Folkstorm – Folksongs

folkstorm

Folkstorm – Folksongs CD Old Europa Café 2011

Keeping up with the continual output of the hyper productive Henrik ‘Nordvargr’ Björkk is a rather monumental task, meaning on occasion certain albums slip under the radar at the time of release.  ‘Folkmusic’ is one such album, which although a couple of years old deserves some belated praise and attention.

To slightly backtrack, Folkstorm was laid to rest in the early 2000’s but did not stay dormant for long, with the 2005 album ‘Folkmusik’ heralding the return of the reanimated Folkstorm corpse.  ‘Folksongs’ is the third post resurrection album which delivers some of the most focused and streamlined harsh industrial musings produced by the project to date.  Notably the looser and (potentially) semi-improvised sound of earlier material has been overhauled here with ‘song’ based structures (…which evidently has been the result of experimenting with new musical equipment).

Over the 11 album tracks the refined ‘song’ based approach blends clinical industrial rhythms, militant drum machine beats, pulsing/ burrowing/ wavering noise, crumbling static, shredding distortion etc.  However with reference to the structured elements it is necessary to point out that the beats and rhythms are very much of the mechanised factory type, and are clearly not of an industrial dance variety.  Similarly with its hard and generally minimalistic programmed structures, complimented with vocals ranging from morbidly spoken through to roughly yelled (…all distortion treated mind you), it brings to mind comparisons to the early sound German stalwarts Haus Arafna (…a compliment no doubt).

Although the overall sound embodies an old school analogue type feel, the album has a brutally loud, crisp and sharp production which suits the harshness of the music perfectly. Likewise whilst ‘Folkmusic’ retains a core sonic aesthetic of aggressive harsh industrial, there are a number of tracks where it forgoes aggression for slower ominous death industrial atmospheres, meaning there is a wide degree of sonic diversity across its relatively short 40 minute span.

Noting that Nordvargr has never opted to create ‘easy’ listening music, Folkstorm is clearly a project which sits at the harder end of what he produces.  However even if you think you already know what Folkstorm is all about based on earlier output, you are likely to be rather surprised of how different ‘Folkmusic’ actually is.  Although the tracks are constructed with ‘typical’ harsh industrial elements of stilted rhythms, squelching noise, power drilling textures and an atmosphere of abrasive yet clinical morbidity, it is their focus and song structure which comes through so strongly and makes this an album with such immediate impact.

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Contagious Orgasm / Kadaver – A Tragedy Without A Border Line

K-CO

Contagious Orgasm / Kadaver – A Tragedy Without A Border Line CD Wrotycz Records 2011

Just so is stated up front, I will admit that I am not intimately familiar with the musical outputs of either of these contributing projects.  However I am at least aware that the Israeli project Kadaver works within a broad power electronics and death industrial sound, whilst the long active Contagious Orgasm from Japan has traversed many sounds across experimental, noise, industrial and ambient spheres over the last 25 years.

For this collaborative album, three lengthy tracks are presented spanning between 17 and 21 minutes each.  However in actuality the three tracks give the impression of being part of a singular and much larger album length piece, which spans aspects of experimental industrial, noise, and ambient.  Given the sprawling nature of the tracks the relatively loose and freeform nature of the compositions is openly displayed, which flow and evolve through multiple segments, rather than adhering to a more focused and composed structure.  As such some diverse sonic elements are utilised, ranging from flaying noise, micro-tonal field recordings, humming synth textures, spoken vocals samples, sampled and treated string quartet/ piano samples, pulsing distortion, hazy ambience and droning soundscapes etc.  Likewise with the loose combination elements it achieves a hallucinogenic aspect to the bizarrely tinged atmospheres.   Effectively the album’s success is in its ability to evokes a dreamlike state, where tracks veer from the intensively nightmarish to the outright weird without being jarring or disjointed.

With my lack of familiarity with both projects I can’t really say which aspects of this may lean towards each individual project, however this may be a moot point as this album has certainly been a surprising and unexpectedly challenging listen.  Given the ‘out there’ aspects, clearly this would be an album suited for the more sonically adventurous, rather than for those wanting their fix of a particular genre.

Sickness / John Wiese – Amnesia

Sickness: John Weise

Sickness / John Wiese – Amnesia 7”ep Freak Animal 2011

Although I am by no means an expert in noise appreciation, here we have a short and sharp studio collaboration 7” from two heavyweights in the noise genre.  Cut at 45rpm, four tracks are presented (two per side) ranging in length from 2 to 2.5 minutes.  This is supremely chaotic stuff, but not of a chaotic improvisational style, rather this is meticulously constructed and layered brutal noise, where the multiple layers and segmented cuts ups and individually audible within the sonic mass.

The first cut ‘Bright Region Xanadu’ is crisp and tonally heavy, with its full spectrum dynamic harsh noise including intense cut ups and avalanches of scattergun noise.  ‘Excise’ follows and has slightly more breathing room with a pulsing bass undercurrent acting as a base for driven harsh noise and interjecting distortion.  ‘Featherweight’ is slightly more freeform with its heavy tonal squalls and wretched crescendos of distortion, which although dense is sonically clear with an abundance of minute tonal detail.  Final track ‘Back to Xanadu’ feels slightly more ‘constructed’ due to its use of broken loops, yet random cut ups and metallic overloaded distortion keep things suitably chaotic.

Basically ‘Amnesia’ is a short, heavy, intense, no-frills and absolutely to the point 7”ep, highlighting the focus and dynamics that can be achieved with harsh noise, as well as the control of two artists who have honed their skills to razor sharp intensity over multiple years and releases. In a word – brutal.

Triangular Ascension – Leviathan Device

Triangular Ascension

Triangular Ascension – Leviathan Device CD Cyclic Law 2011

The Canadian label Cyclic Law has over the course of the last ten years slowly raised their profile to that of a leading light within the broad fields of dark ambient music.  During this process they have released established acts, built the profile of younger ones and launched the careers of others.  Triangular Ascension, a Venezuelan dark ambient project, is one such act that Cyclic Law have recently launched but I have only just picked up on.  However from a cursory listen it is absolutely clear as to why Cyclic Law signed Triangular Ascension to release ‘Leviathan Device’ as their debut (which I understand was submitted to the label as a demo).

Having listened to a substantial number of dark ambient albums over the past 17 years, there are few albums which have an immediacy such as this, i.e: being able to launch themselves into your psyche from the first listen and also to reveal new sonic elements on subsequent listens.  In general terms ‘Leviathan Device’ inhabits sweeping dark ambient territory, but rather than being murky and shadowed in scope, this is multileveled in its sonic clarity.  The tonal qualities include deep and stormy bass drones, galactic fog horns, melodic wailing textures, subtle rhythmic/ percussive elements and detailed textural noise at the higher ends.  In this regard the sound production is immaculate, achieving a crystalline sound where all elements are balanced and audible within the mix.  Yet rather than being floating, abstract and passive like many dark ambient acts, ‘Leviathan Device’ is an active and engaging listening experience.  Here a subtle rhythm undercurrent and cinematic quasi-orchestral melodies constitutes the engine which drives the overarching atmosphere of the album and provides a central focus throughout.  There is also a significant degree of  variation between the nine album tracks which interlink over an hour playtime. Some tracks are subdued, others forceful, but always the flow between pieces is impeccable, again raising the cinematic scope of the material.  Also whilst being clearly within a dark ambient style, this is not all doom and gloom as the use of slow droning melodic elements evokes a contemplative tone than anything particularly depressive.

Even if dark ambient fare is only of passing interest to you, do not ignore this act.  Triangular Ascension deliver meticulously detailed and animated dark ambience of the highest calibre, which highlights the pure folly on my part for not checking them out sooner.

Grunt – Someone is Watching / Europe After Storm

Someone is Watching

Europe After Storm

Grunt – Someone Is Watching CD Force Majeure 2011

Grunt – Europe After Storm CD Force Majeure / Industrial Recollections 2012

These two albums are not new, instead are re-releases from the lengthy Grunt back catalogue.  Incidentally the combined material was recorded in 1998 with ‘Europe After Storm’ also containing some live tracks from 1999.  Whilst both albums clearly sit within the European power electronics genre, here there seems to be a general reliance on oscillating synth textures for a basis of the sound.  This aspect effectively highlights a clear difference between older and newer material, as recent Grunt albums appear to focus on self produced and specifically recorded sounds (sheet metal, effects units, homemade noise apparatus etc.).

In its original version ‘Someone Is Watching’ was first issued on tape in 1998 and given its limitation of 128 copies it clearly warrants this less limited CD repress of 500 copies.  Likewise as is suggested by the title, the album’s concept focuses on CCTV / video surveillance and the associated control that a faceless authority seeks to impose by such technological means.  Album opener ‘Watch Your Back’ feature a prominent synth drone, a crumbling mass of distortion and high pitched processed vocals which sweep and pan trough the mix over the extended 9 minute length.  Definitely a great start and with the track being heavy and noisy but at the same time structured and loosely composed, it establishes the prevailing theme throughout the album.  Interestingly ‘You Can’t Hide’ is quite reminiscent of Propergol’s ‘Cleanshaven’ album, due to the prominent use of movie dialogue samples and subdued ominous atmosphere, yet as ‘Cleanshaven’ was also released in 1998, the question is who might have influenced who, or are the similarities a mere coincidence?  Towards the middle of the album ‘Secrets Of Technology’ takes a much looser approach and is particularly heavy with an overloaded noise productions and metallic clatter, with the distorted vocals barely being able to break though the sonic mass.  Regarding the concluding arc of the album, the final three tracks each contain a notable controlled sweeping noise aesthetic, which evokes a stalking and threatening type mood that certainly suits the album’s concept.

Moving onto ‘Europe After Storm’ it has a slightly more storied history as it was first issued as four track cassette in 1998, before being reissued on CD in 2001 with three additional studio tracks and four live tracks.  This version contains the same material from the 2001 CD release but is packaged here is a standard jewel-case.  Although from the same era, from the outset it is evident that ‘Europe After Storm’ differs from ‘Someone Is Watching’, given it sonically it is more brutal and less atmospheric as a result.   ‘Project Eden’ opens ‘Europe After Storm’ and descends with an assemblage of rough loops, drilling synth elements and heavily processed vocals and a building mass of distortion and random clatter.   On the other hand ‘N-Force’ uses a sustained synth drone to provide a somewhat filmic quality to a backdrop of modulated noise, which is soon crushed by the following track ‘Blood On Concrete’ with squalled noise layers and prominent anger filled power electronics vocals.  Alternately ‘Peacekeepers’ stylistically shifts the sound towards a death industrial tone, due the heavy droning synth line and distant noise and sampled dialogue, although the later half of the track does morph into a proper power electronics blizzard.  ‘Cleansweep’ rounds out the collection of studio tracks, which loosely knits together layers of pulsing noise, dialogue loops and chaotic vocals. Of the four live tracks, these conceptually fit the studio tracks (two studio tracks from ‘Europe After Storm’ feature in live version), but within the live context there is a looser and heavier presentation, including the vocals that come across as more prominent and forceful.  Sonically it seems the live tracks may involve the  use of a backing track (…I could be wrong on this point), which are augmented with live noise and vocals.  Yet either way the live tracks are a solid live representation of studio material.

Clearly both of these older Grunt albums contain strong and focused material, which differ slightly in sound and style consistent with their differing themes.  Likewise both albums have stood the test of time positively and can hold their own within the context the current crop of newer power electronics releases.  Yet when these earlier albums are compared to the current Grunt album ‘World Draped in A Camouflage’, it only emphasises how far Mikko Aspa has pushed his project and the levels of sophistication he has achieved within his chosen power electronics framework.

Anemone Tube – Death Over China

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Anemone Tube – Death Over China CD Topheth Prophet / Silken Tofu 2011

Although a 2011 release ‘Death Over China’ is the latest from Anemone Tube and an album I had read a number of very positive reviews about before checking this out myself.  This also constitutes the second release in a trilogy which commenced with the ‘Dream Landscape’ album from 2010.  Conceptually the album is focused on China and from an analysis of the track titles and various cover photos (included within the beautifully designed DVD sized ten panel cardboard fold out cover), it appears to be making conceptual commentary on the negative cultural and environmental impacts of rampant industrial development and progress experienced in China over recent decades.

At its most simplistic level the sound of ‘Death over China’ is very much one rooted in a sphere of dark ambient and heavy industrial, which edges towards power electronics territories during a couple of segments.  However such a statement effectively ignores the means of how this album was constructed and composed.  Interestingly the album’s liner notes states that all music was solely created by field recordings made by the artist during a trip to China in 2007 (specifically Nanjing and Shanghai), with additional synthesiser elements added to only two of the six album compositions.  This sort of dedicated concept for the construction of the music makes the overall sound and atmosphere of this album all the more remarkable.

Of the six varied album tracks they each take a multi-layered approach to composition, where recognisable field recording elements (car horns, passing traffic, police whistles, loudspeaker/ radio announcements and general urban chatter etc.) are looped in combination with other less recognisable distortion and static driven sounds to achieve vague soundtrack like movements.  Likewise with new looped elements being continually introduced, the atmosphere is one that morphs and builds in tone and intensity as the tracks progress.

With the sound source predominantly consisting of field recordings it engenders the album with a varied and interesting tonal quality, which is rich and unique when compared to dark ambient and industrial material that is reliant on synthesised and computer generated sounds.  Effectively Anemone Tube achieves a sound that spans the divide between ‘academic’ experimental material and ‘underground’ industrial territory.  Likewise within this context Anemone Tube have achieved a particularly unique sound, which these days can be a challenge to say the least within ambient/ industrial spheres.

With is central reliance on field recordings ‘Death Over China’ avoids the pitfalls of the field recordings which can come across as unnecessarily abstract or academic.  Anemone Tube has also successfully realised the concept of utilising field recordings as a instrument and in the process has executed an album which is intricate and tonally varied, yet highly listenable.  With its complexities and nuances this warrants and demands multiple rotations and detailed attention.

Genocide Organ – Under-Kontrakt

Genocide Organ – Under-Kontrakt LP Tesco Organisation 2011

This new album for German power electronic legends was highly anticipated, being seven years on since ‘In Konflikt’, and thankfully does not disappoint.  Thematically G/O have always worked with interesting subject matter and this time round is not exception, being based on mercenary soldiers throughout the ages, including the current trend of private military contractors used in various conflict zones around the world.

Given that G/O have matured in both sound and conceptual content, ‘Under-Kontrakt’ sees a further honing of their aesthetic.  Clearly less brute force than early material, here the tracks are more considered and ‘composed’ for what of a better term.  Tracks are primarily driven by multiple synth lines, noise layers and looped sounds to create loosely constructed and abrasive elements that weave, interlink and overlap.  Yes, this is a noisy album, but noisy in a way that the layers have clarity and most importantly – volume.

Noting that a number of compositions incorporate vocals, interestingly rather than an standard power electronics vocal attack, they are delivered here in a spoken, reserved tone and almost apathetic in places – sort of akin to a nihilistic resignation of circumstance which can descend with age and the passing of years.  However early album track ‘It’s Over’ with its queasy wavering noise layers and radio static include a more animated vocal delivery with a mantra like delivery of the song tittle towards the end.

The track ‘Denard’ seems to be concerned with Colonel Bob Denard, who was a French mercenary operating in Africa from the 1960’s to the 1990’s.  However the vocal sample used throughout appears more akin to a Black Panther Organisation speech (“white man can’t fight a guerrilla warfare”) which is placed over repetitive and drilling / burrowing noise elements.  The aforementioned apathetic vocals are most evident on the relatively ambient noise of ‘Armour Group’, allowing the lyrical message to be clearly articulated.  Arriving at the final piece ‘We’re Here To Have a Good Time’, this rounds out the 11 album tracks, with its composed pulse, droning noise and restrained and spoken lyrics delivered with a mix of spite and cynicism.

At this stage in the game G/O may be a stalwart of the scene, but with the strength of this album it is clear why they are so well regarded.  Obviously the LP is long sold out, but still available on unlimited CD.  Without a doubt highly recommended.