Trepaneringsritualen ‎– Kainskult

Trepaneringsritualen Kainskult LP Tesco Organisation 2017

Some three years on from 2014’s Perfection & Permanence (reviewed here), Thomas Ekelund has returned with the follow up full length Kainskult, issued via the cult industrial label Tesco Organisation. Sonically speaking this new album demonstrates the further honing and refinement of the evolved rhythmic song-based approach, where everything about Kainskult feels as it has been stepped up a notch: from the song writing; to vocal delivery; to recording; and finally to the production. Yet with reference to the production, it is far from being clean and polished as it maintains harshness and grit befitting of its chosen ritual death industrial style, so is more a case that all elements have been elevated in sonic intensity. The methods of recording also illustrates the use of programmed elements blended with real instrumentation such a s standing drum kit (floor tom and cymbals), junk metal type percussion, distant ceremonial horns and other ritual percussion, while the vocals are on occasion multi-tracked, or presented as a backing chorus.

With a distant gruff voice proclaiming “Fratricide! Fratricide! Fratricide!”, Death & Ecstasy opens the album which is a vocal led number set to a minimalist rhythmic thump and with the semi chanted vocals comes across as a mantra of sorts. With this relative slow burner as the album opener, it only functions to amplify the impact of Maðr Malformed which is heavily driving piece based around rolling militant percussion, swaying bass rhythm and gruff vocals following a perhaps now trademark verse/ chorus/ verse format. All Flesh Has Corrupted is also noteworthy for the lyrical approach where the multi-tracked vocals are rhythmically delivered to follow the bass and ritual drumming. One of the longest tracks of the album (at 7 minutes) is which sits towards a soundscape styled offering, although bass and slow pounding drums provides a ritualized framework, while the following pairing of Feral Me and Serpent Seed demonstrates the album in its strongest song-based format. Feral Me features some fantastic roiling metallic percussive elements, while Serpent Seed is by far the album standout, with its monolithic pounding bass, counterpointed clanging metallic beat, and gruff multi tracked vocals which again demonstrates Thomas’s skill in executing vocal delivery which perfectly melds within the tracks percussive and rhythmic structure. An Immaculate Body Of Water is another 7 minute track, and while it is effectively double the length of the majority of tracks, it does not feel as long as this even with its slow pacing, where grinding drones, slow bass thuds and garbled vocals are the order of proceedings. With a blink and miss it length of at 29 seconds, the album concludes with V V V, being one final song based percussive rhythmic based track, again with thick bass drones and militant rolling beats.

Thematically speaking, the title of the album clearly alludes to the continuation of an esoteric and symbolic exploration of the Cain and Abel mythology, which is also reflected strongly in both in lyrics and visuals. It would then seem there is further meaning embedded in the cover artwork, yet I have yet been able to decipher the clues within select lyrical symbolism and typographic design to determine what the hidden message may be. But aside from such conundrums, this review has been written some months after the original release in October, 2017, where it was then observed that the first edition issued in 250 copies each of black and white vinyl pressing sold out at lightening speed, and has since been repressed in a red vinyl edition (500 copies). Based on those sales this obviously evidences that Kainskult has been a very popular album, but perhaps it is also indicative of interest being shown outside of the core underground post-industrial scene. This can then be explained by the fact that Trepaneringsritualen have toured extensively as a support act with a number of underground black metal bands, which is likely to have fostered a diversification of a typical audience for this sort of material. Likewise, given the occult and esoteric thematic focus and the strong rhythmic song based approach, it is easy to appreciate why black metal listeners would find a certain affinity with Kainkult. But regardless of where the current audience interest in Trepaneringsritualen is coming from, this is ultimately irrelevant to the fact that Kainkult functions as an expertly crafted, stormer of an album.

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Nordvargr – Metempsychosis

Nordvargr – Metempsychosis CD Cyclic Law 2018

For any long term reader of my writings on the post-industrial underground, it should be blatantly obvious by now that projects affiliated with the Cold Meat Industry label have constituted a constant thread of my listening choices since the mid 1990’s. This then obviously extends to the numerous musical offerings of Nordvargr which have been issued via his MANY projects over the same period. In then noting his hyper-productivity over his career to date, even in that context the last couple of years appear to have been particularly busy for Nordvargr.  Likewise perhaps another relevant observation to be made, is that over the years Nordvargr has demonstrated continual creative reinventions of his working methods, where old approaches have been discarded in favour of new sounds and approaches within the broader post-industrial underground (and therefore thankfully avoids his output potentially diminishing in impact via a gradual watering down of ideas). Now with reference to Nordvargr’s current creative arc, the focus has been squarely on a ritual death industrial tangent, where Metempsychosis feels to be a culmination of this sound. To this ear, the linage of this new album can be traced in part to the album length EP The Secret Barbarous Names (reviewed here), and elements of the recent collaborations with Margaux Renaudin under the Anima Nostra moniker (reviewed here and here), in addition to drawing in external influences from the vocal led and rhythmic death industrial song based approach of Trepanseringritualen (aka TxRxP). And speaking of the later, Thomas of TxRxP is a vocal contributor on one of the album tracks.

In essence the musical approach encapsulated on Metempsychosis involves somber ritual soundscapes which function as short bridging pieces between the heavily driving and rhythmic/ tribal/ industrial beat driven songs.  In also utilising a perhaps non-typical elements for this sort of material, a bass guitar is prominently featured to provide a throbbing rhythmic undercurrent to match the real drums, ritual percussion and verse/ chorus/ verse gruff vocals. A particularly good example of this mix is on First East, where the bass line is coupled with stoic martial tinged percussion for strongly rousing result. While the bass playing on Salve Teragmon borders on being overtly groovy, it fits neatly with the clanging pounding percussion to create a driving mid-paced furrow, and consequently stands out as one the album’s most recognizable offerings. Sweet Death Triumphant also features as another album standout based on the slow pounding percussion, blaring foghorns, and guttural anthemic repeated chorus, which combine for an absolute immediacy of impact. But rather than that last statement being mere hyperbole, it was literally proven at the Cold Meat Industry 30th Anniversary pre-show, as when Nordvargr played Sweet Death Triumphant live for the first time, the crowd responded with an unscripted sing along (despite no-one having heard the track before that moment it was being played).

Featuring ten tracks in all, and with the use of real instrumentation mixed alongside the synthetic produced elements, it results in the material sounding to be more of a band than solo studio project, and provides a tangible human essence which is sorely missed when music is crated by computer means alone. The sonic quality provided by its real instrumentation and song focused tracks functions to added to the overall listening experience, where this album has proven itself to be engaging album by virtue of being regular rotation over recent months – such is the benefits of being provided with early versions and the final mix well in advance of its formal release date. While it then remains to be seen whether Nordvargr will continue on this creative path, or perhaps again forges off in new directions, it certainly feels as if there is far more creative territory to be covered within this current stylistic approach. But before that question is answered by the next release, Metempsychosis stands as another pinnacle album in the ever-expanding creative cannon of Nordvargr. Vinyl, CD, cassette and digital rounds out the options for format, evidently with slight variations in track listing on each.

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.

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.