Militia – The Face of God / Ambiorix

Militia – The Face of God CD Old Europa Café 2019

Militia – Ambiorix CD Old Europa Café 2018

To provide a brief history lesson, Militia have been operating since the late 1980’s, where their general approach could be characterised as a logical extension of the early oil barrel percussion of industrial pioneers Test Department. Militia then managed to hit an outstandingly high peak of output early on, with particular reference to: New European Order 3xLP (1996); their contribution to the cult compilation War Against Society 3xLP (1997); and The Black Flag Hoisted 2xCD (2000). Each of these and now broadly considered landmark classics of the post-industrial underground, which then tends to cast a very long shadow over everything which has followed and to which against every new release is compared. Inevitably this is the context in which the two new Militia albums are considered.

The Face of God although issued in 2019, was first issued in 2015 as a self-released box-set, but with poor distribution it was quite difficult to obtain. This 2019 version appears it may in fact be from the original CD pressing but re-issued within a newly designed 6 panel digi-pack. In context of Militia’s discography The Face of God followed on from 2005’s Everything Is One CD and 2011’s Power! Propaganda! Production! CD. Both of those albums where characterized by being more streamlined, cleanly produced, and song focused, and for me were both highly enjoyable releases which demonstrated a gradually refinement of Militia’s earlier approach. Interestingly The Face of God differs from those albums given it has a rougher and distorted edge which more closely aligns with the earlier era. Male choral vocals and tolling bells of Psalm 1: An Atheist Statement opens the album, before an echoed proclamation of project mainstay Frank Gorissen makes the theme of the album exceedingly clear. Following this the track launches into a section of trademark looped synth lines, wailing horns and heady thrummed percussion. Without doubt a brilliant start. Psalm 5: Sermon is also a clear standout with its fast-paced metallic percussive drive and maudlin underpinning synth line. Psalm 7: God’s Face is another track displaying all the pinnacle trademarks of Militia’s approach aka the rhythmic loops, pounding metallic percussion and wailing horns. Late album track Psalm 10: Call All Atheists is another particular highlight with its atonal droning synth-line, blended with forceful incessantly rolling/ clanging percussion and strained proclamation styled vocals. Yet alongside the highlights sporadic missteps don’t go unnoticed, where on occasion the execution of percussion feel overly stilted and out of time, such as on Psalm 2: The immaculate Conception Of Lies. A minor gripe, but a gripe nonetheless.

In moving on to the consideration of the latest Militia opus Ambiorix issued in late 2018, from the outset the album draws a clear to the recent 2017 re-recording of the classic New European Order (reviewed here). By this it is meant the earlier percussive driven windswept battlefield atmospheres are clearly present, but the recording is crystalline and without a grey hued murkiness. Likewise of note, on the thematic side of things instead of political framed social commentary, the album differs as it focuses on a historic period instead, and quoting from the cover: ‘Militia plans King Ambiorix’ struggle again the Roman occupation of Gaul in 54 BC’. In an overarching sense while Ambiorix follows Militia’s established sonic template, the album as a whole is quite atmospherically filmic in tone, particularly where rousing synth based neo-classical elements such as choirs, horns and strings are utilised. This cinematic impression is further reinforced through the clear narrative outlined by the album’s 11 tracks, and with the production being relatively clean and spacious, means that although being percussive based, it does not feel as heavy as other Militia material. To talk specifics, early Negotiation perfectly blends rhythmic loops, driving militant drumming and stirring synth melodies. Equally the introductory neo-classical strains of Ambush are particularly rousing, which sets the scene for a ‘battle march’ percussive driven track. Calling All Gauls again follows the classic Militia format of rolling metallic percussion and looped melody and further elevated with neo-classical backing elements. Late album track War is equally rousing with its battlefield samples, choir synths and ever-present driving percussion. Rounding out the hour length album is the 11.5 minute The Lost King which is an ambient soundscape which evolves into a mid-paced militant percussive track though the mid-section, before shifting back to and ambient soundscape during its final moments.

As an overall comment, I would not profess that either of these Militia releases exceeds the heights of the early era classics, yet they each still stand as resoundingly strong releases on their own. In recognition of their slight deviations in tone and approach, both The Face of God and Ambiorix are fitting additions to the Militia discography and will absolutely please followers of the group, both older or more recent. Recommended.

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BJNilsen ‎– Focus Intensity Power / Tape Dekay ‎– Decadimento Del Nastro – Decadenza Di Tutto

BJNilsen Focus Intensity Power LP Moving Furniture Records 2018

Tape Dekay Decadimento Del Nastro – Decadenza Di Tutto CD Old Captain/Narcolepsia 2019

From his first dark ambient project Morthound which had releases on Cold Meat Industry during the early 1990s, BJNilsen moved over to the Hazard moniker in the late 1990s, and from around 2004 onwards opted to record under his own name. Generally speaking, over the last 15 years BJ’s approach has been characterized by an experimental approach to sonically processing various natural and urban-based field recordings. However with Focus Intensity Power being the solo new album, it marks a decided shift away from the use of field recordings as it is a purely studio-based album, which according to the promo notes provides: ‘documents of improvised sessions using modular synthesizers, tone generators and test and measurement instruments’. Sonically this album has greater alignment with early Hazard albums than recent solo output and is certainly welcomed from these quarters. The 15-minute album opener Beam Finder is an elongated exploration of minimalist unceasing mid to lower range bass tones, coupled with micro-tonal static and machine idling drones which appear late in the track. This approach continues with The Sound Of Two Hands, although this is slightly more forceful and varied with the introduction of a ‘ticking clock’ element and other minimalist scattered electronics. The relatively short Flattened Space embodies a muted sub-orchestral tone blended with mechanical menace, while Table of Hours fits cleanly within a dark ambient drone frame of reference. The final of the five tracks, The Limits of Function, starts slow but gradually elevates with layered machine drones, and the second half of the track is driven forwards by a central rhythmic loop. In essence Focus Intensity Power is an effective celebration of sustained tonal atmospheres, which amounts to evocative sounds in their purest form. Sublime.

Moving on to the review of Tape Dekay, this is not a new project but a quite obscure side project of BJNilsen. In fact, before this debut CD only two tracks were previously issued from the project on two separate compilation releases dating from 1999 and 2008. Given that in recent decades BJ has mostly worked under his own name with manipulated field recordings/electroacoustic material, for Tape Dekay the sleeves have been rolled up to tackle the more direct fields of noise. But as might be expected with someone with such refined experimental compositional skills, these have been employed here to generate a clean and loud production. While ‘noise’ is the name of the game, it is also not ‘harsh noise’ by any stretch; this is more of an exercise in experimental noise and an exploration in tone and sonic construction technique. Although select passages build to a certain noise heft, including crumbling bass, static rumble, and slashes of sound, the album is also not harsh by typical measures. Other tracks employ a vague structure of off-kilter factory rhythms, driven forwards with weighty machine-like drones and monolithic industrial loops. With melodic elements being entirely absent (except for what sounds like processed male choirs in one track), the employed tone and the separation of sonic elements function to maintain detailed interest throughout. Likewise, given the level of meticulous construction which has been employed within compositions, there is a real sense of sonic complexity spanning the seven tracks.

Both of these albums from BJ Nilsen are certainly different in approach and equally enjoyable in their own right and chosen musical spheres. But from a purely personal position, Focus Intensity Power is the album which I have kept returning to over many months.

Terror Cell Unit ‎– Psalm 137:9

Terror Cell Unit Psalm 137:9 LP Bacteria Field ‎2018

Terror Cell Unit have been rather active in recent years and of the 11 releases issued since 2014, six were issued in 2018 and 2019 alone. Psalm 137:9 has functioned as my introduction to the project, being a strongly themed, high-caliber power electronics release. With the project being an American duo of Mackenzie Chami and Samuel Torres, it is quite apparent they are inspired by the UK/European ‘cultural terrorist’ approach to power electronics, but equally have ample elements to put their own stamp on this sound.

This release, based on track titles, cover images, and dialogue samples, is concerned with Timothy James McVeigh and the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing, which killed 168 people (including 19 children – 14 of whom are pictured on the album cover). Further information on different elements of this incident, details of American white supremacist movements, and associated government responses such as Operation Cleansweep, are also provided via dialogue samples, additional sleeve images, and inserts. Given this thematic focus, it then specifically warrants consideration of the album’s title of Psalm 137:9 noting that this psalm states: “Happy is the one who seizes your infants and dashes them against the rocks.” While some theological interpretations say it is intended to mean a desire for justice through the metaphorical death of one’s enemies (this explanation also expressly ignores the practice during biblical times of conquering forces killing infants to sever the bloodline of their adversaries), clearly this is not the context in which it has been employed here.

The album opens with Suicide Mission Part I (Planning) which is a throbbing, seething, mass of throbbing bass, dive-bombing textures, and raw vocals processed beyond recognition, with a similar mood following through to Suicide Mission Part II (Executing The Operation) which is fleshed out with a documentary sample regarding the ease of accessibility of firearms within America. Vocals are courtesy of Mackenzie Chami (also of Koufar) and are strong and distinct, but perhaps in the context of Terror Cell Unit a greater degree of echo and distortion treatment has been employed (which makes the vocals less overtly prominent than their presentation in Koufar). Fear God/Hate Man functions to elevate the mood with its framework of mid-paced swaying rhythmic loops, fiercely framed mid to higher pitched distortion, and heavily processed ragged vocals. Psalm 137:9 is even more unhinged, with rough structures, buzzing noise, and vocals repeating the psalm of the track’s title. In stepping down a touch on the ‘machine idling’ pulse of Swine Feasting On Their Merchants, the vocals are processed to the point of resembling a pig’s squeal, and later replaced with samples of squealing swine. Patriot’s Day further fleshes out the themes of the release through documentary dialogue samples, which are backed by elevating layered distortion that builds to a chaotic sonic mass. In closing the album, When The Chickens Come Home To Roost commences with the emphatically screamed lyric of “we only say what the bible says”, before launching into a blistering and shuddering track of barely contained revving loops and general sonic mayhem. Fantastic stuff.

Being sonically strong and thematically unflinching, this is an excellent modern power electronics release. Although clearly not reinventing the wheel, there are ample sonic hallmarks and compositional techniques that give Terror Cell Unit a sound of their own. Likewise, attitude and aggression play a big part in whether this sort of material works or not, but given that Terror Cell Unit have both of this in spades, the project are shaping up to be a favorite new discovery – albeit I am clearly late to the party. Recommended.

Die Sonne Satans ‎– Metaphora

Die Sonne Satans ‎– Metaphora LP AnnapurnA 2018

The Italian Dark Ambient project Die Sonne Satans is a name I have always been familiar with, but only ever heard their track on the Slaughter Productions Death Odours compilation of 1994, which was was a moody dark ambient piece, with a minimalist cinematic horror music flair. Although the project issued three formal releases from 1993 to 1995 (including two tapes on Slaughter Productions), they effectively passed me by.

In its original form, Metaphora was the first release from the project, and was issued in 1993 via Old Europa Cafe as a split tape with Runes Order, which I have obviously not heard until now. With mention of the minimalist cinematic horror slant above, this is in fact substantially elevated here, and particularly based on the slow tolling church bells, distant orchestral melodies, owl calls and crepuscular voices open the album on The Garden of Hydra. Other tracks feature muted melodious loops, sweeping tones and ritual percussive textures, and create a tensile atmosphere as a result (refer Body Snatcher, Spiritwood). Source stands apart with its darkly whimsical synthetic orchestral strings, blended with aquatic tones textures for sublime result. Side B brings continues the obscure and moody atmospherics, with Orbis mining tensile catacomb ambience, while The Venerable returns to sacral ambient spheres through the use of slow tolling church bells, loops and treated choir vocal textures, orchestral tinged synth lines and solo piano line. Advent constitutes a more driving and dominant sub-orchestral composition structured with a variety of fragmentary loops, while the final track Pleurotomaria (originally taken from a 1992 tape compilation) returns to a floating darkly cinematic terrain, with floating disembodied vocalisations.

With a dour mood and obscure melancholy which is characteristic of early 1990’s industrial / dark ambient scene, the music lives and breathes with subtle vibrancy, whereas modern computer versions of the same type of material usually come across sound flat and lifeless. Although clearly of the era in which it was created and recorded this is not some mere nostalgia trip, given Metaphora can stand above much of what is released in dark ambient spheres today. This is a fantastic release, and huge credit needs to be extended to AnnapurnA for reissuing this underground obscurity.

Feberdröm – Blind Eden / Offerlammet

Feberdröm – Blind Eden MC Emesis 2018

Feberdröm – Offerlammet MC Emesis 2018

The Swedish project Feberdröm (translating to ‘fever-dream’) have been lurking around in the post-industrial underground since 2011 and amassed fifteen releases in that time (mostly issued on cassette). Emesis is then noted to be run by the same person behind Feberdröm, with these two tapes being the first items issued on the label. On the musical front Feberdröm are slightly difficult to classify, given they draw from a wide cross-section of underground sounds, including: industrial noise, abstracted rhythmic/ ritual movements, caustic heavy electronics, experimental guitar drone and other more ethereal atmospheres. But perhaps a descriptor of ‘abrasive ambient’ is a suitable catch all.

Blind Eden is then characteristic of this wide stylistic palette, where the track Blind Eden Falls is a particularly good example of moody droning atmospheres, abrasive textures and agonized ranted vocals. Likewise, the stilled rhythmic elements as featured on Death Of A Snake warrants a fleeting comparison to another Swedish project Stratvm Terror. Incinerators opens side B and mines a heavy electronics tone, as does the grindingly morose Concrete Apocalypse, while The Deed is Done rounds out the tape with sub-orchestral synth pads and a generally ethereal mood. On a whole Offerlammet is slightly less varied than Blind Eden, although there are abstract noise-scapes sitting adjacent to other tracks of programmed drums and atonal guitar drone. In fact Offerlammet is characterized by its greater reliance on guitar which is wielded in an experimental fashion than anything resembling standard playing, therefore resembles a doom-drones style at times – albeit without obvious riffs.

Given both tapes feature eight tracks each and both span 40 minutes, as a general comment I would say there are some excellent tracks which sit alongside more standard or typical ones. Thus perhaps then with a more focused and discerning track selection, it would take the material in a step up towards greatness. But even with that said, there is a lot to enjoy here and certainly nothing that it poor or woeful. Also for my own personal preferences, I find tracks which use abstracted guitars to be less engaging overall, which makes Blind Eden my pick of these two tapes. In noting the above, I imagine Feberdröm are a project to keep a watchful eye on.

Michael Idehall – Four Prophecies

Michael Idehall – Four Prophecies 4xMC Cloister Recordings 2018

Micahel Idehall is a name I have been familiar with for a number of years, but for whatever reason never got around to checking any of his material until now. But in then being introduced to his music via this release, I have been advised that this is VERY different to his usual output, which I understand may be more rhythmic based and song focused. As for Four Prophecies, it very much an exercise in endurance as the four tapes contain a long-form 45-minute composition on each side, thereby totally a whopping six hours of music. As an overarching descriptor, this can be bracketed under minimalist and industrial tinged dark ambience, where the eight tracks are massively sprawling as may be expected from the format.

Given the sheer elongated run-time, there is a certain process of shifting your mindset when approach this, and very much seeking to slow the chatter and internal dialogue of your mind so as to better succumb to the slow evolutionary flow on display. Each piece effectively inhabits is own sound palette and minimalist stylistic slant and slowly unfurls over its duration. Sonically the industrial-ambient soundscapes are darkly hued, structured around layering of muted atonal drones and grey echoed sound washes, and while being predominantly instrumental, whispered vocals, and distant chants do make sporadic appearances. Select tracks have a more pronounced rhythmic undercurrents, including low bass throbs, stilted ritualized percussion and other mechanical textures (clicking sounds, distant machine idling etc).  There is also a notable darker abstracted ritual atmosphere throughout a number of compositions, which for the sake of comparison reminds of the late era minimalism of Archon Satani.

Given the long-form run time it is perhaps an overly obvious statement that it encompasses a meditative quality. But given the catatonic evolution of each piece, once your mind is drawn in it quickly generates an impression that there is no beginning and no end – but only the ever present now – where the mind slowly floats along in the ever-flowing sonic stream. Packaging wise does the set suitable justice with four pro-printed tapes and j-cards housed in an oversized pro-printed cardboard slider box. Clearly not a release for those with a short attention span, but a rewarding one for those with patience and willingness on focus on the minuscule sonic details and gradual tonal shifts.

Sickness – Purgatory

Sickness – Purgatory CD Cipher Productions 2018

As per my usual disclaimer, noise music is not entirely my forte but I do dabble in listening from time to time. To then speak of noise stalwart Sickness (aka solo project of Chris Goudreau), the project has been active for over 20 years, however it turns out that Purgatory is not a new release. Rather, it was first issued on tape in 2013 (25 copies), reissued in 2015 (100 copies), and now reissued for a third time in 2018 on a less limited CD.

To speak of the music (ahem – ‘noise’), only four tracks spanning 18 minutes are featured. The opening cut The Unmagnificent Lives of Us All starts slow, but soon the building static represents a massive avalanche of sound which quickly shifts into rapid-fire noise and distortion blasts, which carries through to the next cut Not Much Left Of Me Now in increasingly chaotic form. The same approach is employed for Not Worthy of Heaven, where the choppy nature of the sonics rapidly cuts between harshness and fragmentary silence, which functions to amplify the noise when in full flight. Likewise, with the noise elements being tonally sharp and crisp it is akin to witnessing the massive sound and energy of arcing high voltage electricity. The final of the four track And I Wait is a slow burn and slow build of a needling mid-toned noise drone against a cavernous echoed backdrop, which only elevates to noise oriented territory in its final moments.

Given that noise is not my usual listening fare, the truncated format of this release functions to substantially increase its impact, but no doubt this short run time will have noise-heads wanting more. For this CD reissue, it comes in mini-cardboard gate-fold cover with imagery and text suitable to its title.