Militia – The Face of God / Ambiorix

Militia – The Face of God CD Old Europa Café 2019

Militia – Ambiorix CD Old Europa Café 2018

To provide a brief history lesson, Militia have been operating since the late 1980’s, where their general approach could be characterised as a logical extension of the early oil barrel percussion of industrial pioneers Test Department. Militia then managed to hit an outstandingly high peak of output early on, with particular reference to: New European Order 3xLP (1996); their contribution to the cult compilation War Against Society 3xLP (1997); and The Black Flag Hoisted 2xCD (2000). Each of these and now broadly considered landmark classics of the post-industrial underground, which then tends to cast a very long shadow over everything which has followed and to which against every new release is compared. Inevitably this is the context in which the two new Militia albums are considered.

The Face of God although issued in 2019, was first issued in 2015 as a self-released box-set, but with poor distribution it was quite difficult to obtain. This 2019 version appears it may in fact be from the original CD pressing but re-issued within a newly designed 6 panel digi-pack. In context of Militia’s discography The Face of God followed on from 2005’s Everything Is One CD and 2011’s Power! Propaganda! Production! CD. Both of those albums where characterized by being more streamlined, cleanly produced, and song focused, and for me were both highly enjoyable releases which demonstrated a gradually refinement of Militia’s earlier approach. Interestingly The Face of God differs from those albums given it has a rougher and distorted edge which more closely aligns with the earlier era. Male choral vocals and tolling bells of Psalm 1: An Atheist Statement opens the album, before an echoed proclamation of project mainstay Frank Gorissen makes the theme of the album exceedingly clear. Following this the track launches into a section of trademark looped synth lines, wailing horns and heady thrummed percussion. Without doubt a brilliant start. Psalm 5: Sermon is also a clear standout with its fast-paced metallic percussive drive and maudlin underpinning synth line. Psalm 7: God’s Face is another track displaying all the pinnacle trademarks of Militia’s approach aka the rhythmic loops, pounding metallic percussion and wailing horns. Late album track Psalm 10: Call All Atheists is another particular highlight with its atonal droning synth-line, blended with forceful incessantly rolling/ clanging percussion and strained proclamation styled vocals. Yet alongside the highlights sporadic missteps don’t go unnoticed, where on occasion the execution of percussion feel overly stilted and out of time, such as on Psalm 2: The immaculate Conception Of Lies. A minor gripe, but a gripe nonetheless.

In moving on to the consideration of the latest Militia opus Ambiorix issued in late 2018, from the outset the album draws a clear parallel to the recent 2017 re-recording of the classic New European Order (reviewed here). By this it is meant the earlier percussive driven windswept battlefield atmospheres are clearly present, but the recording is crystalline and without a grey hued murkiness. Likewise of note, on the thematic side of things instead of political framed social commentary, the album differs as it focuses on a historic period instead, and quoting from the cover: ‘Militia plans King Ambiorix’ struggle again the Roman occupation of Gaul in 54 BC’. In an overarching sense while Ambiorix follows Militia’s established sonic template, the album as a whole is quite atmospherically filmic in tone, particularly where rousing synth based neo-classical elements such as choirs, horns and strings are utilised. This cinematic impression is further reinforced through the clear narrative outlined by the album’s 11 tracks, and with the production being relatively clean and spacious, means that although being percussive based, it does not feel as heavy as other Militia material. To talk specifics, early Negotiation perfectly blends rhythmic loops, driving militant drumming and stirring synth melodies. Equally the introductory neo-classical strains of Ambush are particularly rousing, which sets the scene for a ‘battle march’ percussive driven track. Calling All Gauls again follows the classic Militia format of rolling metallic percussion and looped melody and further elevated with neo-classical backing elements. Late album track War is equally rousing with its battlefield samples, choir synths and ever-present driving percussion. Rounding out the hour length album is the 11.5 minute The Lost King which is an ambient soundscape which evolves into a mid-paced militant percussive track though the mid-section, before shifting back to and ambient soundscape during its final moments.

As an overall comment, I would not profess that either of these Militia releases exceeds the heights of the early era classics, yet they each still stand as resoundingly strong releases on their own. In recognition of their slight deviations in tone and approach, both The Face of God and Ambiorix are fitting additions to the Militia discography and will absolutely please followers of the group, both older or more recent. Recommended.

raison d’être ‎– Anima Caelum

raison d’être Anima Caelum 2xCD Old Europa Cafe 2019

By way of background context, Anima Caelum was first issued in a limited edition of 99 copies on double cassette in 2018 (also on Old Europa Café). Now it has been reissued with slightly revised content on double CD in a less limited edition.

With the tagline on the cover stating ‘alive 2014-2017’ it is a not too subtle clue enough that it is a collection of live tracks and not new recordings. So for me, the pinnacle aspect is the full recording of the special set which was performed at the Cold Meat Industry 30th anniversary show in Stockholm November, 2017, which I was lucky enough to attend and witness in person. My review of that festival noted the following with regard to the raison d’être set featured on this set:

‘Having seen raison d’être three times before, I expected it to be decent show, but was completely blown away by the impact of this set, based on the sheer intensity of volume. Also with sole member Peter Andersson playing a special set consisting of one track from all of his CMI albums, it was a veritable hit parade of the tracks from each album with the greatest emotional impacts. Again, with the focus being on the projected visual backdrop, it functioned to further amplify the mood of the sacral and the damned, based around various moving images of religious decay and sorrowful mourning. For me personally raison d’être’s set was the most moving of the entire festival, where the pairing of tracks Inner Depths Of Sadness (from the Within The Depths Of Silence And Phormations album), and Reflecting In Shadows (from the In Sadness, Silence And Solitude album) hit home hard to show just how important the music of raison d’être has been to me over the years (as an example of this, I was so taken by In Sadness, Silence And Solitude when first hearing it in 1997 that it spurred me on to immediately write my first music review, which in turn led to me creating Spectrum Magazine shortly after). In being far beyond a ‘mere’ dark ambient set, the volume absolutely elevated the impact and presence of the set to the next level and was one of my personal standouts of the entire festival’.

The above impression pretty much sums up my thoughts on the entirety of the content featured across the two CD’s. Perhaps this is a release more the avid and obsessive fan than the casual listener, but even so, it is an excellent collection of the full and complete Stockholm set coupled with live tracks from various performances. Likewise the live version deviate enough from the original to provide both detailed and nuanced interest. Another very enjoyable album from this unfaltering dark ambient behemoth, and exquisitely presented in a deluxe 6 panel digipack.

Phurpa ‎– Chöd Ritual / Grotta Santarcangelo

Phurpa Chöd Ritual / Grotta Santarcangelo CD Old Europa Café 2017

Phurpa has been a rising name in the underground in recent years, which is somewhat expected given their distinct sound and approach which effectively sees this Russian group performing Bon ritual music in a Tibetan Buddhist tradition. Primarily based around chanted vocals of a Tibetan throat singing style, this is mixed with an array of abstracted and minimal traditional ritual instrumentation including horns, cymbals and various percussive implements. Having previously heard a couple of albums from the group, I was then surprised to discover that they now have 26 releases to their name which have been issued over the past decade. Although I have not been able to confirm it, I have an impression that the majority (if not all) of these releases are straight recordings of live performances, rather than studio albums.

On Chöd Ritual / Grotta Santarcangelo the album features a single track spanning close to 80 minutes, and which displays the sonic hallmarks of being a direct recording of one of Phurpa’s live rituals. Sparse percussive sounds provide a droning introduction to the album, before the low guttural throat singing chants arrive full force at around the two-minute mark, and by this stage the catatonic pacing of the vocal driven soundscapes has been firmly set. On occasion the mood elevates to crashing crescendos of cymbals, deep drawling horns, higher pitched atonal wailing thighbone trumpets and a general subterranean percussive thrum, where structurally these instrumentation driven passages are used to bridge and interlink the sections of the cavernous throat chanted vocals.

Having heard this album, in comparison to the others I have also heard, they are noted to be broadly in the same sonic palate and style, where it raises the question of whether you need to hear more than a couple of albums to gain a decent appreciation of what the collective is about. Personally I have enjoyed the experience of becoming acquainted with Phurpha’s atypical musical style and approach, but equally I perhaps don’t anticipate myself regularly revisiting these albums either. I also suspect that there is a far greater inherent power in being able to hear and experience Phurpa’s music in a live ritual setting, where an element of its sonic impact is likely to be lost in the recorded album format. Whether or not I get the opportunity to see the group perform live remains to be seen, but albums such these album’s do at least provide an opportunity to experience the ritual works of Phurpa.

Mz.412 Vs Folkstorm ‎– Live Ceremony

Mz.412 Vs Folkstorm Live Ceremony CD Old Europa Café 2015

With Mz.412 having infrequently graced the stage over the years, it was way back in 2000 (18th August) when two of the three members (i.e. Henrik Nordvargr Björkk and Jouni ‘Ulvtharm’ Ollila) teamed up to perform at the Collapse festival in Rostock, Germany. Being billed as Mz.412 vs Folkstorm at the time, this goes partway to explain the harder and harsher elements of this recording which incidentally was previously issued via Pagan Dance in 2004 in a limited edition of 412 copies. This has now been reissued by Old Europa Café with new artwork and the inclusion of additional bonus tracks not included on the original version.

Having previous heard the Mz.412 live album Hekatomb (recorded at Cold Spring’s 21st Anniversary show at The Garage, London, 5 March 2011 – reviewed here), that recording illustrated a more refined presentation of their existing studio works in a live setting. However on Live Ceremony, the recording is a far rougher sonic affair which would seem to reflect an approach of only partially relying pre-recorded segments of music, in order to focus on the live generation of distortion and feedback. Without the inclusion of actual track names, the seven live tracks have been referred at as Act I through Act VII. But by way of example, Act I includes a short fragment of the classic track God of Fifty Names which cuts through live scattered noise, while an additional dialogue sample more thematically aligned with Folkstorm. Vocals are also present in the live setting, but which are heavily treated and again reflect the Folkstorm angle to the live proceedings. As with Act I, a number of recognizable snippets of studio works are used over the seven live tracks, such as on Act III when Der Kampf Geht Weiter from Nordic Battle Signs is blended with the introduction of Deklaration Of Holy War from Burning the Temple of God. But these recognisable fragments of albums function as short interludes which bridge the live sections of loose distorted noise and on occasion tribal/ ritual rhythmic movements, while he final short Act VII relies on sample of a Penderecki styled choral work to conclude the set.

As for the bonus tracks, the two Folkstorm tracks are solid examples of the spitting noise and raw militant industrial meets power electronics material that the project was producing in the early 2000’s. However perhaps of greater interest are the two-short bonus Mz.412, where there is no indication as to which era these are derived from (although Nordvargr later confirmed these are from around 2006/07).  Mors Solum Initium Est is the first of the bonus offerings and is a darkly ritualistic affair with a deeply cavernous atmosphere, rattling metallic tones and distant wailing textures, and perhaps more reminiscent of early Archon Satani than typically Mz.412 – but an excellent track all the same. Congregation of the Abyss follows to round out the album and slightly differs given its focus on intensive multi-layered garbled to guttural roaring vocals and sweeping sub-orchestral undercurrent, which overall is a replication of the sound of the Domine Rex Inferum album and another decent track.

Being a generally loose, and at time chaotic live recording, this is a worthwhile document of the live performance, but perhaps not an essential release in Mz.412’s discography. But even in saying that, the inclusion of the two bonus Mz.412 tracks gives clear incentive to track this down.

Atomine Elektrine – The Second Moon

Atomine Elektrine – The Second Moon CD Old Europa Café 2017

Operating since the mid 1990’s, Atomine Elektrine is perhaps Peter Andersson’s most well-known and recognized side project of raison d’être.  The Second Moon is the new and sixth full length album, if not including demo collections and live material which have also been formally released on CD.

With the project name being the Lithuanian word for ‘nuclear power plant’, there has always been and ‘Eastern Bloc’ angle to the sound and approach of the project, where it could also be suggested that the deep space elements and melodic passages sonically articulate the space program era of the Soviet Union. To then quickly speak of context, personally the project hit an absolute high mark with their second album Archimetrical Universe from 1999, which perfectly blended abstract deep space movements with more melodious compositions and occasionally beat driven programming. While the albums which followed experimented with this template, more often than not the abstracted and experimental elements took greater focus, but did not archive the same sonic coherence of Archimetrical Universe (although it must be said that none of the following albums could be considered lackluster or poor in quality by any means).

As a general observation The Second Moon builds on the template of 2015’s Laniakea album, which was framed around sparse and floating deep space drones, which are augmented with looping musical phrases which gives a nod to 1970’s era cosmic space synth music of Tangerine Dream and the like. Yet on this new album there feels to be a greater degree of cohesion and focus to the combination of the deep space drones and pulsing melodious elements. Structurally the album has a drifting and enveloping quality, where the drones and melodies elevate in intensity, to then recede again and build anew, which makes it an album length experience, rather than one focusing on individual musical pieces (featuring only five track, it still has an expansive run time given the shortest track is eight minutes and the longest twenty minutes in length).

Although I have followed and enjoyed all of Atomine Elektrine’s outputs over the years, equally I have found The Second Moon to be one of the most listened to of the last few albums, which is predominantly down to its refinement and balancing of its sonically abstracted and melodious parts. A cleanly designed, 4 panel digi-pack rounds out the presentation.

Militia – New European Order

Militia – New European Order 2xCD Old Europa Café 2017

Back in around 1996 I was made aware of Militia well before I heard any of their music, thanks to a full page advert for the original 3xLP edition of New European Order (featured in Issue 7 of Audio Drudge magazine from 1996). I was then introduced to their music a couple of years later via the now classic War Against Society 3xLP compilation, and needless to say I was instantly hooked by their heavily percussive, martial-tinged industrial music and immediately tracked down the New European Order album.

Fast forward some 21 years from the original release, here we have the New European Order album issued on double CD. With the cover featuring the same artwork my obvious first impression was that this is a straight re-release. However upon further investigation it is revealed to be the same material, but having been completely re-recorded. While I am generally dubious of projects or bands who choose to re-record earlier albums (particularly in instances where the original already has a degree of recognition), thankfully here the end result maintains the mood and spirit of the original.  In fact if I was not aware that this was a re-recording, perhaps I would have taken this as a heavily polished ‘remastered’ version rather than a re-recording. On the production front the biggest difference to note is that the general murkiness of the original has been removed in favor of clarity, volume and a separation of its sonic elements. This has created a sweepingly atmospheric sound where the foggy, distant and forlorn ambience of the original remains at its core, but the sound is cleaner and elevated in production terms (as is particularly the case with the sharp and pounding oil barrel percussive elements). The music ranges from brooding sub-orchestral movements to rousing percussive industrial oil barrel attacks; the lineage and comparison to early Laibach or Test Department looms large, but in the case of Militia they thankfully never succumbed to using cheesy electronic/dance elements. Yet even with such comparisons, in 2017 it is clear that Militia have made their mark on this percussive and sub-orchestral driven approach, and can also stand proud in not deviating from their core approach and thematic intent over the years.

Where New European Order excels (be it in this or its original form) is in its juxtaposition of brooding soundscapes and driving metallic percussive pieces, where the pieces of brooding ambience set a solemn tone which functions to amplify the mood of the heavily percussive and driving industrial tracks. A variety of samples (some entirely new) are then scattered throughout the album, and when combined with the inclusion of a number of vocal-led tracks, the underpinning ideology of a socialist position and anarchist worldview is more clearly articulated, given the samples and vocals on the original version were mostly buried in the mix and partially indecipherable as a result. The track listing is noted to be almost identical to the original, with only a slight adjustment to track order on the first disc, whereas the title track is featured as a completely different version.

Although in revisiting this album after many, many years (both the original recording and this new version), rather than finding the re-recordings a jarring or off-putting experience, they are adequately faithful and respectful to the original recording, while having more than ample differences to make it an enjoyable standalone experience.  With a clean and slickly designed six panel digi-pack sleeve and the added inclusion of lyrics, this new version is very much worth checking out – be it as an older fan revisiting this new version of the album, or as a new listener checking out the album (and perhaps the group) for the first time. Recommended.

Satanismo Calibrio 9 – Kymah Rising

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Satanismo Calibrio 9 – Kymah Rising CD Old Europa Café 2016

The Italian based Satanismo Calibrio 9 are one of those projects I have been aware of by name, but have not previously heard until now.  Likewise given they have issued just short of 30 releases in their 10 years of activity, this means I don’t have a specific frame of reference to how ‘Kymah Rising’ compares, so have to review it ‘as is’.

Evidently ‘Kymah Rising’ is final release in the ‘Rising Trilogy’ and has been issued on the long running and respected Italian Old Europa Café.  This is their 12th release on the label and clearly fits within a ritual industrial/ dark ambient classification.  But by forgoing potential harder and harsher ‘industrial elements’, it is the organic ritual ambient elements on ‘Kymah Rising’ that allows to fit alongside the sound associated with the Finnish Aural Hypnox label.  Equally this then sets itself apart from its central and prominent use of layer vocals (male and female chants, screams, whispers etc.) which themselves function with obvious invocation based intent.

6 tracks in total feature, and by spanning 6 to 11 minutes each it is indicative of its sprawling catacomb oriented mood.  Echo and reverb play a key role in generating a murky droning atmosphere, where other ritual percussion, random thumbs and general industrial wasteland sonics bulk out the sound.  ‘Maha Kymah’ is an atmospheric standout with its thick drones, elongated chants and bass rumbling mass, whereas ‘Drifting in Perdition’ is less sonically weighty by use of its mid-toned drones.  Based on personal preferences, perhaps the vocals are too prominent and centrally focused for my liking, which tends to take away from the meditative aspects of the of the music (…I do acknowledge this as being a personal point of view rather than specific criticism).  ‘Rapture In Scorpio’ is one such vocal heavy example, however other pieces such as the title track ‘Kymah Rising’ strikes an appropriate balance between its sonic backing and understanding, chanted and whispered vocals.

Aimed squarely at a ritual focused industrial/ dark ambient sound, Satanismo Calibrio 9 have utilised a range of genre staples and twisted them into a sound which is not derivative of other similar projects or themed material.  No doubt the specific ritual aspects of this will be of further interest to those more versed in such matters, but I am afraid I am not one of them so can’t comment further.