Various Artists – Philosophy of a Knife

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Various Artists – Philosophy of a Knife CD Peripheral Records 2012

Being Peripheral Record’s first compilation this is evidently the first in a series, and whilst not containing an iron clad conceptual statement, themes of blades, medical procedures, vivisections etc are evident on a number of the artist’s compositions.  So without and further fanfare, here follows a brief track by track review of the eleven contributions:

  • White Walls are up first and present ‘Sacrificed’ – a seething and ominous death industrial track complete with medical atrocity focused dialogue sample, which results in a sound not too dissimilar to Steel Hook Prosthesis.  A great opening offering.
  • Brighter Death Now’s previously released ‘Kill Useless People’ is up next, being a squelching noise and mid paced rhythmic power electronics assault, complete with the obligatory misanthropic ranted vocals. This is Brighter Death Now – no more, no less, no further comment.
  • Staalkracht’s ‘Human Vivisection’ elects for an overblown, distortion driven and somewhat freeform industrial noise styled track, including wailing vocals being partially buried in the mix. In a word, chaotic.
  • Contagious Orgasm alternately opts for an experimental soundscape, where ‘Evidence Destruction’ is constructed with scraps of a melodious piano tune and voice samples, which then shifts into a pulsing electronic programmed segment.  Certainly very different to the bulk of the other contributions.
  • Bagman follow and appear to be very much of the new current crop of UK power electronics acts, where ‘The Hidden Blade’ is constructed with layered pulsing sonics, burrowing noise and distorted shredded vocals.  Hard and straightforward power electronics – and excellent for it.
  • IRM yet again demonstrate why they are held in such high regard with the presentation of their live track ‘order (Variation III)’.  This excellent live rendition is faithful to the studio counterpart, but notably the vocals are more harrowing and urgent, being yelled / screamed over an anxiety including bed of oscillating electronic and layered noise. Fantastic as expected.
  • Barrikad moves off into slightly more freeform territory with ‘Howls for Valerie Solanas: Confronting Misogynists’, which is a track of overblown junk metal abuse verging on a noise styled approach, with some minor elements of structure and vocals buried within the general cacophony.  Solid, but not entirely my thing.
  • Atrabilis Sunrise step up and stands out from preceding material on ‘The World is Full of Me’, which is evidently a live track.  Here the sound is sharp dry and clinical, with a throbbing rhythmic undercurrent and yelled / flanged vocals which brings to mind the power electronics style of early Haus Arafna.  Without doubt a standout composition.
  • Dry Greed’s offering comes in the form of ‘Nanking Safety Zone’, which is both noisy yet somehow hollow in tone and atmosphere, and with its overall grinding / sweeping timbre it reminds of the overblown mayhem of Propergol’s early albums. In other words good.
  • BrandKommando embraces an analogue industrial noise meets power electronics type style on their track ‘Unit 731’.  The composition is relatively loose in construction, which contains further medical atrocity documentary samples and wailing vocalisations, which if a comparison was to be made it partly reminds of mid era Grunt. Translate this again as meaning a good track.
  • Kristus Kut are the act to conclude the CD and delivers a weirdly experimental composition ‘The Call of the Mermaid’, which is based on cyclic drones (didgeridoo or sampled Tibetan throat singing?) and abstract micro-tonal scratching / scraping sounds etc, to create an unusual ritualised soundscape. Bizarre and almost slightly out of place of the CD.

Without labouring the point, if you’re not a fan of industrial noise, power electronics and related sounds this compilation will not alter your opinion of such genres – but this is not really the point.  Clearly this compilation knows its target audience and delivers a solid collection of tracks from both recognised and more obscure acts.  With a straight forward DVD styled packaging (limitation of 250 copies), obviously you will know if this is for you.

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Various Artists – Epicurean Escapism II

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Various Artists – Epicurean Escapism II CD/ DVD / Catalogue The Epicurian / Silken Tofu / Peripheral Records 2013

‘Epicurean Escapism II’ forms the multi-media companion release to the festival of the same name (held in Berlin on 15th June, 2013).  Noting this is the second festival release, when reflecting on the cassette/ DVD/ special packaging of the first compilation, this time around the format has been stepped up a notch to more comprehensively reflect the multi-media format of the festival.  Here the release incorporates elements of all artistic aspects including: reproductions of a selection of exhibited artworks, a CD of material contributed by performing acts and a DVD that reproduces the screened short experimental films.  These audio and visual elements have then been housed in an impeccably designed DVD sized fold out cardboard cover, highlighting that there have been no half measures when approaching this release.

To address the musical content first and noting the musical heritage of Ke/Hil, their heavily ominous and coldly nihilistic track is a great way to open the CD.  ‘Dark Germany’ amounts to an expertly crafted and dense layered composition of slow throbbing synths, swirling noise and distortion frayed vocals.  Anemone Tube follow and deliver a pair a solid tracks (‘Apocalyptic Fantasy’ and ‘Accumulations’), which both adhere a general pattern of invasive cyclic noise, looped metallic clattered, managed/ barely recognisable field recordings and understated melancholic droning synth elements.  Each of these tracks (again) displays the particular sound attributable to Anemone Tube, which as I have said before is testament to the mastery of his sonic craft.  Moving on to ‘Leprous Driver’, Post Scriptvm evoke more filmic composition imbedded with an atmosphere brooding menace, here consisting of a slab of crystalline dark ambience (aka droning syths, spares piano notes, and unobtrusively layered background tones/ noise).  Following next is the mighty Trepaneringsritualen, who contribute two tracks on the shorter side (3 to 5 minutes each). ‘Vanärat Är Ditt Namn’ takes to a rhythmic song based approach of a repetitive throbbing beat and yelled verse/ chorus/ verse type vocals, while ‘End of Flesh’ opts for slow ritual ambience, where a catatonic bass throb provides some sense of structure amongst the layers of swirling vocal invocations.  To round out the compilation Dieter Müh issues forth the hefty 20 minute composition ‘Bethlehem’, which is a highlight amongst highlights.  Here the track commences with a beautifully understated modern classical tone, with distant melancholic piano and abstract vocal sample cut ups.  However this fragile segment ultimately acts as the intro passage for the main bulk of the tracks which features a mid paced, tribally infused dark ambience, which in some ways reminds of the early works of Morthound.  To provide a final comment on the compilation, to my mind if the curation of such releases is not managed correctly they can either become frustratingly long due to the number of contributions and/ or suffer from submission of poor or second rate material.  Thankfully no such complaints exist here, as with a (mere) seven excellent tracks by five artists, it is an easily digestible and most importantly an engaging and enjoyable listen throughout.

For the DVD segment of this release, this consists of six short films by Mike Dando of Con-Dom, issued under the collective title ‘We Who Were Living Are Now Dying’.  Whilst not constituting new material from Con-Dom, the DVD sees the formal publication of six archival experimental films that Con-Dom produced between 1983 to 1994.  Here these short films effectively act as the visual counterpart to a number of Con-Dom’s heavy and harsh power electronics tracks, and whilst relatively crude and experimental in style, they consist of filmed footage and still images which are cut together as a sprawling visual collage.  Conceptually there are a range of themes at play including: belief, religion, sin, spirituality, suffering, religious ecstasy, pornography, masturbation, sexual ecstasy, medical deformities, birth, death, race, racial hatred, family, honour, authority, war atrocities, crime etc.  With its cut up collage technique the multiple utilised themes are presented for the viewer to analyse and pick apart in trying to stitch together the conceptual threads on display.   Visually the films are quite dark and textured and which suits the material well, while there is also a faint black line flicker moving through the visuals.  This later aspect could be due to the material being filmed on video, or otherwise as a result of the transfer to digital format from super 8 film – but either way this effect adds to the lo-fi grainy aesthetic of the films.  As with Con-Dom’s more recognised musical outputs, there is always a clear message at the core of Mike’s work even if it gets somewhat muddied by the brute force approach.  As such it is great to see that a similar approach is embodied within Con-Dom’s experimental films, where it will take time to analyse presented content.

For the last part of this release it has sought to in part document the group art exhibition displayed as part of the festival (which incidentally was curated by African Paper Magazine).  Contributing artists whose artworks were featured from Alex Tenningkeit, Andrew Liles, Carmen Burguess, Dennis Rudolph and Phillip Best, Rudolf Eb.er, and whilst each artist’s outputs vary wildly in materials, style and aesthetic output they do generally hinge on a darker and/ or subversive tangents.  Here a selection of the artists works are published in a 16 page full colour booklet, along with an essay by Uwe Schneider which outlines the concept of the festival and compilation and neatly ties together the various artist’s inputs.

Although in the first instance this release is a memento of the festival it seeks to document, with its meticulous execution and sheer quality of its content, Epicurean Escapism II transcends this mere documentary role, to become an exceptionally focused multi-media release.  Definitely worthy of detailed investigation and limited to a mere 350 copies.

Skull:Axis – The Transparent Society

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Skull:Axis – The Transparent Society CD Peripheral Records / Death Continues Records 2013

This relatively obscure new release comes from the creative mind of Jason Bernard – aka Peripheral Records head honcho – who via this album demonstrates he has more than just a label boss’s ear for quality and creative sounds.

From a cursory perusal of the album’s cover the thematic focus of ‘The Transparent Society’ is of central importance to the presented music, being summed up by the quote on the cover: “surveillance induced morality: relics of cultural retardation”.  Although not knowing the context of this quote, it could however be easily be interpreted as a scathing comment on the British Government’s well established obsession with attempting to monitor all pubic space through the installation of the ever expanding CCTV networks.

Regarding musical content the eight album tracks present a degree of continuity in sound and approach, meaning the album can be appreciated as a longer singular piece.  Whilst there is also an abstract approach to the structure of the tracks the material is in no way improvised as the meticulous approach to the composition can be clearly heard.  Accordingly the tone is very much focused on washes of muffled distortion, repetitive radio chatter, mid to higher pitched analog synth layers, clinical transmission pulses, arrhythmic metallic ‘clanks’ and ‘clangs’ and droning factory ambiences.  Ultimately ‘The Transparent Society’ is very much rooted in a ‘classic’ German industrial vein but with a definite experimental bent.  For a comparison maybe a less refined, abstract and vocal-less version of Anenzephalia would appropriately suit, whilst also highlighting the calibre of the presented material.

The visuals for the release also tie in nicely, where the xeroxed black and white imagery of outdated communications/ surveillance technology evokes a paranoid cold war type visual aesthetic.  Given the bleak claustrophobia inherent in the sound these accompanying visuals perfectly tie in with the music and theme.  With a ludicrously small pressing of 150 hopefully this album does not go unnoticed for it.

Anemone Tube / Dissecting Table – This Dismal World

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Anemone Tube / Dissecting Table – This Dismal World LP Peripheral Records 2013

‘This Dismal World’ is a split recording from the German Anemone Tube and the Japanese Dissecting Table which is conceptually inspired by Buddhist related themes.  To quote from the promo blurb it is: “a dark concept album about the ‘Four Nobel Truths’: suffering, it’s origin, cessation and the path leading away from suffering”.  This concept is also expanded upon with a printed insert which includes the lengthy written piece: ‘The Lotus Sutra Chapter Twenty Five: The Universal Gate of Bodhisattiva Kanzeon’ (which specifically ties in with Dissecting Table’s contribution).   Additionally the cover depicts Guanyin Bodhisattva aka the ‘Goddess of Compassion’ in the form of a 21-metre high bronze statue located in Longxing Monastery, Shijiazhuang.

Anemone Tube lead off and based on the sheer quality of their recent output (specifically referring to the ‘Death Over China’ album), it is great to see the new material is as equally stunningly here.  Effectively Anemone Tube’s style of taking various field recording elements and welding them into abstract industrial/ dark ambient soundscapes is fully on display here (the field recordings utilised here were evidently made in a Mausoleum and other locations in China).   Of the two presented Anemone Tube tracks they are slightly on the noisier side – and great for it.  ‘In The Mausoleum’ is digitally crisp, bass heavy and sweepingly evocative in its cyclic tone and perhaps reminiscent of earlier Inade.   Alternately the second track ‘From Anthropocentrism To Demonocentrism’ aligns more towards a power electronics structure, its sharp tonal squall and looped sampled elements is clearly recognisable as that of Anemone Tube.

Dissecting Table’s contribution ‘1000 tones’ is presented on the second side of the vinyl which forms a singular monolithic 20 minute composition.  Here the loose and chaotic track infuses stoic ritual percussion, clanging metallic elements, an abundance of noisy outbursts, chanting Buddhist monks (…presumably reciting the written tract from the Lotus Sutra), screamed quasi extreme metal vocals etc.  Here these disparate elements are loosely melded together to generate a heady dose of chaotic industrial madness – Dissecting Table style of course.  Although I may not be a massive Dissecting Table fan, objectively I can say the track is a heavy hitter and based on the above description you should know if it is suited to your listening preferences.

As a whole ‘This Dismal World’ delivers solid material from both projects, but from my perspective Anemone Tube’s tracks hit the high mark of the two.