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.

Hal Hutchinson – Cold Industrial Experience

Hal Hutchinson – Cold Industrial Experience CD Freak Animal 2022

Although I have heard only select releases in Hal’s extensive discography, I have the impression that typically his solo material is of a harsh noise scrap metal type. Cold Industrial Experience is the latest full-length, evidently ‘assembled’ in 2021.

Five tracks in all make up this instrumental industrial-noise album, and upon initial and subsequent listens I have been struck by how subdued and controlled it is overall. Clearly far less raw and brutal than other solo material I have heard, here the sonics have been hewn into a series of filthy industrial factory soundscapes, further structured around queasy wavering tones, monolithic loops, the slow semi-rhythmic beating of oil barrels, and controlled sheet metal abuse. This gives rise to a greater impression that a couple of tracks align with the later more subdued material of the Zyklon SS project – which speaks volumes of how the sonic timbre and the general industrial styled compositions appeal strongly to my stylistic preferences. The final album track Into Christ is perhaps the loosest on display, with heavy reverbed drenched catacomb rumble and sheet metal sonics. Although it does elevate to increased chaotic territory as the track progresses, even so, there is a ton of breathing space in the mix, and is far from being brick-walled and overloaded in production.

The six-panel digipack perfectly rounds out the visuals with impacts of black and white historic wartime images of twisted metal resulting from an obvious firestorm bombing campaign. An excellent album, but one which may catch harsh noise heads slightly by surprise.

S.E.T.I. – The Sphere Of Density

S.E.T.I. – The Sphere Of Density 2CD Zoharum 2020

Andrew Lagowski’s long-standing project continues to forge ahead with his now trademark deep space focused drone/dark ambient musings. For this recent release it features an album of new studio material, in addition to a live recording from the 2019 Wroclaw Industrial Festival.

For the studio material, it is characterised by galactic scale drifting drones, and with only five tracks spanning 114 minutes, it gives a clear hint at the slow pacing and evolution of The Sphere Of Density. Coupled with the monolithic widescreen drones are the tasteful use of sparsely melodious synths provide a hint of musicality and on occasion rise towards a tonal level which provides an oblique nod to the early Berlin school sound. Also of note, while the swelling melodious progressions are of a particular minor key scale, they are not overtly dark, rather contemplative and drifting in atmosphere. Sparse ‘alien-esque’ rhythmic phrases also appear on occasion but are subtle and unobtrusive while functionally adding an enigmatic mood. Yet the final track 11th Dimension stands out from the rest, with the inclusion of transmission signals and scattered radio chatter against a heavier and more forceful cosmic churn.

The live recording on the second disc was evidently based on improvisation and consequently differs from the studio material. Although the sonic undercurrent is still drone-ambient in flavour, the overall execution is slightly more post-industrial tinged, where tonal slashes, sonic shards and mechanised rhythmic whir variously interjects over the singular 40-minute span. The end result is both a sonically strong and enjoyable, but also mostly feels to be a bonus disc rather than equal half to the studio album.

Perhaps as an overall observation, Andrew has released pinnacle-level material for literally decades now, which makes it all the more difficult to stand out against his own discography. Yet sidestepping such a suggestion of Andrew needing to complete with himself, simply put The Sphere Of Density is yet another superb stellar sonic journey, where the vastness of deep space slowly unfurls within the inner mind’s eye. Six-panel digipack with exquisite graphic design rounds out the presentation of an excellent release.

Heart of Palm – Tropique Concrète: Collected

Heart of Palm – Tropique Concrète: Collected CD Difficult Interactions 2021

Knowing effectively nothing about this project it has been approached at face value, where the album title then gives a clear indication it involves musique concrète  experimentation. This is duly confirmed on the opening track Her Tears Shed In Paradises Grotto, which is based on field recordings of distant rumbling tropical thunder, lapping waves, sparse bird calls, and minimalist single note synth melody provides a forlorn yet dreamlike atmosphere. Elsewhere muted rhythmic metal clangs, looped field recording elements, and micro-tonal clatter provides a more ‘post-industrial’ vibe. Yet the overall tone and atmosphere is kept purposely subtle and moody thanks to the minimalist underpinning melodies, which on occasion includes a tropical-tinged guitar. Vocals also sporadically appear as an additional tonal element, but are treated with sonic smear which prevents interpretation, and which are further placed far off in the background of the mix for added obscurity.

As further alluded to by the album title, this release functions to collect material from a number of limited-edition tapes from 2016-2018 (plus 2021 bonus track), but notably it all hangs together strongly here as a standalone album of post-industrial inflected and darker toned musique concrète works. A six-panel pastel pink digi-pack adorned with suitable imagery provides further visual references to align with the coastal concept, which is then self-described as: ‘subconscious tropical concrète atmosphere & malaise’. The end result is a divergently intriguing album that is slightly left of centre of the usual type of material covered by Noise Receptor.

Himukalt – Between My Teeth LP & Septic

Himukalt – Between My Teeth LP Helen Scarsdale Agency ‎2021

Himukalt – Septic LP Malignant Records 2020

Straight off the mark, it is highlighted that Between My Teeth is not a new album from  Ester Kärkkäinen’s project Himukalt, rather is a welcomed vinyl reissue of a 2018 tape. Packaging is also immediately noteworthy given it comes with a full-sized 16-page booklet of Ester’s collage artwork, while the sonics have been duly given a remastered treatment. On the other hand Septic is one of Himukalt’s newer albums, and the second issued on Malignant Records.

Across the six cuts on Between My Teeth rudimentary yet fractured drum machine patterns eke out minimalist structures while spitting and fizzing fissures of distortion burst forth in chaotic and unexpected patterns. Vocals are then delivered in a laconic whispered to spoken style, but subject to further heavy echo and distortion smear treatment. I No Longer Belong is a particularly good track, based on a start/stop programmed rhythmic loop and cascading waves of bulldozing distortion, while the spoken vocals are relegated to the back of the mix. Mine, which opens Side B features a stilted and simplistic industrial techno thump, which is coupled with layered noise of jet engine proportions. In Every Stage Of This Oppression then offers a counter approach, with sustain tensile drones and spoken vocal passages which are obliterated with increasing jagged noise eruptions.

Septic does not significantly differ in approach, featuring a further five deep cuts of tonal angst. Although immediately notable is the sharpness and bulk of the recordings, as well as the power of the mastering (courtesy of Kris Lapke), where the whispered and low-spoken vocals have an immediate ‘upfront’ presence. Again the rudimentary drum machine patterns provide a basic structure to which static explosions and scrawled noise are framed. Yet with its layered mid-paced rhythmic loops, dive-bombing textures and sweeping noise The Drive Towards Oblivion charts a more straight down the power electronics sound than typical of the project, but the vocals bring an immediately recognisable tone. The title track opens Side B with a deep drone, low static loop, and spoken vocals, then using the tried-and-true method of slowly elevating intensity, which includes a stilted metallic oil barrel beat. The Gun In Her Mouth is the final track and feels to be the hit song of the album, based on its fast-paced programmed beat which when coupled with other looped elements gives it an anthemic type sway. A further sustained melodious synth line pushes the mood ever forwards, coupled with building static before peaking and collapsing at its conclusion.

To my mind, there is a thematic parallel to be drawn between the single-minded approach of Atrax Morgue and that of Himukalt. From Ester’s earliest cassette releases Himukalt arrived fully formed with a distinctly mature style and sound. Now that in excess of ten releases have been issued since 2016, there is a noted singularity of approach displayed across all of her releases, which is an element of consistency that also reminds of much of Atrax Morgue’s discography, despite the two projects sounding decidedly different. Given the sheer volume of material released in the underground these days, it is a difficult proposition to foster an individually recognisable approach and also to maintain an atmosphere of vitality over multiple releases. Yet both of these vinyl editions are equally strong testaments to Himukalt’s ability to do both with seeming ease.

Cent Ans De Solitude ‎– En Concert – El Diablo, Lille, France 29.11.14

Cent Ans De Solitude ‎– En Concert – El Diablo, Lille, France 29.11.14 LP Force Majeure 2020

Cent Ans De Solitude is a somewhat obscure French experimental noise-industrial project of Jean-Yves Millet who has been active since the mid 1980’s. Yet the obscurity is perhaps explained by the limited output from the project over the years, which has mostly on compilations rather than his own albums. To speak of one compilation contribution, the project notably was featured on the now cult classic Zyklon B cassette compilation from 1994 which was collated and assembled by Les Joyaux De La Princesse (LJDLP).

To then talk of this recent release, the visually striking Russian Constructivism-inspired cover artwork draws immediate attention, while the title denotes this album as being a live recording from 2014. La-Bas is the short intro piece based on dour melodious elements, shimmering noise and smatterings of muted vocal chatter opens the album, which later shifts off into a lengthy experimental noise passage of drone, bowed metal shrieks and sampled radio dialogue which encapsulates a moodily atmospheric and hollowed out tone. Given the live flowing format of the recording, it is not immediately clear where one track concludes the next commences, but the later half of Side A sees jagged and metallic tonality offset against a drone of increasing intensity, and by side’s end the tone has risen into a cavernously echoed cacophony of sound. Paysages Industriels opens Side B resets the sonic approach with melodious (piano?) loop and distant creaking junk metal tones. The next track Des Visages Et Des Ruines with its layers radio chatter, rising orchestral style synths, slow pounding martial beat and muted industrial noise reminds strongly of the martial industrial approach of LJDLP, which is a high compliment from these quarters. The Unacceptable Face Of Beauty follows and charts yet further stylistic territory with prominent looped orchestral elements taking focus prior to rhythmically percussive elements being introduced later in the track. Ailleurs is the final piece and reverts to tonal noise experimentalism of the first side, featuring shimmering drones, sampled dialogue and the shrieking of bowed sheet metal, while muted dour melody and heartbeat pulse appears late in the piece.

Of note, this live recording was first issued in 2019 on CD via Jean-Yves Millet’s own label Les Nouvelles Propagandes and now been given the vinyl treatment on ‘rust’ coloured wax, which is housed in full colour screen-printed, foldout sleeve. Despite being from a lesser-known artist within the post-industrial underground this is a wonderful discovery of highly varied and atmospheric experimental noise-industrial soundscapes. Very worthy of further investigation.

Cryptophasia – World Of Illusory, World Of Pain

Cryptophasia – World Of Illusory, World Of Pain LP Cloister Recordings 2021

Cryptophasia is an new American/ Russian duo, where the atypical imagery and design of the gatefold artwork, orange/gold vinyl pressing, and the translucent orange outer slip-sleeve provides a strong initial impression of this being different from typical underground fare. Likewise, despite having listen to this LP numerous times, there is an amorphous aspect to its sound and general sonic approach which defies easy genre classification within a broader post-industrial sound.

In general terms the album can be thought of in two sonics halves, where the track World of Illusory leads of Side A, which overall is moody and contemplative and of a sound and style of an earlier 80’s ritual industrial approach. As such vocal chants, filmic drones, organ melodies, muted horns, ritualised clatter, and wonky industrial textures abound, where the pacing is both slow and considered. Female spoken vocals also feature on I’m On The Inside, which are offset by a mid-toned droning loop and slowly repeated three note piano melody. As for the second sonic half, the lead off track on Side B is Word Of Pain and functions to indicate a more focused aggression displayed the back half of the album. Here the mood elevates towards a composed power electronics tone, where the ritual elements are paired back and the harder industrial textures and aggressive male vocals are brought to the fore. Condemn Me is a great example of this blends shuddering textures, queasy distortion, unintelligible dialogue and distant yet urgently yelled ‘megaphone’ vocals. As for the final track The Nightmare is a concluding highlight, which much like the album overall splits its sound between the moody ritual industrial approach with harder, aggressive and nauseating tones.

Although not an overly long album, given its variety of sonic ideas on display World Of Illusory, World Of Pain feels far longer than its relatively short runtime. Clearly rooted in post-industrial spheres, it draws equal influence from early ritual industrial soundscape experimentation as well as more modern power-electronics abrasion. But there is still a large individual streak at play here which makes this stand apart from many of its contemporaries, which is no easy feat within the current post-industrial underground.

Tone Generator & The Body Without Organs – Normalisation Of Response

Tone Generator & The Body Without Organs – Normalisation Of Response CD Inner City Uprising 2021

Tone Generator aka Dominic Guerin is a somewhat infamous key contributor to the early classic industrial/noise era of SPK (i.e. late 1970’s/early 1980’s). But apart from his sporadic involvement with another industrial group Last Dominion Lost, he has not been publicly active with music over the subsequent four decades. For this new project Dominic has teamed up with Scott Barnes (whom I am not familiar), while the experimental industrial tracks spanning 50 minutes have been recorded over the period of 2019/2020.

Each of the nine tracks function as standalone compositions, where wonky tripped out synths, convulsive rhythmic elements, squelching sonics and a general buzzing thrum abound, but also which evokes a darker hued atmospheric industrial/noise thread throughout. The overall production is specifically noteworthy given it is thick and forceful without being overblown or its tonal elements muddied through sonic overcrowding. The cover then provides short liner notes on each track to articulate specific conceptual underpinnings, but even so sonic appreciation of the album is not hampered without it.

Opening track Lost In Space (dedicated to the Soviet space program) features a deep space tonal drift, sweeping radiation tones and sparse radio voices, while Ballard of the BWO increases a wonky disorienting tone of sparse textures and generally unintelligible disembodied voices. Ne/H/il’s Back Room is the most obvious throwback to early SPK due to both its thematic content and the sampled rhythmic element (sample credited to James Pinker and originally featured on the track Day of Pigs from SPK’s second album Leichenschrei). Here the sampled and looped rhythmic beat has been welded onto a brooding industrial soundscape while Dominic narrates aspects of Ne/H/il’s personal sexual proclivities. The Wasteland stands then out substantially from the rest given the central focus on its fizzing and spitting mid-paced pulse, while treated vocals and a variety of other sonic smeared textures are relegated to the background. Flight of Ideas round out the album, being the longest track at eight minutes, which arcs off into various sonic directions over its course, given the choppy cut up dynamics keeps the sound ever shifting, yet retaining a general sense of forward pace and momentum.

If there was any question regarding the impact Tone Generator had on early SPK material (and specifically the Information Overload Unit album), this new material functions to significantly underline that fact. Yet far from being a mere retread of earlier sounds and sonic ideas, Normalisation of Response is playfully experimental without ever sounding dryly academic or forgoing its darker toned atmospherics. Consequently, Normalisation Of Response is an excellent album and comes with a very strong recommendation from these quarters.

Hypnosmord – Thurnemanimprovisationerna / The Thurneman Improvisations

Hypnosmord – Thurnemanimprovisationerna / The Thurneman Improvisations MC Hypnosmord Förlag / Styggelse Tapes / The AJNA Offensive 2021

As alluded to by the title, this tape is inspired by Sigvard Thurneman who was a somewhat obscure Swedish occultist, serial killer, and leader of the criminal-esoteric society ‘Den Magiska Cirkeln’ during the 1930s. There are various oddities associated with the case (more than can be explained here), that warrant further exploration for the interested. It is worth noting that this tape is a companion of sorts to a book just released in English by The Ajna Offensive, Manhunter: The Story of the Swedish Occultist and Serial Killer Thurneman. As for the project Hypnosmord, this seems to be a collective of musicians where the main performer Hans K. Styggelsen is aided by Gammalsjul, Sten Röse, Hector Meinhof, Brynolf Ledung, and Siegfried Holst. The recordings on this tape features two 30-minute compositions, which function as sinister improvisational piano movements for the shadowy twilight hours.

Although the liner notes indicate that the hour runtime contains five suites, the material flows together continuously on each side of the tape. The overall atmosphere is distant, obscure, and forlorn; slow moving, minor keyed piano melodies float through the twilight ether, and on occasion devolve into sections where the playing becomes mere sparse atonal stabs at the ivory keys. Apart from the piano element there are scant backing elements of what sounds like the crackling of a gramophone needle, creaking wood, echoed bass thuds, passages of Swedish spoken vocals, unintelligible mournful wailings, distant vaguely rhythmic elements, and a variety of other unidentifiable haunting tones with a sinister-edged musique concrete sound. When all of these aspects are brought together with the spacious and reverb-tinged keys, it evokes a vision of a grand piano being played in a crumbling abandoned mansion, where the psychic barrier between the waking and spirit world is slowly dissolving in response to the improvised musical evocations.

Being very much music for late night solo appreciation and deep contemplation, this is an excellent underground obscurity of sinister spectral music. Limited to a mere 141 copies, a double-sided multi-panel insert rounds out the visual presentation.

Hollow Men ‎– Burial of the Unheard

Hollow Men ‎– Burial of the Unheard MC Styggelse ‎2021

Hollow Men will perhaps not be a recognized name, but this is the precursor of Memorandum, the tribal death industrial project of Petter Marklund, who was also behind the cult but short-lived label Mechanik Cassettes. As Memorandum’s early releases are considered classics that were instrumental in establishing the late 80s and early 90s sound of Cold Meat Industry, it was with significant intrigue that I approached these complete Hollow Men recordings compiled from material dating from the mid 1980s.

From the outset it becomes apparent that the sound of Hollow Men differs from that of Memorandum, given it has forgone any tribal/rhythmic elements, and functions at a more obscure and rudimentary level of early Nordic industrial experimentation. This is also evidenced by the shorter length of tracks which are mostly a couple of minutes each, except for the final track which is eight minutes. In many ways the overall approach constitutes the early building blocks of a sound which would later evolve into a recognisable Swedish Death Industrial, albeit here at a less refined level. As such, soot-soaked and deep analogue tones feature as loosely constructed mechanized structures and slow-paced rhythmic movements, while the treated apathetic spoken vocals evoke a morbid tone. Coupled with these sonics are sampled elements of film/documentary dialogue, choral vocals etc. which blend in with the general sonic muck. The early pairing of tracks Our Souls and Do You Hear Them? stands out from the rest due to their minimalist synth sound, and despite its simplicity the pulsating rhythm and two-note melody used in both tracks has quite an odd charm. The final title track is also notable as an excellent death ambient track of muffled droning tonality coupled with a slow ‘train on the tracks’ rhythmic element during the first phase, which later morphs into a prototype death industrial sound in the final section.

Clearly Burial of the Unheard is an important archival release given its heritage and pedigree, providing early context for what would later come from the Swedish industrial underground. But more importantly it contains ample no-frills charm and a certain obscure factor that makes for very enjoyable listening (and therefore more than simply a release to be collected and filed away by archivists).