Striations – Vietnamization

Striations – Vietnamization DCD Old Captain/Eibon 2019

Striations is a name I am familiar with, being the industrial/noise/power electronics project of American Mike Finklea, but I must admit that I did not properly check them out until now, due to the quite daunting discography (close to 30 releases since 2011). Yet when I spotted the promo blurb stating this was the project’s ‘magnum opus’, I figured it was high time to investigate further. This version of Vietnamization is a CD reissue of the original tape on New Forces from 2018, but expanded with additional content (originally issued to close associates of the project). From the title alone the thematic preoccupations of this album are clear, focusing on the policy of the Richard Nixon administration to end US involvement in the Vietnam War, which functionally involved bolstering the role of South Vietnamese forces and simultaneously reducing American troops.

Two sprawling tracks (or ‘phases’) constitutes the original material (53 minutes), which feature an amorphous and continually shifting sound that corresponds with the listed sub-titles such as 1971 Army Recruitment Radio Advertisement, Secret War, and Automaton Squad. (18 sub-titled tracks span Phases 1 & 2). In an overarching sense spoken samples give way to violent noise and unhinged vocals, but just as quickly shift off into pensive throbbing synths and deep pounding rhythms, while fierce gunfire and jungle noise place the listener within the middle of the firefight. With heavy use of thematic samples this gives a real impression of listening to a soundtracked documentary – albeit with industrial, noise, and power electronics – with an ever shifting but interlinking sound palette interspersed with sections of dialogue. Likewise, segments of violent noise blend with restrained stalking soundscapes and function to highlight the variety and complexity of compositional approach. Yet despite the wealth of thematic samples employed, the meaning and message remains murky. It is unclear whether this is seeking to be a mere documentation of key events (including the arrogance and political failings of the American government during the conflict), a comment on the impact of war on both civilians and individual soldiers, or an analysis of the dark aspects of human nature during wartime action.

Phase 3: Operation Boundary Rider, Phase 4: Operation Shed Light and Phase 5: Operation Freedom Deal form the additional content not included on the original tape, and effectively constitute lengthy collages of TV reporting, media interviews, radio soundbites, and a mostly minimalist backing of soundscape-oriented battlefield ambience (save for one short section of composed rhythmic synths). Throughout this material the spoken voices take center stage and function to flesh out the conceptual backing of the core material on Phase 1 and Phase 2. While this material is certainly interesting, it perhaps does not warrant repeated listens when compared to the main tracks.

The promo blurb used the descriptive word ‘obsession’ to describe the overall methodology, which is spot on in my view, particularly given the meticulous approach to the presentation of its theme and sonic content. Vietnamization is an engaging and compelling release and reminds me of the totality of thematic obsession and sonic complexity of releases such as the 2007 double album Fentanyl Martyrs by Survival Unit, even if the end result is completely different. A six-panel double digi-pack with additional text and visuals rounds out an excellent release. But with a mere 300 copies I would not imagine this will remain available for too long.

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BJNilsen ‎– Focus Intensity Power / Tape Dekay ‎– Decadimento Del Nastro – Decadenza Di Tutto

BJNilsen Focus Intensity Power LP Moving Furniture Records 2018

Tape Dekay Decadimento Del Nastro – Decadenza Di Tutto CD Old Captain/Narcolepsia 2019

From his first dark ambient project Morthound which had releases on Cold Meat Industry during the early 1990s, BJNilsen moved over to the Hazard moniker in the late 1990s, and from around 2004 onwards opted to record under his own name. Generally speaking, over the last 15 years BJ’s approach has been characterized by an experimental approach to sonically processing various natural and urban-based field recordings. However with Focus Intensity Power being the solo new album, it marks a decided shift away from the use of field recordings as it is a purely studio-based album, which according to the promo notes provides: ‘documents of improvised sessions using modular synthesizers, tone generators and test and measurement instruments’. Sonically this album has greater alignment with early Hazard albums than recent solo output and is certainly welcomed from these quarters. The 15-minute album opener Beam Finder is an elongated exploration of minimalist unceasing mid to lower range bass tones, coupled with micro-tonal static and machine idling drones which appear late in the track. This approach continues with The Sound Of Two Hands, although this is slightly more forceful and varied with the introduction of a ‘ticking clock’ element and other minimalist scattered electronics. The relatively short Flattened Space embodies a muted sub-orchestral tone blended with mechanical menace, while Table of Hours fits cleanly within a dark ambient drone frame of reference. The final of the five tracks, The Limits of Function, starts slow but gradually elevates with layered machine drones, and the second half of the track is driven forwards by a central rhythmic loop. In essence Focus Intensity Power is an effective celebration of sustained tonal atmospheres, which amounts to evocative sounds in their purest form. Sublime.

Moving on to the review of Tape Dekay, this is not a new project but a quite obscure side project of BJNilsen. In fact, before this debut CD only two tracks were previously issued from the project on two separate compilation releases dating from 1999 and 2008. Given that in recent decades BJ has mostly worked under his own name with manipulated field recordings/electroacoustic material, for Tape Dekay the sleeves have been rolled up to tackle the more direct fields of noise. But as might be expected with someone with such refined experimental compositional skills, these have been employed here to generate a clean and loud production. While ‘noise’ is the name of the game, it is also not ‘harsh noise’ by any stretch; this is more of an exercise in experimental noise and an exploration in tone and sonic construction technique. Although select passages build to a certain noise heft, including crumbling bass, static rumble, and slashes of sound, the album is also not harsh by typical measures. Other tracks employ a vague structure of off-kilter factory rhythms, driven forwards with weighty machine-like drones and monolithic industrial loops. With melodic elements being entirely absent (except for what sounds like processed male choirs in one track), the employed tone and the separation of sonic elements function to maintain detailed interest throughout. Likewise, given the level of meticulous construction which has been employed within compositions, there is a real sense of sonic complexity spanning the seven tracks.

Both of these albums from BJ Nilsen are certainly different in approach and equally enjoyable in their own right and chosen musical spheres. But from a purely personal position, Focus Intensity Power is the album which I have kept returning to over many months.

Slogun – Nothing. Ever.

Slogun – Nothing. Ever. CD Old Captain 2019

The long standing Slogun returns in 2019 with a new album which incidentally is the 19th full length* issued since the mid 1990’s (* – excluding splits and collaboration albums). With solo member John Balistreri being active under the Slogun banner for 23 years now, the sound of the project has always been defined by and is immediately recognisable for his New York drawl and bile fuelled misanthropic rants. In that regard some things remain the same, as the vocals again play a core and central role, while the thematic preoccupations are neatly wrapped up in the album tag-line of: ‘Nothing you do will ever matter. Nothing. Ever’.

On the sonic front, it is apparent just how far the sound has elevated out of a harsh free-form noise style which was prevalent in the early days of the project, but which over recent albums has been gradually moving towards greater structural and refinement. Accordingly, Nothing. Ever. spans 11 tracks and 48 minutes, where creaking metallic textures, field-recording based loops, buzzing static, digital pulses, sustained drones etc. characterise the sonic framework. But rather than built a harsh wall of sonics, clear space and separation is employed in the mix, which gives each element room to breathe. Likewise the mood is controlled in tone and tensile in atmosphere, without being overtly aggressive or punishing. This then allows the centrally prominent and delay treated vocals to amplify a more overtly attacking and antagonistic mood. To speak of the vocals, these are are hard as ever in their aggressive and strained delivery, where it is also quite a monumental effort on John’s behalf to keep delivering rock solid, psychoanalytical tinged but street level focused rants without running out of either steam or thematic ideas.

With relatively compact and to the point tracks, the albums moves through at a brisk pace, which functions to maintain interest given the differing sonic compositions between each track. Clearly Nothing. Ever. this is still power electronics and industrial noise at its core, but when comparing this to much earlier output from Slogun it absolutely underlines how much emphasis has been placed on the meticulous structuring of the sonics into distinct and individual tracks. Consequently Nothing. Ever. manages to both sate expectations and surprise in equal measures, resulting in a very enjoyable album.

Claustrum – Funeral Fugues & Reminiscence † 1992-1997

Claustrum – Funeral Fugues & Reminiscence † 1992-1997 CD Old Captain 2016

Claustrum are a Latvian project whom I am not at all familiar with, despite it seeming they have been around since 1992. But according to what background details I could dig up, evidently their sound has evolved over the years to include: dark ambient, industrial, neoclassical, martial industrial and power electronics.  As per the (perhaps obvious) title, this album collects together 18 selected tracks from the first 5 years of the project.

Although featuring early Claustrum material, this includes material which is well above what you might usually expect from the fledgling steps of an artist, and covers some stellar dark ambient offerings and more fully completed neoclassical tracks. Contextually speaking about the first half of the CD features sacral dark ambient type tracks, and in more than a few fleeting moments brings to mind the likes of the highly regarded Raison D’etre, (…particularly with the use of church bells, sampled/ manipulated choir chants and dank subterranean atmospheres etc). But this is not a case of Claustrum drawing direct influence from Raison D’etre, particularly given that both projects commenced in the same year of 1992, therefore they both clearly evolved a similar sound in isolation of each other.  On the later half of the tracks, a greater proportion shift towards neoclassical expression and features more heavily composed tracks which range from funeral organ dirges to rousing martial driven pieces etc. Regardless of styles covered, all of the featured tracks are on the shorter side (…given none exceed 6 minutes and most are around 3 to 4 minutes each), which provides the feel of short musical sketches rather than a holistically composed album, yet the musical flow still manages to meanders between pieces without jarring the general mood and atmosphere. Perhaps the only real musical missteps of the album is the darkwave styled ‘Instrument of Cacophony’ (…which include guitars and sung vocals), which to this ear sound clunky and awkward compared to the rest to the material, while some of the neo-classical elements do suffer from an overtly synthetic edge (…but is more of a minor observation).

As with most Old Captain releases, this has been issued as a cleanly designed digi-pack in a small edition run (250 copies here), which clearly functions to provide the label flexibility and scope to issue interesting obscurities such as this.

Blood Ov Thee Christ – Filthy Criminals / Kristian Olsson – Att Vara Där Jag Var Innan Jag Var Jag

botc ko

Blood Ov Thee Christ – Filthy Criminals CD Old Captain 2016

Kristian Olsson – Att Vara Där Jag Var Innan Jag Var Jag CD Old Captain 2016

For a quick historic recap, Blood Ov Thee Christ was (is?) the project of Harri Honkaniemmi – one of the first Swedish power electronics/ industrial noise projects. A sole cassette ‘Master Control’ was issued way back in 1987 before the project disappeared into obscurity. To fast forward almost two decades, ‘Master Control’ was dug up and reissued on CD in 2005 (reviewed here), whilst around the same time Harri was coaxed out of hiding through the perseverance of Kristian Olsson (aka Survival Unit & Alfarmania) to reestablish the project, with Kristian joining as a second member.  ‘Filthy Criminals’ was then one of the first releases from the newly active project in 2006 and issued via cassette on Kristian’s own Styggelse imprint. Having been long sold out it has now been reissued on CD in a digipack edition of 250 copies with grim artwork also courtesy of Kristian.

‘Filthy Criminals’ features a mere two tracks, but each spanning 30 minutes which is reflective of the original cassette format.  From the opening segment of the title track, cascading waves of shuddering mechanized analog filth and distortion drenched vocals are metaphorically vomited into a rubbish strewn street and although no lyrics are discernible, the angst and aggression is palpable.  Loose and chaotic there remains degree of intent behind these crude compositions, thus the impression is not one of result of mere improvisation, particularly as variety of dialogue and vocal samples are strategically force-feed into the swampy tonal soup.  The pacing of the Side A track is not urgent or fast paced, rather the composition lurches forward in a general negative haze akin to that generated alcohol or drugs (or both?) – but given the length of the track in the later half the vocals and whipping static seek pushes towards greater frenzy.  The second track ‘Hatemaster’ gives some momentary respite through the use of an introductory sample which quite appropriately references religious devotion through heroin addiction.  Yet after a couple of minutes when the sample has run its course the track launches into a more direct mid ranged pulsing static attack.  Although a slow lurching undercurrent remains, the forefront elements of layered distortion, buzzing static and barked agonized vocals provide more chaotic force than the first track.  Mid track some hefty dual vocals and spitting metallic loops ramp things up further, although the piece concludes with a section of muted sonics and bizarrely half crooned vocals.

Being positioned at the rough end of crude industrial noise/ power electronics, this is sonically hard, grim and unrelenting.  It is the sort of album which preaches to the converted and as such will only appeal to connoisseur of such audial analog filth. Is that you? No doubt you will already know the answer to that.

Kristian Olsson in solo guise is not too far removed from the sonic world of Alfarmania, but there is a much greater degree of restraint, elevated experimentation and a mood of ritual atmospherics.  As for ‘Att Vara Där Jag Var Innan Jag Var Jag’, it is a CD reissue of a 2010 limited vinyl pressing of 275 copies.

Sonically speaking the album captures morbid ritualized soundscapes which feature a myriad of tonal elements including: murky atonal drones; metallic chimes; atmospheric scrap/ junk sounds; scraping metal on concrete textures, creaking metal hinges; and distant wailed voices which flesh out the sound. These collections of sounds are then combined into grim grey toned and soot infused soundscapes which articulate cavernous, muck and grime strewn abandoned spaces.  Of interest on its original vinyl pressing, the tracks effectively bled into longer single LP sided tracks, but here given the 10 individual tracks are individually indexed, it provides greater focus on the individual piece, which themselves range from around 2 to 9 minutes each. The title track appears late in the play order (track 8) stands out to a greater degree given it is sonically sharper and forceful, but still maintaining a comparable sonic palate to the rest.

To specifically compare these two albums, while they do certainly seek different listening moods and experiences, from my own perspective it is Kristian Olsson’s works which I find myself returning too on a more regular basis (…but could equally be the opposite on your own preferences).  But regardless of personal preferences they are both shining examples of Old Captain’s agenda to resurrect and given additional exposure to various underground obscurities.

Vhril – Vortex Psysynthesis

Vhril

Vhril – Vortex Psysynthesis CD Old Captain 2016

For this release Old Captain have seen fit to resurrect an obscure recording from Ulex Xane and John Murphy under the ‘Vhril’ banner, which was originally issued in 1993 via Ulex’s Zero Cabel tape label, and noting the timing of this release in mid-2016, it then fittingly coincides with the feature interviews with both in noise receptor journal issue no.4.  To firstly provide a short synopsis of the album’s thematic focus, an excerpt from Ulex’s liner notes states: “Vhril explored the esoteric concept of the Vril topos, the Black Sun and Thulean paths in an improvisational ritual setting”. Musically speaking, ‘Vortex Psysynthesis’ can then be bracketed under a ritual ambient / ritual industrial frame of reference.

On the opening track ‘Transcosmic Mutations (The Vile Vortices), it is a loose and long-form piece, featuring tensile analogue drones, and rhythmic clatter/ muffled rumble and wailing ‘air raid’ styled sirens, which in part bring to mind the most subdued instrumental elements of Streicher (…and particularly on the first half of the track).  However what completely sets the atmosphere apart is the array of gongs, Tibetan singing bowls, sparse percussive elements and oil barrel thuds etc. which all coalesce with ritualised intent.  Two shorter 5-8 minute pieces form the album’s centre (‘Sedona 1’ and ‘Sedona 2’), are tonally similar in that they are both calm and understated atmospheric works of shimmering ‘cosmic’ textures, and scattered ritual percussion, which could also perhaps be more flamboyantly described as ‘psychic emanations from the void’. On the fourth and final piece ‘Ipsissimum’, although skirts perilously close to a ‘new age’ sound (given its use of water samples, chimes, accordion and woodwind tune, distant wailing/ chanted female vocals etc.), it sidesteps being overtly twee by maintaining a darker and sparsely abstract sound.

Noting the four album pieces span the subtle and abstract through to track segments which are more driving and forceful, the overall sound and atmosphere maintain a meditative quality throughout, yet equally the first track is the clear standout in terms of focus and complexity of execution.  Given that Old Captain have been doing an exceptional job at digging up and re-releasing some exceptional underground obscurities of the past decades, this Vhril CD is no exception.

Inanna – Œuvres Complètes Tome I – XVI

inanna

Inanna – Œuvres Complètes Tome I – XVI DCD Old Captain 2016

To start with a quick history lesson: Archon Satani were a Swedish duo of Mikael Stavöstrand, and Tomas Pettersson who operated in the early 1990’s, before Tomas Pettersson departed to start Ordo Equilibrio and Mikael Stavöstrand continued solo as Archon Satani, whilst also recording as Inanna (…before folding both projects by the late 1990’s).  After personally picking up on Archon Satani in the mid 1990’s I have always been a particularly a big fan of their haunting satanic hymns (aka dark ritual/ industrial soundscapes).  Conversely from what I heard of Inanna at the time, it just did not capture the same essence as what attracted me to Archon Satani.  With that background context out of the way, admittedly I had never heard ‘Œuvres Complètes Tome I – XVI’ until now, given it had passed me by at the time by being released prior to picking up on Archon Satani (…for its original edition it was issued in 1992 on Sound Source – a short lived side tape label of Cold Meat Industry – in 200 copies on 2xMC).  So whilst I was aware ‘Œuvres Complètes Tome I – XVI’ to be considered as a ritual death ambient classic, I had not previously paid much mind to this, based on my earlier impressions of Inanna.  This view has been completely revaluated now I have heard ‘Œuvres Complètes Tome I – XVI’ in its re-released DCD edition.

Essentially (to this ear), ‘Œuvres Complètes Tome I – XVI’ draws from the best elements ritual ambient linage of earliest Archon Satani (…but perhaps even more mysterious and obscure).  Obviously on later releases Mikal would push Inanna into slightly differing sonic realms, but on ‘Œuvres Complètes Tome I – XVI’ it amounts to classic obscure toned ritual ambient/ death industrial of the highest order. Evidently the original analogue recordings were un-mastered, and have been reproduced here without any further updating/ remastering, which is means its densely muffled and obscure aura remains for full effect.

Instilled with equal measures of obscurity and dread, this release hits its mark perfectly.  The soundscapes presented across the 16 tracks and total play time of around 2 hours effectively play out as variations of the sound akin to arcane ritual in progress, but heard from afar given the distant muffled tone. Broadly speaking the sound features a desolate and cavernous aesthetic which draws in clanging metallic rhythms, sporadic ritual percussive drumming, plodding atonal piano, sub-orchestral resonances, classical music looped samples, unintelligible dialogue/ sermon/ choir samples etc., which are all mixed into eerie haunted soundscapes instilled with strong ritual intent and atmosphere (…even the looped ritualized re-working of John Lennon’s ‘Give Peace a Chance’ which closes out Disc 1 works – which by description alone should not work at all).

Without putting too much of a point on it: this is a grand and welcomed reissue of a classic release, where even I have been surprised by the obsessive listening I have given this since obtaining a copy. Packaging is slick and understated DCD fold out digi-pack, in an edition of 200 to mirror that of the original pressing.  Don’t make this mistake and miss this new edition, as it is unlikely to stick around for long.