Am Not – Incursions

Am Not – Incursions MC Zaetraom 2018

Tamon Miyakita’s project Am Not is very much a current ‘leading light’ in the underground. With a sound built upon an established bedrock of the post-industrial scene, Am Not have also developed a highly recognisable approach within a heavy electronics/ power electronics/ noise industrial style. In then noting that the key releases from the project being able to be counted on a single hand, Am Not’s discography is already extremely focused, meaning the project is yet to disappoint. This new release continues this established modus operandi, and pleasingly contains an album’s length of new material (approx. 40 minutes).

The tape opens with the track Into Hostile Space and features an archival sample of George Bush Jnr, which in today’s context is far more interesting given the current US political climate. Musically speaking it features all the hallmarks of the best elements of project, where roughly hewn metallic tones are offset against crushing loud and sonically thick loops and mid-toned tensile drones, as the heavily process vocal barrage rounds out a storming opening track. But in moving away from a now recognisable sound Am Not, Incursions is noteworthy for its willingness to experiment and push into uncharted territory. Once such example is Feindes Land with its initial blending of neo-classical and dialogue sampling, which quickly gives way to a swaying, electronica tinged industrial track, completed with spoken vocals courtesy of Hermann Kopp. As for another significantly deviating track, Auf Wiedersehen, Pet could perhaps be playfully described as an unnamed Soviet era project trying to emulate Kraftwerk! Continental Drift III is also sonically differentiated from the rest by the fact of how subdued it is, and is framed around deep sub-orchestral drones, passive echo treated junk metal sounds and spoken Russian female vocals. Elsewhere a perhaps more ‘typical’ highly composed power/heavy electronics sound of the project is employed (i.e. top notch), but one striking example is Irruption where the rabidly intense vocals are immediately recognisable as that of S.T.A.B. Electronics.

Thematically speaking prominent dialogue samples are strongly represented, while guest vocals are employed and feature on a number tracks, where I was later informed that Tamon’s (English) lyrics on the opening track are repeated in different languages on three other tracks (including: German, Gaelic, and Russian), thereby subverting its meaning and message from a singular perspective. Thus, apart from the outstanding strength of the music featured on Incursions, part of the enjoyment of engaging with a release such as this is carefully listening, picking apart and interpreting both samples and lyrics (where detectable). To that end at a most simplistic level the thematic preoccupations of Incursions could be interpreted as a multifaceted analysis of nationhood, identity, sovereignty and associated political influence in a globalised context which has emerged following the Cold War (but as always there are likely to be elements I have perhaps either misinterpreted or otherwise completely missed). Seemingly not short on sonic or conceptual ideas, Am Not are going from strength to strength, where Incursions is yet another mandatory release.

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Sutcliffe Jugend – The Hunger

Sutcliffe Jugend – The Hunger 2xCD Death Continues 2018

Over the past twelve years Sutcliffe Jugend – the duo of Kevin Tomkins and Paul Taylor – have been rather productive and issued 20 releases in that time-frame. Specifically 2006 appears to be the particular point in time when the project was reactivated, following a five year gap from 1999’s viscerally direct The Victim As Beauty album, while also shifting towards wider sonic experimentation. Although today’s version Sutcliffe Jugend is a very different beast from the sonic brutality issued during the initial 1980’s phase, they have remained a power electronics act at heart and in overall attitude. But in forging new paths by dialing down on the all-out sonic assault and seeking out far more diverse sonic treatments and stylistic experimentation, this approach is in full display on this sprawling double CD.

On the early album track The Mute Shall Speak, the crisp digital noise squalls is perhaps partially reminiscent of later era Whitehouse, while Sehnusucht features a stuttering fast paced rhythmic programming coupled with jagged digital shards stabbing at the ears from the background. This track is also noteworthy as it demonstrates the vocals of Kevin Tomkins being in a strong trademark style, which are delivered in a drawling semi whispered rant which on occasion steps up to being half sung and half screamed. Lyrically the album is noted to be densely rendered, which have a particular psychoanalytical bent in various description of the power dynamic in personal relationships; first person internalised dialogue; and at times ‘stream of conciseness’ narration. Yet Cause comes as the first major surprise by featuring a ‘doom jazz’ sound of minimalist piano and double bass (and consequently wholly reminiscent of Bohren & Der House of Gore), yet further augmented with spoken vocals and swathes of minimalist backing distortion. But not to stop there, the sonic surprises just keep on coming, where Crushed delivers pump organ, synth drones, sparse xylophone and meditative spoken vocals, and Unashamed with its quirky programmed electronica. From there the rest of the first CD deviates through musique concrète (Dissonance); maudlin piano melody and abstracted strings (Angels Flying Into The Burning Gates of Hell); emotive sub-orchestral drones (A Room Full of Knives and Eulogy); while the closing track The Pain Will Take Everything Away is a doom drone oriented work with treated ethereal female vocals and moody bowed cello etc.

The second CD delivers a further ten tracks spanning an hour which builds upon the wide frame of experimentation of the first disc. The Lost is built around misfiring digital noise and a rabid vocal attack, but is quickly offset by the moody and contemplative Authors Note of sonically over-processed synth line. Blindfold charts more abstracted sounds and half formed melodies which at times verges on musique concrète, while the loose guitars of Dancehall Etiquette evokes the sound of noise rock (minus drums). Perhaps the only major misstep of the entire two CD set is All I have Forgotten, which sounds to be based on improvised abstracted piano and accompany cello, but sonically the tinkling piano awkwardly jars the prevailing album atmosphere. As for the title track, this arrives as a 15 minute monster of sprawling yet tensile shifting bass drones sub-orchestral elements, as the spoken vocals gradually ramp up in aggression to match the upward trajectory of the choppy and chaotic digital noise. As for the final album cut My Crumbling Walls, it is an instrumental offering it is quite cinematically toned with its building string orchestral elements, which build and recede in intensity.

Apart from the 2xCD version, there is a special bonus third digital album, recorded at the same time at The Hunger. Featuring 6 tracks across 50 minutes, this bonus album is limited to 100 by virtue of only being available via plastic business card sized plastic download card. On a whole the bonus album is more subdued overall, by broadly opting for a series of tensile sub-orchestral droning tracks, where vocals do not rise above a narrative whisper.

Given that 2016’s Offal and 2017’s Shame (reviewed here) were albums with a more singular sound and musical vision, The Hunger stands out by the sheer diversity displayed, and consequently is a far stronger album for it. Likewise, while unhinged aggression is an underpinning element of The Hunger, this is more a case of being implied through tonal tension and lyrical phrasing, rather than actual sonic execution. As an album issued so far into Sutcliffe Jugend’s extensive discography, The Hunger is an extremely well executed and sonically diverse collection of tracks, where it seems there is no shortage of musical and lyrical ideas, nor any sense of slowing down from the Sutcliffe Jugend camp. Recommended.

Various Artists – Troum Transformation Tapes: The 20th Anniversary Celebration (1997-2017)

Various Artists – Troum Transformation Tapes: The 20th Anniversary Celebration (1997-2017) 2xCD Transgredient Records 2018

The idea behind this compilation was to gather like-minded artists to help celebrate 20 years of Troum. But rather than being a ‘mere’ remix of existing Troum tracks, contributor were invited to do whatever they like – be it covering, reinterpreting or reprocessing existing Troum sounds. So, while perhaps my first expectations were for a double CD of predominantly drone related material (and while drone does form a backbone of sorts), there is also a rather wide variety of diverse and quite surprising results found on this set. To then speak of contributing artists, this is a stellar line up, including (in alphabetical order): Allseits, Bad Sector, Cisfinitum, Contrstate, Dual, Inade, Marrow C, Martin Bates, Moljebka Pvlse, [Multer], Nadja, O16 vs. Myrrman, QST, Raison D’etre, Reutoff, Tarkatak, Ure Thrall, Vance Orchestra & V.O.S. Thus, with the sheer number or artists on this compilation, it is perhaps more useful to highlight some of the most interesting and divergent pieces on offer, rather than provide a track of track review of all contributions.

Allseits’ track Times functions as an effective warm up for the first disc of the compilation, which features a widescreen, sub-orchestral droning ambience. But things then quickly shift sideways on Contrastate’s track The Silent Fish, which features the distinctive shimmering abstract guitars and post-industrial sounds, while the poetic and impassioned spoken vocals are a trademark element (yet overall the track and lyrical component is far too short). With reference to the contributions from the rather well known Inade and raison d’etre, both tracks are good if not perhaps expected is style and sound (i.e. Inade = archaic cosmic toned ambience and raison d’etre = sacral meditative framed ambience), so functionally do not warrant further detailed analysis here. However, the previously unknown to me Tarkatak delivers an excellent minimalist track of low bass rumble, sparse ritual percussions and ethereal chanted vocals. Nadja also impress with Mirrored In You, a tracking a cyclic loops which builds to quite forceful intensity over its ten-minute span. [Multer] closes the first disc with a subtle and contemplative 15-minute windswept composition of muted sub-orchestral drones and subtle mechanised rhythmic loops for great effect.

Moving on to the second disc, Kapotte Muziek opens with a most surprisingly unexpected swaggering and snappy electronica beat driven track, which gives way to Ure Thrall’s slow morphing, moody and contemplative drone-scape with what sounds to be abstracted shimmer guitars. Equally, the mid paced driving beat driver affair of O16 vs. Myrrman channels a dark underground vein of dance oriented vein, while Dual also deviates from expectation with their low-key piece of sweeping melancholic electronica. Although perhaps within an expected frame of reference, Bad Sector do not disappoint with their technological toned power drones and sub-orchestral melodies, while Ruutoff also excels with their blend of rhythmic loops, throbbing driving beat and minor keys floating melodies. Impressive stuff. Moljebka Pvlse then closes out the second disc and the overall compilation with a minimalist and contemplative forlorn drone work.

Apart from the top notch sonics spread across the two discs, packaging wise, it is presented in 6 panel digi-pack sleeve (complete with jewel-case tray holders for CD which gives a nice solid feel), along with a 16 page booklet with liners notes. All in all a quite impressive set and worthy celebration of Troum’s 20th anniversary.

Pterygium – Concealing The Past

Pterygium – Concealing The Past CD Tesco Organisation 2018

The relatively new Australian project Pterygium have returned with their second full length album Concealing The Past, which follows the 2017 debut Grip (issued on a small cassette run on Algebra Of Need and reviewed here). Also of note, Pteryrium had a track on Tesco Organisation’s 2017 Projekt Neue Ordnung II 4xLP boxset, where Tesco has now subsequently issued this new and admittedly excellent sophomore album.

In noting the dual sonic approach of Grip, which blended minimalistic melodic tones with sharper distortion squalls, that approach has been both repeated and further honed here where the tonal range has been further refined and sonic depth amplified. As an album Concealing The Past is structured around nine distinct and individual pieces of between three and seven minutes each, which on the most part follow an understated melodic and minor keyed compositional framework. Being effectively an instrumental album, a variety of discreet sampled ethnic/ religious framed vocals provides an ethereal touch, as does the melancholic elements (such as piano lines, neo-orchestral strings etc.), which evokes a detached yet strongly emotive resonance (such as is immaculately displayed on A Vacant Regret). Yet there is still a willingness to let loose on select with heavy menacing drones and higher-toned noise squalls such as displayed on Entry_Exitpoint which has a raw tonal sharpness which perhaps is indicative of a live in studio recording technique. A pair of late album tracks (Siphon Like Parasites & And Love Became A One Way Street) both balance on a knifes edge between the dual sonic approaches, on the one side featuring crude distortion blasts and choppy loops, which on the other are offset against bass addled drones and swelling sub-orchestral melodies.

Thematically Concealing The Past clearly fits within the broader post-industrial network, but to its credit does not sound in any way typical or derivative of a particular sub-genre. Rather, it draws extensively from various elements to create its own internalized sound and logic and is all the stronger for it, but for comparative sake the multi-faceted sound displayed by Prurient on Frozen Niagara Falls is perhaps a reasonable reference point.

Although some people continue to complain that the post-industrial music is broadly redundant for lack of new ideas and approaches, and further accuse newer projects of being mere copyists of the originators, Pterygium is the effective antithesis of that opinion. Solo member Henry Gillet clearly understands the underground scene Pterygium operates within, but armed with a wealth of musical ideas he has creates a strong and individual sound which sidesteps being in any way derivative of genre confines of noise, industrial, dark ambient and power electronics. If the current and next generation of projects can match the creativity displayed on Concealing The Past, there is still much new ground to be explored and much to look forward to and be celebrated. A resounding recommendation from these quarters.

Concrete Mascara – Decay Sequence

Concrete Mascara – Decay Sequence MC Unrest Productions 2018
Any new material from Concrete Mascara is a welcome prospect, with this EP length tape featuring six new tracks. On the last full length, Perennial Disappointment (reviewed here), the boosted mastering did not really capture the essence of Concrete Mascara’s sound but this has thankfully been reinstated here. Their trademark raw and sonically overblown distortion features heavily, hewn into rough pulsating loops and broader structural movements. The agonizingly howled vocals are also present, being partially hollowed out and flitting between being semi-buried to roared upfront.
Pleasingly, the tape contains that particular raw and ripping sound of thick chaotic distortion, where atonal and overblown synth lines are blended with higher pitched ‘whistling’ feedback textures. With an at times deep and hollowed-out aesthetic, it partially evokes a live-in-studio-type method of recording, but certainly allows for space and the separation of sonic elements within the mix. There are select moments present that are perhaps unexpectedly minimalist and restrained, which function to elevate the mood when things really let loose. Blood Discipline is one particular track which pulls back on sonic intensity in a more controlled manner, but being structured around a throbbing atonal synth line and other minimalist elements, it only functions to highlight the fierceness and aggression of other barely controlled tracks.
Limited to 123 hand-numbered copies, it has been issued on professionally duplicated tapes and features a minimalist and understated design, which gives no hint of the agonized harshness contained within.

Death In June – ESSENCE!

Death In June – ESSENCE! CD NER 2018

Although I have kept tabs on the neo-folk scene since my obsession with it during the late ‘90s, there are few albums issued over the past decade which have captured my attention, and virtually none of the newer crop of neo-folk groups have resonated with me. Perhaps this is indicative of my listening preferences shifting elsewhere, but it is only Death In June and Of The Wand And The Moon that I have returned to with any regularity. As it has been eight long years since the last formal album Peaceful Snow was issued, the announcement of ESSENCE! caught me completely by surprise, as I was not expecting or anticipating a new album from Douglas. Yet here it is, and with promises of drawing from the true essence of Death In June.

With the short opening track Welcome To Country being a ritualistic call to arms, God A Pale Curse arrives as the first proper song and is stylistically reminiscent of the acoustic neo-folk material featured on The Rule of Thirds (complete with introductory whistling). But whereas The Rule of Thirds was significantly stripped back in instrumentation, it is immediately evident that ESSENCE! is a much fuller album featuring multiple guitar lines, layered synths, prominent counter-pointed bass guitar, and a variety of other elements depending on the track (dialogue samples, ritual chimes, abstracted guitar feedback, studio treatments, etc.). With a perhaps ‘expected’ sound showcased so early in the album, things quickly take a detour into a far wider frame of influence and inspiration, which extends to both song-writing and playing on Douglas’s behalf. The Trigger is the first example of this and has a distinctly up-beat mood, which keeps pace with a simplistic up-tempo back-beat and prominent plodding bass. The bass guitar maintains prominence in the mix on Snipers of the Maidan, with a loose ‘60s feel to its playing and slashes of guitar noise in the background that substantially deviate from that of typical neo-folk. Humble Brag further references the ‘60s era with a swagging bass line, falsetto backing vocals, and lead guitar flourishes, and when a divergent mid-track bridge and late track (studio trickery) breakdown are thrown in for good measure it amounts to the most surprising track on the album.

In shifting back to perhaps more familiar territory, Going Dark is a particular album standout, where the single piano notes, acoustic guitar, understated bass, and ritual percussion pay homage to the mood and atmosphere of classic albums like What Ends… and Rose Clouds… and include the poignant and contemplative (repeated) vocal line of:  “Like a fly on the wall at my own funeral, I am free”. This is followed by another album standout The Dance of Life-To Shoot A Valkyrie, which is split into two distinct sections, the first characterized by an upfront and upbeat bass line, and the second half a more direct neo-folk piece, with the bass maintaining a plodding upbeat flair. No Belief displays yet more stylistic diversity in song-writing and playing, given it is characterised by a jangly style of guitar playing. Given that Death In June could never be accused of writing ‘happy music,’ it is only during the quite dour and moody What Will Become of Us? that it becomes apparent to how up-tempo the balance of the album is. This song in part even manages to hark back to the ‘80s sound of the group with the inclusion of stoic trumpet blasts, whip-cracks and woodblock percussion, but even then breaks new ground with two duelling and intertwining keyboard lines.

With 11 tracks spanning 45 minutes it is a brisk yet diverse album. After becoming fully acquainted with ESSENCE!, it is intriguing to hear how Douglas has pushed his song writing into newer regions, when he could have simply ‘rung in’ in a standard and perhaps ‘expected’ neo-folk album. But in drawing influences which fall well outside anything remotely neo-folk, to my ear a potential influence is Scott Walker’s ‘60s pop album Scott 4 (I am sure there are many other influences that have passed me by). In noting the wide array of unexpected aspects of this album, this may be to the chagrin of some neo-folk ‘purists’, but I am sure this would hardly be of any concern to Douglas. ESSENCE! is both an admirable and very enjoyable album, and all the more so as it manages to be a staunchly Death In June album, while also allowing Douglas to pursue new creative ends and buck any preconceived expectations in the process. Therein lies its true ‘essence’.

Arktau Eos – Erēmos

Arktau Eos – Erēmos CD Aural Hypnox 2018

After the abstracted and minimalist Catacomb Resonator CD/LP from 2017, Arktau Eos have returned to a slightly more direct musical form, although this is clearly still within the enveloping ritual ambient framework for which the group is known and lauded. As is typical with this form of music, it’s structured around interlinking movements to aid flow and meditative/immersive impact; Erēmos features nine tracks, spanning 49 minutes of dour, slow evolving, minor-tuned melodies, droning soundscapes, and subtle field recordings.

The Liminal Pilgrim opens the album with swelling drones, catatonic drum pulse, and looped elements (sounding like twittering birds) which evokes a very organic and ritualistic sound, far from a computer-generated sounds palette, while a variety of other subtle layered sonic elements create diversity despite the minimalist ambient framework. After the extremely short one-and-a-half-minute track Facing The Exarchs Of Desolation, the following piece He Who Drinks The Light Of The Stars arrives with slow and sustained intertwining minor-keyed melody lines and pulsating synth tones, which further blend with various shimmering and metallic-toned ritual percussion. Autochthon is perhaps the most divergent piece by virtue of its swirling vortex of animated and surreally disorientating layers. Likewise, late album track In The Jaws Of Basalt Lions is a particular standout with its forceful droning framework, ascending/descending melodic line and sparse ritualistic percussion.

Of particular note on Erēmos is the archaic ritual- and occult-infused atmosphere embedded throughout, which is mostly derived from the deep analogue tone of the synthesizers. This generates a strong sense of mysterious and ethereal otherworldliness, but is also tinged with a strong degree of musicality in both sound and general direction, even if the instrumentation is atypical, such as a hand pump organ, archaic-toned synthesizers, and various ritual percussive implements. Although pretty much everything issued on the Aural Hypnox label constitutes mandatory listening for me, Erēmos is a pinnacle album which continues to reward with newly noted sonic details and nuances on repeat listens.