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.

Sadio / Caligula031 – Sadio / Caligula031

Sadio / Caligula031 – Sadio / Caligula031 LP Freak Animal Records/ Elettronica Radicale Edizioni 2016

On this split the Finnish Sadio (a collaborative project between Grunt and Skin-Graft) have teamed up with the Italian Caligula031 (side project of Wertham main man Marco Deplano), and is ultimately a release which sits at the depraved and nastiest end of power electronics.

Sadio take on Side A with 3 tracks of ‘basement torture’ electronics which are even less structured than those on the debut album Sophisticated Methods In Torture (…which itself was an exercise in direct aggression over detailed or meticulous studio recording).  With more similarity than difference across the first two pieces Inhale the Animal Filth and Slavemarket, the result is absolutely rough, raw and ripping.  Here the sound, whilst having a solid lower end, is more prominent at the mid to high spectrum with overblown and hollowed out tones, barely controlled feedback squalls and occasional barked vocals rising to the surface.  The clear impression is the material has perhaps been recorded live in studio, with recording levels being max’ed out in the red, and followed with limited (if any) post production. The third and final track Innocent And Pure then shows a fair bit more restraint and opts for a slow building atmospheric cut of sweeping and fluttering mid tones and bulked out with heavier bass rumble and with the late track murky vocals being vomited somewhere off in the distance of a cavernous warehouse.

Caligula031 then encompasses a voyeur’s ‘sleaze perspective’ on Side B (4 tracks and around 20 minutes of material), which thematically focus on heroin addition and the depravity of the ‘fix’ lifestyle. Needle Park – Platzspitz 1990 is the opening piece of extremely murky, idling machine clatter to set a general mood of stasis, thus leaving ample room for the forceful vocal torrent to remain prominently throughout. Following on Nothing Comes For Free is excellent for its minimalism which is constructed with two sustained but counteracting tones (…one needling texture and the other at the mid to lower end), which allows Marco’s heavily Italian accent vocals to sit front and centre within the track. Sponge of the Sidewalk follows and is framed around subdued bass rumble and dialogue sample referencing addiction, prostitution and criminality (…which appears to have been lifted from a UK talk show), while Sob Story is the final of four tracks and is another piece of hollow mid-toned textures and heavily processed vocals.

Packaging is noteworthy for its simple white sleeve and sticker, which has been further ‘augmented’ with flecks, drips and spatters of real blood, while a double sided insert includes further thematic imagery.  Clearly a release for those knowing exactly what they are in for, and not for the squeamish or ‘scene tourist’ types, thus with its limitation of 250 copies this would be sufficient for this nasty and no-frills release to find its intended audience.

Contact caligula031@gmail.com for availability.

Con-Dom – How Welcome Is Death To I Who Have Nothing More To Do But Die

Con-Dom – How Welcome Is Death To I Who Have Nothing More To Do But Die 2LP Tesco Organisation 2016

It has to be acknowledged that the approaching this review was a completely daunting task, and consequently it has been a long time in planning due to the magnitude of doing it adequate justice.  This is Con-Dom after all, being 15 long years since 2001’s magnum opus Colour Of A Man’s Skin vinyl set.  While Mike Dando has always used the Con-Dom moniker to explore all manner of manifestations of power and control (…and domination), on this album the thematic focus has turned inwards to something far more personal, which immediately sets it apart for the usual power electronics ‘arm’s length’ presentation and exploration of thematic concepts. To cut to the core of the album, How Welcome Is Death… is Mike’s reflection on his own mother’s death; his feelings and experience during the process; an exploration of euthanasia; and an observation of the institutional suffering resulting from how society addresses terminal illness. It also burrows deep into the question of what is the value of life where the quality of living is non-existent and particularly where the awareness of the individuals own circumstance has all but been lost to diseases such dementia.  To hammer home how personal the explorations of these questions would be to Mike, the cover and booklet features a series of unflinching photos of his mother Nora, which effectively illustrates her wasting away (…and as confronting as this is visually, it does not in any way feel voyeuristic). Musically speaking the material covers 3 sides of vinyl, with the 4th side featuring an etching of the Con-Dom ‘logo’ (…a crouching man, head bowed, but with bound wrists defiantly up-stretched).  Sonically the majority of the material on offer is subdued and more low-key by usual Con-Dom standards, thereby allowing its lyrics to be spoken and fully comprehended. The tracks are further augmented with dialogue samples and short snippets of what appear to be recordings of his own mother in nursing home or hospice, which then functions to illustrate the often banal context of the suffering of many at the end of their lives.

After a short introductory and sample of a rather twee ditty of a song celebrating the elderly (Grandad You’re Lovely (Silently Falling About), the upbeat mood is quickly obliterated by Living Death; a 13 minute track of invasive droning noise and double tracked, spoken vocals. Lyrically this is delivered from the first person perspective of Nora which charts both external observations and internal dialogue. Illustrating the descent into loss of bodily control and memory, it also includes some secondary lines of text which point accusations of financial embezzlement at Mike himself (…noting that paranoia is a symptom of dementia). After another short interlude piece, the title track then emerges are more typical of Con-Dom’s sound based around a thick wall of bulldozing analogue rumble, while the vocals are spoken in an authoritarian style, as if delivering proclamations from a pulpit (…although the style of delivery is the effective opposite of the message being articulated).  The following track Chocolates features an invasive throbbing bass rumble coupled with needling noise as the basis for Mike’s world weary reading out what is effectively amounts to a statement of intent of an unidentified person to commit suicide.  Lyrically it reveals an individual suffering from an incurable terminal illness, but who has the clear resolve to take their own life on their own terms before they were physically unable to do so. T4 is another lengthy track based on animated layered noise and vocal wails bleeding in and out of the mix, is coupled with a German language vocal sample which from details of the cover relates to a 1939 letter petition seeking a mercy killing for a mother suffering from Parkinson’s Disease (…although the track’s title of T4 also references a controversial Nazi era program involving forced involuntary euthanasia). Despite the subdued sonic tone of the bulk of the album, Just Fuckin’ Die stands out based on it hard and anthemic power electronics style of fractured loops and shuddering distortion, and the only vocals on the album which elevate to the trademark flanged aggressive barrage.  The fact that this track is even included on the album, with its brutal yet strangely maudlin lyrics, is testament to the blunt and unflinching honesty Mike has shown in exploration of its theme, no matter how unpalatable the expression of a personal internalised thought may seem when spoken out loud. Following this piece is Ending (Nora), a relatively calm track, being not much more than a cavernous rumbling mass, but with the inclusion of the incoherent mutterings, this may in fact be a recording of Nora’s dying moments (…the album finally concludes in the manner in which it starts with another short sample of a twee song again celebrating the elderly).

Without doubt How Welcome Is Death… is a searing and absolutely personal exploration of questions of the value of life in the face death and the manner in which people die in the modern age. As a result it is a thematically difficult album to experience and particularly more so for anyone who has experienced a similar process with the passing of a family member. Through this album Mike show how far ahead he is conceptually and highlights the human core of what he explores through the prism of Con-Dom.  Equally How Welcome Is Death… functions to hold a mirror up to the fallacy of the oft faux celebration of strength and the overt obsession with death that preoccupies so much of the post-industrial underground.  As articulated on this album it is not ‘at a distance’ detachment; this is raw human emotion; as lived and as experienced by Mike.  How Welcome Is Death… is a brave album in its brutal honesty and although matches the level achieved on a Colour Of A Man’s Skin, for the all the reasons set out above, stands separate and apart.

Pterygium – Grip

Pterygium – Grip MC Algebra of Need 2017

Pterygium are an Australia based solo project of Hank Gillett who recently had an excellent contribution on the Tesco Organisation Projekt Neue Ordnung II 4xLP boxset.  Noting also that I have previously reviewed Pterygium’s debut tape The Revival Of Unwritten Laws (reviewed here), while it was an interesting in concept and stylistic execution, at the same time was not a release that I returned to for multiple listens. However with Grips substantially differing in sound and approach to the debut, it has resulted in a tape that has been on high rotation for the last month or more.

In an attempt to categorise the sounds on Grips a general descriptor of ‘dark ambient meets industrial noise’ might be a good tag to apply given its multi-layering and dual focus of the majority of compositions.  Effectively the tracks are doubled-edged where maudlin elements mix with the abrasive; and the minimalistic yet melodic tones blend with sharper distortion squalls.  A comparison to other artists like Ke/Hil or Damian Dubrovnic is then highlighted, but not so much for sounding anything like either, rather Grips is similar by virtue of its cold, clinical and controlled approach, and where layers and loops are added and sub-tracked with clear compositions focus and intent.

The Male Antipathy leads off the 6 compositions with deep grinding drones, mid toned synths, yet the rising layered washes of static push the piece into headier territory.  Facult of Rapture then follows a similar trajectory, yet the distortion of this piece if heaver and more invasive. Playing with sonic depth and sparse composition A Child Council is an excellent example of sonic restraint to generate is maudlin atmosphere (…although the sharper static briefly makes an appearance late track). In the later part of the tape fractured minimalist rhythms, morse code blips and floating synths form the backbone on Quitting Towards a Solid Surface, while Drainout Extort is perhaps a standout for its sparse and meandering dour cinematic/ sc-fi type mood.

On Grips Pterygium have opted for an instrumental approach which is considered, refined and delivered with clear artistic intent, which is in clear contrast to some current current strains of underground post-industrial music which churns pure filth and nastiness. With its 6 tracks spanning a mere 34 minutes, the play time is short and leaving me wanting more (…much more in fact), but this is a far better position to be in rather than dealing with a release which simply drags for being overly long.  Don’t let the obscurity of the project or label deter you, this is high caliber stuff.

Kevlar – New Fears New Fights

Kevlar – New Fears New Fights LP Unrest Productions 2017

Since 2014 Kevlar have issued two full lengths and a cassette EP, with New Fears New Fights constituting their third full album. In then making a perhaps obvious comparison to earlier output, while I do like Kevlar’s prior albums (Alpha Strife and Criteria), at the same time I found they tended to not stay in rotation long in favour of other listening choices.  But it is from this perspective where New Fears New Fights standard apart, given there is an immediate sense of urgency, increased aggression and overt antagonism to this which elevates it to the next level.

To then comment on a projects within an industrial/ power electronics style, clearly there is no shame in reflecting inspiration, but this is also on the proviso that the end result needs to be more than a mere copyist project. Although direct comparisons can be drawn here to now classic elements from German and UK scenes (i.e. simple shuddering synth lines, layered loops, cascading distortion and antagonistic flanged vocals), with their focused and honed style Kevlar absolutely achieve a personal and most importantly a current take on this sound. 8 tracks feature on the album, with each spanning 4-6 minutes each, which should give an appreciation of the direct focus on display.

With a battle cry sample of “we must not be afraid to define our enemy”, Triumph Of Fear kicks in hard with driving loops buzzing distortion and crowd and alarm field recording adding to the overall tension. A great start.  With Power To Act feeling as if a lengthy bridging piece to the more focused Power Of Blade, with the later being a standout track of burrowing distortion, layered loops and flange treated if the attacking and antagonistic vocals which are mixed prominently upfront in the mix (…and which partly reminds of The Grey Wolves classic track Victory Through Violence). The title track then rounds out Side A with a stuttering rhythm, bulldozing drones and proclamation styled vocals. Another excellent track.  Mechanism opens Side B, and another example of simplicity creating fist pumping and blood boiling impact, achieved via urgent cascading loops, a general buzzing and queasy tonality (…and while a number of vocal samples are employed the main decipherable element is repeated word “incompatible”). Martyrs Crown with its brooding and atmospheric tone and looped method of construction reminds of German styled heavy electronics/ power electronics approach not too far from that of Ex.Order or early Anenzephalia. Despite is forceful tone, blown out oscillating noise and jagged tonal outbursts, Barbed Wire is entrenched with a morbid by aggressive tone to round out the album.

Based on Unrest Productions’ current roster, the label is shining a spotlight on the UK underground which from the outside looking in appears to be the strongest and most active underground scene currently operating, with Kevlar’s New Fears New Fights being a pinnacle example. Packaging wise the simple greyscale cover and insert features only basic information and functions to hammer home its direct impact. Although not reinventing the wheel Kevlar have issued an extremely impressive industrial/ power electronics LP and which is absolutely representative of the best of what the underground has to offer right now.

Am Not – The Developing World

Am Not – The Developing World LP Tesco Organisation 2017

Based on the debut album Unpunished from 2015 (reviewed here), Am Not made a strong impact on the underground. Now two years on Tamon Miyakita returns with his follow up, but this time noting a move from the original home of Unrest Productions to Tesco Organisation.

Before providing commentary on the music, an analysis of the album’s art is warranted given the cover appears to be embedded with layered symbolism. To this end an observation to be made is that the main image showing Helios, the Greek Sun God, and based on Plato’s Republic Helios is the symbolic offspring of the idea of ‘goodness’. This image is then overlaid with a semi-transparent photo of a modern skyscraper, while the album’s title is designed backwards and can only be read properly in a mirror’s reflection. An interpretation of this combined symbolism could be as a comment on whether the principle of progress and subsequent global hegemony forms part of the greater ‘good’ of the evolution of society, or in fact should be regarded with caution by developing countries as a controlling corporate agenda with negative consequences (…although these observations may be completely off the mark and others interpretations may yield other interesting and divergent results).

To then the speak of the music, the element of surprise which was generated via Unpunished has given way to a degree of expectation for this new album. Upon first listens the same song based format and meticulous approach to the construction of the tracks is noted, but at the same time the sound palate is more varied and less sharp edged or clinical, but instead opting for a rougher and harsher tone in its blend of industrial and power electronics elements. The detached and strongly observational lyrics delivered in an apathetic or deadpan style are again a standout, although the vocals on album tracks Martyr’s Little Helper 1, Market Penetration and Beleaguered and Native II do rely on a heavily flanged treatment to excellent result. Likewise the guest vocals courtesy of Martin Wilford/ Shift on The Hunt differ by being a heady barrage of unbridled anger, functioning as another layer within the sonic framework of forceful cyclic drones, spitting static and pounding junk metal clatter. White Crimes is a particular album standout, being a contemplative piece of subdued rhythmic programming, squelching/ fluttering noise and sustained drones, as the vocals drive home its clear message within a understated but anthemic style. Perhaps then constituting the ‘hit song’ of the album, Home is a revelation, with its melodious organ drone, swaying rhythm and cyclic percussive beat and now trademark spoken vocals (…which is a thematic imagining of the People’s Republic of China welcoming Hong Kong back into the fold in 1997).

With this album Am Not clearly demonstrates a project which understands its context and linage, but has taken such a template to make an individual, forward thinking thematic approach. With a highly varied sound over its 10 tracks The Developing World is no mere retread of Unpunished, but builds upon what has come before to exceptional result. The LP version comes with a full colour A4 12 page booklet with graphics and all lyrics, and overall is clearly another high recommendation.

…Hagshadow’s Anti State Jugend…

ANTIchildLEAGUE – Holy Ghost CD Hagshadow 2016

Godlesstate – Godlesstate CD Hagshadow 2016

Sutcliffe Jugend – Shame CD Hagshadow 2017

For this label showcase it is important to highlight that Hagshadow is run by Gaya Donadio: an Italian national, yet long term resident of London and a staple of its underground scene as a gig promoter via the Hinoeuma the Malediction banner.  Although Gaya’s role as a promoter may have reduced somewhat over the last decade (…when compared to the monthly shows in the early 2000’s), Hagshadow has been operating as a label since 2008 (…and mail-order prior to that).

Up first is ANTIchildLEAGUE, which is the solo project of Gaya herself, where ‘Holy Ghost’ appears to be the third in a trilogy of album’s starting with ‘The Father’ in 2008 and ‘The Son’ in 2014. However I am afraid to say that apart from hearing a few selected tracks from ANTIchildLEAGUE over the years, I have not heard these other trilogy releases, so cannot comment on how ‘Holy Ghost’ continues or differs from their sound. With that said, what ‘Holy Ghost’ brings is a sharp and clinically edged industrial album which bristles with fierce energy. With its 13 tracks spanning 47 minutes, the general impression is that of a collection of tracks, where differing sounds and moods are explored throughout.  With the opening title track being more of a introductory piece (i.e. solo female religious styled singing), ‘I Hate You’ follows and is a sharp and buzzing piece of looped power electronics (…think of the clinical and clean tone of Haus Arafna), with Gaya’s vocals being aggressively spat and slightly treated (…an excellent start).  As the album progresses from there, a pattern is then noted where some tracks are constructed around rhythmic programming and minimalist synth pads, while others following a stricter adherence to industrial and power electronics expression. With the vocals covering everything from spoken whispers to banshee like wails, these also mirror the moods of the tracks which themselves range from calm yet tensile, to those of controlled and/ or unhinged anger.  With some absolutely excellent tracks in among other generally solid offerings, it is perhaps an appropriate time to dig into ANTIchildLEAGUE’s back catalogue to check out what I have already missed.

Up next is the debut album from Godlessstate, but rather than being a young new project, it has significant pedigree in being helmed by Patrick Leagas. Noting this former Death In June member departed in 1987 and continued recording under the Sixth Comm banner, for whatever reason I have never properly investigated his releases over the years. Yet now some 30 years on from the creation of Sixth Comm comes Patrick’s new debut solo project under the Godlesstate moniker, and being: “a personal attempt to codify audibly the somewhat unfathomable ritual religious practices of our collective pre history..”.  What has been created is a rather imposing experimental tribal industrial album, based heavily around intense soundscapes and complex rhythms driven by martial drumming and hand percussion depending on the track.  The album’s rhythmic focus is further complimented by chimes, wailing horns, dulcimer, mouth harp, sub-orchestral synths, field recordings and varied vocals (i.e. whispers, chants etc. which function mostly as backing layers than providing central focus).  Selected tracks feel entirely organic in presentation, while others opt for elements of programmed electronic percussion to merge the archaic and modern (…although the consequential atmosphere is rooted in an 80’s post-industrial approach). Likewise while exploring different sounds and moods, the rhythmic approach is noted to range from Middle Eastern styled to more Euro-centric rooted sounds. With straight forward tribal industrial tracks and others of fully fledged ethno-ambient expression (…and which brings to mind a classic but short lived CMI project Memorandum), all in all this is a varied and interesting tribal industrial styled album.

Moving finally on to Sutcliffe Jugend, over the years the aura surrounding the project has been maintained by the sheer force of the extremity of their early power electronics approach, and in particular their highly coveted ‘We Spit on Their Graves’ 10xMC box-set from 1982.  Noting then then potentially difficulty in maintaining such levels of extremity, some 25 years later it was during the late 2000’s that the duo of Paul Taylor and Kevin Tomkins pulled back on the extremity to allow a greater degree of variety and experimentation to their sound. Furthermore the pair currently seem to be on a bit of creative streak as 6 albums have been issued since 2016 (…including this one). Although I have not necessarily kept up with all of the recent releases, ‘Shame’ is a considered and controlled album (…by Sutcliffe Jugend’s standards), and includes close to 50 minutes of material spanning 5 tracks. The title track opens the album, and with being based around a discernible guitar, the sound is one quite close to that of noise-rock (…sans drums) – or perhaps doom drone where the riffing has sped up to less catatonic pace. Although some nosier synth slashes are included, the guitar elements remain as the main focus throughout and the track definitely expresses a song format which extends to the vocals delivered in a half shouted/ half sung wail. Despite the musical focus of this track being far from what I initially was expecting –  it most certainly works as a listenable and engaging approach. The following track ‘Sledge’ is then more experimental with sparse atonal plucked notes and percussive sounds, leaving the vocals to issue a semi-aggressive rant.  This mood of restraint continues on ‘Hurt’ with its tensile and suspenseful tone, yet conversely the vocals are far more chaotic and unhinged in delivery and sonic treatment. Moving into the back third of the album, ‘Bait’ opts for a straight forward, mid paced pummeling riff, pounding rhythmic thuds and synth squall which are combined into a song style, which is reinforced by the ranted, half sung/ half screamed vocals. For the final of the 5 tracks, ‘Blood’ is an instrumental piece which bookends the album with a lengthy industrial soundscape of looped drones and cinematically tinged elements, which is calm yet tensile in equal measures (…and consequently and excellent track). Although I do not know how reflective this is of other recent albums and despite its quite significant deviation for my own (…perhaps ill informed) expectations, I have very much enjoyed this album.