Sunday, April 29, 2007

the latest wave of reviews

Air Conditioning -- DEAD RAILS [Load Records]

I've been hearing about this band for a while now (good things, to be sure), but this is the first time I've actually heard them, and I am not disapponted. This thuggish trio from Allentown, PA take the standard power-trio format (drums, bass, and guitar) and turn it into an excuse for sordid displays of alienated sonic violence on four tracks of deranged, pounding noise and distortion. The album is only about thirty minutes long, but that's plenty of time for the band to impress their unhealthy desires on your reeling psyche -- between grotesquely distorted bass, psychotronic guitar, and whacked-out percussion rudeness, they make a righteously unholy din that often devolves into pure aggressive white-noise filth. They don't often bother with singing (and when they do, the yelling can barely be heard over the screeching din), and they are awesomely adept at making truly ugly sounds with their otherwise ordinary instruments. This is harsh, loud, confrontational stuff, the kind of intense audio hate designed to clear rooms in a hurry; the band toured with Prurient a while back, and I can only imagine how obnoxious that must have been. Sure, there are some vaguely psychedelic moments like "I Run Low" (which is built more around throbbing bass noise than anything else), but mostly it's an exercise in face-peeling with beats bathed in the kind of warm, fuzzy distortion that you only get from seriously overdriving poor, helpless li'l amplifiers or deliberately hitting analog tape way too hard. Gruesome and exciting stuff, absolutely.

Load Records

Asbestosdeath -- DEJECTION / UNCLEAN cd-ep [Southern Lord]

The operative word is "Sleep," for this is the late-eighties band that evolved into that legendary stoner / doom band. The band -- essentially Sleep plus guitarist Thomas Choi (who went on to play in Operator Generator) -- didn't last very long, and recorded only four tracks available on two obscure 7" singles that have been out of print for eons. Now thanks to the fanatics at Southern Lord (and at the specific request of the band), you can hear what all the fuss was about without blowing huge chunks of your paycheck on Ebay. And it sounds like... um, Sleep. (What, you expected it to sound like something besides Sleep? HAH!) A somewhat grungier Sleep, perhaps, but that could just be the limitations of remastering from the original source material (or the harsh, death-metal influenced vocals) -- but that doesn't matter, because what you get are moments of intricate picking and jazzy drums followed by soul-crushing heaviness (with more jazzy drums). Four distortion-laden songs, approximately twenty minutes, plus a look into the murky beginnings of one of doom metal's most notable bands; what more could you ask for? Anybody down with Sleep, OM, or High on Fire really needs to hear this. Even those new to the concept could stand to hear it, for there is much greatness at work here in the lumbering riffs and unorthodox drum patterns. Swell, swell stuff indeed.

Southern Lord


The mighty fightin' minimalists of Bloomington return with more hypnobeats and simple (but highly entrancing) electrodrone riffs. The riffs themselves frequently sound like looped outtakes from soundtracks and blaxploitation flicks, with some additional "processing" for extra weirdness, and the beats are usually the kind that would have greatly improved NIN's last album if Trent had been smart enough to think of them first. (Unlike Trent, Bobcrane do not embarrass themselves with awesomely stupid lyrics -- in fact, they make the supremely elegant move of not bothering to sing at all, so much the better to hear those swingin' beats and whacked-out drone-o-rific mutant riffs.) What sets Bobcrane apart from most other technoish bands working similar territory are a talent for catchy melodies and a superior grasp of dynamics -- despite the minimalist nature of the songs, the sound flowing over the near-constant machine beats continues to evolve so it never grows stale. (It helps immensely that the songs are short, so they don't have the chance to wear out their welcome.) Many of the songs open or close with eerie, droning ambience and sound-on-sound antics descended from Frippertronics, but with few exceptions the beat eventually returns to helpfully guide the listener to rhythmic nirvana. Swank stuff, and stuff you should grok as soon as possible.


Cry Blood Apache -- INDUSTRY MIXTAPE VOL. 1 [Ghetto Pagoda]

Imagine if the guys from Suicide were raised on the streets of Austin thirty years later, rather than mid-70s Noo Yawk, and you might begin to get a glimmer of the madness at work here. Outside of the intro / outro bits -- straight-up hip-hop beats with thuggish commentary and toasting from Tha Notorious J.G.C. -- this is highly devolved Suicide worship filtered through minimalist power electronics, fractured pop, gangsta rap, and a particularly opaque / black sense of humor. (Speaking of humor, they get bonus points for taking on Dianetics in "Silent Birth.") One track, "Interlude - A Message From Endal (Skit)" is built around a phone message from a former member complaining about the band using his picture on the cover the album; another, "Retaliation Rap by MC Pahn," is a series of disses against those who would dare defame the band, sort of like the Geto Boys hosing down indie rock pretenders. Fat beats + proper respect for the Rev + black humor + more fat beats = your reason for tracking this down.

Cry Blood Apache


Even in the constantly-expanding realm of what constitutes black metal, Norway's Furze is a deeply weird band. Despite the band's limited discography (this is their third album), the band has been around in one incarnation or another since 1993, making them (okay, it's really just one guy plus the occasional "studio musician") definitely old-school, but while the blackened atmosphere, poisoned guitars, and drumming (courtesy of Frost on a few tracks) put their aesthetic squarely within the tradition of second-wave black metal bands like Burzum, Mayhem, and Emperor, the overall sound is much more chaotic, dragging in bits of symphonic passages, strange backwards sounds, highly unconventional (to say the least) structures, and a tendency toward pure chaos. Highly dramatic, theatrical, and obsessed with death, Furze's sound continually shifts and takes wild stylistic turns, never giving the listener something concrete to hang onto for more than a few minutes at a time. To make things even harder to grasp, this is actually a concept album of sorts split into two sections -- the first four songs comprise the cycle of the first half of the album's lengthy title, while the last four comprise the second cycle. The only real difference I can see between the two halves of the album is that the latter stuff is a smidgen closer to being "traditional" black metal (whatever that means in these swinging hipster times, I know), but only in the sense that, say, Venus is "closer" to the sun than Earth. There's definitely a serious old-school vibe all over the album, even when everything dissolves into weird experiments in sonic confusion. Bonus points for the old-school kitchen-sink production, all the more to distance them from the likes of Dimmu Borgir and Cradle of Filth -- this is the sound of a band that would rather convince you to jump off a building than to buy their shitty overpriced t-shirts. Members of Celtic Frost have nothing but good things to say about them, which should tell you something. (Assuming, of course, you have the good sense to understand that Celtic Frost are worthy of eternal reverence.)

Candlelight Records

Government Alpha -- VENOMOUS CUMULUS CLOUD [PACrec]

You know what to expect here, and you get what you expect -- namely, six tracks of pure eardrum dynamite. Government Alpha may well be the loudest band in the world, and they certainly have no use for concepts like subtlety or mercy; their entire reason for existence, in fact, appears to lie in turning skulls into soup through high-energy bolts of pure white noise delivered at maximum volume. This album is perfectly in keeping with the rest of their oevure, and sounds like everything else they've ever done (whether that's a good or bad thing depends on your perspective), meaning it sounds like dense clouds of screaming noise and high-pitched wailing that dissolves into the sound of buildings being detonated into oblivion with powerful explosives. The only real difference from one track to the next is the arrangement of the cascading waves of terror and the methods of destruction; everything is full-on, beyond intense, louder than loud, and totally in your face. There are some supremely ugly displays of whining, chittering, screaming earhurt on this disc -- it's the sound of machines eating themselves, air raid sirens being overdriven until they implode, and a willful desire to penetrate your eardrum with a whole handful of steel needles. You don't know what real sonic terror is until you listen to a Government Alpha disc. This one is no exception to that harsh and unrelenting rule. Bonus points for the swell psychedelic artwork.

Government Alpha

Grayceon -- S/T [Vendlus Records]

Think of the band as a balancing act: Hyperactive drummer Zack Farwell's playing is straight out of the King Crimson / The Fucking Champs metal-fusion school of thought, while guitarist Max Doyle switches seamless between intricate folk-picking and progressive metal styles... and they just form the rhythmic backdrop for the electric cello lines and ethereal singing of Amber Asylum cellist Jackie Perez Gratz. The result is a bizarre collision of metal, jazz fusion, folk, and prog rock. It's definitely bizarre-sounding at first, and on paper there's no way it should work at all without dissolving into hilarious wankfests, but on disc it works really well indeed. Of course, you're going to need patience to listen -- with the exception of "Song For You," which is just under four minutes, everything else is really long (the fourth and final track "Ride" is twenty minutes). A lot of what makes it work comes down to the interplay between Gratz and Doyle, especially in the inventive and often inspired chordal voicings -- but don't let that fool you into believing this is a protracted exercise in wimpiness, because their sound is often awfully metallic. The end result is sort of like RED-era King Crimson and The Fucking Champs with Kate Bush (or Liz Fraser) on the mike. They certainly don't sound like anybody currently running around in metal circles, that's for sure. Exotic-sounding and a lot more listenable than you might think from the unorthodox lineup.

Vendlus Records

Jazzkammer / Howard Stelzer -- TOMORROW NO ONE WILL BE SAFE [PACrec]

In 2004, two noise-loving lunatics from Norway (Jazzkammer) toured the US with a avant-garde tape improviser (Howard Stelzer). This disc is a document of that bizarre pairing, with one track by Jazzkammer ("Requiem for Officer Robby Barker," recorded live at the Artspace in Richmond, VA), one track by Stelzer ("Last Night at BLD," recorded live at BFD Warehouse in Columbus, OH), and one unholy collaboration between the two ("Tomorrow No One Will Be Safe," recorded live at SOMA in Bloomington, IN). Unlike a lot (some would say most) discs from this label, this is not a full-on experience in eardrum sandblasting; Jazzkammer are fond of lengthy pauses of silence and minimalist electronics, although sooner or later those quiet passages and almost-subdued experiments in repetitive sonic motion inevitably explode into moments of gruesome sonic violence. Their aesthetic involves actual dynamics, a tendency toward minimalism, and the use of what frequently sounds like damaged equipment; they're less about beating you over the head and shoulders with jagged bursts of audio violence and more about lulling you into a false sense of security, THEN beating you over the head with (brief) bursts of audio violence. Stelzer, it turns out, favors lots of bumping and thumping and the occasional deployment of high-pitched bombing runs, but mainly he likes forcing tape recorders to do things they were never meant to do. As with Jazzkammer's track, there are relatively subdued moments that burst into tapebabble and screech hell, but mainly the noise is more in an "experimental" vein than anything resembling harsh audio conduct. The collaboration track is denser and more cluttered, with a fondness for repetitive sounds and lots of thumping about, but not as catastrophic as you might expect from having all of them onstage at once... but the wailing noise hell they generate at times is distinctly more painful. It's not a writhing, seething wall of white noise, but your mother (or girlfriend) will still hate it. Limited to 500 copies.

Howard Stelzer

Merzbow / Carlos Giffoni / Jim O'Rourke -- ELECTRIC DRESS [No Fun Productions]

Just the personnel alone should scare you -- the names involved conjure up visions of pure burning chrome and chopped-up noise hell. Between Merzbow's fondness for noise death, Giffoni's equally noisy love of volume and chaos, and O'Rourke's penchant for chopping everything up and reassembling it into new vistas of caustic sound, this is a meeting of minds with serious potential. Recorded live in Tokyo with Merzbow in an all-analog mood (rare these days, since he discovered the joys of laptop-induced chaos), the action is centered primarily around the use of analog synths and filters (plus some handmade instruments and various effects on Merzbow's end, and microphone abuse from O'Rourke), and over the course of one fifty-minute track, they make good on their promise. This is seriously chaos-driven, noise-laden stuff; it's impossible to tell who's doing what, but the sonic topography here is bumpy indeed, with twitchy synth yelps doing battle with groaning walls of distorted filth as the clotted sound ebbs and flows through varying degrees of thick audio soup. It sounds like all three of them are frequently going in totally separate directions, only occasionally coming together (or laying back and leaving room for one player to "solo" for a few moments) before descending into uncontrolled chaos again. This is what Merzbow was talking about when he coined the term "rainbow electronics" -- they cover the entire tonal spectrum (and maybe even discover a few previously unknown wavelengths) over the course of this disc, and you will not be surprised to learn that from time to time it all turns into a near-impenetrable wall of white noise. There's lots of rhythmic crunchiness mixed in with the wild flights of sound, though, and while stylistically this is a full-on throwback to old-school noise and industrial (especially Throbbing Gristle), it's also a pointed reminder of what industrial music could have been if it hadn't been overtaken by beat-heavy machines and co-opted for the dance floor. Despite the aforementioned rhythmic moments, there's no way you can dance to this. Psychedelic noise has rarely sounding this consistently good. This is music for demolition ceremonies; press play and prepare to be swept up in a tsunami of noise....

Carlos Giffoni
Jim O'Rourke
No Fun Productions

Secrets of the Moon -- ANTITHESIS [The Ajna Offensive]

This black metal band from Germany was formed in 1995 and this is the band's fourth release. I haven't heard any of the previous releases, so I can't offer any insights into their development, but this is definitely a dark, heavy album with a serious occult / satanic fixation, although unlike many of their Left Hand Path brethren, they are a bit more oblique in their lyrics, preferring to insinuate rather than beat you over the head with more obvious paeans to The Horned One. They also feel free to deviate from the norm in other areas, beginning with their dark and clanking bass sound (with a feel that owes more to industrial music than traditional black metal), which adds a unique tone and texture to their sound. They are also not shy about invoking the spirit of death metal in their punishing riffs (or in the occasional solo -- I have the feeling their lead guitarist rightly worships Slayer), but they cloak their attack in black metal structures, harnessing the power of endless repetition and abrupt dynamic shifts to more atmospheric moments.Their approach is the best of both worlds -- the brooding mystery and experimental sounds / structures of black metal are augmented by blunt riffs designed to step on your face over and over while the lead guitarist spits out shredded metal shavings in true death metal style. At times slow and monochromatic, at other times absurdly fast and lost in thick, metallic fog, they are never anything less than dark and menacing. The quiet, melodically hypnotic passages are eerie and brooding, and provide a perfect counterpoint to the punishing thunder that frequently follows, plus they have the freezing guitar blur down to a science. They get major props for holding fast to the spirit of black metal without being enslaved by the genre's trappings (and just for being ridiculously sinister and heavy). Bonus points for the lengthy and gorgeous booklet, which includes not only lyrics and liner note info but a lot of mysterious and often disturbing pictures.

Secrets of the Moon
The Ajna Offensive

Sewer Election -- SEX / DEATH [PACrec]

More caustic, ear-shredding audio pain from the label that probably gets a kickback from audiologists treating an endless stream of listeners suddenly crippled by tinnitus. This time the sonic hell is courtesy of Sweden's Dan Johansson, who favors (big surprise) the wildly violent and overamplified power electronics approach that reduces "music" to the sound of buildings being blown up and the burning remains sawed into even smaller pieces by chainsaws. What you get are three tracks of buzzing, howling, bleating wall-of-noise abuse, nearly an hour of the audio equivalent of having knives driven through your skull while being beaten with chains during a bombing raid. Forget about twee concepts like "musical direction" and "structures" and "melody" or anything like that -- this is pure efx-induced electronic angst that veers wildly from catastrophic junk noise to painful high-pitched screeching, with no warning as to which direction the attack will come from next. The three untitled tracks here were originally issued as a double-cassette on Harsh Head Rituals many moons ago; here they have been remastered for maximum digital unpleasantness at a highly excessive volume (the way good noise should be). Bonus points for the droning buzzsaw sounds and alienated, bass-heavy death drone in the second track, which takes its own sweet time in building to a claustrophobic wall of sonic mung before ending as it began, with vile electrodrone and washes of oceanic white noise. The final track takes up half the disc at thirty minutes and is a return to unpredictable vistas of disemboweled junk noise and misanthropic audiohurt, a growing sonic hate that just keeps getting denser and thicker and uglier as it goes. Limited to a thousand copies; get 'em while they're hot.

Sewer Election

Watain -- SWORN TO THE DARK [Ajna Offensive]

Watain was formed in Uppsala in 1998, making them relative latecomers to the field, but you'd never guess it from this, their third official full-length. They sound so much like old-school, "true" black metal (and more specifically, similar to bands like Mayhem and Urgehal) that you could be excused for thinking they were one of the bands who helped invent black metal. Frankly, this is the way black metal is supposed to sound -- loud, dark, aggressive, obsessed with speed and heaviness, and fronted by a guy who sounds like he's coughing up nails every time he opens his mouth. No wonder Celtic Frost tapped them for tourmates. Watain are an actual band (as opposed to one or two guys making fuzzed-out albums with a four-track in some basement under a snow-covered mountain), and they tour regularly, and it shows -- the band is tight, focused, and hideously driven. The lyrics are all about their eternal, undying luv for The Horned One and all that, but unlike a lot of bands mining the traditional lyrical staples of black metal, they sound like they really mean it -- these guys want to carve you up and sacrifice you to Satan (but only after you buy the album first; priorities count here), or at the very least, they want to pound their hymns to black, wasting hate into your skull in the hopes that you'll do yourself in and save them the trouble. Barring some moody passages that exist mainly to keep the album from sounding too monochromatic, they mostly blaze with psychotic intensity, although when they slow things down a bit it becomes obvious that their enormous potency lies in the ability to churn out brilliant, soul-crushing riffs of eternal creeping death. (It helps immensely to have a truly manic drummer who could hold his own with Hellhammer or Repe Misanthrope.) By combining death metal's love of speed and almighty riffs with the harmonically discordant guitar sound of bands like Mayhem and Burzum, they achieve a thick and rich sound like a musical steamroller; by anchoring this sound to a take-no-prisoners approach and actual songwriting (rather than just stringing some cool riffs together or merely playing fast in an endless monochromatic blur), they easily solidify their position as a band worthy of your reverence. Even at their most melodic they sound awfully evil, and the rest of the time they're heavy enough to snap your spine like a twig. You need this.

The Ajna Offensive

v/a -- UNTITLED (3-cd box set) [Public Guilt / UndeRadar / Epicene Sound Systems]

Talk about your cases of major sensory overload.... This is one of the most elaborate packages I've ever seen, with three cds, each attached to a stiff paper rectangle with art on one side and liner notes on the other, contained in a 5x6 box bound with a gorgeous red paper band festooned with gold ink. (The swank artwork appears courtesy of four of the set's players -- Shaun Flynn (WZT Hearts), Christopher White (Magicicada), Matthew Reis (Teeth Collection), and Jason Zeh.) And then there's the tracks -- 55 of them, to be exact, by the likes of Noveller, Gerritt, Thurston Moore, Burning Star Core, Oblong Box, Dead Machines, The Cherry Point, Darsombra, Hum of the Druid, Destructo Swarmbots, Sword Heaven, Guilty Connector, Panicsville, and a whole bunch of others from the not-so-well-known to the totally obscure. (Look here for a complete listing, plus a handful of MP3s to whet your appetite.) If you ever needed an opportunity to wade through more than three hours of experimental, noise-laden sonic disembowelment, this is it, dig?

Given the vast stylistic differences between all the various artists, it's no surprise that there's a wide variety of sounds represented here -- everything from pure white noise to glitch electronica, disturbed power electronics, mutant cut 'n paste collages, and just about anything you can think of that's founded on a noise-addled launch pad -- but the advantage of having such a project curated by labels immersed in the field is a high degree of quality control. Unlike most various-artist compilations, there's a distinct shortage of filler here -- most, if not all, of the material here is pure prime meat, whole-grain noise goodness. The wild diversity of artists on hand also makes it possible to keep things from growing static, and one of the best things about this box set is the sequencing; rather than grouping like-minded artists into blocks of sound that might grow tiring, the tracks are aligned in such a fashion that one noise style flows into another (and sometimes those shifts are dramatic indeed), which helps to keep things fresh despite an intimidating running length. Another useful byproduct of the sheer volume of participants is that the tracks are all relatively short (most are under the five-minute mark), which keeps the artists focused (well, theoretically), and prevents the discs from bogging down.

Each disc has a slightly different feel -- the first disc is heavy on the white noise / sputtering sounds / glitch tip, while the second disc leans more toward drone / ambient / kitchen-sink and heavy reverb pieces, and the third disc favors pieces built around heavy repetition. Within those nebulous constraints, though, there's plenty of variety and unexpected surprises on each disc, and the quality level is phenomenal, with some of the best and most unusual tracks coming at times from the most obscure artists. Given that the entire package sells for less than twenty bucks, and is almost certainly a one-time deal that is unlikely to be repressed when it eventually sells out, you'd be a fool not to glom onto this pronto if you're familiar with more than a handful of the artists or looking for a great way to sample a lot of them at once, or just plain into weird mutant sounds. It's an astounding release on every level, and one of the best various-artists compilations you'll ever hope to hear.

Epicene Sound
Public Guilt

Vopat -- SOMETIMES IT WILL [Inam Records]

The enigmatic Vopat returns with more swell white-noise drone guitar. Working in the same sonic ballpark as My Bloody Valentine, Red House Painters, early Mogwai, mid-period Swans, and pretty much anything combining melodic (and often overdriven) guitar with drone-o-rific soundscapes and the occasional burst of pure symphonic sound, the ten tracks here are a journey through oceanic sound and beautiful noise, usually at slow to middling tempos. Vopat is an instrumental band -- there are no vocals to detract from the psychedelic sounds and often intricate playing -- and the decision to have the disc mastered by Jerry Tubb at Terra Nova Digital Audio in Austin was a wise one, bringing all the details sharply into focus rather than allowing them to be lost under the roaring waves of sound. Some tracks have beats, some don't; some are sparse and near-ambient, while others are thick, crushing walls of distorted noise; the only constant is a serious commitment to transcendent guitar lines, massive drone, and processed sound. Experimental, introspective, and engaging, the songs are helped immensely by startling and unexpected dynamic shifts and layers of sound that ebb and flow. (Impressive guitar chops don't hurt, either.) Vopat continue to surprise and impress, and this disc -- probably limited, like the rest of their output -- is well worth seeking out.


Monday, April 16, 2007

third wave

Elis -- GRIEFSHIRE [Napalm Records]

Elis come from Liechtenstein, a tiny German-speaking country sandwiched between Switzerland and Austria that's known to Americans (if at all) as a tax haven. The band itself has a distinctly Teutonic flavor to its progressive goth-metal, with Wagnerian vocals courtesy of Sabine Dunser (who unfortunately died of a cerebral hemorrhage in July of 2006; she has since been replaced by Sandra Schleret). The band is keyboard-heavy, but the backbone of drums and guitars are heavy and driving enough to keep things firmly in metal territory, despite an obvious leaning toward pop structures and commercial accessibility. The band favors highly melodic bombast and the canny juxtaposition of sweet-sounding keyboard washes with crunchy guitars; inventive production touches and strong songs help make the band stand out from the horde of similar bands vying for attention in European metal circles these days. Fans of Evanescence, Lacuna Coil, and similar bands will appreciate this album.

Napalm Records

Funeral -- FROM THESE WOUNDS [Candlelight USA]

This is doom metal, yes, but it's the kind of doom that's heavy on the use of keyboards, which may not be everyone's cup of java. Even those not into keyboards, however, would be well advised to check this out, for it's an excellent album, possibly the band's best, and certainly one of the best doom albums to appear in years. Pioneers of doom and innovators as well (they were one of the first doom bands to use female vocalists, and one of the first to move to a more symphonic sound), this is their first release in four years after their original bassist committed suicide, calling the band's future into question. (More recently, original guitarist Christian Loos was found dead at home in October of last year, another fateful blow that might well have ended a less dedicated band.) Drummer Anders Eek is now the only original member left, and it fell upon him to rebuild the band and spearhead the making of this album. Aided considerably by the addition of new vocalist Frode Forsmo, whose sonorous and melancholy vocals are a perfect fit for the band's beautiful but bleak songs, he and the rest of the band have created a crushing masterpiece of dark, lumbering doom every bit as influenced by opera as by traditional metal. The nine tracks here all unfold at a stately pace, and while the keyboards and song structures are appropriately filled with symphonic bombast, the more Wagnerian moments are offset by heavy, guitar-driven passages full of neck-snapping crunch. The judicious use of acoustic guitar and moments of subtle minimalism, as well as a wildly varied palette of sonic textures, gives the songs a depth rarely found on more traditional doom albums, while the beautiful, crystalline production and inventive, carefully composed songs present the band at its finest. This is not just an impressive return to form after a difficult period in the band's history, but an epic and highly-polished work that sets a new standard for progressive doom.

Candlelight USA

Marduk -- ROM 5:12 [Regain Records]

The Swedish purveyors of blasting, hateful Satanic metal return with more audio punishment. Marduk have always had the unenviable problem of having to live up to their first demo, FUCK ME JESUS, one of the most deliberately blasphemous releases ever -- really, after you've released something like that, what else is there to do? If it had been my band I would have disbanded and left it at that, but Marduk obviously didn't -- since 1991 they've released a totally ridiculous number of albums, EPs, and other audio grimness -- and now they come forth bearing their latest black homage to Satan and blood and death. The big difference this time around is that they abandoned their previous tactic of shoveling on many, many guitars (for that big blur of sound) and stripped it down to something much simpler, with the guitars on two tracks only, panned left and right, with the bass down the middle, resulting in a much more direct (and heavy) guitar sound. They have also varied their attack a bit; whereas they used to just blaze full-on, this time they are leaving more space in the songs, with sections that are just bass and drums before the guitars come back in full blast. And make no mistake, when they pick up the pace and blaze, they do so with furious abandon. This is also arguably one of the band's most diverse recordings; whether that was their intention or the result of personnel changes is hard to say, but Marduk fans who've complained in the past about the sameness of certain albums should find this a highly positive development. Did I mention that the album is also really, really heavy? The production is also considerably better than any of their previous albums that I've heard, which is nice. Bonus props to the drummer, who's not only absurdly heavy but really fast without being sloppy. Previous listeners can expect to be surprised; first-time listeners will just be crushed into dust.

Regain Records

Obscurus Advocam -- VERBIA DAEMONICUS [Battle Kommand / Southern Lord]

Formed by members of Glorior Belli, Temple of Baal, and Wolfe, this French black metal band, while obviously influenced by early black metal (especially Burzum), mixes a lot of different elements into its progressive vision of blackened misanthropy. Songs mined from traditional black metal territory are infused with surprisingly blues-laden guitar solos, and while the overall feel is heavily indebted to the more cult strains of black metal, the production is considerably sharper and more modern. The band favors a driving, spirited attack for the most part, complete with frenzied tremelo guitar and relentless drumming, but then there are tracks like "Endarkenment" that are less frantic (but no less heavy) and feature guitar sounds and solos one might expect to find in a more traditional rock context. The band manages to forge a bridge between the more purist strains of original black metal and progressive rock (and to a lesser extent, doom metal) without sacrificing its power or bleak, misanthropic feel, and their sound is potentially more accessible to listeners unfamiliar with the tropes of black metal. At the same time, the band never forgets that they are first and foremost a black metal band, albeit one whose minimalist riffing and fuzzy guitars are often put to unorthodox uses. The band is operating in the same general ballpark as Deathspell Omega, and fans of that excellent band will want to investigate this.

Obscurus Advocam
Battle Kommand
Southern Lord

Striborg -- NEFARIA [Southern Lord]

Striborg has an aesthetic firmly rooted in the lo-fi "bedroom" sound of early black metal -- blurred, teeth-gnashing guitar, painful shrieking vocals, near-nonexistent bass, droning keyboards straight out of a Hammer horror flick, simple and primitively-recorded drums, and (of course) more pained shrieking -- and this album is no exception to that rule. The best thing about Striborg has always been the masterful use of simple but effective keyboard drones, and there's plenty of that here (especially on "Permafrost forest" and "Lament"), but the grim, frozen guitar sound that permeates the album with dark sickness is every bit as "kvlt" and blood-freezing. This is cold, primitive, lo-fi black metal with all the light leached from its northern skies and a fiercely monochromatic sound. As with the band's previous release on Southern Lord, the seven new tracks are augmented by nine extra tracks comprising the 1995 demo TRAGIC JOURNEY TOWARDS THE LIGHT, whose severely raw and poorly-recorded tracks approach white noise at points, making the new material sound like overproduced Wagner by comparison. No trends or commercial accessibility here!

Southern Lord


This four-track cd-r, with a running time of just under an hour, was released by the band and is mainly being sold on tour. The opening track, nearly seventeen minutes long, lives up to the disc's title with hypnotic, repetitive bell-tones and a muted swirl of abstract sound very much like fog creeping across the ground at dawn; the pace is as glacial as it is inexorable, the sound muted and reverential, and when Pirako's breathy vocals finally come in halfway through the song, they just add another layer of mystery to the sonic cloud. On "Hikari Ahureru," where the occasional vocals are provided by Keago, that same hypnotic and subdued approach eventually spirals upward into piercing guitar wails and explosive bursts of interstellar noise like sunspots emitting bursts of radiation. The amp hum and buzzing, bee-like guitar that opens "Itosiki Yani" morph into droning and endless guitar notes that abruptly turn into shrieking near-white noise nearly eight minutes into the song; at the same time, rumbling bass drones provide an anchor to keep the cathedral-like sound from floating off into the clouds. The final track, "Nanikaga," is the only one with drums, and over a simple beat, Pirako and Keago lay down drifting sheets of reverb and pealing guitar that don't drown out Pirako's evocative vocals. While the band's look and approach invite comparisons to Fushitsusha, their raga-like approaching to drone (with its distinctly middle-eastern vibe) and sheer emotional content is considerably more reminiscent of Kadura. What's so amazing about this band's sound is that they are able to say so much with such minimalist music, and how consistent they are in creating a readily identifable aesthetic out of what appears to be almost nothing. Highly recommended, especially for those already entranced with the band's album on Holy Mountain.

Suishou no Fune

Throne of Katarsis -- AN ETERNAL DARK HORIZON [Candlelight USA]

Formed in Norway in 2003 by Varldalv (drums) and Grimnesse (guitars, vox, etc.), this band's sound is a deliberate throwback to the early, pioneering efforts of Norwegian black metal of the early 90s (the vocals in particular are heavily influenced by early Mayhem). You can already imagine the sound -- primitive, lo-fi fizziness and a largely monochromatic vision, usually featuring simple but effective guitar riffs swaddled in barbed-wire tone to match the pained shrieking. They are not slaves to the original vision, however; while the feel of the material is very much indebted to the likes of Mayhem, Bathory, and Burzum, there are moments (such as the acoustic guitar that appears halfway through "Under Guds Hand" and later appears in the background to complement the caustic electric guitar riffing) where the band takes off in unexpected directions. For the most part, though, it's definitely an exercise in old-school thinking, complete with blazing drums and frantic guitar slashing on "Under Guds Hud" and lots of heavily-reverbed atmospherics. "Symbols of Winter" is every bit as forbidding, and like the rest of the songs, cycles through several distinct movements (the atypical acoustic guitar turns up here as well at one point), varying the sonic intensity enough to prevent the song from becoming nothing more than a protracted blur of endless motion. (That's the purpose of the title track, which closes the album with a sociopathic display of speed and misanthropic fury that would not have been out of place on Burzum's FILOSOFEM, although that relentless rage shifts into slower and more melancholy sections before returning to shave your skull clean.) In the spirit of "true" and old-school black metal, the production is dark and lo-fi; you'll have to turn up the volume to get the full impact, but doing so will definitely bring grim and alienated rewards. Special bonus points for managing to work in the acoustic guitar work without diminishing the metallic rage.

Throne of Katarsis
Candlelight USA

Total Slitting of Throats -- AN HNW AUDIBLE MANIFESTO [PACrec]

Originally issued as a limited-edition cd-r on Militant Walls in 2005, this disc is one long (over sixty minutes) track of destructive sonic filth, with absurdly loud and painful juggernaut noise tracks from The Cherry Point, Mania, The Rita, Sewer Election, and Treriksroset all piled on top of one another to form an impenetrable avalanche of white noise. The label calls it a "powerful minimalist deconstruction of the harsh noise object," but what they really mean is that it's like being held down by angry gorillas hellbent on erasing your face with sandblasters while the building caves in around you as a sky full of jets drops bomb after bomb on top of the building. There's no "musical theory" or "artistic progression" or even "meaning" here, just an hour of pure, obnoxious, violent white noise. Seriously, I dare you to listen to this at high volume for the full length of the disc. I fucking dare you. Just don't blame me if you can't hear anything at all for a week afterwards. Limited to 500 copies.


Richard Trosper -- THE OCEAN (3-inch cdr) [Public Eyesore]

Now this is kind of an interesting concept... it sounds like Trosper's gone and made an ambient soundtrack of sorts mainly using the sounds of skipping cds. The thing is, he's not using the obviously skipping parts that go CHUNG CHUNG CHUNG, but the parts were passages were sped up, resulting in a high-pitched, kaleidoscopic sound... and he's layered bits and pieces of such snippets and loops into a droning, shifting seascape of sound that really does live up to the title. (Rumbling noises that may or may not be perverted, heavily-reverbed bass help suggest that tidal motion and sound.) At times the sound is akin to a flooded warehouse full of toy pianos coming to life, only to be washed out to sea. Snippets of crackling noise begin to show up about halfway through, adding a more gritty texture to the hypnotic and bell-like tones. This is a deeply mysterious and entrancing piece of work, aided considerably by its brevity. One of the most intriguing experimental releases I've heard in a while, and highly recommended.

Public Eyesore

Xtatika -- MY HEART IS A KNIFE [Detention Span Records]

There's some interesting soundwaves emanating from the four-song cd demo (available from CD Baby, as it happens) of this New York City duo -- singer Haena Kim is obviously influenced by Siouxsie and Diamanda Galas, hell, probably even Yoko Ono too, but the programming (courtesy of Bill Mattinson) is all over the electro-industrial map. The one thing the songs all have in common is a dark electronic groove that's catchy as hell and brilliant vocals, plus the ability to make you get up and wiggle around the room like an eel. The duo manages to channel the spirit of old-school goth and EBM without sounding overly retro, and the quality of the material makes such distinctions irrelevant anyway. The best thing about them (outside of Kim's alluring vox) is that they never forget that it's all about the almighty beat. The only thing wrong with this disc is that it's not anywhere near long enough. I sure hope they're going to fix that problem, and soon...!


Sunday, April 8, 2007

latest issue: second wave

Corrupted -- "An Island Insane" single [HG Fact]

I know the band is really enamored of the color black, but this is a bit ridiculous -- the single (like the companion, "Vasana") is on black vinyl, sports black labels with ghostlike dark gray lettering, and comes in a heavy black open sleeve with two stiff, slick black insert panels, each with more lettering in dark gray (plus the liner notes on the back of the smaller insert are completely in Japanese). Spinal Tap had nothing on these guys in the packaging department, okay? As for the music, it's slow, dirgelike, and ridiculously heavy on the first side, with a guitar sound frequently verging on collapsing into pure wailing feedback; the flip side is more of an dark-ambient noise soundscape accompanied by what could be heavily processed acoustic guitar or piano, not too far removed from the sound of the strange ending of PASO INFERIOR. It's dark and eerie stuff, with a cavernous sound and distinctly alienated aesthetic... in other words, more typical whole-grain goodness from Japan's most ominous export.

Corrupted -- "Vasana" single [HG Fact]

This single has the same kind of packaging as "An Island Insane" (and like that one, is limited to a thousand copies available only by mail from the Corrupted website), but this time the sound is more of a throwback to the morosely minimalist guitar picking of SE HACE POR LOS SUENOS ASESINOS, but this time swaddled in soul-crushing bass drone and mystical, semi-jazzy chording that gives the whole thing a new and distinctly different tone from previous releases. The flip side is more of the same, only with a lot of intensely thunderous drumming buried under the fuzzdrone and death-blurt. Is it heavy? Does the pope shit in the Vatican? This is actually one of the heaviest slices of (relatively) straightforward, slow-motion doom the band has done in a while. It's also the first time in ages that drummer Chew has made his chops so spectacularly obvious. Swank, swank stuff... but what else did you expect of the heaviest band in the world?

HG Fact

Diagnose: Lebensgefahr -- TRANSFORMALIN [Autopsy Kitchen Records]

This is strange, strange shit -- black metal with eccentric, even avant-garde, ideas and execution. It's the work of Nattramn, a former member of Silencer, who apparently made the album with the cooperation of the Vaxjo Psychiatric Ward in Sweden -- what that says about the state of his own mental health is a good question, but that knowledge is certainly interesting, to say the least. The album is certainly disturbed, pointing to a disjointed and scattered mental state, resulting in a series of peculiar and uneasy slices of irrational thought disguised as music -- is it the result of therapy for mental illness, or a concept album about the same subject? It's hard to tell (which is probably deliberate), but if this is calling to mind the likes of those depressive types in Bethlehem, that's probably because this resembles (at least in concept, if not the actual execution) that band's similar album SCHATTEN AUS DER ALEXANDER WELT. The music itself incorporates a wildly diverse palette of sounds -- found sound, unearthly screams, operatic wailing, industrial rhythms, creeping noise, and just about everything but the kitchen sink -- to create an unsettling and highly textured work situated at the far reaches of experimental metal. "Upon the High Horse of Self Destruction" is one of the strangest tracks, with an industrial rhythm, vaguely black metal ambience, and a mildly distorted vocal fed through a Leslie cabinet (or something similar), with morose lyrics that end with him intoning, "Throw my bones to the pigs" over and over. "The Last Breath of Tellus" comes dangerously close to outright techno, and several tracks owe more to the sound collage techniques of Stockhausen than to anything resembling traditional black metal. To say this is "out there a minute" would be a severe understatement, but it's well done and highly unnerving, not the least because there's no way to predict what will happen next -- only that it will be disturbed and misanthropic. Fans of Bethlehem, Ulver, and other left-of-center black metal bands will want to hear this.

Diagnose: Lebensgefahr
Autopsy Kitchen

Ensiferum -- VICTORY SONGS [Candlelight USA]

I didn't know the Finnish metalheads were down with the Viking metal concept (I thought it was their pals in Norway and the like who had cornered that particular market). Their blinding attack (on the tracks that aren't anthemic displays of keyboard bombast, anyway) draws comparisons to Enslaved, but their stealthy use of traditional Finnish instruments (kantele, bagpipe, bodhrans, etc.) is more in line with bands like Skyforger, and their guitar attack is at times far more akin to bands like Fintroll and Impaled Nazarene. They combine the giddy pomp of pagan war metal with the aggressive sheet-metal guitar and blazing drums of more punk-influenced bands, and the combination works better than you might expect. Despite a fair-sized body of work behind them (several albums, an EP, and a DVD), this is their first attempt at cracking the US market; given the power and strength of this release, though, they should be able to make plenty of progress on that front. Producer Nino Laurenne (Finntroll, Thunderstone) does an excellent job of harnessing the band's brute force and unison vocal shouts into a coherent and blazing blur of energetic fury, and the band proves itself worthy with nine strong tracks of bracing metallic venom. Bonus points for the subtle use of background noise in strategic places along with the crafty deployment of those mysterious Finnish traditional instruments.

Candlelight USA

The Hidden Hand -- THE RESURRECTION OF WHISKEY FOOTE [Southern Lord]

Guitarist / vocalist Scott "Wino" Weinrich (St. Vitus, Obsessed, Spirit Caravan, etc., etc.) and company return for a third full-length album, this time less about politics and controversy and more a concept album of sorts. The tracks tell a loose story of sorts set in early colonial America and revolving mainly around a mythical character by the name of Whiskey Foote. The lyrics are every bit as mystical as the grinding stonerific psychedelia the band churns out; Wino's swank guitar lines are matched in power and presence by the supple, throbbing bass of Bruce Falkinburg (whose day job as a recording engineer made him a natural choice to record the album, a job he does well here) and steady, energetic drumming of Evan Tanner. One of the band's hallmarks, regardless of the lineups (and there have been several), has been the ability to switch gears abruptly and without warning, all while retaining a vibe firmly entrenched between pure stoner riff rock and outright psych weirdness. Originally formed as a jam band, they are not afraid to wander off in really bizarre directions, and this album is no exception; whereas a lot of stoner rock albums become mired in predictable song structures and pointless, endless soloing, Wino and his cohorts don't have that problem. Wino's guitar tone frequently resembles the gut-wrenching sound he used to get in St. Vitus, while his vocals often hearken back to classic Ozzy (circa the first couple of Sabbath albums), and his blues-soaked guitar playing has rarely been in finer form. I was never a big fan of Obsessed or Spirit Caravan (the band this one most closely resembles), but I've always liked the unpredictable nature of this band and its direction. This album is certainly not a disappointment in that respect.

The Hidden Hand
Southern Lord

Kotipelto -- SERENITY [Candlelight USA]

This is the solo project of Stratovarius vocalist Timo Kotipelto, who appears here with a little help from his friends -- Janne Wirman (Children of Bodom) on keyboards, bassist Lauri Porra (Warmen, Tunnelvision), and drummer Mirka Rantanen, among others -- and the album consists of ten slices of melodic bombast, including the lead single "Sleep Well," which is slated for inclusion in a major Finnish film. Kotipelto boasts a highly operatic voice, and he favors uptempo progressive metal song arrangements built around massive amounts of melody (in the vocals, keyboards, and guitars) and a taste for flash. I don't know who the guitarist is, but there's plenty of shredding melodic fever blowing through the guitar lines, and the entire album has a distinctly uplifting, symphonic feel. Fans of grim, frozen, lo-fi metal may find the openly commercial sheen a bit off-putting, but fans of the symphonic metal movement that has taken the European countries by storm over the past few years should really appreciate this.

Candlelight USA


Not exactly a household name in the US, Magnum was formed in Birmingham (home of Judas Priest, Black Sabbath, and Godflesh) in 1972 around the core of guitarist / songwriter Tony Clarkin and vocalist Bob Catley. While the band has been a fixture of UK rock since then (this is the band's thirteenth album), with the exception of a few dates supporting Ozzy Osbourne in 1982, the band has been severely lacking in a US presence. It's too bad, because the band's melodic and vaguely mystical / psychedelic sound -- like a more focused and less stoned Hawkwind, maybe, or maybe even Deep Purple with better songs and a considerably better guitarist -- would almost certainly find plenty of listeners on this side of the Atlantic. This album may go a long way toward rectifying that omission (although it really should have come out a couple of years ago during the big stoner rock movement -- if anybody is going to enthusiastically embrace this band, it will be the stoner rock crowd), despite the fact that it sounds like a full-on throwback to 70s rock; given how shitty the current state of melodic metal is, that is probably considerably more of an advantage than a drawback. Make no mistake, though -- this band's sound has absolutely nothing in common with what most people would recognize as current metal or hard rock (they're much better musicians than the average dope-huffing metalhead in a Korn t-shirt, for one thing). This band has more in common with the early psych-blues of Judas Priest (circa SAD WINGS OF DESTINY) and early Trapeze than anything that passes for modern metal, and that's not a bad thing at all. The band worked hard for a year or more perfecting the eleven songs here, and the results are excellent. If you're not familiar with Magnum, this is definitely the place to start. Note that a limited first edition will be available that includes a DVD with lots of additional material on the making of the album, interviews, and a video for "Dragons Are Real."



For those keeping track, this is the version of Saxon with original vocalist Biff Byford at the helm (but not original bassist Scott Dawson, the inspiration for Harry Shearer's performance as Spinal Tap bassist Derek Smalls); as far as I know, the "other" Saxon (formed around the former members who abandoned Byford in the mid-90s) is still around, creating confusion for everybody. I was a fan of the band's initial releases, despite the band's tendency toward vapid metal cliches, but they pretty much lost me after DENIM & LEATHER, when they started sanding down the raw edges in a (mostly failed) attempt at commercial respectability. This album probably isn't going to do much to bring the original true believers back into the fold, with its overly slick production (which includes uncredited keyboards, surely the kiss of death for a band who were one of the original proponents of the New Wave of British Heavy Metal) and continuing reliance on cliche subjects (check out titles like "Need For Speed" and "I've Got To Rock (To Stay Alive)," but it's at least a respectable effort in all other respects -- Byford sounds good, better than he has in years, and when they're not wading through the obligatory power ballads, they have a significantly high energy level and a good sound. How much the album will move you probably depends on how attached you still are to the original sound of NWOBHM and your fondness for old-school hard rock / metal guitar diddling. This may not be the second coming of WHEELS OF STEEL, but it's probably the best thing the band has done in ages, if you can hang with the overly commercial sound. The digipak release comes with a DVD with additional material; the jewel case version comes with an extra track. Choose your poison; choose it well....


Stalaggh -- PROJEKT MISANTHROPIA [Autopsy Kitchen Records]

Hey, any album that opens with people screaming like they're being disemboweled with a rusty potato peeler and angry lunatics breaking shit is okay by me. We're talking serious, highly perverse Abruptum-style weirdness here, with lots of howling and shouting and smashing stuff and pure sonic ugliness over the course of one long track clocking in around thirty minutes. The band members like to remain anonymous (although they are supposedly well-known musicians from the Dutch and Belgian extreme metal scene), and they claim their vocalist to be a madman who murdered his mother at the age of sixteen (they want all that psychopathic rage to be real, see), although I'd take that tidbit of info with a grain of salt. One thing is unquestionably clear, though; this is a seriously demented work of anti-commercial art, and one of the most deliberately obnoxious sonic endeavors since the first masterwork from Abruptum. It takes a good five or six minutes for the track to resolve into anything resembling music (and then it's mostly fuzzed-out guitar hell and primitive drumming), and even then the musical content is strictly touch 'n go... but the wailing, screaming, and near-ritualistic gnashing of teeth never lets up. Bonus points for the truly gross-sounding bass that shows up about ten minutes into the track and the moments of pure white noise (not to mention all that endless screaming). It's nice to see I'm not the only one who still worships Abruptum, even if the band is loath to admit as much.

Autopsy Kitchen Records

Unsane -- VISQUEEN [Ipecac]

I don't know which is stranger, to see the band on Mike Patton's label or to see them still putting out albums after all this time. I've been hearing a lot of grumpiness from fans of the band's early work regarding their last album (BLOOD RUN) and this one -- the big complaint seems to be that the band keeps doing the same thing, no progression, blah blah blah. I think it's probably more accurate to note than with a band like this, "progression" happens in small doses and subtle ways; to that end, this is a good record, if not one the naysayers are likely to find spectacular. People who weren't impressed with BLOOD RUN won't be impressed with this one, either, although if you ask me it's the best album they've made since SCATTERED, SMOTHERED AND COVERED -- there's plenty of the usual gutshot intensity, sure, but more subtle and unexpected moments like the atypical intro to "Against the Grain" and the bluesy solo that ends "This Stops At the River," not to mention the swirling sheets of sound and knitting-needle guitar lines of "Windshield" and the subterranean deathcrush of "East Broadway"; meanwhile, the sound all over the album is absolutely vast, monolithic, and all-encompassing, like being swallowed by a NYC sewer while bulldozers duel on the crumbling concrete overhead. And let's face it, even if you think the songs aren't varied enough (and that would probably be a fair assessment; the band has always been more about grinding doom and attitude than actual songwriting), they sound like they really mean business and the band (especially singer / guitarist Chris Spencer) are as intense as a gun in your face. You can dis 'em if you like -- it's not going to stop them, you know? -- but me, I'm just going to play the damn thing again....

Ipecac Recordings

Vorkuta -- INTO THE CHASMS OF LUNACY [Paragon Records]

Hungary is not exactly the first place that leaps to mind when thinking of cold, grim, relentless black metal, but they must know something I don't, because Vorkuta (originally known as Fjord, who released one demo before changing their name) definitely know how to channel the spirit of original greats like Burzum, Bathory, and Darkthrone while retaining their own furious sound. It helps that they are an actual band (even if, in the true spirit of old-school black metal, they employ a session drummer -- in this case Nihilist, whose pounding aggression does a lot to propel the band into new realms of fury), and the band is tight and focused. They use keyboards effectively from time to time (as on 'Stardust" and especially the eerie, dissonant drone of "Within the Fortress of Melancholia"), in a style distinctly reminiscent of early Burzum, and incorporate a lot of found sound and atmospheric noises into the intros and backgrounds, but the best moments are when the fizzy, distorted guitars kick in and vocalist Blizzard shrieks like one of the guys in Abruptum just bit him on the leg (see "Gargoyle" for an excellent demonstration of such ravishing grimness). This is the band's debut, and given how good it is, one can only wonder how much more terrifying they'll sound a couple of albums down the line.

Paragon Records

Sunday, April 1, 2007

the latest issue (first wave)


Welcome to the first wave of reviews in the new location of THE ONE TRUE DEAD ANGEL. Here's the deal: As you may already know, the past couple of months have been a tad traumatic -- first my PC was destroyed by a virus, then the website went bye-bye, then other ridiculous things conspired to interfere with fixing all of the above. But now I have a new PC, the website is back up, and to prevent such disasters in the future, I have moved to posting the reviews here, in blog format, so that even if the website gets "lost" again, the reviews will still be here. I still haven't completely figured out what I'm doing with the new format, so you'll have to bear with me there, and I'm still behind on reviews, but working hard to catch up. The plan now is to whittle down the pile with one new post a week until the beginning of May, at which point the reviews will revert to being monthly.

And now, for that first majestic wave:

Bastard Noise / Government Alpha -- RESURRECTION [Thumbprint Press]

Now this is what I call a severely swank item -- a tribute of sorts to Koji Tano (MSBR) from two very loud and destructive bands, played at a truly unholy volume and packaged in one of the niftiest sleeves ever (a foldout mylar booklet with amazing artwork by Yasutoshi Yoshida, with the disc in a clear plastic sleeve and the entire shebang in a clear poly sleeve). The first six tracks are by Government Alpha, and they are punishing... daft volume and screeching hijinks, all chittering noises and howling electrons and pure hacked-up sonic filth, scraping your ears clean with a nonstop assault of sonic violence. Most of the tracks sooner or later sound like a fleet of airplanes and battleships being sucked down the universe's largest garbage disposal, complete with air raid sirens blaring a helpless, pointless warning until the bleating metal boxes are sucked into oblivion as well. There's a lot of genuinely painful high-end squealing going on as well -- tell Granny to bring her earplugs! The three Bastard Noise tracks are not quite as intensely in your face -- in fact, "lost city" starts with nothingness and slowly builds into ominous fields of drone, dark and throbbing sounds that suggest impending violence and terror, but never gets truly violent despite implying this is going to happen at any moment. (The Bastard Noise tracks are also longer -- much longer -- and their three tracks may, in fact, take up more of the disc than the six from Government Alpha). The track "winter sacrifice" starts out quietly, with rhythmic noise and the occasional burst of reverbed sound in the background, but gradually builds to a denser thicket of hissing, brooding steam machine noises and shrieks. The final track, "iron mountain," is more of a pure drone-o-matic experience, with hollowed-out sounds and trembling bass hum over which washes of sound an unearthly wailing come and go. Essential stuff if you're down with either band, maybe even if you're not (the package is worth having for the artwork alone).

Bastard Noise
Government Alpha
Thumbprint Press

Bjerga / Iversen -- COSMIC SURGERY [Housepig Records]

More interesting, obscure stuff from Housepig, this time from a couple of prolific Norwegian dudes (Sindre Bjerga and Jan Iversen, with about thirty releases to their credit on other labels). The three long tracks they present here are all about the amplified sounds of unusual objects and sound structures like ceremonial processions of droning ambience and noise (this is especially true of "Transmitting Into the Void," where they generate a truly celestial, near-religious tone reminiscent of Joy Division's more funeral tracks from CLOSER, but minus the rock and leavened with clanking industrial sounds and intermittent strains of moaning background noise). The highly resonant tones continue on "Beauty Spot," where the clatter of amplified oddities is a bit more evident and the drone considerably thicker. Of the two untitled tracks that end the disc, the first is anchored by heavy thudding that forms a primitive rhythm as a swirling drone grows to overtake that initial sound, while the other is more of an outer-space transmission, sounding like the sound of electromagnetic waves being beamed from faraway satellites as spaceships hover and dock. Eerie and compelling stuff, and like the Pulse Emitter disc described later, packaged in a poly sleeve with a hand-printed sleeve by Nic Schmidt and limited to 100 copies. Get it while it's hot!

Housepig Records

Burning Star Core -- BLOOD LIGHTNING 2007 [No Fun Productions]

I had the good fortune to see BSC during SXSW, at the Holy Mountain / No Quarter showcase, and was greatly impressed by Yeh and his mutant violin processing (he plays an electric violin running through a table full of efx boxes and sound-processing gadgets, so what comes out of the speakers has very little resemblance to what he actually plays). The results are surprisingly rhythmic at times, and filled with an endless stream of weird sounds, hypnotic rhythms, and a tendency toward muffled noises (and on "a curse on the coast," uneasy and unorthodox vocals) create droning mutant soundscapes filled with equal amounts of inexplicable beauty, damaged transmissions, and unnerving otherness. Think Excepter on bad acid and Quualudes... haunting drones destroyed by a perverse and cryptic aesthetic. The tracks are generally more drone-o-rific than noise-laden ("the universe is designed to break your mind" is an exception that inverts the equation, sounding like a subway train overturning and sliding down the tunnel on its side while robot angels drone in the background), and there are some unsettling moments on "10-09-04 horrible room, lexington ky" as well, a track in which he's joined by Robert Beatty on acoustic appraiser and electronics, Mike Shillet on computer and electronics, and Trevor Tremaine, on drums and percussion. For the most part, though, it's a solo excursion in processed sound and the violent thrashing of an instrument not even remotely designed for this kind of behavior. (Of course, I approve greatly of this.) Bonus points for the semi-pornographic cover and eerie illustrations inside the gatefold sleeve.

No Fun Productions

Earth -- HIBERNACULUM [Southern Lord]

Dylan Carson is back, with more of the same overamplified Morricone-worship he exhibited on the band's previous album, HEX. This time he applies that sound -- the loud, huge, but clean tone that he debuted the last time around, completely transforming the band's sound and reinvigorating the guitarist's entire approach in the process -- to three of the band's earlier works ("Ouroboros is Broken," from the first album; "Coda Maestoso In F (Flat) Minor," from PENTASTAR; and "Miami Morning Coming Down," from the SCATTER compilation), reinventing them in a fashion more suitable for an epic western. The results are interesting; even while the songs remain entirely recognizable (especially in the case of "Ouroboros"), the lack of distortion and attention to chordal detail transforms the songs greatly, turning them into a new listening experience. The fourth song, "A Plague of Angels," is taken from a tour-only split release with Sunn O))) and fits in well with the rest of the album -- it's long and incredibly slow, full of droning, endlessly resonating chords and a steady, primal beat, a composition driven by escalating layers of tone and drone. The cd is also accompanied by a dvd containing the Earth documentary WITHIN THE DRONE, shot by artist Seldon Hunt with the band's cooperation over the course of their 2006 European tour. Hunt's not about to make you forget Scorsese or anything like that, but the film is reasonably well-done and watchable, with plenty of live footage in swell places like Amsterdam's Paradiso to go with the repetitive shots of the tour bus rolling down the highway past snow-covered mountains. Dylan gets the opportunity to expound at length on his artistic vision, in his own mumbling fashion, and Hunt gets to shoot footage from a variety of peculiar vantage points, with subtle but unsettling results. Bonus points for the lovely artwork and design.

Southern Lord


The latest release from FITH is a brutish, painful collection of filth-encrusted industrial rhythms and pure white noise, angry sounds designed to scrape your inner ear clean and maybe even shut your eardrums down forever. Looped electronic sounds, harsh distorted vocals, noise-encrusted drones, and other overamplified acts of sonic destruction come together in an attack hearkening back to old-school power electronics (think Con-Dom, Sutcliffe Jugend minus the misogyny, and other pioneers of the junk-noise power electronics aesthetic). This is loud, aggressive material steeped in a misanthropic distaste for the more sordid and hypocritical elements of the modern world, with a sound designed to intimidate and horrify. This album was originally recorded at the same time as BE MY ENEMY and has been hung up in the release pipeline for a while, but FITH's aggravation is the listener's gain, because since then a number of collaborators have stepped up to the plate to enhance the release even further -- Gee Vaucher of Crass has contributed original artwork for the digipack cover and tray, while Guilty Connector and Hum of the Druid have added remixes / reconstructions of "Catch 23" and "Amdist My Enemies' Graves." The total result is a sonic catastrophe of terror and violence. Limited to 300 copies.

Fire in the Head
NCC Records

Gallhammer -- THE DAWN OF... [Peaceville]

If you're like me, you've been waiting for this for a long, long time. (If you haven't been waiting for it, you may wonder just what the fuss is all about.) For those not hep to the whole Gallhammer thing, the band was formed in 2003 by the vocalists for several underground Tokyo bands (Meat Slave, for one) who were interested in expanding on their fixation with Hellhammer, Amebix, and gross-sounding music in general. Over the course of several demos, EPs, and split appearances, the band developed a genuinely dark, scary sound heavy on explosively overdriven and lo-fi tones, primitive riffs, black atmospheres, and pained shrieking. They welded this sick-sounding aesthetic to a horrified living-dead girl live act with roots as much in Kabuki theater as in early Amebix or Hellhammer, and built a rapid and enthusiastic cult following in the process. Shortly after the release of GLOOMY LIGHTS on a couple of obscure overseas labels, the UK metal label Peaceville signed them, put them in the studio, and began designing this nifty retrospective package. A combination cd/dvd package in a foldout digipack, the audio disc contains twelve tracks of old and new material culled from sessions for the forthcoming album, a couple of prior demos, and tracks from a recent rehearsal session, all of which make for a useful introduction to the band for neophytes and collects up a lot of swell stuff in one place that enthusiasts like myself probably already have. The dvd is an even better deal, with live video tracks from no less than six different shows spanning February, 2005 to July, 2006. The six tracks from the Okayama Pepper Land venue are the best (or at least, certainly the most professional-looking) ones; everything else is considerably further down the quality ladder in terms of viewability, but even the most primitive footage reveals all sorts of interesting insights to the band (especially the early appearance at Tokyo Watts, where they play the material much faster, making their speed / thrash metal roots a whole lot more obvious). This is a really sensible package with a lot to offer, and now I'm really looking forward to the forthcoming full-length all that much more, especially after hearing the two new recordings for "Speed of Blood" and ""At the Onset of the Age of Despair"....

Peaceville Records

Nagelfar -- VIRUS WEST (reissue) [Van]

First things first: Just to clear up any confusion, this is the Nagelfar from Germany (the one with "e" in the name, yes?), not the Naglfar from Sweden who misplaced their "e" (and aren't anywhere near as hot, to hear some tell it). The band is actually defunct now; this is a reissue of their third and final album, an overlooked classic that is now getting a second chance at finding an audience. Make no mistake, this is real black metal, not any watered-down commercial attempt at pandering to sell t-shirts; the band sings in German, peppers their grim 'n furious attack with background noise and unexpected bursts of sound, and sonically speaking, sounds like they stopped listening to anything made after about 1992 that wasn't from some country where everything is frozen and there are too many trees to ever see the sun. This is reminiscent at times of early Burzum and Urgehal, but more complex than the former and less conventional in its structures than the latter. The energy level (especially on the drummer's part) is formidable, if not downright insane in places, and the misanthropic vibe is matched only by the soul-crushing ambience of bleak, oppressive alientation and pounding violence that permeates the entire album. Progressive in the way Bethelem tries so hard to be but far more effortless and ten times heavier, it's not hard to see how this album won a pile of critic's awards when it was first released. It's still better than most of what's out there now, and if you're down with the crown but haven't heard this yet... well, you should. And soon.


Orthodox -- GRAN PODER [Southern Lord]

This is the first album by Spain's Orthodox (actually a reissue, with one bonus track, of the album that originally appeared on Alone Records in their homeland), and it's absurdly slow and heavy, even for a band on Southern Lord. Highly reminiscent of early Melvins and Sleep, the band plows through their material at a pace so glacial that the guitar solos more closely resemble psychedelic music than metal; the feedback-drenched guitar and seismic bass are what make them doomlike, but the hocus-pocus, sometimes jazzy drums and a general tendency to devolve into screeching, shuddering tarpits of near-white noise are what make them something else altogether. I also like the way "Geryon's Throne," after crawling along at a snail's pace for seventeen minutes, suddenly threatens to get much faster courtesy of the drummer's wild beats, only to collapse into a black hole of feedback, drone, guitar like an air raid siren, and pure metallic shrapnel... and then it does get faster, a lot faster, as the drummer tries to see how fast he can beat his trap to death. The other three original songs are nowhere near as long (but every bit as heavy), and marked by some really distinctive (and at times highly hyperactive) drumming, even as the rest of the band lurches along like they're stuck in a tarpit. "El Lamento de Cabron" opens with nothing but cymbals spaced many seconds apart before the full band kicks in with monumental heaviness, and here again their approach to other elements (in this case, the heavily processed vocals) has more in common with psychedelic and experimental music than traditional metal. As an added bonus exclusive to Southern Lord's reissue, they completely obliterate the Venom song "Genocide" (it helps that they are considerably better players than that band). Bottom line: Any band that sounds like a building caving in (in extreme slow motion, no less) is more than okay with me. Highly recommended for your next nod-out.

Southern Lord

Pulse Emitter -- PLANETARY TORTURE [Housepig Records]

PE is actually one guy from Portland, Daryl Groetsch, who creates layered sounds using hand-built modular synths, and the sounds he dredges up on the four long tracks here are great -- fat, dark drones, rhythmic mechanical noises, sweeping oscillator sounds, and the occasional burst of crunchy white noise. The second track in particular ("warming rays") is full of pulsing rhythmic action and harsh noise crunchiness, pleasing sounds to bring a tear to your eye (or maybe some weeping from the ears). The tracks are all markedly different in their techniques and methods of sonic attack; probably the most abrupt and jarring one is "ash," in which explosive mini-bursts of sound do battle with gritty background noise, sounding like dueling soldiers in the hills throwing molotov cocktails at each other. Swell noisy sounds and textured landscapes, with bonus points for the hand-printed insert by Seattle artist Nic Schmidt. Limited to 100 copies, so you better hurry up if you're gonna grab it, dig?

Housepig Records

Religious Knives -- REMAINS [No Fun Productions]

This is the first full-length release from Religious Knives (who get a million bonus points for the name alone), the band featuring members of Double Leopards and Mouthus, and it collects up a pile of material that's long gone out of print, all remastered by James Plotkin (Old, Khanate, etc.) to bring everything up to the current state of the art. The material includes two tracks from their limited-run No Fun lp (which sold out in two weeks), their Heavy Tapes single (limited to 200 copies), and a tour-only cd-r (limited to 100 copies) that has been remixed for this release. It's all about the heavy drone and hypno-beats (at least on "bind them," which sounds like they own a tabla and they're not afraid to use it), and a gauzy, ambient, almost tribal sound reminiscent of works by Angus MacLise (the original drummer for Velvet Underground and a primary member of LaMonte Young's Theater of Eternal Music). There's an even heavier old-school psych vibe running through "electricity & air," along with more inscrutable percussion and a thick blanket of audio fog to go with the PHANTOM OF THE OPERA keyboard stylings, while "black bird" suggests a more shimmering approach path up the mountain of drone, with heavy reverb and ghostly piano / violin and what sounds like bottles being smashed way off in one corner of the room. The percussive attack is even heavier on "wax & flesh" (and the drone, when it rises, more intimidating), and "the train" is like the sound of a blind cyclotron rotating endlessly in darkness, firing off random bursts of light over a heavy bass hum and ambient, high-pitched swirling. In other words, it's all quality stuff from obscure press runs that will probably bankrupt you if you try to score the original vinyl on Ebay. Get this instead, your wallet will be happier and this disc will take up less space in your collection than the original releases. The disc comes in a gatefold package that displays all the original album cover art on the inside, along with the liner notes.

Religious Knives
No Fun Productions

Ruins of Beverast -- RAIN UPON THE IMPURE [Van]

In the true spirit of lo-fi old-school black metal, this disc was mastered at such a low volume that you have to really crank it up to tell what's going on... but when you do, the sawtooth detail that jumps out makes this a riveting listening experience to be sure. The sound is cold, dark, primitive, blazing in speed, and beyond lo-fi; the songs are also real long and positively caked in blood-freezing atmospherics and a bleak ambience that hearkens back to classics like the first two Abruptum albums and the first full-length from Manes. The seven long songs play out in just under 80 minutes, and the epic number of movements within each song effectively turn the entire album into an epic journey through varying emotional levels of darkness and forbidding despair, and despite the length, things never get boring... especially when more reflective moments abruptly give way to raging drums and more gutteral shrieking. Whether it's slow or fast, the album's attitude is consistently akin to putting a boot through your face (or perhaps, during the slower moments, merely grinding your spine into paste); even through acres of reverb, the animosity is never less than total, and all that cavernous reverb reduces everything to a blurry drill press speeding through glacial walls. The guy behind all this evil primitivism is the former drummer for Nagelfar, so it's not terribly surprising that he shares that band's fondness for speed and pure intensity, but it's impressive how well he holds his own in creating that sonic circle of abyssic destruction all by his li'l lonesome. This is probably destined to become a classic of lo-fi, atmospheric black metal. It's certainly intense enough (and more than lo-fi enough for me).


Sky Burial -- OF THE FIRST LIGHT [Audio Immolation Industries]

Michael Page (Fire in the Head, Irukandji) returns in dark-ambient form with yet another excellent album of mystical drones, this time inspired by the Wampanoag tribe (whose name translates to "people of the first light"). The tribe in question were the original inhabitants of Cape Cod, one of the first places in the US to see the sunrise every day, and the twelve tracks on this disc feature a dark, swirling sound every bit as eerie and mysterious as the subject matter would suggest. The sound is one of swirling drone and glacial wind, a world of pure ambient sound with no vocals that suggests vast, open spaces and unearthly spirits moving through barren fields and the dark night sky as dawn approaches. It's an aesthetic very much in the vein of Lustmord or Final, featuring the processed sounds of nature, invoking visions of the spirit world and a forgotten time. As with the earlier releases, this is a stellar addition to the drone canon. Limited to 200 copies, with a beautiful letterpress cover courtesy of the swell people at Thumbprint Press.

Sky Burial

Suishou no Fune -- WHERE THE SPIRITS ARE [Holy Mountain]

Holy Mountain calls the band's sound "chaotic dream music," and the description is apt -- the opening of the first track, "Vale of spirits," is indeed a clattering, noisy burst of sound (mostly thanks to drummer Tail, who appears on only two tracks), but it soon settles into a drifting sea of oceanic drone and simple but highly emotional guitar lines, carrying Pirako's plaintive vocals aloft as if floating through the clouds. The second track, "Your tears drop from the sky," continues in a similar fashion, with Tail's steady beat providing the backdrop for swirling guitar drone and more emotion-charged wailing. The remaining three tracks (all recorded live at the Velvet Sun in Ogikubo; the first two were recorded at the UFO Club in Koenji) are beatless wonders in which Pirako and Kaego weave interstellar psych guitars and epic sheets of drone to form an aesthetic somewhere between early Fushitsusha, Shizuka, and Kadura. The music ebbs and flows, dropping down to minimalist guitar lines backed by tinkling guitar motifs that rise and repeat, spiraling into darkness only to be met by Pirako's high and breathy vocal delivery. "Black Phantom," the one track where Kaego sings (with a vocal approach that is much darker and earthier than Pirako's) is a drifting river of bass-heavy drone punctuated by piercing guitar notes, and the final track, "A rose bloomed," incorporates tones of a deeply spiritual nature, a sensation matched equally by Pirako's emotionally-charged vocals. This is one of the best psychedelic albums I've heard come out of Japan in a long time, and it's fitting that this is essentially a live album, because the band is very much a live band -- I saw them perform three times at SXSW, each time under wildly varying circumstances, and they were brilliant all three times. If you are already hep to the psychedelic sounds of underground Japan, or merely in search of quality "dream music," then you need this, and you need it real, real bad.

Suishou no Fune
Holy Mountain

Total Fucking Destruction --- ZEN AND THE ART OF... [Translation Loss]

Maaaaaan... first Brutal Truth reforms (thank you, Ra!), then they announce they're going to tour with TFD opening every night -- yes, drummer Rich Hoak is going to do double duty, just because he can -- and now Translation Loss coughs up the latest full-length from Hoak's fabulous ubergrind band. The disc is essentially divided into three sections (T: electric, F: acoustic, and D: video) to show off three sides of the band. The first segment is ten short and obscenely frantic bursts of beyond-hyperactive spazzing-out, like the band is trying to play their instruments while running from the cops as they go flying down the stairs of the Empire State Building at breakneck speed. Best moments from this segment include the howling, aggressive incoherence of "beat up," the genuinely psychotic-sounding howls of "DON'T TOUCH ME!" in "mad pig disease," and the churning balls-out METAL! of "corpse position" (the nifty title doesn't suck either). The third segment is a live recording from Hazel's in Philadelphia -- ten songs spewed out with relentless abandon in a shitty basement, some of which are on this disc elsewhere, some of which aren't, all of which are entirely humorous to watch. The best part of the album, though, is the midsection -- four bizarre (and bizarrely catchy) acoustic singalongs about biosatanic terrorism, beating up ill-tempered jocks, the joys of carrying a boxcutter, and one of the greatest songs ever recorded, "nihilism, emptiness, nothingness, nonsense" (the sole lyrics, repeated throughout the song as the rhythm slowly evolves, slows, and disappears). Surely this is the mark of greatness, not to mention highly promising in light of the forthcoming BT shows and (one hopes) album.

Total Fucking Destruction
Translation Loss