R. P. Collier -- DECONSTRUCTION OF TWILIGHT [self-released]
The poop sheet bills this short (one 31-minute track) disc as "solo instrumental ambient guitar," but it's really more aligned with minimalism than ambient -- Collier opens with lonesome extended single notes that hold and drone, then over time adds and subtracts more notes to create harmonic overtones and clusters of sound that stand out more than you might expect because the background is so stark. The sound is alternately beautiful and disconcerting, but always plaintive and even mysterious. Bell-like tones emerge from the wavering drones, along with squeaks and scrapes, but the barely-shifting drone remains largely constant. This is not music for the impatient; because there is no real rhythm or any kind of immediately recognizable sense of progression, it seems to creep along. Toward the end the multiple tones take on a more rhythmic cast, growing more dissonant and noisier, but at no time does this ever turn into something you might call a pop song by any stretch of the imagination. Instead, it remains a pure exploration of tone and drone, minimalist in execution but considerably more ambitious in intent.
R. P. Collier
Dalglish -- IDEOM [Record Label Records]
Chris Douglas used to record under the name O.S.T., with a sound that was part of the early wave of electronic dance music. Since the retirement of that project, he has recorded under other names, Dalglish being the most recent. The fourteen tracks on this disc are definitely rooted in industrial / electronic dance music, but at times owe as much to noise -- the beats (when they exist) are unquestionably derived from techno, but the sounds that ride over those beats are a shifting assembly of textured drones and pure noise. Sometimes the noise is rhythmic (on "Tishm," for instance, where the beats are augmented by a rhythm track of crusty glitches) and sometimes it's processed to provide ambience and texture, but either way, it's always there. This is hardly the first attempt to merge noise and beats, but the execution here is good; the beats are stripped-down and spare, leaving plenty of room for clouds of unidentifable sound and esoteric noises. Machine noises are a big factor -- many of the rhythmic elements sound like distorted loops of machinery forced to serve the tyranny of the beat -- and the ambient noise generally has a pleasantly crunchy texture that neatly erases any hint of sterility. The tracks are all instrumental, and the overall sound is dark and brooding without descending into campy histronics. The digipak artwork is all cosmic smoke and the lights of distant galaxies, which is fitting, since this is essentially the electronic equivalent of space rock. It's esoteric and enigmatic, sure, but it's also an excellent marriage of beats, ambience, and glitch electronics.
Record Label Records
Dog Holocaust -- VOLUME I, II, III [Gaping Hole / SNSE]
I know absolutely nothing about this band -- even with the mighty power of Google at my disposal, information on the band appears to be largely nonexistent -- but I can see how they would have serious appeal to noise cultists. For one thing, the band is a collaboration between Nolan Throop of Kakerlak and Dan Johansson of Sewer Election; for another, this cd is the collection and reissue of their first three cassettes, all horribly obscure and now out of print. The sound itself is one of catastrophic noise mayhem, full-blown, full-tilt power electronics violence turned up to maximum levels of earhurt and sounding like an endless explosion of harsh audio torment. The cd is divided into three tracks -- one for each cassette -- and they're each a crazed and relentless tsunami of noise with no redeeming social value. Each one is approximately 20-25 minutes long and it's difficult to tell which is more obnoxious (my vote is for the second track); they're all certainly wallowing in the same sonic gore-pit favored by the likes of Macronympha and Knurl, that's for sure. Fans of pure unremitting harsh noise hell should be all over this. The disc is on Gaping Hole (a highly appropriate name, given the pornographic nature of the cover graphics), but is being distributed by SNSE for an entirely reasonable price.
Marduk -- GERMANIA [Regain Records]
Originally released in 1997 on Osmose Productions as LIVE IN GERMANIA, this is a live recording of the band's "Heaven Shall Burn" tour, recorded at four different venues in Germany. The twelve-track setlist is taken mainly from their first four albums, culminating in a blinding cover of Destruction's "Total Disaster." Since it's a live document showcasing material from several different albums, it should come as no surprise that it's considerably more dynamic and varied than their studio albums, which should be good news for the haters who whine about their tendency toward monochromatic blasts of sound, but Marduk fans fond of their explosive tendency toward aggression will find much to worship here. "Darkness It Shall Be" in particular is such a frenzied, excessive sonic attack that it borders on sheer noise, and tracks like "Infernal Eternal," "Untrodden Paths (Wolves Pt. 2)," and "Legion" aren't far behind in the aggression sweepstakes. The variety comes in the form of atypically melodic tracks like "Materialized in Stone," the fluctuating tempos of "On Darkened Wings," and "Wolves," which features a guitar hook that's actually catchy (at least until it's largely obliterated when everything steps up into overdrive and chaos). The sound is not bad at all for a live document (especially one by a black metal band) -- there are some murky moments, sure, but overall the sound is pretty respectable, and relatively consistent despite being taken from four different venues. The bonus content for the reissue is an accompanying DVD of the band's first live appearance outside Sweden, taken from a 1994 concert in Oslo, Norway and featuring six songs.
Marduk -- OBEDIENCE ep [Regain Records]
This was one of the first Marduk releases I ever bought, mainly for the rude S&M artwork; I'm pleased that the reissue's considerably revised graphics, while much darker and murkier, still retain the S&M theme. The original tracks are every bit as obnoxious and aggressive as I remember them being the first time around, albeit thicker and darker -- possibly a result of remastering -- and their cover of the Celtic Frost classic "Into the Crypt of Rays" is still one of the most aggressive Frost covers ever. In addition to the reconfigured graphics and remastering, the reissue includes two new tracks, both taken from the now out of print BLACKCROWNED box set. The first is a blackened, thrashed-out version of the Rolling Stones song "Paint it Black" (which could have been a disaster, but fortunately isn't); the second is a cover of the Misfits favorite "Earth A.D." that's even more manic than the original, if such a thing is possible. Their deeply perverse cover of the Stones song is reason enough to own this.
Marduk -- PANZER DIVISION MARDUK [Regain Records]
The band's sixth album, originally released in 1999 on Osmose Productions (their last release for the label), is probably their best-known release. It's also one of their most controversial (no small feat for a band dedicated to controversy), thanks to the "all war, all the time" theme that caused many to erronously label them an NSBM band. Musically, it remains one of the band's most manic and focused statements; with the exception of a mid-tempo beginning on "Scorched Earth," the introductory explosions of "Beast of Prey," and a couple of brief (very brief) respites here and there, the seven tracks from the original album are all ferocious exercises in pure, blinding speed, with ridiculously fast drums and knitting-needle guitars accompanied by Legion's caustic screech. It's true that the overall sound is severely monochromatic -- variety in songwriting has never been the band's strong suit -- but the songs themselves, with titles like "Christraping Black Metal" and "Fistfucking God's Planet," are punishing juggernauts of sonic excess played with unnerving abandon, all attitude and unparalleled aggression. This is violent, no-frills war metal, heavy as hell and so extreme that it borders at times on squalling white noise. The reissue adds two bonus tracks ("Deathride" and "Todeskessel Burland"), both of which sound like they could have been outtakes from the original album, and a fan-made video for the title track.
Metal Church -- THIS PRESENT WASTELAND [SPV USA]
I am so old that I actually bought this band's first two albums (on vinyl, natch) when they were first released, way back in the early eighties. Hell, I'm so old that I was in college at the time. I know the band has had plenty of ups and downs since then, but it's good to see that their latest album is a fine return to the winning combination of catchy melodicism and crushing riffs that made that their first two albums so great. It's true that I still prefer original vocalist David Wayne (RIP) to their latest singer, Ronny Munroe, but that has less to do with any stylistic deficiency on Munroe's part and more to do with nostalgia on mine. He's a good singer in his own right -- perhaps a tad too operatic at times for my taste, though -- and just as importantly (maybe even more so), the guitar riffs are heavy and well-crafted; this is a no-frills, low-bullshit album, just like their early stuff. It is kind of strange to look at the personnel list and realize that guitarist Kurdt Vanderhoof is the only original member left, but it sure doesn't appear to have had much impact on the band's sound; this is very much in line with their early sound, only with better production and improved songwriting. The ten tracks on this album range from pretty good to excellent; this is probably the most consistent album they've done since THE DARK. Let's hope the band fares better on SPV than they did on any of their earlier labels; an album this good by a band that's lasted this long deserves better than to get lost in the shuffle.
Object -- O [eh?]
A trio composed of Ricardo Arias (bass-balloon kit), Miguel Frasconi (glass objects), and Keiko Uenishi (laptop computer), Object appears here with a live recording from the Sculpture Center in New York City, with one long track that is actually nine sections alternating in solo, duo, and trio formations. The unusual instrumentation gives the players access to some truly bizarre sounds, and the shifts from one player to more players means the density of sound comes and goes, depending on how many people are playing at any given time. Silence plays a big part in the performance, too -- strange sounds fade into stretches of silence as the players switch off, and the sounds they make when they are playing tend to be obscure and minimalistic. Frasconi in particular demonstrates that you can make some truly eccentric, even unnerving, noises with just a bunch of balloons. Since the performance is structured on the disc as one long track, it's hard to tell where one section ends and another begins, but there's definitely an ongoing progression from one set of sounds to the next, and each section evokes a different feel and mood. The sounds tend to be largely muted and subdued -- this is definitely not going to be mistaken for power electronics -- and the approach through much of the recording is one of methodical and deliberate pacing, often with sounds so quiet that you have to pay attention to tell what's happening. The "finale," in fact, is almost anticlimactic, with baroque and barely-perceptible sounds that gradually die away into nothingness. Peculiar... very peculiar.
Marcelo Radulovich -- MERCURIO [self-released]
Even by experimental standards, Marcelo Radulovich's music is pretty strange stuff. Frequently sounding like eccentric pop songs that are being hacked apart on the fly, his sonic creations tend toward fractured bursts of sound and cryptic lyricism that sound connected by only the barest of conceptual threads. On this particular album, there's a strong emphasis on strange vocal approaches -- many of the songs feature oddball choruses with staggered mass vocals and peculiar vocal treatments -- and obscure but catchy melodies with inscrutable, even interrupted, rhythms. His approach here combines the unpredictability and innovative sonic exploration of free-jazz and improvised music with the potentially catchy structures of pop music, with bizarre and mysterious results. Some of the material here is (conceptually, at least) reminiscent of the Cheer Accident avant-pop classic THE WHY ALBUM. With fourteen tracks on hand, there's plenty of variety in sounds and approaches, and the songs are mostly short (only two songs are over 3:32, and several are under two minutes), which means the strangeness of each track doesn't have much opportunity to wear out its welcome before moving on to the next burst of weirdness. Strange, very strange, but highly listenable.
Shelf Life -- CONCERNING THE ABSENCE OF FLOORS [Friends and Relatives Records]
The band is a collective of drone 'n skronk enthusiasts -- Bryan Day, Joseph Jaros, Luke Polipnick, Alex Boardman, and Jay Kreimer -- recording in different configurations, and the five tracks here are different explorations of the combination of near-random noisemaking and drone aesthetics. The unpredictable plinking and clanking provides a sense of texture to what would otherwise be a series of pieces centered around brooding electronic repetition and ambient drone; the pieces themselves vary somewhat in the application of different sounds and strategies, but in the end they are all united in the tendency to gravitate toward hypnotic repetition and mysterious, sometimes even blissful, clouds of drone. This is eerie stuff, sometimes verging on downright haunting, like the sound of ghost trains rolling through endless empty tunnels at night while electronic machinery pulses in the darkness. Often resembling a mutant form of free-jazz electronica, there's a cold, zoned-out feel to the proceedings that's at odds with the obviously human element of random surprise expressed through the unorthodox instrument abuse, which is a large part of what makes the album so interesting. Swell ambient sounds and a minimalist approach to repetition through the use of unusual textures doesn't hurt, either.
Friends and Relatives
Twodeadsluts Onegoodfuck -- S/T [Apop Records]
Originally released as a limited-edition cd-r, this vinyl version (limited to 300 copies) retains the moderately rude / mildly pornographic cover and adds mastering by James Plotkin (Old, Khanate, etc.) for maximum sonic punishment. With a penchant for damaged synth abuse and an aesthetic firmly rooted in the likes of Whitehouse, Sutcliffe Jugend, Prurient, and violently abrasive power electronics in general, this is a short but potent sonic bloodbath; the songs are never more than a few minutes long at most, and with titles like "Man the Fuck Up, Faggot" and "Fuck First... Ask Never," you can tell they're confrontational without even dropping the needle. Once you do, though, the violence is total -- grim, dirty synth drones turn into full-on blasts of white noise and psychotic screaming designed to clear rooms, and fast. The four songs on the first side are short blasts of hate and ultraviolence that explode in bursts of chaotic white noise like the sound of buildings being demolished in slow motion; of the two "epics" on the flip side, the first ("Another Dead Walpole Kid") is filled with brooding synth angst and crusty noise in the background, whle the second, "To Catch a Predator," is built around bone-rattling amplifier hum and muffled shouting, with a sound that threatens to burst into audio immolation but never quite does. The self-destructive duo has been around long enough to churn out an impressive list of singles, limited-edition cd-rs, and compilation appearances, but this is their first "full-length" release (in quotes because the album is only about fifteen minutes long -- like I said, the songs are short). It's definitely worth hearing, especially if you're hep to any of aforementioned influences.