Pterygium – Concealing The Past

Pterygium – Concealing The Past CD Tesco Organisation 2018

The relatively new Australian project Pterygium have returned with their second full length album Concealing The Past, which follows the 2017 debut Grip (issued on a small cassette run on Algebra Of Need and reviewed here). Also of note, Pteryrium had a track on Tesco Organisation’s 2017 Projekt Neue Ordnung II 4xLP boxset, where Tesco has now subsequently issued this new and admittedly excellent sophomore album.

In noting the dual sonic approach of Grip, which blended minimalistic melodic tones with sharper distortion squalls, that approach has been both repeated and further honed here where the tonal range has been further refined and sonic depth amplified. As an album Concealing The Past is structured around nine distinct and individual pieces of between three and seven minutes each, which on the most part follow an understated melodic and minor keyed compositional framework. Being effectively an instrumental album, a variety of discreet sampled ethnic/ religious framed vocals provides an ethereal touch, as does the melancholic elements (such as piano lines, neo-orchestral strings etc.), which evokes a detached yet strongly emotive resonance (such as is immaculately displayed on A Vacant Regret). Yet there is still a willingness to let loose on select with heavy menacing drones and higher-toned noise squalls such as displayed on Entry_Exitpoint which has a raw tonal sharpness which perhaps is indicative of live in studio recording technique. A pair of late album tracks (Siphon Like Parasites & And Love Became A One Way Street) both balance on a knifes edge between the dual sonic approaches, on the one side featuring crude distortion blasts and choppy loops, which on the other are offset against bass addled drones and swelling sub-orchestral melodies.

Thematically Concealing The Past clearly fits within the broader post-industrial network, but to its credit does not sound in any way typical or derivative of a particular sub-genre. Rather, it draws extensively from various elements to create its own internalized sound and logic and is all the stronger for it, but for comparative sake the multi-faceted sound displayed by Prurient on Frozen Niagara Falls is perhaps a reasonable reference point.

Although some people continue to complain that the post-industrial music is broadly redundant for lack of new ideas and approaches, and further accused newer projects of being mere copyists of what has preceded, Pterygium is the effective antithesis of that opinion. Solo member Henry Gillet clearly understands the underground scene Pterygium operates within, but armed with a wealth of musical ideas he has creates a strong and individual sound which sidesteps being in any way derivative of genre confines of noise, industrial, dark ambient and power electronics. If the current and next generation of projects can match the creativity displayed on Concealing The Past, there is still much new ground to be explored and much to look forward to and be celebrated. A resounding recommendation from these quarters.

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Concrete Mascara – Decay Sequence

Concrete Mascara – Decay Sequence MC Unrest Productions 2018

Any new material from Concrete Mascara is a welcome prospect, with this EP length tape featuring six new tracks. On the last full length, Perennial Disappointment (reviewed here), the boosted mastering did not really capture the essence of Concrete Mascara’s sound but this has thankfully been reinstated here. Their trademark raw and sonically overblown distortion features heavily, hewn into rough pulsating loops and broader structural movements. The agonizingly howled vocals are also present, being partially hollowed out and flitting between being semi-buried to roared upfront.

Pleasingly, the tape contains that particular raw and ripping sound of thick chaotic distortion, where atonal and overblown synth lines are blended with higher pitched ‘whistling’ feedback textures. With an at times deep and hollowed-out aesthetic, it partially evokes a live-in-studio-type method of recording, but certainly allows for space and the separation of sonic elements within the mix. There are select moments present that are perhaps unexpectedly minimalist and restrained, which function to elevate the mood when things really let loose. Blood Discipline is one particular track which pulls back on sonic intensity in a more controlled manner, but being structured around a throbbing atonal synth line and other minimalist elements, it only functions to highlight the fierceness and aggression of other barely controlled tracks.

Limited to 123 hand-numbered copies, it has been issued on professionally duplicated tapes and features a minimalist and understated design, which gives no hint of the agonized harshness contained within.

Am Not – Unpunished : Appendix

Am Not – Unpunished : Appendix 10” EP Unrest Productions 2018

In its first version Unpunished : Appendix was issued in an extremely limited edition of 24 deluxe cassette box-sets. Only being available at a live performance in Paris, needless to say it sold out immediately, so having a repress of the four tracks on 10” vinyl is certainly welcome. Although the title refers to this being an ‘appendix’ I don’t get the impression that this is leftover material, rather new material which builds upon the themes and concepts explored on 2015’s exceptional album Unpunished (reviewed here).

Sonically speaking, the four tracks follow the now recognisable sound of Am Not, which, while being meticulously composed power/heavy electronics, does not forgo a suitably rough and raw industrial sonic edge. Opening track And Then We Shall Know commences relatively calmly with two intertwining loops (deep throbbing bass and higher modulated tone), which soon gives way to heavy and raw pounding industrial structures, and the proclamation-style rough vocals, achieving the typical blending of Am Not’s sound. Dark Star Kinshara follows and is another track of rough industrial-tinged heavy electronics that ups the intensity slightly and is also underscored by a dour organ-style drone. Intriguingly this track is: dedicated to the ongoing Congolese space program’, which it turns out is an actual thing, but one with a lengthy and chequered history with alleged links to Nazi scientists and the Soviet Union during the Cold War era. Side B offers another two distinct tracks, with Extremophilia II being a mass of thick pulsing loops and swirling mid-toned textures, with prominent dialogue samples and a rough vocal barrage framing the lyrical theme. The final of the four tracks, the instrumental State Funeral, is the most surprising of the lot, blending rough junk metal timbres with highly cinematic, neo-classical elements. With its stoic martial industrial percussive leanings and central dour organ melody, this on first listen is not immediately recognisable as Am Not, yet is a stunningly great track all the same.

As for presentation, the packaging is as slick and considered as the music, including four postcard inserts and four-panel booklet with mini interview to provide further information on the group and its thematic/lyrical preoccupations. Another mandatory release from Am Not and Unrest Productions.

Grim – Primary Pulse

Grim – Primary Pulse MC Trapdoor Tapes 2018

The long standing and cult Japanese project Grim returns with a new five track recording (from 2017), issued via Trapdoor Tapes. Contextually speaking Grim has always had a left of centre approach to their power electronics/industrial noise material, with the often-weird juxtaposing elements thrown in for good measure, which is certainly continued and exemplified on Primary Pulse.

Hermit opens the tape with loose windswept noise modulations blended with manipulated voices, before Volcano Flower kicks in, framed around a series of burrowing pulsing tones which coagulate into a driving rhythmic structure coupled with distorted agonised vocals, which is a clear standout track and very much in a distinctive Grim style. The third track for Side A is Assassin’s Room, which is categorised by a wonky and off-kilter looped rhythm, while the vocals are of a garbled spoken type, prior to a classical music organ motif and stoic industrial pulse features in the final moments. Side B features another standout piece of Grim weirdness, with Melting Man featuring a strong throbbing element, central sub-orchestral melody and wailing chants of sole project member Jan Konagaya, with the atmosphere becoming progressively more unhinged as it progresses. G.T.R. concludes the tape with a blend of elements including an Asiatic toned loop, rolling industrial drums, sweeping abstracted guitar, squalling noise etc., yet never succumbs to sounding like an industrial band.

Although not overly long, Primary Pulse is an absolutely great underground industrial tape and again exemplifies a sound wholly unique to GRIM. Trademark blown out photocopied artwork courtesy of Trapdoor Tapes rounds out the perfectly suited lofi presentation.

Announcement: Spectrum Compendium book cover released!! 

I am extremely proud to reveal the finalised cover of the Spectrum Compendium book!

After a couple of design options, in the end it was decide to go with a cover design both keeps and builds upon the feel and aesthetic of the original Spectrum Magazines, which to my mind has come out as a very strong and striking visual.

The book layout is still being worked on by the publisher, but evidently I will have a copy to proof and approve this month (October, 2018).

More details on publication date will be announced later when known but getting very close now!!!

Straight Panic – CYCLE

Straight Panic – CYCLE LP Breathing Problems Productions 2018

As a musical style power electronics music is routinely used as a platform to explore a range of transgressive subject matter or as a vehicle for personal obsessions, but on less frequent occasions for specifically politicized agendas and direct societal critiques. In this context Straight Panic is the solo project of Thomas Boettner, and by name alone should provide an immediate indication of thematic intent, but if not, the self-described ‘queer power electronics’ leaves no room for any confusion. So, although other post-industrial projects such as Death in June, Coil, Richard Ramirez/Black Leather Jesus and Hirsute Pursuit have included a gay perspective, in the case of Straight Panic Thomas has drawn upon his own observations and experiences and contextualized them into a direct criticism of religious and societal conservatism.

On the release front, Straight Panic has issued a substantial volume of material since 2014 (in excess of 30 releases and counting) which has functioned to garner increasing interest in the project. Yet from my own perspective I had not previously checked out the project before due to the ‘where do I start?’ factor. So, given that CYCLE is the first album I have become acquainted with, perhaps tellingly of its intended status and standing within the project’s discography it is the first release to be issued on vinyl. Also, on the thematic front CYCLE differs slightly as it is based on Dennis Cooper’s George Miles Cycle, which was a series of five semi-autobiographical novels spanning 1989-2000.

Noting that CYCLE features a mere four tracks spanning 32 minutes, it is a short and to the point album, where the flow of the album is book-ended by two 10-minute tracks with two six minutes tracks sitting in the middle. Teenage Wasteland kicks things off where frantic static and noise shards slashes across an underpinning maudlin organ synth drone, while the rabidly strained vocals bleed and coagulate with the harsher sonic elements. 1988 follows with a similar template of the merging the melodious and the harsh, where the looped melody is all but buried by tracks end. Third track Haunted House plays out as a more direct, harsh and choppy noise workout, but remains mid-paced in flow while an underpinning bass throb retains an industrial edge, before momentarily exploding late track with a frenetic vocal barrage. The final of four tracks Black merges with black, black merges with black is the standout piece which charts a knifes edge of bulldozing distortion and moody synths, which cyclically elevates over its extensive run-time. In the concluding moments the synths fall away leaving a monumental industrial-noise rumble, as if to represent the final death throes of the album.

Stylistically, CYCLE works best with its merging of cascading distortion with minor keyed synths, and particularly on the first and last pieces, where this dual sonic focus of distortion and dour melody could be compared to modern era Prurient. Likewise, by briefly dipping into the extensive back catalogue to get a better appreciation of context, it is clear that CYCLE is by far the most composed and refined release from Straight Panic to date. However, with the large volume of releases which have been issued in relatively quick succession, there is the potential for CYCLE to be overlooked, which would be a clear mistake given how strong and sonically honed this is. Presentation wise the black and white collage of the cover, as well as the explicit art and text within the separate 16 page ‘zine specifically reflects the Dennis Cooper’s source inspiration and fits perfectly with overall ‘angst malaise’ infused mood. A release worthy of investigation.

Detrimental Effect ‎– Be My Enemy

Detrimental Effect ‎– Be My Enemy LP Unsound Recordings 2018

Following relatively quickly on the heels of 2017’s debut tape (reviewed here), sole project member Kim Vann has returned with his debut vinyl release. To make reference back to my review of the debut tape I noted that: ‘Detrimental Effect is project to keep an eye on’, which is proven absolutely correct with the release of Be My Enemy. This new album has also been issued with the following ideological statement, which frames its thematic focus and intent: ‘A perplexed continent adrift with ever more fractions while claiming to have the solution for the crisis at hand. Indifference or resignation is no longer an option and confrontation is called for’.

In noting that the debut tape showcased a modern take on the traditional German power/heavy electronics/industrial blended sound, pleasingly everything on Be My Enemy has been refined and stepped up a notch. Essentially this is demonstrated with devastating impact on the opening track Relentless, based on jittery and tensile fractured loops, prior to a vocal barrage blasting into frame. And to speak of the vocals, these have become a standout element of Be My Enemy where everything from their delivery to sonic treatment is perfectly executed. Although the saturation with delay/pitch/phaser treatment effectively renders the vocals another sonic element in the mix, yet the aggression and force of their delivery is still palpable in their blood boiling intensity. An array of samples are scattered throughout the eight tracks, where some take key focus, and at other times they function as track intros/outros. One such example is on Grinding You Down, where the minimalist atonal throb and sustained wavering noise backs a lengthy movie dialogue sample, prior to the standout vocals appearing front and centre late in the track. The pairing of tracks No Borders, No Nations and Victim Morality as the second half of Side A uses simplicity in the best way possible, with variations on the use of cyclic throbbing loops, fluttering noise, bulldozing static and the standout vocal attack.  Side B maintains the momentum of the first, where Herded Into Submission features slight sonic variation with a mid toned, fast paced modulated throb, sporadic panning distortion blasts. In then pulling back on overt aggression Gods & Guns evokes controlled queasy atmosphere with its central swaying loop. The final of the eight tracks The Burden of Symbols also functions to widen out the project’s sound palate by showcasing a slightly mellower and melodic drone approach, which is a partial reprieve following the sonic barrage which precedes it.

In many ways the sound and approach of Detrimental Effect on this album could be deemed to be an updated, modern and slightly more direct and attacking version of Operation Cleansweep’s heavy electronics approach, where I apply such a comparison with absolute high praise and respect. Yet, a limited pressing of 100 copies seems too few for an album of this quality but is partly explained but the current emerging status of the project. But don’t let either this limitation or current obscurity of Detrimental Effect turn your away, as surely this will be sought after album in years to come. In a word – recommended.