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.
Stromstad – New Devoted Human LP Malignant Records 2017
This debut release from Stromstad is revealed to be collaborative album between the Finnish duo STROM.ec and Norwegian Kristoffer Oustad – and what a debut it is. With STROM.ec being recognized for a highly refined blend of industrial and heavy electronics and with Kristoffer Oustad inhabiting an evocative industrial smeared dark ambient sound, the creative collaboration between the two was always going to be an interesting one. Yet the creativity and flair on display completely exceeds any initial expectations.
Noting that each of the eight tracks are relatively confined (between three and six minutes each), this functions to generate a sense of urgency across the album, where its shifting and morphing elements draw from abrasive mechanical programming, controlled noise, lush sub-orchestral pads and gruff processed vocals. As an example, the fizzing/ buzzing looped static of the album opener Inherent Resurrection soon gives way to rolling tribal percussion and rough yelled vocals (clearly recognisable as those of STROM.ec), and functions very much as a statement of intent of what is explored over the balance of the album. Fever Wave Dream Function quickly following with woozy drones and off-kilter metallic clatter, shimmering synths and all underscored with a throbbing programmed element which leaps into heavily rhythmic section late in the track. The central buzzing tonality and stilted mechanical textures drives Blood Consciousness and when coupled with the gruff, slightly treated vocals is perhaps the piece most comparable to a straight STROM.ec composition. The sub-orchestral strains of Nattsvermer constitutes the first effective respite of the album, being a semi-melodious cinematic drone-scape which reminds of mid era raison detre (and particularly so where some distant choir textures are used). In a somewhat unexpected guest contribution, Grutle Kjellson from Enslaved provides vocals on Reluctant Traveler, another track of stilted mechanical rhythms and buzzing fissures of static mixed with moody orchestral textures, while Gruttle’s vocals range from spoken, guttural chants and urgent yells (a late track guitar gives a partial nod to the current prog metal direction of Enslaved). The title track is positioned towards the album’s ends is in some ways the most straight forward with rapid fire looped beat, tempered static and vocals relegated to the middle of the mix, but in the later half it veers off into moody sub-orchestral territory, while the final album track Kosto then deviates the most, with a synth derived neo-classical piece of moody swelling strings, and with a definite modern sci-fi edge to the sound.
Not being an overly long album, all the same it delivers a heavy impact across its multiple creative arcs, and which consequently makes it feel to be a much longer album than its actual run-time. While New Devoted Human could be said to be of the genres it draws from, at the same time it steps well beyond them given its inspired use and application of such influences. Effectively the album excels by the fact of how vital the finished result sounds, and in the process generates new creative ways of approaching recognizable genre sound elements. Issued on vinyl in gate-fold sleeve, CD or digital formats, it is simply a matter of taking your pick of preferred format. But as a word of advice, do not let this album pass you by.
Analfabetism – Skammen CD Malignant Records 2017
I first came across Analfabetism via their second album Av Hjord Är Du Kommen from 2015 which highlighted that there is still activity within a dank and mechanical Swedish death industrial sound, and particularly that sound pioneered by the likes of Megaptera, select moment of Archon Satani (i.e. their Mind of Flesh and Bones album), or even elements of very early Mz.412. Skammen continues on that established path, and again delivers unassuming but expertly crafted result.
Of the 7 track which span just short of 50 minutes, each piece is around the 6-8 minute mark, which allows each piece to develop in a minimalist and unhurried fashion and where there is a sense of controlled restraint and where tension is slowly ratcheted up amongst the general tonal gloom. Sonically speaking dank fissures of noise spit sonic ash, while sullen mechanized drone and moody minimalist synth lines provide the aural bedrock. Likewise, by virtue of the creaking metallic textures and sporadic clangs being structured into a series of loops, it provides loose and slightly stilted rhythmic structure to proceedings. Tracks such as Den Eviga Skammen differ slightly with its harder and heavier tonal outbursts, but again structured for loose rhythmic effect, while it is only on late album track Vi Reser Nu En Grav where vocals appear, but these are treated beyond recognition.
Although not necessarily deviating from the hallmarks of the genre, Analfabetism have still delivered and strong and convincing album of the chosen death industrial style. As for the artwork of the six panel digipack, the close-up images of factory equipment visually says volumes of the dank death industrial atmospheres captured herein.
Dødsmaskin – Fullstendig Brent CD Malignant Records 2017
Dødsmaskin (…translating to ‘Death Machine’) are new project and signing to Malignant Records. ‘Fullstendig Brent’ is the debut from this Norwegian duo, and from a geographic perspective Norway has far less of a profile than say Sweden when dealing with this type of music. Thematically the album then deals with 17th Century witch trails, with the title translating to an approximation of the English words ‘holocaust’ or ‘completely burnt’ provides further conceptual context for its darkly hued drones and jaggedly erupting post-industrial soundscapes.
Crackling fires samples underpin the majority of the opening track ‘Baldom’, which is coupled with an archaic and forlorn atmosphere driven by a maudlin violins, mid track dour synth melody and later segment of intense fire blasting factory floor ambience (…aka solid death industrial). ‘Heksetimen’ follows with an offering of hollow, grinding drones and mood of lurking malevolence (…again with fire samples featuring as a prominent and consistent element), where this track also follows the format of the first track by evolving into a slow, pounding death industrial soundscape. ‘Christoffering Orning’ is the 10 minute centre piece, which commences with chanted religious proclamations, prior to leaping into a cinematically tinged, throbbing post-industrial soundscape with the anguished wailing a lone female (…clearly representative of the torture of an accused witch). After the grinding intensity of this track, ‘De Ti – 1621’ takes a more atmospheric route, with a sparse echoed dark ambient soundscape, with floating female vocals (…but mid-track this also drives towards a grinding death industrial frame). For the final of the 5 tracks ‘Dømt På Sitt Liv Til Ild Og Bål’, it perhaps demonstrates the greatest degree of restraint with a distant tolling bell, manipulated micro-tonal textures, and a final segment consisting of a ‘duet’ between sparse strings and a tragically toned piano melody.
With ‘Fullstendig Brent’ featuring 5 tracks between 7 to 10 minutes each provides an overall run time of 42 minutes, yet given the presented material is varied and highly detailed in sonic scope the album feels much longer than this (…this observation is meant in a positive light). In sonically articulating its heavy weight theme, the means of recording is highly detailed, nuanced and expertly constructed, where passages of relative calm provides for balance and relief from other passages of highly tensile atmospheres. Likewise ‘Fullstendig Brent’ is noteworthy in that achieves a cinematic soundtrack feel (…rather than a more typical ‘song’ oriented framework), and consequently has resulted in a divergent and high caliber death industrial offering.
Anima Nostra – Atraments CD Malignant Records 2017
The collaborative duo of Henrik ‘Nordvargr’ Bjorkk and Margaux Renaudin have returned and in building upon 2016’s album ‘Anima Nostra’, that title has now been adopted as the as the moniker for the project’s continuation. Although taking clear cues from the debut (reviewed here), this sophomore album demonstrates a refinement and streamlining of musical approach. While also broadly drawing influence from the multi-faceted approaches of Nordvargr over his career to date, the involvement with Margaux Renaudin allows the music to chart new stylistic territory.
Rooted in the post-industrial crossroads of dark ambient, black industrial and neo-classical, ‘Atraments’ is still more varied and complex than those genre tags might suggest. Being musically focused and almost soundtrack in stylistic orientation, Anima Nostra’s compositions are darkly cinematic in scope. Driving martial percussion and slow distorted guitars loom large on selected tracks, which clearly nods to influence from blackened, doom-drone spheres. Yet these ‘band’ instruments are wielded in an heavily abstracted way, where the music never sounds like an actual ‘band’ (…and thankfully avoids any feel of constituting a metal pastiche, or a dreaded industrial/metal hybrid). Further textural variation comes in the ritualised elements such as gongs, chimes, meditative chants, choral chanting samples and treated vocal proclamations, which are combined with shrill strings, drawling brass horns and organ dirges which all woven together into a dense post-industrial sonic tapestry.
During a couple of moments a comparison with Trepaneringsritualen comes to mind, particularly given the use of gruff yelled/ sung vocals and rhythmic/ tribal styled framework (…such as is found on ‘Anima Nostra’ and the final cut ‘The Seal’, but within the context of this album the sound is more polished and refined). For further comparative purposes ‘Atraments’ also sits within the same general sonic sphere as late era Mz.412, yet the sound charts its own individualistic direction, with is powerful atmosphere articulating its own form of grim esoteric spirituality. Despite the sheer number of albums Nordvargr has been involved with over the decades, this is yet another album and project which has struck gold, thus making Nordvargr and Margaux Renaudin akin to modern day sonic alchemists. Recommended.
The Vomit Arsonist – Meditations On Giving Up Completely CD Malignant Records 2017
With a substantial discography extending close to 40 releases since 2004, ‘Meditations On Giving Up Completely’ is in fact only the 5th full length album from Andy Grant’s solo project. In then taking a quick looking at Andy’s creative arc over the last few albums, ‘Only Red’ from 2015 was notable in that it took the brooding death industrial sound of 2013’s ‘An Occasion For Death’, but opted to ramp it up with an aggressively rhythmic approach. But rather than potentially continuing on that more direct path, ‘Meditations On Giving Up Completely’ shows clear sense of honing, refinement and restraint in order to create claustrophobic death industrial atmospheres (…to rival the best moments of early Brighter Death Now).
‘Meditations’ opens the album with a minimalist “yawning chasm” tone (…this metaphor is to be read as industrial hum, echo & rumble), and with its semi-buried dialogue sample it very much feels as an introductory piece to set the mood. The following piece ‘What’s Left’ then features as an excellent offering constructed around a slow pummeling death industrial ‘beat’, idling machines and general wasteland ambience, as Andy’s agonized and unintelligible distortion charred vocals articulate a mood of anguish and desperation. Thus from the template established by the first two pieces, the following tracks effectively play out as further variations on these established theme. However to talk of notable elements, the wailing siren sound on ‘It Never Ends’ is a standout when set against a monolithic and slow pounding beat, as is the morbidly cavernous depth and gradually rising dread of ‘On Living’. During the album’s last third, ‘There is Nothing Here’ features a pounding beat that despite pushing towards a mid-paced rhythm the overall mood remains of one of brooding restraint, and with this same tone seeping into the final track ‘Sick Over’ (..which itself bleeds out in shuddering convulsions over 10 minutes).
With each track spanning around 6 minutes or longer, each of the 7 tracks are effectively elongated death industrial meditations on nihilism, underpinned with an enveloping sense of brooding despair. Likewise given the album’s general minimalism and restraint in deliver, its layered sonic elements and sporadic vocals have been meticulously combined for substantive impact. Without seeking to significantly deviate from what has preceded it, ‘Meditations On Giving Up Completely’ features a clear sense of honed refinement, and in the process has issued an imposing death industrial statement.
Human Larvae – Behind Blinding Light CD Malignant Records 2016
For those who missed the original LP version released by Freak Animal also in 2006 (…perhaps due to the limitation of 300 copies, or maybe vinyl is not the preferred format?), Malignant Records have been kind enough to quickly reissue this on CD.
Not to repeat the original review (which can be located here), this is an excellent album and one of the best of last year. To then quote the conclusion of the full review: “Without being in any way derivative, ‘Behind Blinding Light’ is a strong, focused and sonically diverse industrial/ power electronics release which demonstrates full control over its sonic elements, both in the recording and their construction”.
All elements of the original artwork are included here, but reformatted in the guise of a 8 panel fold over digi-pack. In a word: recommended.