TenHornedBeast – Death Has No Companion

TenHornedBeast – Death Has No Companion CD Cold Spring Records 2017

Having heard a number of early album’s from TenHornedBeast (around a decade ago now), it seems that I have not kept up with continued output over recent years.  From my memory of those earlier releases they encompassed dark ambient drone-scapes, but also verged of doom drone at times through the use of slow distorted guitars (and while I enjoyed them, they also did not stay in listening rotation for long and have not revisited them since). Yet Death Has No Companion has now thrust me back into the sonic world of TenHornedBeast and it has come as rather a bit of a refreshing surprise.

To speak of the album’s cover, straight off the mark the sound perfectly matches the atmosphere of the wintry imagery (photos taken by solo member Christopher Walton). This also reveals the core focus of Death Has No Companion as cold arctic drone-scapes, where sparse compositional minimalism give rise to widescreen barren vistas in the mind’s eye. Featuring only three tracks the album still spans 60 minutes, meaning the tracks are on the lengthy side (between 17 and 24 minutes each), thus take their in sonically unfurling. Being constructed around a base of slow morphing drones and sustained shimmering textures, additional elements provide tonal variation (such as sparse horn/ string like melodies, sustained lone piano notes and (perhaps?) treated gong tones). The middle track The Lamentations of Their Women is also the most animated of the three offerings, featuring a prominent cyclic loop, and with some more ‘metallic’ tones layers verges slightly towards a death ambient sound.

A general observation to be made is that the sound is rooted in a ‘classic’ 1990’s expression, which is perhaps reflective of Christopher’s long-standing involvement in the underground, extending back to his days in Endvra (and of interest this album being similar in part to the sonic minimalism of Endvra’s album The Watcher). Although elongated, meditative and heavily abstracted, there is still more than ample sonic nuance to be discovered which ensure this an engaging album and which can masterfully draw you into its cold and barren world. Based on this album, it now has me intrigued to investigate back catalogue of album’s which have previously passed me by.

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Nordvargr – The Secret Barbarous Names

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Nordvargr – The Secret Barbarous Names CD Malignant Records 2017

The longstanding and highly renowned Henrik ‘Nordvargr’ Björkk should need no introduction given his near 3 decade involvement in the post-industrial underground.  Yet to make specific reference to his most active solo guise he has issued upwards of 50 releases under the Nordvargr banner since the early 2000’s, where each have explored a wide range of sounds and stylistic approaches.  Although I have not personally heard all of the solo Nordvargr releases, of the 15 or so I have they demonstrate a high level of creative flair and with more than a select few rising to laudable greatness.

For this new release ‘The Secret Barbarous Names’, it sees Henrik exploring a vocal focused stylistic approach and also is notable as the first time the Nordvargr project has appeared on Malignant. Bracketed under an amalgam of droning ritual dark ambient/ post-industrial drone, the album utilizes vocals as a central element of the compositional structure, noting this focus on the vocal elements sets this album apart from other Nordvargr albums (…evidently based on Draconian and Typhonian traditions, the thematic context relates to the inherent and hidden power of scripture text which can be manifested through their correct utterance, as opposed to their specific meaning).  As such the vocal delivery ranges from whispered invocations, meditative hums and low drawling to croaked chants, which the latter drawing parallels with Tibetan throat singing.  With the vocals themselves being multi-layered and treated with a fair dose of reverb and echo they forum the bulk of the tonal soundscapes, where underpinning widescreen drones rise and fall in force and prominence depending on the track. Although predominantly sitting within a certain tonal spectrum overs its 49 minute span, on occasion swelling orchestral strings and slow ritual percussive drums appear to given further sonic variation.

As should be expected from a Nordvargr album, its rendered sonic world is darkly hewn, but the slow pacing here manages to maintain an omnipresent meditative and ritualistic quality.  Nothing also that Henrik has used the Nordvargr project to explore varied approaches, including abstract glitch (i.e. ‘I End Forever’ album) and ambient techno (i.e. ‘Resignation 2’ album) , modular synth drone (i.e. ‘Murkhr’ album) and all manner of dark ambient in-between, ‘The Secret Barbarous Names’ represents yet further variation in stylistic approach.  But most importantly these new recordings sound both inspired and invigorated and certainly stands out as a pinnacle album within Nordvargr’s rather imposing back-catalogue. Regardless of whether you need a place to start, or a reason to reengage with Nordvargr’s current creative arc, this is a praiseworthy album.

Blood Ov Thee Christ – Filthy Criminals / Kristian Olsson – Att Vara Där Jag Var Innan Jag Var Jag

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Blood Ov Thee Christ – Filthy Criminals CD Old Captain 2016

Kristian Olsson – Att Vara Där Jag Var Innan Jag Var Jag CD Old Captain 2016

For a quick historic recap, Blood Ov Thee Christ was (is?) the project of Harri Honkaniemmi – one of the first Swedish power electronics/ industrial noise projects. A sole cassette ‘Master Control’ was issued way back in 1987 before the project disappeared into obscurity. To fast forward almost two decades, ‘Master Control’ was dug up and reissued on CD in 2005 (reviewed here), whilst around the same time Harri was coaxed out of hiding through the perseverance of Kristian Olsson (aka Survival Unit & Alfarmania) to reestablish the project, with Kristian joining as a second member.  ‘Filthy Criminals’ was then one of the first releases from the newly active project in 2006 and issued via cassette on Kristian’s own Styggelse imprint. Having been long sold out it has now been reissued on CD in a digipack edition of 250 copies with grim artwork also courtesy of Kristian.

‘Filthy Criminals’ features a mere two tracks, but each spanning 30 minutes which is reflective of the original cassette format.  From the opening segment of the title track, cascading waves of shuddering mechanized analog filth and distortion drenched vocals are metaphorically vomited into a rubbish strewn street and although no lyrics are discernible, the angst and aggression is palpable.  Loose and chaotic there remains degree of intent behind these crude compositions, thus the impression is not one of result of mere improvisation, particularly as variety of dialogue and vocal samples are strategically force-feed into the swampy tonal soup.  The pacing of the Side A track is not urgent or fast paced, rather the composition lurches forward in a general negative haze akin to that generated alcohol or drugs (or both?) – but given the length of the track in the later half the vocals and whipping static seek pushes towards greater frenzy.  The second track ‘Hatemaster’ gives some momentary respite through the use of an introductory sample which quite appropriately references religious devotion through heroin addiction.  Yet after a couple of minutes when the sample has run its course the track launches into a more direct mid ranged pulsing static attack.  Although a slow lurching undercurrent remains, the forefront elements of layered distortion, buzzing static and barked agonized vocals provide more chaotic force than the first track.  Mid track some hefty dual vocals and spitting metallic loops ramp things up further, although the piece concludes with a section of muted sonics and bizarrely half crooned vocals.

Being positioned at the rough end of crude industrial noise/ power electronics, this is sonically hard, grim and unrelenting.  It is the sort of album which preaches to the converted and as such will only appeal to connoisseur of such audial analog filth. Is that you? No doubt you will already know the answer to that.

Kristian Olsson in solo guise is not too far removed from the sonic world of Alfarmania, but there is a much greater degree of restraint, elevated experimentation and a mood of ritual atmospherics.  As for ‘Att Vara Där Jag Var Innan Jag Var Jag’, it is a CD reissue of a 2010 limited vinyl pressing of 275 copies.

Sonically speaking the album captures morbid ritualized soundscapes which feature a myriad of tonal elements including: murky atonal drones; metallic chimes; atmospheric scrap/ junk sounds; scraping metal on concrete textures, creaking metal hinges; and distant wailed voices which flesh out the sound. These collections of sounds are then combined into grim grey toned and soot infused soundscapes which articulate cavernous, muck and grime strewn abandoned spaces.  Of interest on its original vinyl pressing, the tracks effectively bled into longer single LP sided tracks, but here given the 10 individual tracks are individually indexed, it provides greater focus on the individual piece, which themselves range from around 2 to 9 minutes each. The title track appears late in the play order (track 8) stands out to a greater degree given it is sonically sharper and forceful, but still maintaining a comparable sonic palate to the rest.

To specifically compare these two albums, while they do certainly seek different listening moods and experiences, from my own perspective it is Kristian Olsson’s works which I find myself returning too on a more regular basis (…but could equally be the opposite on your own preferences).  But regardless of personal preferences they are both shining examples of Old Captain’s agenda to resurrect and given additional exposure to various underground obscurities.

Vril Jäger – Vril Jäger

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Vril Jäger – Vril Jäger LP Heiðrunar Myrkrunar 2016

Vril Jäger is a new project featuring Kim Larsen – better known for his main neo-folk project Of the Wand and the Moon, and Thomas Bojden – better known for his main martial industrial project Die Weisse Rose.  Perhaps then in making a concerted effort to side step any direct comparisons or similarities to their main projects, Vril Jäger stands apart by evoking an early to mid 1990’s ‘heavy electronics’ sound, but further augmented with ritual / martial styled percussion and sub-orchestral dark ambient elements. The music framework is then completed with dialogue samples and strong commanding vocals (both spoken and whispered with slight studio treatments being applied).  Thematically speaking the lyrics and dialogue samples reveal a focus on a variety of interlinked conspiracy theories and occult symbolism including: Vril Society/ Vril energy, electronic voice phenomenon (EVP), parallel dimensions, hollow earth hypothesis etc, which works rather well to present a strong conceptual base.

For the opening track ‘Vril-Ya’ presents a lengthy piece, assembled around ominous drones, slow booming Japanese war drums, atonal drawling horns and clattering ritual percussion, where the whispered and slightly treated vocals providing a ceremonial edge (…without doubt an excellent start).  Interestingly the following track ‘Maw of Kalki’ constitutes a direct channeling the atmosphere of early works of Predominance (a high compliment from these quarters), but noting the sub-orchestral synths and choral type vocals gives rise to this comparison, here it twisted to individual result with its martial / ritual percussion.  With the first side of the LP featuring only 2 lengthy track, instead the second side features 4, consisting of 2 short vignettes to bookend the other 2 middle tracks of 6 to 8 minutes each.  Following a similar sonic scope to the first side, ‘Through The Firmaments’ is a drawling soundscapes featuring driving ritual percussion and layered wailing horns, while ‘Radio Wyrd’ is noteworthy fort its shrill strings of rising dread as a backing to a documentary dialogue sample talks of EVP/ inter-dimensional phenomenon. ‘Sanctified by Constellations’ then concludes the album in short and simple guise, featuring a sparse yet achingly morose sub-orchestral melody, with a short poetic tome.

Despite the label promo stating that Vril Jäger should not be considered a ‘side project’, nevertheless it came to my attention on the basis of its members. But making good on their assertion that Vril Jäger is not a mere ‘side project’, it has still caught me by surprise me by how different it actually is when compared to initial ‘face value’ expectations.  As such Vril Jäger have arrived as a fully formed and thematically focused group, whom in the process have delivered an excellent debut album.  As a final note on the album’s presentation, whilst the spot varnished logo of the cover is slick and understated, it is also rather plain and uninspired, where the group’s photo presented on the back cover would have in my estimation made a more compelling front cover.

Satanismo Calibrio 9 – Kymah Rising

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Satanismo Calibrio 9 – Kymah Rising CD Old Europa Café 2016

The Italian based Satanismo Calibrio 9 are one of those projects I have been aware of by name, but have not previously heard until now.  Likewise given they have issued just short of 30 releases in their 10 years of activity, this means I don’t have a specific frame of reference to how ‘Kymah Rising’ compares, so have to review it ‘as is’.

Evidently ‘Kymah Rising’ is final release in the ‘Rising Trilogy’ and has been issued on the long running and respected Italian Old Europa Café.  This is their 12th release on the label and clearly fits within a ritual industrial/ dark ambient classification.  But by forgoing potential harder and harsher ‘industrial elements’, it is the organic ritual ambient elements on ‘Kymah Rising’ that allows to fit alongside the sound associated with the Finnish Aural Hypnox label.  Equally this then sets itself apart from its central and prominent use of layer vocals (male and female chants, screams, whispers etc.) which themselves function with obvious invocation based intent.

6 tracks in total feature, and by spanning 6 to 11 minutes each it is indicative of its sprawling catacomb oriented mood.  Echo and reverb play a key role in generating a murky droning atmosphere, where other ritual percussion, random thumbs and general industrial wasteland sonics bulk out the sound.  ‘Maha Kymah’ is an atmospheric standout with its thick drones, elongated chants and bass rumbling mass, whereas ‘Drifting in Perdition’ is less sonically weighty by use of its mid-toned drones.  Based on personal preferences, perhaps the vocals are too prominent and centrally focused for my liking, which tends to take away from the meditative aspects of the of the music (…I do acknowledge this as being a personal point of view rather than specific criticism).  ‘Rapture In Scorpio’ is one such vocal heavy example, however other pieces such as the title track ‘Kymah Rising’ strikes an appropriate balance between its sonic backing and understanding, chanted and whispered vocals.

Aimed squarely at a ritual focused industrial/ dark ambient sound, Satanismo Calibrio 9 have utilised a range of genre staples and twisted them into a sound which is not derivative of other similar projects or themed material.  No doubt the specific ritual aspects of this will be of further interest to those more versed in such matters, but I am afraid I am not one of them so can’t comment further.

Halo Manash – Elemental Live Forms MMV – Initiation

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Halo Manash – Elemental Live Forms MMV – Initiation CD Aural Hypnox 2016

First things first, this is not a new album from this Finnish ritual collective, rather it is a release which has been excavated from their past archives.  In this context ‘Elemental Live Forms MMV – Initiation’ functions to bring to light a series of previously unreleased tracks which were presented at Halo Manash’s first live performance in 2005, which itself followed their 2004 ‘Syoma’ album.  9 tracks or ‘movements’ feature herein, and despite each constituting part of an interlinking whole, they are contextually split under sub-headings of ‘The Trial of Bones’, ‘The Path of Fire’ & ‘The Ghost Ceremony’ to reflect the intended ritual cycle.

Musically speaking, the trajectory of Halo Manash over time has been one which has demonstrated an gradual evolution toward greater abstractness and musical restraint.  ‘Elemental Live Forms MMV – Initiation’ then differs ever so slightly from the ritually minimalist and amorphously ethereal sounds of later Halo Manash works. So although the music is clearly recognizable as that of Halo Manash, there is also a degree of musicality, drive and urgency here, which can perhaps be explained by that the material was presented in a live setting.  Yet this is also not to say that this album presents actual ‘songs’ or ‘melodies’, it is rather a case the synths, chanted vocals, structural loops and tribalised percussion is in the most part more forceful and driving than usual.

From the opening moments tribal floor-tom percussion, swirling percussive textures, snaking synths and ritualistic chants/ horns introduce the album, and from this point the listener is dragged into a dynamic 40 minute ritual ambient morass.  Although the tone ebbs and flows in intensity (depending on the track), and despite it ‘atypical’ musical form, the presented movements never feels improvised.  As a listening experience this is as strong as any other album within Halo Manash’s canon, but it can also be considered an important document of the evolution of the group from its earliest phase, given its sonic focus and drive which pushes ever onwards through the 9 presented movements.

Packaging wise, the regular edition features an 8-page booklet, 8 postcards and additional insert, all housed in an oversized screen-printed cardboard which upholds the instantly recognisable aesthetic of the Aural Hypnox label.  Also available in a limited special CD edition and limited cassette edition.

Vhril – Vortex Psysynthesis

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Vhril – Vortex Psysynthesis CD Old Captain 2016

For this release Old Captain have seen fit to resurrect an obscure recording from Ulex Xane and John Murphy under the ‘Vhril’ banner, which was originally issued in 1993 via Ulex’s Zero Cabel tape label, and noting the timing of this release in mid-2016, it then fittingly coincides with the feature interviews with both in noise receptor journal issue no.4.  To firstly provide a short synopsis of the album’s thematic focus, an excerpt from Ulex’s liner notes states: “Vhril explored the esoteric concept of the Vril topos, the Black Sun and Thulean paths in an improvisational ritual setting”. Musically speaking, ‘Vortex Psysynthesis’ can then be bracketed under a ritual ambient / ritual industrial frame of reference.

On the opening track ‘Transcosmic Mutations (The Vile Vortices), it is a loose and long-form piece, featuring tensile analogue drones, and rhythmic clatter/ muffled rumble and wailing ‘air raid’ styled sirens, which in part bring to mind the most subdued instrumental elements of Streicher (…and particularly on the first half of the track).  However what completely sets the atmosphere apart is the array of gongs, Tibetan singing bowls, sparse percussive elements and oil barrel thuds etc. which all coalesce with ritualised intent.  Two shorter 5-8 minute pieces form the album’s centre (‘Sedona 1’ and ‘Sedona 2’), are tonally similar in that they are both calm and understated atmospheric works of shimmering ‘cosmic’ textures, and scattered ritual percussion, which could also perhaps be more flamboyantly described as ‘psychic emanations from the void’. On the fourth and final piece ‘Ipsissimum’, although skirts perilously close to a ‘new age’ sound (given its use of water samples, chimes, accordion and woodwind tune, distant wailing/ chanted female vocals etc.), it sidesteps being overtly twee by maintaining a darker and sparsely abstract sound.

Noting the four album pieces span the subtle and abstract through to track segments which are more driving and forceful, the overall sound and atmosphere maintain a meditative quality throughout, yet equally the first track is the clear standout in terms of focus and complexity of execution.  Given that Old Captain have been doing an exceptional job at digging up and re-releasing some exceptional underground obscurities of the past decades, this Vhril CD is no exception.