Smell & Quim – Pushy Gothic Gnome Versus Charity Techno Gnome / Bulls Penis Soup

Smell & Quim – Pushy Gothic Gnome Versus Charity Techno Gnome CD Chondritic Sound 2020

Smell & Quim – Bulls Penis Soup CD Total Black 2021

The longstanding English group Smell & Quim has always held a special place in the underground based on their uniquely bizarre, nasty, and twisted oddball noise. Here we have two recent CD reissues from the group. The first is a remastered version of an ultra-limited tape from 1998 (Pushy Gothic Gnome Versus Charity Techno Gnome). The second is a current-era recording (Bulls Penis Soup), originally issued on an 11” lathe EP, now reissued on CD with an additional 30 minutes of material.

Pushy Gothic Gnome Versus Charity Techno Gnome is a two-track affair, both untitled and both nearing 30 minutes in length. The first track plays out as an elongated abstract ritual-industrial-noise affair, but the high-pitched treated vocals (emulating that of a gnome?!) and the tinkling of child’s toy instruments make for a wacky effect. The murky and echoed track lurches slowly forwards, with loose rhythmic elements, random funky bass lines, radio frequency distortion, and some general chaotic clatter thrown in for disorienting impact. The second track features more intensely layered soundscape murk, including cascading and crumble tones, creaking metal, more radio frequency static, and all manner of other random sonic junk thrown in for good measure. There is definite flow and elevation of intensity as the track slowly surges forward, but from mid-track a throbbing rhythm and hollowed-out tone is introduced which comes to characterise the back half of the track. Being an example of solidly murky industrial noise of a darker vein, with little in the way of humorous relief. As a final comment on the reissue, extra ‘WTF’ points are given for the cover image showing a gnome wearing an Amish hat and Grey Wolves t-shirt.

Jumping forwards some 23 years to Bull Penis Soup, not much has changed in the Smell & Quim camp and time has not wearied their approach to blending smutty humour with free-form noise. But of immediate note is the actual recordings themselves, which are clearer and louder, amplifying the loose sonic chaos, and highlighting a shorter and more direct approach to composing distinct tracks. Loose noise outbursts and repeated vocal lines of the opening track I Couldn’t Shoot My Muck quickly gives way to the free-form title track based on free-form kit drumming and erupting sonic commotion. The brilliantly titled I’ll Kick Your Fucking Cock Off is chaotic bliss, featuring an incessant fire alarm, interjecting vocals, and the random passage of a militant snare while someone chants: “NONCE – NONCE – NONCE – NONCE”. Bizarrely great. We Will Fuck You In The Arse follows and is another excellent cut of militant-tinged rhythm and choppy noise, complemented with a lyrical monologue revolving around the premise that Smell & Quim are indeed: ‘an arse fucking band. We fuck arses’ (and includes the specific namechecking of current members each being ‘arse fuckers’ – including more recent member Kate Fear). Another piece of bizarre brilliance. Mouth To Cock Resuscitation is perhaps where the Smell & Quim train careens off the tracks for me, as the rudimentary disco beat is a (ahem) flaccid accompaniment to the fierce needling noise – or could this be an intentional snide nod to late-era Consumer Electronics?! Who knows?! There are two extra bonus tracks. Filthy Cunts functions more as a free-form workout of blown-out noise and semi-buried tribal percussive thrum. The final track is Once Upon A Time in Memphis: a mellow instrumental drum kit-driven percussive piece that gives way to a rising tide of panned pulsing noise.

It is perhaps an obvious statement that Smell & Quim are an acquired taste, appealing to those who like their noise dark yet humorously bizarre, thus these CDs clearly sate the appetite for more of their special brand of underground industrial noise weirdness. While neither release is better than the other, and each has its own character and charm, you will already know if these are to your taste.

Heretic Grail – A World Without Order

Heretic Grail – A World Without Order MC Total Black 2021

Here we have a project that has been rather active in the last few years, but which is also couched in a reasonable amount of obscurity. Having then only been able to track down a couple of their releases to date, A World Without Order is the latest three tracks tape (billed as a ‘demo’), which delivers a bludgeoning and no-frills power electronics attack.

In quickly getting to the point the tape reveals static fried dive-bombing distortion is coupled with muted synth lines, squelching electronics and a caustic vocal barrage. This combined into relatively simple structures, but which are also delivered with control and intent. Likewise, with melodious oscillations providing for song-oriented structures, these are balanced with static and noise to provide an unhinged edge to match the intensity of the distortion-drenched vocals which are unintelligibly strained in their delivery.

With three short discrete tracks (two on side A and one on Side B), A World Without Order whets the appetite but is not long enough to properly satisfy hunger. Regardless, this is a tasty morsel for the time it sticks around.

Human Larvae – Fever Dreams

Human Larvae – Fever Dreams MC Total Black 2021

Thankfully the Covid pandemic has had some benefits, demonstrated by the fact Fever Dreams was recorded in Berlin during lockdown in March, 2020, and now issued a year later on the Berlin based Total Black label. Ten tracks in all make up this album length tape.

Following on from the 2020 tape Methods of Submission II, that earlier release was characterised by overt sonic and thematic nastiness, whereas this new tape notably differs by arcing back to more considered and controlled power electronics compositions of earlier material. This is immediately evident on opening track Childhood Monsters, framed around morosely laboured loops, upfront microtonal contact mic noise, creaking metallic tones and buried dialog samples. Grunting Sweat then leaps into more quintessential power-electronics territory with its queasy two note synth drone, yet the myriad of other atypical and quite unidentifiably looped elements gives it a distinct edge. Black Tentacles arrives as the first vocal lead track, based around a harsh barrage crumbling distortion and wailing sirens, and when the vocals roar into frame, they are seething in their delivery and sonic treatment. The Beast Of The Sea further deviates into experimental spheres, which appears to be a track based around garbled and sonically manipulated vocalisations. And When The End Comes is the final track on Side A, and as soon as the vocals appear they are immediately recognisable as those of Martin Bladh of IRM. Likewise the backtracking track itself functions as a decent approximation of IRM’s later era sound fed through a Human Larvae filter, where IRM’s track Sebastian certainly comes to mind given the use of a ringing piano note here.

Side B brings a further five tracks. The instrumental Visions Of Gomorrha bring a slow churning tonal mass, distant siren wails and basic rhythmic elements, whiled Stained Mattress ups the mood based on the simple construction of urgent mid-paced loops and gruff vocal barrage. Rust Fills Our Lungs forms a loose collection of windblown field recordings and upfront scrabbling metallic tones, and is followed by another vocal lead track Charred Remains Of Her. Here the track is framed around minimalist cinematic melodious drones before a bombarding loop and unhinged vocals bring the sonic violence. Final track Eternal Dreams, Sweet Amber forms a moody instrumental conclusion with dour minimalist synth line and sustained unobtrusive static.

As an overall observation Fever Dreams completely nails what I most appreciate about Human Larvae, given it is hard and harsh when it needs to be, yet also is meticulously structured and composed. Also given the presentation of ten individual tracks, it means a significant amount of sonic territory is explored. Packaging wise the chrome tape is housed in an oversized cardboard box, with four double sided collage and lyrics adorned inserts. Limited to 100 and already long sold out as I understand it. Worth tracking down if you can.

Serration – Rites Of Flesh

Serration – Rites Of Flesh LP Cloister Recordings / Total Black 2021

With the mixed formats of releases these days I can’t quite keep up with what is deemed as an ‘album’ or other miscellaneous item. Thus while Rites Of Flesh is Serration’s ninth release, it is self-classified as debut full-length album, so who am I to argue with that? But to talk of recent years, Serration have been building a well-deserved following with their ‘military-industrial complex’ focused take on a heavy electronics sound, meaning this new recording has arrived with anticipation.

As a general observation Rites Of Flesh builds on a recognisable template of the project. So it could be said that rather than flipping the script, here it demonstrates more minor tweaks and refinements to the established approach. This then relates to the detail and general pacing of the tracks and well as dialling down of the overtly aggressive elements. Likewise, with only five tracks featured (the shortest is five minutes, and the longest at ten), it allows each piece to find its brooding pace and explore tone in a controlled and unhurried manner, such as displayed on opening cut War On the Ground. This is followed by an early highlight The Failed Counter Insurgency, with looped Arabic prayer chant set against a swamping tide of thick throbbing synth layers, while later on the distortion drenched vocals take to the fore. The title track also charts a minimal yet menacing furrow, which then steps up into a swirling miasma of mid toned drones and aquatic squelch on Fools Of The Land. The final album track We Kill Your Man take brooding restraint to it logical conclusion, while the hefty distorted vocals pack an impact when they soar over the low toned bass drones, and sustained high-pitched needling element.

In an overarching sense the general mood of Rites Of Flesh is one of controlled restraint, yet maintaining a tensile ambience remaining throughout, while the heavily treated vocals are the most on edge and urgent element on display. Ultimately Rites Of Flesh is an expertly crafted and honed album, and well worthy of its vinyl pressing. So for those focusing only on the past classics of the genre, they are clearly missing the current highlights such as this. Limited to 200 copies on black wax and 100 on white, along with a double sided insert.

Death Kneel – Adaptive Emotional Use

Death Kneel Adaptive Emotional Use LP Total Black 2019

This album is my formal introduction to the works of Death Kneel, the project of Max Klebanoff. Seemingly active since 2014, 13 cassette releases have been issued in that time, but Adaptive Emotional Use is the first release on vinyl.

Stripped to the Ivory Core opens the album with detailed micro-tonal scrap metal and field recording tones, but ample depth in the mix and the separation of sounds makes for detailed and engaging listening. A brooding atonal synth rumble and looped conveyor belt provide slight momentum and structure, but mid-track the whole mood shifts into wondrously minimalist and melancholic synth melodies. The title track follows and continues with shimmering melodious synth elements, yet these are force-fed through sonic filters which changes their tonal quality to scattered and fractured. Later in the track a pounding industrial undercurrent appears while the sweeping maudlin sub-orchestral textures gain focus and prominence. In clear contrast to the controlled and moody elements which precede it, Trauma Martyr opts for a more direct expression, consisting of choppy cut-up static and chaotic junk metal noise, with a rumbling bass distortion undercurrent. Would Anyone Die For Me? features a moody piano melody, minimalist scrabbling textures, and fractured mid-toned synth elements, generating a mood of melancholy and restraint. For the final track Redemption Angel (Corpse Criteria) the harsh and choppy cascade of noise returns, sitting at the mid to lower tonal range and clearly based on layered and processed scrap metal abuse – yet midway in it coalesces into a mangled mass of sub-orchestral synths and shimmering, fragmented, mid-toned noise.

With its wildly divergent sound, but one which is clearly the result of detailed attention to the structure and composition of sonic elements, Adaptive Emotional Use could be filed alongside the likes of Puce Mary or Damien Dubrovnik, without necessarily sounding like either of those. With its clear attention to detail and the careful juxtaposing of harsh sounds against melodious elements, Death Kneel have delivered an evocative and artistic take on experimental industrial noise.

Herukrat ‎– Darkness Over Najaf / Junta Cadre ‎– The Red Detachment

Herukrat Darkness Over Najaf LP Total Black 2020

Junta Cadre The Red Detachment MC Total Black 2020

While I have not heard the handful of prior releases from Herukrat, Darkness Over Najaf comes six years after the last album in 2014. It is common practice for the post-industrial underground to play with ambiguity. Yet this is not the modus operandi of Herukrat: the project is used to strongly project Jackson Abdul-Salaam’s own worldview following his conversion to Islam in 2014. The liner notes further explain that the album is concerned with the 2003 US invasion of Iraq, as well as Abdul-Salaam’s personal relationship with Islam.

Blood In The Sand Of Sectarian Nights opens the album with an Islamic call to prayer, before bursts of gunfire that place the listener in the middle of urban guerrilla warfare, with a palpable sense of urgency. Soon after, these field recordings are blended with bristling and seething synth lines, while the angst-filled strained and echo-treated vocals partly remind one of the early works of IRM. Steps of Faith follows, a caustically direct track where a central wailing synth loop provides the structure around which scrap metal abuse and harsh noise are overlaid, and vocals bellowed. The title track rounds out Side A with a fierce and barely structured squalling mass of mid- to high-toned distortion and semi-buried dialogue chatter; the personal proclamations of the vocals are particularly rabid (“My God has saved me”). Al-Adiyat opens Side B and offers clear respite by pulling back on the overt sonic chaos; this is a moody ambient track based on a low drone as a backing to Islamic prayer chanting (although the final moments imply military intervention through a helicopter hovering overhead while US soldiers conduct what sounds like a stop and search operation). God Has Delivered Me arcs back to tensile sonics, here with a buzzing fast-paced oscillating loop and Arabic chatter, prior to the arrival of Jackson’s throat-shredding vocal barrage. The final track is March 20th, 2003 which leave no question as to its preoccupations. Being a soundscape track based around a variety of field recording samples and minimalist drone, it is the intermixing of air raid sirens, missile fire, distant explosions, and Islamic prayer calls that give this a tensile sense of being holed up in a city in Iraq as the US ground invasion is underway.

Both the artwork and text of the cover further flesh out the album’s focus, but even without this visual material a blind listen will illustrate how thematically strong this album is; the sonics are perfectly executed, swinging from fierce and bristling to brooding and understated. The album has been mastered by Grant Richardson and has been issued in an edition of 199 copies, and this has been a very rewarding introduction to the project.

In moving on to Junta Cadre, this is another project of Jackson Abdul-Salaam, but this project differs from Herukrat both sonically and thematically. In terms of theme, The Red Detachment focuses on China’s Communist revolution under the guiding hand of Mao Zedong, aka Chairman Mao, evidently following on from the same theme on the debut tape (which I missed).

With Junta Cadre there is less white-knuckled rage on display, rather a heavy electronics / brooding power electronics approach. This understated tone leaves the burrowing, oscillating, interweaving synth lines to generate the atmosphere of the tracks, occasionally underscored with elements of metallic resonance. Vocals are delivered in a spoken ‘manifesto proclamation’ style, and with slight echo treatment sit submerged within the middle of the mix. The tape’s theme is further fleshed out with documentary samples in both English and Chinese interspersed throughout.

Six tracks span the 30-minute tape. Each demonstrates clear focus and control in compositional approach, further showcase the sonically and conceptually strong material produced by Abdul-Salaam.

Serration – The Open Mouth Of Infinite Destruction / Force of Damnation

Serration The Open Mouth Of Infinite Destruction CD Chondritic Sounds 2020

Serration Force of Damnation MC Total Black 2020

Serration have been on a bit of a roll in recent years with a slew of releases since 2018. If you have heard any of Serration’s prior material, both of these new titles continue the established sound of brooding and militant industrial / heavy electronics.

Turning to The Open Mouth Of Infinite Destruction first, from the outset saturated synth lines waver and dive-bomb in intertwining unison, while the heavily processed vocals are sonically smeared to convey an urgent mood, despite being wholly unintelligible. Inexhaustible Conflict follows in a similar vein but takes a gradual step up with a wailing siren texture and catatonic underpinning beat. A.P.C. embodies yet more tensile militant atmospheres, being a soundscape rather than rhythm-driven; the vocals, subdued and spoken, are heavily processed. The Storm Of Ash And Steel stands apart with what sounds to be a looped synth line replicating an orchestral tone against a backdrop of seething invasive mid-toned drones, and echo-panned production, while the final track is a live recording of A.P.C. made in Chicago in March 2018. Being slightly more hollowed in tone than its studio counterpart, given the noted absence of crowd noise it is clear this material is a recording taken directly from the mixing desk (if it was not identified as a live recording, it would not be immediately apparent). At only 22 minutes long, this is a short and to-the-point release. The packaging is rounded out with a six-panel digipack on heavy card stock with cleanly designed visuals.

Force of Damnation delivers a further five new tracks, also spanning around 22 minutes of material. W.I.T.W opens the tape; immediately obvious is how the vocals have been pushed to the fore and are all the more powerful for it, blended with urban guerrilla battlefield type recordings and seething / brooding synth textures. March Of Lies makes great use of laboriously intertwining synth layers, radio chatter, and hefty processed vocals. Further vocal variation is evident on Survive_Comply where, with reduced sonic treatment for the most part, they are intelligible; the backing is relatively subdued mid- to higher-toned synth drones and Middle Eastern crowd chatter. The tape rounds out with Grease And Blood, another mid-toned mass of seething synths, sonically charred vocals, and urban warfare / machine gun chatter. For the physical presentation a cleanly designed cover rounds out a thus far consistent visual aesthetic for the group, in a limited edition of 125.

Although perhaps splitting hairs between these two releases, the production of Force of Damnation is wider in sonic scope given the separation of its tonal elements, while the mood is ever so slightly more subdued. Yet this is an extremely minor critique: both releases are high calibre and very worthy additions to Serration’s quickly expanding discography, highlighting why the group have been receiving so many positive accolades of late.

Himukalt – Sex Worker

Himukalt – Sex Worker MC Total Black 2019

The meteoric rise of Ester Kärkkäinen’s project Himukalt in underground circles continues, with this new tape the eighth release in three years. While that might seem like a lot of output in a short space of time, far from being shoddy or rushed, all releases to date have been careful composed and honed to razor sharpness.

In many ways this new release is a continuation of what has come before, and the opening cut is particularly impactful with its sharp and cutting noise hewn into rhythmic blasts, as the vocals are apathetically delivered from the background. But as the album progresses, a greater harrowing tension is revealed and becomes the characteristic element. Essentially this restraint has been employed to allow the multitude of female sex worker interview samples to take central prominence. The use of such first-person narrative of the interview subjects gives a strongly personal edge to the tracks and is particularly affecting on the later track Cold and Empty, where the subtle backing sound embodies a low humming drone of creeping dread. Likewise, the low industrial throb and distortion-smeared vocals of Transactional are the effective embodiment of building tension, which also ruptures in moments of ecstatic release. The final of the eight tracks, No Safe Distance, rounds out the tape on an absolute high, based on a basic drum loop and another moody loop which are interrupted by jarring distortion slashes and cutting vocal barrages. Excellent stuff.

If you have not bothered checking out Himukalt to date, that situation should clearly be rectified. Sex Worker is as good a place as any to become better acquainted, but you pretty much can’t go wrong with any of the other releases either. Recommended.