Heretic Grail – Instruments of War / On The Heels Of Insignificance

Heretic Grail – Instruments of War 2xMC Slave Chandelier 2019

Heretic Grail – On The Heels Of Insignificance LP Breathing Problems Productions 2019

Instruments of War constitutes my introduction to Heretic Grail, yet it seems that as of April, 2019 the project may have already ceased activity. If that is the case the project was active for less than a year since mid-2018, but still managed to issue twelve releases in that time.

The six tracks featured on Instruments of War are spread across the two tapes, totalling around 37 minutes. With a strongly militant edge to the sound, the industrial/power electronics approach is based on loosely constructed and generally mid-paced compositions. As for the broad approach on display, the tracks feature windswept battlefield ambience based on blended layers of caustic electronics consisting of: idling static; trembling distortion; erupting fissures of noise; smatterings of dialogue samples; and rounded out with strained, echo-smeared vocals (which are ranted but unintelligible). To talk specifics, Tortured Lullaby stands out positively with its melodious synth drone and shuddering bass. Regrets Of Termination And Conquest also follows a similar sonic template, but is defined by a dialogue sample where a soldier recounts his first kill in combat (which is revealed to be civilian and in the telling is tinged with repent). Beyond the sonic side of things, specific mention also needs to be made of the packaging, where the two pro-printed tapes are housed in a black elongated paper envelope along with a myriad of collage-based inserts. But being limited to only 60 copies, this is already likely to be difficult to track down.

Although also issued in 2019 On The Heels Of Insignificance is not a current recording from the project, rather is a vinyl reissue of a 2018 tape issued on Fusty Cunt. Although it does inhabit the same general sound sphere as Instruments of War, this LP is also less refined and slightly more direct in sonic expression. In a general sense an elevated level of tension is evident, where the tracks are built around grimly grinding machine like loops and augmented with vocals and/or dialogue samples. Swine.Cleaner sitting at the centre of the album is particularly impacting, based on its searing distortion and grinding noise-based approach which elevates to wind-tunnel intensity.

For the chosen style and approach Heretic Grail have delivered releases which perhaps not necessarily rising to a ‘mandatory’ status, both releases remain strongly enjoyable for what they are in their chosen style. In then comparing the two Instruments of War is the more varied and refined release of the two, and perhaps also warrants a re-edition – hopefully on vinyl.

Straight Panic – CYCLE

Straight Panic – CYCLE LP Breathing Problems Productions 2018

As a musical style power electronics music is routinely used as a platform to explore a range of transgressive subject matter or as a vehicle for personal obsessions, but on less frequent occasions for specifically politicized agendas and direct societal critiques. In this context Straight Panic is the solo project of Thomas Boettner, and by name alone should provide an immediate indication of thematic intent, but if not, the self-described ‘queer power electronics’ leaves no room for any confusion. So, although other post-industrial projects such as Death in June, Coil, Richard Ramirez/Black Leather Jesus and Hirsute Pursuit have included a gay perspective, in the case of Straight Panic Thomas has drawn upon his own observations and experiences and contextualized them into a direct criticism of religious and societal conservatism.

On the release front, Straight Panic has issued a substantial volume of material since 2014 (in excess of 30 releases and counting) which has functioned to garner increasing interest in the project. Yet from my own perspective I had not previously checked out the project before due to the ‘where do I start?’ factor. So, given that CYCLE is the first album I have become acquainted with, perhaps tellingly of its intended status and standing within the project’s discography it is the first release to be issued on vinyl. Also, on the thematic front CYCLE differs slightly as it is based on Dennis Cooper’s George Miles Cycle, which was a series of five semi-autobiographical novels spanning 1989-2000.

Noting that CYCLE features a mere four tracks spanning 32 minutes, it is a short and to the point album, where the flow of the album is book-ended by two 10-minute tracks with two six minutes tracks sitting in the middle. Teenage Wasteland kicks things off where frantic static and noise shards slashes across an underpinning maudlin organ synth drone, while the rabidly strained vocals bleed and coagulate with the harsher sonic elements. 1988 follows with a similar template of the merging the melodious and the harsh, where the looped melody is all but buried by tracks end. Third track Haunted House plays out as a more direct, harsh and choppy noise workout, but remains mid-paced in flow while an underpinning bass throb retains an industrial edge, before momentarily exploding late track with a frenetic vocal barrage. The final of four tracks Black merges with black, black merges with black is the standout piece which charts a knifes edge of bulldozing distortion and moody synths, which cyclically elevates over its extensive run-time. In the concluding moments the synths fall away leaving a monumental industrial-noise rumble, as if to represent the final death throes of the album.

Stylistically, CYCLE works best with its merging of cascading distortion with minor keyed synths, and particularly on the first and last pieces, where this dual sonic focus of distortion and dour melody could be compared to modern era Prurient. Likewise, by briefly dipping into the extensive back catalogue to get a better appreciation of context, it is clear that CYCLE is by far the most composed and refined release from Straight Panic to date. However, with the large volume of releases which have been issued in relatively quick succession, there is the potential for CYCLE to be overlooked, which would be a clear mistake given how strong and sonically honed this is. Presentation wise the black and white collage of the cover, as well as the explicit art and text within the separate 16 page ‘zine specifically reflects the Dennis Cooper’s source inspiration and fits perfectly with overall ‘angst malaise’ infused mood. A release worthy of investigation.