Leather Bath ‎– Nature’s Crackling Fire / Anarch Peak – Vitarium

Leather Bath Nature’s Crackling Fire CD Leather Bath, Inc. 2019

Anarch Peak – Vitarium CD Chondritic Sound, 2019

The common thread between these two releases is Greh Holger (of Hive Mind and the Noisextra podcast), who collaborates with John Weise as Leather Bath, and separately with Rodger Stella (formerly of Macronympha, Mother Savage, etc.) as Anarch Peak.

In turning attention to Leather Bath first, they seem to have been active since around 2012 with a clutch of releases, yet Nature’s Crackling Fire is the first album proper from the group. As might be suggested by the album title this can be described as experimental noise and musique concrète, with an underpinning drone framework. Two lengthy tracks feature, the 23-minute In Temporary Suspension and 17-minute Hunter Horn. Although the musique concrète descriptor is used, this is by no means stuffy or academic in tone. Likewise, with reference to the ‘noise’ descriptor, the sound is ‘detailed’ rather than loud, meaning there are tons of close-up micro-tonal sonic textures throughout. There is considerable depth, with various tonal elements sitting far off in the background, offset against the upfront elements, while speaker panning is also used for surround-sound immersion. In Temporary Suspension exudes an open tonal quality, with lots of space to breathe between the sound of stone, wood, and metal which is creaked, bowed, struck, and scraped. Hunter Horn differs from the first track with a greater focus on droning elements, scrabbling textures, and treated horn elements, while field recordings provide further natural and human resonances. Later the track involves a metal-on-metal tonal workout and echoed footfalls, which are dragged to their conclusion with animated windswept drones.

Moving on to Anarch Peak, the first thing to be noted is the psychedelic sci-fi style artwork that adorns the six-panel digipack. This sci-fi angle is reinforced with some abstracted surreal text included as part of the digipack. Sonically speaking, Greh handles the synthesizers and minimalist metal-derived inputs, while Rodger mans the theremin – by listing that instrument alone, it should be clear that Anarch Peak are not dealing with a harsh / junk noise approach. Two longform tracks make up Vitarium, the 37-minute Alpha in Dissent and 33-minute Driftglass. In the opening to Alpha in Dissent the atonal synths and theremin drones slowly unfurl, while some subdued metallic clatter is noted far off in the depths of the mix. Like an ebbing and flowing tide, the track slowly builds and recedes over extended passages. Not being chaotic or loud, the track does build up a certain bulk and tonal weight through the middle and later sections, where discordant wailing textures sit at the middle to lower end rather than resembling a high-pitched squall. In the last third, some doom-addled sub-orchestral synth melodies appear and sweep the track’s mood in a completely different direction, more into sci-fi territory (perhaps akin to being slowly dragged towards the event horizon by the gravitational pull of a black hole). Driftglass differs by being tonally fragmented and fragile, with subdued wonky tones, minimalist crackling textures, and low-level static, while a melodious organ-like drone slowly appears to provide focus and forward movement. The middle to back end of the track sonically articulates intertwining corkscrew spirals, while the final movement uses metallic tones in a stilted rhythmic fashion.

Neither of the albums are overly dark, but each is characterized by being experimental or artistic in tone in their own way. The material across both albums is animated and varied, with each making for a detailed and engaging listen. The above descriptions should clearly indicate whether either or both albums will be to your liking.

Serration – The Open Mouth Of Infinite Destruction / Force of Damnation

Serration The Open Mouth Of Infinite Destruction CD Chondritic Sounds 2020

Serration Force of Damnation MC Total Black 2020

Serration have been on a bit of a roll in recent years with a slew of releases since 2018. If you have heard any of Serration’s prior material, both of these new titles continue the established sound of brooding and militant industrial / heavy electronics.

Turning to The Open Mouth Of Infinite Destruction first, from the outset saturated synth lines waver and dive-bomb in intertwining unison, while the heavily processed vocals are sonically smeared to convey an urgent mood, despite being wholly unintelligible. Inexhaustible Conflict follows in a similar vein but takes a gradual step up with a wailing siren texture and catatonic underpinning beat. A.P.C. embodies yet more tensile militant atmospheres, being a soundscape rather than rhythm-driven; the vocals, subdued and spoken, are heavily processed. The Storm Of Ash And Steel stands apart with what sounds to be a looped synth line replicating an orchestral tone against a backdrop of seething invasive mid-toned drones, and echo-panned production, while the final track is a live recording of A.P.C. made in Chicago in March 2018. Being slightly more hollowed in tone than its studio counterpart, given the noted absence of crowd noise it is clear this material is a recording taken directly from the mixing desk (if it was not identified as a live recording, it would not be immediately apparent). At only 22 minutes long, this is a short and to-the-point release. The packaging is rounded out with a six-panel digipack on heavy card stock with cleanly designed visuals.

Force of Damnation delivers a further five new tracks, also spanning around 22 minutes of material. W.I.T.W opens the tape; immediately obvious is how the vocals have been pushed to the fore and are all the more powerful for it, blended with urban guerrilla battlefield type recordings and seething / brooding synth textures. March Of Lies makes great use of laboriously intertwining synth layers, radio chatter, and hefty processed vocals. Further vocal variation is evident on Survive_Comply where, with reduced sonic treatment for the most part, they are intelligible; the backing is relatively subdued mid- to higher-toned synth drones and Middle Eastern crowd chatter. The tape rounds out with Grease And Blood, another mid-toned mass of seething synths, sonically charred vocals, and urban warfare / machine gun chatter. For the physical presentation a cleanly designed cover rounds out a thus far consistent visual aesthetic for the group, in a limited edition of 125.

Although perhaps splitting hairs between these two releases, the production of Force of Damnation is wider in sonic scope given the separation of its tonal elements, while the mood is ever so slightly more subdued. Yet this is an extremely minor critique: both releases are high calibre and very worthy additions to Serration’s quickly expanding discography, highlighting why the group have been receiving so many positive accolades of late.

Liebestod ‎– Escaping Freedom

Liebestod Escaping Freedom Chondritic Sound CD 2019

My introduction to Liebestod came from their first full length Beta Male from 2016 (reviewed here), but I then missed the self-titled cassette from 2017, and had already missed another self-titled cassette from 2014 (featuring different material). Thankfully Escaping Freedom functions to reissue all tracks from both of these earlier cassettes. In an overarching sense it is again a case that atonal shuddering synths, pulsing static, throbbing / squelching tones, distortion charred vocals and an underbelly of field recordings are the order of the day, with variations of these elements chopped spliced and structured into distinct noise compositions. As such Escaping Freedom again demonstrates Liebestod balancing a sound on a razor’s edge between a heavy electronics and power electronics sound.

The 2014 tracks come first, where For the First Time I Look Vulgar features an early tensile standout with wonky intertwining textures and a heavy elevating tone. The Most Irritating Pose is another noteworthy track of sonic restraint yet building tension, while vocals feature in an echo tinged deadpan delivery. Darkness is Easeful rounds out the collection of 2014 tracks with a solid offering which aligns with a modern and direct American death industrial tone. Going Home arrives as the first of the 2017 tracks, and uses a very effective use of a distressed voice set against a grimly brooding synth drone and field recording backing, while a rhythmic pulse appears only briefly in the later segment. One Day In April works quite distinctly on two separate levels: the first with lower end drones providing an ominous quality, while the higher shrill tones, erupting gunfire and charred vocals function to elevate the tension. Crimes Of Love provides yet further sonic diversity, featuring sonic breadth and space. Here the synths are pushed into the background, leaving the field recording in the foreground (dripping water in an abandoned building?), couple with upfront and whispered vocals for a ‘stalking’ tension driven track. This mood bleeds through into the instrumental track Strokes, before moving onto a deliver a sonic pummeling on The Things I Learned From Men. That track is very much an noise and aggression fueled power electronics piece framed around a stilted pounding rhythm, spliced with fluttering mid-toned distortion and guttural vocal barrage.

Despite featuring tracks from two separate releases, the combined material actually hangs together well as a single album collection spanning 12 tracks and 45 minutes. Yet if any criticism is to be leveled, it is in relation to the tracks being quite on the short side, given the shortest is under two minutes and the longest is just over four minutes. But this is also a sort of compliment, as based on the sheer breadth and variety of sonic ideas on display many pieces could be extended for greater impact and without losing focus, tension or momentum. Presentation wise featured a pro-printed six panel digi-pack with artistically designed imagery which hints rather that hits you over the head with grim imagery.

Shredded Nerve ‎– In The Shadow Of What Never Was

CH-325-Shredded-Nerve---In-the-Shadow-LP

Shredded Nerve – In The Shadow Of What Never Was LP Chondritic Sound 2016

Shredded Nerve are a relatively new US industrial/ noise unit with a handful of cassettes and 7”ep’s to their name since 2013.  This is their first full length vinyl album, although I am then not sure if any of the cassette releases are themselves to be considered as proper full length releases.  So, although this can be broadly described as ‘industrial/ noise’, this rather rudimentary classification could also potentially be misleading, given it does not fully capture the diversity displayed on this complex and experimentally tinged recording.

Album opener ‘Closer To The End (in The Shadow Of What Never Was)’ kicks things off with a single LP sided track (18.5 minutes), which charts upward building motion over its lengthy span.  Despite being a single track there are distinct sections or ‘movements’ found within, where the initial crude scratchy loops and the minimalist ‘metal on metal’ experimental field recordings give way to a ritualized soundscape dirge (i.e. echoed percussion, watery textures and garbled vocalisations).  For the final third the mood shifts into industrial drone territory, including throbbing bass and mid toned fluttering textures which becomes progressively more chaotic through to tracks ends.

On the flip side of the vinyl it delivers 4 shorter tracks between 3 and 7 minutes each. The first half of ‘Stone, Lead and Gasoline’s is sonically excellent, being dour and contemplative in sound, mixing shimmering drones, minimalist synth melody and scattered textural field recordings (echoed knocking sounds, aquatic tones etc.).  Yet without warning the latter half of the track ‘flips a switch’ and lurches into piercing and stabbing noise which are structured as ‘industrial strength’ loops.  On the following track ‘Threat Becomes Clear’ it is very much a studio work out of source junk metal recordings, which have been roughly hewn into tonally jagged and fiercely intertwining loops. Conversely ‘Time Inside’ is piece of quiet restraint, where it is structured around vague ‘metallic scraping’ loops, there is distance and depth between sonic elements (…thereby allowing microtonal textures to come to the fore).  Overall is a track which clearly balances its underground industrial focus and more experimental leaning, and very much reminds on the sound a feel and industrial tape experimentation coming from the Swedish scene (i.e. Arkhe, Ochu, Niellerade Fallibilisthorstar etc).  ‘Without the Hindrance of Man’ concludes the album with a further understated experimental track. Being sparse and cavernous, it is highly atmospheric with grit and grime, based on crepuscular scraping textures, distant knocking resonances and what may be disembodied vocal groans.

Although at times quite experimental in approach, the sound ‘In The Shadow Of What Never Was’ is staunchly underground with its dirty and caustic feel.  Although I don’t know how this compares to earlier Shredded Nerve output, here the sound is very much focused on tone and atmosphere, rather than straight aggression or sonic extremity, where the results are varied, focus and above all else amounts to an appealing listening experience.

Liebestod ‎– Beta Male

LS

Liebestod Beta Male LP Chondritic Sound 2016

Having not come across Liebestod before, ‘they’ are the solo project of LA based Jesse Sanes, with ‘Beta Male’ being the first LP following a self-titled cassette from 2014.  Thematically the album deals with the physiological narrative of an isolated and volatile loner who chooses to become a lone gunman to inflict retribution on society at large; but with this being handled is a sophisticated way so as to not be solely about white knuckled male rage and aggression.  This is also reflected in the tone and mood of the album where there is a general degree of restraint displayed in sonic qualities, which in turn functions to racket up tension and overall atmosphere.

With the 6 tracks being in the order of 3 to 5 minutes ‘Beta Male’ is not a lengthy album, but each track functions as distinct, singular pieces with direct and focused ideas.  As such ‘Godlike’ a strong opener with crushing synth stabs and fluttering noise and something akin to a beeping alarm/ siren.  As the layers gradually build in complexity and aggression (amassing into mid-paced atonal pounding rhythmics), flanged vocals also feature but subservient to other more forceful elements.  Moving quickly into ‘The Third Man’, it builds a solid base of junk metal loops to military marching jackboot effect, which are further overlaid with sporadic noise squalls and junk metal commotion and more antagonistic and fiercely presented roared and distorted vocals.  ‘Alpha Male’ then deviates into slightly more experimental realms with a minimalist soundscape of spoken vocals, low humming drones and high pitched ‘beeps and blips’ tones, which is very much a track of tensile atmospherics.

Sitting somewhere between a heavy electronics and power electronics sound, side B opener ‘Home is Where You’re Free’, uses an array of idling bass rumble, modulated noise, harsh feedback and mid-toned textures, but all balanced and mixed into an evenly tonal soundscape.  ‘The Public Hero’ then pushes a more focused sound, which emulates a structured European power electronics sound (think early Ex Order).  Here the piece relies on bass rumble, waving mid toned ‘needling’ textures, with the heavily echoed and flanged vocals being a particular standout element.  Final album track ‘Consumed in the Role’ comes across as a confessional/ cathartic piece and excellent album ender.  Atonal wavering/ idling synth layers intermingle with grinding/ droning feedback and sparse ‘oil barrel’ junk metal tones, with the distant ‘dictaphone’ spoken vocals, being partially buried.

For it apparently outwardly harder and harsher sounds, these have been expertly mixed to be balanced within the mix, so the end result is not typically over the top or blown out, noting the mood displays a mood or stalking restraint which only ramps up to full aggression on a few selected moments/ tracks.  In the end what Liebestod the delivers on a music front is a grim and tensile approach to an industrial noise/ power electronics style, but delivered with focused control to generate an enthralling result.  The washed out photocopier tone aesthetic of the cover, and insert with relevant text and imagery, rounds out a very strong release, both conceptually and sonically.