Kevlar – New Fears New Fights

Kevlar – New Fears New Fights LP Unrest Productions 2017

Since 2014 Kevlar have issued two full lengths and a cassette EP, with New Fears New Fights constituting their third full album. In then making a perhaps obvious comparison to earlier output, while I do like Kevlar’s prior albums (Alpha Strife and Criteria), at the same time I found they tended to not stay in rotation long in favour of other listening choices.  But it is from this perspective where New Fears New Fights standard apart, given there is an immediate sense of urgency, increased aggression and overt antagonism to this which elevates it to the next level.

To then comment on a projects within an industrial/ power electronics style, clearly there is no shame in reflecting inspiration, but this is also on the proviso that the end result needs to be more than a mere copyist project. Although direct comparisons can be drawn here to now classic elements from German and UK scenes (i.e. simple shuddering synth lines, layered loops, cascading distortion and antagonistic flanged vocals), with their focused and honed style Kevlar absolutely achieve a personal and most importantly a current take on this sound. 8 tracks feature on the album, with each spanning 4-6 minutes each, which should give an appreciation of the direct focus on display.

With a battle cry sample of “we must not be afraid to define our enemy”, Triumph Of Fear kicks in hard with driving loops buzzing distortion and crowd and alarm field recording adding to the overall tension. A great start.  With Power To Act feeling as if a lengthy bridging piece to the more focused Power Of Blade, with the later being a standout track of burrowing distortion, layered loops and flange treated if the attacking and antagonistic vocals which are mixed prominently upfront in the mix (…and which partly reminds of The Grey Wolves classic track Victory Through Violence). The title track then rounds out Side A with a stuttering rhythm, bulldozing drones and proclamation styled vocals. Another excellent track.  Mechanism opens Side B, and another example of simplicity creating fist pumping and blood boiling impact, achieved via urgent cascading loops, a general buzzing and queasy tonality (…and while a number of vocal samples are employed the main decipherable element is repeated word “incompatible”). Martyrs Crown with its brooding and atmospheric tone and looped method of construction reminds of German styled heavy electronics/ power electronics approach not too far from that of Ex.Order or early Anenzephalia. Despite is forceful tone, blown out oscillating noise and jagged tonal outbursts, Barbed Wire is entrenched with a morbid by aggressive tone to round out the album.

Based on Unrest Productions’ current roster, the label is shining a spotlight on the UK underground which from the outside looking in appears to be the strongest and most active underground scene currently operating, with Kevlar’s New Fears New Fights being a pinnacle example. Packaging wise the simple greyscale cover and insert features only basic information and functions to hammer home its direct impact. Although not reinventing the wheel Kevlar have issued an extremely impressive industrial/ power electronics LP and which is absolutely representative of the best of what the underground has to offer right now.

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Streicher – Global Gas Chamber / Totenrune – Bellum Internecinum

Streicher – Global Gas Chamber / Totenrune – Bellum Internecinum 10″ep Unrest Productions 2007

With the original edition of the tape being limited to a mere 100 copies (reviewed here), unsurprisingly it promptly sold out upon release. But given the quality of both project’s contributions and that it heralded the reactivation of the dormant Striecher, Unrest Productions quickly stepped up to ensure the tape did not languish in obscurity. For this new edition the vinyl has been pressed in a slightly less limited edition of 200 hand-numbered copies, and features elements of the original artwork but re-contextualised for the square format of the cover.

Sonically both tracks from Streicher and Totenrune sound fantastic on black wax, which it very much providing a suitable tonal depth and heavy analogue crunch.  There is also some small adjustments to the Streicher track, where a slightly different mix is featured and instead of an ending fade out, it abruptly cuts off with a heavy metallic thud (…like a monolithic iron door slamming shut).  The Streicher track is also an excellent example of how one’s own perception can colour the interpretation of presented material.  By way of example, when first listening to the cassette I took the pig squealing as a sample of a terrified animal being put to death, but rather amusingly I was later informed that it is actually a sample of pigs copulating! (…live and learn as they say).

There is not much more to say other than if the cassette passed you by, do not let the potential to pick up this new version slip through your grasp. Recommended.

Kontinent – Death Technologies

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Kontinent – Death Technologies LP Unrest Productions 2016

With Unrest Productions providing a platform for new and upcoming industrial/ power electronics projects, Kontinent is one such UK based act who have made a very strong impression with this.  Originally issued as a super limited cassette boxset (55 copies in early 2016), this has thankfully seen a quick repressing on heavy black wax in an edition of 150 copies.

The opening track ‘Angry Fix’ comes charging out the speakers with a cascading wall of layered distortion, queasy oscillating synth line and antagonistic vocals which is an excellent statement of intent.  From here as the album progresses it articulates a single mindedness to its sonic approach, where many tracks play out as variations of fierce burrowing distortion (…which are layered and looped into loose repeating structures), and further coupled with wavering synth lines and slow militant pounding beats.  Vocals also add to the blood boiling intensity with their gruff and agonized delivery and further processed with the perhaps obligatory distortion/ flange treatment (…but there are no qualms with this as they perfectly suit the music).  But to speak specifically of the deviating ‘Rainbow Family’, it is more subdued and soundscape oriented than anything else featured on the album, which in turn allows a prominent Jim Jones/ Jonestown sample to feature prominently (…although the Jonestown ‘mass suicide speech’ has been sampled previously by numerous others, it never fails to create a psychological impact when contemplating the capacity of an individual’s megalomania and the unyielding willingness of others to follow such an individual to their own demise).

Across the album there are moments which draw on classic hallmarks power electronics approach which positively reminds of the antagonism of the Grey Wolves, and perhaps also of the bulldozing ‘wall of distortion’ qualities of Wertham.  Yet even in making those comparisons, the sound here is perhaps louder and upfront (…as opposed to being murky and muffled like the others).  As such the sound production is sharp and fiercely loud, with an amped up and overblown sonic aesthetic to achieving bulk, force and presence.  Given ‘Death Technologies’ is unashamedly rooted in classic elements of industrial and power electronics, it has in the process delivered a focused and weighty debut album.

Shift – Ruminations / Uncodified – Maybe All Is Not Completed

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Shift – Ruminations 10”ep Unrest Productions 2016

Uncodified – Maybe All Is Not Completed CD Unrest Productions 2016

Shift’s ‘Ruminations’ ep was first issued in 2015 in an cassette edition of 100 copies on DumpsterScore, but in my estimation this was far too few copies given the quality of the release.  Luckily the project had the same view with it being reissued on vinyl via their ‘home’ label and in a larger edition of 205 copies.

Following on from the monumental ‘Altamont Rising’ album from 2014 ‘Ruminations’ features around 20 minutes of material over two lengthy untitled tracks. Noting that Shift’s sound has evolved over a number of releases to gradually step into more aggressive power electronics territory, ‘Ruminations’ continues this evolutionary process. So whilst Shift’s trademark laborious layering again forms the general approach, here the layering is also used for maximum dynamic impact.

Track 1 quickly beds down a number of loops to provide basic structure which set the scene (i.e. idling machines, slow metallic thumps, loop of a youth yelling something unintelligible etc.). But things REALLY kick in when the distortion flayed vocals arrive (mixed prominently upfront), followed by yet more sonic layers of what can only be described as ‘jet engine’ powered distortion. As such the layered elements are gradually added which slowly build the track to monumental proportions and then sustained for the remainder of the piece. Likewise with its multi-layered approach the sound is thick and loud where each layer is clearly balanced within the mix to create a colossal sound. Track 2 then side steps the direct power of the first side somewhat by being a touch more subdued, although the sound still maintains a crushingly heaviness. As such the piece is constructed around intertwining queasy ascending/ descending atonal analogue drones, coupled with a slow rhythmic thud whilst the roared/ distorted vocals sit more to the centre of the mix (…yes, another great track).

It seems Shift are really going from strength to strength which is evidenced by the gradual refinement and honing of their overall approach towards more aggressive power electronics realms. Although being characteristically of the sound which can be recognised as that of Shift, the increased urgency and aggression of these tracks really given it a more focused and direct impact. Thick vinyl pressing and double sided cover rounds out the physical packaging. Recommended.

Moving on to Uncodified, this solo project of Corrado Atlieri has been rather prolific since 2011 (19 releases and counting – with a number being splits or collaborations), with ‘Maybe All Is Not Complete’ the latest full length album.

8 tracks spanning 40 minutes are featured on the album which very much constitutes direct and clinically tinged industrial noise and ‘instrumental’ power electronics given the distinct lack of vocals.  Buzzing and burrowing mid-toned frequencies swarm alongside micro-tonal textures and further coupled with basic rhythmic structure and whipping static etc.  These varying elements are then assembled through layered mode of construction which provide further form and direction.  As such it is the sonic layering, tonal separation and the panning of sound between speakers which adds to the general complexity of the material on offer.  Although much of the sound is loud, sharp and in most part clinical, there is also a coarse underbelly of corrosive scrap metal racket and hollow tonality, of which ‘Deception’ and ‘Overhead’ are particularly excellent examples of this duality of sound.  The final track ‘The End Is Never One’ delivers quite a sonic surprise given it approaches ‘heavy electronics meets dark ambient’ territory, and with its melancholic drones and layered sweeping windswept textures it is a serene and contemplative conclusion to the album.

When compared to the last solo full length ‘Hardcore Methodology’ from 2014 (reviewed here), this new album has a far greater degree of focus and urgency, which has consequential elevated its sonic impact. A simple black and white 4 panel digi-pack rounds out a ‘no frills’ but expertly executed album, which very much suits and fits within the sound and attitude of the expanding Unrest Productions roster.

Zyklon SS – War of Terror

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Zyklon SS – War of Terror 7”ep Unrest Productions 2015

Following the amazing presentation of the debut cassette “Anti-Personnel Explosive Device” (i.e. tape housed in a large metal tin surrounded with broken glass and rusted nails), the intentionally antagonistic Zyklon SS have returned with their second release on a more standard 7” format. Continuing in much the same vein as the debut, this constitutes crude power electronics delivered via overblown junk metal attack.

‘Nation of Pig’ is the first track single track on side A which sonically functions on two levels. The first consists of a roughly hewn chaotic junk metal sound which is then underscored with a low pulsing/ wavering analogue synth tones to provide just enough hint of structure. On Side B ‘Anal Ripper’ is another rough junk metal driven track, but contains a touch more drive given its underpinning idling rhythm. ‘Slaves Give Birth to Slaves’ is the final of 3 tracks and the most subdued on display and by removing the focused junk metal attack it pushes more towards a classic PE sound of throbbing atonal analogue synths, subdued distortion manipulations and central speech sample of ‘questionable’ politics.

Noting the thematic ‘middle-finger’ antagonism on display and when coupled with its rough and crude approach there appears to be a heavy influence of Streicher at play. This impression is further evidenced by the track title ‘Anal Ripper’, which is assumed to be in homage to the name of Ulex Xane’s own studio.  So without necessarily being plagiarist in sonic approach, in their own way Zyklon SS are paying suitable homage to Streicher’s ongoing legacy. Through this release Zyklon SS again demonstrate they have an provocative attitude and approach, where will be interesting to see how the project develops on subsequent releases as part of their self-professed ongoing “war against moral remediation”.

Am Not – Unpunished

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Am Not – Unpunished CD Unrest Productions 2015

Up until recently I had only been peripherally aware of the unusually named Am Not, but this totally changed upon the release of the promo track/ video for ‘Dark Heart Katanga’ in late 2014. The video coupled with the music functioned as a singular and direct demonstration of one the strongest newcomers to the UK industrial/ power electronics scene, and apart from the music being absolutely on point the accompanying video demonstrated an extremely focused thematic approach. Based on this track alone ‘Unpunished’ was a release I was very much looking forward to and after hearing it following its recent release it does not disappoint.

‘The Unpunished’ opens the album with a solid blending of programmed elements, mixed with a heavy dose of junk metal sounds and swirling distortion. Vocals are then presented in a direct spoken style, being mixed up front for clarity and impact, with this piece squarely demonstrating Am Not being able to cultivate an individual sound within a broader power electronics/ industrial/ heavy electronics framework. ‘Beware The Black Peril’ follows and sits more squarely within anthem style of pounding pulsing structure and focused flanged vocals and also nails this sound perfectly. Revving drones and overblown metallic distortion infuse for ferocious impact on the instrumental ‘Archangel Drone’, which is followed by the exceptional ‘Dark Heart Katanga’ – a track driven by fast paced heavy artillery rhythms (of fist pumping proportions), further underscored with sustained organ dirge drones and slightly treated but completely audible spoken vocals to create 7 minutes of structured PE anthemic perfection. The rougher distortion mangled vocals and static charged metallic pounding rhythmic approach on ‘The Hate That Dare Not Speak its Name’ also function to highlight the sonic diversity of Am Not’s approach. After the short and direct choppy distortion squall of ‘Extremophilia’ the album concludes with ‘Folie A Deux’; another track of direct pounding intensity and rough yelled and flange treated vocals (which reminds somewhat of the short lived Swedish project Iron Justice).

Rather than being vague or ambiguous in intent, all lyrics are published on the 6 panel, cleanly designed digi-pack, and illustrate an interesting ‘colonial’ thematic angle which has been taken to common themes of political and societal control. With the expert blending of clean and clinical programmed elements with rougher and more chaotic sound sources, ‘Unpunished’ is infused with a direct and focused approach. Far from being a mere copyist project with their debut album Am Not have built upon the foundations of power electronics and industrial and have twisted them into a sound of their own. Recommended.

Shift – Altamont Rising

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Shift – Altamont Rising LP Unrest Productions / CD Cold Spring Records 2014

The solo helmed Shift have been steadily building their profile for a decade now and whilst the previous full length album ‘Bulk’ from 2009 received a fair degree of critical praise, ‘Altamont Rising’ further elevates Shift’s sound to a level which represents their magnum opus to date.  As with earlier material Shift has carved out a niche sound which inhabits the border regions between noise and power electronics, yet the sonic aggression and density on display here is monolithic even by Shift’s standards.

Utilising layered industrial noise filth and scathing junk metal clatter to produce a heavily drudging atmosphere, Shift’s approach is too structured nor chaotic enough to quality as pure noise, yet equally is more freeform and ‘soundscape’ oriented that than a typical power electronics ‘song’ approach.  Effectively Shift construct their compostions by bedding down layer upon layer of industrial clamour, where each layer also embodies a vague looped rhythmic structure.  Thus with the sonic layers complementing and competing for supremacy in equal measures, it provides a loose sense of structure to what otherwise could be a chaotic mass of sound.  Also with each composition effectively bleeding into the next, it only adds to atmosphere of enveloping moroseness, as the oppressive caustic distortion, buried samples, garbled radio chatter and sporadic anger infused vocals combine to gradually grind and crush the listeners psyche.

‘Circling Raptor’ opens the album with thick, heavy and laborious waves of distortion, which combine into a crushing mass of sound. This track then flows directly into the slightly more structured ‘They Don’t Suffer Enough’, which is characterised by crumbling layers of loosely rhythmic, low to mid-range industrial noise muck, prior to the introduction of the album’s first vocals which are distortion saturated and barked in full power electronics guise. One of the album’s most direct tracks is ‘Shelter’ which opens the second side of the LP with driving mid-paced distortion loops, sampled background crowd noise and fiercely oppressive and borderline unhinged vocal attack. This mood is pushed to even further extremes on ‘Rising’ with it’s the pulsing distortion, squealing noise and heavily flanged vocals. Yet notwithstanding the totality of its oppressiveness, the final album track ‘The Greatest Ecstasy’ finishes on a slightly differing tangent, mostly due to the vocals, which take the form of an intense whisper (with elongated method of lyrical pronunciation), as the multi-layered slab of cyclic rumbling industrial noise grinds incessantly to the album’s final vinyl groove.

The LP version of ‘Altamont Rising’ is limited to a mere 100 copies, issued on heavy weight vinyl and housed within a screen printed rough card stock cover with a couple of printed inserts, with a less limited CD version issued via Cold Spring Records. Through ‘Altamont Rising’, Shift have ascended to their full potential which was previously hinted at and achieved to varying degrees on prior releases. In shorter terms this impression could be expressed as: ‘Altamont Rising’ equals an absolute demonstration of Shift’s ascendancy.