Ochu – Unproduktiw

Ochu – Unproduktiw LP Verlautbarung 2018

Ochu is the solo project of Swede Love Rosenström, and while he has been recording as Ochu since the early 2000’s I am only familiar with recent output (although I then have a vague appreciation that his current material has elevated experimentation and dialled down slightly on a harsher noise and heavier industrial aesthetic).

With the current approach based on meticulous layering and blending of textural sonic detail, Ochu’s material in highly animated and sonically nuanced. Likewise, by avoiding any semblance of stuffy academic experimental music, there is clear force and intent at play where the results are engaging and above all vital. Much of the assembled sonic content appears to have been generated from field recording or contact mic based recording sessions, but those inputs have been further manipulated and abstracted to achieve textural density and complexity. The opening track Struisvogelpolitiek is a great example of this, with tonally load creaking wood and metal, where the ‘micro-tonal’ recordings have been elevated to a loud and overblown tone which bridges the organic and the mechanical. Humos De Existencia Estática is a slow burn of a composition, where a jagged yet muted loop is overtaken by an invasive and incessant drone which fractures and multiplies in intensity, while the other rough echoed loops are used for vague ‘train carriage on tracks’ rhythmic effect.

Förnuftsflimmer (Partiellt Anfall) opens Side B are draws out a minimalist ritualised pulse which is blended with a series of forceful mechanical drones, while further micro-tonal textures are elevated to the forefront of the mix. Contra-tasking functions as a short interlude of a fractured grinding loop, which is followed by the lengthy track Segments of Destination concludes the album. Commencing with a spacious mix and again with a focus on micro-sonic detailing (i.e. rocks, wood, metal), the various elements amalgamate into loosely elevating loops, as a deep, muted bass rumble elevates with storm-front intensity. Yet clear restraint is still employed, as rather than building the track an overblown climax, the storm-front passes by and gradually recedes into concluding oblivion.

In both the sound, style and graphic presentation Unproduktiw clearly side stepped any of the typical clichés which could be levelled at the post-industrial underground, and is an album of passion and dedication to a personal sonic craft. Clearly bridging the gap between musique concrete experimentation and roughly hewn post-industrial soundscapes, Unproduktiw is a clever and expertly executed release. Recommended.

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N. – Unworthy

N. – Unworthy 10”EP Cipher Productions 2018

Although N. has issued numerous releases since their 1997 debut on the cult Italian label Slaughter Productions, I am only familiar with the cassette box-set from 1998 (also issues on Slaughter Productions), and the 2017 reissue of Hospital Murders tape (originally issued in 2004). However, it can be generally surmised that N. is concerned with showcasing minimalist death industrial/ power electronics in the same or similar vein to other Italian masters of the genre.

The first side of the vinyl features three short tracks. Unworthy Situation delivers muted static, low end rumble and general sonic crunch, which continues into Images Hunter yet features a wonky organ melody that bleeds into the mix. Relapse, the third track on Side A is far more direct, with forceful choppy pulsations, grim oscillations and forced static washes. Side B delivers a single lengthy track Into Psychosis and is more direct and less experimental that the first side, and all the better for it. Based on dank, rumbling, lofi death industrial pulsations, it emulates the fractured idling of an unidentified machine of ill purpose. Minimalist but layered, the sound is thick and pulsing with a barely discernible medical related dialogue sample within the sonic mass. Clipped atonal rhythms feature (looped door creaking/ closing samples?), as do other background panning textures gradual elevate in prominence.

Like many of the releases issued on Cipher Productions there is a home-made DIY art aesthetic at play, where this is limited to a mere 100 copies features and with a cover which is effectively folded and screen-printed cloth with insert. It almost goes without saying that the pristine white cloth and lurid orange colour of the screen-printing image belies the dank, suffocating and lofi atmospheres pressed into the vinyl. A quality release of stasis and non-movement from this long-standing Italian project.

Desiderii Marginis – Vita Arkivet

Desiderii Marginis – Vita Arkivet LP Cyclic Law 2018

When Desiderii Marginis first emerged in 1997 with the debut CD on Cold Meat Industry, the project was a young upstart to the slightly more established raision d’etre. In fast forwarding 22 years, both projects are still active and continue to carve their own particular niche within the broader sacral infused dark ambient field, while each maintain their respective positions at the top of the genre. With Vita Arkivet, it is billed as a mini-album and is therefore far more compact and to the point than 2014 sprawling double album Hypnosis. Five tracks span just over 40 minutes, but as is typical of this music they function as flowing movements thereby allowing for meditative and immersive impact.

To then perhaps explain why raison d’etre is mentioned in the introduction, an immediate observation to be made of this new release has chosen to use prominent chanted male Gregorian vocals on the first two tracks, which is an element which raison d’etre adopted as a strong trademark of sorts early in their career. Here the slightly echo treated sacral male chants are used in context of the album’s theme (i.e. symbolism relating to the loss of ‘self’ in death) and provide a heavily melancholic mood. These vocals blend perfectly with the characteristic and established style of Desiderii Marginis, being that of lush and forlorn sub-orchestral melodies blended seamlessly with deep ringing bells and undercurrent drones. In noting the format of slow morphing dark ambient movements, some sharper and grating sonic elements are sparingly injected for tensile and evocative impact. Thus, while earlier works from the project have certainly had a heavily dark streak, Vita Arkivet manages to evoke a direct, darker and more haunted visage than normal.

Without question Johan Levin displays masterful control and restraint in composition, and when this results in material as strong as is displayed here it certainly cause for celebration. An excellent release which has been on constant rotation over recent months. Issued on multiple formats, including vinyl, CD and digital, but the vinyl is particularly clean and striking in presentation.

Code Neda – Tomorrow Double The Body Count

Code Neda – Tomorrow Double The Body Count MC Unrest Productions 2018

For context, Code Neda’s debut tape from 2017 can be broadly bracketed under a death industrial sound tinged with ritual heavy electronics (reviewed here). However, on this follow up it features a more direct heavy electronics sound, where ten track make up an album length tape.

The streamlined approach is immediately evident when the opening track The Devil and the Child bursts forth from the speakers with grinding bass emissions, sweeping static and heavily processed/ morbidity toned vocal proclamations. System is another display of honed simplicity, with a central mechanised ‘beat’, blended with layered bass pulsations and again with the treated vocals. In its maintenance of a strikingly direct  heavy electronics approach, sonic variation is delivered with air-raid sirens (Europe Was Lost), corkscrew spiralling drones (Jackie Duddy), subdued power-electronics menace (Confession) and fast-paced rhythmic pulsations (Blood On Your Hands), while the tape concludes with the subdued Bloody Ritual with is stilted and repetitive loops and morbid vocalisations.

Clearly Unrest Productions is pretty much a perfect label for material of this fare, and while clearly working within the broader parameters of its chosen genre, Code Neda has demonstrated a wealth of ideas and skill of sonic execution which makes for a excellently honed heavy electronics release. Pro-printed tape and cover round and the physical packaging. You know what to do.

Graustich – Morality Ends

Graustich – Morality Ends LP Tordon Ljud 2018

As an introductory comment, I must admit this album was very much a slow burner for me. After I tracked down a copy of this debut album from this obscure and anonymous project, I gave it a few spins and thought it to be a quite OK example of German toned heavy electronics, but then promptly forgot about it with a mountain of other new material to listen to. In fast forwarding a few months I then kept seeing people online singing its praise as one of the best albums of 2018, which raised my interest me revisit and reevaluate, which I am really glad I did as this is a truly excellent release.

To speak broadly of its sound, Morality Ends is built around molasses thick bass structures, which in slow laborious loops forms the broader sonic approach. Yet subtle variation in both structure, sonic intensity and sampling maintains interest across the album’s eight tracks. Gralsritter opens the album in relatively subdued bass toned loops, prior to the real action commencing with Let the Guns Begin, which steps up with squall and static and a number of nationalistic styled samples through the later half. Our Justice reminds of a particular windswept heavy electronics sound prevalent German project in the early 1990’s (think early Predominance sans keyboard melodies), while Greensboring is a complete standout by virtue of it its pulsing bass, mechanized metallic loops, short wave radio static, ominous programmed beat and semi-buried crowd and dialogue samples (which I am assuming relates to a 1979 incident in Greensboro, North Carolina when five members of the Communist Workers Party who were participating in a ‘Death to the Klan’ rally were shot to death by a group of Klansmen and neo-Nazis).

Side B presents a further four quality tracks, with Puppet of Masters being another standout cut framed around a militant thudding beat, orchestral styled drone, building washes of distortion, and yet more semi-buried samples. To then make reference to the variety of chosen samples, a number of these begin to paint a vague conceptual framework which focuses on the racial divide which underscores American society both past and present, but like any good underground post-industrial music, the use of such samples raises clear questions about meaning, message and intent. Drilled to Kill is one of the most animated pieces of the album, and while it stops short of being blood boiling it is certainly amped up compared to other tracks given its grinding loops and fast paced pulsing structures. This mood continues with the faced paced panning between speakers on Church of Death, which creates a very disorienting effect, while Noble Hate closes out the album with vigorous layered loops, mid-toned static and prominent current affairs sampling addressing the KKK and the White Power movement.

Given I am now singing the praise of Morality Ends, credit needs to be given to those individuals who highlighted on social media platforms as being an excellent release, as otherwise the LP would have been relegated to a semi-forgotten release on my shelves. Ultimately, I think my initial impression was perhaps more of a case of sonic fatigue at the time, yet in the re-listening Morality Ends clearly benefits substantially form significant volume in order to bring the deeper semi-buried elements to the foreground. As for the physical presentation, a no frills black and white cover rounds out a very solid release.

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.

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.