Himukalt – Sex Worker

Himukalt – Sex Worker MC Total Black 2019

The meteoric rise of Ester Kärkkäinen’s project Himukalt in underground circles continues, with this new tape the eighth release in three years. While that might seem like a lot of output in a short space of time, far from being shoddy or rushed, all releases to date have been careful composed and honed to razor sharpness.

In many ways this new release is a continuation of what has come before, and the opening cut is particularly impactful with its sharp and cutting noise hewn into rhythmic blasts, as the vocals are apathetically delivered from the background. But as the album progresses, a greater harrowing tension is revealed and becomes the characteristic element. Essentially this restraint has been employed to allow the multitude of female sex worker interview samples to take central prominence. The use of such first-person narrative of the interview subjects gives a strongly personal edge to the tracks and is particularly affecting on the later track Cold and Empty, where the subtle backing sound embodies a low humming drone of creeping dread. Likewise, the low industrial throb and distortion-smeared vocals of Transactional are the effective embodiment of building tension, which also ruptures in moments of ecstatic release. The final of the eight tracks, No Safe Distance, rounds out the tape on an absolute high, based on a basic drum loop and another moody loop which are interrupted by jarring distortion slashes and cutting vocal barrages. Excellent stuff.

If you have not bothered checking out Himukalt to date, that situation should clearly be rectified. Sex Worker is as good a place as any to become better acquainted, but you pretty much can’t go wrong with any of the other releases either. Recommended.

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Terror Cell Unit ‎– The Data Industrial Complex

Terror Cell Unit The Data Industrial Complex MC Total Black 2019

On this new album length tape, seven tracks span an hour, which means tracks are generally on the lengthier side (six minutes at the shortest and 13 minutes at the longest), which provides time for the compositions to sprawl out and gradually evolve. Being less outwardly chaotic and blood-boiling than other material I have heard from the group, this means there is a greater emphasis on mood and control, which positions this towards the heavy electronics rather than power electronics end of the spectrum. Yet, that said, it is still quite tonally jagged in parts, and the ripping over-the-top vocal barrages of Mackenzie are employed, with a smattering of dialogue samples relating to the release’s theme.

With its experimental leanings, The Data Industrial Complex displays a willingness to try new sonic approaches and sounds, while tonally there appears to be greater clarity and an overt digital veneer which, to this ear, reflects the theme of the tape. Manufactured Identity (Delusions of Grandeur) employs a muted melodies element, offset against quivering higher pitched digital distortion, which is moody yet tensile, while the vocal barrage amps up the mood. A predominantly minimal atmosphere and mood characterizes Technological Iconoclast (A Stain On Your Soul), yet sharper tonal elements characterize the later sections. To mention a track which perhaps does not work so well in execution, the muted experimental style of the instrumental title track feels slightly aimless, compared to the balance of other tracks. Yet this misstep is rectified on final track In The Wood Of The Suicides (Perfection Eluded), with its oscillating loops, queasy wavering textures, and late-track vocal barrage.

Perhaps not as immediate and to the point as other material I have heard from the group, but there is a lot to explore here, particularly the wealth of ideas at play. Clearly a lot of thought has been done regarding compositional structure and the layering of sonics, and it shows in the resulting tone and atmosphere: this is far from being spat out quickly in improvisational recording sessions. But more to the point, it functions to highlight the current creative streak Terror Cell Unit are blazing.

Serration – Deconfliction / In The Shadow Of Tyranny

Serration – Deconfliction MC New Forces 2019

Serration – In The Shadow Of Tyranny MC Cloister Recordings 2019

Serration, a duo from the States, are an exponent of a modern, militant framed, heavy electronics sound. With their first release issued in 2017, already six releases have been issued, with these two cassettes being their latest items.

Like the earlier tape I have heard, Deconfliction bristles with controlled tension, where tensile loops, throbbing bass, and distortion/echo-treated vocals are the order of the day. The five tracks total around 20 minutes of material, meaning each is relatively short at around four minutes. Usually a pattern is established early on based around droning synth loops, augmented with additional layered sonic elements and completed with treated vocals (some of which are clearly manipulated media samples).

The mood and tone of In The Shadow Of Tyranny is quite similar to Deconfliction although it is slightly different in two key ways. In the first instance the four tracks are on the longer side at six to 12 minutes each, while in the second the tension on selected tracks has been elevated a couple of notches. A great example of this is Weakness In Remorse where the driven loops and urgency of the vocals provide an added edge. The title of the following track Into Annihilation provides a quick synopsis of the elevated tone of this track, where the explosive bass-driven synths and seething vocals drive the track forward.

Overall there is an overt mood of tension across both tapes, rather than actual sonic violence, and while relatively straightforward, the mood and atmosphere is strong and confident. Both tapes are short and sharp and of clear quality, reinforcing the impression that Serration are a project to keep a keen eye on.

Sutcliffe Jugend – Relentless

Sutcliffe Jugend – Relentless 4xCD Death Continues 2019

Sutcliffe Jugend (SJ) have been on quite the creative run over the last thirteen years since their reactivation in 2006. During that time the group have not shied away from producing extended length releases, which has included the massive six CD set SLAVES (2016), and the double CD album The Hunger (2018). But now the end of the road has been reached, and evidently the project has come to an end, as prior to release of Relentless it was announced that SJ were no more and that this four CD set was their final statement. The title then constitutes a very succinct description of what to expect across its significant runtime.

In noting the stylistic arc of the group over recent albums, this album both aligns with and builds upon the of wider sonic experimentation of recent years. This means there is plenty of material of the partially structured industrial/power electronics, or loose guitar driven pieces resembling SJ’s take on noise-rock/doom-drone, but both approaches which are further complimented with visceral vocals with their strong psychoanalytical slant. Likewise, there is plenty of material of a more experimental and creatively divergent bent, which includes Bludgeoned (I am the one) (CD1), with an almost martial industrial feel like early In Slaughter Natives, given its clanging/ pounding framework and blaring sub-orchestral synths, yet the wailed and unhinged vocals sets it clearly within the SJ camp. Equally the wonky but controlled pulsing electronics and semi-crooned vocals of Worm (This Is The Rest Of Your Life) (CD1) stands apart given its muted melodious construct, but gradually becomes completely unhinged as the track progresses. A prominent spoken work narrative features on Pavlov’s Dog (The Artists Dilemma) (CD2), set against caustic throb and churning distortion, while the following track Different (I am a slave) (CD2) forms a minimalist tensile drone-scape with whispered vocals.

On a whole CD3 brings together a series of more minimal and subdued tracks where tone and tension take precedence over volume and harshness. The God (who craved his own death) (CD3), rates a mention with its shimmering, droning soundscape of melodious hum/chanted vocals which builds to muted noise squalls towards its end, while Scars (CD3) features minimalist micro-tonal tones, whispered vocals and loose plodding bass, while elevating tension is created though a myriad of wonky electronics. After the partial respite of CD3, the following CD4 ups the aggression again with a collection of looser and harsher PE driven tracks which arc back to a more ferocious era of the project (refer to Unleash the Fury, Violence and Stripped as key examples). Yet even so there are further surprises, such as the spoken narrative of Domestic, with its needling mid-toned electronics and sparse abstracted piano motif, and Endurance (in a world of pain), with its fast pulsing rhythmic electronics and unhinged distortion blended vocals.

Not to be content with the four main CDs, there is yet another album’s worth of material, available as a limited download card with the first 100 copies of the album. This bonus material is an effective addendum and continuation of the main collection of tracks, but perhaps siting towards the soundscape and rhythmically experimental end of SJ’s current sound. On the final track Poison (an ending), it is then a quite fitting conclusion to the entire release, being a in a dour and moody contemporary classically style, where a minimalist strings quartet and low spoken vocals characterize proceedings.

Given the massive expanse of material featured, the sheer diversity and length of Relentless is quite a thing to behold. In recent years other projects have opted for much longer releases, and with the most-high profile being Prurient’s extended album Rainbow Mirror (spanning 7 LP’s or 3CD’s). For comparative sakes, while Rainbow Mirror contains a range and engaging and sonically interesting passages, when taken in totality it never fully captured my full attention for the entirety of its duration. Yet to then refer this back to Relentless, it is significantly longer release than Rainbow Mirror, but has no difficultly in maintaining focus and interest over its substantial runtime. Perhaps Relentless won’t change your mind if the recent run of albums have not been to your liking, but for those who have been following SJ’s creative decade plus journey, Relentless is a very fitting final statement.

Striations – Vietnamization

Striations – Vietnamization DCD Old Captain/Eibon 2019

Striations is a name I am familiar with, being the industrial/noise/power electronics project of American Mike Finklea, but I must admit that I did not properly check them out until now, due to the quite daunting discography (close to 30 releases since 2011). Yet when I spotted the promo blurb stating this was the project’s ‘magnum opus’, I figured it was high time to investigate further. This version of Vietnamization is a CD reissue of the original tape on New Forces from 2018, but expanded with additional content (originally issued to close associates of the project). From the title alone the thematic preoccupations of this album are clear, focusing on the policy of the Richard Nixon administration to end US involvement in the Vietnam War, which functionally involved bolstering the role of South Vietnamese forces and simultaneously reducing American troops.

Two sprawling tracks (or ‘phases’) constitutes the original material (53 minutes), which feature an amorphous and continually shifting sound that corresponds with the listed sub-titles such as 1971 Army Recruitment Radio Advertisement, Secret War, and Automaton Squad. (18 sub-titled tracks span Phases 1 & 2). In an overarching sense spoken samples give way to violent noise and unhinged vocals, but just as quickly shift off into pensive throbbing synths and deep pounding rhythms, while fierce gunfire and jungle noise place the listener within the middle of the firefight. With heavy use of thematic samples this gives a real impression of listening to a soundtracked documentary – albeit with industrial, noise, and power electronics – with an ever shifting but interlinking sound palette interspersed with sections of dialogue. Likewise, segments of violent noise blend with restrained stalking soundscapes and function to highlight the variety and complexity of compositional approach. Yet despite the wealth of thematic samples employed, the meaning and message remains murky. It is unclear whether this is seeking to be a mere documentation of key events (including the arrogance and political failings of the American government during the conflict), a comment on the impact of war on both civilians and individual soldiers, or an analysis of the dark aspects of human nature during wartime action.

Phase 3: Operation Boundary Rider, Phase 4: Operation Shed Light and Phase 5: Operation Freedom Deal form the additional content not included on the original tape, and effectively constitute lengthy collages of TV reporting, media interviews, radio soundbites, and a mostly minimalist backing of soundscape-oriented battlefield ambience (save for one short section of composed rhythmic synths). Throughout this material the spoken voices take center stage and function to flesh out the conceptual backing of the core material on Phase 1 and Phase 2. While this material is certainly interesting, it perhaps does not warrant repeated listens when compared to the main tracks.

The promo blurb used the descriptive word ‘obsession’ to describe the overall methodology, which is spot on in my view, particularly given the meticulous approach to the presentation of its theme and sonic content. Vietnamization is an engaging and compelling release and reminds me of the totality of thematic obsession and sonic complexity of releases such as the 2007 double album Fentanyl Martyrs by Survival Unit, even if the end result is completely different. A six-panel double digi-pack with additional text and visuals rounds out an excellent release. But with a mere 300 copies I would not imagine this will remain available for too long.

Terror Cell Unit ‎– God Took Everything Away From Us So Now We Will Take Everything From You

Terror Cell Unit God Took Everything Away From Us So Now We Will Take Everything From You LP In Solace Publishing 2019

Although issued in 2019, God Took Everything… is not a new recording from Terror Cell Unit; rather it is a reissue of a 30-minute cassette issued on Unseen Force in early 2018, where the four tracks swing from brooding mood to bristling tension.

With Isaiah 34 opening the album, it warrants consideration of the title’s biblical reference: in this context it can be surmised as Isaiah’s apocalyptic prophecy of God’s wrath against the nations of the earth. Unintelligible vocals introduce the track, before a plague of buzzing textures and maudlin synth lines bulk out the sonic frame. Things then ramp up mid-track with wailing alarms, pummeling bass, and noise-speared vocals for good measure. Perdition is next and uses simple oscillating bass heavy layers for direct impact, and again mid-track veers off in style and sound with stilted semi-rhythmic distorted noise. With this track acting as a bridge to Side B, the flip side opens with a completely storming track, God Chose Us, featuring grinding bass, muted synths, wavering drones, and urgent Morse code sonics. Here the first line of the brutal and unhinged vocals features a lyrical cry of “All things are possible through Jesus Christ. Love and Hate. Hate for you and the world you love”, and this seals the deal of this being blood-boiling material. But in balancing this aggressive and tensile mood, the heavier elements soon fall away to a lengthy brooding section of tensile heavy electronics, including wailing sirens, dialogue samples, and the return of an unhinged vocal barrage late in the track. On the final track God Will Forgive Us But God Will Never Forgive You is (again) split into two distinct parts, where the first is brooding and subdued, with controlled bass-driven loops and muted synths, gradually building with tensile intent before ramping up to squelching noise and a vocal barrage processed to the point of unrecognizability – again delivering the goods.

Noting that I became acquainted with this in quick succession to the Psalm 137:9 LP, this is another Terror Cell Unit release that absolutely delivers in spades. Strongly recommended.

 

Terror Cell Unit ‎– Psalm 137:9

Terror Cell Unit Psalm 137:9 LP Bacteria Field ‎2018

Terror Cell Unit have been rather active in recent years and of the 11 releases issued since 2014, six were issued in 2018 and 2019 alone. Psalm 137:9 has functioned as my introduction to the project, being a strongly themed, high-caliber power electronics release. With the project being an American duo of Mackenzie Chami and Samuel Torres, it is quite apparent they are inspired by the UK/European ‘cultural terrorist’ approach to power electronics, but equally have ample elements to put their own stamp on this sound.

This release, based on track titles, cover images, and dialogue samples, is concerned with Timothy James McVeigh and the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing, which killed 168 people (including 19 children – 14 of whom are pictured on the album cover). Further information on different elements of this incident, details of American white supremacist movements, and associated government responses such as Operation Cleansweep, are also provided via dialogue samples, additional sleeve images, and inserts. Given this thematic focus, it then specifically warrants consideration of the album’s title of Psalm 137:9 noting that this psalm states: “Happy is the one who seizes your infants and dashes them against the rocks.” While some theological interpretations say it is intended to mean a desire for justice through the metaphorical death of one’s enemies (this explanation also expressly ignores the practice during biblical times of conquering forces killing infants to sever the bloodline of their adversaries), clearly this is not the context in which it has been employed here.

The album opens with Suicide Mission Part I (Planning) which is a throbbing, seething, mass of throbbing bass, dive-bombing textures, and raw vocals processed beyond recognition, with a similar mood following through to Suicide Mission Part II (Executing The Operation) which is fleshed out with a documentary sample regarding the ease of accessibility of firearms within America. Vocals are courtesy of Mackenzie Chami (also of Koufar) and are strong and distinct, but perhaps in the context of Terror Cell Unit a greater degree of echo and distortion treatment has been employed (which makes the vocals less overtly prominent than their presentation in Koufar). Fear God/Hate Man functions to elevate the mood with its framework of mid-paced swaying rhythmic loops, fiercely framed mid to higher pitched distortion, and heavily processed ragged vocals. Psalm 137:9 is even more unhinged, with rough structures, buzzing noise, and vocals repeating the psalm of the track’s title. In stepping down a touch on the ‘machine idling’ pulse of Swine Feasting On Their Merchants, the vocals are processed to the point of resembling a pig’s squeal, and later replaced with samples of squealing swine. Patriot’s Day further fleshes out the themes of the release through documentary dialogue samples, which are backed by elevating layered distortion that builds to a chaotic sonic mass. In closing the album, When The Chickens Come Home To Roost commences with the emphatically screamed lyric of “we only say what the bible says”, before launching into a blistering and shuddering track of barely contained revving loops and general sonic mayhem. Fantastic stuff.

Being sonically strong and thematically unflinching, this is an excellent modern power electronics release. Although clearly not reinventing the wheel, there are ample sonic hallmarks and compositional techniques that give Terror Cell Unit a sound of their own. Likewise, attitude and aggression play a big part in whether this sort of material works or not, but given that Terror Cell Unit have both of this in spades, the project are shaping up to be a favorite new discovery – albeit I am clearly late to the party. Recommended.