Con-Dom – How Welcome Is Death To I Who Have Nothing More To Do But Die

Con-Dom – How Welcome Is Death To I Who Have Nothing More To Do But Die 2LP Tesco Organisation 2016

It has to be acknowledged that the approaching this review was a completely daunting task, and consequently it has been a long time in planning due to the magnitude of doing it adequate justice.  This is Con-Dom after all, being 15 long years since 2001’s magnum opus Colour Of A Man’s Skin vinyl set.  While Mike Dando has always used the Con-Dom moniker to explore all manner of manifestations of power and control (…and domination), on this album the thematic focus has turned inwards to something far more personal, which immediately sets it apart for the usual power electronics ‘arm’s length’ presentation and exploration of thematic concepts. To cut to the core of the album, How Welcome Is Death… is Mike’s reflection on his own mother’s death; his feelings and experience during the process; an exploration of euthanasia; and an observation of the institutional suffering resulting from how society addresses terminal illness. It also burrows deep into the question of what is the value of life where the quality of living is non-existent and particularly where the awareness of the individuals own circumstance has all but been lost to diseases such dementia.  To hammer home how personal the explorations of these questions would be to Mike, the cover and booklet features a series of unflinching photos of his mother Nora, which effectively illustrates her wasting away (…and as confronting as this is visually, it does not in any way feel voyeuristic). Musically speaking the material covers 3 sides of vinyl, with the 4th side featuring an etching of the Con-Dom ‘logo’ (…a crouching man, head bowed, but with bound wrists defiantly up-stretched).  Sonically the majority of the material on offer is subdued and more low-key by usual Con-Dom standards, thereby allowing its lyrics to be spoken and fully comprehended. The tracks are further augmented with dialogue samples and short snippets of what appear to be recordings of his own mother in nursing home or hospice, which then functions to illustrate the often banal context of the suffering of many at the end of their lives.

After a short introductory and sample of a rather twee ditty of a song celebrating the elderly (Grandad You’re Lovely (Silently Falling About), the upbeat mood is quickly obliterated by Living Death; a 13 minute track of invasive droning noise and double tracked, spoken vocals. Lyrically this is delivered from the first person perspective of Nora which charts both external observations and internal dialogue. Illustrating the descent into loss of bodily control and memory, it also includes some secondary lines of text which point accusations of financial embezzlement at Mike himself (…noting that paranoia is a symptom of dementia). After another short interlude piece, the title track then emerges are more typical of Con-Dom’s sound based around a thick wall of bulldozing analogue rumble, while the vocals are spoken in an authoritarian style, as if delivering proclamations from a pulpit (…although the style of delivery is the effective opposite of the message being articulated).  The following track Chocolates features an invasive throbbing bass rumble coupled with needling noise as the basis for Mike’s world weary reading out what is effectively amounts to a statement of intent of an unidentified person to commit suicide.  Lyrically it reveals an individual suffering from an incurable terminal illness, but who has the clear resolve to take their own life on their own terms before they were physically unable to do so. T4 is another lengthy track based on animated layered noise and vocal wails bleeding in and out of the mix, is coupled with a German language vocal sample which from details of the cover relates to a 1939 letter petition seeking a mercy killing for a mother suffering from Parkinson’s Disease (…although the track’s title of T4 also references a controversial Nazi era program involving forced involuntary euthanasia). Despite the subdued sonic tone of the bulk of the album, Just Fuckin’ Die stands out based on it hard and anthemic power electronics style of fractured loops and shuddering distortion, and the only vocals on the album which elevate to the trademark flanged aggressive barrage.  The fact that this track is even included on the album, with its brutal yet strangely maudlin lyrics, is testament to the blunt and unflinching honesty Mike has shown in exploration of its theme, no matter how unpalatable the expression of a personal internalised thought may seem when spoken out loud. Following this piece is Ending (Nora), a relatively calm track, being not much more than a cavernous rumbling mass, but with the inclusion of the incoherent mutterings, this may in fact be a recording of Nora’s dying moments (…the album finally concludes in the manner in which it starts with another short sample of a twee song again celebrating the elderly).

Without doubt How Welcome Is Death… is a searing and absolutely personal exploration of questions of the value of life in the face death and the manner in which people die in the modern age. As a result it is a thematically difficult album to experience and particularly more so for anyone who has experienced a similar process with the passing of a family member. Through this album Mike show how far ahead he is conceptually and highlights the human core of what he explores through the prism of Con-Dom.  Equally How Welcome Is Death… functions to hold a mirror up to the fallacy of the oft faux celebration of strength and the overt obsession with death that preoccupies so much of the post-industrial underground.  As articulated on this album it is not ‘at a distance’ detachment; this is raw human emotion; as lived and as experienced by Mike.  How Welcome Is Death… is a brave album in its brutal honesty and although matches the level achieved on a Colour Of A Man’s Skin, for the all the reasons set out above, stands separate and apart.

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Am Not – The Developing World

Am Not – The Developing World LP Tesco Organisation 2017

Based on the debut album Unpunished from 2015 (reviewed here), Am Not made a strong impact on the underground. Now two years on Tamon Miyakita returns with his follow up, but this time noting a move from the original home of Unrest Productions to Tesco Organisation.

Before providing commentary on the music, an analysis of the album’s art is warranted given the cover appears to be embedded with layered symbolism. To this end an observation to be made is that the main image showing Helios, the Greek Sun God, and based on Plato’s Republic Helios is the symbolic offspring of the idea of ‘goodness’. This image is then overlaid with a semi-transparent photo of a modern skyscraper, while the album’s title is designed backwards and can only be read properly in a mirror’s reflection. An interpretation of this combined symbolism could be as a comment on whether the principle of progress and subsequent global hegemony forms part of the greater ‘good’ of the evolution of society, or in fact should be regarded with caution by developing countries as a controlling corporate agenda with negative consequences (…although these observations may be completely off the mark and others interpretations may yield other interesting and divergent results).

To then the speak of the music, the element of surprise which was generated via Unpunished has given way to a degree of expectation for this new album. Upon first listens the same song based format and meticulous approach to the construction of the tracks is noted, but at the same time the sound palate is more varied and less sharp edged or clinical, but instead opting for a rougher and harsher tone in its blend of industrial and power electronics elements. The detached and strongly observational lyrics delivered in an apathetic or deadpan style are again a standout, although the vocals on album tracks Martyr’s Little Helper 1, Market Penetration and Beleaguered and Native II do rely on a heavily flanged treatment to excellent result. Likewise the guest vocals courtesy of Martin Wilford/ Shift on The Hunt differ by being a heady barrage of unbridled anger, functioning as another layer within the sonic framework of forceful cyclic drones, spitting static and pounding junk metal clatter. White Crimes is a particular album standout, being a contemplative piece of subdued rhythmic programming, squelching/ fluttering noise and sustained drones, as the vocals drive home its clear message within a understated but anthemic style. Perhaps then constituting the ‘hit song’ of the album, Home is a revelation, with its melodious organ drone, swaying rhythm and cyclic percussive beat and now trademark spoken vocals (…which is a thematic imagining of the People’s Republic of China welcoming Hong Kong back into the fold in 1997).

With this album Am Not clearly demonstrates a project which understands its context and linage, but has taken such a template to make an individual, forward thinking thematic approach. With a highly varied sound over its 10 tracks The Developing World is no mere retread of Unpunished, but builds upon what has come before to exceptional result. The LP version comes with a full colour A4 12 page booklet with graphics and all lyrics, and overall is clearly another high recommendation.

Ke/Hil – Syndrome / Antidrome

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Ke/Hil – Syndrome / Antidrome LP Tesco Organisation 2017

Following on from the excellent second album ‘Zone 0’ (reviewed here), the third Ke/Hil album ‘Syndrome / Antidrome’ has recently been issued (…recorded through 2016 and issued in the first month of 2017).  In then referencing the broad commentary of the first two albums regarding the failings of contemporary social engineering, there were also a variety of ‘clues’ presented in the artwork (…i.e. images, text and maps), which referenced the German city of Mannheim (…the original home town of at least one project member). On ‘Syndrome / Antidrome’ this established concept has been further expanded to focus on global urban trends – and to quote from the promo-blurb: “All indicators point in one direction. Starting at “Hellstation” towards “Zone 0”, passing buildings whose true purpose is less based on functionality than on degeneration. To degenerate the population, painting them pictures of would could but never will be. Concrete ravines, which are not made to live in, much more to delineate. The cries of the “Prekariat” drowned with the play and song of the theatres. A city as you find it everywhere, marked by the pleasures of the people, covered by wishful thinking, yet full of Babylonian arrogance”.  As for the musical content ‘Syndrome/ Antidrome’ is a colder and more clinical beast and more of an industrial soundscape style, thus perhaps slightly less immediate in impact when compared to heavy electronics focused ‘Zone O’. Yet equally the general sense of alienated despair remains steadfast, if not here being entirely amplified.

‘When Comes Such Another’ opens proceedings with a static hum and burrowing invasive drones, while a slow rhythmic thrum throbs beneath and sporadic mechanized voices swirl off in the distance. The following ‘Farmed Flesh’ then constitutes a disorientating assemblage of static fissures, wailing alarms, layered radio chatter and detached observational styled vocals, while ‘The Trite of Life’ follows a similar style but is slightly more subdued fashion. On  ‘My Soul Is Dead’ the excellent musical base features dynamic structures of buzzing static and stuttering mechanized loops, while W.Herich’s deadpan spoken and echo treated vocals are of note, given they broadly mirror those used on Genocide Organ’s ‘Conditio Humana’ from ‘In-Konflkts’. ‘Designed Poverty’ then features a tightly wound coil of slow grinding rhythmic throb and heavy bass reverb, while ‘Men to Drone’ with its treated ‘TV sports commentator’ samples, dour minor keyed synth layers, wonky rhythm and sermon like spoken vocals very much achieves a dystopian “big brother is watching” tone.

Given the noted shift away from a focused track orientated ‘heavy electronics’ sound (as was captured on ‘Zone 0’), ‘Syndrome / Antidrome’ sees Ke/Hil further diversifying their approach, without loosing the core essence of what can now be recognized from the project. Yet then seemingly in defiance of the muted material which precedes it, the final album track ‘Clear Sight On No Land’ explodes from the speakers with the most direct track of the album with wavering invasive tones, pounding atonal beats and driving/ grinding distortion to concludes the album on a hard and heavy note.  Despite this deviation, ‘Syndrome / Antidrome’ is an album focused on industrial soundscapes as a backdrop to deadpan lyrical observations of the greater ills, isolation and alienation of modern urban living.  In noting the general roughness in tone, the cold and clinical soundscapes are also meticulous constructed for sonic complexity, where a sporadic and off kilter chaotic edge is used for maximum unsettling effect. The overarching result is that ‘Syndrome / Antidrome’ is one of few albums that really nails that particular atmosphere of darkly hallucinogenic industrial which SPK first evoked on ‘Information Overload Unit’ some 36 years ago now (..and is clearly not a comparison to be made flippantly). Released in an addition of 500 vinyl copies (…2 marginally different covers of 250 each) and cassette edition, this is another mandatory release from the project.

Alfarmania / Proiekt Hat – Mardrömd Dödsström

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Alfarmania / Proiekt Hat  – Mardrömd Dödsström LP Tesco Organisation 2016

Following on from 2014’s excellent ‘Astral Slaktmask’ cassette (reviewed here), the premier paring of Swedish underground post-industrial and ‘post-mortem’ focused minds return with a new collaborative album (…recorded in 2015).  To then quickly reference the album’s presentation (…single LP sleeve with A5 double sided insert), it highlights the fallacy of the opinion of some that packaging and presentation means nothing given it is evidently “just about the music”. But with those with such a view, clearly they are missing the point when confronted with artwork such as this, given it absolutely sets the mood and tone before an single sound has bled from the speakers.

The first track ‘We Came To Kill’ leads off in high calibre fashion with a multifaceted assemblage of shuddering noise, atonal percussive thumps, wavering analogue filth and oscillating textures to paranoia inducing effect over its lurching 11 minute expanse. Without doubt an excellent start.  The following piece ‘For All Those Who Died: Endguldigkeit Des Dunkels’ is then not at all typical of the usual sound of either project given takes a ritual/ death industrial route of drawling chants, slow oil barrel beat, bass guitar throb and scattered metallic resonances. With a general stasis of overt momentum or variation, it evokes a sparse/ cavernous soundscape which is wholly unlike what you would usually expect from either project (…other than retaining a sense of rising dread which permeates proceedings).

Side B reveals more typical sounds from the project (…meaning ‘excellent’), featuring amorphous post industrial soundscapes of creaking metal, drawling noise and general dirge driven post-industrial soundscapes (…3 short tracks of 3 to 5 minutes each).  ‘Intern-Nationalist’ is a more direct and fierce sonic approach of forcefully drilling synth lines, crackling static and agonized wailing vocals, whereas ‘Friends In High Places’ is another album highlight of queasy oscillating/ droning textures and cascading junk metal tones.  The final album cut is ‘Eldförgängelsens Apostater: In I Intigheten’ which grinds onwards within a bass toned rut of filthy (subdued) noise and sporadic metallic crunch, which builds to weighty impact before the plug is pulled.

With only 5 tracks and a total of around 30 minutes of material this is a short and sharp album and clearly leaves me pining for more, but also makes every moment count with simply no weak of substandard material within its short play time. With only 300 copies this will no remain available for long.

Isomer – Three Kestrels

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Isomer – Three Kestrels LP Tesco Organisation 2016

Over a span of 15 years David Tonkin aka Isomer has generated quite varied output within the broader post-industrial underground, which has resulted from a shift in the methods of recording and production.  Of the greatest influence in the process has been the move away from the use of computers during the early days, towards the current era relying on analogue synths and individually generated sonic inputs (noise equipment, found sounds etc). Noting also that Isomer was silent between 2011 and 2015, during this period David focused on his side project Rope Society, which saw him expanded his sonic palate to rougher industrial/ junk metal/ noise, which in part has now bled back into his main project.

To talk of the new album ‘Three Kestrels’ comes 5 years on from the ‘Nil By Mouth’ EP, which itself was released to coincide with a live performance at a Tesco Organisation related festival in Germany at the time.  Given this EP included heavy inspiration from and homage to a ‘German’ power electronics sound, ‘Three Kestrels’ is a logical continuation of that sound, but perhaps oriented along a more restrained and stalking approach which also draws upon elements of heavy electronics and death industrial styles.  From this perspective the opening cut ‘Mourn’ is an excellent example of a sound which sits at a midpoint between such genres traits, featuring rough elongated drones and crumbling industrial noise with a melancholic edge, where the treated vocals are also a standout element.  The following ‘No Reply’ is slightly more in a ‘classic’ power electronics vein which mixes a queasy/ throbbing synth and rough squalling distortion, where the utilised dialogue samples counterpoints the track’s title against the apparent faithful issuing their prayers.  Then in shifting gears down a notch, ‘Basic Terrain Data’ encompasses a death industrial tone of associating drones and bass throbbing rhythms and micro-tonal textures as the dialogue samples articulates scenarios of societal unrest and violence.  ‘Gods and Men’ rounds out Side A with a solid example of crude industrial rumble and static featuring a thick, bass driven morass and junk metal clatter/ barked vocals.  

Moving on to Side B, ‘Induction’ reminds of the stasis based approach of Proiekt Hat, where the repetitive throbbing loops and rumble sets the scene for a prison based dialogue sample which outlines various systems and processes within within a prison complex, yet ultimately functions to outline a nightmare of banal incarcerated boredom.  Yet even with this implied negativity, the track manages to engender a ray of hope through a lone voice advising that there is nothing wrong with feeling suicidal, but not to give up as you never know how far away success is.  With its sustained drone, modulating textures and dour melody ‘730’ feels as if a bridging piece to the concluding title track which is another clear standout to these ears (as with the album opener).  Framed around a base a modulating synth rumbles, the distant and distortion scarred roared vocals (although unintelligible) articles a strong and emotive edge, with their emotional impact further increased through the sustained, minor keyed melody cutting a strong melancholic tone.

In a discographic sense ‘Three Kestrels’ is perhaps David’s strongest and most well rounded release.  Likewise with its focus on rough heavy electronics and subdued power electronics, it is such that it sonically warrants and benefits from its vinyl pressing.  Apart from the greater bulk of material pushing towards a sharper and aggressive tones, it is of note that a mournful and melancholic thread underscores the album.  This more emotive edge seems to be clearly rooted in some significant personal upheavals David and his family have been working through during the period in which this album was recorded, which only adds to the depth and impact of its final result.   A great album.

Genocide Organ – Obituary of the Americas

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Genocide Organ – Obituary of the Americas LP Tesco Organisation 2016

It may have been a long time between drinks but if Genocide Organ have proven anything by now, it is that each new album is honed to razor sharpness before being disseminated to the masses.  To put this in context it has been 5 years since 2011’s ‘Under-Kontrakt’, where for comparative sake I was recently I was asked to review an album from project which has issued over 70 releases in the same time span.  Clearly with the later scenario, it is nigh on impossible get a proper handle on a project with that many releases, so apart from raising question of quality control, surely too many releases also results in the dilution of artistic intent and impact?  One group who have never function in this capacity is Genocide Organ, having issued a mere 9 main album releases in their now 30 year career – and each album is a monolithic statement of artistic intent which still maintains impact and influence today (…if I were a recording artist, I know that creative path I would seek to travel).

Back when I reviewed ‘Under-Kontrakt’ (reviewed here), I made comment about a reduction in aggression being: “akin to a nihilistic resignation of circumstance which can descend with age and the passing of years”. What this new album demonstrates is the subdued mood of ‘Under-Kontrakt’ was perhaps a temporary mindset, as ‘Obituary of the Americas’ is a ‘back to basics’ expression of aggression and anger, and whilst my cursory impression was it is a solid album, the directness of ‘Obituary of the Americas’ also felt like a partial side step.  However after returning to this album over the months since its release, I have now become accustomed to it in detail which has altered my initial impression.  Given many subtler elements went by unnoticed on initial listens, these have now come the fore and function to highlight the degree of complexity and refinement within its seemingly ‘straightforward’ framework.

Thematically this album directs a sharp focus on the socio-political landscape Latin America/ South America, which indecently has captured the attention of the group in the past.  Here the group displays full immersion into this overarching concept and focuses upon covert government operations for power and control (including the corruption and oppression it brings), along with themes of poverty, drug running and militia organizations, which have all shaped and influenced the region.  Noting that others have already made a detailed dissection of context and themes, it does not warrant repeating here (…refer to David Tonkin’s Heathen Harvest review here if interested), but its core sentiment is neatly conveyed by the slogan on the back of the cover which states: “If you are worthless in a region, you are worthless in all regions”.

The 8 album tracks extend to just over 40 minutes, and with each generally around 5-6 minutes in length, meaning each piece honed for maximum impact.  On face value the tracks are constructed around straight forward cyclic and looped structures, over which dialogue samples are laid.  But apart from the core elements there are also many more sub-strata details to provide depth and complexity.  The vocals are also a standout aspect of the album, which are diverse in both in sonic treatment and stylistic delivery.  Opening cut ‘Autodefensa’ hits hard with revving and downward cascading drones, elevating/ pulsing static noise, dialogue samples and scattered gunfire.  The apathetic distortion treated vocals feature prominently and are delivered in Spanish for added thematic weight (…I not sure if Wilhelm Herich already speaks Spanish, or if the lyrics were learnt for this track, but regardless, it demonstrates full dedicated to the theme even if the meaning of the words are missed by non Spanish speakers).  Another early standout is ‘I Don’t Wanna Die’ with its buzzing loops harsh fizzing static, which with the spoken vocals provides sense of urgency and desperation. ‘Escuela De Las Americas’ contains a slightly less direct tone with its lurching industrial loops, ‘Morse code’ static, and layered dialogue samples and spoken vocal sermon, and shows with apparent ease of how the group can execute and strong and well defined concept with absolute clarity, despite the abrasiveness of the sonic delivery.  The final pairing of track ‘Kaibil’ and ‘Todo Por La Patria’, are similar with their looped, throttling synths, grinding noise and stilled bass thuds grind onwards and function as the backing to centrally focused dialogue samples (but as these are in Spanish, the detailed meaning is lost – although the sentiment of its call for liberty and revolution is unmistakable).

To their credit Genocide Organ have never wavered from their own established agenda, and keep forging ahead based on their own drive and regardless of criticism (…or even praise for that matter). To think that they have been honing their craft for 3 decades and have not faltered along the way is yet further testament to their ongoing focus to their chosen mission. ‘Obituary of the Americas’ is another mandatory Genocide Organ release and 2016 highlight, and while the limited LP version may have already disappeared into both fanatics and collectors vaults, an unlimited CD edition remains as the obtainable version.

 

Ebola Disco / Rope Society Flies for Friends

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Ebola Disco / Rope Society Flies for Friends 12”ep Tesco Organisation 2015

Here is a new split EP which functions to provide some welcomed international attention and focus on two projects from Australian industrial underground, namely Ebola Disco and Rope Society.

Noting Ebola Disco are probably known to very few outside of the Australian underground, they have also been a relatively obscured project within Australia due to their sporadic releases and live performances over the years. In fact they are a group I have been aware of for many years, but only managed to listen to selected material more recently. By way of backstory, Ebola Disco were formed in around 1997 and features Matt Casey on vocals and Ben Taylor on noise equipment, having primarily played numerous live shows and managing only a mere few formal releases in the process. Ebola Disco lead off side A with the title track ‘Flies for Friends’ which is a long form track from 2008 and was recorded live in studio, which goes someway to explain the loose approach to its industrial soundscape meets power electronics abuse and differs substantially from the shorter, direct and all out aggressive chaotic noise attack of other Ebola Disco tracks. Spanning around 17 minutes ‘Flies for Friends’ is aggressive and unhinged, but also displaying a controlled approach to its ‘caveman’ styled power electronics. Starting off on a minimalist guise of scattered, buzzing frequencies (with the scarred vocals barely breaking through the static), the mood and tone is gradually elevated with throbbing pulsing analog synth manipulations. Later squelching ‘buzz saw’ frequencies, fluttering noise and processed spitting vocalisations gain prominence to elevate the track further. Yet in its final third it steps up again with an overblown mass of rumbling bass, swopping ‘helicopter blade’ distortion and choppy interjections of static; being an excellent build up and ending. All in all ‘Flies for Friends’ is the pinnacle recording I have heard from the group and certainly justifies a formal LP pressing.

On Side B, David Tonkin (aka Isomer) further flexes his industrial noise/ power electronics muscle as Rope Society, which has seen a handful of releases under this new project name in recent years. Two tracks are featured here and have a much greater focus on junk metal sound sources. ‘Rudimentary’ is the first track, with a solid dose of deep echoed metallic clatter and grinding atonal synth drones, which with a gradual upward trajectory and elevating force builds to chaotic bass rumblings. Distortion scarred vocalisations are also discernible but only as another sonic element, noting the track uses a gradual build up/ breakdown which is repeated a couple of times over the duration. Although ‘Rudimentary’s is a solid piece, ‘Traitor’ is the better of the two featuring queasy oscillating synths, controlled squalling feedback and apathetic spoken vocals with a slight distortion treatment. Sprawling out with a singular grinding focus, the atmosphere is a weighty one, which elevates to more crushing intensity in its later section, including the vocals increasing to a distorted roar.

The pairing of Ebola Disco and Rope Society for this release is a positive one given it represents a collective demonstration the often crude and loose yet clearly aggressive approach of the industrial projects operating on these shores. For the cover the packaging is slick and clean in its graphic design presentation, including selective spot varnishing, to round out an excellent feature on the Australian industrial noise/ power electronics underground.