Book of Shadows -- THE INNER WORLD [Artificial Music Machine]
Austin's favored masters of mystical drone have been doing their thing since 1999, when ST-37 member Carlton Crutcher and his wife Sharon founded the band to combine his experience with mesmerizing, improvised space-rock and her interest in spiritualism and magic, and they have been dislocating and transporting unsuspecting minds ever since. On this, their fifth release overall and first for Austin label Artifical Music Machine, they have sorted through several years worth of studio and live recordings to compile an exceptionally strong sampler of sorts for their introduction to a larger audience (their previous releases have been mainly low-key, often cd-r releases in low runs available only at shows or through local music stores). The band's core (and the only constants) are Carlton on keyboards and occasional vocals and Sharon, whose haunting, wordless vocalizing are a key component of the band's sound; they are joined at different times by Aaron Bennack (who plays guitar on three tracks), Eric Archer (guitarist and provider of electronic effects on two tracks), Lori 16MM Varga (better known as Lori Surfer, projectionist extraordinaire for the Butthole Surfers and many other Austin bands, who contributes theremin effects on one track), Erich Ragsdale (keyboard and electronics on one track), and Douglas Ferguson (an Austin space-rock legend in his own right and recording engineer who adds guitar and electronics on one track, and plays Tibetian bowls on another, which is really funny to me, since every time I've seen him play with them, he's been buried behind a stack of keyboards). The first two tracks, "Evolution" and "The Dreamer Dreamed," are spaced-out psychedelic drone epics awash in reverb and buoyed by Sharon's ethereal vocals, with a sound reminiscent of the dream music of Troum, but things get noticeably stranger and more "out there" on the lengthy "Music for Cocoon Bearing Insects and Animals Part 1," which is dominated by exotic keyboard blips and sci-fi theremin noises in addition to the almighty space drone, while the equally long "Ring Chaos" incorporates a swirling center of white-noise shrapnel made less harsh by enormous amounts of reverb and a reverb-heavy guitar tone resembling the sound of cathedral music. "Energy Follows Thought" marks a return to the interstellar drone overdrive, but overlaid with extended, high-pitched vocal chants and shrieking, squealing drones (the effect of the Tibetian bowls, perhaps?) and unexpected bursts of minimal percussion. Without ever losing sight of their core values of drone and magical sound, the five tracks still possess enough variety and variation to keep things consistently interesting throughout the entire release. (Note that I say "release" rather than "album" because this is a strictly digital release; it will be available at first directly from the label's website, then later through iTunes and other digital music outlets.) Drone junkies need this now (and everything else they've ever done, really, if you can find it).
Book of Shadows
Artificial Music Machine
Charnel Valley -- THE IGNEOUS RACE [Paragon Records]
Worm and Czar return with a follow-up to their debut, THE DARK ARCHIVES, that's a huge step forward in just about every way imaginable, from the improved artwork to the considerably better production, playing, and songwriting. Which is not to say that they've suddenly turned into prog-rock or something equally ridiculous -- everything is better, yes, but it's still based on simplicity and a refreshing lack of pretension, and while they obviously spent more time whipping their eerie and aggressive material into shape, they only spent three days recording the album and kept the moving parts minimal and simple. The sound is still thoroughly old-school -- these guys worship at the thrones of Darkthrone, Burzum, Mayhem, and other early black metal bands, especially the ones obsessed with repetition, minimalism, and atmosphere -- but the aesthetic established on their first album is extended here, with more emphasis on simple but effective riffs played with crushing power and diabolical intensity. Much of the album, in fact, sounds like a grim collision of early Bathory and early Burzum, and tracks like "endless war on the bridge between worlds" and "the wretched ones" are anchored by some genuinely twisted riffs. The album is also relentlessly heavy when it's not wading through the swamp of black-metal atmospherics; the band's attack is really enhanced by the improved production. Fans of the first album who were less than thrilled by the intensely lo-fi recording will be thrilled; early detractors will be surprised.
Crionics -- NEUTHRONE [Candlelight Records]
The fourth album from this Polish band finds them straddling the divide between death and black metal -- while they are totally enamored of the hellish atmospheres and (at times) draining minimalism (and brooding keyboards) of the latter, they have an equal lust for the pure battering power and riff-laden technical skill of death metal. They favor blinding speed and aggression, but their balls-out metallic angst is leavened by eerie, clanking moments of dark ambience and sounds from a long-forgotten dungeon, and the bludgeoning riffs of death are occasionally broken up by more melodic interludes (see "Outer Empire," for example). Like most Polish metal bands, they are beyond heavy and exceptionally intense -- the more subtle moments, like the presence of keyboards, exist mainly to provide contrast to the face-peeling sonic abrasion that makes up most of the album. Well-rehearsed, supremely tight, and relentless in their search for intensity, this is a band for fans of extreme metal with industrial leanings, gothic keyboards, and a rightful worship of mad speeding riff mania.
Depressed Mode -- GHOSTS OF DEVOTION [Firebox Records]
Firebox is Finland's main purveyor of progressive doom, and while their bands are frequently a tad too heavy on the keyboards for my taste, the debut album by Depressed Mode is an exception, striking a nice balance between keyboards and soul-crushing guitars. Essentially a three-piece led by Ossy Salonen (vocals, synth, drums, programming) with additional vocals provided by Natalie Koskinen on loan from Shape of Despair, the album's nine songs (including a baroque and piano-driven cover of Burzum's "Dunkelheit" that's reasonably faithful to the original despite sounding totally different, thanks to the dirgelike presentation and change in instrumentation) are lengthy slices of slow, depressing doom marked by mournful piano arpeggios, endless droning synths, and forlorn singing that's often closer to morose chanting than anything else. Guitarist Tomppa Turpeinen adds an extra dimension of heaviness to the proceedings, though, with distorted power chords that add a nice, gritty texture to the synth drone and occasional bursts of speed that act as a counterpoint to the slow-motion structured laid down by the rest of the band. Bassist Jani Lamminpaa is generally content to remain in the background and provide the rumbling low end, but he makes himself noticed on the bass-heavy title track (also one of the slowest and heaviest tracks on the album). This is an extremely strong debut with excellent production (courtesy of former Mors Principium est guitarist Jori Haukio), and highly recommended to fans of symphonic funeral doom.
Heat From A Dead Star -- THE LIGHTHOUSE ep [self-released]
This ep contains four swell tracks of sometimes dreamy, but mostly rocking lo-fi pop with a shoegazer bent, one that incorporates spaced-out noise and the occasional acoustic guitar into what would otherwise be largely straightforward indie pop tunes. The band's sound can be traced back to the likes of Wire, Blondie, My Bloody Valentine, and Massive Attack (see the last track, the pulsing and beat-heavy Re : dux tion remix of "Black Swans"), just to name a few -- really, their touchstones are less individual bands than the distinct genres of shoegazer pop, rock, and dance music; the four tunes here are varied in tempo and style, but all well-constructed and catchy. The title track is the most upbeat and seriously rocking of the bunch, but all of the tracks are excellent, filled with happening beats and often-crunchy fuzz guitar. The gorgeous ballad "Joan" is the only one with real vocals to speak of -- this is mostly instrumental music -- and also the most sedate track of the bunch; the others are considerably more uptempo and about bringing the rock. Swell, swell stuff.
Heat From A Dead Star
Dereck Higgins / Dino Felipe -- D + D 7" [Coco Art / Public Eyesore]
I really like the packaging on this release -- from the swank colors of the abstract art on the glossy sleeve to the bright pink vinyl, this is a swell-looking artifact. The two tracks are short (under three minutes each) and the two players appear to take turns leading the festivities from one track to the next, and the nature of what they're doing is kind of mysterious -- "Properties" features lots of cut-up sound, random percussion, electronic buzzing, and a chaotic approach to sound that's largely unfathomable and unpredictable without being harsh or obnoxious; "Ribbons" is similar but built more around violin drones and rhythmic tone pulses, sounding more like actual music (barely) than the A-side (although both tracks are still a pretty far cry from anything mainstream). Both tracks are experiments in fractured and reassembled sound with an eye toward modern chaos theory and a subtle demeanor. It's a pretty cryptic piece of work, all right, but interesting.
Hinds / Palmer / Stagner -- A.S.A.P. WINGS [Solponticello / Shaking Ray Records]
Killick Erik Hinds is the swell dude who covered Slayer's REIGN IN BLOOD using his "devil cello" (the H'arpeggione, an upright microtonal cello); Dennis Palmer and Bob Stagner are a couple of eccentrics from Chattanooga, TN who combine radical synth abuse and peculiar ideas about drumming to create a bizarre and hyperactive rhythm section (although their ideas about rhythm are pretty devolved). Together they perform as the Shaking Ray Levis, and they performed and / or collaborated with the likes of Fred Frith, Amy Denio, John Zorn, Min Tanaka, Susan Alcorn, and Derek Bailey, among others, so right away you know it's going to be out-there, right? And it is, buddy, it is. Combining elements of blues (especially in the singing, an elemental blues howl from way back when the blues was an outlaw sound), improv, and microtonal theory, they often sound like a blues band who've had too much moonshine to drink and have given up on the audience entirely in favor of descending into purely strange skronk-jams (this is a live album, by the way, not that it really matters one way or the other). On the six tracks here, they have a tendency to start out in a halfway normal fashion, but by the time any given piece finishes, they've thrown themselves into a fury of microtonal noise and demented drumming with complete abandon, sounding like possessed men playing the devil's music in the most discordant and jarring fashion possible. This is an inspired meeting of the old and the new that works better than you'd have any right to expect (although I have to wonder what the audience made of it). At times they approach sounding like an even more unholy and intense version of the early Butthole Surfers, although they don't engage in bullhorn-fu; at other times they sound like a lounge band gone completely around the bend. In between they whip up some truly exotic-sounding jams, with the singer adding a particularly eccentric touch to the proceedings, rambling and shouting like the second coming of Roky Erickson or a low-rent Gibby Haynes. For all of that, the music (and it is music, no matter how loose and freewheeling they get) is compelling, even enjoyably amusing at times. Props to these madmen for managing to come up with a new sound just when it looked like everything had been done to death, and bonus points for the swank and highly colorful digipak art.
Killick Erik Hinds
El Jesus de Magico -- FUNERAL HOME SESSION 7" [Columbus Discount Records]
The band certainly has an entertaining backstory: They rehearse and record in a funeral home in downtown Columbus (where this was recorded, in a room down the hall from the coffin showroom and directly over the morgue), they're heavily into numerology, cults, and conspiracy theories, and they sound as strange as their description. "LGNO" opens with clanging processed guitar (???) that sounds like a rusted steel door being opened and closed and descends into hypnotic, occultish chaos with a churning, repetitive bassline and echo-laden vocals over squiggly guitar bleating and other sonic effluvia hovering in the background like disembodied hovercraft; "X-Mas at Wounded Knee" employs what sounds like a damaged keyboard to provide rudimentary "melody" over more minimalist drum 'n bass action heavy on the repetition, while the guitar (if it really is a guitar) does more squiggly haunted stuff. On the flip side, "Indian Giver" injects a serious dose of noise and whacked-out psychedelia into the eerie ritual occultism that picks up speed and intensity halfway through, turning into a runaway train of musical psychosis. Strange, devolved stuff, like no-wave filtered through ritual music or something equally possessed and disturbing. Limited to 500 copies (100 white, the rest black).
El Jesus de Magico
Columbus Discount Records
Lessons Around Us -- OPEN AIR [State Sanctioned Recordings]
The third release on SSR is perhaps the most quixotic one yet -- sixteen audio snapshots of varying length and disposition from Tim Kirby (En Eye, The Sonic Catering Band) featuring acoustic guitar, field recordings, violin, piano, found sound from a wide variety of objects (including washing machines and dictaphones), and rhythmic elements from a number of varied sources, all brilliantly edited into haunting slices of otherworldly sonic abstraction. Much of the album's sound consists of field recordings made in France and the UK, the sounds of everyday life in and out of the city; these ambient textures frequently form the background and bedrock of tracks that are then overlaid with unusual sounds, looped snippets that form peculiar rhythms, traditional instruments put to untraditional use, conversations and street noise, and from time to time, simple but gorgeously eerie acoustic guitar passages. The album as a whole sounds like the soundtrack to an exotic travelogue (a concept strongly reinforced by the packaging, which is designed to look like a postcard), a series of well-executed and idiosyncrastic vignettes of abstract audio impressionism. It's the use of rhythm (especially in unexpected ways and unusual contexts) and melody that set this release apart from most music built around found sound and field recordings; unlike most "incidental" music, there's considerably more emphasis here on the more traditional elements of music -- they just hide from time to time, that's all, only to reappear at unexpected moments, in a form you least expect. Highly recommended, and well worth seeking out. Like all SSR releases, this is limited to 200 copies.
Lessons Around Us
Marduk -- WARSCHAU [Regain Records]
Given the band's fixation with World War II and war in general, it's perhaps appropriate that this punishing live album was recorded in Poland (during their 2005 European tour, as it happens), the country whose invasion essentially sparked that historic war. Released in celebration of the band's fifteenth anniversary, the album's set list is heavy on material from PLAGUE ANGEL and WORLD FUNERAL; the sound is good, loud, and very much in your face, and the band is absolutely vicious, blazing like they're one step away from launching themselves from the stage to disembowel the entire audience. The drumming is nothing short of amazing -- Emil combines power, ridiculous speed, and a high degree of technical precision that keeps everything focused -- and the guitar sound is dark, violent, and utterly savage. Apparently some hardcore Marduk fans have been less than impressed with singer Mortuus, comparing him unfavorably to the band's previous singer Legion, but he sounds fine to me, full of all-encompassing hate and bile, and given how ridiculously fast they play, his machine-gun delivery is surprisingly decipherable. The band's tightness is even more impressive when you consider the enormous amount of sheer physical stamina it must take to play such absurdly fast, impossibly intense music for over an hour straight, and this is a long set by black metal standards (seventeen songs in just under seventy minutes), with very few songs that are even mid-tempo. Brutal, punishing stuff -- it's easy to see why Marduk gets so much good press, with grim documents of sonic defenestration like this.
Necropolis -- STUMPF 7" [Columbus Discount Records]
The band's third release in three years also features their third lineup -- talk about your punk trifectas, the only thing that could have made that better would have been three songs on the release instead of just two. Recorded live to four-track at the band's home, a decaying house over a hundred years old, the band (now a five-piece) sat down shortly after the inclusion of its new members and reeled off the two tracks here with no regard whatsoever for "proper" recording techniques. The result is two bracing, loud, and sonically incoherent (in a good way) tracks that don't wear out their welcome (both songs play out in less than five minutes). Art-damaged punk by way of extremely devolved surf rock, the band's emphasis on rhythm separates them from a lot of other noisy punk bands -- they may sound fucked up, but their action is tight, dig? They're also focused, which keeps the songs from meandering (although it helps a lot they play like they're all hopped up on caffeine, if not other considerably less legal stimulants). Bonus points for the shrieking singer, who consistently sounds like he's one baby step away from throwing his mike stand down and going off to do something foolish that might get him locked up.
Columbus Discount Records
Night of Pleasure -- GODARD VS. TRUFFAUT 7" [Columbus Discount Records]
Ohio has been a fertile breeding ground for lo-fi, fast 'n loose punk / pop for a long time now -- Pere Ubu, Cheetah Chrome, Dead Boys, Pagans, Guided by Voices, Electric Eels, New Bomb Turks are just a few of the brilliant but often fidelity-challenged bands who have called the Buckeye State home at one time or another -- and Columbus Discount Records has apparently devoted themselves to documenting the latest wave of giddy defiance toward good taste and "good" sound. Which leads us to the debut single by Night of Pleasure, containing three short, fast, abrupt bursts of spontaneous energy and a willful indifference to the sounds of polished recordings. "Godard vs. Truffaut" is a gaudy, lo-fi blast of punked-out abandon and fuzzed-out, trebly guitar violence, while "Caesars Palace" is more of the same but with even more gloriously obnoxious guitar sound, not so much fuzzy as the sound of an amp starting to fry from being turned up entirely too loud and recorded way too hot. "Bitch Pitch," the flip side, swings more where the other two rocked, but still possesses plenty of uptempo energy and lo-fi abrasiveness. The singer sounds like he's one step away from collapsing in complete hysterics the entire time, and in true punk spirit, the proceedings sound considerably enhanced by the complete lack of fidelity (everything was recorded on a four-track machine at the band's rehearsal space) -- I can't imagine this sounding anywhere near as good (or intense) in a "proper" studio. Cool, cool rockin' bones and limited to 500 copies (100 on blue vinyl, the rest on the plain black stuff).
Night of Pleasure
Columbus Discount Records
Nonhorse -- HAARAM, CIRCLE OF FLAME [Release the Bats]
Gabriel Lucas Crane (from Wooden Wand and the Vanishing Voice) makes his solo debut on this noisy album (mastered by Pete Swanson for maximum sonic punishment) of thirteen tracks using old cassettes and a lot of gruesome sound processing to create layered epics of tortured sonic devolvement. Name your sound, it's here somewhere -- from wailing white noise to heavy reverb abuse, the album is a mausoleum of eccentric sounds all fighting for supremacy in the listener's ears, and most of it is of unidentifiable origin. Squealing tremelo sounds, damaged calliope and toy piano, backwards music, bell-like tones, rippling sheets of distortion, rhythmic grinding, bursts of static, and above all, lots of reverb abuse... all of these things and more (much more) are stacked up in shifting layers like crumbling sonic strata, with a level of density that ebbs and flows as the sound increasingly resembles agitated audio ghosts battling to free themselves from their invisible prison. The sound is often violent, sometimes even harsh, but more often is more eerie and ghostly, the sound of possessed machines and electronic gadgets switching themselves on and off at random for a mysterious and considerably more atmospheric feel than found on most noise albums. Think of it as a the soundtrack to a disintegrating psyche whose final scenes are played out in burned-out churches, cemeteries filled with emptied graves, and a towering heap of discarded junk brought back to terrifying electronic life. Strange, exotic stuff, limited to 500 copies.
Release the Bats
Olekranon -- TIME AND SHADOWS ep [Inam Records]
The solo project of Ryan Huber (Vopat, Bobcrane), Olekranon is obsessed with noise, loops, minimalism, and beats -- especially beats. Killer beats abound on this release, along with dark guitar riffing and the occasional burst of howling noise; this is a much more urgent, at times even rocking, release than the previous one, with heavy beats that are very much upfront this time around, but it still retains all of the things that made the first ep so swell -- cryptic noise, minimalist and repetitive beats, drone tones, and a vaguely sinister, alienated vibe. Instrumental music that's heavy on effects use and the healing power of droning noise, the five tracks here are all uniformly excellent and deeply mysterious, and at just under 27 minutes, the ep is short enough to leave you wanting more rather than growing bored. Limited to 49 copies, and they'll go fast, so if you're already hep to Vopat or Bobcrane (whose sound is similar, although this is definitely darker and more minimalist) or just fond of exotic guitar and noise welded to fat beats, you should move on this, and fast.
OvO / Smut -- split 7" [Public Eyesore]
OvO are an Italian duo (Stefania Pedretti and Brune Dorella) who perform with violin, guitar, and drums, with previous releases on Load, Public Eyesore, and other with-it labels; Smut is an Indiana duo (Keith Wright and Justin Rhody) on drums, guitar, and vocals, who are considerably less arcane (and a lot closer to pure-ass punk than any band I can recall hearing on the label yet) and possessed of a flip, sarcastic sense of humor (embodied in titles like "big business can suck it" and "rock the prostate"). OvO's one long piece, "canaglia," is a slow, throbbing mess of inhuman, ass-quaking bass, clattering drums, and diabolical witch-vocals with a sound so alien that it's at first difficult to tell whether the single should be played at 33 or 45 RPM (the former makes the most sense, I think). Smut's side ("stakes is high") consists of eight incredibly brief bursts of psychotic angst propelled by wind-tunnel drumming, pained shouting, and screechy guitar, with a sound that's somewhere between really primitive punk and early black metal (but without the reverb overkill and eternal crippling obesiance to EEEEEEEEEVIL). The pairing of such an unlikely couple of wildly different bands is either absolutely inspired or totally daft; fortunately both bands have something interesting going for them. Bonus points for the intriguing inserts with cryptic black and white art, including one that appears to have absolutely nothing to do with either band or the label.
Random Touch -- ALCHEMY cd / dvd [Token Boy Records]
The trio known as Random Touch like to stay active; this is their seventh release in eight years (and the second to include a dvd in the bargain), and they have at least four more albums working their way through the pipeline, scheduled to appear within the next year or two. Still built around the core of founders Christopher Brown and James Day, who have worked together in one form or another for over twenty years, and guitarist Scott Hamill, who joined the fray in 1978, the trio has built a solid reputation for beautiful and spaced-out improvisation reminiscent of early Pink Floyd, Can, Sun Ra, Bartok, the Grateful Dead, fusion-era Miles Davis, John Cage, Alvin Lucier, and other visionary explorers of inner and outer space, but their sound owes just as much to European freejazz and avant-garde improv, not to mention the plain and simple joy of fiddling with gadgets to see what kind of nifty noises they'll make. Despite the implications of the band's name, their sound here is considerably less random than you might expect; the album sounds like an extended interstellar acid flashback recounted in fourteen movements, sure, but there's plenty of structure to their extended improv grooves, and while there's an abundance of electronic frippery coming from the guitar in particular, the sonorous tones are more akin to seventies mood music and the drum sound could have been dialed in straight from a sixties jazz record. (It's worth noting that Brown cut his musical teeth playing in jazz bands in the sixties, including a stint studying under pioneering jazz drummer Dick Dickson, before moving on to playing in rock bands as well, and he and Day both have played in orchestras.) It's a sound that combines elements of drone, jazz, rock, and chamber music, all filtered through a highly improvisational nature and fully realized by the telepathic togetherness that comes when you've played together so long that you don't even have to think about what you're doing, but can just begin playing and see what happens. There's no way you can confuse this with the more modern, blaring, skronk-rock approach, though; this trio largely prefers their grooves sedate and langorous, preferring to lull listeners into trance states with gorgeous melodic and harmonic playing rather than assaulting them with frantic chaos. As always, the band's secret weapon is the masterful use of space -- they leave plenty of room for tones to resonate, for drones to drift and decay, for melodic passages to be heard rather than drowned out by excessive playing. Syd Barrett (whose ghost haunts more than a few of these tracks) would have approved.
The dvd portion is just as interesting, and even longer, including videos for ten of the songs on the cd, all featuring the work of visual member Matthew Ebbin (who has been working with the band since 1998 as their visual archivist), all featuring different psychedelic video techniques. There's also a section featuring interviews with the band (four with Brown, two with Day, and one with Ebbin) talking about the band's history and goals, and a section containing three "documented jams" from 2004-05 (two set at Angel Fetus Studios, and one at Elgin Community College in Illinois), and a segment with three live improvised performances at the Wayside Barn from 2004-05, and more, for a total of nearly two and a half hours of video and music.
v/a -- MUSIC WITH IMPACT dvd [Regain Records]
The biggest problem I have with metal music videos is that they tend to all look alike after a while; for various reasons your average metal band is not terribly imaginative when it comes to video production, a fact borne out by this collection of 23 videos by almost as many Regain artists. Too many of the bands here are merely satisfied with making videos of the band shaking their hair and playing real fast in their rehearsal space or an abandoned warehouse full of chains hanging from the ceiling, which may be cost-effective, but doesn't provide the viewer with anything worth seeing more than once or twice unless you're really into that band. You could say the same for the bands (most notably Dark Funeral and Ragnarok) whose videos are simply live performances, but that at least makes some sense given that metal inherently lives or dies on the stage in front of rabid (one hopes) fans. While these videos may be useful as promotional tools for television and cable shows, strung back to back, the similarity of their appearance and the over-reliance on certain video cliches (grainy footage, bad film stock, certain camera angles, etc.) have the potential to make it really tedious to sit through an entire dvd's worth of the stuff.
There are some exceptions here, though -- Bronx Casket Co. has what is unquestionably one of the two best videos on this collection, "Little Dead Girl," a claymation presentation of a dead goth girl trying to make her way to Squaresville to see her favorite band, filled with all sorts of quirky monsters and an actual sense of humor (an intentional one), and Vader's video for "This Is the War" looks like a high-definition video game filled with armies of metallic robots, one led by the band members, trying to kill each other with explosions and lasers and futuristic weapons on an endless battlefield. The Marduk video for "Throne of Rats" is pretty simple, but turns out to be effective thanks to the colors (the entire video was shot in a filter that renders everything in a shade of bright orange, approaching blood red), and the Death S video "Give 'em Hell" mixes bondage gear, fetish models, and wrestling to amusing effect. As for the rest of the material, despite the similarity of themes that recur again and again, most of them have pretty solid performances and good productions values -- the videos from Behemoth, Arch Enemy, Tenebrae, Defleshed, Samael, and Necrophobic are especially good. Other artists with videos on this collection include Sahg, Dimension Zero, Embraced, Deranged, Totalt Javla Morker, Nightmare, Dismember, Mustasch, and Sargatanas Reign. If you're just looking for a good, basic introduction to the label and its roster, this is actually a good place to start -- the videos themselves may not always be the most imaginative, but the presentation is good and the sound is excellent.
VxPxC -- CHINATOWN NOSE-CUT [dead sea liner]
This limited-edition release (75 copies, if you're counting) from the mysterious and insanely prolific trio with the inexplicable name is an exercise in deep-listening drones and psychedelic sound, with five long tracks built around hypnotic drone from a variety of instruments, wayward electronics, the occasional nod to percussion, and a free-floating approach to structure. The sounds are often hard to identify but tantalizing in their subtle grandeur, arranged and compiled in such a manner that drones and textures flow like errant rivers of sound. Over the course of five lengthy pieces, a lot of the material strongly resembles the soundtrack to an erratic avant-garde film; the rest of the time it sounds like spiritual tribal chant music reinterpreted through a hallucinatory psychedelic prism through the unorthodox use of traditional instruments and voice, plus the addition of found sounds and field recordings. Intense, inexplicable (but highly compelling) material with a distinct spiritualist vibe, this is exotic ghost music for the pilled-out, damaged-circuit generation. The band's sound merges the hippy lovefest vibe of the most whacked-out sixties and seventies psych records with a more modern fascination for repetition, drone, experimental sound, and damaged-sounding equipment, and the results sound both luridly beautiful and drug-induced. Essential listening for your next acid trip, to be sure.
dead sea liner
Weedeater -- GOD LUCK AND GOOD SPEED [Southern Lord]
Led by legendary wildman (and former Buzzoven member) Dixie Dave Collins on bass and vocals, Weedeater's third album is a ridiculous epic of speaker-shaking heaviness. Recorded at Electrical Audio by Steve Albini (with the exception of "Alone," which was recorded by Corrosion of Conformity's Mike Dean), the sound of the album alone is nothing short of phenomenal -- despite the enormous bass waves wafting from the speakers with a force sufficient to displace gravity and buckle concrete sidewalks, the massive drums and Dixie's tortured bleating come through with surprising clarity, and I don't think the band has ever sounded this huge and hairy on album. Musically akin to Eyehategod, Sleep, and the aforementioned Buzzoven, this is hatefully tortured stuff designed to empty club rooms by levitating everyone out the door on a pillow of seismic bass waves, a chronicle of life from the gutter as recounted by guys who spend most of their time sleeping on other people's floors and smoking vast fields of weed. It's not all ear-frying sludge, though -- "Alone" is a sparse song (and the album's shortest track) consisting of acoustic bass, banjo, and Dave coming closer to actual singing than anything else he does on the rest of the album. Mostly, though, the nine songs are a series of monster riffs played with ferocious abandon at maximum volume while Dave howls like he's trying to cough up his spleen. Bonus points for the utterly devolved and nearly unrecognizable cover of Lynyrd Skynyrd's "Gimme Back My Bullets" and bizarre piano and muted feedback instrumental "Willow" that closes the album.
Robert Ziino -- ECLIPSE UNMASKED [Experimental Artists]
Ziino returns with a third cd of exotic-sounding electronic experiments, this time sounding much like early Tangerine Dream composing soundtracks not for film, but old-school video games. Pure wave tones and electronic bleating are the order of the day here, drafting into the services of melodies and rhythms that owe as much to early seventies electronic music (Tangerine Dream, Isao Tomita, Pink Floyd, Moog sounds in general, etc.) as to anything modern. There are tmes when the bleeping, pinging tones are augmented by melancholy synths droning away in the background, and from time to time the electronics approach the sound of slowly revolving cyclotrons -- in fact, there's a heavy drone quotient to the album in general -- but the main focus of the album is on agitated tones and electronic bleeping set against a diverse variety of ambient or droning backgrounds. The tracks are not so much actual songs as they are instrumental slices of electronic experimentation, and peculiar-sounding ones at that. Strange, mysterious stuff indeed.
Zu -- "Observing the Armies in the Battlefield" 7" picturedisc [Implied Sound]
It's almost a shame to actually drop a needle down on a picturedisc with art this swank (provided by the enigmatically-named Scarful; see the label's website for a picture of the disc, albeit one that doesn't even begin to capture the utter swankness of the real, physical object, pressed on heavy-as-lead vinyl for the discerning vinyl connoisseurs). The band has been around for a while, with a dizzying slew of obscure releases, mostly singles, splits, and collaborations with the likes of Eugene Chadbourne and Spaceways Inc., and they have toured / collaborated with Mike Patton, Peter Brotzmann, Amy Denio, Eugene Chadbourne, Mats Gustafsson, Dalek, Lightning Bolt, Melvins, The Ruins, Fantomas, and many more equally illustrious players in the heavy rock and avant jazz scene -- the company they've been keeping is hardly surprising, given the band's choice of instrumentation (baritone sax, bass, and drums) and their roots in no-wave, funk, jazz, and metal. Don't let the skronk association scare you off, though; this is far more accessible than you might imagine from the band's pedigree. This is a short release even by single standards (three songs, approximately eight minutes of music), but it's all potent, especially with Italian turntable jockey Okapi on board to provide extra sonic texture. "Observing the Armies in the Battlefield" opens with crunge-laden funk bass that's quickly joined by hypnotic drums heavy on the snare and jazzy sax bleating that wanders from time to time down decidedly unbeaten paths, with Okapi's turntable madness grinding away in the background for another layer of sonic depth. On the flip side (with a swirling picture design guaranteed to induce hypnosis if you stare at it too long), "The Last Portrait of Him Holding a Knife in His Right Hand" offers a somewhat noisier take on the same approach, still anchored by clanging bass and leavened with exotic drumming, strange keening noises, and all sorts of turntable frippery. The final track, "Point Final," is a bit more confused-sounding and "out there," with more of Okapi's influence obvious in the mix than the previous two tracks, but still filled with plenty of freejazz freakout. Swell, swell stuff indeed.