Aural Hypnox – Underworld Transmissions

Aural Hypnox – Underworld Transmissions CD Aural Hypnox 2019

This CD represents the closing of the Underworld Transmissions series as it collates together the three earlier cassettes issued in 2014 and 2015. Of those earlier releases each contained two tracks each, thus totalling six tracks and nearly 60 minutes of music on this collated album. To quote from the cover regarding the concept and series, it states: “Underworld Transmissions was Aural Hypnox label series, filmed and captured on tape in the private séances held in our subterranean lodge located in Oulu, Northern Ostrobothnia. The concept was to invite artists from the Helixes collective, in different combinations, to join a séance and to establish through sound and movement an elemental communication. In greater sense, apart from personal goals, these séances aimed to bring forth the seasonal currents of the lodge; the undertone of the Aural Hypnox label and the artists involved. Each séance was guided by a unique automatic-portal-portrait reflecting the planetary and stellar distances seen at that particular time in the lodge altar mirror-receiver. All audio was captured live on tape by using binaural recording technique. Films were captured during séances and also in the preceding and subsequent sessions that took place in Other Rooms and in the surrounding wilderness. The candles have been extinguished; transmissions completed”.

Due to the apparent improvisational nature, the musical output of the Underworld Transmissions series sits more at the abstract end of label’s discography, and in sonic terms this is possibly most comparable to the minimalist style of Aural Holograms (a lone album was released by Aural Hypnox back in 2007). Séance I/2013 (November 2013) and is a composition of deep subterranean atmospheres, slow sustained drones generated by sparse bowed and blown instruments. Additionally some distant chants appear to mark the path, and assist in evoking a minimalist meditative aura. Séance I/2014 (January 2014) follows, and although still minimalist in style is slightly more animated, with a mid-pointed tonal range and wavering notes looping in a non-melodious patterns. Moving onto Séance II/2014 (March 2014) the track takes a short moment to get going but quickly elevates into a heavily cinematic, ritual ambient soundscape. Although drones form the compositional backbone, tense and urgent abstract sounds sweep and pan through the speakers, coupled with sustained atonal horn and string notes which rise to elevated crescendos of almost modern classical proportions (Penderecki certainly comes to mind in the later more animated sections of the piece). Séance III/2014 (April, 2014) then evokes a dank catacomb atmosphere with slow pounding ritualised thump, buried chants and abstract scraping/ creaking textural sounds, which at its sonic peak is not too far from a death industrial style. Great in other words. Moving towards the back of the collection, Séance IV / 2014 (July 2014) is a hazy atonal soundscape of shifting analogue drones and creaking sonorities which cyclically build to forceful sonic impact. Séance I / 2015 (January 2015) concludes the set which follows similar sonic paths, although is embedded with a more mysterious tone within its droning dark ambient frame.

Being housed in an oversized, screen printed cardboard cover, with a 16-page xeroxed booklet it is a fitting closure to the concept and séance cycle. Likewise with each of the original tapes being limited to mere 50 copies, this CD reissue a slightly larger run at 150, but clearly it won’t be available for long given how well the physical editions of the Aural Hypnox label engages with the fetishist collectors mindset.

Trepaneringsritualen ‎– ᛉᛦ – Algir; Eller Algir I Merkstave

Trepaneringsritualen ᛉᛦ – Algir; Eller Algir I Merkstave LP Cold Spring 2019

After a run of strong albums framed around vocal driven, rhythmic death industrial compositions, Trepaneringsritualen ‎(TxRxP) has chosen to take an abrupt left-hand turn (onto the left hand path?) to deliver an extremely minimalist ritual dark ambient album, thus harks back to an earlier phase of the project. In fact this new instrumental album is so minimal and ritualized in style, it would not at all be out of place on the Aural Hypnox label.

Compositionally this album consists of two lengthy nineteen-minute tracks, each titled with the algiz rune, but noting for the second track the algiz rune has been inverted. To glean meaning from this, in its upturned position, the algiz rune can be interpreted as a human with upraised arms to received the protection, guidance and wisdom from the Universe. But in its inverted position can be interpreted as meaning hidden dangers for the self and the need to reflect and look within as part of the process of gaining strength and connecting with higher self. Yet even with the cover image of the algiz rune formed by tree branches, based on the spartan artwork and text in Swedish, how the algiz runes should be interpreted in context of this album remains unclear.

Sonically speaking the atmosphere is one of bass driven tonal depth and catacombic echo, where blackened washes of archaic drones blend with reverb drenched ritual percussive sounds, including: deep catatonic drum hits; sparse gongs; wailing horns; ritual chimes; singing bowls, low atonal piano notes etc. Yet for all of its apparent minimalism, this album is one that immediately draws you into its sinister clutches and does not loosen its grip for the entire album duration, particularly given the ample tensile sonic elements which keep interest and engagement throughout. Although cut into two separate tracks, the sound effectively plays out at an album length track as the sound between the two pieces bridges the same pace and articulates visions in the mind’s eye of a ritual ceremony being conducted in the falling twilight on the damp forest floor, while tree limbs creak and sway in response to the winds gusting through treetops far above. Also of note is the deep shuddering thud featuring at the start and end of the album album, as if sonically representing the opening and subsequent closing of a ritual cycle.

Prior to the release of this album, perhaps I had assumed that TxRxP would continue to forge ahead with a song-based approach. That impression has been proven to be completed incorrect, but at the same time, ᛉᛦ – Algir; Eller Algir I Merkstave is an exceptional example of minimalist and strongly meditative ritual dark ambient music, and completely takes me back to the earliest days of when I started listening to this type of music. Recommended.

Contrastate ‎– An Exercise In Defascination

Contrastate An Exercise In Defascination 7”ep Black Rose Recordings, 2019

With their immediately recognisable darkly surreal soundscapes, which are further characterised by poetically metaphoric vocal narratives, Contrastate have always been an anomaly within the post-industrial underground. It has then been some time since 2012’s last full length A Breeding Ground For Flies, noting that 2016’s No Eden Without Annihilation was not an album proper, but rather a collection of live recordings. An Exercise In Defascination arrives as a precursor to the upcoming full length album, where the liner notes highlight that the two featured tracks: ‘are alternate mixes from our ongoing studio recordings for the next Contrastate album. The album concept is inspired by the Italian giallo films of 1970s’.

The instrumental title track arrives on the first side, and within the first minute manages to span cinematic synths, rolling percussion and pitch-shifted sonics. From there the surreal serpentine soundscape is derived from shimmering textures, abstracted guitars and a myriad of other sonic elements, while a shrill drone and rising strings through the later part of the tracks functions to create tensile and urgent tone. Spasmo takes up the flip side with more shimmering drones and abstracted guitars, but the mood is more stayed overall in a drugged miasma sort of way. Snippets of vocals are present but are sonically warped and fragmentary in presentation, rather than their usual focus of a central narrative based tool. Regardless, the resultant feel is a darkly surreal one.

With this 7”ep effectively being a short taster to the new album, but on their own form a welcomed slice of Contrastate experimental post-industrial eccentricity. It will then be equally interesting to see how these compositions will fit within the greater whole of the upcoming full length. As for this release it is limited to 250 copies.

Trepaneringsritualen – Konung Dómaldr Vid Upsala Hängd

Trepaneringsritualen – Konung Dómaldr Vid Upsala Hängd CD Neuropa Records 2019

Originally issued in 2013 on cassette via Merzbild, and again in 2015 on vinyl by In Solace Publishing, this third press takes the original three tracks and appends them with two bonus tracks for good measure, bringing the total run time to over 50 minutes.

Thematically this release relates to the Norse legend of the Swedish King Domalde, whose ritual self-sacrifice prevented an impending famine. This conceptual content is addressed within the cover image, which is a black and white excerpt from Carl Larsson’s famous painting Midvinterblot (Midwinter Sacrifice), whilst select Swedish song titles roughly translate to: For The Benefit of the Swedes, Blood Rain, and The Corpse of the Fallen Dómaldr. The original three tracks form sections which essentially bleed into a singular 30-minute ritual death ambient composition, music more characteristic of the earlier phase of the project before the sound mutated towards direct and song-focused compositions. But rather than the additional material simply being tacked on at the end, the two tracks are included as the first and last tracks respectively, to broadly fit and extend the mood of the original three compositions.

The first section (track one) is moody and minimal, with grey-hued drones, clanging sounds, and disembodied vocalizations; it feels like an extended introduction. The second section (track two) leads off with some gritty textural static; the main focus is squarely the procession of slow deathly drums, swirling winds, wavering synth textures and croaked/echo-distorted vocals, which combine to deliver an excellent track of slow brooding ritual menace. The third section (track three) is sparser in construction and encompasses an air of distant abstraction to its voluminous atmosphere. Here a lone cavernous bass thump provides focus in amongst various sweeping/cavernous tonal elements and the call/response of howling wolves. The fourth section (track four) continues the windswept sound in a slightly more forceful guise, building upon ominous drones, a slow percussive bass pulse and a melancholic synth line akin to the title track of Brighter Death Now’s Necrose Evangelicum album – an excellent and harrowing conclusion to the main collection. The final section (track five) spans out over a 14-minute stretch with freezing windswept plains, ominous bass drones, and slow semi-buried ritual thrum.

The expanded version of Konung Dómaldr Vid Upsala Hängd is an excellent release within the project’s discography and a strong reminder of the earlier soundscape death industrial sound of the project.

Monocube ‎– Substratum

Monocube Substratum CD Malignant Records/Cyclic Law 2019

Like a monumental ancient breath issuing forth from the bowels of the earth, Monocube have returned with their fourth album of archaic soundscape ambience, issued again on Malignant Records but this time having been co-released by Cyclic Law. As an initial observation, on a whole Substratum has a more consistent sound palette overall than last album The Ritual (2016), which was more varied between tracks and on occasion used prominent musical motifs and ritual percussion. And while musical and melodic motifs are still employed here, it is in a much more subtle way, often semi-obscured within the elongated widescreen droning ambience.

Depth, breadth, and reverb play a huge part in setting the tone and atmosphere of the album, where early in the album foggy and enveloping twilight drones and deep throat chants characterize the lengthy Prima Materia. This piece seamlessly blends into Luft which is differentiated by its subtle and minimal plucked instrument (guitar?) and use of what may be field recordings of blustering storm winds, which perfectly offsets the elongated melodious drones. The semblance of natural field recording elements also weaves through the middle and later sections, providing the consistency in mood across the album. As with the last album, a number of tracks are based on collaborations, here featuring Visions on one composition, and Antti Litmanen of Arktau Eos on another, but without reading the liner notes to determine which tracks these are, their contributions are not immediately evident from sound alone – and again refers back to my comments on the consistent sound palette.

With the tone and atmosphere of Substratum fitting like a glove with similar archaic ambient droning material issued on both Cyclic Law and Malignant, this is another fine album to submerge one’s inner psyche with and effectively lose yourself over its hour-plus timespan.

156 – Memento Mori

156 – Memento Mori 10”EP Fear of Hate and Fear 2016

Although 156 are a project I have little awareness of, Adel Souto appears to be main member and key contributor to the project. With a handful of releases issues since 2012, this EP is one of the more recent offerings. While I am not sure how this compares to other releases, on Memento Mori all tracks have been composed and recorded using only human bones as percussive or wind instruments (i.e thigh bone trumpet). Thus taking ques from one of the earliest ritual industrial pioneers Zero Kama (and more broadly Nekrophile Rekords), there is a deftly archaic and moody in feel and atmosphere to Memento Mori. However such a contextual reference point is more than a mere compassion, given that one of the tracks (Starlit Mire) is noted to be a cover of a Zero Kama track from The Secret Eye Of L.A.Y.L.A.H. 

As for the resultant sonics, the material is relatively simple and straight forward in execution, including minimalist percussive thrum, micro-tonal scraping textures and wailing atonal bone trumpet notes. Yet clearly the source material has been subject to studio treatment in the form of manipulating the recordings into series of structural loops and more widescreen soundscape drones. With nine tracks in all, each is a relatively short exploration of its tone and mood (with tracks ranging from one to five minutes each), with some being meditative and ritualistic, while others are heavily percussive driven. Rather intriguingly, the vinyl has been cut at 45rpm, with the intent that it can also be purposely played at 33rpm to create a slower elongated experience of the offered tracks.

For the physical manifestation, the music has been pressed into a hefty slab of bone coloured vinyl. The printed cover is then noted to feature a colour scheme which gives a further nod to Zero Kama, given it replicates the colours of The Goatherd And The Beast 10”EP. Archaic and obscure in the best way possible, Memento Mori is very much worthy of investigation.