Tapes are a micro-tape label from Australia that has issued around 80 releases in relative obscurity since 2005.  Releasing material from both local projects and known international acts, the general focus is on the murky end of underground noise and industrial they have carved out their own particular niche, issuing limited editions with a lo-fi sound and rough DIY photocopied visual aesthetic.  Following below is a short rundown of a recent batch of releases from the label.

Amour Group is up first and a rather mysterious project.  From the limited available information Armour Group is an Australian act involving Harriet Kate Morgan & Luke Holland.  ‘Live Assault’ seems to be debut release and as is suggested by the title is a 16 minute tape of two short live recordings (…or perhaps are excerpts of longer live sets?).  Here the sound is concerned with ominous shuddering industrial noise with a rough, grinding, reverb drenched tone. Mangled vocals are then spewed forth over this analogue base, whipping in their distorted intensity.  Being rather loose and chaotic but also maintaining a vague sense of structure, the predominant lower end rumble occasionally breaks out into a high pitched noise squall. Likewise with the recording being somewhat muffled in tone, it only tends to amplify the audio grit. Essentially the static fried frequencies, cascading noise, war zone samples and muffled industrialised rumble generates fierce and oppressive battlefield ambience. In a no-frills capacity Armour Group deliver a grime and chaos infused atmosphere which builds to overblown intensity.  Solid and aggressive stuff.

Up next is a new tape from hyper productive German Army (in excess of 20 releases since 2011) which delivers another eclectic offering.  Possibly to be described as a bizarre version of post-punk mixed with tribal post-industrial, this description still does not quite do this justice.  To provide another marker there is something similar to the quirky playfulness of Deutsch Nepal, but which German Army also entirely make their own.  Being less post-punk and slightly weirder in scope than other German Army material I have heard, there is a psychedelic ‘stream of consciousness’ style to the material.  Spanning 12 tracks and 32 minutes the material is mostly instrumental where there is an overarching hazy lo-fi aesthetic at play.  Here the compositions rely on quirky groupings of elements which include: layered tribal-esque rhythms and beats, ritualistic gongs/ chimes, meandering bass, casio keyboards and programmed beats, weird synth soundscapes, samples choral vocals, overblown drone riffs etc.  Where vocals are infrequently used they feature in a strangely twisted spoken disembodied style and to add to the twisted and disorientating nature of the tracks, they occasionally sound like multiple songs are being played over one another.  The final album track ‘Pagan Fruit’ rates a mention for its beach sunset Americana vibe where layered bluesy but uplifting guitars shine.  On this tape German Army retains a consistent quality of output, despite the hyper speed of new releases.

For the final of the tapes Word of Life Church SS is not all like what the project name might suggest, meaning this is neither martial industrial nor power electronics. Rather the group’s sound delivers lo-fi analogue industrial noise soundscapes.  For sake of context this Australian project appears to consist of a loose collective of contributors which have included the inputs of Ben Taylor, Harriet Kate Morgan, Luke Holland and Tom Miller depending on the release (…noting that Ben Taylor is not featured on this particular recording).  Two lengthy untitled tracks make up this 30 minute tape, where the lo-fi, muddied post-industrial sprawling filth is loose and semi-improvised in feel.  Likewise its subdued and muffled analogue rumble begs a comparison to a European ‘post-mortem’ cassette culture sound.  With a hollow, muffled and distant echoed tone the atmosphere is one of slow grinding and general elevating menace.  The flip side features a similar tone, where some stilted quasi militant percussion provides a muted semblance of structure which gradually gets buried under layered sonic grit.  Being rather more subdued than my initial expectation, on face value this tape sounds more like a solo project than the product of a collective approach. An oppressive analogue electronic tape nonetheless.

To wrap up the mini-label showcase, from sound to DIY visual aesthetic Trapdoor Tapes have a focused and well-rounded understanding of what they are seeking to achieve, and will surely please listeners who seek out industrial, noise and general weird underground musical obscurities.

 

Te/DIS – Black Swan

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Te/DIS – Black Swan 7”ep Galakthorrö 2013

Here we have the debut 7”ep from Te/DIS who seem to be a relatively new project, where incidentally the ‘coded’ moniker is shorthand for ‘Tempted Dissident’.  However other than this basic information there is not much else regarding the origins and heritage of this project.  Nevertheless what is presented is hard rhythmic electronic/ industrial musings which verge towards a coldwave / post-punk style, thus fits perfectly within the broad sound of the Galakthorrö roster.

The opening title track ‘Black Swan’ sets the template by featuring icy cold, mid paced industrial percussion, wavering synth melodies and monotone partly spoken/ sung vocals, which direct the sound towards a post-punk aesthetic.  ‘OvID’ then follows with a similar mid paced programmed post-punk style, but here features a more catchy combination of dour synth melody, rhythmic bass, mid paced pounding industrial programmed beat, again with the obligatory commanding sung/ spoken vocals. ‘Tautology’ opens the flip side of the vinyl with a more urgent and anxiety inducing tone, based on its faster paced electronic rhythm, pulsing static bursts, droning synth lines and aggressively delivered vocals. ‘Wait and See is the final of the 4 tracks which reverts to a mid-paced rhythmic programmed beat which is mixed with a maudlin toned synth work out.  With particular reference to the echo treated spoken/ sung male vocals, in many ways these reflect the more subdued output of later era Haus Arafna.

Despite being only a 7”ep release, Te/DIS manage to accomplish a highly varied sound and approach across its 4 tracks.  Likewise with its stylistic minimalist design, pressing on slick black vinyl and issued in a limitation of 489 hand numbered copies, this is yet another collectable release from the Galakthorrö stables.

The Siamese Pearl ‎– Death-Darting Eye

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The Siamese Pearl ‎– Death-Darting Eye MC Spine Scepter 2012

One of the joys of writing about underground music is that quite out of the blue you can made aware of obscure hidden gems.  ‘Death-Darting Eye’ from The Siamese Pearl is one such obscurity and whilst there is limited information on the project, here we have a super limited, deluxe packaged 30 minute cassette. With its dank and occult infused atmosphere, it is immediately evident that The Siamese Pearl channels an 80’s lo-fi analogue industrial sound, which also contains selected rhythmic elements which hint at cold wave / post punk synth tone.  Interesting this release is far more ‘European’ in style, appearance and flavour and by no means typical of what you might typically assume from an underground project hailing from Miami, USA (…of all places).  To provide a sonic marker, some particular parallels for this would be the early ritual/ ambient/ experimental/ industrial based sounds of Coil or Current 93, and to a lesser degree the early works of Archon Satani. In other words The Siamese Pearl comfortably sits alongside some positive company.

On ‘Stretch of the Unkind’ it opens the tape in fine form, being a brooding ritual industrial / dark ambient track, containing a variety of layered loops and drones.  The following track ‘Hermetic Hermit’ then steps things up a notch, being based on a pulsing coldwave synth line, mid range distortion and echo treated, monotone spoken vocals.  A similar programmed synth, is also evident on ‘Night Specter’, but here follows the introductory segment containing abstract dark ambient, tape manipulations and distant horn like wails. ‘Chimera’ then opts for a composition of loosely scattered noise and abstract grinding industrial soundscapes, prior to ‘Oedipus Of The Black Orifice’ rounding out the first side of the tape with a short display of abstract tape loops, again featuring the nihilistic spoken vocals.

‘Attributable Decay’ opens the flip side which again displays a relatively melodic piece, again with coldwave synth characteristics coupled with grinding manipulated loops. Interestingly on this track an additional vocal line is paralleled with the monotone spoken vocals, which are almost rap like in their delivery.  Whilst this second vocal is rather perplexing at first, these are not as jarring as might be expected and in the end works well within the tracks sound. Up next is ‘Turnip Blood’ which presents one of the tape’s heaviest tracks, featuring looped grinding industrial factory clatter and again with the obligatory echo treated spoken vocals.  ‘Axe’ changes things up slightly with a ritual atmosphere being driven by synth drones and militant rhythms (which upon closer inspection are a looped breathing sample), constituting a solid basis for the stoic vocal invocations.  ‘He’s Not Kind To Other Wraiths’ arrives as the final of the nine tracks, and concludes the tape with a lo-fi analogue windswept soundscape of Archon Satani-esque factory ambience. Excellent to say the least.

On the packaging side of things, the snake-skin printed cassette is housed in an oversized, screen printed cardboard box (adorned with with serpent motif no less), and includes a separate lyrics booklet.  From its musical content, through to its packaging and associated occult themed visuals, ‘Death-Darting Eye’ manages to hit all the right ‘esoteric’ markers.