It Only Gets Worse – Fireplace Road MC Cloister Recordings/ Black Horizons US 2018
When I was first heard about this project I was unaware that it is another musical outlet for Maurice De Jong, he of the more widely recognized projects Gnaw Their Tongues and Aderlating. For this project Maurice has provided the music and has teamed up with American Matt Finney to provide lyrics and vocals, and based on the project name I perhaps excepted this would be death industrial type music, however that assumption was completely wrong. What is featured is a bit of an odd blend of post-rock musically sensibilities, ambient soundscapes and late 1990’s/ early 2000’s beat drive electronica.
On the opening untitled track a mellow post-rock mood comes through strongly, which is framed around piano and synths rather than guitars, while the following track Jackson dives headlong into a piece of mid paced kit drumming, programmed beats and squelching bass rhythm, with the guitars again being an understated element. In forging further variation, a mood of uplifting melancholy permeates the upbeat Lee, which is mostly derived from the layered shimmering synths. However to speak of less successful moments Painting On Glass contains fractured programmed elements which jar against the mood of preceding tracks. Beyond the music, the vocals on various tracks are spoken in a heavily inflected southern American drawl, which are musings on life, tragedy and loss, but handled in a poetically oblique and non-direct style.
Six tracks feature on the pro-duplicated tape, with around a total of around 24 minutes minutes of material, and while the end result caught me by surprise, it is an enjoyable tape all the same. So, if you are at all curious leave your expectations at the door as this is nothing like Maurice’s usual output, where perhaps the closest comparison is the less known side project Seirom which in the past has delivered some beautiful cinematic quality, droning instrumental post-rock/ shoegaze styled soundscapes.
Theologian / The Vomit Arsonist – The Icy Bleakness Of Things MC Cloister Recordings US 2018
Following the 2013 collaboration Nature Is Satan’s Church between these two American artists (reviewed here), the pairing have returned for another dual effort. The Icy Bleakness Of Things sits within a style broadly similar to the earlier collaboration given it features post-industrial tinged dark ambience, rather than the blend death industrial and power electronics which broadly characterises their solo output.
The Icy Bleakness Of Things features two 30 minute long track, with each spanning a side of the pro-duplicated tape. As might be suggested by the release title, the pacing is deathly slow, while the mood encapsulating a claustrophobic wintery melancholia. A maudlin minor keyed synth melody of the title track is soon relegated to the background with the introduction of a series of throbbing industrial pulses and muted electronic static, before settling down into thick cyclic bass driven drones and sub-orchestral loops. Side B brings The Killing Sadness, which distills the mood of the first side into more abstracted sonic spheres which more readily reflects the ‘isolationist ambient’ approach of Nature Is Satan’s Church. The sub-orchestral elements are also placed deep within the background which evokes a colossal spaciousness within the mix, prior to the reappearance of slow musical motif from and throbbing industrial pulses from the first track (but presented in slightly differing guises). As for the back half of the track, it variously encapsulates: a heavy section of ‘wind tunnel’ styles ambiance: reverb drenched lone guitar; and subtle doom drone textures.
Generally speaking The Icy Bleakness Of Things is a fair a bit more animated than Nature Is Satan’s Church, yet is another high caliber and quite atypical release from this collaborative pairing. The physical edition comes in a mere 100 pro-duplicated copies, but digital download is also available.
Leila Abdul-Rauf – Diminution LP Cloister Recordings / Black Horizons 2018
Evidently Leila Abdul-Rauf is active in a number of other projects, including some underground metal bands, but as I am not familiar with any of those my only reference point is with her last album Insomnia from 2015 (reviewed here). In building upon on the earlier sonic template, Leila’s new album Diminution can be considered through the definition of its title which amounts to: “the act, process, or an instance of becoming gradually less”. In this context, the dusky film noir atmospheres established on Insomnia have been further distilled down to a core, slighted abstracted emotional essence, although conversely a lengthier and at times song-tinged format has been employed.
On the opening title track a sparse piano motif sits in the foreground, while a lone haunting trumpet plays off in the foggy distance, and thus with the evoked mood of late hours melancholia, this remains as the constant tone throughout the balance of the album. Half of the eight album tracks include vocals courtesy of Leila, but these remain understated and effectively float through the ether as another haunting textural element, and on occasion layered and multi-tracked for subtle choral effect. With the combination of vocals and music has an ethereal dreamlike quality, but always of a darker emotive hue rather than anything resembling a light or whimsical tone. Likewise the feel of abandoned and desolate nighttime urban streets remains an atmospheric constant (as represented by dour minor keyed synth washes) which blends perfectly with late-night jazz tone (derived from the sporadic lone trumpet playing), to create a deft film noir/ late night ‘Lynchian’ vibe. Late album track Hindsight deviates ever so slightly, through the introduction of a sparse and understated picked acoustic guitar, while final album track Light Rising concludes as a highlight in its convergence of elements described above, but delivered in a slightly more urgent musical framework.
While the artwork in the form of an original painting by Matthew Jaffe would perhaps tend to suggest a more typical dark ambient album, this is far from the reality of what is musically presented, which is hauntingly eloquent in it chosen musical expression, where this album has been the perfect soundtrack to cold autumn nights (being the current Australian season in which the album is being reviewed). In taking the atmospheric mood of Insomnia and building upon it, Diminution stands above as a more impressive and emotionally impacting album. With the vinyl version being jointly issued by Cloister Recordings and Black Horizons, should CD be the preferred format, that is being handled by Malignant Records.
Dead Letters Spell Out Dead Words – No Words LP Cloister Recordings US 2016
With Trepaneringsritualen now being a widely recognized name within the industrial underground, prior to the launch of that project in 2008 sole member Thomas Martin Ekelund recorded under another style and moniker, namely Dead Letters Spell Out Dead Words (‘Dead Letters’ for short). With Dead Letters being broadly bracketed under the genres of drone and dark ambient, the music is also more musical than those genre classifications might imply. As for ‘No Words’ it a re-release of a 2010 tape featuring 3 lengthy tracks, which span an album’s worth of material (43 minutes).
On the musical front although being sonically lighter than the rather imposing ritual death industrial works of Trepaneringsritualen, conversely Dead Letters can be considered as being emotionally heavier than Thomas’ current project. As such there is a real sense of melancholy and emotional desolation which weaves through the music, and which draws the listener deep within the confines of its depressive atmosphere.
The first side of the vinyl bring two separate 10 minute tracks under the same title of ‘No Words’. Based on their combined title, these pieces are obviously instrumental, where the first track features a spartan (clean) guitar tune, with plodding bass and sparse, tonally shimmering dark ambient undercurrent. With an almost ambient ‘post-rock’ edge, the sense of melancholy and desolation is far greater than typical music of that genre, but mid track the mood builds to a sort of doom addled synth based crescendo. The second track on Side A ebbs forward at a crawling pace as gradual drone layers are added, where later a layered drone guitars evoking a bittersweet melody of doom creeps into frame (…”crushingly uplifting” might be suitable oxymoron to use). Side B delivers the single LP sided track ‘Forgive/ Forget/ Regret’, which spans 23 minutes. Commencing very much as a sparse doom-drone track, of atonal bass thuds, it catatonically builds upon a sparse undercurrent of shifting ice like static. Well into the second half a miserably depressing guitar line emerges into frame, along with a slow cyclic rhythmic pulse, and melodic synths to give a greater sense of song structure and movement, which continues through to the conclusion of the piece. Desperately and depressively sublime….
Given that Dead Letters back catalogue has in some way been overshadowed by Trepaneringsritualen, Cloister Recordings US should be commended for digging this release for a vinyl reissue treatment. On the visual front the artwork visually articulates the emotional desolation found within, whilst the mastering courtesy of James Plotkin has perfectly polished the musical content for a new audience. Being almost needless to say, this is a great release.