Monday, December 24, 2007

what's on santa's ipod?

Nels Cline / Carlos Giffoni / Alan Licht / Lee Ranaldo -- NOTHING MAKES ANY SENSE [No Fun Productions]

The real secret to why this works so well is that Carlos Giffoni's analog synth hoodoo forms the twitching, seismic core around which three of avant-rock's most famed (if not necessarily consistent) guitarists revolve like small exploding planets. There's no telling who's doing what, and it hardly matters -- over the course of fifty-plus minutes, Giffoni's synth drones, screeches, and pulses with seedy belligerence as the three guitarists whirl around him like an interstellar shitstorm of epic proportions. Recorded live at the now-defunct NYC venue Tonic in February of 2007, this is not psychedelic rock in the sense that most would consider it -- there's very little melodic content here, no hippiefied solos, no cosmic doodling -- but the sheer volume of different sounds (mostly guitars being violently abused in the service of making exotic, unorthodox noises as opposed to being played in any traditional fashion) and tripped-out noisemaking put it squarely in the territory of psychedelic noise. Celestial sounds and shimmering drones are pierced by violent guitar skronk; fragmentary rhythms and snippets of what almost approach being actual melodies from time to time are beaten back by towering synth drone; and every once in a while, all four players converge in a landslide of catastrophic audio violence before retreating into cosmic space drone again. This is the sound of radios tuned to stations broadcasting world music, avant rock, psych, and noise, all playing at once and disrupted by the energy of solar flares. At times almost soothing and hypnotic, at other times sounding like a herd of thundering pigs trying to outrace an oncoming avalanche, the piece flows through barely-controlled movements with considerable dynamic range, and the constantly changing ocean of sound is persistently interesting enough to keep the piece from ever getting old. (Stellar mixing and mastering by James Plotkin -- who's everywhere these days, doesn't the guy ever sleep? -- certainly doesn't hurt.) The project's aesthetic is neatly summed up in the Peter Laughner ( Rocket From the Tombs, early Pere Ubu) 1974 ZEPPELIN magazine review of Lou Reed's ROCK 'N ROLL ANIMAL reprinted inside the gatefold digipack (also the source of the album's title), an aesthetic than can be boiled down to the simple equation of many demented players + many guitars + many gadgets + massive amplication = massive brain damage for you, the listener. This is one of the best things the three guitarists in question have appeared on in a long time, if you ask me, so those hep to their skronk legacy should definitely check this out.

Nels Cline
Carlos Giffoni
Alan Licht
Lee Ranaldo
No Fun Productions

Electric Wizard -- WITCHCULT TODAY [Rise Above / Candlelight USA]

DECIBEL magazine recently made the claim that this album is even better than the band's classic DOPETHRONE, and while I'm not quite that bold (or crazy), I'll freely admit that it's a hell of a lot better than their last two albums. To be fair, the original lineup was beginning to disintegrate during the making of LET US PREY (following the tour's end, two-thirds of the band walked away to form Ramesses), and the new lineup that convened to record WE LIVE was so new that second guitarist Liz Buckingham (13, Sourvein) had joined the band only days before going into the studio to record the album. This one acts as if those two albums never happened (probably a wise idea, given the wonky experimental frippery of the first and the unfocused nature of the second), returning to the clotted-earth guitar sound and soul-crushing riffs of DOPETHRONE, only now there are two guitars wailing away and one of them belongs to Liz 13, whose playing has always been the pure definition of heaviness incarnate. New things around this time are the drummer (Shaun Rutter, replacing Justin Greaves, who wandered off to play in Crippled Black Phoenix) and Jus Oborn's cleaner vocals (still bathed in so much reverb, though, that he sounds like he's being dialed in from another dimension). Things that remain the same are the obsessive fixation with drugs (one of the songs is called "Satanic Rites of Drugula"), horror movies (check out "Dunwich," their homage to the movie version of Lovecraft's THE DUNWICH HORROR), and the occult (pretty much everything else). Their Sabbath-inspired heaviness is even more spaced-out than ever, especially on "Black Magic Rituals and Perversions," and a couple of the tracks (especially "Saturnine") sound like they could have been DOPETHRONE outtakes; there's no question that the new lineup has hit its stride. Best of all, there's no filler, just track after track of burned-out leviathan doom. If it isn't better than DOPETHRONE, it's definitely in the ballpark.

Electric Wizard
Candlelight USA

Endstille -- ENDSTILLES REICH [Regain Records]

Given that the band is from Germany, the band's obsession with war, glory, and iron crosses is probably in poor taste, but they're black metal, so that's kind of the point, right? Their image doesn't do much to dispel the popular notion that they're right-wing, but then again, when was the last time you saw a left-wing black metal band? But never mind the band's politics -- the real point is that the band is highly aggressive and phenomenally heavy, with a sound heavily indebted to war metal in general and Marduk in particular. The drumming is heavy, often fast, and mixed upfront, and the guitar sound is a blurry mix of dissonance and harmonic sizzle, with the vocals shrieked in the classic style; these are players very clearly weaned on early black metal, with an affinity for barely-controlled chaos that's held together mainly by the rock-solid and persistent drumming. Comparisons to Marduk and early Gorgoroth are reasonable, but some of the material calls to mind early Impaled Nazarene in terms of feel, speed, and ferocity. It's true that there's probably not as much variation as some listeners might like, but they make up for it with an absolutely feverish rage and hyperkinetic need to blaze. Intense and relentless.

Regain Records

Gallhammer -- ILL INNOCENCE [Peaceville]

Japan's favorite crust / punk / black metal triumvirate returns with their most varied album yet, one that makes it clear they are not limited to the oft-mentioned influences of Hellhammer and Amebix. They still have the gruesomely mulched guitar sound and churning, clanking bass tone of their previous albums, and the minimalist, fractured English lyrics that would be funny if they weren't so acidic and disturbing, and all three members contribute vocals as usual, but this time the sum of the parts yields results even more unpredictable and jarring than ever before. Part of this is most likely due to the mastering job by Darkthrone guitarist Nocturno Culto, but a bigger part of it unquestionably the band's determination to slowly but surely expand the boundaries of their sound without losing the grim, hopeless gloom that's already made them so interesting in the first place. The band's worldview is rooted heavily in despair and a morbid preoccupation with death, but this time around their obsession with these subjects has shifted from abstract musings to more specific objects of loathing, such as drugs (referenced in "Speed of Blood" and "Delirium Daydream"), homicide ("Ripper in the Gloom," "Queen of Death"), and madness ("Blind My Eyes"); the theme of being unclean runs throughout the album as well. Heaviness abounds -- slow and pounding on tracks like "At the Onset of the Age of Despair" and "World to be Ashes," fast and brutal on "Speed of Blood" and "Killed by the Queen" -- but there are more startling touches as well. "Blind My Eyes" (which boasts the catchiest riffs of the band's career so far) sounds like new wave for the black metal generation, complete with hideous shrieking counterpointed by the truly horrific sound of a young devil doll in torment and harsh military barks, and the first (acoustic) half of "Ripper in the Gloom" is undoubtedly the result of spending a lot of time opening for Corrupted. On the appropriately-named "SLOG" they slow down to a snail's pace, and the closing track "Long Scary Dream" is a dark exercise in dissonance, drone, and nightmarish vocalizations. The end of the world has rarely sounded this good. (Of course, since Gallhammer is one of my favorite bands, there is always the slight possibility I might be biased.)


Gorgoroth -- PENTAGRAM [Regain Records]

The ongoing controversy over the band's recent schism and the subsequent legal wrangling over possession of the name and logo has unfortunately overshadowed what should have been big news for the band -- namely, the newly-remastered reissue of their first three albums. That's too bad, because these are quality releases boasting improved sound and a foldout poster in each one. (Ironically, none of these albums include Gaahl or King ov Hell, who joined the band later.)

The first of the reissues is PENTAGRAM, the band's first album, originally released in 1994, two years after the band's conception. At just under thirty minutes long, it's a short but appropriately violent exercise in minimalist and primitive-sounding fury; the eight songs speed by in a blur of relentless drumming and snarling, darkly harmonic guitar that occasionally resolves into heavy riffing (marking the band's still-in-progress transition from its death metal roots). One of the album's most notable features is the unorthodox vocal stylings of original vocalist Hat, whose dark and distorted voice, possibly pitch-shifted, sounds markedly different from the vocalists of other black metal bands of the time. Contemporaries like Emperor (whose guitarist Samoth guested as a bassist on this album), Mayhem, and Burzum may have boasted more complex and grandiose songs, but none of them were as uncompromisingly direct and brutal; the sound of this album is one of black, chaotic rage, a hurricane of sonic destruction borne of deep, abiding misanthropy. Blunt, aggressive, and completely disinterested in anything even remotely resembling subtlety, this is a perfect encapsulation of early black metal's potential for alienation and aggression. Many Gorgoroth fans consider it the band's best album; it's certainly a classic release and a significant milestone in the development of Norwegian black metal.

Given the legal hoodoo currently surrounding the band, those interested in any of these discs should probably seek them out immediately; while Regain has chosen to back Infernus and the new lineup he's assembling, as of December 19, the Norwegian patent office appears to have granted control of the name and logo to Gaahl and King ov Hell (which doesn't make a lot of sense to me, since Infernus started the band and has been the sole constant member during its entire existence, but I'll be the first to admit I know nothing about Norwegian law or the real circumstances behind the split in the first place), and since they have effectively cut all ties with Regain, it may soon become impossible to get your hands on these releases. They aren't listed on the Regain website at the moment, which probably isn't a good sign....

Gorgoroth [Infernus]
Gorgoroth [Gaahl / King ov Hell]
Regain Records

Gorgoroth -- ANTICHRIST [Regain Records]

The band's second album, reissued here with remastered sound and a foldout poster, is even shorter than the debut (just over 25 minutes) and finds the band in transition, offering a somewhat improved production, tighter playing, a new drummer (Frost, on loan from Saytricon) and two vocalists (Hat left the band after recording his vocals, and his replacement, Pest, appears here offering diabolical grunts and growls). The songs are largely in the same primitive, lo-fi vein as those of the first album, although there are signs of progression in tracks like "Bergtrollets Hevn" (where Hat briefly abandons the devilish shrieking for an almost-soulful croon at one point and the guitar takes on a moderately bluesier feel than ever before), and "Possessed (By Satan)" -- the album's heaviest track -- opens with crushing riffing reminiscent of death metal before moving into black metal territory, and flows through more movements and changes in tempo than anything on the first album. The overall feel of the album is less brutal (although no less misanthropic) than the sound of the debut, and the progression of ideas keeps it from being a mere retread while still remaining largely true to the band's original sound.

Gorgoroth [Infernus]
Gorgoroth [Gaahl / King ov Hell]
Regain Records

Gorgoroth -- UNDER THE SIGN OF HELL [Regain Records]

The third Gorgoroth album, remastered and including a foldout poster, clocks in a little over 32 minutes and combines the improved playing and progressive themes of the second album with the pure blinding fury and unbridled chaos of the first. Recorded with yet another lineup (this time featuring Grim hammering away at the drums and Pest as a full-time vocalist), the band's sound intiially returns to the blazing speed and violence of the first album, with Pest offering a shrieking vocal style more in line with what most would consider the classic sound of black metal. There's more variety on this one than either of the other two, though -- from hellish, blazing speed and fury to more measured tracks featuring different vocal styles and more complex song structures -- and considerably better production, although none of this is ever likely to be mistaken for pop music by any stretch of the imagination. The album strikes a nice balance between the first album's gut-wrenching sonic violence and the second album's more progressive direction, combining them into a series of songs that evolve organically while remaining immensely heavy and forbidding. Those put off by Hat's unique vocal style on the earlier releases will probably find Pest's groaning shrieks more satisfying, and those unable to completely get behind the draining minimalism of the early stuff will find this considerably more listenable, given the material's increasing level of complexity and variation. As a bonus, the bass and guitar sound achieves a nice thick tone with plenty of low-end growl that offers plenty of bite without sacrificing the high end. In fact, some listeners may find this to be the best of early releases.

Gorgoroth [Infernus]
Gorgoroth [Gaahl / King ov Hell]
Regain Records

Inversion Effect -- A BRIEF HISTORY [Artificial Music Machine]

The band was formed in 2002, but this is their first album; if the lengthy gestation period seems surprising, it's probably because the band's three members all have full-time gigs elsewhere. A three-way collaboration between Thomas Fang of Static Storm System (field recordings, radio and scanner, turntables, circuit-bent toys), Martin McCreadle of Limiter (guitar, synth), and Dan Burton of Afreet (laptop, synth, bass guitar), with the occasional input of guest musicians, the band's aim is to create ambient experimental soundscapes constructed from a mixture of field recordings, synth drones, and repetitive fragments of actual music. Recorded over a period of three years, the eleven tracks on the album are compiled from studio sessions, rehearsals, live shows, and include material from the band's score for the silent film NOSFERATU. The results are excellent; for such a minimalist approach, there's a satisfying level of variety to the tracks, most of which invoke an eerie, after-hours vibe. These are soundtracks for the isolation generation, anchored by wailing drones and dark synths, filled with static, scratches, and stolen dialogues; now and then simple but effective melodies (and even more occasionally, beats) emerge from the sonic fog to give a rudimentary sense of form to the rivers of drone, without ever overwhelming the essentially ambient nature of the tracks. The exceptions would be "In the Shadow of the Vampire," whose repeated piano motif and strings create a feel closer to traditional soundtrack music, and "777," where machine beats and snippets of melody merge with the omnipresent drone to resemble a stripped-down merger of ambient music and techno. Abstract but well-crafted, this is an album that any hardcore drone enthusiast should find intriguing and rewarding.

Inversion Effect
Artificial Music Machine

Merzbow -- LIVE DESTRUCTION AT NO FUN 2007 [No Fun Productions]

Recorded at the recent No Fun Fest, this is Merzbow in wrecking-ball mode, dividing his attention between two laptops and an amplified sheet-metal instrument for the best of both worlds (analog and digital). Much of the forty-minute performance is indeed the epitome of destruction -- there are points where the performance recalls his early period of inflicting severe walls of harsh noise capable of producing catatonic states in the unprepared listener -- but there are more subtle moments as well, giving the work a bit more balance and dynamics than some of the material that made him legendary (especially the early works, where he was prone to turning everything up to eleven and leaving it there). The use of both digital and analog sources for the grinding noise-hate also makes for an interesting selection of tones, especially given the maximum-earhurt potential of digital distortion, which Merzbow puts to effective use here. This is a well-paced performance, too; it opens with blasting noise overload and eventually dwindles to repetitive rhythmic chattering before the wall of sound returns again like overamplified wind, and this tidal dynamic continues throughout the piece, cycling through new motifs on a regular basis. The evolving flow of free-form noise and rhythmic noise makes for a slow by steady progression through different shapes of sound and sonic textures, all of which is aided by the judicious use of layering -- at times there is only one particular sound happening, at others there are many, and the result is that the overall density of the piece grows and diminishes just as the use of different sounds and strategies progresses. At times rhythmically hypnotic and at other times just plain face-peeling, this is vintage Merzbow -- pretty impressive when you consider that Masami Akita is closing in on thirty years of performing as a noise artist.

No Fun Productions

Numbers on the Mast -- s/t [Artificial Music Machine]

Destined to become a drone classic, this album -- the band's first full-length release since their formation in 2002 -- turns out to be well worth the wait. Formed when the three members Eric Archer, Trey Smith, and Matthew Thies first met while working at UT Austin's student-run radio station KVRX, the trio has spent the past five years honing their iconoclastic drone skills at a wide range of Austin venues, including backyard parties and the Church of the Friendly Ghost, and once even at the Scarlet Woman Lodge, the local chapter of Ordo Templi Orientis. Here, in the form of four long tracks (all over fourteen minutes) and two shorter ones (approximately six and seven minutes), their long apprenticeship bears fruit in the form of dark, Lovecraftian epics of unending drone leavened with ominous noises and a deep sense of the forbidding. Armed with a battery of synths, circuit-bent gadgets, sine wave oscillators, and a small army of efx pedals, they create giant walls of stupendous drone and judiciously add other elements -- effects, samples, and processed sounds -- into the mix. The results are often as unnerving as they are hypnotic, resembling the sound of apocalyptic upheavals in the distance obscured by billowing clouds of drone. Mysterious and occult in nature, this is drone's answer to ritual music, a sound that subliminally imparts obscure mathematical secrets even as it overwhelms the listeners with a more direct and visceral approach to experimental sounds. Essential listening for the discerning dronehead.

Numbers on the Mast
Artificial Music Machine

Stephen O'Malley + Z'ev -- MAGISTRAL [Southern Lord]

Here's the deal: O'Malley, guitarist for Sunn O))), Khanate, Burning Witch, blah blah blah, recorded a guitar solo not quite nine minutes in length. He then sent this solo to the famously mysterious percussionist Z'ev, who used the healing miracle of computer technology to stretch, torture, and beat the original solo into new and exotic shapes, then added a pile of percussion, noise, and other sonic dung. The result is five tracks, each anywhere from approximately six to fourteen minutes in length, that sound somewhat similar to O'Malley's work in KTL after being brutally dismantled and reassembled over a bed of percussion and dark ambient noise. It's scary and intimidating stuff, all right, although there's not as much formal percussion as you might expect given Z'ev's reputation and a lot more scraping, crunching noise and unearthly drone. Given the nature of the collaboration, it's difficult to tell what is actually the original guitar sound and what has been processed or added, much less who's responsible for what, but the results are really interesting. Take note, though -- those coming to this listening experience expecting something that sounds like Sunn O))) or Khanate (or for that matter, Z'ev's usual experiments in tribal percussion) will be sorely disappointed; this is far more abstract, closer to dark ambient or noise than any kind of rock (even rock as unorthodox as O'Malley's main bands) or industrial music. Fans of gritty, crunchy dark ambient and noise drone, though, will definitely want to hear this. As a bonus, the disc comes packaged in a miniature reproduction of a gatefold LP with an impressive layout by O'Malley built on photographs by Seldon Hunt.

Stephen O'Malley
Southern Lord


I'm often leery of compilations because they either seem like just another excuse to push more product or, even worse, have a handful of good tracks by well-known names and a lot of filler, but this is a notable exception. In fact, this is one of the best compilations I've ever heard, built around the theme of avant-garde and experimental takes on Asian / Eastern music. With 25 artists on board (and some ambient soundtracks / field recordings from India and Burma thrown in for good measure), there's a wide variety of sounds happening on the two discs here -- encompassing Middle-Eastern guitar, trip-hop and industrial electronica with Eastern beats, sitars, guitars, all kinds of percussion, Tuvan throat-singing, gamelan guitars, Chinese dulcimers, and all sorts of exotic-sounding electronic frippery. The sheer level of variety here and the thoughtful sequencing makes the double-disc flow nicely, offering a palette of sounds that changes in marked fashion from one track to the next without ever losing its connection to Eastern / Asian sounds.

There's no sensible way to review this blow-by-blow in a compilation of 31 tracks clocking in at 156 minutes, but I will say that my favorite tracks include ones by Hop-Frog's Drum Jester Devotional ("Bubblebath"), Pyramids on Mars ("Yarari"), C.O.T.A. ("Marching Past Babylon"), Muslimgauze ("Zahal End," an unreleased track from a forthcoming release on Soleilmoon), Ramona Ponzini + Z'ev ("7M24S"), Soriah ("Tehuan"), Auto De Fe ("RoRoKoda"), Sikhara ("Fatwa"), and most of all, the song by F-Space (featuring members of Savage Republic, Man is the Bastard, and Chrome), "Shining Light," which is so utterly amazing that I had to play it about ten times in a row upon hearing it. The rest of the tracks, including five field recording / ambient soundscape pieces taken from the Soleilmoon album INDIAN SOUNDSCAPES, are equally worthy of attention. Don't miss out on this.

More info, including artist links and samples.
URCK Records

Vader -- LEAD US!!! [Regain Records]

This item from Polish old-school (since 1986!) death metal band Vader is an oddity, a cd-ep of four tracks (one of them a cover of Slayer's "Reign in Blood") and three video tracks, pressed to be sold during the band's recent tour. The audio portion features one regular track each from the previous two releases, IMPRESSIONS IN BLOOD and ART OF WAR, plus the Japanese edition bonus track from each of these releases; two of the video clips are taken from these two albums as well, and the third video is taken from THE WATCHER game. Not strictly an official release, it's still well worth seeking out, especially if you're already a fan of the band. The songs are all heavy and filled with bone-crushing riffs, the Slayer cover is every bit as heavy as (and remarkably faithful to) the original, and perhaps even a touch more psychotic-sounding... and where else are you going to find these videos (for "This is the War," "Helleluyah!!! (God is Dead)," and "Sword of the Watcher"), especially since the last one is from a game rather than an actual release? How you'll find it is another matter, since it's not listed on either the band or the label sites, but there are always avenues for the resourceful and the determined.... Great artwork too, by the way.

Regain Records

Wildilife -- SIX [Crucial Blast]

Don't let the title fool you; this is actually the band's debut, and they get off on the right foot with seven tracks of deeply fucked-up psychotronic noise metal that's part Sabbath, part Skullflower, and part bad acid trip freakout. This is heavy, mysterious stuff, with a ritualistic bent not too far removed from the occult sound of the recent Aluk Todolo album, but buried in a wall of strange noises, metallic crunch, and tripped-out psychedelia. There are folky moments buried in the primal sludge too, vaguely reminiscent of Kiss the Anus of a Black Cat, and plenty of space-rock blips and bleats, but mostly the sound is one of hypnotically repetitive heaviness and a swirling fog of electronics, noisy oddness, and unnerving but somehow catchy vocalizing. When things get heavy, they really get heavy, collapsing into a dense wall of sonic abstraction, and when they get weird, they get really weird, veering into avant-garde territory; even better, throughout the album there's a consistently sinister, otherworldly feel that sets them apart from standard-issue noise rock. If ever there was an album that totally encapsulated the label's "weird + heavy = greatness" aesthetic, this must surely be it. It doesn't hurt that every now and then they throw down and bring the rock in a truly massive way, either. Weird, unfathomable, and utterly essential.

Crucial Blast

Wormwood -- STARVATION [20 Buck Spin]

This is certainly an unorthodox approach to bringing the metal, to be sure -- to begin with, despite the unquestionable heaviness, there are no guitars on this album; instead, the band employs two bassists, and in addition to having a percussionist (also in charge of samples) playing along with the drummer, the keyboard player (who also did the album's mind-bending artwork) sounds like she's channeling a library of scores from Italian horror flicks. Just to keep it complicated, everybody contributes vocals. The resulting sound is strange and creepy, drawing just as much from prog rock and jazz as from doom and crust, featuring complex and melodic jazzy passages between the bursts of heaviness, all accompanied by strange, cryptic samples and eerie, wailing keyboards that would have been right at home on an obscure 70s prog-rock album. The band has been around for a decade, but this is only their second full-length album (along with a slew of singles and splits with the likes of Teen Cthulhu and Esoteric), and it's just full of surprises, including an unlisted track ("Gluttony," ironically following the title track) and a most peculiar interpretation of the Smiths classic "Last Night I Dreamt Somebody Loved Me." Hardcore metalheads might be turned off by the jazzier moments or the undeniable prog vibe, but to me those are the best things about the album. And yes, as you might guess from the Esoteric connection, they do favor slow tempos; given the nature of their keyboard stylings, "dirgelike" has rarely been a more appropriate term than it is here. Best of all, in a genre that's currently eating its own tail again -- with way too many bands that sound like lesser, watered-down versions of other bands -- they have a genuinely unique sound. Rarely has soul-crushing doom sounded so spooky.

20 Buck Spin

Sunday, December 16, 2007

review action delayed

Between holiday hassles, a week-long bout with the flu, and working on three new Korperschwache albums (while coordinating the artwork, etc. for the release of another one already finished), I have had very little time to do reviews this month. Ergo, I'm postponing the post for another week. Look here next Sunday for reviews including stuff from Artificial Music Machine, Crucial Blast, No Fun, and more, plus reviews of new goodies by Gallhammer and the Stephen O'Malley / Z'ev collaboration. Sorry for the delay...!

Monday, November 19, 2007

thee glowing second post of november

Aidan Baker -- EXOSKELETON HEART [Crucial Bliss]

The ever-prolific Aidan Baker returns with two long slices of live guitar drone, each one clocking in at just under or just over thirty minutes. The first one, "interior," is a vast and unfolding panorama of reverb-soaked dream drone nearly 28 minutes in length, beatless and celestial, with a sound owing much to the German dream-music band Troum; the extended piece is less about structure, melody, or anything resembling conventional song structure and more about drifting through cascading waves of tone and depth, allowing new elements of tonal sound to gradually develop like billowing fog. Like most of Baker's work, solo or otherwise, it's extremely minimal and requires a fair amount of patience to absorb, but it's worth the effort to do so; few people in the school of minimalist drone have as solid a grasp of dynamics and tone as Baker, and despite the length of the piece, it's never boring. The second piece, "anterior," is even longer (just over 32 minutes) and -- in the beginning, at least -- even more minimal than the first, centered around a shrill (but not overly loud) drone that rises and falls in volume, akin to the wavelike motion of the ocean, gradually increasing in volume over time as more depth is added to the texture and additional drones appear, eventually culminating in a lovely cathedral-style drone that builds in intensity before resolving in a dissolving slo-mo wash of spaced-out fuzz that finally ends in a high-pitched drone that slowly fades into nothingness. Stellar work from Baker, as usual, and limited to 300 copies that will probably go quickly (which is your cue to act now if you want in on the heavy drone action, and you should).

Aidan Baker
Crucial Blast


Wasn't I saying something last time around about the recent emergence of quality black metal from France? You can add this band to the list -- this album, the band's fifth, is excellent stuff, raw and minimalist without being totally primitive, atmospheric and dark without succumbing to pure cheese, and filled with unrelenting, old-school guitar vileness. The rampaging drums (often bearing a mild industrial feel along with the traditional blackened beats) and knitting-needle guitars are bolstered at times by dark keyboard washes that are simple but highly effective. They favor guitar riffs that are frequently dissonant, mostly fast, and filled and with howling shards of near-monochromatic melodicism; at times the guitars rhythms are distinctly cryptic and unconventional as well. Shrouded in layers of reverb and distortion, possessed of a severely antisocial (and totally uncommercial) vibe, this is work more concerned with occult atmosphere and the mysteries of the unknowable than with any kind of current trends or some fey desire to "please their audiences." It helps that unlike a lot of black metal bands, they make truly worthwhile use of droning, brooding keyboards, but the real meat here is in the serrated tornado guitar and relentless rhythms. Heavy, fatalistic stuff, and highly recommended.

Blut Aus Nord
Candlelight USA

Freedom Call -- DIMENSIONS [Steamhammer / SPV]

This is the seventh release by German power metal band Freedom Call, and it's a hard one to pigeonhole, bearing traces of prog-rock, thrash metal, a dinstinctly European sound, and an awful lot of keyboards. Extremely melodic and usually up-tempo, this is the kind of thing that rarely goes over well in America (especially now, when the musical climate of metal and hard rock appears to be fixated on brutality, simplicity, a general ban on keyboards outside of black metal’s morose droning in the name of atmosphere), which is too bad, because there's probably an audience here (a small one, true, but still) for melodic hard rock, and this is a good band. The material is a tad grandiose for my personal taste, but there's nothing wrong with the songs, which tend to sound like a updated take on NWOBHM with heavy prog theatrics thrown in just to make things that much more interesting. They make really startling use of backing vocals on tracks like "United Alliance," resulting in a harmonic vocal sound that hasn't been fashionable in this country in ages, one that's a whole lot more distinctive (and listenable) than the cookie-monster vocal approach that has become standard operating procedure among most American metal bands these days. There are moments of highly melodic, classically-tinged playing on tracks like "Words of Endeavour" as well, and each song has its own distinctive flavor, but they are all unified by the interplay of flashy guitar and keyboards over a solid rhythm section. It's probably not heavy and brutal enough for the average American metalhead, but progged-out devotees of power metal who have been lamenting the disappearance of melody from metal will want to hear this.

Freedom Call

Hatesphere -- SERPENT SMILES AND KILLER EYES [Steamhammer / SPV]

This Danish metal band is not quite classifiable as pure thrash metal, but they're close; they favor a big, thick sound, fast and blinding guitars, and machine-gun drumming, but they slow down to mosh now and then as well, demonstrating that they're not totally obsessed with speed and more speed. They are also not afraid to employ melodic guitar along with the huge stop 'n start riffs, which makes them far more accessible than a lot of equally heavy thrash bands. "Drinking with the King of the Dead" is probably the most melodic song on the album, opening with a decidedly non-metal guitar line and gradually growing denser as the rest of the instruments come in, then turning into full-blown metal with a nice, crunchy riff and heavy drums. "Let Them Hate," with its highly melodic opening riff and a series of equally catchy riffs that appear when the rest of the band comes in, is a close second in the catchiness department; the rest of the songs work at striking a balance between catchy melodicism and high-velocity intensity. There's nothing particularly ground-breaking here, but it's well-done, with plenty of shifts in tempo and dynamic attack to keep things interesting, and certainly not lacking in full-blown ferocity despite the lust for melodicism.


George Korein -- TOO MANY DAYS [G Records]

This solo album from one of the members of Infidel? / Castro! shares that band's affinity for abruptly shifting soundscapes and textures, not to mention a serious fondness for processed sound and sheer noise -- but this is not a noise album, but rather a pop / rock album that has been severely deconstructed and disrupted by an unconventional approach to background sound and the use of droning noise. Bursts of jagged noise shrapnel give way to bouncy synth-pop on "Writhe, Sally, Writhe" that is boosted into overdrive by absurdly distorted bass, while everything is overdriven, distorted, and processed in a deliberately grating manner on "Constant Confrontation." The absurdly jaunty toy-piano sound of "Lonely Fun" is in complete contrast to the increasingly hyperactive, broken-beat sound of the drum machine behind it; "The World Is Your Ashtray" combines gothic-sounding symphonic keyboard washes frosted with noise and a morose, plodding beat; and "Termite Anthem" features dueling keyboards, one cheesy and one gruesomely distorted, along with clattering drums and squeaky melodies. The rest of the songs (fifteen in all) are every bit as strange, and sometimes stranger. This is pop-rock noise for the future, a sound made from the reassembled leavings of half a dozen genres dominated by the heavy use of efx processing, noise as a texturing device, and an extremely eccentric musical vision. Those already hep to Infidel? / Castro! will want to check this out, along with anybody interested in hearing a really different approach to the combination of pop and noise.

G Records

Light of Shipwreck -- FROM THE IDLE CYLINDERS [Crucial Bliss]

Ben Fleury-Steiner is both the mind (and hands) behind this drone project and Gears of Sand Recordings, the label responsible for releases by Aidan Baker, Encomiast, Mikronesia, and other drone / ambient artists. Light of Shipwreck is very much in that vein, with three long tracks heavy on the drone quotient, but unlike most drone acts, Light of Shipwreck is fond of tribal beats and percussion along with its droning walls of blissed-out noise. The opening track, "I Rode and Am Riding on an Ocean of Violent Lights," features heavy blocks of oceanic ambient drone that occasionally fade in intensity to accommodate Krautrock-influenced tribal rhythms; the sound is at times thickened by sheets of electrofuzz and heavily-reverbed percussion on top of that, making for a sound far more densely textured and motion-oriented than the average drone epic. "I Watched and Am Watching a Cold Dead Sun Rise and Explode" is a bit more conventionally ambient, filled with cyclotron drones and reverbed guitars, but also prone to bursts of elliptical rhythms and understated percussion; it's also largely dominated by a swirling, hollowed-out tone like the sound of some faraway din being channelled through the world's longest metal pipe, and toward the end, heavy beats and notes processed through shimmering ping-pong delay that grow denser and louder as the loping beat continues. The final track, "I Swallowed and Am Swallowing the River Ganges," fades in with tribal percussion, a sound that is eventually joined by more drone sounds, followed by stuttering jump-cuts between a motif like a processed foghorn and other startling noises, all of which grow in volume and intensity before shifting to more percussion as the noises recede. The piece undergoes a number of other tonal, texture, and volume shifts as it progresses, and the percussion comes and goes, before finally ending in a shrieking flurry of cycling noise that gradually fades out. It's nice to see elements of rhythm and percussion incorporated into drone pieces, especially ones this imaginative. The title, incidentally, is a reference to now-deceaseed Objectivist poet George Oppen, a major influence on the album's imagery. Limited to 200 copies.

Light of Shipwreck
Crucial Blast

Luasa Raelon -- INTO THE VOID [Crucial Bliss]

The five tracks of brooding, dark-ambient drone on this disc are the work of David Reed, better known to some by his other project Envenomist and his noise label snip-snip, which has released material by Conure, Marax, Hive Mind, and many others, including other releases by his own two bands. Armed with iced-out synths and dark electronics, weaned on the likes of Troum, Yen-Pox, Lustmord, Megaptera, Lull, and early black metal, Reed's work here is straight-up dark ambient with a heavy drone quotient that recalls the early days (and darkest efforts) of the early isolationlist movement. Most of this sounds like a cold wind after dark blowing through the empty ruins of ancient cities built by alien civilizations; it's all very sinister and Lovecraftian, subtle and restrained, and oh so very dark. The sound is dominated more by the synths than the efx boxes (which are mostly used to provide texture and grit to the drawn-out and often subterranean synth washes). This sounds like the soundtrack to an obscure science fiction horror film (which may explain the totally boss artwork that amplifies on this theme), especially one invoking the inexplicable terror of Lovecraft's Elder Gods; at the same time, though, it bears a distinct relation to early 70s prog-rock, often resembling a more forbidding and drone-laden answer to Tangerine Dream. At low volume this is actually more soothing than unsettling, like a dream-music release by Troum, but at higher volumes it becomes distinctly more oppressive and laced with dread. All of it is excellent, and a pleasant thing to discover, given that I already liked what Reed was doing in Envenomist. Limited to 200 copies, and like all the Crucial Bliss releases, it comes swaddled in ultra-swank full-color packaging.

Luasa Raelon
Crucial Blast

Naked Mall Rats -- SOMEWHERE ON THE INTERNET [self-released]

This is one of the many side-projects of George Korein, one-half of Infidel? / Castro!, so it's no surprise that it turns out to be a deeply strange listening experience. A concept album about the internet, the fourteen tracks here were conceived through several hours of unrehearsed jamming between George, Dylan Sparrow, and Keith Abrams that George later edited down to an album's worth of something relatively coherent; George, Dylan, and Liz added vocals later (plus some eccentric sitar and glitch-electronica overdubs). Like the subject parodied and dissected in the lyrics, the music here is esoteric and sprawling, a flowing series of near-random jams marked by the deranged collision of devolved funk-pop, avant-garde freejazz, glitch-electronica, and pure sonic strangeness. There's a black (and sometimes prurient) sense of humor to the lyrics that's matched by the sheer perversity of the music, which is strange and unfathomable one moment, then surprisingly poppy and catchy the next... but always genuinely unpredictable, no small feat at this juncture in the history of recorded music, by which point new ideas are hard to find and even more rare to hear. Strange, perverse, inexplicable, at times even wonderful, and definitely one of the more unusual listening experiences you're likely to ever encounter.

Naked Mall Rats

Tom Nunn -- IDENTITY [Edgetone Records]

Nunn is a composer and improvisational artist who generally performs using original, homemade instruments built from common materials and amplified with contact mikes, and this solo release features three such inventions -- the "Hybrid Mothics," consisting of three triangular boards festooned with bronze rods, a curved line of finishing nails, and a textured surface, to be played with wooden dowel mallets, combs, steel rods, a large spring, a knitting needle, guitar picks, and bows; the "Octatonic T-Rodimba," a sheet of plywood with three v-shaped tiers of threaded steel rods bent at 90-degree angles and tuned in an octatonic scale (alternating major 2nd with minor 2nd), designed to be struck with wooden mallets or plucked by hand; and the "Crustacean," a 32-inch diameter steel pole supported by toy balloons and adorned with bronze rods of varying lengths, designed to be struck with any number of implements. Nunn employs these three exotic instruments throughout the ten tracks here, harnessing a wide palette of extremely unusual sounds to create pieces that are at times reminiscent of the sound of a bizarrely-tuned xylophone and at other times the sound of pure tonal chaos. Despite the lack of electronic processing -- what you hear is what came directly out of the instruments -- there's some truly otherworldly sounds happening here, along with more melodic tones rendered in a highly percussive manner. The back of the cd case helpfully lists not only the track listing, but the instruments used and the tools used to strike them, which allows you to get some idea over the course of the album as to what sounds the individual instruments can produce. The Crustacean emits deep, droning ambient sounds when attacked with bows, a sonorous and haunting sound worth exploring in more depth; the Mothic and T-Rodimba produce more percussive and textured sounds, lending a great deal of variety to the different pieces. It would be interesting to hear how these instruments could be used in a more structured, less improvisational context. As it is, the album is most interesting, and full of sonic surprises.

Tom Nunn
Edgetone Records

October File -- HOLY ARMOUR FROM THE JAWS OF GOD [Candlelight USA]

It's somehow appropriate that the band appears to be named after a Die Kruezen album, because they are every bit as elliptical and uncompromising as that legendary Touch & Go band, if considerably more metallic in nature. The poop sheet accompanying this disc makes prominent mention of Killing Joke, Prong, New Model Army, and Swans, which is fair enough, but I suspect the Die Kreuzen connection is probably more relevant than any of these -- certainly the band's politics and angular ferocity (along with their unexpected approach to both song structure and ability to extract melody from guitars bordering on white noise) has more in common with DK than any of these other bands other than Killing Joke, and the only real Killing Joke connection I can discern (outside of a tendency toward repetitive heaviness, which Jaz and his pals didn't exactly invent) lies in that fact that Killing Joke vocalist produced the album and appears as a guest performer. The band's musical lineage is far less important, however, than the fact that they are one of the most intense listening experiences to come down the pike in some time -- they don't play their songs so much as they bludgeon their instruments to death while the vocalist rages about murder, war, religion, rape, the failure of humanity, and other angst-filled topics. They're not as monochromatic as that description might make them sound -- surprises abound, like the pretty melodic break in "High Octane Climate Changer" and the near-funky beats that follow. The one song that truly does deserve the Killing Joke comparison is "A Sun That Never Sets," although it sounds like KJ on massive steroids and welded to scorched-earth black metal guitar. Otherwise, while some of the beats are indeed reminiscent of the Joke and Prong, the band's claustrophobic vibe of innate heaviness (and pure steamroller approach) demonstrates they have plenty to offer on their own. This is especially true of their enormous and hate-filled guitar sound, which owes as much to black metal as to post-rock or traditional metal. Bonus points for the amazing cover art.

October File
Candlelight USA

Axel Rudi Pell -- DIAMONDS UNLOCKED [Steamhammer / SPV]

German guitarist Axel Rudi Pell is not exactly a household name here in the US, although he's been a significant force in the European hard rock and metal scene since the formation of his band Steeler (not to be confused with the American metal band led by Ron Keel and at one time including guitarist Yngwie Malmsteen); he left for a solo career in 1989 and has since unleashed a whole pile of solo records, the latest of which is this one, a covers album featuring unorthodox and highly melodic reinterpretations of material by Riot, U2, Chris Rea, Kiss, Michael Bolton (!!!), Free, Montrose, Phil Collins, The Mission, and The Who. Of the lot, American listeners will probably be most familiar with the ones by U2 ("Beautiful Day"), Kiss ("Love Gun"), Phil Collins ("In the Air Tonight"), and The Who ("Won't Get Fooled Again"). Pell is a seriously melodic (you’re going to see that word frequently in this review, which should tell you something about Pell’s musical agenda) guitarist, and his band's sound is akin to a more European answer to Journey or Aldo Nova -- very 80s-sounding, in other words -- and the band's sweet-sounding, radio-friendly sound will probably be the kiss of death for a lot of metal listeners on this side of the big pond. If you're into melodic metal, though, this is highly listenable stuff -- I'm generally kind of dubious on the whole concept of cover albums, but Pell has an interesting way of reinventing the songs here (the acoustic version of "Love Gun" totally smokes the original, frankly), and his version of the Michael Bolton tune "Fool's Game" is much, much heavier than the original (not that this would be difficult) and absurdly catchy (yes, I know I'm going to hell for actually admitting to liking anything by Michael Bolton, but such is Pell's genius -- how many people could make Michael Bolton listenable?). His space-rock, jazz-fusion remake of "In the Air Tonight" is nearly unrecognizable, with lots of fuzzy guitar, melodic soloing, and no gated drums, and thus he gets bonus points for making the beer commercial soundtrack listenable again; on the other hand, there's way too much stuff going on in the Who remake -- it's not bad, but it just proves that it's really difficult to improve on The Who. This is a good starting place for American listeners interested in hearing what Pell is all about, and for fans of flashy, melodic hard-rock guitar.

Axel Rudi Pell

Raging Speedhorn -- BEFORE THE SEA WAS BUILT [Steamhammer / SPV USA]

The band returns with its fourth album and a lineup change, introducing new vocalist Bloody Kev (formerly of Hard to Swallow) and new bassist Dave Thompson (ex-Scurge), and a change in direction -- while earlier releases were in the vein of Black Sabbath, now they appear to have discovered more modern purveyors of metal like Neurosis as well, and the resulting sound is an interesting mix of extremely old-school, blues-derived hard rock and esoteric prog-metal made even more unusual by the use of two vocalists (apparently inspired by Kev's former band, ironically enough). The album is heavy, very heavy indeed, but not without nuance and dynamics, and while the song structures are rooted primarily in British rock and metal, the powerful, intense drumming and insistent, often-dissonant guitar work add a fresh dimension to a sound that essentially owes more to classic hard rock than modern metal, especially with the addition of Kev, whose harsh, declamatory vocal style is more reminiscent of hardcore than hard rock, and makes a nice contrast to the band's melodicism. The songs are mostly uptempo and insistent, full of busy drumming and grinding, knife-like guitar riffs, but as the eerie opening of "Who Will Guard the Guards" proves, they are fully capable of holding your attention even at slow speeds. Dark, angry music with an awareness of the sounds of the past but every bit as interested in moving forward into the future, with a thick but crisp sound captured well by excellent production.

Raging Speedhorn

Scissor Shock -- TEASE THE SKELETON ep [DFRP]

The unclassifiable glitch-noise band from Columbus returns with a new EP of damaged sounds and anti-tunes, eight slices of perverted riffs, exotic sounds, obtuse structures, and weird noises all configured into random-sounding tracks of... well... randomness. “Random” is probably the operative word with this band; despite their noise tag, their individual albums sound surprisingly different, and they are less about blowing up your ears than figuring out new and quixotic ways to scrunch together sounds that have no business coexisting in the same audio space. Revolving around Adam Cooley (the only full-time member), their approach to randomness is nowhere near as random as you might suspect -- there’s definitely a thoughtful kind of madness behind the construction of these audio blips -- but their approach is sufficiently arcane to make it nearly impossible to guess what will happen next, no matter what they’re doing at any given moment. The only real constant is that everything tends to sound like a damaged cd, one warped by heat or some other accident in such a fashion that everything is speeded up and skipping; this is the sound of enormous amounts of information being force-fed into intensely short increments of time. Contrary to some of their earlier releases, there’s very little harsh noise on this one, but instead many, many, many snippets of what were probably ordinary, entirely recognizable sounds before Cooley and co. started whittling them down and tying them together in bizarre musical strings. There are lots of frantic, broken beats and peculiar pinging sounds amid the sonic wreckage, along with what might be actual guitar riffs here and there or just samples from bargain-bin records. Any way you slice it, the EP is a strange listening experience, to be sure. Good, interesting, and heavy on the damaged-sound tip... but strange. Very strange.

Scissor Shock

Skullflower -- IIIRD GATEKEEPER (reissue) [Crucial Blast]

Crucial Blast's reissue of this iconic Skullflower album, originally released in 1992 on Godflesh guitarist Justin Broadrick's HeadDirt label, is a welcome development in the Skullflower chronicles. Long considered the leading fan favorite, this disc has been out of print ever since HeadDirt went under, despite its ready availibility on the used market, and the reissue (in a gatefold digipak) improves on the original artwork without getting carried away and boasts remastered sound that is a serious improvement on the original release. (It also includes epic liner notes, but modesty prevents me from commenting on that since I wrote them.) This is only one of two studio albums (the other is LAST SHOT AT HEAVEN) featuring the classic (but short-lived) lineup of Matthew Bower on guitar, Stuart Dennison on drums, and A. DiFranco on bass, and for various reasons, it remains one of the band's most focused discs; there's no filler here, no extraneous frippery or dodgy experiments, just nine tracks of savage psychedelic noise-rock so adept in its whirling-knives guitar skronk and leviathan bass heaving that it pretty much opened the door for the whole field of free-form noise rock now dominated by the likes of Sunn O))), Earth, and a million other heavy-drone bands. Unlike most of the early albums, which were recorded piecemeal with shifting lineups, or the later albums, which were either essentially singles compilations or considerably more ambient outings, this was recorded by one lineup in a short timeframe, and is consequently far more focused than anything else the band has ever done (with the possible exception of XAMAN, the album with Stefan Jaworzyn on guitar that was recorded prior to this one). It's also one of the band's heaviest albums -- only INFINITYLAND in consistently heavier, if nowhere near as sharp and focused -- and the combination of Dennison's heavier than lead drums, DiFranco's overwhelming bass crush, and Bower's genuinely psychotronic noise guitar is entirely too much to resist for any discerning noise-dronehead. The improved remastering makes it far more obvious than before just how out-there Bower's guitar playing was, and just reaffirms that the band was ahead of their time, especially on this release. You need this, period, and with any luck it will turn out to be just the first salvo in a whole series of reissues of the band's back catalog, most of which is hopelessly obscure and tragically out of print.

Crucial Blast

Yes, Collapse -- FINAL DIAGNOSIS [Crucial Bliss]

This is the final release from the Dayton, OH trio of Dan Rizer, Josh Fink, and Matthew Reis; for many years they were one of the centerpieces of the noise / drone label Epicene Sound System, releasing a steady stream of incredibly obscure limited-edition cassettes, cd-rs, and splits with similar bands. Last year the band more or less ground to a halt when the band members moved away, but before it all ran down the drain, they tossed this material into the hands of Crucial Blast to release as part of the ongoing Crucial Bliss series. What you get are nine tracks of highly unpredictable, often virulent clotted sonic grue -- screeching, buzzing, freaked-out sound collages whipped together from amplifier hum, metal tapes, efx boxes, stuff being broken, huge processed sounds, and more sonic effluvia than you can even begin to imagine, all shaped into streams of ambient sound that abruptly disintegrate into epics of sonic flagellation. There are some moments of near-ambient washes and drones, but mostly it's a series of violent, abrasive exercises in earhurt heavy on the imagination and low on the respect for your ears. This is not so much harsh noise or even standard noise rock as much as it is the cunning juxtaposition of a great many annoying / alienating / otherworldly sounds, clustered together for maximum mind obliteration and subjected to some pretty creative mixes, especially by noise standards. Like a terrible and blood-soaked collision of art-rock, free improv, sound collage, and noise, the results are alternately hypnotic and sonically horrifying, at times buried in a cyclone of harsh noise din, at other times fixated on heavy repetition, but mostly aimed at prying loose the hinges of your subconscious with jarring segues, inexplicable sounds, unpredictable dynamics, and a pure lust for audio ugliness. Powerful, uncompromising stuff that's far more nuanced and layered than your average noise album made through efx-box overkill. Limited to 150 copies, which I bet won't last long, given the band's standing among collector scum.

Crucial Blast

Sunday, November 4, 2007

thee miraculous first post of november

Ala Muerte / Max Bondi -- SATURDAY 3-inch cdr [Public Guilt]

Ala Muerte is actually Destructo Swarmbots guitarist / vocalist Bianca, hailing from Queens, NY and infatuated with processed sounds; Max Bondi is a mysterious dude from London who also favors playing with efx boxes and creating mutant sounds. Together they craft haunting, elliptical drone rock that's heavy on repetition and melancholy moods, despite plenty of melodic bits that are frequently looped to form the backbone of their largely ephemeral songs. Their sound is at once minimalist and vast, with endlessly-repeated melodic phrases (snippets of guitar, bells, and other lovely-sounding instruments) enveloped in ambient sound that is often dissonant in nature; the vocals (from both, at different times) are breathy and faraway and drenched in reverb, more like the wailing of ghosts in the walls than actual singing. There's a gentle, pastoral feel to much of the material that's offset by pulsing space-rock movements and the occasional burst of outright dissonant noise, and the EP strikes an uneasy balance between airy folkiness and ominous, bad-trip psychedelia. Unsettling, psychotronic stuff that's alluring and disturbing at the same time. Six songs total, all of them excellent. As with all the releases in PG's 3-inch cdr series, this is limited to 100 copies and comes in swank full-color packaging.

Ala Muerte
Max Bondi
Public Guilt


It seems like the thrash metal genre has gotten a second wind lately, but Norway's Audiopain are no bandwagon-jumpers; they've been rattling their skulls since 1996, with four EPs and a full-length album to show for it. (They also have the blessing of Fenriz from Darkthrone, who wrote the lyrics for one track on the third EP.) Their latest release, a six-track EP clocking in at just over 26 minutes, sounds a lot like a throwback to early 80s NWOBHM, with a little Motorhead thrown in for good measure (especially on the mid-tempo "Termination Fields," whose main riff would not have been out of place on any of that band's early albums), and like most thrash bands that are actually any good, their guitar sound is heavily influenced by late-70s Judas Priest. They're not exactly breaking new ground here by any means, but they know what they're doing and they do it with lots of explosive energy, razor-slashing precision, and manic intensity (especially where the drumming is concerned)... not to mention plenty of impossibly fast, ridiculously convoluted riffs, the bread and butter of thrash. With the exception of "Termination Fields," this is all high-velocity stuff, and unlike most of the original thrash albums that helped to shape the band's sound, this has excellent production. Rattleheads in search of quality neck-snapping tunes would be wise to investigate.

Vendlus Records

Avenue in Oceania -- s/t [self-released]

The vocals are unquestionably reminiscent of Joy Division, but the band's sound is much poppier and more upbeat than the electropunk pioneer that launched a thousand new bands. It's a sound that calls to mind the beat-happy catchiness of early Depeche Mode, Human League, Soft Cell, and Tears for Fears, but with more modern production, a mild inclination toward the postmodern use of incidental noise, and brooding, ambient synths factored into the mix. The twelve songs here are quality offerings -- concise, catchy, and well-arranged, with rhythms that not just invite but demand body movement and serious lyrics that are considerably more urgent and thought-provoking than the lyrical fare offered by most bands of the electro-pop genre. It's harder than it looks to be this consistently good, and even harder still to be so catchy; strong songwriting and a nuanced eye for detail in the mix helps to make it look more effortless than it really is. Just when I was beginning to think the EBM genre had run out of steam, this band shows up to prove that there's still life yet in the business of crafting memorable body rock with sharp pop hooks. Serious fans of poppy EBM should seek this out -- their near-gothic beat mojo is strong, you hear?

Avenue of Oceania

Avichi -- THE DIVINE TRAGEDY [NMB Records]

I'm beginning to think there's a fourth wave of black metal happening now, a renaissance that's inevitably going to force everyone to take the USBM scene far more seriously. If you consider the third wave to be all the bands following in the wake of early pioneers (Venom, Sodom, Bathory, etc.) and classic second-wave bands like Emperor, Abruptum, Burzum, and Mayhem, it's obvious that far too many of those third-wave bands have been either a bit too slavish in their devotion to their forebears, considerably uneven in their attempts to expand on the genre's conventions, or exquisitely crass in their attempts to turn what was originally a pure expression of individual will and emotion into commercial success (yes, Dimmu Borgir and Cradle of Filth, I'm talking about you). This has led to exactly what Euronymous (RIP) feared -- a trend toward way too many black metal bands that all sound way too much alike and continue to strip-mine the same musical and philosophical territory with pathological zeal. Over the past decade, the original spirit of black metal has ossified into a codified set of rules regarding musical direction, philosophical belief, and artistic presentation, resulting in stagnation and, in many cases, outright boredom. Over the past few years, though, a growing number of bands have begun to break away from these overly rigid conventions to create a new sound for black metal, one that still bears respect for the past without being chained to it -- bands like Ruins of Beverast, Verdunkeln, Staalagh, Nachtmystium, Wolves in the Throne Room, and N.I.L., just to name a few -- and the biggest surprise of all is that a great many of them are from the US, where the black metal scene was considered something of a joke until very recently.

Which brings us to Avichi, the one-man project of ex-Nachtmystium player Aamonael, and the band's first full-length album, recorded (at the increasingly-popular Electrical Audio, as it happens) with the assistance of studio percussionist Xaphar. The band's name is a reference to the Theosophist concept of hell, in which the damned are disembodied and eternally plagued by desires of the flesh without a body capable of expressing those desires -- a state of permanent frustration, in other words. This is significant, because Avichi's lyrical concerns are deeply rooted in occultism, and these themes (along with the requisite tropes of hatred, nihilism, and general misanthropy) greatly inform the lyrics, which hold true to the nihilist school of thought while still being considerably more sophisticated than those of the average black metal band. Musically, the album incorporates the more mystical sounds of ritual music on the opening track "Entrance to God," and while many of the songs are fast and furious in the old-school tradition of Burzum and Darkthrone, they are notable for containing atypical riffs and unusual chromatic shifts, and some songs -- especially "Prayer for Release," which is much more conventional in its sound and structure, but also directly linked to the original school of minimalism in its use of an arpeggiated guitar figure that is repeated throughout the song -- are far more melodic than one might expect given the band's influences. The album's eight tracks are full of surprises and unexpected turns, no doubt the result of the album's lengthy gestation (Aamonael spent three years working on the release), and the excellent production makes the attention to detail readily obvious. This is a spectacular debut, and highly recommended listening.

NMB Records

Decimation Boulevard -- PUT YOUR HAND IN FIRE 3-inch cdr [Public Guilt]

The six songs on this short but potent limited-edition cdr (100 copies) are the work of Tradd Sanderson, the "noise choker" for Cream Abdul Babar, and choking noise it is indeed. Heavily rhythmic and and leaning toward gritty, textured blocks of noise and crapped-out, overdriven distortion, this disc differs from other, similar examples of power electronics in that there is an actual discernible structure to the songs, rather than just a messy pile of efx boxes all turned up to eleven. A lot of this is actually reminiscent of early Skinny Puppy, where there are actual rhythms and real songs, but here all the song elements come from badly-abused efx boxes and digital noise rather than synths and sequencers. Sanderson is not afraid to get ugly, real ugly, and there are points where it sounds like everything is breaking up, especially when he harnesses the healing power of deliberately-induced digital distortion, a sound that's definitely not for the weak. This is definitely the sound of controlled chaos, though, with a real sense of dynamics at work, an aesthetic that's aided considerably by the use of some really grotesque and dissonant tones much different from the usual sounds emanating from your average power electronics disc. Bonus points for the innovative (and spare) use of real (if enormous and overdriven) drum sounds at unexpected intervals. Like the rest of the label's limited 3-inch cdr series, this comes in a nifty full-color package.

Decimation Boulevard
Public Guilt

Demons -- EVOCATION [No Fun Productions]

Stoned electronic frippery is the agenda here on the first release by the duo of Steve Kenney and Nate Young (Wolf Eyes), with four tracks (although only three are listed on the jacket) of bleating and peeping and strange low-end throb. The duo herd a fleet of little black boxes and analog synths and other bastardized tone-manipulators into vomiting up hallucinatory sheets of sound like the electronic auditory equivalent of abstract psychedelic paintings; it's not as violent or abrasive as, say, Wolf Eyes, but it's certainly a lot weirder and more unfathomable. There's a certain noise factor at work, but more as a texture element than an alienation strategy -- this is less about sanding your face off (in fact, it's not terribly abrasive at all, although it is at times fairly dissonant and disorienting) than rewiring your brain to fire out random neuron sequences that will ideally lead to psychedelic visions without the cumbersome need for hunting down a dope dealer. The core of the duo's sound is rooted in the warm, fuzzy world of vintage analog gear and cosmic tones for mental therapy -- music for heavy tripping, in other words. The final track is actually sort of soothing, in fact, and the others are more akin to the uneasy sound of a third eye opening than anything resembling traditional face-peeling noise. The artwork comes courtesy of the band's usual visual collaborator, Alivia Zivich, and is a pretty accurate depiction of the mind-melting sounds on the disc.

No Fun Productions

End of Level Boss -- INSIDE THE DIFFERENCE ENGINE [Exile on Mainstream Records]

Driven to riff and possessed of a distinctly peculiar jazz-metal sensibility, this band comes across like Voivod on a funk-jazz bender; they also have a serious love for repetition, plus a guitar tone more in line with stoner rock than progged-out metal. Too complicated and eccentric to qualify as stoner rock but nowhere near as uptight and anal as the average prog-metal band, they occupy a space that's relatively unique for metal. They also distance themselves from prog-rock that much more by actually rocking and understanding how to ride a good groove; there are moments where I think they're secretly the world's most ornate and progressive boogie band. The album is a wild and heavy ride from start to finish, and there's a method to the madness of their disorienting but catchy riffs that makes them instantly accessible despite their eccentricity. Hard to describe, sure, but well worth hearing.

End of Level Boss
Exile on Mainstream Records


The album's on Van, Germany's best souce of real black metal (along with No Colours), so you know it must be good... and it is, although it's really strange to see a band this new (they formed in 2005 and this is their first full-length release after a demo, a compilation contribution, and an EP) sound so old. They play straight-up old-school black metal, going so far as to look and sound like a band from the early 90s, one with obvious debts to the likes of Bathory, Sarcofago, and Beherit. In true old-school tradition, you can hardly tell what the bass player is doing -- what mostly comes out of the speakers is a furious blur of monochromatic guitar so trebly it sounds like the guitarist's strings are made of barbed wire and equally frantic drumming that sound appropriately lo-fi without getting totally lost in the blackened swirl of sound. They slow down every now and then to mosh through some utterly vile riff, but not for long; most of the album's eleven songs are fueled by a terrifying lust for speed and more speed, barreling along like a thundering herd of pigs being driven over a cliff, bleating and shrieking all the way. Speaking of shrieking, the vocalist is in fine form, howling throughout the album like he's having his anus probed with a hot meat fork; you can't tell what he's saying, true, but the band helpfully included lyrics in the booklet for just that reason, and besides, with song titles like "Command for Genocide," "Crucify (the scum)," "Spill the blood of Christ," and "Eternal Holocaust," it's not like you need to know what he's saying to get the drift of their thinking, right? Bonus points for the front cover's grim and convoluted logo that incorporates a pile of skulls AND an inverted iron cross (above a picture of a burning church, no less). This is nasty, hateful, unforgiving stuff, and if you're down with the crown, you know you need it.


Havoc Unit -- H.I.V.+ [Vendlus Records]

If you were hep to Finland's black metal export ... and Oceans, but have been wondering where the hell they disappeared to, here's your answer -- as the band's sound morphed from traditional black metal to a sound more reliant on industrial and electronica elements, they decided to change their name to Havoc Unit. The new sound combines traditional black metal ferocity and industrial rhythms with electronica and a theatrical bent that sometimes recalls the more avant-garde side of Bethlehem (especially in the spoken-word bit hidden between two of the songs, which mostly elaborate on the band's anti-Christian sentiment). As brutally blackened as Impaled Nazarene and propelled by juggernaut electrorhythms that would bring a tear to KMFDM's collective eye, the band's sound alternates between crushing rhythmic violence harnessed to blazing black metal fury and slower, more deeply-textured onslaughts of electro-industrial soundscapes. Wallowing in the same techno-metal tarpit as Neurosis and the like, but with considerably more black metal in the mix, the band's sound is every bit as nihilistic as its lyrical content, which is nihilistic indeed. Their approach to black metal is not a monochromatic one, though, encompassing symphonic (sometimes even gothic) textures (not to mention haunting piano figures on "Kristallnacht") and even choral vocals on "Ignoratio Elenchi," and their approach to the industrial elements is equally unorthodox, with moments in which the electronic frippery evolves into actual rhythms and lots of electronics abuse as texture throughout the album. The album as a whole is a punishing attack on the senses with a scrupulous attention to detail and above-average intelligence, as sophisticated as it is brutal, and as boldly experimental as it is traditionally misanthropic. The new paradigm for electro-metal terrorism makes its point by leaving boot prints on your face, confident (and rightly so) that you will be helpless and unable to resist their cunning juxtapositions of black metal, industrial, and electronica.

Havoc Unit
Vendlus Records

High Priestess -- OAK SONG [High Priestess Productions]

This is the High Priestess Regan's second album, and it's obvious that her sound (and the production quality of her releases) has continued to evolve. (This probably explains why her music is increasingly showing up in television shows like 24, LOST, and ALIAS, along with films like MUNICH and RESIDENT EVIL.) Her latest release, a naturist song cycle inspired by the oak groves near her home, merges goth, pagan, new age, and traditional folk stylings into a lush and varied listening experience that's only enhanced by the addition of the harp, an instrument she learned to play while writing these eleven songs. Lush and nuanced like the work of Laura Nyro but dedicated in content mainly to nature and Goddess worship, this is consistently excellent material made even more enjoyable by Regan's powerful singing and delicate harp playing, as well as the use of highly skilled studio players throughout the album. The songwriting is grounded in traditional folk / pagan structures, but accented by subtle use of gothic and new age touches that add depth and texture without cluttering up the songs. It's all easy on the ears, but there's an emotional depth to the delivery and a level of intelligence to the lyrics that makes this more than just a collection of pretty tunes. Pagans, naturists, and fans of well-orchestrated, sophisticated pop music will want to hear this.

High Priestess Productions

Long Distance Calling -- SATELLITE BAY [Viva Hate Records]

In a simple world, you could get away with describing this band as a heavier, vaguely more metallic answer to Godspeed You Black Emperor! -- but this is hardly a simple world, and of course there's a lot more to it than that. This (mostly) instrumental quintet, made up of former members of much heavier bands, has just as much in common with bands like Mogwai, King Crimson, Tool, Lockgroove, My Bloody Valentine, and other post-rock bands weaned on prog-rock and fond of extended songs that deliberately eschew the verse-chorus-verse format in favor of movements through different sonic textures and styles. With seven songs that clock in at approximately an hour, it's obvious that they like to take their time getting where they're going, with plenty of opportunities for sonic changes of scenery. This tactic is kind of a double-edged sword; on one hand, the flowing nature of the songs and the continuing movement through different patches of musical real estate makes the individual songs highly listenable and engaging; on the other hand, by the time you've heard the fourth such outing, everything starts to run together and it's difficult to tell the songs apart. How much of a liability that is in reality has a lot to do with how fixated you are on such things, though, and given the band's epic scope and appeal to fans of complex prog-rock, I'm not sure how much that actually matters. Certainly the playing is all top-notch and there's plenty of dynamics. Arty and expansive without being totally pretentious, this is a good album, but not one for the impatient or those expecting easy digestible pop singalongs.

Long Distance Calling
Viva Hate

Pain Jerk / Incapacitants -- PAIN JERK / INCAPACITANTS LIVE AT NO FUN FEST 2007 [No Fun Productions]

If the title alone doesn't fill you with either delirious, cell-bursting joy or deep jolts of pure, blinding fear, than nothing will, buddy. For the uninitiated, Pain Jerk is one Japanese artist (Kohei Gomi) and a LOT of efx boxes turned up to "unremitting noise" comparable to Merzbow or Masonna, a guy who has been eviscerating eardrums since the early 90s; Incapacitants are two bankers (!!!) who occasionally take off their suits and ties and wallow in pure sonic obliteration before stupefied audiences, a duo whose act came of age in the early 90s while sharing stages with the likes of Hijokaidan, C.C.C.C., Merzbow, and Solmania, among others. To say that both acts are "loud" is like saying the ocean holds some water; the truth is that Incapacitants, along with Merzbow and Hijokaidan, are one of the standards by which all other sonic excess is measured, and Pain Jerk isn't far behind them in the audio violence sweepstakes. Recorded May 17-18, 2007 in Brooklyn, NY at the most recent No Fun Fest, this disc is approximately an hour's worth of gruesome sonic carnage at its finest. Pain Jerk's track, "Hello America (excerpt)," is 33 minutes of swirling filth that occasionally settles into harsh industrial rhythms overlaid with unpredictable bursts of wild freeform noise, but more often simply explodes in all directions with pained squeals and shrieks, with wave after wave of damaged electronics piling up with increasing density until your head begins to swim. The Incapacitants piece, "The crowd inched closer and closer" (which is preceded by some rude audience antics), is not quite so defiantly and constantly loud, but it's far more obnoxious, based more around high-pitched squealing and stuttering, chopped-up sound that builds into thick clusters of overamped sound before breaking up again. If Pain Jerk's set was the sound of the world's largest noise tornado, the Incapacitants set is more about the joy of breaking shit; it frequently sounds as if their strategy is to end when all their equipment is no longer functional. Certainly the sounds they get are akin to the sound of pure destruction, and it's a strategy that just gets more obnoxious (and more painful) as the set progresses. As an added bonus, the packaging includes a full-color booklet with liner notes about the two bands by No Fun mastermind Carlos Giffoni and Sickness member Chris Goudreau. Anybody into heavy noise would be a complete fucking fool to miss out on this, especially since releases by both bands tend to be available in this country only as expensive, obscure imports.

Pain Jerk
No Fun Productions

Planet Y -- SPACE STATION [Public Guilt]

The title does not lie; this is space rock from a most unusual source, namely the truly warped pairing of Stinking Lizaveta guitarist Yanni Papadopoulos and electronic guru Charles Cohen. On this short (under thirty minutes) but sweet live improvisation recorded at St. Mary's Church in Baltimore in November of last year, Papadopoulos plays a DG-20 Casio digital guitar while Cohen plays a Buchla Music Easel, and the results are appropriately exotic-sounding and blissfully spaced out.Cohen uses his otherworldly gadget to create happening beats and assorted sci-fi noises while Papadopoulos creates strange rhythms and interplanetary sounds with his guitar, and while the results are definitely out there a minute, the sound they achieve together is remarkably accessible -- perhaps this is the modern answer to the crowd-pleasing "Telstar" of a previous generation. Hum-driven drones, eerie Arabic guitar figures, and toe-tapping beats are a mainstay of the live action, even as these things occasionally come and go as the improvisation flows, and in an age where it seems like everything you hear sounds like something you heard somewhere else already, this is highly original-sounding work whose only real forerunner is possibly in the outer fringes of Krautrock and the more tantalizing electronic diversions of Sun Ra. Fabulous music for exploring the planets, in other words, with or without the help of pills or leaves. Limited to 500 copies and packaged in an environmentally-friendly gatefold sleeve.

Planet Y
Public Guilt

Rose Funeral -- CRUCIFY KILL ROT [Candlelight USA]

Fast-paced and relentless, with lots of stop 'n start riffing, Rose Funeral frequently sounds more like a machine than a band -- the ten songs here are mostly short, hyper-focused blasts of intense hate with lots of machine-gun riffing and tricky breakdowns. I'm not particularly enamored of the tinky snare sound, but otherwise the drumming is crushing, the guitars thick and nasty, the playing tight and focused... and the vocalist has a nice, intimidating death-grunt happening that sometimes turns into high-pitched rage, a perfect complement to the bludgeoning riffs and all-around metal angst. At times the complex drum beats and convoluted riffing borders on technical metal, but for the most part they're more about stomping your face into the dirt more than impressing you with their chops. They favor barreling along at ridiculous speeds and invoking punishing rhythms, but on "Intereo Deu" and "Dawning the Resurrection" they slow down and show some restraint along with considerable melodicism (of course, on the second of those, the melodic intro abruptly segues into crushing, fast-paced violence). This is mechanistic death metal at its most extreme and antagonistic, a festival of punishment that owes as much to the extreme end of industrial rock as it does to traditional metal.

Rose Funeral
Candlelight USA

Son of Gunnar Ton of Shel -- s/t [Edgetone Records]

The band with the amusing but unwieldy name is actually a duo of Aram Shelton (sax, bass clarinet, trumpet, electronics) and Steini Gunnarson (electronics, prepared guitar), who present here seven tracks of highly experimental duets built around simple rhythms and bizarre sheets of melody and sonic texture. Their music is largely improvised, frequently built around real-time sampler processing, and high on abstraction; the tracks are often essentially a rhythm that might be percussive guitar tapping, might be samples, might be something else entirely, over which they throw down a series of irregular electronic noises and fragments of melody. Some tracks, like "A Charming Decoy," come a bit closer to traditional-sounding improv, with a sound dominated more by wind instruments and not quite so much by fractured glitch electronica; "The Populous," though, is built around a looped rhythm that sounds very much like a brief sample of a stick bouncing off a snare, a rhythm that provides the structure to muted improv figures from the woodwinds. The prepared guitar is most prominent on "One Early Riser," with a sound that closely approximates the fast-forward sound of a damaged cd as Shelton improvises sax melodies over the increasingly thickening sheet of processed sound. The three parts of "Constitution" are related in thematic fashion by certain recurring rhythm motifs and a clustered approach to harmonic sound, but vary in their methods of execution and intent. The overall result is an aesthetic rooted in the possibilities of combining elements of subdued traditional improvisation with the new and enigmatic sounds of glitch electronica and processed sound. There's an interesting sound at work here, a sound with one foot in the past and another in the future, a distinctive sound that makes more sense the more you listen to it.

Edgetone Records

Vennt -- s/t [Divorce Records / Hear More Records / Housepig]

If you're already hep to the doomed noise of Canada's Torso, then this should be of enormous interest to you, seeing as how it's centered around Torso mainman Sandy Saunders. Joined by Jordan Hines on bass and Darcy Spidle on drums, he takes his scary passion for noise-heavy power electronics one step beyond, adding histronic vocals to the mix as the rhythm section plods along like dinosaurs defoilating a major forest. Imagine early Swans / early Godflesh with way more noise and equal parts doom and black metal, and you have an inkling of the sonic tar pit at work here. The four longish tracks on this EP are all grim, frightening excursions into hellish subterranean horror laced with evil ambient noise and hideous shrieking, made even more immense by a dark, downtuned bass sound that wouldn't be out of place on an Unsane record. It's the combination of styles that makes this so fresh-sounding (and unsettling); the closest I've heard anyone come to this distinct sound is Sword Heaven, and even then this is much darker, much closer to black metal than noise, without ever really becoming truly one style or another. Harsh, brutal, uncompromising, and bleak are all good key words here. Scary, scary stuff that's highly recommended to those in search of the ultimate in feel-bad music.

Divorce Records
Hear More Records


I know damn near nothing about this band, except for this: they're from Germany, this is their second album, the two members are also in Graupel, the album title translates to something along the lines of "view the cause of agony," and this is one of the darkest, bleakest black metal albums EVER. This album sounds like the missing link between Joy Division at its bleakest and Burzum at its most ferocious and alienated (that would be circa FILOSOFEM, if you ask me) -- in the slower moments, the guitar riffs have a feel and sound that owe an obvious debt to Bernard Sumner's catatonic tone, but when they pick up the pace, that same guitar sound mutates into the chaotic hypno-riffing that Varg the Imprisoned favored in his more vicious moments before giving up guitar entirely. Aesthetically speaking, there's plenty of Burzum worship happening here, with long, minimalist songs filled with grinding guitar dissonance and heroic synth bleating, but these guys are even more avant-garde than Varg, and while their songs share the same relentless drive of mid-period Burzum, their songs are more dynamic and prone to unexpected shifts in density and mood. They are also even more atmospheric, and greatly enamored of reverb abuse -- there's so much of it here that the guitars frequently sound like they're being dialed in from another continent, while the vocals sound like they're being shrieked from the bell-tower of a crumbling cathedral. (It doesn't hurt that they sing entirely in German, which makes them sound even more mysterious if you don't actually understand German.) One of the biggest surprises here is the absolutely enormous drum sound -- the beats are simple, yes, but very clear and very persistent. At times their sound grows so violent and dense that it borders on white noise, and while the riffs vacillate between slow and majestic to fast and cryptic, they are never anything less than excellent. Their sound is a dark and suffocating curtain of dread, sure, but it's an engaging and highly listenable dread, made all the more intriguing by careful atttention to detail and a mix that is considerably less monochromatic than the music itself. This is an album in the true spirit of what black metal started out as before it the style became popular, with a highly singular sound that has nothing to do with trends or concessions to accessibility, and should be required listening for anyone who wants to embrace the real essence of black metal.


Matt Weston -- HOLLER [7272 Music]

Solo percussionist and composer Matt Weston returns with a maxi-single of sorts, a cd with two tracks clocking in at about twelve minutes total -- a brief burst of activity, yes, but it gets the job done. "Holler" opens with crunchy, growling noise that never remains static for long -- it grows, it retreats, it flows into the droning sound of heavily-reverbed percussion, then grows crunchier and turns into an ominous, throbbing hum... and keeps shifting, cutting out abruptly and seguing into other mutations of sound, with the two major recurring themes being gritty abstract noise and snippets of percussion that are often heavily processed. There's a wide dynamic range at work in the piece, from hushed moments and outright silence to catastrophic explosions of sound and violent noise, and it's definitely designed to disorient. The second piece, "Do You Hear Me?," is longer and less enamored of cut-up antics, with a more static composition that calls less attention to itself -- a noisy (but not overly loud) motif circles back and forth endlessly, approaching ambient noise, as muted percussion and other electronic strategies appear from time to time in the background. until it ends as abruptly as it began. It's definitely not your father's freejazz -- there's more noise than actual percussion happening here -- but it's definitely an intriguing exploration of the meeting of electronic abuse and unorthodox approaches to percussion.

Matt Weston
7272 Music

Sunday, October 14, 2007

the latest post (october)

Abandoned Toys -- THE WITCH'S GARDEN [Mythical Records]

Lovely-sounding piano pieces are at the heart of this release -- some of the nine tracks are straightforward recordings of neo-classical piano playing, while others are processed into a more ambient sound and others combine the two concepts, but mainly it's about the gorgeous sound of a well-recorded piano. It sounds like a real piano, too, an upright with a full keyboard rather than a digital soundalike, and the player -- Brett Branning of the Synthetic Dream Foundation, working solo here -- knows what he's doing. More synthetic-sounding keyboards appear in the ambient pieces, where the synths are swaddled in enormous amounts of reverb and allowed to drone, which make a nice counterpart to the more traditional-sounding tracks. There are no vocals (or other instruments, for that matter) and the sound throughout is sparse and uncomplicated, wisely leaving plenty of room for the majestic piano sound to shine through, even when the sonic edges are blurred by muted noise frippery or ambient washes. The more purely ambient tracks are darker and more drone-oriented, but still relatively subdued, and even at their most ominous, hardly likely to be mistaken for gothic music. The beautiful and melancholy sound of this disc gives it a feel much different from anything else happening right now, especially in an era when it seems like the piano is almost a forgotten instrument.

Abandoned Toys
Mythical Records

Aluk Todolo -- DESCENSION [Public Guilt]

The band's debut single, released last year (or was it early this year? I forget -- it was a while ago, at any rate) by Public Guilt's vinyl-only imprint Implied Sound, met with a highly favorable reception (as well it should have, since prog-influenced occult black metal bands that are actually good don't exactly grow on trees), but that single's hypnotic sound was only a small foretaste of the madness that springs forth in full bloom on this, the band's first full-length release. Combining ritual music, occult theology, black metal, early industrial stylings, noise, and willfully bent prog-rock, what emerges here across four long, hypnotic tracks is seriously strange stuff. This is what they really mean by psychedelic music -- strange, alien, exercises in occult hypnotism designed to open up your third eye and fill it with tripped-out scenes from the black metal dreamhouse. Simple but mesmerizing beats construct the foundation over which they lay equal measures of industrial clatter, obscure noises, pure unalloyed dissonance, and an ever-evolving palette of textures that encompass everything from trebly processed faux-keyboard stylings to pure screeching noise. Cold, alien and otherworldly like the best black metal, but far more avant garde and heavily influenced by psychedelic music and Krautrock, this sounds like the musical application of ideas fostered by the likes of Aleister Crowley and Austin Osmond Spare -- in other words, ritual music for the practice of chaos magick. You don't have to be steeped in occultism to appreciate this as an engaging work of art, though; their musicial vision is strong (and original) enough to stand apart from the theological implications of their work. Mystical and revelatory, but not exactly for the faint of heart or those hoping for shiny happy poptunes.

Public Guilt
Aluk Todolo


Inspired by the documentary Paragraph 175, a film about the Nazi persecution of homosexuals in World War II Germany, this disc consists of six tracks of gritty, lo-fi power electronics with titles referring to the film ("Some Vowed Abstinence," "At First We Didn't Believe It," "Paragraph 175," etc.). Befitting such a grim subject, the noise here is primarily harsh and nightmarish, dominated by crunchy harsh noise, reverb-laden machine rhythms, and the occasional relevant sound bite (taken, I would assume, from the film, although I could be wrong about that). Repetitive electronic sounds float through a void of ambient noise at other times, and there is an early industrial feel to much of the material; droning noise bleeds into the processed sound of machinery as the intensity of sound ebbs and flows. The sounds are cold and alienated, and the effect of the album as a whole is to serve as the brooding, paranoid soundtrack to a long and terrifying nightmare. It's hardly easy listening by any stretch of the imagination -- although it's nowhere near as violently harsh and unrelenting as the description might suggest, either -- but even without the context of the subject matter, the album's sound is disturbing and visceral enough to stand on its own. Strong stuff with an advanced understanding of the science of noise (this is from a former member of Imperial Floral Assault Unit, after all), but definitely not for the easily-perturbed.

Edgetone Records

Alvin Curran / Cenk Ergun -- THE ART OF THE FLUKE [Tear Records]

The two artists at work here, both with impressive resumes and plenty of experience with various forms of sound media, have approached this recording with John Cage's concept of the happy accident in mind; using software samplers and an endless repository of conflicting sound samples (instruments, electronic noise, animal sounds, field recordings, overheard conversations, and pretty much anything they ever managed to stumble across with the sampler running), the two players have accumulated a largely random bedrock of audio tracks that they have then allowed to flow into and around each other, creating accidental juxtapositions and audio coincidences, creating a new and unexpected third river of sound. The one constant among the eight tracks on this album is that nothing is constant; captured and processed sounds flow and evolve at unpredictable intervals, with fragments of audio switching from one sound bite to the next in irregular rhythms, growing and fading in density, as different textures play out against each other in near-random fashion. It would be interesting to know how much planning (if any) went into the construction of the separate audio tracks that were then laid together; the liner notes offer no hint in that regard, not that knowing one way or the other is necessary to appreciating the layering of sound in a manner that John Cage would have undoubtedly found reassuring. Their approach creates a new order through the random neuron-firing of disparate sounds, much of it glitch electronica and chopped-up field recordings, and as the abstract painting on the cover suggests, the entire point is to create new sonic landscapes from unrelated layers of textured noise. The chance nature of sound waits to unfold for those who are willing to sit back and let it happen.

Alvin Curran
Cenk Ergun
Tear Records

Dagger Brothers -- PEACH DENIM [Void of Ovals]

What we have here are ten tracks of bouncy electromuzak that owes as much to jungle and synth experimentation as to traditional techno. Supremely upbeat and filled with squiggly synth noises, this is bedroom dance rock from a harmonizing duo with peculiar lyrical fixations (Spiderman and "muscle mania" are among the varied themes they cover) and a tendency toward extremely short songs -- most of the tracks are no more than two minutes long, just long enough to get your groove on but not long enough to burn out (a common problem with more traditional techno albums, where the thumping beat starts to get old in a hurry if you're not in a club zoning on X with plenty of bouncing boobies to keep you conveniently entertained). It's all quirky stuff, approaching the level of being an inside joke, but the catchy beats and hypnotic squiggle-synth movements are no laughing matter. Throw in odd snippets of conversation and asides, at times deliberately ridiculous efx processing, and a general inclination to keep things light and catchy, and what you have is a short but highly entertaining listening experience. Actual liner notes would have been nice, though....

Dagger Brothers
Void of Ovals

The Devil Bat -- LINGERS LIKE A GHOST [Sister Skull Records]

They're not prolific, but their infrequent releases are always worth the wait. The latest one, produced by Gretchen Phillips (formerly of Two Nice Girls, now leading the Gretchen Phillips Experience), successfully captures the latest stage of their gradual transformation from a hazy, freewheeling proto-psych unit (there's a reason they cover the Sun City Girls live, you know) into a tight and focused band drawing equally and freely from psych, rock, country, and folk traditions. The five songs on this EP are rooted mainly in a bright, uptempo country-rock sound that's occasionally leavened with other, more unorthodox elements (like the noisy acid-drenched leads and noise-laden ending in the title track and the fuzzy lead guitar in the traditional ballad "Cruel and Thin"), although the final track, "Standing at the Edge of Daybreak," does rock a fair bit harder than the rest (not that it's likely to be mistaken for heavy metal). Main vocalist Leeann Cameron (who comes across like a southern hippie version of Laura Nyro, perhaps) continues to be one of the major attractions of the band's sound, and the sharpened focus this time around on more traditional song structures and often amazing lead guitar is a welcome development. Swell, swell stuff, and the only drawback is that there's not enough of it.

The Devil Bat

Eloine -- GREEN STUMP [Public Eyesore]

More solo meandering from Brian Day, this time in five (actually six, including an unlisted track) different compositions. "10-key travelogue" features the use of multiple pianos, one playing a figure that repeats while the other plays a considerably more improvisational solo of sorts; along the way ethereal noises rumble and float by, possibly more piano sounds, possibly something else. With "silent hula," Day returns to more familiar ground -- obscure noises, bell tones, subdued guitar plinking, and a hissing bedrock ambient sound are the hallmarks of a sparse and improvised piece of an experimental nature; " a fast weepy" is similar in nature, albeit festooned with more percussive sounds and actual guitar figures from time to time in addition to the experimental sonic effluvia. There's a rhythm at work in "lda is celluloid, ldy" that sound suspiciously like he's slapping his acoustic guitar at the same time he's playing some kind of whistle; a flute and mouth harp make appearances as well, lending the piece a quiet, pastoral feel despite the boxlike rhythm sound. Processed and near-ambient noise, low in volume but high in hissing texture, forms the bedrock of "zinc cross," over which barely audible playing and what might be a metallic triangle can barely be heard; the noise is distant but persistent, and just loud enough to almost drown out what else is happening in the track. The unlisted final track, by contrast, sounds like it might well be a remix of that one with the noise turned down so the plinking guitar and flute can actually be heard, along with muffled voices that might be a conversation, might be spoken lyrics -- who knows? Cryptic and unassuming, the overall feel is that of loosely improvised folk music overlaid with experimental textures -- restrained and mostly gentle, but still laced with an air of unpredictability.

Public Eyesore

Enthroned -- TETRA KARCIST [Napalm Records]

Enthroned has been around since 1994, and their devotion to the old-school aesthetic is obvious on this, their latest release -- aside from various theatrical flourishes here and there (a pretty and almost gothic guitar intro on "Deviant Nerve Angelus," the ominous keyboards that open "Ingressus Regnum Spiritus," the rumbling thunder and ghostly voices at the beginning of "The Seven Ensigns of Creation," and so on), the music is pretty much straightforward fast-packed blackened death with obvious roots in early thrash. They favor majestic-sounding chords at times, but mostly they blaze with speed and ferocity in the vein of Marduk and Emperor, driven mainly by intense and busy drumming and wasplike guitars. At times their energy level is nothing short of blinding, and even in the slow parts they maintain a consistent level of dark, brutal heaviness that should please fans of all that is rabidly unforgiving about the more warlike wing of black metal.

Napalm Records

Fire in the Head -- YOU TOO SHALL BURN [Nil By Mouth]

The four tracks on this 3" mini-disc cdr are short and scary noise meditations on the subject of terrorism, and as such, they're appropriately harsh and terrifying, filled with primitive electronics, grinding industrial noise, and lots of shrieking, especially on the first track, "Fallen Prey (Fall and Pray)." The industrial death drone of "In His Garden" more brooding and less overtly violent, but still filled with dread and the sense that everything could explode at any moment without warning. "Stolen Thoughts" is considerably more violent, filled with buzzing electronic drone, loud and chaotic junk noise, and harsh processed vocals reminiscent of CON-DOM or Sutcliffe Jugend, and the final track, "Hurry My Children," is driven by a gigantic cyclotron drone and more harsh buzzing, along with a strident sound bite of some unspecified militant (or is it?) giving a call to arms. Not exactly what you'd call easy listening, which just means it's vintage Fire in the Head. Compelling stuff that should be of interest to devotees of politically-inclined power electronics.

Fire in the Head
Nil By Mouth

The Fucking Wrath -- SEASON OF EVIL [Goodfellow Records]

This sounds like the next evolution of stoner rock as filtered through the crustier sounds of bands like Weedeater and Buzzoven -- it's not as brutal and monolithic as those bands by any stretch of the imagination, but it's certainly closer to thrash / punk than the average stoner band, while still retaining an obvious link to the 70s-era bands worshipped by most stoner rock bands (especially Black Sabbath, the once and eternal God of Stoner Rock). Much of the album sounds like 70s hard rock set on fast-forward and fronted by a singer who barks more than sings, with riffs that owe as much to early Metallica as to anything dreamed up by long-haired heshers in bell-bottom jeans back when Mark Farner was still a heathen. There are moments when it becomes obvious that they must have grown up with a lot of the same records as the guys in Baroness (the three members are all record-store employees, which probably has a lot to do with the band's eclectic sound), but this is nowhere near the realm of prog-rock, although it is at times every bit as fast and convoluted as anything off the latest Baroness album. Many of the songs embrace a serious lust for frenzied speed and streaming Eurocentric leads that wouldn't have been out of place on a European metal disc, but this is equally balanced by a penchant for chunky guitar sound and, again, a deep rooting in riffs and structures that recall American hard rock of the 70s. All of these elements are sandblasted into oblivion by their enormous energy and the singer's hoarse bellow, and while they prefer barreling along at breakneck speed most of the time, they sound heaviest when then slow down and beat heavy riffs through your skull. People looking for a middle ground between the ornate artiness of Baroness and the wrenching, minimalistic heaviness of Buzzoven should check out this band. It helps to be fond of blurry, nearly out of control lead playing, too.

The Fucking Wrath
Goodfellow Records

Glorior Belli -- MANIFESTING THE RAGING BEAST [Southern Lord]

France seems to be the latest hotbed of filth-encrusted, old-school melodic black metal, and Glorior Belli -- appearing here with their second full-length album (and first for Southern Lord) -- are very much in that vein. Alternately mid-tempo and possessed by speed, the two constants to their sound are a profound belief in dissonant guitar and an equal reverence for heightened melodicism. The songs are dark and bleak, filled with energetic menace even during the slower parts, and anchored by solid drumming; they're also prone to abrupt shifts in tempo and subtle but effective parts inserted in selected moments to counter the tendency toward minimalistic simplicity inherent in old-school black metal. Their guitar sound often recalls mid-period Burzum, always a good thing in my book. There's nothing particularly new or innovative happening here, but the rhythm section brings a furious level of energy to the table, and the combination of barbed-wire guitar dissonance, chromatic melodicism, and excellent drumming creates a highly appealing maelstrom of misanthropic sonic violence. They're not as deeply weird or overtly occult as many of the other French black metal bands -- in fact, without knowing about where they're from, you could easily believe they were from Sweden or Norway -- and regardless of how fast they play (and there some blurry moments indeed), they remain tight as a unit and supremely focused. Dark, intense stuff that should go over well live. Bonus points for the shit-hot melodic lead guitar that closes out the final track on the album.

Glorior Belli
Southern Lord

Goalkeeper Wanted -- MOUTHFUL OF CHERRIES [Void of Ovals]

What this disc offers is one fifteen-minute track of perverted electronica and near-random noises over a trundling beat and cymbal crashes; it's not quite chaotic enough to be noise, but so disjointed and possessed by randomness as to be nearly unclassifiable as anything else. Perhaps it's a loose interpretation of free jazz leavened with electronic moments; there's certainly enough improvised drum clatter to nudge it in that direction, even with everything else floating in and out of the mix with wanton abandon. The sounds that come and go are interesting, though -- hollowed-out drones, brief keyboard snippets, and other strange stuff, all floating over tenuous rhythms from what sounds like a fairly minimal drum kit. It's a particularly opaque and cryptic approach to experimental sound, but one worth hearing, especially since at fifteen minutes it's hardly likely to wear out the listener. Those intrigued by the (admittedly vague) description would be well advised to check out the Myspace page listed below for sound samples.

Goalkeeper Wanted
Void of Ovals

Hardingrock -- GRIMEN [Candlelight USA]

This is an interesting experiment of sorts, taking three distinctly different performers (Ihsahn of Emperor, Heidi Tveitan of Star to Ash, and Norwegian fiddler Knut Bren) from three disparate genres (black metal, electronica, and folk music) and putting them together to create something new and different. The result is an intriguing mix of metal, classical-themed electronica, and folk music filled with highly listenable melodies and (at times) rock rhythms bridged by a relatively constant layer of electronica. Obviously Ihsahn is the main draw here for most listeners, but oddly enough, he may be the least necessary element here, despite his consistently reliable vocal delivery; the exotic-sounding interplay between the other two is sufficiently intriguing to stand on its own, even without Ihsahn's vocal and guitar contributions. Having him there, though, just makes it all the better, even inspired at times. It's clear that they approached this album with the intention of truly integrating the different styles into something unique, as opposed to just going primarily in one direction and attaching elements of the other styles on top as window dressing; this is seriously different, unusual-sounding work, possibly even the harbinger of a new and distinct genre of folk / electronic metal. Exotic, yes, but far more accessible than you might think from the description, and consistently full of surprises -- fans of folk-tinged metal or the more avant wing of black metal will find this of great interest.

Candlelight USA

Jazkamer & Smegma -- ENDLESS COAST [No Fun Productions]

Now this is a real meeting of minds, recorded at Smegma's home studio in Portland during the Jazkamer / Carlos Giffoni tour in the fall of 2006, with Giffoni guesting on bass and synth. Putting psychedelic noise pioneers Smegma in the same room with Norwegian noise / metal monsters Jazkamer and turning on the mikes is pretty much guaranteed to elicit interesting results, and the five long tracks here are long on bizarre, perverse sounds and short on sanity. The five pieces here are not so much songs as they are extended treatises on the accumulation of noise-laden sounds, with plenty of humming and buzzing, wooshing and plooshing, squeaking and creaking, and a tendency toward gleeful efx abuse; much of what's here sounds like possessed machines coming randomly to life and erupting in the kind of noises consistent with random electrical surges, and what passes for "musical" passages are generally caked in distortion, fuzz, and peculiar efx, and have a tendency to come and go without warning. Randomness and a sense of unpredictability are the main constants here, along with harsh noises and buzzes, plus the occasional snippet of devolved vocal processing. While not as outright harsh as some of the more mind-melting Jazkamer material or as flagrantly otherworldly as some of Smegma's output, there's definitely a sense of interplay between the sensibilities of the two outfits, and the result is sort of a studied compulsion toward deliberate incoherence in the search for stranger and more mutant sounds... but there's still just enough thought and deliberation behind the creation of those sounds and the collapsing snippets of near-music to keep it from degenerating into complete mindless chaos. Those obsessed with linear structure and "meaning" will probably want to look elsewhere, though; this is strictly for the followers of chaos and lovers of extreme sound manipulation. Sonic confusion, anyone?

No Fun Productions

Killick -- BULL**** [Solponticello Records]

Killick is one guy recording with a 38-string harp guitar (he calls it Big Red), and if that weren't peculiar enough, the guitar in question is constructed of paper-mache with a fretless fingerboard on the lower end and conventional fretting from the 7th fret upward, and has a zither-like treble section and resonating sympathetic strings. Not surprisingly, it sounds nothing like a traditional guitar, and the twelve tracks here sound nothing like traditional solo guitar tracks. (Just to go one step beyond, Killick recorded the album himself using solar electricity.) This sounds like something you would expect to hear on Public Eyesore -- vaguely metal-influenced freejazz delivered in a pleeking, plooking stream of notes in wildly different variants of timbre and feel, like a series of whacked-out experimental metal guitar solos recorded on the most unmetal instruments around. Imagine someone playing three or four totally different stringed instruments, then taking a recording of those notes and splicing them together in near-random order -- that's what this sounds like, despite it coming from the hands of one guy with one guitar. It's bizarre stuff, no question, but oddly compelling in a really deviant sort of way, and if you're looking for something that's really, truly DIFFERENT, this is definitely it. It doesn't hurt that he's really good, although the highly unorthodox sound may be hard for some people to grok on the first pass (and maybe ever).

Solponticello Records

Moe! Staiano's Moe!kestra! -- 2 ROOMS OF URANIUM IN 83 MARKERS [Edgetone Records]

This album is actually two live performances (both recorded at different times at the Oakland Box Theater in Oakland, CA) with two different ensembles and two totally different methodologies. The first track is the first piece, "Piece No. 6: Depleted Uranium," featuring an ensemble musicians, part of a benefit show calling public attention to the problem of depleted uranium weaponry being used by the military in Afghanistan and Iraq; that piece is a standard improvisational affair, with Moe conducting an ensemble including guitars, bass, violin, cello, contrabass, drums, and voice. The other five tracks on the disc are from "Conducted Improvisation Piece No. 11: Two Orchestras in Separate Rooms," which is exactly what the title implies -- recordings of two orchestras playing simultaneous in two rooms connected by a short hallway, with Moe conducting both by running back and forth. (On the disc, the two rooms are separated in the left and right channels, making it possible to listen to either one separately by dialing the balance knob far right or left, or to hear both at once with the balance centered.) It's a bizarre concept with bizarre results, as sounds from one orchestra spill over into the other, creating unexpected connections and a stream of sound that embraces chaotic opposites at some points and startling levels of convergence at others. Like most improvisational music, there's a certain left of discordance and chaos, but -- perhaps because chaos theory posits that opposing forces of chaos create their own semblance of order -- the combination of the sound coming from both rooms frequently leads to a harmonic convergence of sorts that sets this composition apart from most improvisational scores. Both ensembles are considerably more rhythmically engaging than a lot of free-jazz improv, resulting in a core of order at the center of the swirling chaos. You don't have to care about the politics of the pieces (it may be better if you don't, actually) to appreciate the complexity of sound and the assured competence of Moe's conducting, and the recording quality is much better than you might expect for a live venue. Excellent listening for the improv fiend.

Moe! Staiano
Edgetone Records

Monarch -- DEAD MEN TELL NO TALES [Crucial Blast]

This double-disc helping of lumbering, monolithic slowness consists of two full albums by French masters of doom Monarch, both previously available only on vinyl as obscure imports. And when I say slow, I mean s... l... o... w.... -- over the course of two full-length albums, the band manages to play a whopping total of five songs, all of them at a pace best described as glacial. They favor lots of space between their feedback-drenched chords, they do, and they take a long time to get wherever it is they're going, and once they're finally there, singer Emilie shrieks like the dead sister of that creeped-out dude in Khanate, so they're kind of an acquired taste, dig? It takes an enormous amount of patience to listen to a band like this, but if you're into it, they deliver thick, punishing chunks of scary heaviness like few bands ever have or ever will. Since the demise of Khanate, they are probably the best slow-motion doom band that isn't Corrupted, and in terms of glacial pacing and pure intensity, they're only a couple of baby steps behind Japan's finest purveyors of all that is morose. The first disc, SPEAK OF THE SEA, contains three long songs; the second disc, DIE TONIGHT, has two; all five songs are beyond heaviness and well into the territory of being as subtle as having an elephant fall on you. And yes, the artwork is (again) Sanrio-influenced, all the better to fool the uninitiated. If you're into slow-motion, lava-like doom, then you don't even begin to know how badly you need this, especially since the original LPs are damn near impossible to find. Be grateful that Crucial Blast had the good sense to make these albums available in one affordable domestic package; I certainly know I am.

Crucial Blast

Moonspell -- UNDER SATANAE [Steamhammer / SPV]

Much like the Sodom release reviewed elsewhere in this post, this album is a repackaging of the Portuguese band's earlier material -- their initial 1994 EP (UNDER THE MOONSPELL), the ANNO SATANA demo, and the band's first song ever, "Serpent Angel," with re-recordings of the original material. I have no idea how the original songs sounded, but the recording here is stellar, which is good, because the band's forte is in complex, progressive metal that borders on the avant garde, and I'd hate to imagine such texture-laden work being buried in a pile of sonic mung thanks to low-budget recording. The EP tracks are highly atmospheric and keyboard-laden, owing as much to folk music as to black metal, but still laced with plenty of razor-slashing guitar and energetic drumming; the ANNO SATANA songs (three of them) are equally atmospheric but a bit simpler and more direct (and as with the EP tracks, re-recorded for new, improved fidelity), not that they're likely to be mistaken for anything resembling lo-fi, primitive black metal like early Bathory. The final track is the band's first recorded song (re-recorded here), "Serpent Angel," from the demo of the same name that was recorded in 1992 when they were still going by the name Morbid God. Not surprisingly, it resembles the sound of the ANNO SATANA tracks more so than anything from the EP. From the song quality to the stellar execution of all the material here, it's not hard to see how the band rapidly became one of the biggest metal bands in Portugal. Up until now their early releases were pretty obscure, but this should hopefully alleviate that problem; certainly it's music that deserves to be heard by more people.



You may well wonder if the world really needs yet another live Motorhead album -- this is at least their fourth official live album, and that doesn't even include the steady avalanche of quasi-legit and outright bootleg live releases -- but they're MOTORHEAD, so it's not like they were going to ask anybody's permission to put out another one, right? I suspect that if Lemmy had his way, the band would release nothing but live albums, so just be glad the band has shown this much restraint.... So that begs the question: How badly does the devoted but broke Motorhead fan need this one? To answer that question, it may be helpful to keep in mind that this is the second one to document the current (and longest-lasting) three-piece lineup, and is essentially a bookend of sorts to their previous live disc, EVERYTHING LOUDER THAN EVERYONE ELSE; like that one, this is also a double-disc affair, recorded (like their classic first live album, NO SLEEP 'TIL HAMMERSMITH) at the Hammersmith Odeon in London on the occasion of their thirtieth anniversary. There's very little duplication between this set and the last live one, and this is one of their most varied live sets ever, covering material from the early, middle, and recent periods of their career; they even throw in obscure tracks like "Over the Top" and ""Just 'Cos You Got the Power" (one of their best songs ever, and one that never appeared on an official album), two tracks from the unfairly maligned ANOTHER PERFECT DAY ("I Got Mine" and the eternally ominous "Dancing on Your Grave"), and even dare to stun the crowd with the old-school "Whorehouse Blues" before closing with the inevitable run on the early classics "Bomber," "Ace of Spades," and "Overkill." It's difficult, to put it mildly, to assemble a crowd-pleasing mix of tunes when your career spans three decades and a ridiculous number of albums, but the 23 tracks on both discs do an admirable job of covering all the bases as well as anyone can reasonably expect. More importantly, the band is in fine form, burning from start to finish with aggressive panache and a sound that's both surprisingly clear and very, very direct (not to mention raw and loud). It may or may not be their "definitive" live statement -- it's still awfully hard to beat their first live album, which remains one of the greatest live albums ever made -- but it's certainly worth hearing.


Mouthus -- SAW A HALO [Load Records]

For a band with such an extensive catalog, it's kind of scary to consider that this is the duo's first studio recording. Nate Nelson (Religious Knives, Afternoon Penis) and Brian Sullivan (Eskimo King, White Rock) change tactics a bit for their studio outing; whereas much of their earlier material was all about sludge and noise and the inevitable lo-fi sound of live recording, this one brings a cleaner sound to the more restrained moments, such as the hypnotic chanting and neo-folkisms of "Your Far Church"... but that quickly mutates into the fried-amp chaos of "Armies Between," where screeching, buzzing guitar and a military drum beat devolve into sonic anarchy. "The Driftless" is even more obnoxious, exploding into existence with overdriven oscillator sounds and twitching wildly throughout like a electric eel thrashing in the studio, with fuzzy bombed-out bass creep and ghostlike guitar howling providing a minimal "structure" that sounds in danger of dissolving into oblivion at any given moment. Equally strange sounds abound in "Century of Divides," which is a bit less strident and considerably more rhythmic, filled with what might be the sound of skipping cds fed through lots of reverb and processed xylophones, and "Beaches Sleep Here" offers a different take on the same concept of processed and looped sounds as a rhythmic device. A jaunty rhythm and screechy sounds that rise and fall with the beat are the foundation of "Wave Through," which eventually goes on to include all sorts of sonic bedevilment, including wailing and chanting, even as the rhythmic pulse remains constant, at least until the end, when the rhythm is processed to sound like something emanating from a damaged car radio; this segues into the final track, "The Gift of Sighs," where a shaker rhythm and a piano-like guitar figure are eventually joined by a more traditional (sort of) beat and a winding, squealing, stuck-pig guitar sound that's simultaneously disturbing and amusing. Needless to say, the clarity of an actual studio recording does very little to reduce the band's innate weirdness, and listeners captivated by the band's earlier works will like this one as well.

Load Records

Noertker's Moxie -- SKETCHES OF CATALONIA, VOL. 2: SUITE FOR MIRO [Edgetone Records]

Inspired by the work of Catalonia native Joan Miro, this disc is the second in a trilogy of discs offering homage to various Catalonia legends (the first lauded the work of Salvador Dali; the forthcoming one is based on the life of Antoni Gaudi). Led by composer and contrabass player Bill Noertker, the ensemble at work here includes Annelise Zamula on tenor sax and flute, Jason Levis on drums, Jenny Maybee on piano, Jim Peterson on alto / baritone sax and flute, Niels Mymer on drums, Yehudit on 5-string electric violn, and Hugh Schnick on trumpet. For such a large ensemble, the pieces are surprisingly airy and sparse; then again, the eight pieces here rarely feature more than a few players at a time, and even when the ensemble is large, the players all give each other plenty of room to move. This is cool jazz with a hint of swing, and while they're definitely in the avant garde tradition, their approach is understated enough and sufficiently rooted in traditional structures to be accessible to listeners who would normally have nothing to do with the avant garde. The standout track is "Dona del Cantir," a haunting and beautiful slow ballad that straddles the line between traditional jazz and soundtrack music, and while some of the other tracks are more upbeat, for the most part this is quiet, reflective music heavy on the woodwinds. The piano playing is frequently a highlight of the ensemble's sound, particularly on the closing track "Catalan Peasant in the Moonlight." Is this the jazz equivalent of chill-out music? I think it just might be.

Noertker's Moxie
Edgetone Records

Om -- PILGRIMAGE [Southern Lord]

The hype surrounding Om's latest release has been so intense that there's no way the band or the album can live up to it, and some will doubtless be disappointed that it's not some quantum leap forward in style or intent. Those people might do well to remember, however, that Om's entire existence is based around the concept of progression as measured in minute increments, and this album is no exception to that mantra. The album was recorded at Electrical Audio under the guidance of Steve Albini, so there's an enhanced level of sonic detail this time around, one at times comparable to the sound of the Slint classic SPIDERLAND (which everyone associates with Albini, despite the fact that he actually recorded the band's previous album, not that one). The biggest difference between this album and previous ones is that bassist Al Cisneros is considerably more enamored of efx boxes this time around, especially on "Unitive Knowledge of the Godhead" (the closest thing to an actual "metal" song here, and the one that most obviously acknowledges the existence of their legendary former band, Sleep). "Pilgrimage," the ten-minute opening track, is far more low-key, interested less in heaviness than the flow of minimalist riffs and trance-inducing repetition; "Bhima's Theme," despite the presence of some super-growly bass tones, is less about rocking out than allowing Cisneros to turn simple but effective riffs inside out in nearly imperceptible ways over a steady beat whose improvisation appears mainly in the fills. The album ends with a reprise of the opening track (although at under five minutes, this version is far shorter) that revisits the hypnotic bassline and subtle drumming that began the album and pushes that sound in a moderately different direction, acting simultaneously as a variation on a theme and a reaffirmation of the album's beginning vision. Despite being on Southern Lord, this is not a metal album (even if there are some loud moments); it frankly has more in common with minimalists like Steve Reich, Angus MacLise, and LaMonte Young than anything on Southern Lord's roster. It may not meet the expectations of those dazzled by the hype and the Southern Lord / Albini association, but don't be fooled -- this is highly worth your listening time, and an excellent addition to the band's growing minimalist canon.

Southern Lord

Points of Friction -- AFTERLIFE DNA FINGER-PAINTING [Melon Expander]

It should tell you something -- a lot, actually -- that this band was initially formed in 1981 when the founding members met at a Captain Beefheart & His Magic Band performance in Hollywood. There's plenty of the good Captain's influence at work on this, the band's first release since reforming in 2004 after a twenty-year hiatus. A brief listing of the instruments involved should import some of the album's flavor: zither, sitar, egg beater, hand tools, contact microphones, vintage synths, arcane electronics, tape loops, and turntable (using ethnic music LPs), and the thumb piano. The album opens and closes with lengthy tracks (over nine minutes for the first, over fifteen minutes for the last), sandwiching three tracks of a more conventional length (between three and six minutes) in between them. The tracks themselves are less "music" than exotic sound collages incorporating a wide variety of textures and strategies, revealing a highly tactile approach to the collection and deployment of sounds. Sounds not normally found in nature collide with natural sounds blown up to a state of meaninglessness by the use of contact mikes, pieces of conversation wind in and out between looped snippets of fractured music, rumbling noises compete with disparate fragments of sound... and yet there is a sense of order in the chaos, a hidden realm of structure in which the flow of sound is not so much dictated and arranged, but rather, begun and allowed to evolve. It's not an ambient album (although there are ambient moments here and there), but Eno -- he of the Oblique Strategies -- would approve of this, I suspect. The sounds curated here are unusual enough, and their juxtaposition surreal enough, to render this one of the more accomplished sound collages you're likely to hear anytime soon. Bonus points for the surreal and mildly disturbing cover art (and the packaging design in general, which makes effective use of unusual photographs of common objects).

Points of Friction
Melon Expander

Same-Sex Dictator -- s/t [self-released]

Hailing from Portland and including members of Tundra, Buried in the Desert, and Golden Hour, the guys of Same-Sex Dictator have absorbed the lessons gleaned from spending way too many hours listening to the likes of Birthday Party, Jesus Lizard, DOA, Neurosis, Don Caballero, and Lightning Bolt and have assimilated all of those influences (and probably more) into a charging post-rock, avant-hardcore blur of sound that sounds like it might have been recorded live (either that, or the band favors recording as a live unit). Deliberately raw and angry, with lyrics encompassing politics, personal strife, and a general tendency toward misanthropic loathing, the band frequently sounds like a hardcore band weaned more on PIL and art-rock than other hardcore bands -- they have all the drive and aggression of hardcore or metal, but then they digress into artier, eccentric moments. When they rock, though, they rock hard, and favor frantic drumming married to ornate and atypical riffs, sort of like a perverse combination of Killing Joke, Bauhaus, and Don Caballero; if they were more consciously metal they'd be inviting comparisons to Baroness and Neurosis, but as it is, they lean more toward chaotic, art-laden post-rock than anything. Whatever they are, the six songs here are compelling and interesting, and heavy enough to appeal to metalheads while retaining much that will appeal to post-rock listeners who don't care about metal at all. Their wide-ranging sound makes them hard to pigeonhole, a point in their favor, and their massive chops make such issues moot anyway.

Same-Sex Dictator

Sightings -- THROUGH THE PANAMA [Load Records]

Andrew W.K. for a producer? The band must be moving up in the world. Their sixth release finds them the closest they've ever been to a "rock" band, which is not to say that you're likely to find any of the ten songs here clogging up rock radio airwaves anytime soon. Keep in mind that their idea of "rock" is perfectly encapsulated by the idea of covering a Scott Walker tune ("Electrician," actually from the last Walker Brothers album, before Scott went solo); even in the time-honored act of covering other musicians they manage to be obscure. (I have no idea what the original sounds like, but their cover is one of the highlights of the album, propelled by a high-pitched, wailing cyclotron guitar and a song structure so loose that it borders on being nonexistent before turning into something akin to the Beatles on serious downers.) Most of the songs at least approximate what might pass for traditional song structures, if they weren't built out of completely fractured sounds, recorded in a highly unconventional manner, and about subjects so cryptic as to be wildly open to interpretation. The songs on here, in fact, have a tendency to sound like they're being pulled apart or fed through some kind of satanic stuttering device -- this is the sound of pop music being willfully disassembled on the fly, complete with grotesque noises substituting for melodies and rhythms built from sound sources encrusted in filthy efx. There's plenty of droning noises (and noise in general) to keep the pop-rock impulses from becoming too shiny, and their inclination toward sonic perversity should do wonders in keeping them from being embraced by wannabe hipsters drawn to them solely due to their association with Thurston Moore's label Ecstatic Peace (who are releasing the album on vinyl as a double-gatefold set).

Load Records

Sky Burial -- IV: OF DHARMA AND DROWNING [Silken Tofu]

For my money, Sky Burial -- the drone-o-rific offshoot of the more traditionally noisy Fire in the Head -- is one of the best pure-drone outfits happening these days. This time the drone comes in the form of freezing wind, wailing like the voices of ghosts, and the shuddering sound of steel cables vibrating in slow motion. The format this time is a three-inch cdr that comes in a mini-disc case with amazing artwork, and there's just one long track that clocks in at just under eighteen minutes, a track whose mysterious sounds evoke the feel of restless spirits wandering through a forgotten forest whose trees have been stripped bare by time and the elements. This is deep ambient drone at its most mysterious, ritual music rendered diffuse and amorphous, and far more emotionally engaging than you might expect for something so removed from traditional music. If you're down with the healing power of drone, then you need this, and you need it bad. Limited to 100 copies, so you might want to shake a leg if you intend to snag one for yourself.

Sky Burial
Silken Tofu


The whole current metal nostalgia trend -- bands playing live sets of classic albums, re-recording classic albums, reissuing classic albums in new packaging or with bonus tracks, etc., etc. -- makes me kind of nervous, because that's generally a sign that metal's idea barrel has run dry (again). If there was ever an album in dire need of updating, though, it's the first EP by German thrash masters Sodom. The original EP, IN THE SIGN OF EVIL, was released in 1984 and is an important touchstone for both thrash and black metal, laying down a template for blurry guitar brutality and raw, festering evil that would inspire countless future bands, especially in the black metal arena. Unfortunately, between the band's youth and inexperience, a rushed and low-budget production, and the original label's decision to leave off seven other scheduled tracks that would have turned the EP into a full album, the resulting EP was kind of a severely lo-fi mess. This version of the album -- re-recorded with considerably better playing and fidelity by the same lineup on the original EP -- is a huge improvement over the original version in every way imaginable, right down to the new cover art. For the first time, it's possible to hear what the band was actually doing on the original songs, and the songs that were left off are every bit as good as the more famliar tracks, and musically consistent as well; the reconstituted band has successfully resisted the urge to modernize the tracks, and the full-length album finally appears in the form the band intended back in 1984. One thing the improved fidelity makes clear is that for a band often maligned as nothing more than a Venom clone, their sound owes an awful lot to Slayer. (Then again, pretty much every black metal band post-1983 is heavily indebted to either Slayer or Celtic Frost, so maybe that's not so surprising.) Anybody who ever liked the original EP but wished it had been recorded under better circumstances needs to hear this.


To Blacken the Pages -- THE URGENCY [Colony Records]

Lots of bands get compared to Skullflower; few of them really deserve it. This is one of the few that does. Based in Dublin, Ireland, the "band" is actually the work of artist and curator Paul McAree, whose background as a visual artist gives him an eye for detail that carries over into his sonic architecture on this disc, the band's debut. The disc is one long track (approximately 47 minutes) that opens quietly with droning processed guitar stuck in repeat-and-fade mode as howling bowed guitar rises and falls around the ping-pong noises; over time, the work grows noisier and more chaotic, with heavily-reverbed guitars taking on an enormous heft as the sound grows more cosmic and interstellar. The piece takes its time in unfolding, but gradually grows in density, eventually coming to resemble something akin to the drifting celestial sound of mid-period Skullflower (think CARVED INTO ROSES with a more cathedral-like tone and heavier reliance on efx processing). About midway through, the sound takes on a muted noise-drone more in keeping with the sound of OBSIDIAN SHAKING CODEX, all splintered noises being sucked into a vacuum like a whirling hall of knives funneling down an endless drain, a sound that finally settles into more a more ambient style punctuated by intermittent clanging. Eventually things quiet down and return to the beginning aesthetic of lonesome guitars pinging and shuddering through lots of delay as everything begins to slowly but surely revert to a more static desert of drone, a drone whose density lessens until the the piece ends as it began, with sonic rumbling that fades away, completing the circle. Great stuff that leans more toward the ambient space-drone end of things without ever becoming too sonically violent, and definitely worthy of attention for those who miss Skullflower's earlier adventures in formless space-drone. Limited to 100 copies and comes in a letterpress folding booklet of sort with excellent graphics.

Colony Records
To Blacken the Pages


The band's second disc is a bit noisier and at times far more "rocking" -- and it's also broken into three pieces of varying size as opposed to one long chunk of interstellar drone. The first track is approximately seventeen minutes of the same kind of metallic space-drone featured on the first album, only heavier and darker; with plenty of the same kind of amorphous, fuzzed-out black drone that made Skullflower great. The best (and longest, taking up most of the album) track is the second one, opening with a hollowed-out, rhino-sized guitar drone that is eventually joined by monochromatic beats and gets some serious skronk on before finally ascending into the reverberating sound of space cathedrals. The final track, around seven minutes long, is a more zoned-out affair, with lots of rhythmic fuzz and shrill reverb-heavy bleating, like a spaceship set on hover and stun. All of it is an excellent collection of guitar-driven zone 'n drone calling up fond memories of old-school Skullflower. Like the first disc, this comes in a nice letterpress foldout package and is limited to 100 copies.

Colony Records
To Blacken the Pages

Void of Ovals -- MERGANSER [Void of Ovals]

The twelve tracks on this disc are short slices of keyboard-heavy electronica -- not quite pop tunes, not quite techno tunes, but definitely electronic in nature and heavy on the beat, and usually buoyed by percolating synths and pealing, high-end keyboard figures. No vocals for the most part, just short bursts of twinkling keyboards and the occasional sound bite sample -- this is electronica in abbreviated form, perfect for a generation largely incapable of paying attention to anything that lasts more than a couple of minutes. Is it a statement or an aesthetic? It's hard to tell, but the sounds are catchy enough and the insistently upbeat vibe of pretty much everything here makes it perfect the worker drone in need of background music that will keep him happy and productive without getting him too excited. That may or may not be the intention, but it's certainly one possible use for this disc. There's something to be said for brevity, and the songs on this disc certainly have that down. That they're full of catchy, melodic keyboard hooks only makes the listening that much sweeter.

Void of Ovals

Xasthur -- DEFECTIVE EPITAPH [Hydra Head]

If Malefic's previous outing, SUBLIMINAL GENOCIDE, was all about the hate, then this one is more about the majesty -- it's nowhere near as relentless and deliberately monochromatic, and unlike previous releases, it features him playing real drums for the first time. Which is not to say that he's suddenly embraced pop music or something; the album's sound, while more varied than ever before, is drenched in dark, droning keyboards and shuddering, dissonant guitar, and his pained, shrieking vocals are every bit as unsettling as they have been in the past. It seems like there's a newfound balance between the keyboard and guitar dominance, with the keyboards striving more for majestic bombast than atonal droning, but the tone -- both musically and emotionally -- is still one of frozen, misanthropic isolationism. For a guy who's been relying on a box for his beats, he turns out to be a reasonable enough drummer, even on the fast tracks (where the keyboards and guitars frequently verge on chaotic white noise). It's a keyboard-heavy album, but there are moments -- especially on songs like "Funerals Drenched in Apathy" -- where the growling, barbed-wire guitar sound holds sway over all (those are the best tracks, if you ask me, but I'm a guitarist so I'm biased). With twelve tracks on the album, there are plenty of opportunities for variations in tempo and texture, although the album is unified by a cold and unremitting bleakness that persists regardless of the structure and speed of individual songs. This one won't necessarily make you want to slit your wrists the way the last one did, but it succeeds in painting a compelling picture of dark and fantastic alienation.

Hydra Head