Consumer Electronics – Dollhouse Songs

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Consumer Electronics – Dollhouse Songs LP Harbinger Sound 2015

Returning relatively quickly with a new album following 2014’s ‘Estuary English’ (reviewed here), the reactivated Consumer Electronics (based around Phillip Best, his wife Sarah Best and Russell Haswell) continue on their newly forged and rather contentious path.  From a visual standpoint the Trevor Brown artwork of the cover immediately provides an obvious nod to Phillip’s former days in Whitehouse, and while not a bad cover by any stretch, personally I would have much preferred to see Phillip’s own collage work (as was the case with ‘Estuary English’), rather than one which harks back to Phillip’s past.  On the lyrical front ‘Dollhouse Songs’ delivers  another spite, disdain and anger fueled rant at the contemporary UK political landscape, coupled with selected tracks taking a cutting analysis of anxieties and neurosis relating to perceptions of self-worth.

‘History of Sleepwalking’ introduces the album with revving synths, arrhythmic beat and whispered vocals of Phillip, before machine-gun snare drum and ranted/ unhinged vocals split through the speakers (…an excellent start). The following track ‘Knives Cut’ then goes for the jugular with its high pitch digital noise squall and underscored with focused synth drones and blasting, overblown mid ranged bass, while Phillip’s vocals show some variation given the sardonic spoken style. With the noted lack of lead vocals from Sarah on ‘Estuary English’, this is rectified here, where she proves herself a worthy lead vocalist on ‘Condition of a Hole’.  Musically this track is built around a thumping mid paced ‘beat’, higher fluttering percussive elements, and distortion elements which swoop in and out of the sonic frame. Sarah then pulls no punches with a fierce lyrical attack and demonstrates she is a commendable vocalist who can hold her own (…particularly as the vocals are fully intelligible). Some respite comes on the instrumental track ‘Nothing Natural’, featuring an undercurrent of pulsing/ shimmering synths, over which splitting digital noise shards cut and slash across sonic landscape.  After originally being featured on a split 7” ep with the Sleaford Mods, ‘Murder Your Masters’ is included here (…another alternate ‘ambient’ version with Phillip on vocals was also included on the ‘Repetition Reinforcement’ 12’ep), where Sarah again takes the vocal lead.  Musically this is the specific track which when previously performed live raised accusations that Consumer Electronics had gone ‘techno’, but with its squelching beat (which in truth is more of a saturated pulse), hardly constitutes a form of techno any self respecting ‘techno’ fan would be associated with. Regardless, this ‘beat’ coupled with a minimalist underscoring drone, where Sarah’s vocals are front and centre and increase the anger of her earlier lead vocals, with her voice pushed to the point of breaking. That said, one minor observation is that she commences with a focused and vindictive rant, by track’s end it does sound if she is slightly running out of steam to maintain the early intensity (…but may also be indicative of the vocals being recorded on a single take?).  ‘The Push’ brings another track constructed with programmed ‘scattergun’ kick and snare percussion and squelching digital mayhem, as Phillip delivers another lucidly focused vocal barrage, ranting on the drive of politicians and bankers to sure up positions of power and profit gain at the expense of all (…rather diverged element then appears at track’s end, where it reverts to a poetic almost ‘beatnik’ spoken word section).  For the final track ‘Colour Climax’, which although not the most sonically over the top, is thematically the most harrowing piece, with its (in part) scalpel sharp analysis of the process of aging in the face of ailing health.  On this track Phillip’s vocals are spoken and understated throughout, placed high in the mix, atop a landscape of subdued bass rumble and fluttering digitized noise, where the lyrical content carves veins of sadness and (angered) resignation. Given such sentiments are not what would necessarily ever expect from a Consumer Electronics records, it still completely works in its spoken word capacity and in context of the balance of the album.

With 7 tracks and 35 minute playtime ‘Dollhouse Songs’ is a longer album than its predecessor, where the tracks are noted to be (relatively) structured and condensed into pieces of around 4 to 5 minutes.  Musically speaking, whilst not hugely divergent ‘Dollhouse Songs’ does feel to be a more holistically focused album than ‘Estuary English’ (…noting that the later could be considered a 22 minute collection of punishing tracks).  Yet equally ‘Dollhouse Songs’ and ‘Estuary English’ very much feel as being companion albums, particularly as the sound on both is equally harsh and digitally crystalline.  What this all ultimately means is, if you hated ‘Estuary English’ you simply won’t find anything to like here.  But if like me you found ‘Estuary English’ to contain some new ideas and approaches for Consumer Electronics, ‘Dollhouse Songs’ continues with this trajectory and from these quarters, it is another album I have hugely enjoyed over a significant number of repeat listens.

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Trapdoor Tapes 2015 / 2016 batch

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Mshing / Sentenced to Life – split MC Trapdoor Tapes 2016

Luke Holland – Stir MC Trapdoor Tapes 2016

World of Life Church SS – The Ceremony of Life and Death MC Trapdoor Tapes 2015

The first tape for review sees two obscure Australian projects Mshing and Sentenced to Life team up to each take a side of the tape each.  Mshing is the solo project of Luke Holland (also of Armour Group) and delivers a live recording or as it is referenced on the cover ‘Live Assault 2015/2013’.  Commencing with a cyclic death industrial throb it hits an early groove, but then moves into more obscure grinding noise industrial territory with semi-buried samples and gruff vocalizations. While the track is decent enough, with the distant muffled sound of the recording it only serves to hint at the actual live performance/s being of far greater volume and sonic impact.  Sentenced for Life take up the flip side, with the single track ‘Despertar De La Bestia’ and presents an atmospheric ‘post-mortem’ soundscape of muffled layered analogue filth.  Featuring a broadly cyclic approach, there is an interweaving interplay between the layered elements which generates an excellent complexity of rumbling industrial distortion, revving drones, distant sirens, cavernous clatter and indistinguishable voices.  This is both a strong track and the highlight of this tape given its murky and immersive qualities.

On the ‘Stir’ MC, Luke Holland goes it alone (again) but here functioning under his own name.  Compared to the last solo tape ‘Decomposition’, this time around he has taken a rougher, a more caustic industrial-noise approach.  With the single 16 minute track (repeating on both side), the squalling mid to high pitched chaotic noise is coupled with a deluge of dialogue samples.  Featuring a sense of improvised urgency the samples are then taken from Australian 1980s film ‘Stir’, referencing prison life, outsider attitude and cut throat violence. Some ritualistic clanging elements change up the sound mid piece to offset the more intense and sustained background distortion, while the piece bleeds out into looser, scattered abstract across the last section before abruptly cutting out.  Noting the driving urgency this tape of greater impact that than the ‘Decomposition’ recording.

Lastly, the World of Life Church SS tape features 5 untitled tracks in all, the first track being driven by a direct militant industrial ‘beat’, around which scattered noise and distortion interweave, all capped off with barked/ spat distorted vocals.  Rough and direct it is an excellent opening, while later tracks are broadly looser and more chaotic in their rough analog approach: essentially charting a course in a broad spheres relating to scattered noise-industrial to overblown power electronics squall.  With a sound which is a perfect fit for the obscure sounds Trapdoor Tapes is known, this delivers strong results, although admittedly it sounds more like a solo or duo project, than otherwise might be expected from a project featuring 4 members.

Armour Group – Purge

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Armour Group – Purge LP It Records / Trait Records 2015

Hailing from Melbourne Australia, the male / female duo of Amour Group (aka Luke Holland and Harriet Kate Morgan), were formed in 2012 and have been performing live on a semi-regular basis since.  ‘Purge’ is their formal debut release, noting an earlier tape was issue in 2014 as a document of two performances from 2013 (reviewed here).  Indecently ‘Purge’ was first issued on tape in a short run via Future Archaic in 2015, which has since been reissued on vinyl in collaboration between It Records and Trait Records. As for the musical focus, Armour Group encompass a somewhat direct influence from a ‘classic’ European power electronic and death industrial sound, but pleasingly this is done with complete sincerity to come off with both convincing and individualistic result.  Sonically the sound is driven by a direct mid-paced analog synth structures, coupled with smatterings of dialogue samples and apathetic distortion processed vocals (care of both Harriet and Luke depending on the track). 

Having already previously heard “Purge’ in its initial cassette edition, the first thing to be noted on the LP pressing is the mastering treatment courtesy of James Plotkin. This is immediately evident on the sonic front as it has provided a boosted and forceful production.  ‘Strength’ kicks things off with murky yet loud, revving analogue drones and semi-burred vocals.  Encompassing a solid sustained tone and with minimalist variation over its length, this leads in the next ‘untitled’ track where idling machine like loops act a backing to a police interrogation sample.  Yet it is on the third title track where things really take a step up in urgency, towards blood boiling ‘PE’ territory.  Here the track ‘Purge’ features a focus atonal pounding rhythm, buzzing synth frequencies and an avalanches of distortion, where the human element comes from further interrogation samples and the gruff vocals of Luke. 

Another ‘untitled’ track opens Side B featuring a central militant drum beat and barren war scarred landscape, which leads into ‘Conditioning’ which is by far the longest track on offer at 9 minutes. Constructed around a stilted thumping beat and layered mid-toned pulsing distortion, Harriet takes the vocal lead with slightly echoed/ flanged apathetic spoken style (…over its course the layering becomes gradually fiercer as does the urgency of the vocal delivery).  For the final album track ‘Shoot to Kill’ rounds out the LP on an absolute high.  With an introductory sample of “The hunt is over. Shoot on site. Shoot to kill.” The track launches into spitting and static driven Korg loops and semi-buried but anger fueled vocals (…repeating in part the dialogue of a number of samples littered throughout the release). This final album track it is absolutely on point and a standout, which also justifies a positive comparison to the direct aggression of early Genocide Organ.

All in all ‘Purge’ is not a long album by any stretch – totaling just under 30 minutes – but most importantly is not padded out with any filler material. With a predominance of subdued death industrial tracks, but augmented with a two direct power electronics assaults it is a very strong statement of intent as the formal debut, and clearly establishes Armour Group as a project which great things should be expected in years to come.  Although at this point in time Armour Group may not be widely known internationally, surely with the calibre of the material featured on here this is set to change.  Finally the sleeve design courtesy of Trine + Kim Design Studio is slick and understated to round out the visual presentation and with the Armour Group logo designed to resemble an explosive warhead, it is an apt metaphor of the sonics to be found within.

Unknown Artist – The Church Eternal / Musikalisches Opfer

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Unknown Artist – The Church Eternal MC Fanaticism 2015

Unknown Artist – Musikalisches Opfer MC Fanaticism 2016

This mysterious ‘anonymous’ project released 6 tapes during 2014 and 2015, being were issued on various tape labels and in different versions and editions.  Evidently the Fanaticism tape label was then established to draw together all musical works by the unnamed project under the single label and conceptual banner.  The consequential result has been the reissuing of the tapes with a unifying colour scheme of black and blood red J cards and solid black cassette tapes.  With reference to 3 tapes ‘Yirat HaShem’, ‘HaIOTh HaKODeSh’ and ‘Ecclesiastical Reich’, these broadly feature sacral tinged noise-industrial soundscapes. As for the other 2 tapes reviewed here, they build upon the established sonic base, but at the same time also displaying a greater restraint with respect of the harsher and nosier elements.

On ‘The Church Eternal’ it displays an approach which is more ambiental than the material on preceding tapes, but is still quite forcefully droning in sections.  The 28 minute piece on Side A is titled ‘Sancta Mater Ecclesia, Dominatrix Populorum’, which itself translates to: ‘Our Holy Mother, the Church , Mistress of the People’.  The lengthy has a type of cyclic, slow building droning noise approach, which elevates in intensity, including the use of loose jagged metallic reverberations, which eventually makes way for a heavy church organ dirge at the midpoint of the track. Following this, the piece pares back to almost silence, before slowing building again, being built around an ominous droning churn and slow atonal bass guitar (…or perhaps the thudding notes of a prepared piano?), which by tracks end has built back up to heavy ritualized droning noise. Interestingly its sacral experimental soundscapes bring to mind the non-metal sound of Reverorum ib Malact during more than one moment – which should be taken as solid praise.  Side B then features the track ‘Nulla Salus Extra Ecclesiam’ (translating to ‘No Salvation Outside the Church’), and is more restrained and catacomal in tone, which reminds of a less refined and sonically murkier version of raison d’etre current era of abstract industrialized dark ambient soundscapes.  Here deep and distant tones radiate out, shrill tone flutters overhead, slow percussion of doom provides some structural focus, with the human element is derived from ominous choir chants and French dialogue sample recites some form of speech/ sermon.  A fantastic enveloping ritual soundscape to simple get lost within its cavernous depths and arcane atmospheres.

Moving onto ‘Musikalisches Opfer’ it is another tape of newly released material, featuring 2 lengthy but untitled tracks (1 each side). Side A bring a piece with forward momentum driven by plodding atonal bass, where swirling loops and cyclic chants further elevates the piece.  A sacral dark ambient sound prevails, where the vocal chants become more anguished lamentations through the middle, which itself evolves into a cyclic grinding mass of analogue sounds (i.e. hum, drone and rumble) under which a sampled religious sermon is buried, being barely audible within the sonic mass (…and in the process very much reminding of old Archon Satani – in other words fantastic).  Side B bring another approximate 30 minute track, where a subdued low bass drone and even more distant buried religious sermons are used, over which a range of sparse atonal plucked and bowed string instruments and sampled choral chants creates an abstract modern classical feel. But things gradually morph away from this, given the cyclic drones ratchets up the tension to create something like subdued and sacral themed doom drone. Another very strong and extremely atmospheric offering.

Clearly these two tapes (along with the others released under the Fanaticism banner) have a certain amount of ‘kvlt’ obscurity and appeal given their presentation and its concealed thematic approach.  On the later front I am personally still sifting through the thematic clues of each of the 5 tapes to determine my own thoughts on an interpretation of potential stance or message, so won’t proffer any specific thoughts at this juncture (…particularly as there seems to be greater intent than merely seeking to invert the meaning of the overtly religious content).  But the mere fact that such clues are semi-buried and cloaked in obscurity, makes for all the more engaging listening.  I also do not have sense of whether the person behind this project may be from the post-industrial or black metal underground (or perhaps outside of any such scene affiliations altogether?), but irrespective of this these are extremely well executed tapes in terms of their sound, concept and presentation.

 

Slogun / Wertham – By Blood : In Blood

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Slogun / Wertham By Blood : In Blood CD Electronica Radicale Edizioni / Old Europa Café 2015

On ‘By Blood : In Blood’ the Italian stalwart Wertham and American protagonist Slogun have combined their divergent takes on power electronics for this part split / part collaboration album.  Thus for the ‘split’ part of this release each project has provided 3 individual tracks, while for the ‘collaboration’ part 2 tracks by Wertham feature John Balistreri on vocals and vise versa for Slogun’s 2 tracks (i.e. Marco Deplano on vocals).

Musically speaking this CD is exactly what is expected for a pairing of Slogun and Wertham.  The individual Slogun tracks follow the recent more composed and refined direction of the project, with fierce layered loops providing vague rhythms which are mixed with urban field recordings and clinical static as the base for the trademark wailed/ echoed vocals barrage of John Balistreri.  On this front ‘React and Destroy’ is a particularly good example of Slogun’s current sound and modus operandi.  Regarding the exclusive Wertham tracks these display a murkier and distant tone (which is essentially a bulldozing analogue sound), which comes across as the sound of some mammoth idling industrial machine, as the heavily accented vocals are semi-buried within the sonic mass.  Of particular note is Wertham’s track ‘Bloodlines’, which for the normal ferocity of the project, this piece is fiercer and static fried than typical.

For the collaborative offerings, these then (obviously) blends the two sounds, by the ‘Slogun’ sound featuring Marco’s vocals and the ‘Wertham’ sound featuring John’s distinctive vocals.  On the Wertham tracks John’s vocals are less upfront in the mix, but retain the trademark wailed spite and echoed treatment.  Likewise for the Slogun collaboration tracks, these are just a touch more subdued and experimental in approach, with Marco murky treated vocals sitting low in the mix.

Although this is pretty much an album as expected from a pairing of these long established projects, it has still resulted in a strong collaboration. Colour digi-pack with 12 page booklet with all lyrics rounds out the visual side of things.

Shibalba – Samsara

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Shibalba – Samsara CD Malignant Records 2015

Shibalba are a new signing to the Malignant roster, yet themselves are not a new project. Following their demo tape ‘Memphitic Invocations’ (from 2010), and contributions on four split CD’s over subsequent years, ‘Samsara’ now constitutes their formal debut album – and an extremely strong one at that.

Specifically this Greek project lurks within ritual dark ambient spheres, and can be classified as a side project to the Greek black metal band Acherontas, noting such a scenario is not a unique one, having been replicated over the years by different black metal bands and musicians. Thus one of the most well-known and recognized comparisons for Shibalba would be the American group Equimanthorn – a ritual ambient project with links back to Absu (via past and present members).  In fact the sprawling ritual soundscapes of Shibalba certainly have parallels with later day Equimanthorn, which should highlight the quality and seriousness of the both the musical and ritual presentation (…although where Equimanthorn focuses on a Sumarian occult/ ritual spheres, Shibalba’s thematic preoccupations seem to draw inspiration from Greek/ Mayan/ Buddhist/ Hindu mythos).

With the word “Samsara” referring the cycle of death and rebirth to which life in the material world is bound, the musical framework is one which utilized both synthetic means (heavy synth driven atmospheres) and the real instrumentation (ritual percussion, chimes, vocal chants etc.).  5 tracks are featured, ranging from seven and a half minutes at the shortest and fourteen and a half minutes at the longest. On the opening piece ‘The Magick of Mirrors’ it features a hypnotic and swirling sonic miasma generated through sampled choral vocals and shrill synth derived orchestral tones, which later shifts to booming and driving ceremonial drumming.  This composition gives way to ‘Dharma and Alchemy’, sounding as if it is a recording of an arcane ritual being performed in abandoned catacombs, where wailing chants and invocation based vocal proclamations are uttered against a backdrop of ritual chimes and heavy dose of inky black echoed reverberations. Likewise the sparse echoed soundscapes of the album title track features a range of real instrumentation, rhythmic drumming and elongated chants, which solicits a comparison with Funerary Call or perhaps Halo Manash.  ‘Nekyia’ rounds out the album in sprawling guise – a spectral nightside evocation of chthonic drones and ritual percussive intent.

With its strong driving instrumentation and forceful sound production provides ‘Samsara’ with both dynamism and presence. Shibalba’s music is extremely focused and skillfully executed, without being at all derivative of its sound or influences, or (potentially worse) suffering a cheesy aesthetic which is sometimes inadvertently generated by metal musicians attempting ritual/ ambient/ industrial music.  However it would also not be overstating the point to highlight that Shibalba clearly has a certain ‘crossover’ appeal, meaning it has a particular sound that will attract open minded underground metal listeners, as well as post-industrial devotees who have a penchant for ritual oriented material.

Anemone Tube – In The Vortex Of Dionysian Reality

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Anemone Tube – In The Vortex Of Dionysian Reality MC The Epicurean 2015

In advance of the (soon to be released) new album, this cassette EP represents a tasty appetizer.  Featuring 5 tracks over 20 minutes (ranging from the shortest at around 1 minute to the longest at 8.5 minutes), it is a further display of Anemone Tube’s particular style of harmonic/ disharmonic infused dark ambient/ industrial music.

The first and lengthiest track at eight and a half minutes, ‘In The Vortex Of Dionysian Reality / Le Pont Du Diable’ is an excellent example of Anemone Tube’s approach. However it is also of interest to note that the track is more heavily reliant on orchestral oriented synth melodies than the usual solid base of looped and processed field recordings.  Featuring an atmosphere which is beautiful, tragic and forlorn in equal measures it is a composition with underpinning harmonic synths, which are countered by washes of higher pitched disharmonic noise and tonal drones.  Although this track is quite musically direct, field recording elements do appear in the later half (sirens, jack hammers and general street noise being clearly audible and evidently derived from Toyko and Kyoto).  With sustained wailing feedback and maudlin synth washes the tape continues its knifes edge balancing of elements through the shorter pieces ‘Turm Des Bösen (Die Letzte Weisheit)’ and ‘In The Vortex Of Dionysian Reality II’, both of which reach similar musically oriented mood of the opening piece.  The final piece ‘Evangelium Der Weltharmonie’ concludes the tape and is a touch more subdued than the rest – here featuring a sacral mood evoked through subtle tonal washes and eastern toned ritual chimes and gongs (courtesy of Post Scriptvm).  Yet to speak of potential missteps, this would relate to the short 52 second track ‘Terror of Nature’ which jars the mood of the material preceding it, given it is not much more than a sparse twinkling melody and movie dialogue sampled from the 1984 animation film ‘Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind’.

From sound, concept*, and visual presentation, Anemone Tube’s releases are always highly considered affairs.  Consequently ‘In The Vortex Of Dionysian Reality’ is far from being any sort of filler release, rather represents some of Anemone Tube’s strongest work to date and yet another demonstration of Stefan Hanser’s ability to create deeply evocative soundscapes built around melodious elements, sculpted field recordings and squalling feedback. With the new album ‘Golden Temple’ due for release in February, 2016, it is an album awaited with anticipation. This pro-duplicated tape and professionally printed cover has been issued with limitation of 150 copies.

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* – the concept of this tape is: “Related to Nietzsche`s notion of the Wagerian music drama as a revelation of the abysmal truth about man, “In The Vortex of Dionysian Reality” allures us into the Dionysian dreamland, where tragedy reigns, in pursuit of the ultimate oneness”.