Heretic Grail – Instruments of War / On The Heels Of Insignificance

Heretic Grail – Instruments of War 2xMC Slave Chandelier 2019

Heretic Grail – On The Heels Of Insignificance LP Breathing Problems Productions 2019

Instruments of War constitutes my introduction to Heretic Grail, yet it seems that as of April, 2019 the project may have already ceased activity. If that is the case the project was active for less than a year since mid-2018, but still managed to issue twelve releases in that time.

The six tracks featured on Instruments of War are spread across the two tapes, totalling around 37 minutes. With a strongly militant edge to the sound, the industrial/power electronics approach is based on loosely constructed and generally mid-paced compositions. As for the broad approach on display, the tracks feature windswept battlefield ambience based on blended layers of caustic electronics consisting of: idling static; trembling distortion; erupting fissures of noise; smatterings of dialogue samples; and rounded out with strained, echo-smeared vocals (which are ranted but unintelligible). To talk specifics, Tortured Lullaby stands out positively with its melodious synth drone and shuddering bass. Regrets Of Termination And Conquest also follows a similar sonic template, but is defined by a dialogue sample where a soldier recounts his first kill in combat (which is revealed to be civilian and in the telling is tinged with repent). Beyond the sonic side of things, specific mention also needs to be made of the packaging, where the two pro-printed tapes are housed in a black elongated paper envelope along with a myriad of collage-based inserts. But being limited to only 60 copies, this is already likely to be difficult to track down.

Although also issued in 2019 On The Heels Of Insignificance is not a current recording from the project, rather is a vinyl reissue of a 2018 tape issued on Fusty Cunt. Although it does inhabit the same general sound sphere as Instruments of War, this LP is also less refined and slightly more direct in sonic expression. In a general sense an elevated level of tension is evident, where the tracks are built around grimly grinding machine like loops and augmented with vocals and/or dialogue samples. Swine.Cleaner sitting at the centre of the album is particularly impacting, based on its searing distortion and grinding noise-based approach which elevates to wind-tunnel intensity.

For the chosen style and approach Heretic Grail have delivered releases which perhaps not necessarily rising to a ‘mandatory’ status, both releases remain strongly enjoyable for what they are in their chosen style. In then comparing the two Instruments of War is the more varied and refined release of the two, and perhaps also warrants a re-edition – hopefully on vinyl.

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Murderous Vision – Abscission

Murderous Vision – Abscission MC Chthonic Streams 2019

Consistent longevity in the underground is no easy feat, yet 2019 is revealed as the 25th anniversary of Stephen Petrus’ solo project Murderous Vision. Having always been broadly defined by a murky death industrial style characteristic of the now classic 1990’s era, recent output has displayed a greater degree of experimentation. Yet of the four tracks which feature on Abscission, it harks back to the early era of the project.

Tape opener Breaking the Bonds of Light announces intent with horror synths, militant percussion and murky drones which border on choral chants, but things take a noted step up with the following track Echoed Voice. The first a section of darkly brooking cinematic ambience and spoken vocals, prior to the second half featuring chanted male vocals against rolling, echo processed percussion and rising tide of grim distortion. Autumn Black begs a partial comparison to the brooding, cinematically tinged and percussive death industrial of Megaptera. With an excellent display of restraint, the driving percussion only arrived in the later half of track to ratchet up the tensile mood. For the final of the four compositions, Open The Night Sky round out the tape as the heaviest and most direct track, featuring slow pummeling beat, grinding looped bass distortion and aggressive heavily processed vocal barrage.

At around 27 minutes of music, this is a short and to the point released, but also packs a major impact in that time, where each of the four track deliver a distinct and individual sound within a broader death industrial framework. Abscission is great tape and fitting celebration of a quarter century of activity. But with an extremely limited physical edition, this would also be a great candidate for a vinyl reissue.

Mists of Darkness – The Lightless Lands

Mists of Darkness – The Lightless Lands MC Trapdoor Tapes 2019

Well this is certainly a blast from the past. Originally self-released in 1995, Mists of Darkness were a one-man ‘dungeon synth’ project from Australia, and contextually speaking, The Lightless Lands was produced in an era well before ‘dungeon synth’ even existed as a descriptive genre tag. Yet at the time of its original release, material of this type was very much an offshoot of the underground black metal scene and the growing crossover into underground post-industrial music (via artists and labels such as Mortiis and Cold Meat Industry).

Noting that this tape can today be described as ‘dungeon synth’, some comments need to be made regarding the current micro-trend of this style. With the endless raft of new acts seemingly cropping up, of all the new material I have heard, the greater majority sounds over produced with a ‘jolly’ or ‘twee’ slant (i.e. in a ridiculous medieval way), where the end result sounds akin to poor man’s role-playing game/ computer game music. Equally the production of much of the current era ‘dungeon synth’ is often too clean and lacks a lofi charm that a murky production can bring. In short there seems to be a real lack of understanding of the obscure and atmospheric elements which should ideally underpin the sound. But enough of that rant. Obviously Mists of Darkness are one of the few projects of ‘dungeon synth’ that I can still appreciate.

The Lightless Lands features four tracks (or ‘acts’) with a run time around 33 minutes. The track titles themselves allude to creation and description of a world unique to Mists of Darkness (i.e.: Act 1 Journey To The Lightless Lands & Act 3 The First Vision Of The Lightless Lands), which places the concept in a dark fantasy type realm (also of note, the cover images gives a nod to Ralph Bakshi’s 1978 animated film version of The Lord of the Rings). From a listeners’ perspective, the first thing of note is the sound, which is crude and lofi to the point of making early Era 1 Mortiis recordings look decidedly high fidelity. Yet it is the crude sound which actually embellishes its dark and obscure atmosphere. Compositionally the tracks are generally composed with low bit-rate computer generated droning loops, which are further layered with singular toned melodies, programmed ritual percussive patterns and other sporadic computer-based sounds which emulate lightning, thunder, windstorms, waves lapping at shore and shrieks of unidentified beasts. The overall crude sound clearly shows the sonic limitations of the equipment this was composed and recorded on, but again the muffled sound of the recording on tape format functions to provide a grey hued atmosphere which adds rather than detracts. Thus, despite its clear limitations, there is still an ingrained level of darkly atmospheric charm.

If ‘crude’, ‘obscure’ and ‘lofi’ are descriptors for dungeon synth which spark interest, further investigation of The Lightless Lands is pretty much mandated. Although personally having owned the original tape since its original release way back in 1995, it is great to see Trapdoor Tapes have reissued this to give this underground obscurity greater prominence.

Sarin Snow – Incurring Wisdom / Deus Vult

Sarin Snow – Incurring Wisdom MC Slave Chandelier 2019

Sarin Snow – Deus Vult LP Breathing Problems Productions 2019

I have only recently come across Sarin Snow, which is a relatively new American project with a clutch of releases since 2016. The majority of those has been issued on Slave Chandelier, which as I understand it is helmed by the same individual behind Sarin Snow.

The latest cassette Incurring Wisdom functioned as my proper introduction to the project, which although broadly billed as being an industrial/power electronics project, to my impression there is far greater degree of sonic linage of the militant noise-industrial/heavy electronics prevalent in the Europe territories in the mid-1990’s. Given it is far more subdued overall and with a decidedly more ‘European’ angle to sound and approach, this means Sarin Snow feels to be a bit of an anomaly when compared to the majority of material to come out of north America.

Incurring Wisdom features four tracks over around 27 minutes – pressed on a gold cassette, with fold out artwork/ lyric insert. Ecclesia Unveiled kicks things off with grimly droning oscillations, while the heavily rasped vocals are muted with distorted echo and sit semi-buried within the mix. So, while the vocals are clearly discernible as a vocal texture, the actual lyrics are not, meaning the voice is effectively presented are as another sonic element. With the general sonic premises established on the first track, the balance of the three tracks play out as variations on this theme, where the resultant grimly laborious yet tensile sound is a strongly engaging one. On Side B, Iron Cross is a particularly good example of an effective sound despite a straightforward approach, where layered loops and vocals ratchet up tension.

Moving onto Deus Vult, it is another recent 2019 release, but which embodies an ever so slightly different tone and approach. The same sort of grim, laborious tone of the oscillating drones (synth?) remains, as do the raspingly yelled but muted vocals. Yet the overall atmosphere feels to be a heavier and more direct, which becomes quite crushing on a number of tracks due to the greater reliance of junk-metal/factory floor derived sonic elements. This tonal rawness of slabs of metal dragged across a factory floor and metal bars dropped on concrete etc. provides a cavernous echoed depth to the generated atmosphere. Saint Longinus is a track which stands out from the rest, with its generally sedate tone, by featuring a maudlin melody, watery textures and dour spoken vocals which are blended with junk metal sonics. That mood bleeds into the final album track Saint Michael follows suit, where the simple by effective synth melody carries a dour melancholy atmosphere against an elevating cascade of junk metal tones. Of note, the title of Deus Vult is a Latin phrase for “God wills it”, and while the track titles give a religious nod, the lyrics themselves remain abstracted, but rather than giving the impression of pious worship and devotion, it appears more to articulate strength and spiritual mysticism.

On both releases Sarin Snow display strong ideas and solid execution where both releases embody a laborious, menacing yet melancholic approach. Likewise, with track titles and chosen imagery being presented in an abstracted/ non-linear way, meaning the theme and message remains obscured and allows the listener to piece together their own impression of meaning. From these initial impressions Sarin Snow are clearly worthy of attention and investigation.

Vril Jäger – Celestial Bliss

Vril Jäger – Celestial Bliss MLP Heiðrunar Myrkrunar 2019

This new two track MLP from Vril Jäger delivers two lengthy compositions covering an animated ritual drone/heavy electronics tinged sound. The title track leads off, where immediately the lyrics are noted to have been previously used on the debut album (i.e. on the track Sanctified By Constellations). Yet where the original use of the lyrics was presented as a poetic reading against a sparse yet achingly morose sub-orchestral melody, here they spoken vocals are presented through seething distortion treatment. As for the backing sonics, they is equally distorted, constituting a rumbling mass of blown out yet muted drones. With a total run time of 14-minute spans, though the layering various elements elevate in sonic heft over the duration, while the semi-melodious elements remaining obscured within the dense production. Under The Emblem takes up Side B, and immediately has a greater ritualized edge to its slow thrummed rhythmic pulse, and interestingly its main melodious progression is noted to replicate a musical fragment of the debut album (i.e. refer to the track The Road Back To Agartha). The drawling vocals, weird wailing tones, processed militant percussion and what sounds to be dive-bombing aircraft rounds out sonic variety and is the clear standout of the two tracks.

With recognisable musical and lyrical elements, Celestial Bliss has the feeling of being an addendum to the debut, or at the very least a stop gap released until the next full length is completed. Despite this, it is an enjoyable two track MLP where the overall impression is one of wanting more from the project.

Schloss Tegal – Psychometry

Schloss Tegal – Psychometry DLP La Esencia Records 2019

Thirteen long years have transpired since the last Schloss Tegal album, so you could have been forgiven for thinking a new album was an impossibility – yet here it is. Granted there was a two track 7” ep Procession Of The Dead (Undead) released in 2017, but that release did not include new music, rather featured a remix of an old track and another live recording from 2008.

Based on first impressions of Psychometry, the stunning sleeve design of the gatefold vinyl with spot varnished geometric patterns needs to be acknowledged. In my estimation this visual presentation does absolute justice the album’s conceptual themes, which themselves hark back to 1999 Black Static Transmission. Although the artwork of that earlier album let it down somewhat in term of feeling slightly amateurish in early computer-based design. Sonically speaking, Psychometry also feels to have clear linage to Black Static Transmission rather than the direct sound employed on 2006’s album The Myth Of Meat (which is explained by its source material having been drawn from sounds recorded in a working abattoir). But apart from focusing on sonic differences, Psychometry still embodies a particular sound established and easily recognized as that of Schloss Tegal. This means it is too sonically forceful to be described as dark ambient, but equally is not abrasive enough to become noise/industrial.

From the outset the album delivers grim maelstrom drones blend with dour muted melodies, while other erupting fissure of sounds seem to articulate the tearing at the hidden fabric of one sub-conscious (refer to Pyschpompus and Incorporeal Being as prime examples). The Invalid Earth is an early standout with its throbbing ritual pulse, swirling drones and disembodied radio chatter. Krononaut (Time Zero) articulates further churning emanations from the void, complete with prominent EVP voices, and based on their scratchy semi-unintelligible it gives off an unnerving and eerie effect (EVP recordings appear on a number of tracks throughout). Black Vessel then delivers a foreboding tumult of layered electronics and is one of the more direct and heavy tracks on display. Moving towards the end of the album Body Farm delivers a tensile, and shrilly cinematic composition, but which is far too short in run time. As for the concluding track We All Become Gods blends deep cinematic tinged textures with widescreen drones and (again) with an unnerving disembodied voice.

Over their discography Schloss Tegal have excelled at sonically articulating a psychic space which blends the real and perceivable with an ‘unknowable otherness’ of inter-dimensional states. Without question Psychometry is another excellent example of this approach. In a general sense this feel of being a collection of individual and separate tracks rather than the sprawling and interlinking movements on Black Static Transmission. But this is only a compositional observation and not in any way a criticism. Not to call Psychometry a ‘return to form’, as that would allude to some sort of prior drop in quality of output, rather Psychometry is a welcomed and long-awaited continuation of unique sound and approach that Schloss Tegal have always displayed. Recommended and absolutely worthy of investment in its stunning physical edition.

Himukalt – Sex Worker

Himukalt – Sex Worker MC Total Black 2019

The meteoric rise of Ester Kärkkäinen’s project Himukalt in underground circles continues, with this new tape the eighth release in three years. While that might seem like a lot of output in a short space of time, far from being shoddy or rushed, all releases to date have been careful composed and honed to razor sharpness.

In many ways this new release is a continuation of what has come before, and the opening cut is particularly impactful with its sharp and cutting noise hewn into rhythmic blasts, as the vocals are apathetically delivered from the background. But as the album progresses, a greater harrowing tension is revealed and becomes the characteristic element. Essentially this restraint has been employed to allow the multitude of female sex worker interview samples to take central prominence. The use of such first-person narrative of the interview subjects gives a strongly personal edge to the tracks and is particularly affecting on the later track Cold and Empty, where the subtle backing sound embodies a low humming drone of creeping dread. Likewise, the low industrial throb and distortion-smeared vocals of Transactional are the effective embodiment of building tension, which also ruptures in moments of ecstatic release. The final of the eight tracks, No Safe Distance, rounds out the tape on an absolute high, based on a basic drum loop and another moody loop which are interrupted by jarring distortion slashes and cutting vocal barrages. Excellent stuff.

If you have not bothered checking out Himukalt to date, that situation should clearly be rectified. Sex Worker is as good a place as any to become better acquainted, but you pretty much can’t go wrong with any of the other releases either. Recommended.