Last Dominion Lost – Abomination of Desolation

Last Dominion Lost – Abomination of Desolation LP The Epicurean/La Esencia 2017

The sound of Last Dominion Lost has always been rooted in an early primitive industrial expression, and particularly within the archetype established by SPK on their first two albums. Yet it must also be said that Last Dominion Lost have never sounded purposefully regressive; rather their sound is reflective both of the age and creative lineage of its members (which itself in part links back to SPK). It is also unavoidable to observe that the death of key member John Murphy in 2015 looms over this album, particularly as it features his contributions made before his untimely passing. Yet even in the face of John’s death, the remaining members of Jon Evans and Julian Percy have regrouped and forged ahead, being joined by the former sessional member Till Bruggeman now as a full-time member.

While the previous album hinted at influences from early SPK, this album builds upon that influence within their own sound to deliver what is their most well realized album to date. In its broadest sense, these tracks are shorn of any feeling of being a predetermined ‘song’ format, instead they are showcased as disorientating ‘movements’ which follow their own patterns and internalized logic and elevate atmospherics over any display of overt aggression. As such, sporadic garbled whispers, yells and cries from the asylum mix with treated radio voices, shattering glass, atonal rhythmic elements (generated from a multitude of atypical percussive sources), pulsing/sweeping/brooding synth lines, abstract guitars/bass and generally perplexing tones/sounds. These elements then intermingle in the best way possible by never feeling unduly chaotic, unplanned or improvised; rather the material feels to be the result of the meticulous composition of non-musical elements to create wonky and disorienting industrial soundscapes. This is not a long album by any measure given it features 10 tracks over 40 minutes, but with the tracks being generally in the order of four minutes each, they bleed one into the next as part of a greater whole and from this perspective it is of far less importance to highlight individual tracks. Although, to speak of an individual element, John’s distinctive wailing vocalizations scattered throughout the album are a welcome reminder of his involvement and legacy.  Sound-wise the production is clean, loud and tonally separated, which in the listening provides a painstaking level of detailing across its deeper bass-addled elements and upfront micro-tonal textures.

With the sheer glut of post-industrial albums being issued over the years, thankfully albums like this come along to clearly establish how things should be done, which is then based on the degree of professionalism applied to the writing, recording and production and which is further reflected in the graphic design and presentation of the sleeve. On all fronts, this is a clear highlight of 2017.

 

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TenHornedBeast – Death Has No Companion

TenHornedBeast – Death Has No Companion CD Cold Spring Records 2017

Having heard a number of early album’s from TenHornedBeast (around a decade ago now), it seems that I have not kept up with continued output over recent years.  From my memory of those earlier releases they encompassed dark ambient drone-scapes, but also verged of doom drone at times through the use of slow distorted guitars (and while I enjoyed them, they also did not stay in listening rotation for long and have not revisited them since). Yet Death Has No Companion has now thrust me back into the sonic world of TenHornedBeast and it has come as rather a bit of a refreshing surprise.

To speak of the album’s cover, straight off the mark the sound perfectly matches the atmosphere of the wintry imagery (photos taken by solo member Christopher Walton). This also reveals the core focus of Death Has No Companion as cold arctic drone-scapes, where sparse compositional minimalism give rise to widescreen barren vistas in the mind’s eye. Featuring only three tracks the album still spans 60 minutes, meaning the tracks are on the lengthy side (between 17 and 24 minutes each), thus take their in sonically unfurling. Being constructed around a base of slow morphing drones and sustained shimmering textures, additional elements provide tonal variation (such as sparse horn/ string like melodies, sustained lone piano notes and (perhaps?) treated gong tones). The middle track The Lamentations of Their Women is also the most animated of the three offerings, featuring a prominent cyclic loop, and with some more ‘metallic’ tones layers verges slightly towards a death ambient sound.

A general observation to be made is that the sound is rooted in a ‘classic’ 1990’s expression, which is perhaps reflective of Christopher’s long-standing involvement in the underground, extending back to his days in Endvra (and of interest this album being similar in part to the sonic minimalism of Endvra’s album The Watcher). Although elongated, meditative and heavily abstracted, there is still more than ample sonic nuance to be discovered which ensure this an engaging album and which can masterfully draw you into its cold and barren world. Based on this album, it now has me intrigued to investigate back catalogue of album’s which have previously passed me by.

Militia – New European Order

Militia – New European Order 2xCD Old Europa Café 2017

Back in around 1996 I was made aware of Militia well before I heard any of their music, thanks to a full page advert for the original 3xLP edition of New European Order (featured in Issue 7 of Audio Drudge magazine from 1996). I was then introduced to their music a couple of years later via the now classic War Against Society 3xLP compilation, and needless to say I was instantly hooked by their heavily percussive, martial-tinged industrial music and immediately tracked down the New European Order album.

Fast forward some 21 years from the original release, here we have the New European Order album issued on double CD. With the cover featuring the same artwork my obvious first impression was that this is a straight re-release. However upon further investigation it is revealed to be the same material, but having been completely re-recorded. While I am generally dubious of projects or bands who choose to re-record earlier albums (particularly in instances where the original already has a degree of recognition), thankfully here the end result maintains the mood and spirit of the original.  In fact if I was not aware that this was a re-recording, perhaps I would have taken this as a heavily polished ‘remastered’ version rather than a re-recording. On the production front the biggest difference to note is that the general murkiness of the original has been removed in favor of clarity, volume and a separation of its sonic elements. This has created a sweepingly atmospheric sound where the foggy, distant and forlorn ambience of the original remains at its core, but the sound is cleaner and elevated in production terms (as is particularly the case with the sharp and pounding oil barrel percussive elements). The music ranges from brooding sub-orchestral movements to rousing percussive industrial oil barrel attacks; the lineage and comparison to early Laibach or Test Department looms large, but in the case of Militia they thankfully never succumbed to using cheesy electronic/dance elements. Yet even with such comparisons, in 2017 it is clear that Militia have made their mark on this percussive and sub-orchestral driven approach, and can also stand proud in not deviating from their core approach and thematic intent over the years.

Where New European Order excels (be it in this or its original form) is in its juxtaposition of brooding soundscapes and driving metallic percussive pieces, where the pieces of brooding ambience set a solemn tone which functions to amplify the mood of the heavily percussive and driving industrial tracks. A variety of samples (some entirely new) are then scattered throughout the album, and when combined with the inclusion of a number of vocal-led tracks, the underpinning ideology of a socialist position and anarchist worldview is more clearly articulated, given the samples and vocals on the original version were mostly buried in the mix and partially indecipherable as a result. The track listing is noted to be almost identical to the original, with only a slight adjustment to track order on the first disc, whereas the title track is featured as a completely different version.

Although in revisiting this album after many, many years (both the original recording and this new version), rather than finding the re-recordings a jarring or off-putting experience, they are adequately faithful and respectful to the original recording, while having more than ample differences to make it an enjoyable standalone experience.  With a clean and slickly designed six panel digi-pack sleeve and the added inclusion of lyrics, this new version is very much worth checking out – be it as an older fan revisiting this new version of the album, or as a new listener checking out the album (and perhaps the group) for the first time. Recommended.

Rats For Serpents Spotlight

 

Pterygium – I Abandon Myself, I Become Myself MC Rats For Serpents 2017

Haraam – Al-Arba’Ru’Us MC Rats For Serpents, 2016

Broken Fingers – Jumonji Girl MC Rats For Serpents 2017

Rats For Serpents is a new Australian micro-tape label launched in 2016 and which focuses in the more difficult end of post-industrial listening, and although having only issued five releases issued to date there is clearly some interesting fodder on offer.

Pterygium is up first, where I Abandon Myself, I Become Myself is not a new recording, rather features material from 2013 which has been edited and assembled in late 2016. Differing quite significantly from the recent new recording (reviewed here), this industrial/ noise material is loose, rough and semi-improvised in feel. Commencing with a catatonic pace, and with a strong ‘basement ambience’ vibe, it features a murky grey to pitch black sonic tone. Gradually the piece evolves with forceful revving sounds and choppy noise squalls with scatty angular textures, and in the later segments some barely detectable processed vocals make an appearance. I get the feel that this material has perhaps been cut together from a diverse range of different recording experiments/ sessions, and although evidently featuring two untitled tracks, I could not pick an obvious break from one piece to the next. In then making reference to Pterygium’s latest release Grip, it must be said that this tape pales in comparison to the current sound, but these earlier recordings are interesting to see the evolution of the project.

Up next is the obscure project Haraam and seem to inhabit a midpoint between throbbing lower end noise and abstract dark ambience, which is loose and sprawling in scope. With the cover also featuring the tag line of: “Ultraviolent Capitalist Solutions For Ultraviolent Ideological Problems”, it is perhaps indicative of an oblique conceptual underpinning. Four tracks are featured which variously incorporate elements of bass rumbling soundscapes, muted blast furnace eruptions and sweeping widescreen moments, which are occasionally infused with (unidentifiable) field recordings. A positive sense of focus, direction and drive is featured which swings between minimalist and at other times chaotic, and while overall the tape is a decent one but the same time not genre defining or particularly mind blowing.

Third and final tape is from Broken Fingers and across its four tracks the most sonically diverse and original of the bunch.  ‘Indignation Death’ leads off and is a cinematically tinged experimental dark ambient piece with orchestral synth textures, sweeping bass drones and layered elements for added complexity, to create an excellent moody and restrained offering. Cross-Shaped Cut take a step up with some hard poly-rhythmic programmed beats and driving loops to create an excellent track of industrialized techno (i.e. Alberich comes to mind), which become looser and more chaotic as it progresses. Shadow Belly deviates yet again with a tribal industrial soundscape including Japanese chants, ritual percussion, washes of distortion and idling noise. Forth and final track Death Of Understanding is perhaps rather pedestrian as the start (i.e. a straight forward industrial noise workout), although thankfully shifts gears to more interesting with sampled Japanese dialogue and smatterings of Asiatic percussive elements in mid track extending through to its conclusion.

As alluded to above the Broken Fingers tape is the pick of the bunch based on its sonic diversity and overall originality. Packaging wise each tape feature dual sided, 4 panel photocopied cover inserts, housed inside a snap-lock bag and finished with ‘punch label’ sticker for a finish touch. Overall Rats For Serpents sound and aesthetic is worthy of investigation if any of the above sounds of interest.

Pterygium – Grip

Pterygium – Grip MC Algebra of Need 2017

Pterygium are an Australia based solo project of Hank Gillett who recently had an excellent contribution on the Tesco Organisation Projekt Neue Ordnung II 4xLP boxset.  Noting also that I have previously reviewed Pterygium’s debut tape The Revival Of Unwritten Laws (reviewed here), while it was an interesting in concept and stylistic execution, at the same time was not a release that I returned to for multiple listens. However with Grips substantially differing in sound and approach to the debut, it has resulted in a tape that has been on high rotation for the last month or more.

In an attempt to categorise the sounds on Grips a general descriptor of ‘dark ambient meets industrial noise’ might be a good tag to apply given its multi-layering and dual focus of the majority of compositions.  Effectively the tracks are doubled-edged where maudlin elements mix with the abrasive; and the minimalistic yet melodic tones blend with sharper distortion squalls.  A comparison to other artists like Ke/Hil or Damian Dubrovnic is then highlighted, but not so much for sounding anything like either, rather Grips is similar by virtue of its cold, clinical and controlled approach, and where layers and loops are added and sub-tracked with clear compositions focus and intent.

The Male Antipathy leads off the 6 compositions with deep grinding drones, mid toned synths, yet the rising layered washes of static push the piece into headier territory.  Facult of Rapture then follows a similar trajectory, yet the distortion of this piece if heaver and more invasive. Playing with sonic depth and sparse composition A Child Council is an excellent example of sonic restraint to generate is maudlin atmosphere (…although the sharper static briefly makes an appearance late track). In the later part of the tape fractured minimalist rhythms, morse code blips and floating synths form the backbone on Quitting Towards a Solid Surface, while Drainout Extort is perhaps a standout for its sparse and meandering dour cinematic/ sc-fi type mood.

On Grips Pterygium have opted for an instrumental approach which is considered, refined and delivered with clear artistic intent, which is in clear contrast to some current current strains of underground post-industrial music which churns pure filth and nastiness. With its 6 tracks spanning a mere 34 minutes, the play time is short and leaving me wanting more (…much more in fact), but this is a far better position to be in rather than dealing with a release which simply drags for being overly long.  Don’t let the obscurity of the project or label deter you, this is high caliber stuff.

Kevlar – New Fears New Fights

Kevlar – New Fears New Fights LP Unrest Productions 2017

Since 2014 Kevlar have issued two full lengths and a cassette EP, with New Fears New Fights constituting their third full album. In then making a perhaps obvious comparison to earlier output, while I do like Kevlar’s prior albums (Alpha Strife and Criteria), at the same time I found they tended to not stay in rotation long in favour of other listening choices.  But it is from this perspective where New Fears New Fights standard apart, given there is an immediate sense of urgency, increased aggression and overt antagonism to this which elevates it to the next level.

To then comment on a projects within an industrial/ power electronics style, clearly there is no shame in reflecting inspiration, but this is also on the proviso that the end result needs to be more than a mere copyist project. Although direct comparisons can be drawn here to now classic elements from German and UK scenes (i.e. simple shuddering synth lines, layered loops, cascading distortion and antagonistic flanged vocals), with their focused and honed style Kevlar absolutely achieve a personal and most importantly a current take on this sound. 8 tracks feature on the album, with each spanning 4-6 minutes each, which should give an appreciation of the direct focus on display.

With a battle cry sample of “we must not be afraid to define our enemy”, Triumph Of Fear kicks in hard with driving loops buzzing distortion and crowd and alarm field recording adding to the overall tension. A great start.  With Power To Act feeling as if a lengthy bridging piece to the more focused Power Of Blade, with the later being a standout track of burrowing distortion, layered loops and flange treated if the attacking and antagonistic vocals which are mixed prominently upfront in the mix (…and which partly reminds of The Grey Wolves classic track Victory Through Violence). The title track then rounds out Side A with a stuttering rhythm, bulldozing drones and proclamation styled vocals. Another excellent track.  Mechanism opens Side B, and another example of simplicity creating fist pumping and blood boiling impact, achieved via urgent cascading loops, a general buzzing and queasy tonality (…and while a number of vocal samples are employed the main decipherable element is repeated word “incompatible”). Martyrs Crown with its brooding and atmospheric tone and looped method of construction reminds of German styled heavy electronics/ power electronics approach not too far from that of Ex.Order or early Anenzephalia. Despite is forceful tone, blown out oscillating noise and jagged tonal outbursts, Barbed Wire is entrenched with a morbid by aggressive tone to round out the album.

Based on Unrest Productions’ current roster, the label is shining a spotlight on the UK underground which from the outside looking in appears to be the strongest and most active underground scene currently operating, with Kevlar’s New Fears New Fights being a pinnacle example. Packaging wise the simple greyscale cover and insert features only basic information and functions to hammer home its direct impact. Although not reinventing the wheel Kevlar have issued an extremely impressive industrial/ power electronics LP and which is absolutely representative of the best of what the underground has to offer right now.

Am Not – The Developing World

Am Not – The Developing World LP Tesco Organisation 2017

Based on the debut album Unpunished from 2015 (reviewed here), Am Not made a strong impact on the underground. Now two years on Tamon Miyakita returns with his follow up, but this time noting a move from the original home of Unrest Productions to Tesco Organisation.

Before providing commentary on the music, an analysis of the album’s art is warranted given the cover appears to be embedded with layered symbolism. To this end an observation to be made is that the main image showing Helios, the Greek Sun God, and based on Plato’s Republic Helios is the symbolic offspring of the idea of ‘goodness’. This image is then overlaid with a semi-transparent photo of a modern skyscraper, while the album’s title is designed backwards and can only be read properly in a mirror’s reflection. An interpretation of this combined symbolism could be as a comment on whether the principle of progress and subsequent global hegemony forms part of the greater ‘good’ of the evolution of society, or in fact should be regarded with caution by developing countries as a controlling corporate agenda with negative consequences (…although these observations may be completely off the mark and others interpretations may yield other interesting and divergent results).

To then the speak of the music, the element of surprise which was generated via Unpunished has given way to a degree of expectation for this new album. Upon first listens the same song based format and meticulous approach to the construction of the tracks is noted, but at the same time the sound palate is more varied and less sharp edged or clinical, but instead opting for a rougher and harsher tone in its blend of industrial and power electronics elements. The detached and strongly observational lyrics delivered in an apathetic or deadpan style are again a standout, although the vocals on album tracks Martyr’s Little Helper 1, Market Penetration and Beleaguered and Native II do rely on a heavily flanged treatment to excellent result. Likewise the guest vocals courtesy of Martin Wilford/ Shift on The Hunt differ by being a heady barrage of unbridled anger, functioning as another layer within the sonic framework of forceful cyclic drones, spitting static and pounding junk metal clatter. White Crimes is a particular album standout, being a contemplative piece of subdued rhythmic programming, squelching/ fluttering noise and sustained drones, as the vocals drive home its clear message within a understated but anthemic style. Perhaps then constituting the ‘hit song’ of the album, Home is a revelation, with its melodious organ drone, swaying rhythm and cyclic percussive beat and now trademark spoken vocals (…which is a thematic imagining of the People’s Republic of China welcoming Hong Kong back into the fold in 1997).

With this album Am Not clearly demonstrates a project which understands its context and linage, but has taken such a template to make an individual, forward thinking thematic approach. With a highly varied sound over its 10 tracks The Developing World is no mere retread of Unpunished, but builds upon what has come before to exceptional result. The LP version comes with a full colour A4 12 page booklet with graphics and all lyrics, and overall is clearly another high recommendation.