Abiku / Kid Camaro -- split 7" [Automation Records]
So this is what the techno kids are doing these days after so many years of futzing with computers, pawn-store electronic boxes, and exposure to noise and glitch electronica. Abiku comes on strong in bizarre fashion, with three tracks of odd noises, spacy synth doodling, and sped-up techno beats, each one louder and more frantic than the one before it, all blasted into oblivion by the whacked-out operatic shrieking of a female vocalist who sounds like a demented cross between the singer of Le Rita Mitsouko and the singer for Demisemiquaver. All three tracks burn by and are finished in not much more time than it takes to spit your coffee on the floor and shake your head in disbelief at such psychotronic sounds. Imagine a mildly lighter (but every bit as hyper) Atari Teenage Riot with an even more eccentric singer and a sense of humor and you get the general drift.... Kid Camaro's two tracks are not quite as deliberately insane, but every bit as informed by glitch electronics, squiggly sounds, and catchy techno beats. The first is a leisurely stroll through electro-land, but the second is a more insistent batch of rhythms and twee keys, like jungle gone new-wave (or maybe new age). Unlike Abiku, Kid Camaro favors instrumental tracks, so much the better to catch all the space-age bleeping and squeaking. Swell, glitch-laden stuff.
Robert Anbian and the Unidentified Flying Quartet -- s/t [Edgetone Records]
This is a throwback to the era of exotica, an album that would have shown up in one of the ReSearch volumes INCREDIBLY STRANGE MUSIC if it had been released in an earlier era instead of now. Poet Robert Anabian recites, in a suave beatnik hipster voice, strange poems about dispossessed suburbia and other alien forms of American life over a bedrock of reverb-heavy, jazz-tinged lounge music that sounds like it was dialed up from a sixties exotica album. Backed by a stellar band -- E. Doctor Smith on the Drummstick and electronics, Charles Unger on sax, Sam Peoples on acoustic electric piano and electronics, and Mike Shea on acoustic and electric bass -- his eccentric and highly evocative poety is perfectly suited for the jazzy nightlife music. The music these players generate owes as much to Brian Eno and languid legends of jazz as to exotica, too; it's highly compelling in its easygoing listenability, with insistent and catchy rhythms and melodic sax bleating designed to accent Anbian's mellow yet mysterious voice. Mere words can't even begin to describe how marvelous this sounds, and how whacked-out yet utterly brilliant Anbian's poetry is. Fans of poetry, spoken word, exotica, and jazz need to hear this.
The Unidentified Flying Quartet
Ash Pool -- GENITAL TOMB cs [Tour de Garde]
Ash Pool is actually the black metal incarnation of Prurient mastermind Dominick F., and his taste in black metal clearly runs toward the fuzzed-out, no-fi variety -- the four songs here are mainly characterized by bad-ass riffs that degenerate into sloppy playing, bleak and tinny-sounding drums, and lots of the same hoarse shouting featured on Prurient releases. The sound is murky and subterranean at best, and at its most ferocious, the fast moments are not exactly super tight; in fact, anybody who's not down with the glory of bone-shattering primitivism might rightly find this hideously unlistenable. The sound quality is not quite as deliberately alienating as, say, any given Nunslaughter release or Striborg demo, but it's certainly right on up there, often sounding like a live bootleg recorded on a microcassette recorder sitting in the front pocket of some dude buried deep in the audience. How much of that is due to this being an early foray into the genre and how much is deliberate is hard to tell; given Dominick's history in Prurient, it's entirely easy to believe he went out of his way to make this as deliberately unpalatable as possible. The guitar sound is amazing, though -- he attacks his guitar like he's trying to beat it to death (or at least wrestle it to the ground so he can step on it a few times) -- and there's certainly nothing wimpy, hesitant, or even remotely commercial about any of this. I think it's brilliant stuff (although I wouldn't mind some improvement in the drum sound), but there should be no question that most will definitely find this to be an acquired taste, to put it mildly.
Tour de Garde
Castrum -- PHENOMENONSENSE [Bloodbucket Productions]
Hailing from the Ukraine, Castrum play highly melodic death metal with a militaristic feel to the fast passages -- they sound heavily influenced by East European and Polish metal in particular (big surprise, given where they're from), which means the fast parts are really fast and built on rhythms not usually found in American and British metal, and their approach to scales and guitar in general are fairly exotic-sounding. Impenetrably squiggly riffs suddenly turn into melodic pieces one step removed from being ragas, and their riffs are probably infuenced just as much by Ukranian folk music (albeit speeded up to ridiculous proportions) as by, say, Metallica or Destruction. There's some seriously ornate arrangements happening behind the melodic guitar attack, too... and then there's the whole business of the vocalist, who sounds like a Viking transported from the Middle Ages. (He sings in English, incidentally, although in true death style, it's sometimes hard to tell -- but that's why they printed lyrics inside the booklet, right?) Don't be fooled by the exotica, though; this is heavy, heavy stuff from guys with serious technical chops, and unlike a lot of metal from their part of the world -- where unstable political climates have led to rampant economic distress, making it difficult for the average East European band to afford quality recording services -- this is really well-recorded. (Of course, this is also only their third album and they've been around since 1994, so that should tell you something about the relative difficulty in getting albums made over there.) Even scarier, this is actually a trio, something not readily evident from how much is going on here (did I mention they save serious technical chops?); how the guitarist manages to sing while playing such strange-sounding stuff is beyond me. (That must be the part they call "talent.") The best part is that they have just enough of a connection to the early wave of death metal to hold mucho appeal for those who grew up listening to those classic bands, but their location and foreign sensibility makes them really fresh-sounding. This is great stuff, and any thrash-lovin' fool worth his (or her) worn-out Whiplash albums should seek this out (and be glad that you can get it cheap through a US label, instead of having to pay an arm and a leg in postage for overseas mail).
Clockcleaner -- BABYLON RULES [Load Records]
Imagine 70s hard rock seized, beaten, and disfigured by the children of the noise era and you have a clue as to Clockcleaner's sinister agenda. The band takes rhythms and song structures descended from late 70s / early 80s hard rock and bathes them in distortion, noisy effects, and a postmodern sensibility that emerges as something akin to discofied pop for a generation weaned on more extreme sounds. Distorted, crunge-laden bass and heavily-processed guitar lines dance around a big beat as vocalist / guitarist John Sharkey III croaks and moans like Peter Murphy on a serious helping of downers. Despite the traditional lineup (a trio on drums, bass, and guitar) and a penchant for plundering from the past to create surprisingly catchy tunes, this is hardly traditional pop music, and while it's superficially more conventional than the average Load release, it's still probably a bit too "out there a minute" for the average indie-pop listener -- on the other hand, it makes a nice bridge between the extreme end of indie rock and the outer rings of noise music, making it something worth hearing for those caught in the middle (or at least hep to the sounds that can be found in that particular zone that goes so frequently unexplored). The eight tracks here are a swell foray into the peculiar possibilities inherent in combing hard rock, no-wave, noise, and pop, full of lurching, queasy energy and a surprising level of listenabilty for a concept so fundamentally absurd. Bonus points for Karen Horner's groovy distort-o-centric bass sound.
Cuntworm -- ARIA DES VAMPUR [Bloodbucket Productions]
Sure, they have one of the most deliberately offensive names ever -- I guess they can kiss the WalMart sales goodbye, huh? -- but at least their sound and attitude live up to the name. The sound on this disc is a bizarre and disorienting mix of industrial, goth, and raging black metal that takes perverse pleasure in taking off in wildly different directions without any warning whatsoever. Spooky gothic keyboard interludes turn into blazing bursts of black metal propelled by high-speed machine rhythms, which in turn become pulsing industrial soundscapes, and so on. In keeping with true black metal chaos theory, there's very little traditional logic to how the movements change from one to the next -- it's designed to be unpredictable, dig? Nevertheless, once you're past the initial shock of realizing that it's all going to be a diabolical mindfuck, as the album progresses, it all starts to fall into place, and their approach is coming from a number of highly interesting directions, encompassing gothic keyboards (and an equally gothic obsession with the undead), industrial moves inspired by as much by Cabaret Voltaire and Front 242 as by Ministry, interesting approaches to sonic texture that call to mind Coil and NIN's more adventurous moments, not to mention over-the-top juggernaut black metal. Despite the decidely unsubtle implications of their name, they have the good sense to lay back at times, filling the void with clanking sounds, obscure samples, and brooding ambient darkness, before seguing into more amped-up hostility, and there are so many layers of sound and so many different textures that the album is far less one-dimensional than one might expect. Strange, exotic, and highly intriguing, but definitely not for those who like their music easy to digest.
Day / Boardman -- ONE TO SEVEN [Public Eyesore]
The Day and Boardman in question are Bryan Day (guitar, taisho-goto, radio) and Alex Boardman (guitar), and the title refers to the seven tracks, numbered "part 1" through "part 7." The seven tracks are a series of playful, mostly subdued improvisations that find the two players playing against each other about as often as they play together; the sound of these pieces involves much bowing and plucking, along with the occasional foray into percussive string action, and while the work never quite resolves into actual songs in the traditional sense, they're nowhere near as random as the sound of most improv work, either. They employ a wide variety of sounds -- even opening with loud feedback that gradually dies away before ending abruptly (only to return later) on "part 4" -- to keep things moving along. Frequently one guitar plays a cryptic, extended rhythmic figure while the other one carries on a more percussive or improvisational counterpoint; their interplays flows from moments where their playing is unified to moments when they are moving in two totally different directions, and yet the odd, disjointed nature of things never spirals into complete chaos. At times their sound approaches a musical form of Morse code, invoking the spirit of secret messages waiting to be properly decoded. More strange transmissions from the land of improvisational freedom.
Dimentianon -- HOSSANAS NOVUS ORDO SECLURUM [Non Compos Mentis]
This is punishing stuff that straddles the vague boundary between death and black metal (leaning more toward the latter) that distinguished early bands of the genre like Beherit, Mayhem, Darkthrone, and early Impaled Nazarene, driven by fast martial drumming and simple but speedy riffs. The production here is much better than the records from that initial wave of black metal, though, and the band's approach is more sophisticated -- witness, for instance, the use of noise as an atmospheric device at the beginning of "Bloodshed from a Black Rose," where the intense drumming fades in over the grim sonic rumble -- than any of those bands, with the possible exception of Mayhem (whose classic DE MYSTERIIS DOM SATHANAS is probably a big influence on the proceedings here). The band is capable of much more than just thrashing their way through the black metal woods, however; atmospheric touches appear from time to time, such as the symphonic keyboard introduction to "Netzach," along with intricate and melodic guitar on "To Be Crowned King and Stabbed to Death," and they make effective use of the contrast between crunchy rumbling noise and folky guitar at the beginning of "To Return That Which Is Above to That Which Is Below." The bulk of their sound, however, is focused on crushing guitar power and thundering drums (it's worth mentioning here, incidentally, that the drums sound really good, certainly more clear and distinct than the drums on early black metal releases), with a powerful and compelling vocalist riding over the top. This is excellent material, well worth seeking out, and they get bonus points for incorporating the work of Francis Bacon into the booklet art.
Non Compos Mentis
Dimentianon / Rigor Sardonicous -- AMORES DEFUNCTUUS TUUS MATER [Half Life Records]
What you get here are three tracks by each band on one handy disc, including a reworked version of Dimentianon's "Just Before Dawn," which originally appeared on their debut album I'ALDIA. The Dimentianon tracks are similar in sound and intent to the material on the full-length reviewed elsewhere in this wave of reviews -- lots of blinding speed and upfront drumming, although the track "Choir of Despair" is a slower and more melodic piece of work entirely. All three tracks, though, are punctuated by grim, hellish vocals and an appropriately blackened guitar tone, and the third track, "Just Before Dawn," is an intimidating blur of machine-gun drumming, blurry lightning tremelo guitar, and hoarse vocal hate. The first two Rigor Sardonicous tracks are slow, lumbering slices of funeral doom built around fizzy barbed-wire guitar and inhumanly subterranean vocals that sound like the singer was born downtuned and capable of speaking only at half-speed. (Looking at the band's site, I gather this doomlike vocal sound is a problem for some people, but those people must be sissies.) In other words, mind-bending stuff -- true epic doom that unfolds at an absolute crawl, anchored by giant, distorted guitar chords and pokey, no-frills drumming. Hearing this makes me sorry I don't already own the rest of the band's albums, something I'll obviously have to fix, and soon. Their third track, "Blood of the Seraphim," is a fast, pounding work of supreme heaviness -- definitely not what you'd expect from a band devoted to slow-motion doom -- that does finally break down into monolithic slowness that nearly rivals Corrupted for sheer heaviness. The entire disc is excellent, but this is worth having just for the Rigor Sardonicous tracks alone. A word to the wise: The poop sheet that came with this indicated that it would be available on Half Life, but I don't see any mention of it on their site, so those who are interested in acquiring it would probably be better off ordering it through Paragon Records, who are also carrying the full-length Dimentianon release (see earlier review) and other albums by Rigor Sardonicous as well.
Half Life Records
Eloine -- SHORT COMMUNITY [Digitalis Industries]
Eloine is secretly Bryan Day, the brain between the mighty Public Eyesore label, doing strange things with guitars and strings and things. This is loose-limbed, mostly mellow improv, three long tracks worth -- "dangling filaments" is filled with the sound of strings being plucked, bent, wiggled, jiggled, and generally bent out of shape in an incredible live simulation of the wow and flutter of a cassette tape someone fished out of the river and tried to play in a cheap boombox on a really hot day. Drones and what might be subliminal field recordings make their way into "bonanza illusion," where bell-like tones and vaguely melodic guitar plucking is augmented by the lonesome wail of some cheap wind instrument and rumbling waves of sound like tidal motion in the background. The final track, "apples on a cutting board," is a return to the minimalist tinkering of the first track, albeit with the occasional bass-heavy twang or squealing shriek to keep you on your toes. The end result is a drifting, subdued journey through tones and drones, with some truly pleasant melodic and harmonic moments amid the drowsy flow of sound.
Fire in the Head -- I/CON [Autarkeia]
The latest release from FITH (on the Lithuanian label Autarkeia, limited to 500 copies) is an obsessive exploration of religion as mental illness by way of harsh, grinding power electronics and processed voices. Eleven tracks of hallucinatory sandstorm electroviolence pave the way for a vision of religous mania as its own special form of hell, and while the intensity of attack varies -- from the brooding, near-ambient wind-tunnel drone of tracks like "Written in Her Own Blood Mk. II" and "Fissures in the Lining" to more forbidding exercises in earhurt like "Speaking in Severed Tongues" and the swooping, dive-bombing drones of "Intravenous Incendiary Device" -- the full-on commitment to complete audio dread never does. This is scary-sounding stuff, made even more frightening by the addition of frightening vocal snippets and dense layers of chaotic sound. The cumulative effect is even more forbidding in light of the fact that, unlike many harsh-noise acts, the attack is not constantly full-on; rather, there are long stretches of brooding, dark-ambient noise that occasionally burst into explosions of noise shrapnel and overmodulated grind, creating a paranoid atmosphere in which the listener is constantly waiting for rising jolts of terror that arrive at the most unexpected moments. The result is paranoia incarnate, a bad trip of epic proportions. The disc comes in an elegant three-panel digipak that folds out to reveal some truly disturbing artwork entirely appropriate to the religous theme.
Fire in the Head
Hemlock -- BLEED THE DREAM [Candlelight USA]
Not to be confused with the proto-black metal band briefly fronted by Brutal Truth bassist Dan Lilker, this is a metalcore (or whatever they call it now) band from Las Vegas who have toured with the likes of Slayer, Lamb of God, Hatebreed, Slipknot, and the like. As you might expect from such tourmates, they are supremely heavy, although unlike most of those bands, they are not afraid to occasionally break out into tuneful harmony vocals. Characterized mainly by fast, heavy riffing, groove-oriented drums, and hardcore-influenced shouting (when they're not harmonizing, anyway), this is the kind of meat and potatoes modern extreme metal that critics love to hate even while the band is filling auditoriums everywhere they play. There's nothing terribly "progressive" about any of this, but they have a terrific drummer and guitarists who lock up with him for mighty, soul-crushing grooves worthy of intense moshing. Comes with two bonus tracks that are just as heavy and groove-laden as the rest of the album.
Horde of Worms -- UNEARTHLY DESOLATION [Bloodbucket Productions]
Horde of Worms is a two-man black metal wrecking crew (both on guitar, one on croaky death vox and sometimes bass) from Canada with a machine providing the almighty satanic beat -- think Mortician gone black metal and you get the picture. (They also have a real drummer and a bassist for live shows now, although I'm unclear as to how permanent that lineup is, or if the additional members will be involved in future recordings.) They like their sound black and growly and their songs short and fast; this four-track cd-ep clocks in at a little over thirteen minutes, all of it filled with thrashing, blackened guitar and drums like a jackhammer. Occasionally one guitarist drops into midtempo riffing or brief bursts of melodic guitar, but most often they prefer galloping through the wastelands at high speed. Their approach is somewhere between the aforementioned Mortician and scuzzy black metal in the vein of Impaled Nazarene, with appropriately nasty results. Respectable stuff, as long as you're not one of those people overly bothered by "cookie monster" vocals, and at such a short length, it does not wear out its welcome.
Horde of Worms
Kiss the Anus of a Black Cat -- "Turn Hegel on His Head" 7" [Implied Sound]
Those put off by the band's name will never know that they're missing one of the greatest bands to come sailing down the river in a long time. The A-side of this single (on creamy white vinyl!) is a hypnotic, intoxicating mix of repetitive folk strumming, loping slo-mo tribal drums, strange avant electronics in the background, and most of all, the alternately mesmerizing and horrifying vocals of Stef Irritant. The song builds from simple, minimal folk strum to the hysterical sound of a dark, overloaded cyclone of sound that ends in startling fashion with crushing, distorted power chords; the flip side, "Turned Hegel On His Head," sounds like the same track run backwards (and you'd be surprised how good that sounds), although it's actually a completely separate track. The neo-folk psychedelia movement has really picked up speed since the critical press started heaping praise on Devendra Banhart and dozens, maybe even hundreds, of similar-sounding bands sprung up in his wake, but this is the first one that I've actually liked a lot (mainly because they're so much better at what they do than everyone else). Those who have heard the band's initial two cds will find this familiar and every bit as swell; those not already hep to the mysterious sound of the Black Cat should snag this (and the cds, for that matter) posthaste.
Kiss the Anus of a Black Cat
Kites --HALLUCINATION GUILLOTINE / FINAL WORSHIP [Load Records]
Just in case you're wondering about the split title, it comes from the fact that the album is designed to be two sides of an LP, with each title designating a different side (a distinction lost in the cd format). Sole member Chris Forgues builds most of his own instruments, and on this release he also did the artwork (when he's not destroying eardrums, he plies his trade as an artist, and has a comic volume coming out on Picture Box in October) as well as the recording, making this a truly homegrown release in every sense imaginable. The sound this time around is dark and electronic, with bass-heavy oscillator madness and strange, unpleasant sounds jumping back and forth in the speakers along with disembodied voices, crunch-laden noise, and other distorted and unnatural crimes against nature. Some of the tracks, like "Pink Shadows," are violent exercises in overmodulated noise, effects spun madly out of control, and hideous shrieking, but a lot of what's on here is less about pure noise and closer to the early industrial sounds of bands like Throbbing Gristle and Cabaret Voltaire. There's a rhythmic element to many of the tracks here, like the sound of a spaceship shaking itself apart, and unsettling disembodied voices figure heavily into the mix on several pieces, along with the recurring appearance of oscillator tones. This is dark, unsettling stuff, the sound of machines going through withdrawal and sweating out psychotic hallucinations; the gruesome photo on one side of the inner insert just adds to the unease.
Maniac -- FAST AND DEADLY [Bloodbucket Productions]
Why do I get the feeling that the guys in this band probably own every album Exciter ever made? After all, their guitarist is named "Jonny Exciter." Between that, a cover that could have graced the front of any early Exciter album, and the fact that they're from Canada, the connection is kind of inescapable, isn't it? That's not a bad thing, though -- better to be overly enthusiastic worshippers of Exciter than, say, April Wine (*aaaaaaieeeee*). The titles are a tad generic for my taste ("Nightmare," "Predator," "Nuclear Death," "Maniac"... you get the idea, yes?), outside of the highly tasteful "I Vomit on the Shroud of Jesus Christ," which also has incredibly rude lyrics worthy of a Satanic black metal album -- but that's okay, because the titles are only there so you can tell the songs apart and the lyrics are only there so Jonny (well, I think it's him) can have something to yell while shredding his guitar to pieces. The real point of this album -- of the band, really -- is just three things: Speed, more speed, and even more totally ridiculous speed. Seriously, this album is like the 90s and the last seven years never happened at all -- this sounds like it could have been recorded live at L'amour around 1983 on a really good night. What they lack in imagination they make up for with balls-out aggression, sounding most of the time like a hurricane in progress; every so often they slow down (just for a moment, mind you) to add a little variety (remember, man cannot live by shred alone), but those sections probably add up to less than three minutes of the entire album. The rest of it is just a crazed blur of hummingbird riffing, shred-o-matic leads set on puree, and absolutely thunderous drumming. This is truly insane-sounding stuff, a completely unashamed throwback to the days when it was still okay to wear studded leather belts and wail like the second coming of Rob Halford, days when young men played their guitars like they were trying to set the motherfuckers on fire. I can't believe the band didn't self-destruct while recording this album. If you miss the glory days of no-frills, speed-obsessed thrash, then boyee, you need to hear this band.
Method of Destruction -- RED, WHITE AND SCREWED [Index Entertainment]
Billy Milano has been provoking extreme reactions in pretty much anybody within earshot for over twenty years, but give the man his due -- in an industry built on ass-kissing, insincerity, and careerist moves, he's never been shy about freely sharing his (usually blunt) opinion, even when it meant essentially shooting himself in the foot. He first rose to national prominence when he took some time off from his bass gig in the Psychos to record the legendary Stormtroopers of Death album SPEAK ENGLISH OR DIE in 1985 with various members of Anthrax, and while SOD didn't last long (mostly, one suspects, because the guys in Anthrax have never been real good at keeping their shit together for more than five minutes), this one has been around since 1987, when they released their first album, U.S.A FOR M.O.D. Back after a four-year absence, he's assembled one of the strongest lineups yet -- himself on vocals and bass, Derek Lopez on drums, and not-so-secret weapon Scott Sargeant (ex-Laaz Rockit, Skinlab) on guitar. The basic attack is the same as ever -- the band plows through high-octane numbers that are equal amounts hardcore and crazed thrash metal while Billy rages about whatever's on his mind. I frankly can't tell what he's yelling about 90% of the time (although with titles like "Red White and Screwed," "Hardcore Harry," "Bullshit Politics," and "We Are Nothing," I can probably guess), but you don't need to know what he's saying to get the sense that he really means it, whatever it is, and their cruel but amusing skewering of King Diamond on "GLET (Greatest Lie Ever Told)" is both hilarious and surprisingly effective in evoking that special brand of metal madness the former Mercyful Fate singer always brings to the horror-metal table. This is a remarkably consistent album, too, especially for one with so many songs (fourteen including the bonus track "Goddess / Devil"), and while it's exhilarating to hear the band peel out at high velocity on track after track, the best moments are when they slow down enough for Sargeant's highly harmonic and distortion-soaked guitar to make it exactly clear just where hardcore and metal converge. MOD fans and hardcore devotees in general will find much to appreciate here.
Mutant Ape -- WORLDS COLLIDE [dead sea liner]
YOW -- five long tracks of skull-frying, drone-laden white noise that hits you right in the cerebral cortext from the word go, wrestling you to the ground and filling your skull with corroded metallic shrapnel. This is bruising stuff, high-volume noise terror filled with grinding walls of sonic grue, whipsawing sheets of high-pitched shrieking, the sound of buildings being mulched by an avalanche on fast-forward, and so on... balls-out old-school junk noise, in other words, the kind of thing that makes the weak-kneed run away in fear and hide under the bed until it all goes away. Track two, "Worlds Collide I," is a particular favorite, wherein it sounds like a shuddering wall of concrete disintegrating while someone breaks lots of stuff. The other tracks aren't much different; the only thing that varies from one track to the next, really, is method of attack and the direction of abusive sound, and it's all incredibly intense. Subtle, no; intense, yes. This is the deliriously joyous sound of psychotic destruction, and a fine, ridiculously loud sound it is. Not for sissies, either.
dead sea liner
Naglfar -- VITTRA [Regain Records]
The latest in Regain's continuing quest to reissue major albums from the Swedish black / death metal arcana is the first album from Naglfar (not to be confused with the German band Nagelfar), originally issued in 1995 and now back in print with three bonus tracks, including a cover of Iron Maiden's "The Evil That Men Do" (recorded live and originally appearing on an Iron Maiden tribute) and Kreator's "Pleasure to Kill." Featuring original drummer Mattias Holmgren, who left the band after this release, the album is an early attempt at marrying death metal's aggression and full-tilt fury with black metal's penchant for theatrical moodiness and ominously discordant guitar tones. The Swedish penchant for melodic guitar is frequently on display (when it's not being obscured by frantic black metal hypno-riffing); the best moments are when they break out into full-on death metal riffs, especially in "Enslave the Astral Fortress," but otherwise the songs are mostly straightforward exercises in aggressive speed that incorporate lots of melodic guitar and keyboard bombast. It's not the most innovative or imaginative album ever made, but it's certainly competent and listenable, with excellent drumming and plenty of thrashing guitar work, and makes a nice bridge between the tail end of thrash metal and the second wave of black metal.
Naglfar -- DIABOLICAL [Regain Records]
The second album from this band, originally released in 1998, isn't remarkably different from their first, despite the replacement of original drummer Mattias Holmgren with Mattias Grahn, and unlike the other reissue, this one contains no bonus tracks. It does, however, have a darker sound and an even more violent obsession with pure blinding speed and aggression, with an even more pronounced focus on guitar melodicism. Again, the best moments are the ones more reminiscent of death metal, especially "Into the Cold Voids of Eternity," and the tracks making use of traditional piano, such as "A Departure in Solitude" -- in fact, the greatly improved use of keyboards, primarly as a melodic device, is one of the biggest departures from the previous release. The album also benefits greatly from improved songwriting that makes the songs a bit more distinct from one another than they were on the first release. There's plenty of bombastic rage and misanthropy here, and the classically Swedish elements of their sound should make this of interest to fans of melodic black metal.
Nagaoag -- YAMA LABAM A [Eh?]
Even by PE's often impenetrable standards, this is a cryptic one, featuring label head Bryan Day and Luke Polipnick together on an obscure release containing absolutely no information outside of the band name and title, available only on an "secret" subsidiary of Day's label, with "liner notes" that are nothing but a dense wall of indecipherable code boxes. (If you wonder how I nevertheless divined the lineup, well, I'm psychic.) The eight tracks on the disc are squarely within the PE aesthetic, though -- lots of meandering freestyle weirdness that might be the product of detuned guitars or something else entirely, erratic and unpredictable drum rattles, and -- unusual for one of the label's improv releases -- a lot of vocalizing. Note, though, that by "vocalizing" I don't mean singing; rather, there's lots of moaning and keening and muffled babbling floating up through the murky ambience and strange sounds, making the entire work sound like the product of deeply schizoid asylum inmates turned loose in the recreation room to flail away in disconnected fashion of whatever happens to be lying around. The only thing you could even begin to compare it to would probably be the first Beme Seed album (which was itself once famously described as the sound of a band tuning up for forty minutes or so), except that even Kathleen didn't sound this lost in psychosomatic space. An epic of strangeness that'sweirdly compelling if you're in the right frame of mind, or a completely incomprehensible work of dadaist art if you aren't.
N.I.L. -- s/t [Battle Kommand]
The band's name stands for Nihilism is Liberation, and that's as accurate a description as any for what unfolds when you throw the shiny round piece of plastic in your stereo. I was never a huge fan of Krieg (frontman N. Imperial's former band), but this is a different beast entirely -- in fact, that is one of the best (and unusual) black metal albums I've heard recently. Aided in evil by J. Marcheski (who plays not only electric and acoustic guitars, but mandolin -- not an instrument readily associated with black metal, to be sure, and only the first of many surprises in store), Imperial serves up some truly cold and horrific vocals over dense clots of blurry black drone guitar and (usually) plodding drums for most of the album. The first curve ball, though, comes as the album begins, with gritty noise for texture and acoustic guitars on the short introduction "Plague Doors Rusted Shut"; the acoustic guitars return in the eerie "Serpent Circle," fed through a delay box and circling through hypnotic riffs as droning guitar feedback drifts through the background. The most unexpected development, though, has to be the cover of Big Black's "Bad House," complete with a really nasty barbed-wire guitar tone and clanking drums, which sounds even ruder than the original, no small feat. The faster songs like "I Quenched My Thirst With Dust" and "Sinking" are enhanced by muffled drums and a guitar sound so grotesque in its hideously torqued buzziness that it more closely resembles radioactive harmonic fog, while the slower material (especially toward the end of the album) is distinguished by endless monochromatic riffing and droning darkness. Draining minimalism, a monochromatic guitar sound like the audio equivalent of lung cancer, howling nihilistic vocals, and a proggy bent that's sufficiently restrained enough to keep things interesting without getting needlessly out of hand -- what more could you possibly want? (Well, more albums like this would be a good start.)
Obituary -- XECUTIONER'S RETURN [Candlelight USA]
You have to be old-school (or maybe just old) to really appreciate the in-joke inherent in the new album's title, but you don't even have to be familiar with the band to dig what they're doing here. One of the original Florida death metal bands, Obituary built their reputation on slow, spine-crushing heaviness and simple but effective riffs, and while they pick up the pace at times a bit more than they used to, the best moments are still the ones where they slow down and slowly but surely drill a hole through your skull. The major change this time around is the presence of Ralph Santolla (Deicide, Death, Iced Earth, etc.) on lead guitar, subbing for long-time guitarist Allen West, who's currently cooling his heels in a Florida cell thanks to an an untimely DUI prior to recording the new album. (Santolla's presence is probably temporary; the band plans to have West rejoins when the state of Florida turns him loose sometime in 2008.) Santolla's art-damaged leads lend a nice, baroque contrast to the blunt riffs, with a sound that verges on psychedelic blues metal at times. The production is quite good, especially where the drums and guitar are concerned -- rhythm guitarist Trevor Peres (a welcome addition who came into the band when they reformed in 2003) is way up in the mix with a tight and exceptionally rude guitar sound, and vocalist John Tardy's always-gruesome vocals are clear and highly audible (if not necessarily intelligble). The faster songs blaze with intensity and energy, but it's the slower and more monolithic ones like "Bloodshot," "Contrast the Dead," and "Second Chance" (especially as it's blessed with one of the most sinister riffs on the entire album) that get the major props from me. The band's classic second album CAUSE OF DEATH was a major touchstone for me personally during the first wave of death metal, so it's nice to see that the band hasn't forgotten how to properly kick people in the face. It's also nice to see that Candlelight, even at this early stage of the game, is treating the band with much more respect than the clueless dilholes at Roadrunner ever did. The ultra-hardcore among you should know, by the way, that the album's proper release will be followed by a limited-edition box thingy with an extra track.
Olekranon -- THE WIRE RISK [Inam Records]
The ever-mysterious (and ever-prolific) Olekranon returns with ten more beat-happy slices of dance music for ghosts. The disc opens with delay-processed hypno beats and Doppler-drenched drones, perfectly defining an aesthetic that continues unabated for ten tracks. Olekranon's sound is best described as near-ambient drone electronica with (sometimes) minimalist beats -- a few of the tracks here are beatless, nothing but soothing ambient drones, but even then there's usually a subtle rhythmic element to the sonic drift. The songs are all instrumental and characterized by a sparse, open sound dominated by heavy drone action, with the occasional influx of effects-driven noises. Think of it as slowed-down techno, perhaps, or dance music for stoned shoegazers; much of this would work effectively as soundtracks to abstract short films. It's harder than it looks to make music this sparse that still remains compelling, and that Olekranon manages to maintain such a consistent level of quality over so many releases is nothing short of astounding. As with all Inam releases, this is limited (to 98 copies, I think), so he who hesitates is lost and all that....
Red Squirrels -- ACICORN TWIRL [Automation Records]
Jason Young makes a living as an arcade technician, and you can tell he's been spending way too much time in arcades -- his music is filled with game-soundtrack bleeps and electro-tones. There's more to his sound than that, though; on "the painting," the twee tones actually form the rhythmic and melodic structure of the song while a female singer, apparently on helium, chirps over the tweaked noises, and on other tracks as well, the game-show noises are far more integral to the actual song structure than in most glitch / noise electronica, to the point where if you removed the noises, you wouldn't have anything left except possibly vocals and a few random sounds. Elements of repetition and drone (not to mention a perverse sense of humor that's most notable at the end of "bob & me," when a repeated phrase is broken by someone yelling, "Stop! STOP!") are present as well, along with plenty of conversational snippets and field recordings. Much of the material here comes closer to resembling sound collages than actual music, but even in the more nebulous-sounding tracks, there's an element of rhythm buried in the sonic effluvia. It's exotic, cryptic-sounding stuff, with tracks short enough that he was able to squeeze six of them onto a 7" single. Bonus points for the childlike art with the dark, acid-drenched colors.
Replicator -- MACHINES WILL LET YOU DOWN [Radio is Down]
Let me say right upfront that I am biased: I'm friends with the band and I think they are swell people, and for that reason alone you should buy multiple copies of this album. Give one to your grandmother; she needs to know what the kids are doing these days, dig? Even if they weren't pals of mine, I'd be forced to tell you to buy this anyway, because it's a great (and frequently hilarious) album revolving largely around the concept that machines, and modern technology in general, don't always live up to the hype -- a message sure to resonate with someone who was one of the last people to buy a cell phone and refuses to buy an iPod or iPhone (that would be me, in case you're confused). The band gets compared to Shellac a lot -- a lazy comparison based mainly, I suspect, on the sound of Ben Adrian's bass on some songs and the fact that vocalist / guitarist Conan Neutron sounds like Cali's answer to Steve Albini -- but there's a lot more to the band than mere Shellac-worship. For one thing, they favor ridiculously ornate and convoluted songs that shift gears so many times that you could be forgiven for losing track of where one ends and the next begins; for another thing, they have an actual sense of humor that's not based on mean-spiritedness or in-jokes. They also have titles like "Assloads of Unrespect" (which manages to name-check both John Hinckley Jr. and Geddy Lee), "King Shit of Fuck Mountain," and "Login With My Fist" (which contains the delightfully hypnotic mantra "I break out / I break in / I access / I LOGIN WITH MY FIST!" and lots more angst toward uncooperative gadgets), songs about getting tanked and building a sex robot, and many, many riffs stuffed into each and every song like an overflowing trash compactor. They also favor leavening their songs with lots of background chatter in the form of weird electronic effects and telling samples from classic comedy films (I hesitate to get specific here for fear that they'll end up on the receiving end of litigation from unamused film industry maggots). Sonically speaking they're all over the map, fusing funk, metal, indie-rock, dissonant postpunk, hardcore, and Ra only knows what else into a hyperactive juggernaut that leads me to believe that caffeine figures heavily in their lives. (Ironically, the most hyperactive one of the bunch is apparently caffeine-free.) Seriously, how many bands do you know of that have a drummer who can play rock, metal, and many other styles, AND play funk the right way? One of the more interesting aspects of their aesthetic is the shifting nature of their approach to layered sound; unlike a lot of bands aching to bust out the "big rock" moves, the density of their complex sonic architecture varies significantly from one moment to the next, with sections featuring just one instrument waffling away before others come in, textures and guitar effects that come and go so quickly that it takes repeated listens for them to register, and the frequent juxtaposition of bizarre sounds. If it sounds ironic that a band so heavily dependent on technology and gadgets of every description should be so piqued about that same technology, well, that's just part of what makes them interesting. (Seeing Conan and new "associate member" / second guitarist Todd Grant writhe around like buttered eels on crack is what makes them so entertaining, at least in the flesh.) Bonus points for the largely eco-friendly tab-opening digipak design.
Radio is Down
Satanic Funeral -- NIGHT OF THE GOAT [Non Compos Mentis]
This is raw, primitive, unpolished black metal from a New York trio who were obviously weaned on Beherit, and lots of it -- and not the later, synth-heavy period, either, but the violent, punishing early stuff. Most of it is a fast, blinding blur of speed driven by furious drumming and dark tremelo guitar, but every now and then they slow down just enough to reveal bludgeoning riffs that sound like they were conceived in the twilight era when death metal began to shift toward black metal. Not surprisingly for a band so beholden to Beherit that they actually name-check that band in one of their songs (the closing track, "Unholy Pagan Fire (Ode to Beherit)"), they are far more about chaos, fury and velocity than they are about neatness and tightness; when they really get going, their sound desends into a wavering blur of blackened nihilism that threatens to spiral into complete chaos without ever actually breaking down, and while their disdain for traditional production techniques often renders the sound somewhat murky, this only works in their favor, especially when the guitarist slows down to peel off slow, overmodulated chords that threaten to drown out everything else. Antihuman's vocals are usually closer to an old-school death croak than the high-pitched shriek normally associated with black metal, a sound that he intersperses with gutteral growls and dark, froggy whispers, to the point where he sounds genuinely inhuman most of the time. This is a throwback to the days when black metal was a vehicle for a certain expression of evil and contempt for humanity rather than a way to sell t-shirts, and fans of Beherit (and the early days of lo-fi, misanthropic black metal in general) would be well advised to check out this album.
Non Compos Mentis
Spun in Darkness -- BIRTHRIGHT [Invocation Records / Battle Kommand]
Now this is exactly what I needed -- blinding, no-frills old-school death metal that sounds like it was recorded around the release of Slayer's HELL AWAITS, only with way better production and played by guys who know what the fuck they're doing and want to beat you senseless with their angry riffs. The funny part is that this is actually new -- it was recorded last year in Las Vegas, of all places -- but you'd never guess it without delving deep into the liner notes. Drummer Jeff Nardone is a veteran of early 90s cult metal band Goatlord, and in an unusual move for a metal band, he's also in charge of vocals here; even better, his bandmates Tom Giacalone (guitar) and Nick Otvos (bass) are just as sharp, heavy, and punishing on their instruments as Nardone. The result is a lot like early Slayer with better production (and maybe even better songs, although it's probably an act of heresy to suggest as much); it seems to me that there's a touch of early Whiplash in Tom's guitar shred, which never hurts either. The best news of all, especially in this age of albums that are all too often a handful of good songs surrounded by a lot of mediocre filler, is that the album is brilliant from start to finish -- there are nine songs and they are all built from the best parts of first-wave death metal, played with near-psychotic intensity. The songs are mostly mid-tempo, but that's okay with me -- that just makes it easier for them to sear those brazen riffs deep into the fissures of your skull. This is not just one of the best metal albums in recent memory, it's one of the best death metal albums I've ever heard, period, and you need to get it right now (maybe even sooner, if you're capable of breaking the laws of physics).
Spun in Darkness
Sword Heaven -- ENTRANCE [Load Records]
Here's what Sword Heaven sounds like, at least on this release: Take the drums from any random Swans song circa GREED / HOLY MONEY and add the incoherent screaming / swirling electronic hell serving as a bridge between any random Godflesh song up through the PURE album. Mix well and turn up real loud. Presto -- instant noise heaven! This is their first long-player (at 33:15, actually in the gray area between an EP and a full album) after several singles and splits, with two relatively short songs (each in the neighborhood of five minutes) and two long ones (each 10-13 minutes long), all of them highly repetitive and crafted for maximum sonic punishment. The first track, "Town Hag," was recorded live to four-track cassette tape and originally released as part of a split single with Racoo-oo-oon on Not Not Fun; the other three tracks were recorded live to eight-track half-inch tape, not that you can tell the difference. "Skinned and Glued" is one of the standout tracks, with a drum sound almost totally lifted from the Swans classic "A Screw" mired in a filthy ocean of howling electronic grue and pained howling. The other tracks aren't far removed from this particular aesthetic, differing only in their length, density, and excessiveness. This is the soundtrack to a day at the slaughterhouse, an uncompromising vision of ugliness that you'll either love or loathe, with not much room in between. People who cried when the Swans "went soft" will worship this. Bonus points for the hanging scene depicted on the cover and inside the booklet, itself an obscure Swans reference.
Tangorodrim -- JUSTUS EX FIDE VIVIT [Southern Lord]
Israel is probably the last place you'd expect to find black metal, but here it is, an unholy band from the Holy Land, and one with a former member of Rabies Caste (the now-defunct metal band that was for many years Israel's answer to Unsane) on drums, at that. Originally from Russia (where they were probably run out on a rail), they make their unbridled enthusiasm for the devil's work evident right up front with the title of the first track, "When Heirs of the Horned Shamelessly Attack," a blistering assault of straight-up old-school black metal designed to slaughter everyone in listening range, then put their punk influences clearly on display for all to hear on "No Light." This is primitive, raw-boned stuff, well-recorded but still violently raw and animalistic, with a bowel-scraping guitar sound and pounding drums played with unsettling intensity -- and that doesn't even take into consideration the stuck-pig vocals. There's nothing nice about this at all, with not even the slightest attempt at good taste or progressive thinking or subtlety in any fashion, just pure steaming aggression and a guitar sound like the sizzle of flesh being burned off bones over a roaring fire. As it happens, the band's name translates to "alcohol," apparently the main ingredient that fuels their aggression and lust for life, although you'd never guess it from the album's sound -- this is much tighter and focused than you'd expect from a bunch of (self-admitted) drunks, especially ones who openly admit to being influenced by Darkthrone and Hellhammer, hardly bastions of musicial precision. Parts of the title track are slow and grinding, but otherwise the album is fast and relentless, loud and obnoxious, filled with misanthropic nihilism, and all the other good things that black metal should be. Six tracks, all like a poke in the eye, a jackboot to your soul, and a foot up your ass.
Time of Death -- THE LAST BREATH OF THE DYING [Bloodbucket Productions]
Intense is the operative word here -- the nine songs here are filled with machine-gun drumming and nasty-sounding guitar played at hyperspeed, broken up at times by neo-folk guitar and rumbling ambient darkness before hurtling into the void once again. The music is entirely instrumental (outside of a blurted death-croak here and there, pretty much) and there's not a tremendous amount of variety happening, but the sound is dark, vicious, and absolutely brutal (outside of the dreamy interludes, anyway), while the ambient interludes are appropriately brooding and spooky. Imagine Nunslaughter or early Striborg with much better sound, or perhaps Impaled Nazerene without Mika's bombastic shrieking -- it's that ferocious. (Although I doubt Nunslaughter or Striborg would be capable of recreating the more melodic, acoustic passages.) The parts that are revved up are really out of control, too, with guitar riffing like a giant black buzzsaw digging chunks out of your skull. Maybe the best comparison is Viking Crown minus the vocals and with a way better guitar sound. The one major drawback (for some people, anyway) will inevitably be the monochromatic nature of the songs, but then again, that's the real essence of raw black metal anyway, isn't it? And this is truly obnoxious-sounding stuff, capable of peeling paint from the walls. The more ambient passages, while entirely listenable in their own right, just make the heavy parts sound that much heavier. MP3s are available on the band's website; check it out.
Time of Death
War From A Harlot's Mouth -- TRANSMETROPOLITAN [Life Force Records]
They have one of the most ridiculous band names ever, but they make up for it with song titles like "The District Attorneys Are Selling Your Blood," "Fighting Wars With Keyboards," "Thousand Complaints, One Answer," and "Rinding Dead Horses Is A Fucking Curse," so I'm inclined to cut them some slack where the name is concerned. Their sound is a spastic, often chaos-filled blend of technical metal, grindcore, straight-up death metal, and jazz, and the result is difficult to easily categorize, just the way they like it. The jazzier moments like the opening of "Trife Life" are often the best parts of the album, but their ability to segue back and forth between really different styles and approaches is pretty impressive as well -- one moment they sound like Painkiller gone grind, the next like a more technically-inclined Unsane, then they burst into jazz by way of Last Exit, and so on, rarely hanging onto one style or feel for very long, making them a perfect band for a generation defined by short attention spans. The only real consistency from one moment to the next lies in the vocalist, a pained shrieker from the old-school wing of death metal; everything else is largely defined by the musical equivalent of persistent channel-surfing. It's strange, often heavy, always inscrutable stuff, executed with remarkable dexterity given how much is going on and how different it is from one moment to the next. They hail from Berlin, incidentally, which means they drink the same water as Einsteurzende Neubaten, which may or may not explain a lot.
War From A Harlot's Mouth
Life Force Records
Whitechapel -- THE SOMATIC DEFILEMENT [Candlelight USA]
Named for Jack the Ripper's slashing grounds in London, Whitechapel hail from Knoxville and are a gruesome fusion of death metal and the more chaotic wing of grindcore. The main thing that makes them distinct from other bands of the genre is the presence of three guitarists and the use of symphonic keyboards at times on the album (despite the lack of a dedicated keyboarist), although it's hard to tell amid the heavy riffing and chaos that there are three distinct guitars happening. The vocalist alternately gurgles, croaks, and shrieks his way through blasts of sonic wreckage and heavy, downtuned riffs that rise from a sea of spastic grind, and while their core sound is heavily reminiscent of early Obituary with more technical elements, the addition of grind chaos sends them off in another, more extreme direction entirely. Certainly the last thing you'd expect to hear from a place like Knoxville, that's for sure. Bonus points for the really intense drummer and the sheer explosive randomness of sound that permeates the disc in its more chaotic moments.
Wolves in the Throne Room -- TWO HUNTERS [Southern Lord]
Olympia's finest black metal band returns with an album every good as, maybe even better than, their critically lauded first release. They have not abandoned the uncompromising aesthetic they pioneered on their first album, but have expanded on it with the introduction of female vocals on a couple of tracks and other forms of sonic experimentation, and their increasingly meticulous approach to recording has moved the sound that much further along. Even better, the band has grown incredibly tight (owing to lots of touring, no doubt), to the point where they remain firmly in control of their vicious audio attack even at speeds approaching that of a locomotive threatening to jump off the rails and into the abyss. The opening track, "Dia Artio," is a majestic mix of slow, crashing drums, symphonic keyboards, and gloriously fuzzed-out drone guitar that segues into "Behold the Vastness and Sorrow," where the symphonic sound is quickly transformed by insistent, battering drums, dark vibrato guitar, and hellish shrieking; over the course of the song, the guitar steadily shifts in tone and texture as the drumming -- already fast to begin with -- grows even faster, more complex, and more intense, until the song reaches an apex of runaway fury around the nine-minute mark that remains insistently punishing that remains unabated right up to the end a few moments later. "Cleansing," with sonorous female vocals courtesy of guest Jessica Kinney (Eyvind Kang, Asva), takes on a more ambient flavor, with relatively slow tribal drums and keyboard drone, evoking a pagan atmosphere -- until about four minutes into the piece, at which point the true blackness sets in as the drums and blazing guitar take off with ramaging speed accompanied by more anguishing wailing, and once again the drums and keyboard serve as a backdrop for some really atypical (for black metal, anyway) guitar modulation. The final track, "I Will Lay Down My Bones Among the Rocks and Roots," opens with a brief bit of exotic neo-folk, only to see that beguiling sound utterly destroyed by the same power and speed displayed on the earlier tracks, only to fade back into the more pastoral sounds near the end... at which point harmonic vibrato guitar is accompanied by the heaviest drum sounds on the entire album, followed by yet another foray into excessive velocity and cycling guitar modulation; after more mood shifts and tempestuous displays of sonic bludgeoning, the song finally ends with guitar and keyboards fading into ambience as Kinney returns with a haunting vocal, as as the band fades out, the album ends with the sounds of nature. Like a dark hurricane and as intense as a gun in your back, this album should only solidify the band's reputation as one of the most forbidding and persistently commanding practicioners of modern black metal.
Wolves in the Throne Room
Yellow Swans -- AT ALL ENDS [Load Records]
Despite their extensive discography, this is apparently only their third studio album -- all the other piles of stuff (you know, the releases where the band's name is prefaced by a word beginning with D) appear to be live recordings, of which there are many, far too many to count even using all your fingers and toes. The biggest difference between the live and studio stuff, as far as I can tell, is that on the studio releases they more consistently live up to their branding as psychedelic noise artists -- the material on here is less about drilling holes through your skull via loud waves of sonic excess and more about tripped-out explorations in sound. The opening track "At All Ends" is as good an example of any, beginning with a surprisingly beautiful drone that gradually evolves into layers of acid-drenched sound that include gritty noise and guitar feedback like violins on steroids. By contrast, "Stretch the Sounds" is almost soothing in its droning ambience, encapsulating the sound of an abandoned spaceship floating through an endless void. "Our Oases" pushes the ambient noise in a louder, more symphonic direction. one marked by shuddering analog drone and cascading waves of feedback akin to solar radiation. Kindred soul Phil Blankenship (The Cherry Point, Troniks / PacRec label founder) supplies the noise on "Mass Mirage," in which the band marries dirge-like feedback with crushing walls of heavily-textured grinding sludge. The final track, "Endlessly Making an End of Things," begins with muted, shimmering feedback that is slowly joined by different varieties of feedback-related tones, until a vast cloud of pink noise bursts forth about six and a half minutes, along with slow, pulsing bass noise, transforming the formerly solo feedback peals into something resembling a melodic counterpoint to the textured noise -- until the background drops out abruptly near the end, leaving the feedback drones to move around and merge before fading out altogether. A perfect collision of the worlds of drone, prog rock, and noise, and an excellent starting point for those who have yet to grace their ears with the sonic deviousness of the Yellow Swans.