a malignant black plague

phragBE

Phragments All Towers Must Fall LP Malignant Records 2016

Black Earth – Diagrams of a Hidden Order MCD Black Plague 2016

‘All Towers Must Fall’ follows three years after 2013’s ‘New Kings And New Queens’ and is the first time that Phragments has had material issues on vinyl.  Musically this follows established and recognisable paths, and although the project self-referenced as a ‘martial industrial’ project (perhaps more relevant to earlier works), the music here contains far less orchestral bombast than that may imply on the surface of such a genre classification.  In actuality this new album could more easily be bracketed under a dark ambient frame, where ‘martial industrial’ elements form a broader undercurrent rather than being an upfront ‘martial percussive’ focus.  As such the martial and orchestral elements lurk underneath akin to the sound of battlefield wasteland, thus perhaps better descriptor for this could be ‘martial ambient’.

With the title track opening proceedings, the mood is darkly solemn which is driven forwards by deep, droning synth textures which emulate orchestral brass, whilst other stormy abstract elements swirl overhead.  ‘The Iron Well’ continues the solemn mood but also sees the use of some far off rolling martial percussion for good effect, while ‘Withdrawal’ contains a particular mood a restraint and resignation, which includes a muffled percussive underpinning, tensile cyclic drones and ‘foghorn’ textures create the bulk of the sound.  Without much of a central melodic focus, in an overarching sense the album is one which is heavily reliant on sonic texture to generate its mood.  Noting that it maintains a distantly sweeping atmosphere throughout, it is the slow drawling foghorns and martial orchestral textures which function to sonically illustrate windswept and war-scared wastelands.

Given that Phragments nails its approach with precision and flair, interestingly it is also noted that the vinyl pressing gives an added depth to the sound, which positively works to counteract some of the more synthetic sounding orchestral elements, but regardless overall ‘All Towers Must Fall’ is a strong an enjoyable album.

Moving on to Black Earth, they are a new Spanish signing to the Black Plagve roster, and are definitely a project gains inspiration from and leans towards a ‘metalists’ sound spectrum, but has ample caustic sonic elements to keep ‘industrialists’ happy.  The label description of ‘blackened noise’ should provide ample hint of the general style and sound.

‘Mantric Resonances Along Fields of Dissolution’ opens proceedings and is underpinned by a high degree of black metal originated riff and rasp.  Although features fuzzed out tremolo riffing and flailing hyper-speed drumming, rather than sounding typically black metal, the production is smeared with caustic washes of black noise, which becomes the predominant focus of the sonic palate.  Thus despite some ‘musical’ elements and instruments being discernible within the mix, the greater atmosphere is one of blown out industrial noise.  ‘Upon Labyrinths of Broken Mirrors’ pulls back on the sonic reigns so as to be more subdued in atmosphere, which illustrates a sense of cavernous depth and shrill quasi-orchestral tone (in part down to the atonal, angular and abstract riffing, which bring to mind the death metal approach of Portal).  With each track interlinking into the next, the third and final track ‘To Cloak a Nebulous Sun’ ramps back up to a wall of roaring tone and texture akin to screaming orchestral strings fed through a jet engine and undercut with hammering drums, wailing choirs and demonic vocals.

For comparative purposes Gnawed Their Tongues is referenced within the promo blurb, which is agreed to be pretty spot on, and with only 3 tracks and run time of around 18 minutes, this is short but solid example of the convergence and mangled cross pollination of sounds drawn from black/ death metal, dark ambient and industrial noise.

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Phurpa / Deathstench – Evoking Shadows Of Death

P-DS

Phurpa / Deathstench – Evoking Shadows Of Death LP Black Plagve 2016

On paper the pairing of the Russian ritual collective Phurpa and the American death industrial unit Deathstench promised to deliver intriguing results.  In the end the outcome is more of an 12”EP given that there is around 25 minutes of music in total over the two sides of vinyl.

Given the minimalist percussive/ ritual chanting slant of Phurpa, this focuses the music towards a murky ritual ambient style, as opposed to the potentially heavy, pounding, death industrial side of Deathstench’s sound.  (..let’s just describe this ‘ritual death ambient’).  For the two ‘untitled’ compositions each follow similar sonic trajectories which involves deep ‘mineshaft’ bass rumbles and sparse atonal guitar riffing (obviously courtesy of Deathstench), which are coupled with the distinctive drawling Tibetan ‘throat signing’ chants and organic ritual percussion (obviously courtesy of Phurpa), which each gradually elevate to weighty crushing heaviness.

Although heavy and enveloping in its sonic darkness, there is also ample breadth to the sound palate to provide tonal separation of individual elements within the mix.  Sonically this release is relatively straight down the line in sound and is faithful to what could be expected from a paring of the projects, but also perhaps leaves me wanting something ‘more’ (…although being a solid release, it also does not quite reach a ‘pinnacle’ level that was anticipated).  Visually the cover suits the music perfectly, but for those slow to the punch the vinyl pressing of 150 copies is evidently already sold out.

Sewer Goddess – Painlust

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Sewer Goddess – Painlust CD Black Plagve 2015

Since 2006 the Boston native Sewer Goddess (helmed by Kirsten Rose) has been delivering her particular brand of death industrial muck which on occasion verges on power electronics aggression. ‘Painlust’ is the new opus (and second album if not counting the live album ‘Disciples Of Shit: Live Waste’ from 2001), and a surprising one at that given it demonstrates a substantial evolution in sound. Essentially there has been a intentional streamlining and refinement of the project into a formal band structure (now including bass, drums and guitars), but not forsaking the grit and grime of the tone of earlier material.

‘Plague Axis’ open the album with a crushing death industrial sound; one of creaking metal, sustained minor key drones, pounding beat and screeched vocals to set the tone with grim intent. The following piece ‘My Grave’ the arrives as the first demonstration of the shift towards a structured ‘band’ focus, where the death industrial sound is augmented with slow pummelling Godflesh styled industrial styled guitars (albeit of a darker doom metal heaviness), here with Kristian’s vocals being in a distinctive drawled spoken style. ‘Flog’ follows a similar template of a mid-paced churn of guitar/ drums/ bass but here the drawled vocals are force-fed through a distortion treatment, with this track being a fantastic display of the evolved band driven approach. ‘Black Meat And Bones‘ is a song of a more forceful ilk, with a driving/ pounding percussive backbone, spitting machinery, screeched vocals and austere but shrill guitars, while the slow rhythmic drag and pull of the bass/ drums/ guitar of ‘Get the Rope’ achieves a very death industrial feel, despite its more typical band formation. Representing a grand conclusion ‘Melena’s Mask’ pushes back towards a mid-paced industrial guitar throb, heaving driving percussion and rhythmic machine backing, here Kristen’s vocals being multi-tracked to included drawled passages and screeched screams.

With 6 tracks at around 28 minutes, this is by no means a long album, but has compressed a massive sound into this short timeframe. The album artwork by André Coelho Sektor 304 is suitably grim and mechanical in style, although to my mind some of other images within the booklet would have made for a more striking cover. Noting I have appreciated what Sewer Goddess were about on earlier releases, ‘Painlust’ is a quantum leap forward in style and sound with the honed band focused sound a real revelation to behold.

Isolator – Culture & Principle of Anti-Human Exaltation / Teeth Engraved With the Names of the Dead – Starving the Fires (Pt.1)

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Isolator – Culture & Principle of Anti-Human Exaltation CD Black Plagve 2014

Teeth Engraved With the Names of the Dead – Starving the Fires (Pt.1) – CD Malignant Records 2014

Malignant Records and the associated sub-label Black Plagve have recently added two new artists to their rather substantial roster and in the process issued the formal debut albums from each.  Having been issued at the same time and noting the general degree of affinity both projects have with their chosen musical approach, this is a logical enough reason for these albums to be reviewed together.

Isolator are up first and slot within a rather bleak black industrial/ black noise/ black ambient framework.  Noting the potential overuse of the ‘black’ descriptor this based on the impression this underground death industrial/ ambient/ noise which has links with and takes inspiration from black metal spheres (a cursory review of the album title and track names clearly attests to this).  As such Isolator delivers grim black hole grinding ambience mixed with dissonant abstract guitar riffing, where the guitar elements are wielded as droning layers rather than a typical ‘band’ element. Likewise when vocalisations are present, they are semi-buried within the mix and range from chanted to a black metal rasp.

‘Cast Into Blood’ opens proceedings with potent molten atmospheres, where deep organ dirge drones, caustic reverb riff distortion and whispered vocalisations set the scene for the album.  ‘Mankind Shall Reap The Mistakes God Hath Sown’ follows where a guitar tone rises more prominently with abstract riff distortion, coupled with the lamenting orchestral synths and choirs semi buried within heavily echoed mix.  ‘Your Heaven Will Writhe Within The Chaos Of My Hell’ is lengthy in both name and run time, which descends into a discordant downward spiralling and bass heaving mass, complete with buried synths and deathly croaked vocalisations.  Perhaps some vague similarity to Sunn 0)))’s ode to black metal on ‘Black One’ could be used as a passing reference due to the heavy, slow riffed guitars.  For final of the five tracks ‘In the Blood of Our Kingdom’ pares back on the bass crushing heaviness to more subtle Angelo Badalamenti styled moody synth drone soundscape.  Yet even with this respite it gradually evolves into a doom riddled riff-fest, with sporadic incursions of deathly drawled vocals and flailing kit drumming being played somewhere off in the catacomb depths.

Hellish in its black noise intensity and whilst loose and abstract to a point, Isolator display a clear degree of control sophistication to the construction of their overall sound and atmosphere.  In a word – harrowing.

Up next are the project with the rather lengthy moniker of Teeth Engraved With the Names of the Dead (Teeth Engraved for short), where they adhere to a more strict death industrial sound.  Whilst less dense in tonality and more murky and muffled in tone, Teeth Engraved’s sound encapsulates a widescreen soundscape format.  Ultimately this is music of droning and grinding ambience, mixed with soot infused soundscapes, reverb drones and general inky sonic blackness. On occasion the material also steers towards a black noise/ ambient style as evidenced through the inclusion of dissonant riffed guitars.

‘Radians’ sets the scene with a muffled yet sweeping soundscape which is padded out with micro tonal elements of general metallic and industrial rubble.  ‘Vital Remains’ then conforms to a well-worn death industrial markers of maudlin minor keyed synths, grinding noise and partially mangled medial based dialogue samples.  ‘Shredded Sky, Hung in Tatters’ offers up a rather heady piece, sounding as if the product of field recordings made of an industrial incinerator (i.e. gusting heat waves and exhaust strewn ash), as oscillating grinding textures rise and fall, with atonal synths and croaked vocals relegated to another layer in the chaotic mass.  ‘Lacerate’ then builds on a base of grinding waves of morbid distortion, which are further augmented by dissonant tremolo strummed guitar, echoed feedback, maudlin sub-orchestral synths.  Alternately the glass gargling and croaked vocals of ‘Broken From Inside’ are elevated to the absolute foreground of a blasted atonal oscillating death industrial soundscape, where the vocals resemble another crushing echoed layer than anything remotely human.  For the final track ‘When Storms Come’ this arrives as a monolithic 25 minute offering, where mid paced cyclical waves grind incessantly on and feeding back distortion rides the knife-edge of becoming a high pitch squall.  Dour minor keyed synth undercurrent and general creaking metallic wreckage only adds the shuddering ambience.

Through a slow evolving, unhurried and controlled approach, Teeth Engraved achieve a strong ‘soundscape’ take on various classic elements of death industrial genre to create a very robust and refined debut album.

Whilst displaying their own individual flair, both albums from Isolator and Teeth Engraved are very strong in their grim blackened death industrial/ ambient approach and display exactly what so many current American projects are doing so well with variations on a central death industrial theme.  Both albums also function to again demonstrate the knack of Malignant Records to maintain an extremely high quality level within their ever expanding discography.

U-731 – By All Means…

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U-731 – By All Means… CD Black Plagve 2014

U-731 are a new American signing to the Black Plagve roster, being helmed by one Gordon Lazarus who has previously operated under the name Defiler, before taking up the current U-731 moniker.  Yet noting this is U-731’s debut album, rather strangely the promo blurb also highlights that ‘By All Means…’ represents the swansong for the project.  Incidentally Gordon intends to continue under the banner of United Front, however it is not at all clear whether United Front will continue with the sound and thematic content of this particular release.

Armed with this album U-731 clearly demonstrate they are an act that can stand on an equal footing with other US acts, and most particularly: Steel Hook Prosthesis, The Vomit Arsonist, Gnawed and Nyodene D.  In fact such name-dropping goes beyond mere sonic comparisons, as 5 of the 7 album tracks were produced in collaboration with John Stillings of Steel Hook Prosthesis (three tracks) and Andy Grant of The Vomit Arsonist (two tracks).  Although this is oriented towards the scathing side of death industrial music, U-731 set themselves apart by weaving in a pessimistic dark ambient undercurrent, meaning they achieve a gloomier tone than their aforementioned peers.   Speech and documentary dialogue samples also constitute a large part of U-731’s sonic aesthetic, where these are intertwined seamlessly within the soundscapes to articulate a range of topics including: medical procedures, conspiracies, secret societies, covert government actions and WWII politics.  Via this framework U-731 conjures seething atmospheres driven by caustic droning synths and mechanised industrial debris, which sporadically lets loose in a more focused death industrial style (and occasionally nearing power electronics intensity).

For the opening track ‘Forced Neurotic Displacement’ it features an ominous undercurrent of heaving bass aggressiveness, minor key synths and corrosive outbursts, against which the trademark electric/ static hissed vocals of John Stilling are spewed forth.  From this first introductory track it establishes a superb foundational offering.  John Stilling again makes an appearance with his seething vocals on ‘The Mechanics of Embalming’ which sit atop grinding mechanised industrial loops and a medical based dialogue sample addressing the track’s title.  Stepping away from a collaborative framework mid album track ‘Freedom, Reaction-Resistance’ sees Gordon Lazarus operating without external input.  Here the track conveys a lo-fi, paranoid infused soundscape of drones, distant metallic clatter and speech samples addressing conspiracies and secret societies, before ramping up with looped distortion of crushing intensity.  Being another collaborative offering, the following track ‘F.E.M.A Care’ is the first of two tracks to feature the contributions of Andy Grant, who is in ultra-aggressive form where the anger of his vocal delivery has been ratcheted up few notches (…which is certainly saying something). This track commences in a subdued dark ambient fashion as a documentary sample articulates government conspiracies relating to covert martial law programs, before elevating to power electronics intensity with crushing distortion and static drenched/ emotion wracked vocals.  In deviating from the material which proceeds it, ‘Sun Gan/ Last Rites’ functions to conclude the album in brooding fashion, where relentless waves of static and morose synth textures usher in a radio broadcast (Winston Churchill?) announcing war had been declared on Germany as a consequence of their invasion of Poland in 1939.  Later in the track the mood shifts through the use of choir vocal samples and the sound of exploding shells and gunfire which usher the album into oblivion.

Whilst the influence of Steel Hook Prosthesis’ and The Vomit Arsonist’s is undeniable on their collaborative tracks, rather than being a potential negative, their contributions are incorporated seamlessly into the album’s overall concept and sound.  Certainly ‘By All Means…’ is a full realised, expertly executed and genre refined recording which is also one of the strongest debut albums issued in recent memory (noting that Shock Frontier’s debut of 2013 – reviewed here – holds a similar accolade).  Recommended.

T.O.M.B. – Third Wave Holocaust

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T.O.M.B. – Third Wave Holocaust CD Black Plagve 2013

Via this release T.O.M.B. (aka Total Occultic Mechanical Blasphemy) has been welcomed to the roster of Malignant Record’s sub-label Black Plagve.  Noting that the Black Plagve imprint caters for the harsher and less refined side of underground industrial related sounds, this should give a cursory indication of what to expect herein.

From the crude, filthy and overblown industrial noise aesthetic of the opening track ‘Antagonizing the Unknown’, this bleeds into the following piece ‘Electric Exorcism’ and in the process establishes the tone for much of the album.  Accordingly this wind tunnel style of echo blasted clamour is exemplified on these sweeping black industrial noise compositions (which span the album’s 55 minutes).  Yet by the time the third track ‘The Great Venerat Insult’ arrives, the heavy intensity slackens off slightly to embody an expansive catacombal ambience, driven by slow ritualistic drums, rumbling bass and distant sweeping tones.  ‘Na La Gore Na’ then elevates the tone again where the morbid chanting and dank, echo treated atmosphere builds to overblown caustic proportions.  Although the term “respite” is entirely relative to an album such as this, ‘Disrupting Admin’ is slightly less intense, where the catatonic bass guitar is distorted to the point of abstraction and combined with waves of crumbling static. ‘Vom Voodoo’ mixes things up ever so slightly with the inclusion of (you guessed it) tribal hand percussion, yet the predominant overblown noise production remains as a constant.  Interestingly the final of the ten tracks ‘Tribute to Hanhua’, sees the album concluded in subtle rather than seething guise, containing a cavernous aesthetic with far off choral chanting and what sound to be distorted gong tones.

With its freeform structure and noisy, echoed infused production, unfortunately ‘Third Wave Holocaust’ suffers somewhat from a lack of variation between tracks which tend to blur into a singular and larger sonic mass.  It is also a shame that on the visual side of things the album is let down in presentation given the rather ugly digital artwork, which is more akin to a bad B grade horror flick.  To this ear this is the type of album that is amply adequate for a number of spins, but is unlikely to be elevated to an album that will warrant repeat visitations.

Aderlating – Gospel of the Burning Idols

Aderlating

Aderlating – Gospel of the Burning Idols CD Black Plagve 2013

The rather prolific Aderlating return with their fourth official album since 2009, which forms part of an already extensive discography spanning 14 releases (including full lengths, splits, cassettes and digital only releases).  Whilst Aderlating tend to inhabit a general black ambient/ black industrial type sphere, for ‘The Gospel of Burning Idols’ it includes some more overt musically aspects which align with the black metal scene – albeit obliquely.  Thus on this basis alone Aderlating are a project which should have quite a bit of crossover appeal for both underground metal and underground industrial types.

The crumbling walls of muted noise of ‘opening of the tomb’ introduce the album and straight away brings to mind the classic ‘Great Death’ era of Bighter Death Now.  Yet from this leaping off point the sound quickly descend into a ritualised maelstrom of demonic drawled voices, sampled choir vocals, grinding mechanised noise, a bass heavy percussive thump and general cacophony of metallic percussive elements which collectively generate a rising sense of dread and unease.  In simpler terms – a fantastic album opener.  The ritualistic aura is also retained on the following piece ‘a vulture’s tongue disease’ with its muted rumbling soundscape and droning choir vocals, yet it remains entirely chaotic due to the use of free-form black metal style drumming. Noting this track’s merging of abstract ritual atmospheres and flailing black metal drumming, it sets the template for a number of the other album tracks which fall into a similar stylistic pattern – aka a maelstrom of industrial debris, sweeping echoed noise and a variety of vocal textures (muttered evocations / screeched curses / sampled choirs), as the kit drum percussion furiously flails somewhere off in the distance of a deep cavernous space. Late album track ‘spewed on by slaves of inhumanity’ displays a slightly more focused death industrial sound, with its heavy bass thump and a rousing orchestral elements (heavy strings/ brass), yet as always there is still a sense that the track is on the verge of descending into a chaos at any moment.

A heavy ritualistic aura permeates the entire album which also imbues the dank and suffocating atmosphere of a cavernous tomb.  But rather than being merely ‘ambient’ in texture, the overall feel is such that it has a prominently tense, chaotic and unhinged sound throughout.  Likewise the driving free-form kit percussion edges the sound of Aderlating towards a live rehearsal/ lo-fi black metal band type sound, rather than a mere studio project, which also gives this album a certain tonal edge. Although the demonic and quasi satanic sounding aspects are in no way subtle, they are handled with such nightmarish intensity as to ensure it never enters ‘cheesy’ territory, which such material has been known to suffer from.

On the visual side of things the death and daemonic themed medieval paintings used as part of the cover provide a suitable visual counterpart to these unhinged black industrial musings.  Although containing its own distinctive sound, ‘The Gospel of Burning Idols’ will no doubt please fans of like minded groups such as MZ.412, some aspects early Brighter Death Now and Gnaw Their Tongues (which if not known is the main solo project of one of Aderlating’s members), with its chaotic ritual cacophony.