Aelter -- DUSK-DAWN / FOLLOW YOU BELOVED (2 x cd) [Crucial Blast]
This mysterious band is the work of Wolverspent guitarist / vocalist Blake Green and drummer / violinist Brittany McConnell, and they specialize in a drawn-out, dark-ambient form of slow wasting doom that takes its time unfolding -- seriously, there are only four tracks between these two cds, each one clocking in around fifteen minutes or more. Both of these albums were originally issued on vinyl in limited runs on Wolverspent's own label, and while there are still a few copies of the second one floating around, the first one is out of print, so this collection makes it possible to get them both without having to haunt Ebay and cough up mucho dinero, which is always a good thing. The band's sparse, reverb-heavy sound is rooted as much in folk and country music as in doom, and all of it is enshrouded in a fog-like ambience that gives it an ethereal feel that's every bit as bleak as it is beautiful. This is not music for the impatient, though; arpeggiated guitar lines (and the occasional piano bit) ring out in slow motion, accompanied by equally narcoleptic violin as droning bass swirls around everything, resulting in a sound like a faded photograph blurred by developing chemical fog. Some have likened the band's sound to a cross between Earth's current incarnation and the Cocteau Twins, but their sound is even more sparse and minimal than Earth's, and far more forbidding than anything the Cocteau Twins ever came up with. It's a desolate and beautiful sound, though, one that should hold plenty of appeal for those who like their droning chamber music to play out at a snail's pace.
Alaric / Atriarch -- split LP [20 Buck Spin]
Those who thought the whole-grain goodness of Alaric's debut album last year was some kind of fluke will be happy to know that nothing could be further from the truth. Their three contributions to this split LP are every bit as doom-laden and goth-tinged as anything on their debut. For those not already hep to Alaric, they are an Oakland band that includes former members of Noothgrush and Dead and Gone, one that successfully combines elements of doom metal, death rock, and the cold, bleak sound of postpunk bands like Christian Death, Joy Division, the Cure, Siouxsie and the Banshees, and even Lydia Lunch (some of those warbly guitar chords sound like they could have been swiped from 13.13, Lydia's classic mind-meld with the Weirdos). So what you get on these three tracks is lots of morose, plodding beats, spindly bass lines, reverb-heavy guitars, and a singer who sounds like he's simultaneously channeling Ian Curtis and early Robert Smith. I call this a very good thing. The one thing happening here that some might consider a drawback is that all three songs are locked into a mid-tempo groove that some might find too similar, but they sound so good doing the creep that it certainly isn't a problem to me.
The flip side consists of two tracks from Portland's Atriarch, and it certainly makes sense to have them paired up with Alaric, because they definitely share that band's aesthetic and influences… so much so, in fact, that if you're not paying attention, it would be easy to think these tracks were all by the same band. There are some differences, though -- Atriarch's vocalist has a grittier sound to his anguished howl, and their drummer is a lot busier, plus on "Offerings" they also throw in some fuzzed-out drone and lonesome guitar wailing at the beginning as they ease their way into the song. Their form of brooding death rock has a whiff of the blues, too, which never hurts. The best part of this split, though, is that if you already like one band, you're almost certainly going to like the other, and since both bands are excellent, this is a win-win situation for everybody.
20 Buck Spin
At the Graves -- SOLAR [self-released]
Once you get past the deceptively pretty intro, this is a full-blown descent into doom / sludge madness with an unusual emphasis on the drums and rhythmic motion in general (which is only fitting for a band with three drummers). Their approach to band duties is certainly different: not only are there three drummers, one also plays bass and another provides guitar and vocals. How they do this, exactly, is a mystery for the ages, but the inherent discipline (and self-imposed limitations) of such a playing method manifests itself in simple but absurdly heavy riffs with very little melodic movement and a tendency toward baroque polyrhythms offset by classic sludge vocals filled with equal amounts of bile and loathing. They break out into increasingly complex polyrhythmic drumming on "A Shield Left to the Unknown," and on the lengthy "Wildfire Lit" they have enough time to periodically subject you to some of the hairiest, lowest bass crunge this side of Eyehategod. Their monolithic, throbbing sound is a deadly, nod-inducing mix of minimalism, skronk, doom, sludge, and psych, something akin to imagining Unsane or early Swans on psychedelic drugs. It's heavy, titanically heavy, but also deeply fucked up, shot through with less dramatic but equally mesmerizing moments rooted in both country-folk and funk, filled with endless riffs and cascading waves of rhythmic fury. Like Corrupted, this tendency toward listener hypnosis means that when the really heavy parts arrive, they arrive like a brick house falling in on you. The mysterious Simcon C. contributes a blinding guitar solo on "Magnetar," and the tracks that follow -- "Prominence" and "Heard Phantoms" -- are rumbling, lumbering examples of slow wasting doom. The album's final track, "Sol's Lament," is another lengthy trudge through a slowly-unfolding series of emotional states that range from morose to enraged, always with a healthy side-portion of despair and alienation. Bonus points for Ben Price's ability to match Chris Spencer's scary intensity.
At the Graves
Black Shape of Nexus -- NEGATIVE BLACK [Exile on Mainstream]
Oh, I like this: right out of the gate, they sound like Skullflower gone metal, all squealy guitar noise hell and lurching, subterranean riffs over death-plod drums. It turns out this is no fluke: the tracks that follow are every bit as noisy, doom-laden, and monolithic as the first, marching across the land laying waste to everything that moves, and doing it slowly. The promo poop sheet describes them in terms of sludge metal, and that's certainly reasonable enough (especially given the black, howling vocals that wouldn't be out of place on an Eyehategod or Sourvein album), but what they really sound like is "White Fang"-era Skullflower with an even heavier drummer and the occasional use of electronics to add an extra layer of menace to an already intensely forbidding sound. There's also plenty of heaviness to be had, seeing as how two of the seven songs here clock in at over twenty minutes. On "10000 uF," one of the two really long tracks, they also remind me a bit of early Treponem Pal, always a good thing. There is one track, "RMS," that is more brooding and subdued in its claustrophobic grimness, but that just turns out to be the setup leading into "Negative Black," the album's closing track (and also the longest, at nearly 23 minutes), a bleak and tortured descent into the abyss that is one of the heaviest tracks on the album. So much heaviness, like someone stepping on your skull for eighty minutes; I greatly approve. Don't miss this.
Black Shape of Nexus
Exile on Mainstream
Burzum -- UMSKIPTAR [Byelobog Productions]
People who were unnerved by Varg's move toward more baroque forms of musical expression on last year's FALLEN will almost certainly be discombobulated by his latest release, which finds him moving even further from the black metal sound that made Burzum famous. To be fair, Burzum has not really been a black metal band since the release of FILOSOFEM back in the early 90s -- even BELUS, Varg's first post-prison album, has more in common with classical music and the avant-garde repetition of Philip Glass than anything passing for traditional metal -- and this album continues the progression toward something more akin to a pagan form of musical pageantry. Things are complicated by the emphasis on vocals and lyrics, unusual for Burzum, and the fact that this is a concept album about Odin's role in the beginning and end of the world. (Of course, since the vocals are in Norwegian, most listeners outside of Varg's homeland will have no idea what the lyrics are about anyway, but that's hardly new.) His approach on this album is so radically different that just getting a handle on it is a task in itself -- I've listened to this several times now and I still don't know what to think of it -- but he gets bonus points for being bold enough to radically tinker with what has so far been a winning formula (minimalist drums + battery acid guitar sound + handful of riffs repeated ad infinitum + screechy howling = lots o' mesmerized listeners), especially after the pasting he took in the press over last year's THE DEPTHS OF DARKNESS. (Contrary to those who see his re-recording of early material as a cynical cash-in move, I think the point was more to reclaim his early work from a label he no longer likes or respects, but I suspect I'm in the minority on this one.) On the other hand, I'm not sure how well this all works -- there are brief glimpses of his formerly celebrated guitar sound on tracks like "Joln" and "Hit helga Tre," but otherwise this album is dominated heavily by twee-sounding keyboards locked into arrangements that frequently border on the tedious. I respect the idea of changing his sound and challenging his listeners, but in terms of the actual execution of the concept, I think he may have lost more than he gained. Love the cover, though.
Catheter -- SOUTHWEST DOOM VIOLENCE [Selfmadegod]
This is straight-up grindcore with a vague sprinkling of doom and crust for seasoning, something made painfully obvious by the fact that they manage to squeeze seventeen songs into about thirty minutes. I find it somewhat inexplicable that Denver has a grindcore band (and maybe more, for all I know), especially one that's been around for fifteen years, but the world is strange place, isn't it? At any rate, this is their first full-length album since 2005, but they make up for their lengthy absence with a barely-controlled ferocity that turns into absolute sonic mayhem on tracks like "Can't Dream" and "Hypercaine." They differ from standard-issue grind by incorporating the aforementioned doom and crust influences and by going easy on the samples (there are a few songs with spoken samples, but not many) and varying their attack from one track to the next, throwing in moderately slower and more doomed-out offerings between the bursts of frantic flailing. Still, it's a grindcore album, so if you're down with the grind, you know pretty much what to expect, and if not, it's all just going to sound like cavemen beating aimlessly on trashcan lids while yelling a lot. It is what it is; if you dig the genre, you'll like this, and if you don't, you won't.
Cattle Decapitation -- MONOLITH OF INHUMANITY [Metal Blade]
Death metal's favorite vegetarians are back with their seventh album and a new mandate -- namely, to expand their grotesque sonic palette with moments of melodicism and actual catchiness. So this time around you get steamrolled by the familiar waves of ugliness (Gollum-style vocals, blastbeat drums, super-fast everything, all wrapped in a moth-eaten shroud of dissonance and pure blind fury), but you also get startling moments like the unspeakably catchy guitar riff that rides out the end of "The Carbon Stampede" and an equally catchy one halfway through "Gristle Licker." They even include melodic vocals and a full-on drone in the middle of "Lifestalker," a most interesting development, and "The Monolith" is an equally unexpected venture into dark-ambient territory (although its distant operatic vocals and melodic yet doomed-out sound lend an eerie tinge to its sound). At the same time, their arrangements at times border on free-jazz, especially toward the tail end of "Dead Set On Suicide." Seriously, this is one bizarre-sounding record, with a commitment to sheer heaviness that's matched only by their growing fondness for moments of epic weirdness. Still, the welcome deviations from the standard-issue grind sound do not keep the album from being insanely heavy, even while adding a few surprises that are a welcome development in the band's evolving aesthetic.
El Jesus de Magico -- JUST DESERTS 12" LP [Columbus Discount Records]
Aaaaah, such whole-grain goodness… more fine madness from the cats of El Jesus de Magico, bearers of the mystical hammer of reverb. Like pretty much everything flying under the CDR banner, they are essentially a garage rock band, but their primitive thrashing about is equally informed by old-school acid rock and a religious belief in the healing power of reverb. Their ghostly sound, like a radio transmitting from the afterlife, may or may not be the result of recording in a funeral home basement, but it sure is powerfully compelling. They come out swinging on "Live Dead," with their noisy, fuzzed-out guitars and trashcan drums revved up and ready for action, only to slow things down for a bit of blues action (and way more reverb than you're man enough to handle) on "Good UFO / Bad UFO Experience." As swank as these tracks are, they are nothing compared to the monster groove and boss guitar tone that dominates "Bone Knife," and "Whole World Is Gone" closes out the A-side. The magic does not diminish one iota on the flip side, either, as "We God Thyme" brings on the mystery action with murky, throbbing bass, swirling psychedelic guitar, and moaning vocals from another dimension. The sound gets even murkier and lo-fi on "Inhuman," the one track not recorded at the funeral home, where the band sounds like they're fighting their way out of a tar pit (this is a good thing, mind you), and that bleeds into they hypnotic "Just Deserts," where another mad guitar groove slashes through the sonic mung, closing out the record in appropriate fashion. Limited to 500 copies, the first 100 on purple vinyl; Jesus commands you to listen.
El Jesus de Magico
Columbus Discount Records
FNU Ronnies -- SADDLE UP 12" LP [Load Records]
From the frenzied sound of the eight songs here, I'm guessing the band really digs the Dead Kennedys. They certainly share that band's fondness for surf-influenced velocity; these songs are all set on zoom, and they fly by with the kind of manic energy found only in people seriously hopped up on caffeine or amphetamines. There's more than a little of the Butthole Surfers in their DNA, too, especially on "Cut To Ribbons," and their entire vibe is one of punks on blotter acid. Heavy, dense, and hallucinatory, the speed-a-thons are also informed by all sorts of electronic frippery on loan from Chrome. This is weird, frantic stuff with an abrasive guitar sound and drumming that sounds like the work of training monkeys in heat flailing wildly about and a persistent bass throb that keeps everything hopping. Crazy stuff from crazed players, all in the name of a rocking good time. Limited to 600 copies; the album comes swaddled in a super-deluxe gatefold sleeve with tripped-out art.
Foust! -- SPACE SICKNESS [Eh?]
This is a bit of deviation for Eh's devolved skronk aesthetic, less about formless anti-music and more about looped noises and hypnotic repetition. The ten enigmatic tracks on this album come courtesy of Scott Foust, with some secret link to the Anti Naturals (I'll leave it to you to hit the appropriate link below to find out what they're all about), and each track is essentially a composition of fuzzy, bleating, whacked-out sci-fi noises looped into oblivion for the purposes of maximum revelation through cranial irritation. This is anti-music from the hive mind of hallucinating robots; this is what your cell phone listens to while it's charging. The songs live up to the album's theme with titles like "Space / Time Barrier" and "The Future Is Now," but seeing as how they're totally devoid of vocals, you'll have to guess at their hidden meanings, doom childe. Interesting sounds abound, to be sure, but the stuck-in-static motif that forms the bedrock of these repetitive mantras will probably be too much for some (maybe many). That's okay, though; this is the soundtrack for secret societies of the future, so I doubt Foust is going to be too worried about those who fail to properly decode his interstellar transmissions. One thing's for sure: the weirdness level is definitely in sync with the label's cryptic history.
The Anti Naturals
Go-Go Fightmaster -- SOUND 1 [Edgetone Records]
Right from the word go, they get massive bonus points for the band name and the song titles "I Drink From the Big Girls Cup" and "I Smell the Devil." The childish scribbles that serve as artwork also serve as further pointers toward their fondness for childlike whimsy, but there's nothing childish about their sound, a particularly spirited (and surprisingly rhythmic) take on the outer limits of free jazz. Basically a power trio joined by saxophones and the inexplicable use of drinking straws as a musical instrument, their songs essentially break ill in one of two ways: there are real short bursts of violent, manic energy that are less actual songs than uncontrolled explosions of sound, and then there are longer pieces that work the avant-garde / free jazz axis in a manner that might not be strictly traditional but is at least pointing in that direction. As the band's artwork and titles suggest, they are not particularly po-faced about their exotic descents into avant territory, and even when their sound starts to resemble a dense, apocalyptic whirlwind of bleating, pounding noise, they still retain a playful sensibility. It's also pretty nifty that they can start out sounding relatively sedate and well within the bounds of "normal" sound and, by the end of any given track, end up sounding like they've been carried up into the skies by a tornado. For a band so perversely bent on embracing their inner child, their instrumental skills are remarkably sophisticated, and they get amazing tones from their instruments (especially on the saxes; Aaron Bennett must have lungs of steel). Is it delightfully weird or weirdly delightful? I dunno, but either way, it's pretty entertaining.
Mares of Thrace -- THE PILGRIMAGE [Sonic Unyon Metal]
This Canadian duo have gotten a lot of attention lately in the metal press, partly because they're so photogenic and possessed of a certain quirky visual style (especially guitarist / vocalist Therese Lanz), but make no mistake: they are here to crush you with the soul-destroying hammer of noise rock. The last duo I saw with such a wide appearance / sound disparity was the Japanese duo Coa, who looked like exactly what they were (terribly cute teenage Japanese girls) and sounded like the Unsane, only weirder. The Mares of Thrace aren't quite as out-there as Coa, but they're certainly as heavy. They are proof that in the right hands, one drummer and one guitarist can make an extremely obnoxious racket. Menacing riffs abound (especially on "Gallwasp," "The Perpetrator," and "Act II: Bathsheba's Reply to David"), and they have a keen sense of dynamics that come in handy with such sparse instrumentation. One interesting aspect of this album is that it's a concept album about King David's fling with married woman Bathsheba and its catastrophic consequences, although the loose concept is definitely subservient to the hair-raising heaviness. Some tracks, like "Triple 8," hearken back to their earlier (and more experimental) roots, but they return again and more frequently to bursts of antisocial rage couched in bludgeoning drums, fried-death guitar, and angry howling like a pit bull being prodded with a fork. "The Goat Thief" strikes a nice balance between the different directions of their aesthetic, combing brooding, subdued passages and muted electronica with increasingly heavy movements, and the same use of light and shade in the sound (and elements of noise and electronica) in their arrangements informs "The Three-Legged Courtesan" and "… and the Bird Surgeon," offering plenty of evidence at their talent for making the most of such a theoretically limited playing format. Such heaviness; you must worship.
Mares of Thrace
Sonic Unyon Metal
Ministry -- RELAPSE [AFM / 13th Planet Records]
Yes, yes, we all know that Al swore there would be no more Ministry albums, but life has a way of interfering with your intentions, nu? The story goes that guitarist Mike Scaccia whipped up a pile of riffs he deemed perfect for Ministry and then browbeat Al into making another album, and whether or not that's actually true, the only real question is: does the album deliver the goods? Well, oddly enough, it does. A lot of Ministry fans peeled off when Al started ramping up the band's political side, and there is plenty of political hoohah here (as titles like "Kleptocracy" and "99 Percenters" make obvious), but there's plenty of bile aimed at the record industry (especially on the amusing and manic opener "Ghouldiggers") and just about everybody else Al can think of. Fans who pine for the band's heyday as crazed, rhythm-obsessed iconoclasts straddling the edge between industrial and metal (especially around the time of PSALM 69) will be pleased to know that there's plenty of high-octane heaviness on tracks like "Double Tap," "Kleptocracy," and "Relapse." One prevalent motif on this album is the use of highly peculiar conversations and looped elements of speech, frequently as a bridging device between moments of chaotic mayhem. Guitarist Scaccia's robot-in-a-wind tunnel riffing is very much on display all over the album as well, always a welcome development, and while Al's lyrics have been better, it's been a long time since he sounded this consistently angry. Some of the songs are either a little too long or a bit too repetitive for their own good, but while a four-year absence from recording may have made them a tad undisciplined, it certainly hasn't diminished their capacity for intense hostility (made all the stranger by some unexpected moments of lovely melodicism scattered throughout the album, especially on "Bloodlust"). I'm an old-school Ministry fan -- the last album of theirs I was fully on-board with was FILTH PIG -- and I think this is a more than respectable return after such a long absence. Pleasant surprises include a cover of the Stormtroopers of Death classic "United Forces" and a whacked-out remix of "Relapse" (available only on the limited-edition version).
Molting -- INSANITY cs [Centipede Farm]
Oh hey, I can get behind this -- thirty minutes of howling, hissing white noise hell with its phaser set on "immolate." There's nothing fancy here, no arch and overreaching concept, just one guy plus a bunch of pedals simulating the sound of giant alien robots disemboweling each other with chainsaws while rolling around in a junkyard full of scrap metal. We're talking old-school power electronics and wall to wall noise that comes in barely-controlled waves, violent bursts of sound greatly enamored of high-frequency destruction, fried sonic death… you get the picture. It's a harsh, howling cyclone of antimusic that's beautiful in its enthusiastic embrace of ugliness. The short running time and constant kinetic motion prevents it from getting stale, and while it's hardly a revolutionary sound at this stage of the game, it's certainly bracing in its sonic potency. The cassette consists of two long tracks of audio destruction, repeated on both sides so you can just flip the tape over when it ends and play it over and over again, just because you need that satanic jolt of volume-heavy headcleaner action to scour away the soft parts of your mind.
PA.RTS -- "Greatest Hiss" 7" [Bombay Cove Records]
The band's bizarro name (the latest in a long series of them) is a clever abbreviation of the personnel involved -- one guy named Pat, one named Robert (another, Gil, joined later) -- and their sound is a mix of treated instruments, drone, and found sound. They've been doing their thing, first strictly at home while brewing beer, later on stage as well, for about three years, long enough to cough up three cassettes on labels like F Records, Chorizo Records, and WWIT Records (all in limited runs, naturally, all of which I'm sure are long out of print). Austin's Bombay Cove, the label responsible for that uber-swank Gil San Marcos LP reviewed here a while back, liked them enough to get them onboard with the idea of releasing a greatest hits compilation featuring five tracks from those cassettes, and here it is, on dark green marble vinyl. Given their methods of abstract sound generation (homemade electronics, treated bass, efx boxes, found sound, mixer feedback, and other forms of sonic chaos), the eccentric nature of their sound is hardly surprising; the promo poop sheet mentions Brian Eno, and the bald enigma would approve of the sound happening here. Snippets of conversation and natural sound blend with warped production experiments and heavy drone action to create a noisy, otherworldly sound that transforms the mundane bits of everyday ambient noise into a series of short alien soundtracks as enigmatic as they are mysteriously compelling. The tracks all fade in or fade out, suggesting that these short pieces are actually excerpts of longer works, a tantalizing hint of what the original cassettes must have been like (which, of course, makes me wish I could hear them). It's all great stuff, and perhaps if the single meets with enough acclaim Bombay will have the good sense to reissue the original works on vinyl. Highly recommended for those lusting after experimental cut-up sounds and drone action. The single comes on green marble vinyl and includes a download code so you can play the tracks on your favored listening device and freak out anyone within listening range.
Bombay Cove Records
Phobia -- REMNANTS OF FILTH [Willowtip]
Eighteen tracks in nineteen minutes? Yeah, this is grindcore, all right. Phobia have been doing this for a long time -- since 1990, in fact -- so they have the drill down cold. Their guitar sound is not quite as gnarly as most grind bands, true, but otherwise they're definitely classic grind -- frantic blastbeats, thrashing guitars, and a vocalist who alternately sounds like he's belching gasoline or being set on fire. Like most grind efforts, the sound is kind of monochromatic, which has a lot to do with the short running time; straight-up grindcore, no matter how good (and this is absolutely good), gets really old in a hurry. The playing is highly energetic and focused, though, and very much in keeping with the band's previous efforts, which is in turn squarely in the realm of classic grindcore. Old-school grind devotees will want to check this out.
Ember Schrag -- THE SEWING ROOM [Edible Onion / Single Girl Married Girl]
Nebraska folk singer / guitarist Ember Schrag's sound and sensibility can be traced back to the sparse, haunting feel of Leonard Cohen's first few albums -- I doubt it's accidental that "Jephthah's Daughter" resembles a gender-reversed version of "Song of Isaac" -- but she also has a lot in common with Kristin Hersh, another purveyor of highly emotional and deeply personal songs framed within a minimalist country-folk idiom. (Like Kristin, she also has a background / personal history that occasionally gets people distracted from her musicianship.) This album is essentially an expanded version of the JEPHTHAH'S DAUGHTER ep she released on Eh? in 2010, with new versions of the ep's original four songs and eight new ones, re-recorded with her long-time drummer Gary Foster and a swank stable of guests from the underground improv scene (including Amy Denio Alex McManus, Philip Gayle, and instrument builder Jay Kreimer, among others). The vibe on this album (and here I'm going to date myself) reminds me a lot of the second Violent Femmes album, HALLOWED GROUND, in its combination of folk and avant-garde sounds and themes revolving around spirituality and its place in the modern world. This is much more subtle and subdued, though, which is interesting, given the improvisational talent on the album. The additional players add plenty of interesting background textures to the songs, but most of the time everything is squarely focused on Schrag's enigmatic vocals and acoustic guitar. My personal favorite is the sparse, hypnotic "Frauleh Jekketheka," but everything on this album is excellent. Viddy well, my troubled li'l children of teh internets, viddy well: this is how good albums used to be made before the music industry started thinking how artists look is more important than how they sound. The first hundred copies come as part of a hand-bound illustrated lyrics book.
Single Girl Married Girl
Sigh -- IN SOMNIPHOBIA [Candlelight Records]
Japan's Sigh started out as yet another Venom clone (albeit a really good one) -- something they made clear years ago with their Venom tribute EP -- but over time they have morphed into something weirder and much more ambitious. At this point they are arguably closer to being a psychedelic avant-garde band with black metal / thrash tendencies, and this complicated album is about as far as you can get from Venom's crude thuggishness. "The Transfiguration Fear Lucid Nightmares" features operatic vocals riding atop a wave of psychedelic thrash, for instance, and classical motifs spring up on "Lucid Nightmare." Across the rest of the album, they incorporate elements of jazz, Indian music, musique concrete, plus tape collage and manipulation in the vein of Stockhausen or Dockstader, mixing it all up in a manner that will make your head spin just trying to make sense of it all. Their use of such non-metal idioms as jazz and electronica (both of which show up in "Amnesia") gives the album a considerably higher range of styles and textures than one would expect to find on a metal album, and takes the listener on a musical journey far more unpredictable and sophisticated than anything imaginable from your average thrash band. The depth of their ambition and their skill at executing those ambitions recalls Ulver's leap from black metal to much proggier, jazzier fare on PERDITION CITY, although Sigh's attempt at expanding their musical palette still retains much more of what is recognizably metal than Ulver's transitional album. Devotees of traditional black metal or thrash will probably find it incomprehensible, but those interested in seeing just how far the boundaries of metal can be pushed should find it highly interesting.
T. D. Skatchit and Company -- S/T [Edgetone Records]
The band is actually the duo of Tom Nunn and David Michalak playing Skatchboxes, bizarrely constructed cardboard boxes played with combs. As weird as that sounds -- and this album is filled with weird sounds, believe me -- there's a surprising amount of diversity to the sounds generated by this peculiar instrument. The basic nature of their sonic bombardment is rounded out by occasional contributions from various guests like Aurora (vocals), Chris Brown (electronics), Toyoji Tomita (trombone), Jon Raskin (baritone sax), Leif Shaleford (viola), David Slusser (on Slussomatic, another apparently homemade gadget), and Karen Stackpole (gongs). The result of this diabolical combination of instruments and styles is a series of eccentric-sounding tracks, fourteen in all, full of creaking, squeaking, muttering, and fluttering; much of it sounds like birds trying to fight their way out of cages. It astounds me that such a simple device can be responsible for so many alien sounds, and despite the presence of the extra players, the weird audio emanations of the Skatchbox are very much at the forefront at all times. Difficult to describe and even harder to assimilate, this often sounds like the various animals of a densely populated forest entertaining themselves by barking, cooing, and gnawing on the vegetation. Weird, weird, weird, and definitely out there a minute.
T. D. Skatchit and Company
Strongly Imploded -- TWILIGHT OF BROKEN MACHINES [Eh?]
The album title is certainly appropriate: on the first track, "Signs of Liberation for Wandering Souls," all the equipment at the band's disposal sounds like it's breaking down, along with the recording equipment and maybe even the room where the recording takes place. The band employs drums, electric guitar, sax, and a mix of tape and computer electronics to create the sound of a free (extremely free) improv band fighting their way through an ocean of malfunctioning equipment, and the resulting sound is every bit as unpredictable and chaotic as such a description suggests. Things get a bit less frantic on "That This Putrid Air Does Not Pollute Our Clean Faces," with spells of silence between the chaos and a moderately more subdued approach to noise pollution, although the sax bleats do sound unnervingly like a person undergoing serious gastronomic distress and the track's sheer randomness is every bit a match for the opener. The remaining four tracks are every bit as eccentric and noise-laden as the first two, with a consistently willful defiance implicit in their struggle to avoid sounding "normal" at all costs. As with most Eh? releases, this is strictly for people in love with the sound of sound; come to this expecting structure, melody, or conventional thinking and you will be sorely disappointed, but if you're looking for a cacophonous display of free will through the joy of beating and bleating, well, this just might be your ticket out of Squaresville.
Sweet -- NEW YORK CONNECTION [self-released]
I had no idea that the uber-fabulous kings of glam pop-metal were still around (and as it turns out, they're actually available in two flavors: this one, based in the UK and led by guitarist Andy Scott, and another version of the band based in the US and led by bassist Steve Priest). But they are, and better yet, they sound great… and full of surprises, because while the album consists entirely of covers (save for a retooled version of their own classic "New York Connection"), their taste in covers is both conceptually fitting and often surprising (I'll bet you never imagined a hard rock version of "On Broadway" could sound so good). Part of what makes the album so satisfying is how they not only point to their own roots by covering The Who ("Join Together") and The Yardbirds ("Shape of Things"), but to artists who were almost certainly influenced by them (check out their turbocharged rendition of Dead or Alive's "You Spin Me Around" and The Black Keys song "Gold on the Ceiling"). The other thing that makes this stand out from the usual all-covers album is how so many of the selections relate directly to that New York connection mentioned in the title; three songs -- Ace Frehley's "New York Groove," Lou Reed's "Sweet Jane," and the Ramones classic "Blitzkrieg Bop" -- were originally by New York musicians, while two others (Electric Frankenstein's "All Moving Faster" and the Bruce Springsteen / Patti Smith collaboration "Because the Night") were by bands just down the road a bit in New Jersey.
They're not just straightforward covers, either. "New York Groove" opens with glitchy electronic noises that could have been lifted from a Cold Cave album, while "Join Together" is a radically reworked mash-up of stuttering electronic bass chug and slashing power chords. Their version of "You Spin Me Around" dispenses with the original's disco element entirely, reinventing the tune as a galloping slice of hard-rocking pop metal, and their Sweetened version of "Blitzkrieg Bop" retains the original song's manic pulse within the context of a much fuller and glammed-up arrangement and production -- this is what the song might have sounded like had the band not been too busy reinventing rock 'n roll (and saddled with several members too new to the game to master anything more than the bare-bones simplicity that typified their first few albums). They even manage to make "Sweet Jane," a song I never particularly liked, sound exciting (it helps to have someone in front of the mike who can actually sing). All across the album, the band excels at adapting each song to their own classic sound while still retaining each song's original spirit and simultaneously rocking out with modern production. This is harder than it looks, doom chllde, and the way they make it sound so effortless makes the task just that much more impressive. I have no idea if they are planning to continue their resurrection with an album of new tunes, but if they do and they sound like this, I'm sure it will be an album worth waiting for.
v/a -- AUSTIN NOISE 2012 (2 x cd) [Instincto Records]
Instincto's double-cd celebration of Austin's underground noise scene is one big hot mess, featuring approximately two hours of excruciating antimusic from forty bands / artists encompassing every permutation of noise you can imagine -- harsh noise, cut-up sound, glitch electronics, power electronics, musique concrete, audio collage, and pretty much any kind of sonic attack designed to be a poke in the eye (and kick in the ass) of commercial music. If nothing else, this collection of devolved sonic ugliness makes an excellent weapon to use against neighbors prone to tormenting you with their horrible, horrible albums by cheesy pop divas and other radio-friendly drivel. The sheer number of artists on this compilation forces everybody to be relatively brief (everything is around four minutes or less, frequently much less), which is a good thing, since noise artists, swell as their sounds may be, are not exactly known for their brevity or restraint. The compilation also benefits not only from the wide diversity of sound (handily proving that not all noise is alike, and that there's more to the sound than just stepping randomly on a bunch of cheap efx pedals), but the swell sequencing: one style of noise flows into another, resulting in a steady variation to the tones, textures, and intensity levels from one track to the next. The wide range of artists involved also means that no matter what kind of noise you favor, you're sure to find at least a dozen tracks capable of quelling your noise jones… and you just might be surprised by the energy and audacity of a great many of the other tracks as well. This is a solid compendium of noise bleat, too; in fact, for a town known mainly as the refuge of hippies and punks, it's kind of scary how many genuinely excellent noise artists are hanging out here and ready to piss all over the hippie luv parade. A partial list of contributors includes Dromez, Sex Bruises, Jacob Green, Douglas Ferguson, Askela, Aunt's Analog, Breakdancing Ronald Reagan, Korperschwache, Tiger Merde, Mugwump, Skullcaster, Macho Blush, Venison Whirled, and How I Quit Crack. If the power of noise compels you to seek this out, though, keep in mind that the compilation is limited to 200 copies, over half of which have already gone to the contributors, so you don't want to sleep on this, nu?
White Load -- WAYNE'S WORLD III / GODFATHER 4 12" LP [Load Records]
Now this is what ugliness is all about: three guys (drums, guitar, yelling) with a total disregard for all that is nice making an unspeakable racket and plowing through 25 songs in about twenty minutes, sounding like drunks with amplifiers in the best tradition of the long-lamented Oblivians. They proudly note on the back cover of the album that the flip side -- twelve tracks total -- was recorded in 18 minutes "while blackout drunk," and it certainly sounds like it. This is one of the most hideous-sounding albums I've ever heard, and deliberately so, I'm sure; everything is super-distorted and intensely primitive, and if the gruesomely overmodulated sound isn't enough to scare away sissies, the gross-out vocals will probably do the trick. This is the way punk rock is supposed to sound (and did for a while, until punk became a style, then an industry); listening to them churn away, you get the distinct impression that these guys would probably be locked up if they didn't have an outlet for their angst. This recording is so exquisitely lo-fi that I can't tell if the recording location, Vomits Hole, is a studio or if this was all recorded live in a club on a cheap cassette recorder. I can tell you that the flip side -- the one recorded while blackout drunk, remember -- is even more dissonant and totally lacking in fidelity than the A-side, which is no small feat. Titles like "Less Life," "Public Suicide," "Kill Your Friends," and "Cut Off My Dick" should be clear indicators of their exquisitely misanthropic nature; their headache-inducing sound, heavy on the clang 'n bang and totally devoid of anything resembling melody, neatly encapsulates their sociopathic need to hurt people by merely moving a lot of air. I suspect a lot of alcohol was consumed during the making of this sleaze-laden document. If you miss the Oblivians as much as I do, you need to hear this. Limited to 500 copies.