AT -- s/t [Corleone]
This is deeply strange shit, but would you expect any less from one of the guys behind The USA Is A Monster and Necronomitron? AT is actually one guy armed with guitars (acoustic and electric), bass, drums, and songs about the usual ups and downs of life: traveling, working, getting your heart stepped on, and bottles of forty-ounce malt liquor. The nine songs here sound like the work of a lovesick, half-drunk hillbilly working out his frustrations on his front porch with a guitar in between bottles of beer and bong hits. Think of a more eccentric Greg Weeks, a less dispossessed Daniel Johnston, or maybe a more tuneful Jandek, something along those lines. Acoustic guitar, played with flowing grace and arpeggiated lines, is the dominant sound in these songs, along with AT's surprisingly soothing voice. This is simple, unadorned stuff, but all the more effective for not being buried under unnecessary clutter. It's really surprising to hear an album like this on Corleone, but it's an album well worth hearing, especially since AT is a pretty swinging guitarist with some thought-provoking songs.
Bassholes -- ARCHIVE SERIES VOL. 7: ... AND WITHOUT A NAME lp [Columbus Discount Records]
The Bassholes are semi-legendary (well, in the right circles, anyway) for two things: one, having one of the greatest names ever, and two, for being a band everybody seems to have heard of but not actually heard. Part of this probably has a lot to do with their discography being available mainly on tiny, tiny labels in limited runs that quickly go out of print. Up until the advent of internet downloading, the chances of finding any of their material to actually listen to was a remote possibility for most people... and still is, come to think of it. (Well, there is always the magic of Ebay, but that's a very hit or miss way to find their back catalog.) Which is too bad, because the band has a great sound that's somewhere between the shambolic garage rock of The Oblivians and the eccentric noise rock of The Dead C, and as this album proves, their aesthetic is perfectly in tune with the the label that produced this swell vinyl release. Despite the archival reference in the title, this is actually all-new material, recorded in late 2008 with Don Howland on guitar, vocals, and kalimba, and Bim Thomas on drums. (A few guests make appearances here and there, including Derek DiCenzo, who contributes lead guitar on "New Values," Tommy Jay playing tom on "Tough Luck Roy," and others like Pete Remenyi, Adam Smith, and Mark Wyatt on various tracks.) Of the ten tracks here, two are covers ("New Values" and "Tough Luck Roy"), but the duo's unique style makes them sound totally in sync with the original material. This is great stuff, with far more variety than you might expect from the band's history (and what has been written about them); it's noisy and lo-fi, no question, but far more musical and at times even catchy than their pedigree might suggest. There's a political element to this record -- the lyrics are frequently angry screeds about the country's ongoing decline and the tanking economy -- but the angst in the words is not necessarily reflected in the music. The sound is often caustic and bordering on violent, sure, but in a manner that's more rambunctious and exhilirating than aggressive and menacing; this may be noise-laden, but it's not metal. An honest purging of emotion, maybe, but the sound is so visceral and exciting that even morose lyrics can't turn it into a bummer. Like I said earlier, great stuff... and a fine record with which to check out the band if you haven't heard them before. Limited to 500 copies with a full-color jacket and pressed on fat-ass quality vinyl.
Columbus Discount Records
Book of Shadows -- METROGNOMES [Apollolaan Recordings]
If you've heard the band before, then you know what to expect -- lots of minimalist drone created by keyboards, electronics, guitars, and Sharon Crutcher's otherworldly vocalizing (an interstellar drone instrument in its own right). This five-track release features a stripped-down version of the band, with just the core of Carlton Crutcher (keyboards), Sharon Crutcher (vocals), and Jason Zenmoth (guitar, electronics) providing the unparalleled flow of sound. The sound, while hardly a radical departure from the band's previous output, is nevertheless a bit less layered and ephemeral than before, especially on the title track... but the sound is still plenty, plenty psychedelic and deeply rooted in a spiritual mysticism. This is meditative music, a cloud of sound made for drifting and dreaming, and as such the sound ebbs and flows in its intensity without ever becoming overbearing. There's also a lot of heavy guitar action on this album, especially on the title track, where it's swaddled in acres of reverb and provides a nice counterpoint to the free-flowing river of drone. The drone is heavier and filled with warbling keyboards in "Twoedit Gnos," where the ethereal vocals ride over a wave-like ocean of shimmering drone, along with violin-like sounds that show up later in the piece. "Ong Ones" is one of the more obviously experimental pieces, with the drone in the background as strange noises generated by guitar and keyboards, then processed through efx gadgets, rattle and reverberate in the foreground. (A barking dog also shows up about eleven minutes into the somnolent drone-o-thon, although whether that's by design or accident is hard to tell.) The sound of "Ifev Gons" is thicker but more mellow, with rippling keyboard lines swallowed by a tremelo-happy drone and more mysterious noises floating in and out of the mix. The final track, "Gnrooufs," is built around a tinny-sounding piano track accompanied by a high-pitched drone and more of Sharon's ethereal drone vocals; it's less extraterrestrial than the rest of the album, but every bit as strange and psychedelic. This release continues their tradition of putting out fine, enigmatic drone epics that combine the sound of experimental music with the shamanistic feel of pagan traditions. The bad news is that this album -- issued in a limited run of fifty copies, each with its own unique hand-drawn artwork -- is already sold out. Maybe you'll get lucky and find it available for download on one of the psych / drone blogs....
Book of Shadows
Book of Shadows -- THE MORPHAIL EFFECT [Instincto Records]
You can never hear too much of Book of Shadows, and here they appear with five more long, mystical drone works, this time heavy on the eternal drone and low on vox, chord changes, and pretty much anything else that's not drawn out and hypnotized. "Light Refraction Through a Broken Pane of Glass" is dominated by a deeply minimalist keyboard rhythm and a deep sandstorm drone in the background, with strange noises rising to the forefront from time to time that sound like bursts of sunspot activitity from a broken theremin. "Tlkko" is considerably more abstract and ghostly, with less drone and lots more reverb, with most of the action coming from a couple of endlessly repeated keyboard notes and wailing, wordless vocals that frequently sound more like droning, distant wind than anything human. Toward the end metallic percussion appears in the mix as well, but only in a near-random and unpredictable fashion; you can rest assured that this never, ever turns into pop music. "Enigmatic Fern Seed" opens with fire-engine siren wails and creeping clouds of drone, along with Sharon Crutcher's wordless vocalizing (a sound that blends in with the drones, making it nearly impossible to tell which is which), and drifts through a psychedelic night swamp for the four minutes or so. It's one of the shortest tracks on the album, followed by one of the longest, "The Dancing Smoke Blues," approximately 35 minutes of mysterious sounds (including more of the short-circuiting theremin) that quickly settles into a drifting baritone drone leavened with electronic frippery and muted percussion at unpredictable intervals. The final track, "The Demise of the Steamer Screw Ship," is a brief (less than two minutes) swirl of mutated keyboards, bell chimes, and wind-like drone that closes out the album in a supremely engimatic fashion. Those already familiar with the band's aesthetic will find this to be more of the same, and every bit as swell as their previous releases.
Book of Shadows
Conure -- STREAM [Edgetone Records]
This is a bit of a departure from recent Conure releases in that it is less concerned with a thematic concept and more with the pure bliss of streaming sound. The five tracks here were composed by Mark Wilson in the studio using a laptop, pedals, field recordings, and other lo-fi sound sources, with a result that more closely resembles his live sound than most of his previous studio outings. This is some crunchy-sounding stuff, too -- there's lots of jagged white noise and cranky noise rumbling, all in service of bleak and forbidding soundscapes built from harsh blocks of abrasive sound and distortion. Harsh noise is a constant on this album; the tracks vary in their intensity and collection of sounds, but the element of harsh, abrasive sound is present nearly all of the time. Throbbing electronic rhythms are often buried under the howling, scraping noise as well, giving the album a dark and machine-like vibe at times. Not all of the sound is quite so violent; there are some beautifully ominous sheets of sound at the forefront of "Sycan" along with the wrenching bursts of sonic angst, and some sonorous rumbling in "Gales" nestled behind the bleeps and bloops that burst forth on an intermittent basis. For the most part, however, the album is highly steeped in aggressive audio passages designed to sandblast their way through your skull. The attention to detail and cascading layers of sound keep the album from being monochromatic, however, and despite the occasional drift into less-punishing sounds, the album remains a remarkably intense listening experience most of the time. I would imagine that hearing this at high volume, particularly live through a powerful PA system, might well warp your consciousness... and what more can you ask of an album built around the healing power of pure white noise?
Brian E -- YELLOW LIGHT DISTRICT lp [Record Label Records]
I'm not sure the world is ready for a disco revival, but apparently one is coming whether you like it or not, and Brian Ellis is ahead of the curve. A member of the psych-prog band Astra who may be best known for his free internet album TECH-NOIR, he also recorded a couple of free-jazz albums for Benbecula Records, so obviously he's not limited to any one genre, and while this may well be disco, it's not the kind of disco that drove people crazy in the 70s. No, this is a crafty fusion of modern electronica, jazz tones, and prog rock set to disco's insistent techno-beat. This is much smarter, melodically and rhythmically astute stuff than the canned beats and endless repetition of the original disco movement. Which is not to say he's lost sight of disco's original imperative; tracks like "Sinistyle" are anchored by big, fat beats that never get lost amid the relentless musical experimentation, and even though all of the tracks are marked by a wide variety of sounds and synthetic instruments, all of these things are still subservient to the big beat. Unlike a lot of tunes from the original disco movement, though, this manages to be fun without being mindless. (It's also all instrumental, so it's not marred by somebody warbling the same brain-damaged lyric over and over until you want to load up your shotgun and let a lot of daylight through the singer.) Just to make sure you don't miss the prog thinking behind this endeavor, the final track is a discofied cover of Magma's "De Futura," complete with tangy Moog bleats and lots of cosmic synth doodling. Available on yellow vinyl in a limited run of 500 copies.
Record Label Records
El Jesus de Magico -- KLIP AUGHT 7" [Columbus Discount Records]
I love the cryptic artwork -- it looks like somebody used a rubber stamp to imprint the band name and track listings on some really old, waterstained wallpaper -- but this aesthetic sure makes it hard to read, nu? But that's okay, because mystery is what this enigmatic band is all about (well, and maybe the hokey pokey, but the jury's out on that one so far). The band's mysteriso vibe is, as always, enhanced by the location in which is was performed and recorded -- to wit, their legendary practice space, located in the basement of a funeral home -- and this record marks another unique distinction for the label, since it was recorded, mastered, and cut to lacquer masters entirely in the analog domain. This is the band's third single (and fifth release overall), and continues the swell documentation of their remarkable journey through the Valley of Lo-Fi. "Paha Sapa," the first track on the A-side, is a fuzzed-out exercise in hypnosis built around a kettle-drum beat that could have been lifted from a galley slave ship or the first Jesus and Mary Chain record, some seriously percolating scratch-acid guitar buzz, and stoned bleating that adds plenty of atmosphere but still definitely takes a back seat to the beat and fuzz. The next track, "Rapey Guys 2," is every bit as beat-heavy and filled with bowel-scraping guitar that's as flanged as it is fuzzed, but it's faster and weirder, filled with screeching, wave-like tones that could be a damaged synth, a broken kazoo, or a guitar vibrating through esoteric efx boxes. The drums sound like they're in another room, a particularly nice touch. The flip side is taken up entirely by "Klip Aught," which opens some diabolically vibrato-heavy fuzz guitar and ponderous drums; by the time the muffled vocals enter, the whole thing becomes reminiscent of the early Jesus and Mary Chain scoring a spaghetti western. Excellent, warped stuff, like everything else they've done so far, and limited to 500 copies (on color vinyl for the first hundred), each one in a unique hand-printed sleeve.
El Jesus de Magico
Columbus Discount Records
Glen Iris -- "Horseless / Big Hatchet" 7" [Dirty Slacks]
Guitarist Chris Strawn (Gizzard, Brass Castle) turns up again with a new gig, playing with members of the Rock A Teens and Ice Caps. I don't know anything about the latter two bands, but the sound here is straight-up garage rock, with fizzy, distorted guitars and simple but aggressive drumming. "Horseless" is the noisier and more chaotic track of the two, a bristling rave-up with a solo section boasting a scorched-earth sound; "Big Hatchet" is a bizarre ballad with strummed guitar and assorted extra audio seasoning from a nylon guitar and guitar synthesizer. In honored garage rock tradition, the sound is lo-fi but honest and engaging, and the package's thrift-store graphics just add to the punked-out flavor. Limited to 300 copies.
Lightning Bolt -- EARTHLY DELIGHTS [Load Records]
Take a healthy dose of repetition, add the healing power of distorto-boxes turned up to "deep fat fry," stir in a massive dose of amphetamines, then bake until overdone in Sun Ra's galactic kitchen (remember, the Space Fryer is the best cooking instrument), and what you get is the loud, surreal duo of Brian and Brian, otherwise known to the free world as Lightning Bolt. The addled and enthusiastic aesthetic remains unchanged; the only real difference between this one and the last one is that they've somehow managed to boost the level of frantic, oversaturated chaos to yet a new level. If this exponential increase in the intensity of their madness continues, in about three albums I fully expect them to alter the planet's orbit. The guitar sound is amazing, a vast cloud of beautiful, fuzzed-out harmonic white noise somehow channeled into ass-quaking, head-shaking riffs that owe as much to straight-up old-school metal as the hummingbird drumming does to free jazz and those old Coltrane and Ali Rashied albums that were so deep you never could quite grok them. The drums are every bit as busy and cryptic as any Lightning Bolt fan could hope to expect, and the songs are generally heavy on monster riff action at tempos sufficient to throw out your back if you groove along too hard. "Colossus" opens in a considerably more muted, almost folk-like fashion, but it turns out that's just to give your ears a moment to rest before revving up the engine and turning the sonic cycltron back up full blast. The rhythms and textures change over the course of the album, but the guitar remains a consistent source of soul-frying tones enriched by lots of overdrive and various noise / tone pedals. This is my favorite album by the band so far just for the grinding, fuming, otherworldly guitar sound. I think the kidzzz call this maximum win.
Little Fyodor -- PEACE IS BORING [Public Eyesore]
Little Fyodor is a strange little man with some strange little songs, and as if it isn't enough to inflict his warped sense of humor on the world via his own material, he misappropriates the work of others to his own bizarre ends more than once here. In fact, he opens with a perverse rewrite of Joni Mitchell's "Both Sides Now" (retitled "Death Sides Now" and sporting new lyrics that would probably not meet with Joni's approval). He has a fair number of side musicians helping him realize his grotesque vision here, but no outside vision can impede the seriously twisted fever of his own personality, and the fourteen tracks here are all very much his own sound and vision, even when they're covers. Titles like "That Was A Mistake" and "All My Clothes Are Uncomfortable" give you some idea of where he's coming from, but nothing can prepare you for the terrifying reality of actually hearing him, especially when he's channeling Tiny Tim on "Open Up Your Heart (And Let The Sunshine In)." Musically, he's all over the map -- instruments used on the album include keyboards, guitar, slide whistle, drum machines, drums, bass, banjo, and organ, often in peculiar and unconventional ways -- with a sound that could best be described as "outsider pop" (well, sort of), and if you can deal with his crazed vocal mannerisms, his songs are often quite catchy, even when they're distinctly weird and often indifferently recorded. His aesthetic is certainly a unique one, to say the least. Bonus points for the sublime title of the final track, "Fuck-a-duck-a-luck-a-luck-a-ding-dong," which pretty accurately summarizes his aesthetic.
Locrian -- RAIN OF ASHES [Basses Frequences]
Thanks to the French label Basses Frequences, this two-track album -- originally released as a cassette on Fan Death Records -- is now available on cd (in a run of 400 copies). The first track is the title track, recorded live on WMUC in Chicago in July, 2009; the second track is the first one reversed. A lot of their more recent material has been heavily influenced by black metal, but this is more of a throwback to their earlier work, mixing shrill noise-drone with rumbling waves of dark ambient sound. The original track opens with noisy feedback and dissonant, high-pitched shrieks as a dark, revolving drone gradually fades up in the background; as time passes, shuddering bass action begins to take over the foreground as the drone and wailing being to recede into the background. Drones and moans begin to prevail, accompanied by twitching, skittering noise guitar vibrating in a black cloud of sonic fog. The mood is unsettling, and the sounds floating through the dark ambient haze are varied and constantly evolving; it sounds like the duo has harnessed the power of old analog synths along with the drone potential of fuzzed-out guitar and bass. The sound is rarely ever full-on; the intensity of the mix ebbs and flows, and around the ten-minute mark (the entire track is thirty minutes long), bell-like chimes appear, a motif that will come and go over the duration of the track. The steady but strategic application of dynamics, in fact, is where Locrian excel, and it's the major thing that sets them apart from most noise / drone bands -- they have an impeccable sense of when to flood the speakers and when to back off, as well as how to sprinkle new and interesting sounds through their compositions to keep them from growing stale without making them cluttered. My favorite parts of the track are the howling noises that show up in the last ten minutes, like a bad wind blowing through the throbbing fields of dissonance, and the muted, droning synth dominant through the final six minutes. The last few minutes of the track are a swirling tsunami of crunchy noises, dark rumbling, and wind-tunnel roar that finally fades out into nothingness as the track ends. The act of merely flipping the recording and running it backwards for the second track is nowhere near as self-indulgent as it might appear at first glance, for the reversed sound is just as unnerving (maybe more so) and, thanks to the peculiar physics of reversed audio, significantly different in terms of sonic architecture. In fact, the flipped track is some seriously scary-sounding shit. Once again the band turns out a work of distinction, and one you should track down as soon as possible (in the format of your choice).
Locrian / Harpoon -- split 7" [He Who Corrupts Inc.]
Chicago's finest noise duo (that would be the Locrian) return on a split release with another Chicago band, the grind thugs Harpoon. This split has been in the works for a while now, and comes with some interesting surprises -- the first appearance of a bassist for Harpoon, and a collaborator for Locrian (Andrew Sherer of Velnias). The Locrian track, "Ancestral Brutalism," opens with lo-fi hiss and ambient darkness before bursting into a full-on black metal riff that's augmented by bass-heavy ambient noise; by the time the drums (!) and pained vocals arrive, the atmosphere is a perfect return to the murky brutality of the infancy of black metal, with a sound that combines Burzum's eerie atmosphere with Sodom's hyperkinetic frenzy and smeared-into-paste guitars. This is no technical horrorshow, either -- just filthy monochromatic riffing that rises from a swamp of sonic murkiness and eventually descends back into the same. The Harpoon track, "To the Tall Trees," is far more modern-sounding, a bone-rattling epic of relentless grind driven by supercharged drumming and knitting-needle guitars that shifts down to a lower, even heavier, gear midway through the song. The abrupt and unexpected shift from blinding, speedy grindcore to a noisy form of doom keeps things interesting, and the band's forbidding guitar sound and primal drumming are the main things likely to keep you coming back for more. The packaging itself is most swank as well; a thick letter-pressed cover houses a full-color wraparound insert, the single itself is on green marble vinyl, and the package includes a coupon for a free digital download of bonus material (two songs by each band). Aside from being limited to 300 copies, it's worth noting that this is the label's final physical release.
He Who Corrupts Inc.
Marsupial -- GENUS THYLACINUS [self-released]
Seeing as how this is the band's fourth cd and it's utterly brilliant, you'd think I would have heard of them before, but that just goes to show you how hard it is to keep up with things in a world filled with entirely too many bands releasing entirely too many albums. A couple of decades ago a band of this caliber would have been nationally known (if even only in hip, progressive circles) by this time, but now even great bands manage to get lost in the shuffle, especially if they are not easy to classify or market. Hailing from Asheville, NC, this quartet combines elements of prog rock, country, jazz, and free-form improv to create a sound that fuses the best elements of these styles into something that's both catchy and innovative yet surprisingly accessible. Their propensity for free-form jam sessions streamlined into actual songs puts them in the territory of bands like the Grateful Dead and Phish, but these guys are far more disciplined, never allowing their exploration of song structures to devolve into endless soloing, and their actual sound is closer to that of an extremely progressive country-rock band. I normally avoid listening to bands like this because they tend toward the self-indulgent, but this band is not like those bands; they are not only all stellar musicians (the guitar tracks are particularly amazing, although I have no idea who's doing what, since three of them play guitar), but they have a sense of restraint that's rare for a band so drenched in progressive stylings. At times they resemble a country band weaned on King Crimson, only without Fripp's overly academic approach and the retention of the pulsing groove that makes the best country music so rhythmically compelling. This is the sound of greatness; too bad it's being drowned out by bands with far less talent and more marketing muscle.
Random Touch -- A WAY FROM THE HEARD [Token Boy Records]
The ever-prolific improv trio (Christopher Brown on drums and vocals, Scott Hamill on guitar, and James Day on keyboards) returns with their twelfth album, one of their most freely improvised albums to date. This is not quite as chaotic as their previous release, and has far more of a symphonic feel in places than ever before, but it's certainly every bit as adventurous and rooted in the spirit of unfettered musical freedom as anything else they've ever done. Some of the songs featured warped and distorted vocals along with the unpredictable musical schemas -- the voice, in fact, is a widely-used and highly malleable instrument on this album -- and there appear to be a lot of extra instruments in use (particularly brass and woodwinds), most likely through the magic of Day's keyboards. The rest of the album's sound will not be unfamiliar to those who have heard the band; when they're not conducting peculiar experiments in mutated sound (for instance, on "Hint of Dawn," where everything appears to have been bent and warped into new and peculiar shapes), the band's near-jazz sound, often dominated by Brown's quixotic drumming, is very much in sync with their earlier works. The fourteen tracks on this disc offer a wide variety of improv compositions leavened with an equally wide panorama of unusual sounds, and as always, their chops are impressive and the recording excellent.
Token Boy Records
Alec K. Redfearn & the Seizures -- EXTERMINATING ANGEL [Corleone]
This is a bit of a departure for Redfearn; for one thing, he contributes the words and basic songs (and some instrumentation), but leaves the arrangements to backing back the Seizures, and for another, there are no guitars on the album, which results in a sound that's markedly different from his earlier releases and most modern music (especially the kind that finds a home at Corleone) in general. The sound for most of the album is composed of string bass, loops, drums, percussion, and glockenspiel; Redfearn also contributes ukelele and accordion on two tracks. The sound that results from these interesting instrument choices actually sounds much of the time like the work of synthesizers, which I find deeply strange. The singer-songwriter vibe of the album's eight tracks combined with the bizarre instrumental approach means that at times this sounds like a mad, bizarro-world answer to an alt-country album, which is pretty surreal under the circumstances. The songs themselves -- with titles like "Voice to Skull," "Isle of Swine," and "The Hole" -- are all a peculiar mix of jaunty, countrified sound and morbid, doom-laden lyrics, which is always a highly entertaining approach to confusing listeners. It's impossible to accurately convey this album's perverse charms through mere words in a written review, but if you're familiar with Redfearn's previousl output and can imagine that strained through a somewhat less morose version of the Black Heart Procession after dropping a couple of tabs of blotter acid, then you just might find this a necessary thing to hear. Everyone else will probably just be confused, but that's okay; once the confusion wears off and the enigmatic catchiness of these tunes sinks in, even the duly confused should find this interesting listening.
Alec K. Redfearn
Same-Sex Dictator / Requin -- split 7" [Artificial Limb Co.]
It's nice to know there are still some bands into violent, metallic sheets of sound that aren't necessarily metal bands. I've grown bored of most of what passes for metal these days because so much of it is either aping the work of previously established bands or lacking in imagination or just plain riding the wave of what ever is currently hip (which explains the creeping avalanche of ambient-metal bands gulping down the curdled milk of Sunn O))), one of the most overrated bands ever; if these bands were going to steal from somebody, why not Khanate, who were a hell of a lot more innovative and interesting?). Which is not to say either of these bands is making music without precedent -- there are definite nods to Eyehategod in the beginning slo-mo crawl of SSD's "Eight: From Meal to Bait," but the groove and hocus-pocus drumming has more to do with art rock, and the band's morose intensity rises and falls in unpredictable spasms of stop 'n start activity. The sound may be mired in doom-metal, but the attitude is something else entirely. The Requin tracks are in more or less the same vein, but even more thuggish; "Pony's One Trick Isn't Funny Anymore" pits abrasive guitar squealing against a molasses-thick guitar sound and the occasional burst of metallic riffing, while "A White Belt in Music Journalism" (bonus points for the snazzy title!) alternates between primitive, slow-motion pounding with a sound akin to the tape being mulched and bursts of vaguely hardcore fury. It's all deliberately ugly, nihilistic, and lo-fi (Tad Doyle produced the Requin tracks, which probably explains a lot), and lot more menancing than any of the bands you'll read about in the current issue of REVOLVER. Limited to 300 copies and housed in a brown cardstock sleeve depicting bad, bad men on the cover.
Secrets of the Moon -- PRIVILEGIUM [Lupus Lounge]
After an eerie, atmospheric opening, the album settles into the spirit of progressive black metal, with a sound that's bombastic and open without turning into a full-blown epic of symphonic overkill; even when the proggy sound starts to get a little too operatic, the serrated guitar attack quickly cuts through the fog and brings everything back down to earth. In true black metal fashion, the lyrics are largely rooted in blasphemy, although they're considerably more articulate and intellectual than the blasphemy of, say, Nunslaughter or Impaled Nazarene. Despite their serious approach and progressive bent, they are hardly wimpy -- the drumming is powerful and primal, and the guitar attack is absolutely punishing, frequently approximating the sound of shrapnel being hurled through your body. They favor a violent, often thrashing approach to their exalted sound, but at the same time they never descend into the primitive, lo-fi sound of early black metal. They strike a good balance between the progressive and the raw, with results that are more refined than basic, thrash-influenced black metal but not overly drenched in pomp-laden keyboards and the twee mannerisms inherent in a lot of symphonic black metal. This isn't particularly breaking new ground, but it's carefully constructed and well-executed, and the sound is clear without being sterile. Fans of their earlier work will not be disappointed in this one.
Secrets of the Moon
Shelf Life -- DUCTWORKS [Public Eyesore]
I see we're in the land of the cryptic again -- the minimal liner notes reveal nothing about who does what in this quartet (Brian Day, A. Boardman, Jay Schleidt, and J. Jaros), and the thirteen tracks all have titles consisting of random letters (for instance, the first track is called "tkcrdsuow"), although the scanty info does note that this material was recorded from 2/06 - 7/06 at Platteform, Omaha. The sound itself is one entirely familiar to the PE back catalog, the sound of unfettered, clattering improvisation using a variety of instruments. This is one of the more subdued improv outings; there's plenty of odd sounds and cacaphonous activity, but very little of it is loud or abrupt. There's some interesting sounds here, certainly, but it's definitely not for the uninitiated. Day mixed the material and the entire band edited it, and the results sound good, with a pleasing sense of flow. The tracks sound more like variations of the same concept -- making strange and often unpredictable sounds with the gadgets at hand -- and while there's plenty of energy here, there's also a certain level of sameness to the tracks that would doubtless be daunting to anyone approaching the mysteries of free-form improv for the first time.
Shelf Life -- PROTECTION [The Counter Submarine]
This disc, recorded in Lincoln, NE in 2008 with a moderately different lineup (Bryan Day, Joseph Jaros, Luke Polipnick, and Anderson Reinkordt), manages to be even more obscure than the previously reviewed disc, no small feat. Given that the eleven tracks are grouped as two distinct movements, "Pink A" and "Pink B," it's entirely possible this was originally released (or intended to be released) on vinyl. Whatever its origins may be, the sound is similar to the previous disc, but not quite as random; there's lots of strange sounds being made, yes, but there's also a background drone present much of the time that keeps the extraneous sound tied together (or at least more so than on the previous recording). The main thing that changes from one track to the next is the quality and texture of the drone, which makes it much easier to perceive the variety of sound inherent to the different tracks. The improvised sounds may rise and fall through the clouds of drone, but they are generally subservient to the drone, adding texture and the element of surprise more than anything else. The second set of tracks is heavy at times on repetition as well as drone, especially making effective use at times of looped vocal samples. The sound on the second set of tracks, while not radically departing from what came before (especially in the use of supreme drone action), are a bit more psychedelic and vocal-heavy. It's mysterious stuff, no question, but soothing in its drone-happy ambience and eerie in its overall effect. It's also probably real hard to find.
The Counter Submarine
Slut Sister -- RAW MEAT [self-released]
First off, they get bonus points for the swell pinup-of-the-living-dead artwork and band name lettering that clearly references KISS (which is misleading, because they really sound more like a diabolical cross between Pantera, Black Sabbath, and The Fucking Champs). This EP keeps it short and to the point with only six songs, all of which are filled with intense drumming and heavy riffing. Their style is interesting; on the surface they mostly call to mind late-era Pantera, but the drummer is a lot more imaginative, and the guitarist far more technical in places -- if you can imagine what Pantera might have sounded like after listening to lots of Don Caballero and TFC, then you can get an inkling of what's happening here. Their heaviness and general sound owe a lot more to traditional metal, but the moving parts involved are not quite so standard-issue. This is a great mix of styles -- they're way heavier than the math-rock bands cited, but far more intelligent (musically speaking, anyway -- I'm not so sure about their lyrics, especially given that one of the songs is called "Teenage Pussy") than Pantera, who were heavy, yes, but not always very bright, especially when Phil was their often-irritating mouthpiece. The entire band is tight, too, and the bassist brings some serious low-end crunge to the table. This is definitely worth checking out if you always had a secret fondness for Pantera that you were too embarrassed to reveal in public.
Sons of Alpha Centauri / A Death Cinematic -- split cd [Simple Box Construction]
This split cd features quasi-ambient works from two very different bands. The UK band Sons of Alpha Centauri are a quartet whose cosmic Krautrock-influenced sound is every bit as spacy as their name would suggest; over the course of approximately 25 minutes, they use synths, samples, keyboards, and percussion to create an epic soundtrack to an imaginary sci-fi flick in four fluid movements. The sound is warm, a throwback to the acid-rock synth madess of the late 60s and early 70s, mostly because the synths sound like vintage analog equipment. It's a bass-heavy sound, too, with an approach that recalls the likes of Eno, Tangerine Dream, Can, Cluster, and early (very early) Pink Floyd. Not all of the sound is free-floating ambience; beats come and go, heavy and minimalist but very catchy and very effective. The movements are all fairly different in tone and structure while still retaining enough similarity of sound to remain unified, and the dark, cinematic feel of the material is strong throughout the entire piece. This is good stuff, comparable in sound and quality to the early days of prog rock.
The other two tracks on the cd are both by A Death Cinematic, a one-man shop using just a single guitar, an ampflifier, and some efx boxes to create layered sounds via computer editing. ADC's first track, "We brave the storms while our lands fall into the sea beneath the pandemonium of the sun...," is essentially one long and twisted line of droning guitar feedback overlaid with choppy strumming, bell-like chimes, and shuddering bass hell; it appears to go nowhere for a long time, until fried metal guitar sizzle enters the picture around the eight-minute mark, with a fuzzed-out and exquisitely minimalist riff lurching over the established pattern of sound. Said riff mutates into something else within another four or five minutes, and continues in a fixed vein until the song ends shortly thereafter. The second piece, "And the nights have brought us something worse," is darker and fuzzier from the word go, with two distinct guitar parts that together form a weirdly fluctuating riff that evolves in subtle fashion over time as other sounds of a more obscure and baroque nature come and go in the background. In both pieces the instrumentation is sparse and the arrangement minimalist but prone to subtly complex modulations.
The packaging, courtesy of Simple Box Construction, is unusual and intriguing, with the cd housed in a handmade gatefold chipboard sleeve with veener-covered photos on the cover and track listings on the inside. The packaging also comes with two full-color postcard inserts, one for each band. The split is limited to 80 copies, and is well worth seeking out, although those interested should obviously act fast, given the limited nature of the press run.
A Death Cinematic
Sons of Alpha Centauri
Simple Box Construction
Matt Weston -- SEASICK BLACKOUT [7272 Music]
Considering Weston is primarily a percussionist, it's kind of interesting that this EP opens with muted, bleating sax lines on "You're Not That's Right." Eventually spare, metallic percussion does come in, but the sax remains the dominant element of the song, right up until the percussion fades out. There's a similar strategy at work on "I Just Saw Fog and Dust," where the saxophone is more focused on a repeating pattern, sounding like a sped-up bird call; when the percussion arrives, this time it's louder and more insistent, with a sound that's far more busy and active, and this time more forward in the mix (although it never completely drowns out the sax). The final track, "This October, All Octobers," features a reverb-heavy sound in which the booming drums are considerably more prominent than the trilling, buzzing sax work. Weston's free approach to percussion makes an interesting counterpoint to the highly controlled saxophone lines, and his latest compositions are among his most intriguing.
Whourkr -- CONCRETE [Crucial Blast]
Whourkr (your guess on how to pronounce that is as good as mine, buddy) are a duo from France who could essentially be considered the Atari Teenage Riot of death metal. They favor recording avant-garde technical metal that is then butchered, chopped, remixed, subjected to perverse electronic processing, and grafted to blast-beat drum machine rhythms; the result is fourteen tracks of spastic electrodeath freakouts that frequently sound like several different songs playing at once, usually over an insanely fast beat and heavy, mutant riffs. Just in case that was too normal for you, the vocalist doesn't bother with actual words or phrases, he just howls and grunts and yodels like a human cyclone. Very, very few bands are really good at this -- Agoraphobic Nosebleed and the aforementioned ATR are the two that immediately come to mind -- but these guys know what they're doing. It helps that they obviously have fearsome technical chops and good instincts where the chopping and remixing is concerned. Another thing that sets them apart from a lot of similar acts is their willingness to incorporate elements other than just metal; there are passages of pure electronica, ambient, darkwave, and other non-metal forms of music, and sometimes these elements occasionally form something resembling actual song structures (not for long, true, but long enough to get your groove on, at least until they get bored and move on to more destructive forms of sonic immolation). Most of this blender-happy approach the music is built around really heavy jams, though, and the abrupt shift in tempo, dynamics, and styles just makes things all that more insane, especially when they start piling on the heavy riffs and wild, stuttering beats. This is the sound of amphetamine-addled hummingbirds turned loose in a studio filled with esoteric music samples and a fondness mainly for all things heavy. If you're down with the franctic scattergun approach to blender-metal, this is definitely worth checking out.