Pterygium – The Revival of Unwritten Laws / Broken Fingers – Mer de Ruines / Grafted Soma – St. Quentin’s Enigma

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Pterygium – The Revival of Unwritten Laws MC Algebra of Need 2014
Broken Fingers – Mer de Ruines MC Algebra of Need 2014
Grafted Soma – St. Quentin’s Enigma MC Cabin Fever Networks 2016

Algebra of Need are a relatively new ‘micro-label’ focusing on vinyl and cassette releases, where issued material spans a wide arc capturing dark ambient, industrial, power-electronics, experimental techno etc. Being run by Henry Gillett & Thomas Barnes and having issued over a dozen releases since 2013, where the impression I get from perusing their catalogue is that the look, feel and artistic approach of Algebra of Need fits neatly alongside current labels like Posh Isolation, Hospital Productions and Northern Electronics.

Up first for review is ‘The Revival of Unwritten Laws’ 2014’s debut tape by Pterygium, which is the solo project of Henry Gillett. The material on the tape is a blend of experimental industrial noise and dark ambient, which has evidently been created from sampling history library audio and this source material being looped and treated with layered distortion etc. Opening track ‘Experience In Imperial Government’ is a grinding, droning mass which sonically forceful and blown out in tone, which is further infused with middle-eastern tribal samples (voice and percussion), which given an darkly exotic edge. With the first track abruptly cutting out, ‘Blood Tie’ quickly follows with a piece of cyclic, hollow toned and layered drones, again with samples of middle-eastern religious chants (…as the track progresses it gets progressively more overblown until it too abruptly cuts out). The flip side ‘Cause of Expansion’ follows a similar trajectory to the first, with layered droning noise and prominent middle-eastern tribal ritual samples but ramps up its tonal force to ‘jet engine’ effect. Final of 4 tracks ‘Never Once Did I Recover A Revelation’ opts to pull back on the distortion while duly increases the cyclic, rolling tribal rhythm to the point where it could easily be passed off as an outtake from the early classic era of Deutsch Nepal.  In an overall sense the material on this tape is definitely enjoyable, where its non-typical source material gives a distinct edge, however the way a number of the tracks abruptly cut out does fracture the mood and flow slightly.  With regard to packaging, there is high degree of attention to detail, given the tape is packaged in a small gloss printed slider ‘matchbox’ cover and with the tape wrapped in red satin cloth.

Up next is a short 2 track cassette from Broken Fingers, which is a project of Melbourne based Thomas Wojcicki. ’Barbed Wire Gag’ is the first Side A track, with a clean and clinical track of pulsing electronics, which are structured as part melodious drone and part rhythmic thrum, and where a comparison to the programmed works of Bad Sector is not too far off the mark. Side B brings the track ‘Kittens’, which is a rougher and more straight forward with its stilted rhythmic structure.  Given it slots within a clinical, programmed power electronics vein, the piece is further completed with smatterings of distortion and sporadic dialogue samples. With two tracks spanning two different styles, it delivers an agreeable sound on each, but then amounting to less than 10 minutes of material it also feels like it is an almost ‘blink and you miss it’ length. Colour J-card and printed outer casing ‘wrap’ rounds out the clean and simple packaging.

Moving on to to the final tape, Grafted Soma is a new collaboration between Henry Gillett, Thomas Wojcicki and this being their debut tape, on the new Cabin Fever Network ‘micro-label’, which is a further collaboration between the two. 4 mid-length tracks make up the tape and interestingly all titles are 1 word and starting with the letter ‘C’ (i.e. ‘Curfew’, ‘Coercion’, ‘Composure’ & ‘Consequence’). Drawing on elements of droning dark ambient and muted yet blown out industrial noise the material works on a split level of meditative melancholic to borderline abrasive (…depending on the track). In fact it just so happens that the first 2 tracks are the more abrasive ones, while the second 2 are more squarely of the meditative dark ambient type. Apart from thick drones and soundscape oriented layers, vocals/ dialogue snippets and choir like textures bleed in and out of the mix (…but as these are mostly undecipherable they are used for added sonic effect). The third track is the clear standout of the tape and the most forceful, where its strong and moody sub-orchestral textures reminds of the most active works of Yen Pox (…a similar yet slightly less forceful sound also features on the last track). Handmade J-cards rounds out an excellent debut tape for both project and label, and is the clear pick of this bunch.

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Kommando RJF – untitled

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Kommando RJF – untitled MC Styggelse / Chefsideologens Bolag 2014

Originally released as part of super limited edition boxset of the ‘Sweet Slow Suicide’ album (reviewed here), a few copies have now been issues as a separate and standalone release.

Featuring material from the same album recording session, this tape contains a couple of unreleased tracks as well as alternative versions of main tracks, so it can very much be considered an an addendum ‘Sweet Slow Suicide’. So what this means in a sonic capacity, is it delivers crude analogue power electronics that wavers between the aggressive and the morbid.  Spitting static, dank analogue vibrations, sustained synth textures, agonized/ roared vocals and a heavy doses of reverb are the main elements of approach.  ‘Fuck Rehab’ leads off and is as strong as anything on ‘Sweet Slow Suicide’ where the wailing vocals given it a perfect unhinged edge, whilst on ‘Those About to Die’ draws its agonized tone out over a 9 minute stretch.

Given that ‘Sweet Slow Suicide’ should be an easier release to track down and is the main album, that should obviously be the first point of reference, but if that amounts to an obsessively positive listen (which it should), look no further than making the effort to locate a copy of this – a 6 track, 32 minute excursion into the depths of morbid Swedish underground power electronics.

Demons in the Architecture tapes x 2

Culver  Fossils

Culver / Cathal Rodgers – untitled MC Demons in the Architecture 2014

Fossils / Cathal Rodgers – untitled MC Demons in the Architecture 2014

By way of quick introductions Cathal Rodgers is an Irish drone/ noise/ experimental musician who is also is behind this micro tape label and has issued a series of split cassettes featuring his work alongside others with a similar stylistic bent.

Culver are featured on Side A of the first tape, and whilst a project I am aware of by name I have not heard until now. However then noting that Culver have issued over 150 releases in the last 20 years, this immediately started to ring alarm bells about potential quality control issues. So after hearing the two tracks offered (‘Egyptian Incest (Part I) & (Part II)’), it seems my initial concern was not unfounded. Simply put Culver present 2 tracks of rather simplistic and snooze inducing drones mixed with some extremely basic guitar noodlings, were the compositional format simply drag on and on (…and on). The sound is sparse (not in a good way) with little to no variation throughout the two lengthy tracks which consequently is simply unengaging and rather a chore to sit though. I have no idea of whether these tracks are representative of the overall sound and approach on Culver’s voluminous number of other releases, but based on this I simply do not care to find out.

Moving onto Side B, Cathal Rogers, fares far better with two tracks of animated yet abstract tonal drones. A dank foggy atmosphere permeates the two tracks on offer, which are bleak but not necessarily dark in tone, Being multilayered in their approach, wavering sub-harmonic drones give a vague air of melodiousness, and as is characteristic with drone music the sonic approach follows a cyclic ebbing and flowing style. On occasion sonic hints of sparse and minimalist guitar tunes semi-buried within the mix can be detected, which provides a nice maudlin touch to the sound. Whilst sitting squarely within a drone frame of reference, these two lengthy tracks are both enjoyable and accomplished.

On the next split tape the Canadian project Fossils lead off Side A of the second tape, and features a single lengthy track ‘Histories Of Time To Come’ which is very much of an abstract industrial noise approach featuring lots of sparse scattered sounds and micro-tonal textures. The sound is also sparse and cavernous, where the distant wind-tunnel echoed drones provide lots of sonic room to feature and focus on the ‘close up’ metallic knocks and textural scraping sounds and some sporadic looped and treated voices. Given the looseness of sound I get the feel this is perhaps in part improvised, where is some later segments the sound becomes a touch aimless. Yet thankfully these are limited and generally speaking the piece is predominantly engaging throughout its length.

Cathal Rogers again rounds out Side B, here featuring 5 shorter tracks. With a heavier more brutal droning rumble, this is more akin to an industrial-noise approach, given it is based on rough and dank distortion, crumbling noise and a loose looped structure, which build in drawn out cyclic waves. A heavy echoed depth is also evident as is a speaker panning effect is also used for a greater degree of disorientation. To reference a specific track, ‘Seven Head and Ten Horns’  has a overblown feedback rumble, which starts to step into Sunn O))) territory, given it tonally sounds if a guitar is being used to create the distortion waves, whilst the slightly more structure loops of the final track ‘Revelation’ provide an subdued death industrial feel. Thus noting Cathal’s differing sonic approach showcased on both of these split tapes, this would be the pick and preference for my own sonic preferences and sensibilities.

Concrete Mascara – Blossoms of Shame / History of Ruin

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Concrete Mascara – Blossoms of Shame CD Corrosive Art Records 2014

Concrete Mascara – History of Ruin MC Trapdoor Tapes MC 2015

Concrete Mascara are an American power electronics trio who have been around since 2011 and in that time have issued a handful of tapes, a split CD (with Umpio), 7”ep and some digital only recordings.  In a general sense given the group approaches their style of power electronics with a rougher noise and junk metal infused sound, it sets the group apart from the sound and feel of many other current American death industrial/ power electronics projects.

The full length CD ‘Blossoms of Shame‘ from 2014 contains 9 tracks over 43 minutes and is rather diverse in approach. Featuring a general loose semblance of structure, its sonic construction includes: buzzing drones, saturated noise, erupting distortion, metallic clatter and aggressive unhinged vocals partially buried within the mix (refer to opening track ‘The Duality of Sin’ as a prime example). ‘Attrition’ then features some sporadic squalling noise which evidences a more harsh noise tonal aesthetic, although there is a degree of control to its execution. Moving toward a more subdued sound, the pairing of early album tracks ‘True Beauty Never Dies’ and ‘Monochrome’ both feature a similar a low death industrial throb; the first containing treated spoken vocals which articulate a drugged out haze, whilst the later infuses some field recording elements for tonal diversity. ‘When Only Pieces Remain’ then delivers a powerful track based on its saturated overblown junk metal distortion where the aggressive vocals barely managed to break through, while further variation is found on the slow stalking feel and tensile atmosphere of the lengthy ‘Labyrinth of Doubt’ (distant pulse, ‘upfront’ micro-tonal metallic textures and morbid spoken vocals). Late album track ‘Scalpel’ is an excellently tensile piece featuring a heavy focus on a junk metal aesthetic, where loud and detailed sounds of solid metal scraping on concrete features prominently over a low analogue drone. Further sound elements include twisted piercing noise and a saturated overblown metallic production, again with the vocals being spewed forth from the background to create a very strong track indeed. ‘A Vision Of Love’ constitutes the final composition to rounds out the album in quite divergent form. Differing in sonic guise the track features a driving/ pulsing programmed rhythmic element (a quasi-techno bass throb over which washes of noise and sweeping static are laid), although in overall execution feels relatively undeveloped compared to the balance of the album.

Moving on to their latest release, this is an 8 track 46 minute tape where their sound seemed to have evolved a touch, despite only being a year on since ‘Blossoms of Shame‘. On ‘History of Ruin’ the generated atmospheres are highly tensile, but more subdued in execution, whilst at the same time the vocals have been pushed forward and up within the mix to greater prominence. Although sharper tonal elements are use these are again presented in a controlled way; where the wailing agonized vocal style then feature as the most unhinged element to counterpoint the subdued distortion undercurrent. Opener ‘Aftertaste of Shame’ features crumbling static base with pained and agonized (slightly processed) lead vocals, which is the mirrored by a second partially burred and static infused vocal line. ‘Narcotic Vixen’ with its low buzzing static and distortion squalls moves towards noise territory, but then pulls back again on ‘History of Ruin’, being a tense stalking atmosphere (‘heart beat’ bass thumb, buried distant vocals and sparse upfront metallic textures). ‘Unending Muck’ rounds out the first side with two separate howling/ wailing vocals spat over minimalist buzzing base, being an excellent tensile atmosphere of angst and pain and highlighting the vocals as being a standout rabid element of Concrete Mascara’s sound.

‘Under Black Waves’ commences Side B with rabid static abuse and unhinged vocals, before falling away into a section of muffled distortion and ash cloaked ambience (which does burst forth into more caustic sounds late in the piece). ‘Funeral Shroud’ is another great example of the more subdued tensile sound, where noise frequencies sit in the background, as two separate vocals lines are mixed prominently upfront and being the main central focus of the piece. ‘Nothing Left To Burn’ is the most rhythmic track on offer with its mid-paced pulsing bass throb and completed with fizzing static and semi-buried gruff vocals, and although simplistic in approach makes a very strong impression. ‘Juggernaut of Truth’ is the final track to round out the tape relying on layers of caustic noise, throbbing static and unhinged vocals, but with its rudimentary approach forgoes a tensile atmosphere and consequently is not as engaging as earlier material.

Although having not heard all of Concrete Mascara’s recording output to date, from the few releases I have heard, personally I would favor their most recent material, where the tensile sound and prominent dual vocal barrage is extremely effective. Although ‘Blossoms of Shame’ is a strong and varied album, the newer ‘History of Ruin’ tape is also step up and standout, particularly on the vocal front.

Sektor 304 – Communiphones / Ruby

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Sektor 304 – Communiphones CD New Approach Recordings 2014

Martin Bladh & Sektor 304 – Ruby CDr Annihilvs 2014

Over a number of years Sektor 304 have become a highly lauded group for their ‘band collective’ take on classic industrial music elements. However here are a pair of Sektor 304 albums which are not of their recognized style; rather both sitting squarely within a dark ambient/ experimental frame of reference.

‘Communiphones’ is up first, being a single 35 minute experimental composition (the recording dating from 2012), which has been composed by the main dup of Andre Coelho and Gustavo Costa. Here the piece seems to be underscored by factory/ warehouse based field recordings and an undercurrent of buzzing static drones, over which multi-layered micro-tonal metallic scrapping sounds and textures are arranged. The pacing is slow and controlled, with tonal washes of sound bleeding in and out of the mix over extended passages, which function to highlight specific segments or movements. Additionally a mood of general tenseness permeates the overall atmosphere, with the impression created by the creaking, twisting and generally jagged metallic tones off the field recording elements. Through the middle of the piece the piece falls away into a lengthy passage which oscillates between a low ambient throbbing hum and windswept cavernous drones, again with the distant sound of metallic objects being shunted around on a factory floor. The final third then moves towards its conclusion with a gradually building synth drone, and despite its long form composition and general abstract tonality ‘Communiphones’ maintains drive, direction and interest throughout its duration.

Up next is ‘Ruby’, a collaboration between the group and IRM vocalist Martin Bladh, which is presented as another single track (52 minutes); although the album cover does designate 8 separate pieces or segments (‘I’ through ‘VIII’). Noting that Sektor 304 have previously collaborated with Martin Bladh on their half of the ‘Utopia / Decay’ split LP with Dissection Table, perhaps ‘Ruby’ can be considered as an extension of that collaborative process. The ‘Ruby’ recording dates then from 2012-2013 and apart from Martin’s text and vocal contributions, features the inputs of 5 individuals (Andre Coelho, Gustavo Costa, Joao Filipe, Henrique Fernandes & Angelica Salvi). Although broadly experimental, the music has a feel of being slightly more ‘band’ or ‘collective’ focused, given the tracks are slightly more composed and urgent.  Yet with an amorphous and abstract feel ‘Ruby’ is a far cry from the song based material of other Sektor 304 albums. As such the musical movements are soundscape oriented with vague thrummed bass, sparse metallic/ junk metal percussion, experimental drones and general waves of distortion. Martin’s vocals are then dispersed throughout and either spoken or whispered in delivery and presented in a general narrative and/ or personal ‘psychoanalytical’ type style and intriguingly sound bizarrely childlike at times (from either pronunciation or having been warped in post-production). Given its general abstract experimental style, one segment stands out due to its divergent use of a solo harp melody and the lone accompaniment to Martin multi-layered whispered/ spoken vocals. The final track has a sound of a ‘typical’ band formation, but here is far more of a standard alt-rock feel (aka SWANS), given its straight forward guitars and percussion, but with that said the sweeping electronics drones and metallic percussion giving it a more underground industrial edge.

Noting both albums have little benchmarks or points of reference to the main Sektor 304 albums, these are still excellent recordings for completely different reasons. But rather than pointing to new territory, it seems these albums may be a means to issue the last remaining recorded output of the project given Sektor 304 have quietly called it a day as an active project. Given it is an absolute shame that Sektor 304 has ceased recording activity, these recordings stand as testament to the varied output and approach of the group.

Aural Hypnox: recent batch of cassettes

The ever intriguing Finnish label Aural Hypnox continues their release campaign of special handmade editions from their expanding label roster. Here are four recent releases, all in limited special edition packaging and exclusively presented on the cassette format. Noting the stunning attention to detail that Aural Hypnox have demonstrated in the past to all sonic, visual and physical aspects of their releases; these new releases are further testament to their unwavering vision and perfect execution of it. A brief rundown on each is provided below.

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Aeoga – Impaled By The Midnight Chant MC Aural Hypnox 2014

Aeoga’s tape features two separate live recordings from 2014, yet both live recordings feature the same three interlinked compositions. As demonstrated by this tape, Aeoga are flag bearers for the recognised sound of the label; a sound which embodies the epitome of ritualistic dark ambient soundscapes built around sparse instrumentation, wailing ritual horns and sustained drones. As with much of this music presented within a live setting a cyclic approach is evident were there sound gradually builds to then fall away again, however on this tape the sound is quite a bit heavier and grindingly forceful than the bulk of Aeoga’s studio output. Likewise despite featuring the same tracks, both recordings (1 per side of the tape) come off quite differently in tone and feel, therefore warrant individual attention. Packaging for the tape includes an oversized cardboard box with screen printed insets and special package of incense.

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Lingua Fungi – Azure Beyond Aural Hypnox 2014

The recent Aural Hypnox inductees Lingua Fungi see their second release on the label in the form of this short two track cassette. The first of the two untitled tracks takes up Side A with sustained (mid toned) celestial tinged drones, which also embodies a slightly rugged and forceful edge to its cyclic revolutions. Sprawling out over a 10 minute span this first piece is generally subdued, but also too active to be truly meditative in tone. On the other hand Side B is far more musical in scope featuring a maudlin melody and plucked and bowed string instruments which intertwine within radiating and warmth exuding drones. Simply sublime. Oversized screen-printed cardboard box, inserts and special incense packet rounds out the presentation.

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Aural Hypnox – Underworld Transmissions III MC Aural Hypnox 2015

This third edition in the ‘Underworld Transmissions’ provides two more séance recordings from various members of the Aural Hypnox collective, which explains the use of the label name as the project moniker. Side A features ‘Séance IV / 2014 (July 2014)’, being a hazy atonal soundscape of shifting analogue drones and creaking sonorities which cyclically build to forceful sonic impact. Side B then features ‘Séance I / 2015 (January 2015)’, which follows similar sonic paths, although is imbedded with a more mysterious tone within its droning dark ambient frame. Both tracks are absorbing in a very positive way and packaging comes in the form of a small screen-printed cardboard box and mini-booklet insert.

templum

Templum N.R. – Spectrum CCCXC: Transitio MC 2015

The mysteriously named Templum N.R. are the newest addition to the roster, but evidently is the first and only release to be widely promoted, as all future releases can only be obtained by responding the subscription letter provided with the release.  The evocatively titled ‘Whispers Echo into a Monolith’ is the first of two tracks, where its title gives a strong ‘mind’s eye’ impression before the piece even starts.  Sonically it delivers a miasmic piece of pulsing analogue drones mixed with plenty of rough and scattered textual elements, ritualistic percussive sounds and swirling disembodied vocalisation to make a very strong and forceful initial impression.  The second of two tracks ‘The Glow Breathed Out from the Aphotic Depths’ seeks deviating paths and after a ritualistic chimed introduction it delivers a stunning piece of contemporary classical styled music, where cyclic violins motifs and deep bowed cello drive the tone of the piece with gradually building intensity.  Late in the piece some quite forceful trial percussive elements and chanted vocals drive the piece to its conclusion.  Oversized screen-printed cardboard box and inserts and canvas patch rounds out the packaging, and with the focused force of the music it will be extremely interesting to see how the Templum N.R. concept evolves.  Recommended.

Te/DIS – Comatic Drift

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Te/DIS – Comatic Drift LP Galakthorrö 2014

Following the debut 7”ep ‘Black Swan’ from 2013 (also released on Galakthorrö) Te/DIS – aka Tempted Dissident – have quickly followed up with their debut full length album to further hone their chosen 80’s tinged post-punk/ cold wave/ angst-pop amalgam.

While the tone of Te/DIS’s style is one which is influenced by ‘industrial’ music, the actual music is not harsh, nor in any way abrasive. Being very much in a bleak, cold and clinical analogue programmed guise, the straightforward and direct songs are mostly driven by mid based beats which intermingle with icy synths and rhythmic stabs. Likewise the vocals remain as a distinctive and trademark element where, where the clear male vocals are delivered in a commanding monotone style. Given the cold feel of the music is very ‘German’ in style, the vocals (albeit exclusively sung in English) suit the music very well; however I could imagine that these would be a ‘love’ or ‘hate’ element for some listeners. ‘Close Range’ begs a particular mention, with low slung bass driven groove and interweaving synth lines, which differentiates it from the stilted electronic patterns of earlier tracks. ‘Shootout with a Stranger’ is another particular album standout given its slight sonic deviation of doom addled minor tuned synths, throbbing bass and some animated mid paced drum machine/ high hat percussive elements, again completed with the commanding semi-sung vocal presentation.

If any criticism were to be leveled at ‘Comatic Drift’, it would be that there is a general ‘sameness’ to the overarching style and sound of the twelve songs and which is perhaps not as diverse as that demonstrated on the debut 7”ep. But aside from this very minor gripe Te/DIS’s formal debut album fits perfectly within Galakthorrö’s roster.