Phurpa ‎– Chöd Ritual / Grotta Santarcangelo

Phurpa Chöd Ritual / Grotta Santarcangelo CD Old Europa Café 2017

Phurpa has been a rising name in the underground in recent years, which is somewhat expected given their distinct sound and approach which effectively sees this Russian group performing Bon ritual music in a Tibetan Buddhist tradition. Primarily based around chanted vocals of a Tibetan throat singing style, this is mixed with an array of abstracted and minimal traditional ritual instrumentation including horns, cymbals and various percussive implements. Having previously heard a couple of albums from the group, I was then surprised to discover that they now have 26 releases to their name which have been issued over the past decade. Although I have not been able to confirm it, I have an impression that the majority (if not all) of these releases are straight recordings of live performances, rather than studio albums.

On Chöd Ritual / Grotta Santarcangelo the album features a single track spanning close to 80 minutes, and which displays the sonic hallmarks of being a direct recording of one of Phurpa’s live rituals. Sparse percussive sounds provide a droning introduction to the album, before the low guttural throat singing chants arrive full force at around the two-minute mark, and by this stage the catatonic pacing of the vocal driven soundscapes has been firmly set. On occasion the mood elevates to crashing crescendos of cymbals, deep drawling horns, higher pitched atonal wailing thighbone trumpets and a general subterranean percussive thrum, where structurally these instrumentation driven passages are used to bridge and interlink the sections of the cavernous throat chanted vocals.

Having heard this album, in comparison to the others I have also heard, they are noted to be broadly in the same sonic palate and style, where it raises the question of whether you need to hear more than a couple of albums to gain a decent appreciation of what the collective is about. Personally I have enjoyed the experience of becoming acquainted with Phurpha’s atypical musical style and approach, but equally I perhaps don’t anticipate myself regularly revisiting these albums either. I also suspect that there is a far greater inherent power in being able to hear and experience Phurpa’s music in a live ritual setting, where an element of its sonic impact is likely to be lost in the recorded album format. Whether or not I get the opportunity to see the group perform live remains to be seen, but albums such these album’s do at least provide an opportunity to experience the ritual works of Phurpa.

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Alfarmania & Proiekt Hat – Flugornas Herrar

Alfarmania & Proiekt Hat – Flugornas Herrar MC Styggelse 2017

The prolific collaboration between Alfarmania and Proiekt Hat rolls on with Flugornas Herrar released in time to coincide with their performance at Tesco 30th Anniversary Festival. This new album length tape follows on from 2016’s honed and rather short Mardrömd Dödsström LP (reviewed here), and shifts gears into a sprawling long form format spanning 16 tracks and over 80 minutes of material. The liner notes then reveal the material itself was recorded between 2010-2017, while the title appropriately translates to: ‘The Lord of the Flies’. As an initial general observation Flugornas Herrar pairs back on the more urgent sonic elements of prior collaborative material, the general mood of the album is one of slow stalking morbidity and controlled psychedelic angst. 

On side A (its subtitle translating to: “Though Enchanting Atmospheres”), an early track In the Dungeon of Solitude plays out as the duo’s interpretation of the early death ambient approach of Brighter Death Now (aka Great Death era), with its two note plodding bass, creaking metallic textures and garbled vocal chants. Then on Life-Extinguisher of Multitudes the wavering sonic tones, grinding synth lines, sparse symbol crashes and deep bass addled elements elevate the mood slightly, while the fantastically titled Soul Searching at Gunpoint, demonstrates how a darkly morbid tone can be generated with minimal of sonic elements. Rain of Oblivion round out the first side of the tape with a short piece based on a wonky synth line and myriad of looped elements. Effective and to the point.

Like the translated subtitle “Through Oppressive Atmospheres” of Side B suggests, the mood takes a downward turn on an already negative tangent. Featuring a collection of tracks with a heavier grinding approach, this includes Genom Förtryckande Atmosfärer with its grim tone which builds to heavy sonic intensity, and the invasive tonal shards and creaking metallic resonance of Abnormal Gestation Termination. Late album track  Magplask I Ett Bollhav Av Glödlampor rates a mention given its general sonic negativity, while another short track Soot Gruel focuses on pulsing and interweaving synth elements of queasy tonality.  To then conclude the tape, the suitably titled Exact Moment Of Death Prolonged A Thousand Times features a hypnotic vortex of spiralling mid-toned synth lines, creaking metal and a dour organ sounding element to create yet more top notch material.

It a general sense it would seem that the pairing of the minds or Mr Alfarmania and Mr Proiekt Hat and functions in such a way that high calibre material is generated with apparent ease, particularly given the wealth of material which has been issued in recent years.  While this tape functions as a collection of individual tracks, there is still distinct flow between each piece, where final track ordering would also appear to have been carefully planned. Packaging wise, it consists of an 8 panel fold out J-card with suitably grim artwork and layout courtesy of Mr Alfarmania. Without it being a case of Flugornas Herrar being ‘better’ or an ‘improvement’ on earlier material, this is simply on an equal level to what has come before, meaning it is another mandatory release from the duo.

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.

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.