Welcome to the first wave of reviews in the new location of THE ONE TRUE DEAD ANGEL. Here's the deal: As you may already know, the past couple of months have been a tad traumatic -- first my PC was destroyed by a virus, then the website went bye-bye, then other ridiculous things conspired to interfere with fixing all of the above. But now I have a new PC, the website is back up, and to prevent such disasters in the future, I have moved to posting the reviews here, in blog format, so that even if the website gets "lost" again, the reviews will still be here. I still haven't completely figured out what I'm doing with the new format, so you'll have to bear with me there, and I'm still behind on reviews, but working hard to catch up. The plan now is to whittle down the pile with one new post a week until the beginning of May, at which point the reviews will revert to being monthly.
And now, for that first majestic wave:
Bastard Noise / Government Alpha -- RESURRECTION [Thumbprint Press]
Now this is what I call a severely swank item -- a tribute of sorts to Koji Tano (MSBR) from two very loud and destructive bands, played at a truly unholy volume and packaged in one of the niftiest sleeves ever (a foldout mylar booklet with amazing artwork by Yasutoshi Yoshida, with the disc in a clear plastic sleeve and the entire shebang in a clear poly sleeve). The first six tracks are by Government Alpha, and they are punishing... daft volume and screeching hijinks, all chittering noises and howling electrons and pure hacked-up sonic filth, scraping your ears clean with a nonstop assault of sonic violence. Most of the tracks sooner or later sound like a fleet of airplanes and battleships being sucked down the universe's largest garbage disposal, complete with air raid sirens blaring a helpless, pointless warning until the bleating metal boxes are sucked into oblivion as well. There's a lot of genuinely painful high-end squealing going on as well -- tell Granny to bring her earplugs! The three Bastard Noise tracks are not quite as intensely in your face -- in fact, "lost city" starts with nothingness and slowly builds into ominous fields of drone, dark and throbbing sounds that suggest impending violence and terror, but never gets truly violent despite implying this is going to happen at any moment. (The Bastard Noise tracks are also longer -- much longer -- and their three tracks may, in fact, take up more of the disc than the six from Government Alpha). The track "winter sacrifice" starts out quietly, with rhythmic noise and the occasional burst of reverbed sound in the background, but gradually builds to a denser thicket of hissing, brooding steam machine noises and shrieks. The final track, "iron mountain," is more of a pure drone-o-matic experience, with hollowed-out sounds and trembling bass hum over which washes of sound an unearthly wailing come and go. Essential stuff if you're down with either band, maybe even if you're not (the package is worth having for the artwork alone).
Bjerga / Iversen -- COSMIC SURGERY [Housepig Records]
More interesting, obscure stuff from Housepig, this time from a couple of prolific Norwegian dudes (Sindre Bjerga and Jan Iversen, with about thirty releases to their credit on other labels). The three long tracks they present here are all about the amplified sounds of unusual objects and sound structures like ceremonial processions of droning ambience and noise (this is especially true of "Transmitting Into the Void," where they generate a truly celestial, near-religious tone reminiscent of Joy Division's more funeral tracks from CLOSER, but minus the rock and leavened with clanking industrial sounds and intermittent strains of moaning background noise). The highly resonant tones continue on "Beauty Spot," where the clatter of amplified oddities is a bit more evident and the drone considerably thicker. Of the two untitled tracks that end the disc, the first is anchored by heavy thudding that forms a primitive rhythm as a swirling drone grows to overtake that initial sound, while the other is more of an outer-space transmission, sounding like the sound of electromagnetic waves being beamed from faraway satellites as spaceships hover and dock. Eerie and compelling stuff, and like the Pulse Emitter disc described later, packaged in a poly sleeve with a hand-printed sleeve by Nic Schmidt and limited to 100 copies. Get it while it's hot!
Burning Star Core -- BLOOD LIGHTNING 2007 [No Fun Productions]
I had the good fortune to see BSC during SXSW, at the Holy Mountain / No Quarter showcase, and was greatly impressed by Yeh and his mutant violin processing (he plays an electric violin running through a table full of efx boxes and sound-processing gadgets, so what comes out of the speakers has very little resemblance to what he actually plays). The results are surprisingly rhythmic at times, and filled with an endless stream of weird sounds, hypnotic rhythms, and a tendency toward muffled noises (and on "a curse on the coast," uneasy and unorthodox vocals) create droning mutant soundscapes filled with equal amounts of inexplicable beauty, damaged transmissions, and unnerving otherness. Think Excepter on bad acid and Quualudes... haunting drones destroyed by a perverse and cryptic aesthetic. The tracks are generally more drone-o-rific than noise-laden ("the universe is designed to break your mind" is an exception that inverts the equation, sounding like a subway train overturning and sliding down the tunnel on its side while robot angels drone in the background), and there are some unsettling moments on "10-09-04 horrible room, lexington ky" as well, a track in which he's joined by Robert Beatty on acoustic appraiser and electronics, Mike Shillet on computer and electronics, and Trevor Tremaine, on drums and percussion. For the most part, though, it's a solo excursion in processed sound and the violent thrashing of an instrument not even remotely designed for this kind of behavior. (Of course, I approve greatly of this.) Bonus points for the semi-pornographic cover and eerie illustrations inside the gatefold sleeve.
No Fun Productions
Earth -- HIBERNACULUM [Southern Lord]
Dylan Carson is back, with more of the same overamplified Morricone-worship he exhibited on the band's previous album, HEX. This time he applies that sound -- the loud, huge, but clean tone that he debuted the last time around, completely transforming the band's sound and reinvigorating the guitarist's entire approach in the process -- to three of the band's earlier works ("Ouroboros is Broken," from the first album; "Coda Maestoso In F (Flat) Minor," from PENTASTAR; and "Miami Morning Coming Down," from the SCATTER compilation), reinventing them in a fashion more suitable for an epic western. The results are interesting; even while the songs remain entirely recognizable (especially in the case of "Ouroboros"), the lack of distortion and attention to chordal detail transforms the songs greatly, turning them into a new listening experience. The fourth song, "A Plague of Angels," is taken from a tour-only split release with Sunn O))) and fits in well with the rest of the album -- it's long and incredibly slow, full of droning, endlessly resonating chords and a steady, primal beat, a composition driven by escalating layers of tone and drone. The cd is also accompanied by a dvd containing the Earth documentary WITHIN THE DRONE, shot by artist Seldon Hunt with the band's cooperation over the course of their 2006 European tour. Hunt's not about to make you forget Scorsese or anything like that, but the film is reasonably well-done and watchable, with plenty of live footage in swell places like Amsterdam's Paradiso to go with the repetitive shots of the tour bus rolling down the highway past snow-covered mountains. Dylan gets the opportunity to expound at length on his artistic vision, in his own mumbling fashion, and Hunt gets to shoot footage from a variety of peculiar vantage points, with subtle but unsettling results. Bonus points for the lovely artwork and design.
Fire in the Head -- THE REMEDY HAS BECOME THE AFFLICTION [NCC Records]
The latest release from FITH is a brutish, painful collection of filth-encrusted industrial rhythms and pure white noise, angry sounds designed to scrape your inner ear clean and maybe even shut your eardrums down forever. Looped electronic sounds, harsh distorted vocals, noise-encrusted drones, and other overamplified acts of sonic destruction come together in an attack hearkening back to old-school power electronics (think Con-Dom, Sutcliffe Jugend minus the misogyny, and other pioneers of the junk-noise power electronics aesthetic). This is loud, aggressive material steeped in a misanthropic distaste for the more sordid and hypocritical elements of the modern world, with a sound designed to intimidate and horrify. This album was originally recorded at the same time as BE MY ENEMY and has been hung up in the release pipeline for a while, but FITH's aggravation is the listener's gain, because since then a number of collaborators have stepped up to the plate to enhance the release even further -- Gee Vaucher of Crass has contributed original artwork for the digipack cover and tray, while Guilty Connector and Hum of the Druid have added remixes / reconstructions of "Catch 23" and "Amdist My Enemies' Graves." The total result is a sonic catastrophe of terror and violence. Limited to 300 copies.
Fire in the Head
Gallhammer -- THE DAWN OF... [Peaceville]
If you're like me, you've been waiting for this for a long, long time. (If you haven't been waiting for it, you may wonder just what the fuss is all about.) For those not hep to the whole Gallhammer thing, the band was formed in 2003 by the vocalists for several underground Tokyo bands (Meat Slave, for one) who were interested in expanding on their fixation with Hellhammer, Amebix, and gross-sounding music in general. Over the course of several demos, EPs, and split appearances, the band developed a genuinely dark, scary sound heavy on explosively overdriven and lo-fi tones, primitive riffs, black atmospheres, and pained shrieking. They welded this sick-sounding aesthetic to a horrified living-dead girl live act with roots as much in Kabuki theater as in early Amebix or Hellhammer, and built a rapid and enthusiastic cult following in the process. Shortly after the release of GLOOMY LIGHTS on a couple of obscure overseas labels, the UK metal label Peaceville signed them, put them in the studio, and began designing this nifty retrospective package. A combination cd/dvd package in a foldout digipack, the audio disc contains twelve tracks of old and new material culled from sessions for the forthcoming album, a couple of prior demos, and tracks from a recent rehearsal session, all of which make for a useful introduction to the band for neophytes and collects up a lot of swell stuff in one place that enthusiasts like myself probably already have. The dvd is an even better deal, with live video tracks from no less than six different shows spanning February, 2005 to July, 2006. The six tracks from the Okayama Pepper Land venue are the best (or at least, certainly the most professional-looking) ones; everything else is considerably further down the quality ladder in terms of viewability, but even the most primitive footage reveals all sorts of interesting insights to the band (especially the early appearance at Tokyo Watts, where they play the material much faster, making their speed / thrash metal roots a whole lot more obvious). This is a really sensible package with a lot to offer, and now I'm really looking forward to the forthcoming full-length all that much more, especially after hearing the two new recordings for "Speed of Blood" and ""At the Onset of the Age of Despair"....
Nagelfar -- VIRUS WEST (reissue) [Van]
First things first: Just to clear up any confusion, this is the Nagelfar from Germany (the one with "e" in the name, yes?), not the Naglfar from Sweden who misplaced their "e" (and aren't anywhere near as hot, to hear some tell it). The band is actually defunct now; this is a reissue of their third and final album, an overlooked classic that is now getting a second chance at finding an audience. Make no mistake, this is real black metal, not any watered-down commercial attempt at pandering to sell t-shirts; the band sings in German, peppers their grim 'n furious attack with background noise and unexpected bursts of sound, and sonically speaking, sounds like they stopped listening to anything made after about 1992 that wasn't from some country where everything is frozen and there are too many trees to ever see the sun. This is reminiscent at times of early Burzum and Urgehal, but more complex than the former and less conventional in its structures than the latter. The energy level (especially on the drummer's part) is formidable, if not downright insane in places, and the misanthropic vibe is matched only by the soul-crushing ambience of bleak, oppressive alientation and pounding violence that permeates the entire album. Progressive in the way Bethelem tries so hard to be but far more effortless and ten times heavier, it's not hard to see how this album won a pile of critic's awards when it was first released. It's still better than most of what's out there now, and if you're down with the crown but haven't heard this yet... well, you should. And soon.
Orthodox -- GRAN PODER [Southern Lord]
This is the first album by Spain's Orthodox (actually a reissue, with one bonus track, of the album that originally appeared on Alone Records in their homeland), and it's absurdly slow and heavy, even for a band on Southern Lord. Highly reminiscent of early Melvins and Sleep, the band plows through their material at a pace so glacial that the guitar solos more closely resemble psychedelic music than metal; the feedback-drenched guitar and seismic bass are what make them doomlike, but the hocus-pocus, sometimes jazzy drums and a general tendency to devolve into screeching, shuddering tarpits of near-white noise are what make them something else altogether. I also like the way "Geryon's Throne," after crawling along at a snail's pace for seventeen minutes, suddenly threatens to get much faster courtesy of the drummer's wild beats, only to collapse into a black hole of feedback, drone, guitar like an air raid siren, and pure metallic shrapnel... and then it does get faster, a lot faster, as the drummer tries to see how fast he can beat his trap to death. The other three original songs are nowhere near as long (but every bit as heavy), and marked by some really distinctive (and at times highly hyperactive) drumming, even as the rest of the band lurches along like they're stuck in a tarpit. "El Lamento de Cabron" opens with nothing but cymbals spaced many seconds apart before the full band kicks in with monumental heaviness, and here again their approach to other elements (in this case, the heavily processed vocals) has more in common with psychedelic and experimental music than traditional metal. As an added bonus exclusive to Southern Lord's reissue, they completely obliterate the Venom song "Genocide" (it helps that they are considerably better players than that band). Bottom line: Any band that sounds like a building caving in (in extreme slow motion, no less) is more than okay with me. Highly recommended for your next nod-out.
Pulse Emitter -- PLANETARY TORTURE [Housepig Records]
PE is actually one guy from Portland, Daryl Groetsch, who creates layered sounds using hand-built modular synths, and the sounds he dredges up on the four long tracks here are great -- fat, dark drones, rhythmic mechanical noises, sweeping oscillator sounds, and the occasional burst of crunchy white noise. The second track in particular ("warming rays") is full of pulsing rhythmic action and harsh noise crunchiness, pleasing sounds to bring a tear to your eye (or maybe some weeping from the ears). The tracks are all markedly different in their techniques and methods of sonic attack; probably the most abrupt and jarring one is "ash," in which explosive mini-bursts of sound do battle with gritty background noise, sounding like dueling soldiers in the hills throwing molotov cocktails at each other. Swell noisy sounds and textured landscapes, with bonus points for the hand-printed insert by Seattle artist Nic Schmidt. Limited to 100 copies, so you better hurry up if you're gonna grab it, dig?
Religious Knives -- REMAINS [No Fun Productions]
This is the first full-length release from Religious Knives (who get a million bonus points for the name alone), the band featuring members of Double Leopards and Mouthus, and it collects up a pile of material that's long gone out of print, all remastered by James Plotkin (Old, Khanate, etc.) to bring everything up to the current state of the art. The material includes two tracks from their limited-run No Fun lp (which sold out in two weeks), their Heavy Tapes single (limited to 200 copies), and a tour-only cd-r (limited to 100 copies) that has been remixed for this release. It's all about the heavy drone and hypno-beats (at least on "bind them," which sounds like they own a tabla and they're not afraid to use it), and a gauzy, ambient, almost tribal sound reminiscent of works by Angus MacLise (the original drummer for Velvet Underground and a primary member of LaMonte Young's Theater of Eternal Music). There's an even heavier old-school psych vibe running through "electricity & air," along with more inscrutable percussion and a thick blanket of audio fog to go with the PHANTOM OF THE OPERA keyboard stylings, while "black bird" suggests a more shimmering approach path up the mountain of drone, with heavy reverb and ghostly piano / violin and what sounds like bottles being smashed way off in one corner of the room. The percussive attack is even heavier on "wax & flesh" (and the drone, when it rises, more intimidating), and "the train" is like the sound of a blind cyclotron rotating endlessly in darkness, firing off random bursts of light over a heavy bass hum and ambient, high-pitched swirling. In other words, it's all quality stuff from obscure press runs that will probably bankrupt you if you try to score the original vinyl on Ebay. Get this instead, your wallet will be happier and this disc will take up less space in your collection than the original releases. The disc comes in a gatefold package that displays all the original album cover art on the inside, along with the liner notes.
No Fun Productions
Ruins of Beverast -- RAIN UPON THE IMPURE [Van]
In the true spirit of lo-fi old-school black metal, this disc was mastered at such a low volume that you have to really crank it up to tell what's going on... but when you do, the sawtooth detail that jumps out makes this a riveting listening experience to be sure. The sound is cold, dark, primitive, blazing in speed, and beyond lo-fi; the songs are also real long and positively caked in blood-freezing atmospherics and a bleak ambience that hearkens back to classics like the first two Abruptum albums and the first full-length from Manes. The seven long songs play out in just under 80 minutes, and the epic number of movements within each song effectively turn the entire album into an epic journey through varying emotional levels of darkness and forbidding despair, and despite the length, things never get boring... especially when more reflective moments abruptly give way to raging drums and more gutteral shrieking. Whether it's slow or fast, the album's attitude is consistently akin to putting a boot through your face (or perhaps, during the slower moments, merely grinding your spine into paste); even through acres of reverb, the animosity is never less than total, and all that cavernous reverb reduces everything to a blurry drill press speeding through glacial walls. The guy behind all this evil primitivism is the former drummer for Nagelfar, so it's not terribly surprising that he shares that band's fondness for speed and pure intensity, but it's impressive how well he holds his own in creating that sonic circle of abyssic destruction all by his li'l lonesome. This is probably destined to become a classic of lo-fi, atmospheric black metal. It's certainly intense enough (and more than lo-fi enough for me).
Sky Burial -- OF THE FIRST LIGHT [Audio Immolation Industries]
Michael Page (Fire in the Head, Irukandji) returns in dark-ambient form with yet another excellent album of mystical drones, this time inspired by the Wampanoag tribe (whose name translates to "people of the first light"). The tribe in question were the original inhabitants of Cape Cod, one of the first places in the US to see the sunrise every day, and the twelve tracks on this disc feature a dark, swirling sound every bit as eerie and mysterious as the subject matter would suggest. The sound is one of swirling drone and glacial wind, a world of pure ambient sound with no vocals that suggests vast, open spaces and unearthly spirits moving through barren fields and the dark night sky as dawn approaches. It's an aesthetic very much in the vein of Lustmord or Final, featuring the processed sounds of nature, invoking visions of the spirit world and a forgotten time. As with the earlier releases, this is a stellar addition to the drone canon. Limited to 200 copies, with a beautiful letterpress cover courtesy of the swell people at Thumbprint Press.
Suishou no Fune -- WHERE THE SPIRITS ARE [Holy Mountain]
Holy Mountain calls the band's sound "chaotic dream music," and the description is apt -- the opening of the first track, "Vale of spirits," is indeed a clattering, noisy burst of sound (mostly thanks to drummer Tail, who appears on only two tracks), but it soon settles into a drifting sea of oceanic drone and simple but highly emotional guitar lines, carrying Pirako's plaintive vocals aloft as if floating through the clouds. The second track, "Your tears drop from the sky," continues in a similar fashion, with Tail's steady beat providing the backdrop for swirling guitar drone and more emotion-charged wailing. The remaining three tracks (all recorded live at the Velvet Sun in Ogikubo; the first two were recorded at the UFO Club in Koenji) are beatless wonders in which Pirako and Kaego weave interstellar psych guitars and epic sheets of drone to form an aesthetic somewhere between early Fushitsusha, Shizuka, and Kadura. The music ebbs and flows, dropping down to minimalist guitar lines backed by tinkling guitar motifs that rise and repeat, spiraling into darkness only to be met by Pirako's high and breathy vocal delivery. "Black Phantom," the one track where Kaego sings (with a vocal approach that is much darker and earthier than Pirako's) is a drifting river of bass-heavy drone punctuated by piercing guitar notes, and the final track, "A rose bloomed," incorporates tones of a deeply spiritual nature, a sensation matched equally by Pirako's emotionally-charged vocals. This is one of the best psychedelic albums I've heard come out of Japan in a long time, and it's fitting that this is essentially a live album, because the band is very much a live band -- I saw them perform three times at SXSW, each time under wildly varying circumstances, and they were brilliant all three times. If you are already hep to the psychedelic sounds of underground Japan, or merely in search of quality "dream music," then you need this, and you need it real, real bad.
Suishou no Fune
Total Fucking Destruction --- ZEN AND THE ART OF... [Translation Loss]
Maaaaaan... first Brutal Truth reforms (thank you, Ra!), then they announce they're going to tour with TFD opening every night -- yes, drummer Rich Hoak is going to do double duty, just because he can -- and now Translation Loss coughs up the latest full-length from Hoak's fabulous ubergrind band. The disc is essentially divided into three sections (T: electric, F: acoustic, and D: video) to show off three sides of the band. The first segment is ten short and obscenely frantic bursts of beyond-hyperactive spazzing-out, like the band is trying to play their instruments while running from the cops as they go flying down the stairs of the Empire State Building at breakneck speed. Best moments from this segment include the howling, aggressive incoherence of "beat up," the genuinely psychotic-sounding howls of "DON'T TOUCH ME!" in "mad pig disease," and the churning balls-out METAL! of "corpse position" (the nifty title doesn't suck either). The third segment is a live recording from Hazel's in Philadelphia -- ten songs spewed out with relentless abandon in a shitty basement, some of which are on this disc elsewhere, some of which aren't, all of which are entirely humorous to watch. The best part of the album, though, is the midsection -- four bizarre (and bizarrely catchy) acoustic singalongs about biosatanic terrorism, beating up ill-tempered jocks, the joys of carrying a boxcutter, and one of the greatest songs ever recorded, "nihilism, emptiness, nothingness, nonsense" (the sole lyrics, repeated throughout the song as the rhythm slowly evolves, slows, and disappears). Surely this is the mark of greatness, not to mention highly promising in light of the forthcoming BT shows and (one hopes) album.
Total Fucking Destruction