S.T.A.B. Electronics – The Non Alliant II

STAB

S.T.A.B. Electronics – The Non Alliant II LP Unsound Recordings LP 2012

Although not knowing a great deal about this project, available online information indicates they are from the UK and supposedly commenced as a tribute to Marco Corbelli of Attrax Morgue following his death in 2007.  In short STAB Electronics concern themselves with unpolished and scathing power electronics.

Noting that ‘The Non Alliant II’ is the second in a pair of albums, this LP represented the opportunity for myself to get more formally aquatinted with the project, with my initial introduction being via the ‘We Gave Them the Future And They Wanted The Past’ 2012 cassette compilation (on Unrest Productions).  Based on the singular strength of the STAB Electronics featured compilation track ‘The Sins Of The Father’, this LP was immediately tracked down (…particularly given that the ‘The Non Alliant I’ is long sold out).

Rough, heavy and loosely structured power electronics is STAB Electronics particular niche, being brutal, no frills and absolutely to the point.  Each of the five album’s tracks are built on a straightforward mixture of crumbling static, heavy distortion, throbbing bass, pulsing noise and loosely structured loops, which provides the platform for the shrilly intense vocals, which based on the ferocity of delivery is the singular element which takes this from good to great.  In the most part the vocals are of the ‘standard’ power electronics style (ranging from hard sermon like delivery through to yelled and echo/ distortion drenched), however it is their intensity of delivery which really takes it to the next level.  Being generally heavy, visceral and unhinged, on a number of tracks the vocals are pushed to a point of absolute manic intensity.  Likewise if the lyrics were not already blunt in their antagonism, some well placed dialogue samples lifted from ‘American Psycho’ flesh out the intense levels of nihilism on display.

Packaging is simple and no-frills – black label LP and two printed inserts.  Yet given its raw, visceral and oppressive atmosphere, having a limited press run of a mere 105 copies is FAR to few for an album of this calibre. Get it while you can (…if you can).

Deathstench – Massed in Black Shadow

Deathstench

Deathstench – Massed in Black Shadow CD Black Plagve 2012

Deathstench are a new signing to Black Plagve (Malignant Record’s ‘bastard child’ side label), and being my first introduction to the group it appears this Californian duo has been active since 2009 and already have a couple of extremely limited releases under their belt (a split, an EP and a full length). ‘Massed in Black Shadow’ is their sophomore album and their first more widely available release.

Before we get to the music, based on the artwork and visual presentation it very much screams underground black/ death metal, yet this initial perception belies the actual ‘music’ to be found herein.  This in fact is not a death / black metal release, rather it aims at a black industrial sound which heavily borrows aesthetically and sonically from the black/ death metal spheres.  From this perspective Deathstench can be viewed as a crossover act which straddles genres and merges aspects of death/ black metal and black industrial / ritual noise styles.  This ‘crossover’ perception is further solidified by the fact that the group are listed on the Encyclopaedia Metallum: Metal Archives web resource (…typically only metal or metal related bands are listed).

The inky sonic blackness and distorted echoed roar of ‘Extract Ex Infernis’ introduces proceedings and sets the scene.  Here bass heavy and cavernous death industrial loops provide a semblance of structure, whilst vocals evocations are recited amongst the backdrop of brooding menace – but rather than resembling anything remotely human, here the vocals are relegated to almost outbursts of distortion.   ‘Corpse Upon a Throne of Worms’ opts for a more sinister death ambient vibe, which provides the backbone for slow strummed distorted guitars and course black metal vocals, thus demonstrating the knack of the project to merge the tonal elements of differing genres.  The sound of Sunn O)))’s Black One album (aka black metal inspired doom drone) is a suitable reference point here, although the guitar playing is slightly more animated (…which is hardly a difficult task based on the catatonic pace of Sunn 0)))).  On the gritty and windswept ‘Symbols In Warm Flesh’ an overloaded bass guitar appears to sit prominently within the mix, but rather than being riff based the playing is abstract and forms a nasty distortion/ feedback layer.  Moving on to the pair of back to back tracks ‘Circle of Black Blood’ and ‘Shrine of Viscera’, a more structured ‘metal’ sound is present but each differing in style and presentation.  The first delivers slow strummed distorted guitars and rasped vocals of doom cast over a rumbling death industrial base, whilst the later with its blast beats and murky black/ death metal riffs is reminiscent of the aura of underground legends Blasphemy or similar ilk.  The final album track ‘Bastards of the Black Flame’ arrives as a multi-layered black ambient slab of dread evoking sonics and murky abstract hellish noise, all whilst grimly screeched vocals and riffed guitars (slow to tremolo style) complete the wretched sonic picture.

Whether or not you will find some to your liking on this album will depend greatly on your penchant for lo-fi underground death/ black metal, but at the same time this is clearly not a metal release.  However to consider wider genre implications it is worthwhile highlighting that throughout the early 90‘s there was some significant dislike to the increased interest of ‘metal heads’ in the dark ambient/ industrial scenes.  Yet with the rise in the total dominance of the internet, as a result genre boundaries and scene politics has been greatly diminished which has encouraged the cross pollination of musical genres.  Within this context Deathstench are a flag-bearer for genre splicing which has achieved prosperous results.

Poena – Likboden

Poena

Poena – Likboden MC Beläten 2012

Given that Poena is a new project, after reading the promo blurb I was admittedly sold before I had heard a second of this release – and I quote:  “Poena – the spirit of punishment as channelled by Kristian Olsson (Survival Unit/ Alfarmania) and Christian Godin – perfectly blends the rank atmosphere of early Brighter Death Now with the obscure ritualistic rattles of Zero Karma and Ain Soph. ‘Likboden’ was recorded in the old morgue of the Sidsjön mental hospital in Sundsvall, a fact that permeates every death reeking, unsettling second of this 30 minute piece”.

With its single abstract composition ‘Likboden’ commence with assemblage of slow wavering bass drones, ritual chimes, loose percussion, rattling chains and distant groans emanating from the depths.  Following on crude rhythmic beats are pounded out in the bowels of the asylum, whilst sustained vocal wails inject a tenseness to the dank atmosphere.  At about the 10 minute mark the ritual percussive elements fall away into a cavernous death industrial territory, complete with bass loaded synth drones and the sporadic wailing of a horn that build to occasional tonal crescendos.  For the final 10 minute stretch the track moves towards slightly noisier territory, with metallic scraping textures and animated vocal/ horn wails, whilst some forceful percussive ritualistic elements are resurrected late in the piece.

Noting there is a general looseness to the way to the track plays out, this possibly alludes to a semi improvised live context during which this material might have been recorded.   With that said ‘Likboden’ is not without focus and structure, as clearly the duo of Poena know what they are doing given the degree of restraint displayed in the way abstract material such as this unfolds.  Certainly the chosen recording location is also clearly reflected in the distant cavernous sound production which has been captured.  With pro-printed tape and cover, everything from the sound to visual design, reeks of old school ritual industrial, done in the best way possible.

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.

Maison Close – Maison Close

Masion Close

Maison Close – Maison Close CD Force Majeure 2012

Maison Close is not a new project/ album, rather is a ten year anniversary repress which has been reissued in much the same presentation and content as the original release.

Regarding its genre Maison Close could be described as something like noise infused dark ambience, which verges on a windswept power electronics sound.  As such the sonic palette consists of sustained analogue drones, sweeping ominous textures and slow grinding loops which evokes a partial linage to the early Loki Foundation heavy electronics style – think Predominance, Dagda Mor, Ex.Order and early Inade.  The overall atmosphere generated by the heavy use of dialogue samples is also reminiscent of what Propergol would later do with the same concept, yet Maison Close generates a more consistent soundtrack type atmosphere due to the singular source which the movie dialogue is sampled from.

Regarding its usage of sampled dialogue, thematically the album focuses on the 1971’s motion picture ‘Johnny Got His Gun’ which makes for great conceptual fodder.  Although the movie is in effect an anti war tome told from the perspective of an severely wounded soldier, here Maison Close have focused on aspects which address the existential fear of being mentally cognisant, but trapped in a comatose and non-responsible body with the following panic and terror which would ensue.  Noting the albums visuals have also been lifted from the movie, the album very much plays out as an alternate experimental soundtrack to the source material.

Noting the calmer arc of the first half, things step up on mid album track ‘Tom-nihil-rec’ that contains the first use of prominent vocals, presented in an agonised power electronics style that soar above the sonic undercurrent of grinding and crumbling noise.   The track ‘Pain’ also utilised prominent vocals, which achieves an agonizing climax with its combination of swelling distortion and deranged vocal delivery.  ‘Interferences’ mines a similar vein to Brighter Death Now’s death ambient sound, which here combines a cavernous echo chamber ambience with a prominent singular mid range piecing tone that burrows deep into your psyche and making this track anything but easy listening.  A heavy noise squall and agonised vocals then reappear on ‘Eclats de vie’ before one final section of sampled movie dialogue to conclude the album (“SOS help me… SOS help me…” repeated…).

Given where others have taken this sort of sound in the years following the original release, I would not necessarily call this classic or ground-breaking.  Yet it is still a solid album all the same which had successfully merged its overall tone and atmosphere with its conceptual context.

Abre Ojos – Häxan

abre ojos

Abre Ojos – Häxan DVDr not on label (self released) 2012

Abre Ojos are a project that I have only been made aware of recently, but from their self-described tag line of “improvised sound and vision for dystopian meditation” it provides a strong indication that the project is concerned with more than just its audial aspects.  Further investigation reveals that Abre Ojos functions as a staunchly multi-media project where the visuals as a counterpoint to the music are considered an integral part of the overall whole.  Evidently ‘Häxan’ is their fifth release since 2009.

Conceptually the album has utilised a 1922 silent film titled ‘Häxan – Witchcraft Through the Ages’ as an initial inspiration source (…albeit with a intention of inverting the message of the film).  Likewise visual elements from the film have been sampled and in turn manipulated and processed beyond recognition.  The end result is a multi-media album containing specific visuals for six tracks (which incidentally span 66.6 minutes to obviously align with the conceptual content).

Given the multi-media nature of the project it would be remiss not to mention the visual aspects first which are certainly a visual feast of kaleidoscopic effects. Here the viewers’ retinas are treated to multi-coloured miasma of computer generated geometric shapes which are constantly shifting and morphing into new patterns and sequenced formations. During some sections the visuals are limited to a swirling mass at the centre of a black screen, whilst during others they extend across the entire visual frame.  Although it is somewhat difficult to describe the visuals in words*, they are most definitely hypnotic to watch and constitute the perfect visual backdrop for this type of music in a live setting – of which Abre Ojos do exactly that when playing live. (*Hint: the album covers gives a good indication of what to expect).

Coupled with the visuals the audio elements consist of some excellent archaic drones and cosmic dark ambience, where each of the six tracks follow a similar sound palate and sonic structure.  Effectively this is droning dark ambience done with a heavy dose of pulsing cosmic radiance, bass heavy rumblings and sections of jagged tonality that avoid becoming all out noise.  Likewise there is a heavily processed aspect to the sustained synth textures and cyclic drones, which are also occasionally underscored by slightly more animated pulsing rhythms and crystalline metallic elements.  Yet this is not to say that ‘Häxan’ is a totally alien soundscape bereft of human aspects, as ritual chimes and processed vocals (ranging from whispers to chanted choir like textures) are sporadically utilised, thus providing some earthly grounding to the material.  To give some more focused and comparative markers, ‘Häxan’ has a certain linage with the dark ambient material coming from the likes of Malignant Records or Loki Foundation – think Phelios, Phaenon, Sphäre Sechs, Blood Box etc and possibly the abstract elements of Inade for suitable reference.

From the liner notes evidently both the music and visuals are interactive and were performed and recorded live in the studio, which is surprising as both the music and visuals come across as far more considered and composed than a live studio recording might suggest.  However due to the similarity of the sound across the six tracks ‘Häxan’ is best approached as a singular metamorphosing and meditative composition.  Likewise despite being a multi-media project when approached from a mediative listening perspective the music is such that it can actually stand on its own as a pure audio piece.

Noting this is a self released production the overall packaging and presentation is slick and professional and although the physical release was limited to a mere 50 hand numbered copies, the full release is available for viewing or download via their website and bandcamp pages.  At this point Abre Ojos may be an obscure project to many, but based on ‘Häxan’ further attention is warranted.

http://abreojos.net/

http://abre-ojos.bandcamp.com/

Various Artists – Epicurean Escapism

EE

Various Artists – Epicurean Escapism MC / DVDr The Epicurean / Silken Tofu 2012

Not a typical compilation in the traditional sense, here we have a multi-media document that was issued as a companion release for a live festival of the same name (held in Berlin on 7th of July 2012).  This release features all artists who performed live, including:  IRM, Krank, Anemone Tube, Jarl, Human Larvae, as well as further contributions from Dissecting Table and Martin Bladh (who both presented video screenings at the festival).  Although festival compilations can often be somewhat uninspired, ‘Epicurean Escapism’ avoids this pitfall in term of both the artistic contributions and the packaging and presentation (silver bubble wrap pocket sleeve and pro-duplicated tape).

Krank (an old resurrected project of John Murphy) is first up, presenting a dose of ritual industrial sounds – multi-tracked vocals and myriad on tonal textures are the order the day here.  Anemone Tube follow with a remixed track from the excellent ‘Dream Landscape’ album, presenting a multi-dimensional dark ambient track constructed field recording and droning synth textures – great stuff as expected.  The next track is a devastating live attack from IRM, here presenting the title track from their last album ‘Order4’.  Built on a base of heavy droning distortion and crumbling static Martin Bladh’s vocals suitably unhinged, sounding if he is pushing himself to an absolute point of collapse.  Jarl rounds out the first side of the tape and present an animated yet meditative ambient track consisting of a multitude of clinical throbs and pulsing elements, and a looped bass line that is quite reminiscent of early Deutsch Nepal.

Flipping over to side two Human Larvae present two short tracks in quick succession. The first is a layered dark ambient / industrial track with an ominous droning atmosphere, whilst the second drives a more static riddled power electronics tone including obligatory yelled/ distorted vocals.  As my first introduction to Human Larvae both are solid and enjoyable tracks in their given styles.  Dissecting Table follows whose track is the longest of the compilation, but from my perspective is the weakest (…but to qualify this view I have never been a huge fan).  The track presented here is freeform noisy industrial, with cascading waves of distortion and heavy dose of digital clatter, rounded out with aggressive processed vocals in the dying minutes.  Anemone Tube return to conclude the music part of the release with a calm and melancholic track, built on a dour synth line and ‘composed’ field recording elements – again an excellent contribution.

In addition to the music, a short art film by Martin Bladh is presented entitled ‘Pig and Tomboy’.  Experimental filmmaking in its styling, the short video juxtaposes visual cuts ups of various disturbing scenes being acted out (…Martin Bladh and an accomplice in a pig mask).  These images play out seemingly in response to an audio collage of interview dialogue which has been collated and contributed by Peter Sotos (…dealing with a girl’s decent into drug use, prostitution and subsequent death by unknown means).  Interestingly in some sections the footage is filmed via the reflection of a mirror, where the tripod camera that has captured the scene is clearly visible in frame, which raises questions of whether the audience is a mere passive viewer, or perhaps an active voyeur just out of frame.  The video certainly warrants more analysis and dissection than can be provided here, but it is uncompromisingly executed by Martin Bladh, which should be no surprise at this point given his artistic endeavours to date.

From packing to the multiple formats of contributed material, it provides ‘Epicurean Escapism’ with a clear point of difference from the more ‘standard’ approach to a festival oriented compilation. Yes this is ludicrously limited at 100 copies, but worthy of investigation all the same.