Zos Kia – 23

Zos Kia – 23 CD Infinite Fog 2017

For background context Zos Kia was the primary 1980’s musical vehicle of John Gosling and holds a special place within the early development phase of industrial music. This is predominantly due to their only official album Transparent, issued on cassette in 1984 via the cult label Nekrophile Rekords, and while that album was labeled as a split/collaboration with Coil, the group membership at the time were effectively interchangeable between the two. As for musical content Transparent, included a live recording of Zos Kia on Side A, being a performance made at the Berlin Atonal festival from 1983, while Side B contained a series of tracks credited to Coil/Zos Kia. In an overarching sense Transparent features early proto ritual-industrial, where tonal noise shards slash across rumbling guitar feedback and underscored with clanging metallic ritualized percussion, sampled dialogue and wailing/ screeched evocation-based vocals. But apart from this lone release, Zos Kia also issued two EP’s in the mid 1980’s, where 23 functions to collect together those EP’s and archive them with a large volume of Zos Kia recordings made over the years, with the addition of a couple of extracts from the Transparent album itself.

Having not delved into Zos Kia recordings outside of Transparent, I was immediately surprised by how different the material in 23 is in sound and execution, where the opening track Black Action has a guitar-based band groove and swagger, with spoken vocals and is unlike anything I would have ever expected from the group. The following track Be Like Me equally surprises when the solo piano format breaks out into an almost electro-funk number of constant kick drum, driving bass and central piano riff and swirling guitar line. It is only when 10 Miles High arrives that the attitude and sonic dissonance of earlier material makes an appearance, and the sinister soundscape throb of Rape calls to mind a hazy drugged sound that Coil would hone in later years, while An Absolute manages to meld the earlier sound of the project but within a ridged guitar/ programmed drum format. As for the second electro-funk excusion on Muggy The Staff, to my ear at least is an entirely redundant attempt at a commercial sound, and has me again scratching my head that this is actually the same band as featured on Transparent. As for the last quarter of CD1, this includes a number of remixes of earlier featured tracks, but which really do not warrant further comment.

CD2 opens with Ake, a squalling feedback and gabled voice-based track, and quickly follows with a doomy synth version of An Absolute, which deviates enough from the original to be individually interesting. The flowing tryptic of the lengthy unreleased tracks from 1982, including Era Vulgaris A1, Era Vulgaris A3 and Harry Wouldn’t Like It, sound to be live recordings or rehearsals and sonically reflects the chaotic ritualized dissonance of the Transparent recordings. In then moving well into the run order of the second disc, it features a short 1984 live recording of Be Like Me, as well as three tracks from the Transparent album (two tracks Baptism of Fire and Poisons from the 1983 Berlin Atonal show, as well as the lengthy tensile guitar feedback soundscape Sewn Open). The archive set is then rounded out with two unreleased tracks, including Sways Backwards from 2006 and Sleazy Said from 2000 and with their respective throbbing/ stilted programming and pulsing choral soundscape gives a clear nod to the surreal atmospheres of late area Coil. In fact, Sleazy Said is noted to be a musical collaboration between John Gosling and the late Peter ‘Sleazy’ Christopherson and for me are perhaps the best and most interesting compositions of the entire two CD set.

Noting that I have never been a Zos Kia obsessive, which then means that while 23 is an interesting collection, from this perspective it is personally a non-essential release, particularly due to various tracks falling well outside of what I would ever bracket under an industrial/ post-industrial banner. Yet for others who Zos Kia is a pivotal artist of influence, this extensive double CD set will be of absolutely intrigue to the early industrial (and beyond) experimentations of John Gosling. A digi-book sleeve and detailed liners notes in an eight-page booklet rounds out a slick presentation.

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Coil Presents Black Light District ‎– A Thousand Lights In A Darkened Room

Coil Presents Black Light District A Thousand Lights In A Darkened Room CD Infinite Fog 2018

Originally issued on CD and vinyl in 1996, a few unofficial versions have been issued over the years, with this new version containing original tracks and an additional two bonus tracks for good measure. But personally speaking while I more than familiar with Coil, at the same time I am far from an obsessive Coil fan, which means that I have dipped in and out of their catalogue over the years, but have not heard this particular release before now. However, of note I am aware that this album marked an important transitional period for the group, where their working methods moved towards involving new external collaborators, with this album including inputs of Drew McDowall and Danny Hyde (with a collection of others). It also seems there is an ongoing spat about the validity of this version, particularly in light of the untimely deaths of John Balance and Peter ‘Sleazy’ Christopherson and the apparent lack of clarity around who officially owns and can administer the ongoing music rights (note: this release has been sanctioned by Danny Hyde).

But to speak specifically of the music, as an album A Thousand Lights In A Darkened Room can be described as being within an experimental ambient style, where one constant Coil thematic hallmark is present, being that particular wonky, surrealist and disorientating edge which shadows the majority of sonic proceedings. It is perhaps these slightly more playfully weird sonic elements which do not always gel with me, and explains why I am not a Coil obsessive, but equally, it is this quite unique sonic hallmark that Coil retained over their varied output that appeals to many.

The short Unprepared Piano opens the album, which to my ear is an awkwardly jarring track and something akin to abstract jazz piano or a cat tapdancing on a piano. This is followed by the wonky and rhythmically throbbing track Red Skeletons, but it too is overtly distracted by the inclusion telephone conversation snippets. Yet the album really hits its stride on track three, which is the lengthy ten-minute Die Wölfe Kommen Zurück, which is a particular standout with its warm enveloping and intertwining drones and cyclic factory-esque rhythmic loops. Refusal Of Leave To Land is also noteworthy for its time shifting aquatic churn, which builds across its musical span and includes a short emotive vocal croon late track. After a further run of slithering and partly rhythmic experimental soundscape styled tracks, this changes with late album track Blue Rats which stands out based on its direct minimalist programmed song focused structure and whispered/ sung vocal line. Likewise, one of the bonus tracks is Lost Rivers of London (incorrectly listed on the cover as London’s Lost Rivers), is a moody song-based format with low croon and spoken vocals of John which foreshadowed the tone Coil would later explore on Musick To Play In The Dark 1 & 2 and Astral Disaster, and here is darkly moody and contains a creepy unnerving melancholia in a way only Coil can evoke.

Despite my own reservations of the more playful and purposefully weird aspects of this album (and Coil’s sound overall), equally those elements will specifically attract Coil devotes, so no doubt you will already know if this is a Coil reissue for you. A four-panel digi-pack with original artwork and 4 panel insert with new liner notes rounds out the presentation.

Puissance – Let The State Collapse

Puissance – Let The State Collapse 3xCD Infinite Fog Productions 2018

In terms of historical context, Puissance (the Swedish duo of Fredrik Söderlund, Henry Möller) spearheaded and were a front runner of the martial industrial/neo-classical movement of the mid 1990’s. That sound was particularly big by the turn of the century and extended through to the mid 2000’s, but the style gradually fell out of favor due to the scene being flooded by lacklustre second tier acts and bland releases. But in parallel to that, Puissance gradually honed and evolved their own approach, and garnered strong praise and a loyal following with their apocalyptic and misanthropic worldview set to rousing neo-classical infused martial industrial movements.

Noting that Puissance been mostly inactive over the last decade (save for a single track Nox issued in 2014 on the Pylons Of The Adversary split album), Let The State Collapse functions to collect together various scattered threads issued outside of the main albums, including: the first two demos; a number of 7”EP’s; various compilation appearances; interlude tracks written for other bands; the Hail The Mushroom Cloud EP; the War On compilation collection; as well as a number of previously unreleased alternate versions. Although for reasons unexplained, it is noted that 1997’s Totalitarian Hearts 7”EP has been omitted from this set.

CD1 starts from the earliest Puissance works with the inclusion of the fledgling steps of the group as illustrated on their first two demos. The first demo Krieg from 1995 sits squarely within a rough post-industrial soundscape style, where the muted and ominous mechanical drones and stilted factory rhythms evoke abstracted orchestral undertones, but overall Krieg is a minimalist death-industrial affair than a neo-classical one. Releases the same year, the second demo Obey, Hate, Die then showcases a marked shift towards orchestral neo-classical sound and martial drumming sensibilities, which would become the main focus of the debut album Let Us Lead released a year later in 1996 (in fact, a number of songs from Obey, Hate, Die where included in upgraded and more powerful versions on the debut). Apart from archival completion, the importance of the inclusion of these demos here is that they illustrate how quickly Puissance evolved over an extremely short space of time, where the following collection of seven tracks from various 7”EP’s highlights the further honing of their sound. Of particular note is A Call to Arms from 2000, which is a rousing track framed around a melancholy infused piano line and strident martial rhythmic backing. Anthemic and apocalyptic is the best way possible.

Moving onto CD2, it functions to collect together five tracks from various compilations; eight interlude tracks contributed to the albums of underground black metal bands; and three previously unreleased alternate versions. In an overarching sense the majority of the tracks on this set are short instrumental neo-classical/ orchestral pieces, which reflects their role on the original releases. This however makes for slightly patchy listening and flow between tracks, and where some tracks suffer from a slightly over synthetic orchestral sound. But these are also minor issues, given the benefit of them having been complied on one CD for convenience, and for which many of these I have not heard before previously. Standouts of this CD include: Speak My Voice (instrumental); An Incarnations Dream (which features rousing sampled choral vocals and pounding militant rolling snare drums), and the beyond epic unreleased version of Biological Waste and A Call to Arms (instrumental).

CD3 rounds out the set and collates the Hail The Mushroom Cloud EP and the War On compilation. Hail The Mushroom Cloud was originally issued in 1999 shortly after the third album Mother Of Disease, where the four tracks are titled Act I through Act IV. With each track being instrumental, they are noteworthy for the first use of a purposefully synthetic programming sound for the underpinning militant beats and rhythms, which would become a mainstay of Puissance’s sound through the mid 2000’s. Sampled choral vocals also feature heavily to further amplify the neo-classical bombast of these tracks. Following the Hail The Mushroom Cloud EP is the War On which in its original form was a remix complication of sorts. Featuring eight tracks it effectively lifted two of the most militantly bombastic/neo-classical songs from each of the first three Puissance albums (Let Us Lead, Back In Control and Mother Of Disease), provided those tracks a sonic refurbishment and update, and combined them with a further two unreleased tracks. The inclusion War On tracks here is clearly welcomed addition, as it again illustrates the rousing Wagnerian heights Puissance reached with their martial industrial/neo-classical hymns.

For me personally, this collection strongly showcases the rapid evolution of the project and hits a particular sweet spot of Puissance’s martial industrial/neo-classical sound which extended to through to the early 2000’s. The period showcased on this set was somewhat superseded by the albums from the mid 2000’s forwards, which shifted to a more streamlined song based format, with a much heavier focus on programmed rhythmic beats which at times bordered on militant and misanthropic angst-pop structures. But to conclude on this release, the lavish digi-book cover and newly designed artwork does this set complete justice. Apart from being a beautiful physical archive piece, it has been a very rewarding and nostalgic experience to revisit the early and most productive period of the project. Recommended.

raison d’etre – Collected Works

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raison d’etre – Collected Works CD Infinite Fog Productions 2013

The long standing and highly revered raison d’être can be classified as one of the pinnacle acts and pillars of the second wave of the dark ambient scene, noting the first wave was pioneered by the dark ambient genre founder – Lustmord. But whereas Lustmord over the years has plumbed the dark depths and uninhabited cavernous recesses of the earth; then later turning focus on deep space themes; raison d’être has instead maintained a constant focus on an inward looking spiritual approach, evoked through sacral ambient soundscapes. By now raison d’être have carved their own dark ambient niche which can cut to the core of the inner psyche. Essentially the feeling of religious laments bleeds through all aspects of Peter’s music and one which draws on the spiritual capacity of the human condition. This for me is where Peter excels with his musical works.

So what we have here should be self-evident from the title – a collection of tracks, drawn together under the banner of a compilation album. However given the consistent thematic threads that runs through Peter’s works, this album does not feel like a compilation of disparate compositions. This is assisted by the fact that the majority of the compositions come from the later era/ current sound of the project, where the majority of tracks date from between 2001 to 2010 (with 1 track from as far back as 1999). As such the album’s style is based on long form soundscapes compositions of subterranean drones, sampled and slightly treated sacral chanted vocals, distant ritual chimes, scraping metallic textures, sparse piano (on selected tracks) and the ever present quasi-orchestral synth pads.

If you are already well acquainted with a large proportion of Peter’s work there are no surprises to be found here, but this for me is simply not an issue give the pinnacle level in which he operates. Artwork also comes courtesy of Martin Bladh, who has painted a series of ‘death mask’ pictures of Peter Anderson at various stages of his life (thus far) and presented across the 4 panel digi-pack. Recommended – as is pretty much the case with all of raison d’être’s output.

Downfall of Nur – Umbras E Forestas

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Downfall of Nur – Umbras E Forestas CDep Ksenza Records/ Infinite Fog Productions 2015

Ordinarily I would not review black metal releases despite having followed the arc and evolution of the genre since the early 1990’s. Downfall of Nur are something a bit different; an Argentinian 1 man band who plays furiously epic folk tinged black metal which is seamlessly blended with passages of ritual dark ambience. Although considered an ‘ep’, the 4 tracks here span 38 minutes, thus being longer than many ‘classic’ full length black metal albums.

Featuring a staunchly organic tone and the seamless weaving of forest based field recordings into the mix, the sound has a very earthy feel (..and to expand this description further, it is a tone of dank moss strewn undergrowth; devoid of light, deep under a forest canopy). In some way could draw parallels with the Cascadian Black Metal band Fauna, while other sections remind very much of the Portuguese neo-folk/ dark ambient hybrid group Karnnos. Vocals when present not a prominent element, featuring a throaty rasp which in some moments resembles the vocals of post-prison Varg (which isn’t actually a negative comment as the comparison might suggest).

Album opener ‘Sa Aurora De Sos Asatros’ sprawls out over an 11 minute expanse and through a number of segments of epically riffed to tremolo played guitars. The drums are pleasingly ‘live’ sounding in their playing with an organic edge to their production and thankfully avoiding the dreaded overproduced ‘click track’ sound. Mid track some synth use appears but is understated as a singular melody line which interweaves with and counterpoints the guitars. The second offering ‘Su Canticu de Sol Montes’ is a piece purely focused on ritual ambient spheres, where the dour echoed woodwind playing, ritual drums and ‘distant storm’ field recordings begs a particular Karnnos comparison. ‘Lunas Anthigas’ then launches headlong into a raw, furious and flailing black metal drumming storm, which maintains an epic folk edge to its riffs (mid track it recedes into a storm addled soundscape before launching back into a black metal guise). The final self-titled track includes a slight change in mood, where although the drums are still flailing in intensity, the riffs have a slightly less aggressive edge being forlornly epic in tone, whilst the second half of the track contains elements akin to a post-black metal style (…surely that description will have some black metal ‘purists’ running for the hills…).

With ‘Umbras E Forestas’ Downfall of Nur have produced a recording which displays conviction and passion and which effortlessly shifts its mood from black metal to ritual dark ambience. Not being a mere traditionalist/ copyist type band, they are managing to do something interesting within a black metal style, which to a greater degree has lost power through sheer repetition of the sound over the last decade/s.

Atrium Carceri & Eldar – Sacrosanct

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Atrium Carceri & Eldar – Sacrosanct CD 2012 Infinite Fog Productions

This is a bit of an older album which I have recently checked out, and whilst I am well aware of both projects, I have not necessarily listened to a great deal of their rather large discographies (each with 10 or so albums each to date). Likewise the projects should be recognized for their former association with the cult but now defunct Cold Meat Industry label.

So to establish where the sound of this collaboration might fall, generally speaking Atrium Carceri delve into a cinematic dark ambient sound, whilst Eldar have been more varied in the musical expression under a general ‘industrial’ banner, covering elements dark ambient, martial industrial and neo-classical etc.  Despite the differences in sound for each project, for this collaboration the sound palate has opted to largely stick to animated dark ambient realms.  Early album track ‘Tomorrow’s Dust’ is of the sweeping cinematic style with a darker undercurrent weaving throughout, whilst the programmed pulse provides an aspect of force to the compositions structure. ‘Freeman’ is a touch divergent with its minimalist programed beat (more akin to a rhythmic heart beat thump), mixed with sweeping yet solemn orchestral layers. Similar programming in the form of rolling tribal and electronics tinged percussion reappears on mid album track ‘Betrayal’, while occasional flourishes of musicality are also apparent, such as minimalist piano which features ‘So They Speak’ ‘SOL’ and ‘Burial’.

Ultimately what is delivered on ‘Sacrosanct’ is an album which sits staunchly within a dark ambient realm – a realm of dusky twilight and desolate streets filled with crumbling and abandoned buildings; and if you look closely at the mostly black cover, a darkened silhouette of a city skyline is featured which is a rather apt visual representation of the album’s mood. This a solemn and enjoyably immersive listen and although I would not put this is a ‘classic’ or even ‘astounding’ category, rather this is a strong and very enjoyable dark ambient album – nothing more, nothing less.

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Stuzha – Butugichag

stuzha

Stuzha – Butugichag CD Ksenza Records/ Infinite Fog Productions 2015

Having not come across this Russian dark ambient project before, this is their second album since 2011 and as the name translates to ‘Severe Cold’ this along with the cover image gives a hint at the sonic preoccupations of this album. The liner note further highlight that the album is dedicated to prisoners of Kolyma Labour Camps, with the visuals also reflecting this theme within its 6 panel digi-pack. 4 lengthy tracks make up this album (average of 10 minutes a piece), which each containing their own version of a desolate icy pitched tone. Ultimately Stuzha deliver the aural presentation of glacial barren vistas, which at times approaches an isolationist ambient tone, although there is generally more underlying movement and sonic elements (such as sparse piano) to make this more animated than the pure isolationist ambient works of someone like Thomas Koner. Also on more than one occasion Northaunt comes to mind as an appropriate benchmark of the style and feel of this music, as does a number of other Cyclic Law related releases in a similar sound.

The opening piece ‘A Night By The Foot of the Mountain’ comes positively roaring out the of the speaking, with think walls of bass intoned drones and field recordings to match the title context (crackling fire, footfalls in snow covered ground, clanging gates, barking dogs etc.), thus generating a widescreen ‘mind’s eye’ picture in the process. ‘Uranian Mines’ follows and apart from its sweeping to rumbling drones, has a large portion of its sound based on slow scraping metallic textures, but is a rather laid back in overall mood. ‘Raging Blizzard’ is much as the title suggests, but this is the sound of it experienced indoors, as the muffled sounds of the storm and its whipping winds rage unabated outside (…late piece the tone elevates to the point where it sounds like the roof is going to be ripped off). The final album track ‘Lilac Polar Darkness’ is the most musical piece on offer and presents a slightly more serene tone of interweaving semi-orchestral drones and treated washes of sparse guitars which follow a broad ebb and flow style, as a mediative means to conclude the album.

In a general underground scene context and over the arc of the last decade (or more), Russia has been gradually elevating its status in underground ambient and industrial spheres, where this Siberian project released on a Russian label stands as a strong testament to the calibre of material coming from such quarters.