TenHornedBeast – Death Has No Companion

TenHornedBeast – Death Has No Companion CD Cold Spring Records 2017

Having heard a number of early album’s from TenHornedBeast (around a decade ago now), it seems that I have not kept up with continued output over recent years.  From my memory of those earlier releases they encompassed dark ambient drone-scapes, but also verged of doom drone at times through the use of slow distorted guitars (and while I enjoyed them, they also did not stay in listening rotation for long and have not revisited them since). Yet Death Has No Companion has now thrust me back into the sonic world of TenHornedBeast and it has come as rather a bit of a refreshing surprise.

To speak of the album’s cover, straight off the mark the sound perfectly matches the atmosphere of the wintry imagery (photos taken by solo member Christopher Walton). This also reveals the core focus of Death Has No Companion as cold arctic drone-scapes, where sparse compositional minimalism give rise to widescreen barren vistas in the mind’s eye. Featuring only three tracks the album still spans 60 minutes, meaning the tracks are on the lengthy side (between 17 and 24 minutes each), thus take their in sonically unfurling. Being constructed around a base of slow morphing drones and sustained shimmering textures, additional elements provide tonal variation (such as sparse horn/ string like melodies, sustained lone piano notes and (perhaps?) treated gong tones). The middle track The Lamentations of Their Women is also the most animated of the three offerings, featuring a prominent cyclic loop, and with some more ‘metallic’ tones layers verges slightly towards a death ambient sound.

A general observation to be made is that the sound is rooted in a ‘classic’ 1990’s expression, which is perhaps reflective of Christopher’s long-standing involvement in the underground, extending back to his days in Endvra (and of interest this album being similar in part to the sonic minimalism of Endvra’s album The Watcher). Although elongated, meditative and heavily abstracted, there is still more than ample sonic nuance to be discovered which ensure this an engaging album and which can masterfully draw you into its cold and barren world. Based on this album, it now has me intrigued to investigate back catalogue of album’s which have previously passed me by.

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Henrik Nordvargr Björkk / Margaux Renaudin – Anima Nostra

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Henrik Nordvargr Björkk / Margaux Renaudin – Anima Nostra CD Cold Spring 2016

The long established, prolific and always dependable Henrik ‘Nordvargr’ Björkk, has teamed up with Margaux Renaudin – a name I do not recognise.  Despite this unfamiliarity with one half of the collaboration, from the outset it is worthwhile acknowledging that ‘Anima Nostra’ is not too far removed from the sonic worlds Nordvargr inhabits, but equally that it is slanted towards the ritual/ rhythmic/ sub-orchestral sounds of MZ.412.

The pairing of opening tracks ‘Sunyata’, ‘Spiritus Omni’ take no time in setting the scene with driving tribal/ ritual percussion, guttural vocal chants, ominous sub-orchestral drones and drawling horns of death. Simply magnificent. ‘Morning Star’ is then a surprise feature, (being a reworking of an MZ.412 track), where the driving tribal/ ritual percussion and ominous droning foghorns of the original has been augmented with booming sub-orchestral horns, sweeping noise and additional vocals (both whispered and electronic treated).  A further pairing of ‘Kmt’ & ‘Runik Haxagram II’ present high calibre abstract, ritualised/ percussive dark ambient soundscapes, while ‘Gjallarhornet Ljuder’ steps up with a track of sonically forceful, multi-layered power-drones.  ‘Lavenement du neant’ functions as a particular album standout, which mixed a lamenting and extremely cinematic neo-classical melody, spoken female French vocals (assuming this to be Margaux Renaudin?) and driving poly-rhythmic tribal percussion. Absolutely sublime.  Final album offering ‘Maladia Skandinavia’ sprawls out over a 9 minute expanse, and although ‘drone’ in intent, the tolling church bell and focused melodious chants (which themselves have been further treated into a droning texture), are further offset by rolling ritual percussion and forceful sub-orchestral tones.

Apart from being one of the strongest examples of ritual and neo-classical tinged dark ambient in recent memory (as well as being the closest Nordvargr has come to date in emulating the sound of MZ.412), the 6 panel digipack and 8 pages cover insert are also worthy of individual mention. Courtesy of Margaux Renaudin the cover features stunning graphic presentation of esoteric symbolism in metallic copper on black print.  As a final comment, evidently since the release of this album the project has evolved into to more defined band and relabeled under the Anima Nostra moniker. Accordingly further material in this vein is an absolutely welcomed prospect: but in the interim the album ‘Anima Nostra’ is very much worthy of your attention.

MZ.412 – Hekatomb

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MZ.412 – Hekatomb CD Cold Spring Records 2015

Noting it is already 9 years since the last formal full length ‘Infernal Affairs’, the legendary and revered MZ.412 have certainly slowed to a glacial pace in the recording of new material.  Although a new album is evidently in the works, this album represents a live recording from the group, captured during their performance at Cold Spring’s 21 Year Anniversary Show on the 5th March 20011 (The Garage, London).  For the show MZ.412 featured the 3 main members Nordvargr, Dradkh and Ulvtharm, in addition to the mysterious 4th member Werdernskog.  For the performance itself it features 14 ‘movements’ (Act I through Act XIV), which combine into an uninterrupted and seamless 56 minute span.

Noting that MZ.412 is in the main a studio based project, in a live setting it appears that the group relies on pre-sequenced sections, which are combined with live created and manipulated electronics.  As such various ‘musical’ segments have been lifted from MZ.412’s back catalogue to create the backbone of the live set, which includes: the infernal to militant neo-classical movements of recent albums, as well as the rhythmic industrial and ritualistic percussive smelters from earlier works.  Thus with the pre-programmed segments forming an interlinking framework, live generated sweeping drones, ominous noise grim electronics manipulations and static charred disembodied vocalisations have then been overlaid.  Noting there is no detectable crowd noise or applause, it is assumed this recording has been taken directly from the mixing desk, and whilst the somewhat removes it from its live presentation, the sound is nevertheless sound is strong, loud and forceful.

A slick 6 panel digi-pack rounds out the presentation and features live images from the performance, where all members appear as faceless quasi-religious figures delivering their infernal sermon.  ‘Hekatomb’ is a certainly a solidly enjoyable recording and a welcomed document of a rare live performance, but with the lack of new material it really functions to whet the appetite for new studio recordings from the project.

Trepaneringsritualen – Ritualer, Blot & Botgöring / Veil The World

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Trepaneringsritualen – Ritualer, Blot & Botgöring Infinite Fog Productions 2014 Trepaneringsritualen – Veil The World CD Cold Spring Records 2015

Noting the limited and obscure nature of much of Trepaneringsritualen’s (TxRxP) earliest output, coupled with increasing interest in the project in recent years, there has been obvious label interest in re-releasing this material. Hence Infinite Fog Productions and Cold Spring Records have been good enough to give the first 2 releases from TxRxP a repress in a less limited CD format.

Although the debut tape ‘Ritualer, Blot & Botgöring’ from 2008 had already been repressed on vinyl in 2012 (in an edition of 275 copies), ‘Infinite Fog Productions’ has issued this new edition on CD with the inclusion of 2 bonus tracks. Given I have already reviewed the LP version previously (reviewed here), I will focus this review on the additional tracks. ‘Death Is Your Friend’ is the first bonus offering and originally featured on an obscure 2008 compilation cassette ‘White Nights’. This piece is rather straight forward in structure, which means it deviates from the main bulk of sprawling death industrial soundscapes.  Here rough and forceful grinding loops blend with overblown distortion, while garbled vocals and voice snippets are wrapped up into a dank muffled production. The second bonus track is ‘Seeing What I Suffer’, which delves into a militant occult sound, featuring ritualistic drones and heavy militaristic drumming, all the while the vocals pushing it into the song oriented approach of recent material. This particular track is of epic proportions (even by TxRxP’s standards), and whilst ‘Death Is Your Friend’ is a relatively stock standard offering, ‘Seeing What I Suffer’ is a fantastic bonus and conclusion to the expanded album. The packaging for ‘Ritualer, Blot & Botgöring’ is rounded out with slick 4 panel digi-pack with new inner panel imagery of trepanning to match that of the cover.

In its original form ‘Veil the World’ was issued in 2011 in an edition of 40 tapes and housed in an embossed and varnished box including art prints and rusty nails, and so as to keep some visual continuity with this re-release, images of nails feature prominently on the 6 panel digi-pack. In reflecting today on the music featured on ‘Veil the World’, on selected tracks it demonstrates the gradual move of TxRxP towards more structure focused realms.  Also although 6 of the 9 original tracks of ‘Veil the World’ were featured on the 2 compilation CD’s titled ‘The Totality of Death’, it is nevertheless great to have the original collection of tracks together under the proper release banner (…but to add an element of confusion, the original 7th track ‘Field of Blood’ has been replaced with another track ‘Akeldama’ and the order of the last 2 tracks switched).

‘Cherem’ opens ‘Veil the World’ as a ominous ceremonial soundscape which paves the way for the title track, and when it comes roaring from the speakers it is in the guise of pounding tribal militancy, resplendent with the now trademark croaked vocalisations. Alternately ‘Lightbringer’ has a more a slow burning feel, with droning beat and vocals sitting amongst swirling layered noise, while ‘Drunk with Blood’ is another focused rhythmically swaying offering (here the rhythm is based on looped mid-range distortion and shuddering sonic textures).  This focused piece is followed by a triptych of tensile death industrial soundscapes (‘Nekyia’, ‘Akeldama’ and ‘Invocation’), each featuring disembodied vocalisations or invocation focused dialogue samples for good measure. The final of the 9 album tracks is ‘C’est Un Reve’, which is technically a Death in June cover song, where the chanted vocal line is yelled here over a repetitive, lurching and relatively up tempo militant death industrial backing.  In truth this is virtually unrecognisable as a cover song, meaning TxRxP have absolutely made it their own and in the process providing a forceful conclusion to the album.

Given the limited nature of original versions both of these re-releases are worthy editions to TxRxP’s discography, and functions to showcase the early evolution of sound and differing approaches the project has taken within a Swedish death industrial framework.

 

The Grey Wolves – Blood and Sand

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The Grey Wolves – Blood and Sand LP 2014 Cold Spring Records

Not constituting a new album, this represents a welcomed reissue of this classic yet subdued album from The Grey Wolves on the most important of physical formats – vinyl! So for those late to the party, ‘Blood and Sand’ originally constituted half of a split cassette release from 1990 on Old Europa Cafe (Shock City was the other obscure project featured on the other half).  In hindsight what is rather special about The Grey Wolves side is that it showcased an atmospheric industrial noise style, rather than the politically charged, heavy power electronics sound the project are most recognised for.  This vinyl version is the second edition issued via Cold Spring Records who originally reissued the tape on CD in 2002.  For this latest edition the artwork has been slightly reinterpreted and the sound further boosted via further remastering.

As for the music, two lengthy track are presented (one each side of the vinyl), which spans an album of nearly an hour’s play time.  For the first title track ‘Desert Storm’ is a slow moving and tensely brooding piece containing sweeping sounds, throbbing rhythms and indecipherable radio voices which flits between semi-structure and a free form flow. This amalgam of disparate elements are then layered in such way to generate a tense yet muted modern technological warfare styled atmosphere.   The second piece ‘Gulf Breeze’ takes a similar tactic of wielding a tensile and caustic tone, yet does introduce (late in the piece) a heavily processed guitar/ kit drums based element within the noise layers.

With its suffocating battlefield ambience mixed with its atmospheric noise inclinations, one of the greatest aspects  of this album is a threatening undercurrent of aggression, with a sense it is ready to burst forth from the speakers in full sonic warfare at any moment. Whilst this aural obliteration never entirely eventuates, ‘Blood and Sand’ is no less of a release without it and highlights the tensile atmosphere which has been expertly created.  As such ‘Blood and Sand’ functions as a prefect example of the lesser know atmospheric noise side of The Grey Wolves.

Trepaneringsritualen – Perfection & Permanence

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Trepaneringsritualen – Perfection & Permanence LP Cold Spring Records 2014

Since 2008 Trepaneringsritualen (TxRxP) have issued 18 releases across numerous formats, which have collectively functioned to display a varied approach to a death industrial/ ritual ambient sound.  Likewise for anyone who has followed the project’s creative arc over this time, it has involved a gradual shift toward more ‘song’ focused compositions, where the culmination of this process was the ‘Judas Goat’ 7”EP of 2013, that at the time of its release felt like TxRxP ‘hit’ single.  For this new album TxRxP has opted for its creative core to be built around this honed song based approach, whilst thematically the album addresses the principle of duality from a number of differing angles, including: that found within varied religious iconography, as well as the dualism of the ego and the self.

For the album’s opening track ‘Venerated and Despised’ it is very much of the stalking and slow ritual ambient style, which at 2.5 minutes feels like an introductory piece of sorts.  ‘A Black Egg’ then marks the first focused track of the album, containing a brooding bass line and flourishes of tribal percussion, as the prominent hoarse croaked vocals (in a verse chorus verse format), retain a central prominence and really hammer home the rhythmic song based approach.  ‘Castrate Christ’ then elevates the urgent atmosphere further, with heavy pounding and mid paced tribal death industrial format, as multi-layered vocal lines add variation.  ‘Alone/A/Cross/Abyss’ is another great example of the use of multiple vocals lines (in both sonic treatment and lyrical delivery), along with a swaying rhythmic bass line leading the tribal death industrial sound.

An album standout track come in the form of ’The Seventh Man’ – an anthemic pounding death industrial track at its most potent, built with grinding bass lines, caustic synths and fractured drum machine programming. Clearly this is the death industrial tone of mid era Brighter Death Now, but sped up to urgent tribal proportions and further augmented with ritualised intent, where the album’s title forms a chant within the song’s framework.  This catchy song format continues with the swaying/ pounding rhythms and clanging metallic percussion of ‘Konung Kront I Blod’, yet still imbedded with an ample dark death industrial tone.  Yet not all album tracks are of a focused rhythmic type, where the piece ‘Thirty-Nine Lashes’ is very much a religious lament of the forsaken damned, whilst ‘Liken Ingen Jord Vill Svälja’ and ‘A Ceaseless Howling’ are abstract ritualised death ambient soundscapes.  ‘He Who Is My Mirror’ rounds out the relatively short album (approximately 40 minutes) with another focused tribal percussive track, with booming war drums and grinding synths and the now trademark hoarse vocals.

Clearly the album’s overarching atmosphere is one of cathartic rhythmic death industrial – something akin to salvation through punishment and oppression.  Whilst a diverse range of ritual atmospheres and soundscapes have been explored on earlier material, as highlighted there has also been an evolution towards a more structured song based style.  ‘Perfection & Permanence’ is effectively the culmination of this direction and is the most focused and song structured release from TxRxP yet. So on one hand this album displays a definite level of ‘accessibility’ for those listeners not as accustomed to obscure underground music genres. Yet at the same time TxRxP have not forgone or lost the murky ritualised elements which make their music so visceral and engaging.  Accordingly ‘Perfection & Permanence’ represents another step in the continued evolution and rise of TxRxP. Available on either 500 black or 500 white vinyls (obviously being another reference to the ‘duality’ concept), as well as unlimited CD.

Shift – Altamont Rising

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Shift – Altamont Rising LP Unrest Productions / CD Cold Spring Records 2014

The solo helmed Shift have been steadily building their profile for a decade now and whilst the previous full length album ‘Bulk’ from 2009 received a fair degree of critical praise, ‘Altamont Rising’ further elevates Shift’s sound to a level which represents their magnum opus to date.  As with earlier material Shift has carved out a niche sound which inhabits the border regions between noise and power electronics, yet the sonic aggression and density on display here is monolithic even by Shift’s standards.

Utilising layered industrial noise filth and scathing junk metal clatter to produce a heavily drudging atmosphere, Shift’s approach is too structured nor chaotic enough to quality as pure noise, yet equally is more freeform and ‘soundscape’ oriented that than a typical power electronics ‘song’ approach.  Effectively Shift construct their compostions by bedding down layer upon layer of industrial clamour, where each layer also embodies a vague looped rhythmic structure.  Thus with the sonic layers complementing and competing for supremacy in equal measures, it provides a loose sense of structure to what otherwise could be a chaotic mass of sound.  Also with each composition effectively bleeding into the next, it only adds to atmosphere of enveloping moroseness, as the oppressive caustic distortion, buried samples, garbled radio chatter and sporadic anger infused vocals combine to gradually grind and crush the listeners psyche.

‘Circling Raptor’ opens the album with thick, heavy and laborious waves of distortion, which combine into a crushing mass of sound. This track then flows directly into the slightly more structured ‘They Don’t Suffer Enough’, which is characterised by crumbling layers of loosely rhythmic, low to mid-range industrial noise muck, prior to the introduction of the album’s first vocals which are distortion saturated and barked in full power electronics guise. One of the album’s most direct tracks is ‘Shelter’ which opens the second side of the LP with driving mid-paced distortion loops, sampled background crowd noise and fiercely oppressive and borderline unhinged vocal attack. This mood is pushed to even further extremes on ‘Rising’ with it’s the pulsing distortion, squealing noise and heavily flanged vocals. Yet notwithstanding the totality of its oppressiveness, the final album track ‘The Greatest Ecstasy’ finishes on a slightly differing tangent, mostly due to the vocals, which take the form of an intense whisper (with elongated method of lyrical pronunciation), as the multi-layered slab of cyclic rumbling industrial noise grinds incessantly to the album’s final vinyl groove.

The LP version of ‘Altamont Rising’ is limited to a mere 100 copies, issued on heavy weight vinyl and housed within a screen printed rough card stock cover with a couple of printed inserts, with a less limited CD version issued via Cold Spring Records. Through ‘Altamont Rising’, Shift have ascended to their full potential which was previously hinted at and achieved to varying degrees on prior releases. In shorter terms this impression could be expressed as: ‘Altamont Rising’ equals an absolute demonstration of Shift’s ascendancy.