Ulex Xane – Stances / Semblance

Ulex Xane – Stances / Semblance CD Cipher Productions 2018

Ulex Xane, the agent provocateur of Streicher infamy, has recently issued this unexpected solo album which showcases a very different experimental side. Within the extensive liner notes Ulex hints that these recordings could be bracketed under a banner of electroacoustic and musique concrete, but equally he shies away from formally using those genre descriptors. The recordings themselves span a 40 year period from 1975 to 2015, with the earliest recording made when he was only 12 years old (and evidently only recently discovered on an old cassette tape).

Working in reverse chronological order, the first eight tracks are the more recent material spanning 2015 to 2009, showcasing a subtle, yet loud and crystalline, sound. The 17-minute opening track The Inarticulate (from 2015) is sparsely cavernous, but with interjecting field recordings and micro-tonal textures, while a whispered voice (purposefully enunciated to be indecipherable; the track also concludes with a mass of unintelligible screaming voices) pans between speakers for enveloping and immersive listening. Paroxysms of Disappearance (from 2010) is another exceptional track of meticulous and chaotic sonic detailing, featuring a huge diversity of sounds (from the day-to-day mundane to the completely unidentifiable) that at times combine into tensile, almost atonal, orchestral quality. Space, Time and the Categories (from 2009) is split into four separate tracks with a combined playtime of 35 minutes. Panning and surround sound elements are used extensively, along with sonic elements including mid-toned static hissing textures, treated gongs/chimes, micro-tonal sound treatments, various fragmentary field recordings, wavering sub-orchestral tones, and the ever-present widescreen separation of sonic textures.

The much earlier works on the album pick up at 1995 and extend all the way back to 1975. The one-minute Noise Panel #43 (from 1995) is a blink and you miss it short distortion rumble and noise blast workout, while The Disinherited Mind is based on a home recording made in 1984, which highlights the sonic clarity of more recent material. Here, the cavernous and echoed sound is more muted and grey toned, but still there is a huge diversity of tonal elements, including field recordings of blaring foghorns, aquatic textures, distant musical motifs, and a general mood of desolate urban space. The final track Farewell to Matters of Principle is the oldest on offer from 1975, recorded when Ulex was a mere boy. Clearly being the crudest and least refined of the set, it is based around choppy and spliced cassette recordings of garbled and choked vocalisations, slapped flesh, and maniacal laughing (and even the voice of his grandmother offering cooking tips); it is surprisingly unnerving in its execution.

Apart from being distinctly different from any other material issued by Ulex to date, the most pleasing aspect of this album is that it avoids any resemblance of a dry tonal range or stuffy atmosphere which can plague the more academic end of ‘sound-art’. Instead the sounds are detailed, engaging, and highly animated throughout, fiercely dynamic yet subtly restrained. The full colour and spot-varnished cover includes a 27-page booklet with extensive liner notes on the philosophical/conceptual framework of the material and inspirational sources, and it makes for excellent companion reading. Although I am far from well-versed in the electroacoustic and musique concrete spheres, I get the vague and subtle impression that Ulex is in part parodying and poking fun at the academic art-world. But, in noting Ulex’s already established legacy within the post-industrial underground, this is both an intriguing and exceptionally enjoyable release, which also functions to reinforce Ulex Xane as a complete enigma in the truest sense of the word.

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Human Larvae – Methods of Submission

Human Larvae – Methods of Submission MC Cipher Productions 2017

With new material from Human Larvae always being a welcomed prospect, this release has followed quite quickly from the last exceptional album ‘Behind Blinding Light’ (reviewed here).  On ‘Methods of Submission’ it features in the order of 30 minutes of material via a single untitled track on each side of the tape, thus noting that this new tape shifts into a longer, freeform style, it steps away from the more focused power electronics and death industrial sound of recent albums.

Side A reveals a long form cut of rough and caustic, mid-toned and mid paced industrial noise. Featuring a heavily layered approach, various elements of churning distortion, spitting static and a solid industrial crunch (…which may just be sourced from junk metal). Sonically this track sits at the mid to lower ranged realm, and does not reach anywhere near ear shrieking intensity, but also pack a weighty sound all the same.  Side B follows a similar elongated sonic path, yet here the static and distortion are tonally pushed up a notch, while a number of forceful droning loops provide a sense of drive and forward momentum (…a half buried screaming sample introduced later in the piece also functions to generating a sadistic edge to the mood).

Although perhaps lacking the immediacy of tracks found on ‘Behind Blinding Light’, ‘Methods of Submission’ is a solidly intense and unrelenting dose of churning industrial noise filth, which certainly suits and reflects the BSDM theme of the artwork.  Packaging wise, Cipher Productions have produced more excellent results, with the cover featuring a small 8 page booklet housed with the tape in a canvas over-wrap and front panel cut-a-way.  With a short limitation of 75 copies, this is unlikely to be available for long.

Theologian & The Vomit Arsonist – Nature Is Satan’s Church

Theologian & The Vomit Arsonist – Nature Is Satan’s Church DLP Cipher Productions 2016

Originally released as limited CDR in 2013 on Oppressive Resistance Recordings, Cipher Productions have seen fit to reissue this on vinyl with all new artwork and 3 lengthy remixes appended for good measure.  Thematically the album functions as a direct homage to to Lars Von Trier’s film ‘Antichrist’ (….or perhaps can be considered an alternate soundtrack of sorts?), and certainly manages to capture the mood of mental anguish and emotional desolation of the film.  Sonically speaking this music found herein is far removed from what might be typically expected from either project, where ‘Nature Is Satan’s Church’ features industrial orientated drones and minimalist dark ambient soundscapes (…which then verges on the isolationist ambient side of things at times). In then tying back to its inspiration source, this minimalism has replicated and expanded upon the the harrowing and starkly minimalist sound design (…which is only fleetingly employed within ‘Antichrist’), while each of the 6 album track titles specifically replicate each of the chapter titles of the film.

‘Prologue’ commences the 6 main album tracks and sets the scene with a moody series of orchestral type loops and a lone female choir vocal sample, which is clearly a nod to the music of film’s opening chapter.  This track then turns out to be the most ‘musical’ on offer (…which again is reflective of the film’s sound score) and functions as the gateway into a slow descent of creeping anxiety and rising dread. This is particularly demonstrated on the second track ‘Grief’ with is foggy enveloping ambience and sonically wintery landscapes, but later in the piece it ramps up with added windswept force (…including a section of echoed knocking tones which creates a haunted basement vibe for exceptional effect).  ‘Pain (Chaos Reigns)’ on Side B is structured around a series of minimalist but quite forcefully driving loops with gradually elevating momentum which culminate in foghorn styled intensity.  ‘Depair (Gynocide)’ continues the album’s established dank and oppressive minimalism mixing layered bass rumble, and a heavy dose of echo and reverb, while ‘The Three Beggars’ continues a comparable droning blast furnace styled approach. ‘Epilogue’ rounds out the final of the main album tracks with an general sense of stasis, where its gradual sonic fadeout drags the sound down into ultimate oblivion.

With the 3 re-mix tracks, these broadly maintain an underlying feel and mood of the source material, but also provides individualistic sonic flair on each.  Four Pi Movement features first with ‘Despair Remix’, where the mood of this piece features some prominent and driving ‘cosmic’ type synth elements.  Worms of the Earth follows with ‘Chaos Reigns Remix’, which is sonically more consistent with the source material, but here with the main augmented/ additional elements consisting of driving synth melody, sparse percussion and sampled Gregorian chants for excellent ritualistic result. Iszoloscope then rounds out the remixes (…and album overall) with ‘Pain Remix’, being a quite minimalist drone affair and generally closest to the sound of the main album tracks.

Having heard this previously this via its original CDR edition, I did observe that due to its sprawling scope, minimalist construction and continuous soundscape format, that if full and attentive listening was not facilitated you could get lost along the way as to exactly which track was playing.  While this is not in any way a criticism of the music, I do perhaps feel the vinyl format is a much better fit for this album as there is ongoing engagement with the material due to having to change sides as the album progresses.  As for the cover, the photography courtesy of Gretchen Heinel functions as a stunning visual counterpoint the featured sonics, which also appears to pay homage to the style, colour palate and visual mood of ‘Antichrist’. Overall this is an excellently realised release: from concept, to visual representation and ultimately its sonic execution and should not be passed over despite its limited pressing of 150 copies.

Hiroshi Hasegawa / Leid-Linie – Hiroshi Hasegawa / Leid-Linie

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Hiroshi Hasegawa / Leid-Linie – Hiroshi Hasegawa / Leid-Linie CD Cipher Productions 2016

For any long term readers of noise receptor journal, it is abundantly clear that straight up harsh noise is not a big part of what I listen to and write about, so please excuse any technical faux pas on my part (…and on with the review).

Hiroshi Hasegawa (he of other recognized Japanese noise projects Astro and C.C.C.C.) leads off this split album and features a single 21 minute piece psychedelic noise maelstrom.  Although clearly to be filed under ‘noise’, this is far from being HNW, given it is far more complex and dynamic in approach.  Elements of screeching/ creaking junk metal, children’s’ voices, church bells and straight up static are fed into a sonic blender and treated with a heavy dose of echo and reverb to creating wildly varied sound.  An immersive quality is generated from is wildly lurching sound which cuts from moments of relative calm to sections representing an all-out noise assault.  Sonically the mix is extremely loud and crystalline, including lots of micro tonal detailing, cut up textures, whipping static and rabid vocals towards tracks end, but also retains a sense of direction and purpose in its execution (I am not sure if ‘psychedelic noise’ is the correct reference here, but it certainly jumps to mind for me personally during more than one moment).

As for Leid-Linie’s half (a solo project of Sascha Mandler), it features 4 tracks spanning 17 minutes in total, with the recordings spanning from 2009 to 2013.  In general the approach remains to feature rabid, spitting textures, high speed cut ups and high tones static which spew forth as a cascade of harsh static, but like the first half these are juxtaposed with calm retrained moment to generate a complete sense of depth and dynamics.  Some of the underlying elements have a grim and caustic ‘post-industrial’ tinged sonic aesthetic, which means Leid-Linie’s side is less ‘psychedelic noise’ than Hiroshi Hasegawa’s offering, although the final track from 2013, with its panning high speed cut ups and pulsing structures does certainly push close to that sound.

Although I doubt that harsh noise will ever become a main focus of my listening habits, I can certainly appreciate there is a degree of unbridled ‘elation’ when choosing to fully immersing oneself, and for that reason alone this album has been an enjoyable experience.

Arkhe – Rift

Arkhe

Arkhe – Rift MC Cipher Productions 2015

As I understand it, the Swedish project Arkhe is effectively the continuation of an earlier project Pestdemon whose final release under that name was the rather excellent 2011 ‘Helvetesljuset’ LP (on Unrest Productions). Likewise although not having followed all of Arkhe’s output to date, I have at least heard their contribution to Styggelse’s ‘Slutstationen’ compilation and the 2013 MC ‘For Everything That Lives Is Holy’ (which itself was evidently initially conceived as a Pestdemon tape). ‘Rift’ is the latest release under the Arkhe name and constitutes an offering of two lengthy tracks (approx. 10 minutes each), and with being self-described as ‘death electronics’ this a rather apt stylistic description.

Deviating from the grindingly chaotic and occasionally harsh territories explored on ‘For Everything That Lives Is Holy’, ‘Rift’ displays controlled restraint with its industrial noise soundscapes. ‘Stoftets hus’ take up the first side, with a track of partially muffled tone and desolately intense, industrial tinged drones.   Cyclically building in its approach and style, the bulk of sound ebbs and flows as it gradually pushes towards heavier blast furnace territory, although maintains its more ambient edge throughout. ‘Tystnadens hus’ takes up the flip side, and is again concerned with subdued industrial noise, where shuddering bass addled textures are partially buried within the dank morass of sound. Being laboured and heavy in tone, it maintains a generally restrained approach as the track grinds forwards at a catatonic pace, although a slow (muffled and distorted) ritual beat rises to greater primacy though the mid to late sections.

From the perspective of my sonic preferences ‘Rift’ is a stronger release than other Arkhe material I have heard, although I also do not know if ‘Rift’ itself is a deviation from a more typical approach. Packaging wise Cipher Productions have done an excellent job of providing a non-standard cover, featuring an oversized clear plastic shell slipcase, with printed stickers attached to the front and back and synthetic black flowers included along with the black tape. A worthy two track tape.

Night Science – Issue V

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Night Science – Issue V Cipher Productions 2014

Here we have the fifth instalment of Chris Groves’ Night Science magazine, some long 4 years since the last and although the release of new instalments does not happen at a rapid rate, each issue is absolutely worth the wait.  Issue V is the biggest issue yet spanning a massive 158 pages; 8 detailed and lengthy interviews; a monumental 92 pages of live show and album reviews; and topped off with a CD of tracks from interviewed projects.  Artists featured in this issue include: Alberich, Niellerade Fallibilisthorstar, Hal Hutchinson, Anemone Tube, Mlehst, Skin Graft, Kazuma Kubota and Fragment Factory.

Here we have the fifth instalment of Chris Groves’ Night Science magazine, some long 4 years since the last and although the release of new instalments does not happen at a rapid rate, each issue is absolutely worth the wait.  Issue V is the biggest issue yet spanning a massive 158 pages; 8 detailed and lengthy interviews; a monumental 92 pages of live show and album reviews; and topped off with a CD of tracks from interviewed projects.  Artists featured in this issue include: Alberich, Niellerade Fallibilisthorstar, Hal Hutchinson, Anemone Tube, Mlehst, Skin Graft, Kazuma Kubota and Fragment Factory.

Although Issue V follows a similar visual and stylistic template, there has been a subtle refinement of design, where everything is slightly more clean and defined in presentation. The print quality has also stepped up a notch too, which is slick clean and very professional. Regarding the interviews, these are all detailed and long-form, being written specifically for each artist and generally speaking demands at least a cursory level of knowledge of the underground music being covered to get the most from the questions and responses.  As a specific example the Hal Hutchison interview introduction makes reference to an earlier interview in Special Interests Magazine, thus using that as a ‘springboard’ for a continuing series of questions. Having read all interviews in detail, personally the one from Alberich, Niellerade Fallibilisthorstar, Hal Hutchinson and Anemone Tube made for most immersive reading (based on my listening preferences).

Regarding the reviews these are uniformly excellent as Chris is a strong and descriptive writer, where his writing style is sharp and focused, intelligent and insightful and covering a wide variety of known and obscured releases in a broad industrial/ death industrial, noise power electronics and experimental spheres. He also clearly holds strong opinions on what in his estimation are less focused elements of a particular release and is willing to state his view. Likewise for those items which I have reviewed myself, on occasion I noted some divergent opinions that Chris and I have, which made for interesting comparisons of opinion and re-evaluation of said releases.

Moving onto the CD, to my mind this really functions mostly as a ‘taster’ for interviewed acts if readers are not familiar with their work, thus I have chosen not to review it as if were a typical compilation album. However I will say that in this day and age when most music is available to sample at the click of a mouse, it is commendable that Chris has continued to issue the sampler CD as part of the magazine.

For me personally, the strongest element of Night Science is the fact that Chris’ listening preferences contains only a partial crossover with mine, given a large portion of his listening is firmly entrench in the noise and related fields. This then means Night Science contains lots of lesser known projects and reviewed releases, making for very informative and immersive reading and listening (rather than simply me reading interviews and reviews of artists/ albums I might have covered myself). Without question Night Science is absolutely one of the strongest underground industrial/ noise/ power electronics print magazines out there and is mandatory reading, regardless of you initially recognize interviewed artists or not.

Rope Society – One Word Definition

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Rope Society – One Word Definition MC Cipher Productions 2013

This 35 minute cassette is the debut for Rope Society, being the analogue driven industrial/ noise meets power electronics project of David Tonkin who would be better recognised for his main project Isomer.  However as there is scant information regarding Rope Society, it is unclear whether it is intended to be continued side project, or if this is just a means to release harsher noise industrial material which would not fit comfortably under the Isomer banner.  Either way 7 untitled tracks are featured here on a pro-duplicated cassette and housed in special handmade packaging.

Track 1 starts with low rumbling noise before heavy scattered blasting noise tears out of the speakers, however it should be noted that this is not noise of the HNW variety.  Shifting in a loose fashion the crumbling walls of analogue distortion build, collapse and then building again within amplified intensity.  With additional layered noise elements infused for further squalling and punishing effect, the sound is pushed to an extreme level by the end of its 5 minutes.  Track 2 follows as a short 1.5 minute track using a loose rumbling structure and partially buried vocals, noting also that the tonal quality of piece provides a nod towards a power electronics sound, albeit in a very loose and chaotic fashion.  Track 3 establishes itself as the longest offering at 7 minutes, being a piece of urgent, scattered and fractured noise that wavers from subdued to all out chaotic distortion blasts (complete with unintelligible radio dialogue sample).  For these ears track 4 is a particular standout as it sits closest to a power electronics framework.  Here shuddering machinery provides minimal queasy oscillating structure, with the further addition of grinding static and excellent heavily treated and barked vocals.  This is the track which is closest in feel and sound of the last Isomer release, being the power electronics influenced ‘Nil By Mouth’ MCD (reviewed here).   Track 5 delivers a short and sharp piece of rumbling bass static and squalling mid to high range layered noise whilst track 6 opts for a heady dose of noise blasted cacophony as and static cutups swarm incessantly.  The final of the 7 tracks concludes the tape in more subdued fashion, containing a distant, echo infused textural experimental industrial sound manipulations, along with dialogue sample (referencing sound production and appreciation), as the layers of noise gradually follow an intensifying upward trajectory.

Whilst this tape feels like the material is seeking to balance structure and chaos, on ‘One Word Definition’ sonic commotion is the ultimate victor.  This mean the overall vibe of the release leans more heavily towards noise than power electronics, although the later does hold some influence over the sound.  Likewise although not breaking convention for this style of material, this is a solid tape which is more than improvised noise experiments.  The special release specific packaging courtesy of Chris Groves of Cipher Productions is also noteworthy in both its simplicity and creativity.