Sunday, December 14, 2008

a stoned partridge falling from a pear tree

Anael -- FROM ARCANE FIRES [Paragon Records]

The rolling tribal drums that introduce the opening track "Devil's Tongues" are the first indication that this album is going to be a bit different than the average black metal album. "Epic" is a word that's bandied about all too often where black metal is concerned, but it fits here; this is an album whose sound sprawls in a great many directions, with a feel that's both grandiose and operatic. Hailing from Germany, this is Anael's third full-length release, and most of its seven tracks are lengthy, highly orchestrated exercises in drama and shifting moods; the shortest track is nearly six minutes long, and several are in the neighborhood of ten minutes or longer, although none of it feels padded or bloated. The band's penchant for forging baroque, multi-part songs makes the extended song lengths a necessity, and with song structures rooted in classical idioms, the result is a sound that's genuinely symphonic. Aside from the inventive, constantly-evolving drumming, the best thing about the album is the guitar sound; the guitarist is alternately melodic, dissonant, and even folk-like, bult always firmly within the black metal tradition, with trance-like passages that segue from one feel to another in an organic fashion. Most impressive is their ability to retain the classic feel of dark, occult black metal without lapsing into cliches. Maybe it's because they're German, but they remind me a great deal of Ruins of Beverast in both sound and design, without necessarily sounding like that band. For a trio, they manage to get a large and full sound, one that's raw without sounding too lo-fi; it's a dark, brooding sound too, one that's controlled without being sterile, a sound of sinister beauty hinting at glimpses of eternal darkness. A perfect example of progressive black metal, in other words.

Paragon Records

Bloodsworn -- ALL HYLLEST TIL SATAN [Agonia Records]

This is scary-sounding shit, no doubt. Driven mainly by loud, blackened guitar, monolithic drums buried in the background, and the occasional keyboard drone, this is nothing less than a horrific onslaught of fury bordering on white noise. Featuring four Norwegians (I think) active in the black metal scene since the early nineties, their first two attempts at releasing a debut album were thwarted by labels going bankrupt until the Polish label Agonia picked them up, now giving them the first chance to be heard outside of obscure tape-collector circles. It may have taken them well over a decade to get to the point of releasing this album, but it was worth the wait -- the seven tracks on this album are a screaming blur of superhuman drumming and obsessive, burning guitar rage that's almost (but not quite) loud and obnoxious enough to drown out a vocalist who sounds completely possessed. As with the most convincing satanic black metal, lo-fi and primitive best defines their sound. The guitar action is minimalist with bursts of dark melodicism, and the overall aesthetic is a pure throwback to the second wave of black metal (which is not surprising, given their roots in that era). The band's power lies in their stark, aggressive primitivism and uncompromising ferocity, and their extremity is such that you will either fall to the floor in worship or find them completely unlistenable. The violence in their sound is as remarkable as their grotesque, barbed-wire guitar tone. This is what we call greatness, my friends. I just hope they don't take another fifteen years to record a follow-up.

Agonia Records

The Crowned Heads of Europe -- WITNESSETH [Sounds of Battle and Souvenir Collecting]

The kings of dark drone at SOBASC have gone out of their way to offer some truly swank packaging for this release (see for yourself at their site) -- the first 150 copies come with copper metallic cardstock paper, most of them swaddled in psychedelic foil, and the next 150 copies are almost as swank. (All versions also come with a free digital download of the album.) The band, actually a duo from Portland, OR, make the vinyl-only release worth owning regardless of the packaging with seven songs of intense, atmospheric drone leavened with gritty noise texturing and other psychedelic elements. In fact, this is as much a psych release as a drone album; the sound is droning, sure, but it's also swirling, pulsating, filled with tonal color that radiates in all directions, and mind-altering in its otherworldly audio properties. Better yet, the drones are not just drifting, floating exercises in minimalism, but actual songs with a readily discernible structure and plenty of attention to detail, especially in the layering of sounds; the sonic strata in these songs is rarely constant, and the density and texture of the tones 'n drones tends to ebb and flow in a subtle but dynamic fashion. The mood is alien and austere, sometimes even foreboding, but mostly concerned with harnessing a cryptic and uneasy mood. The tracks on the b-side are somewhat heavier and more unsettling, with a darker vibe permeating the rising and falling drones, but still not far removed from the aesthetic and theme of the a-side. This is the sound of tripping cosmonauts probing their psyches on the dark side of the moon. As good as this sounds, I'll bet it sounds even better when under the influence of powerful psychotropic drugs. All hail the mighty and forbidding death drone!

Crowned Heads of Europe
Sounds of Battle and Souvenir Collecting


The artwork features abandoned warehouses and fences covered in loops of barbed wire, and the dark electronic tracks on the disc are every bit as bleak and forbidding as the artwork. Over the course of six tracks, Nicholas Pace combines elements of harsh noise, machine sounds, static, and shuddering drones to create highly textured soundscapes of urban disintegration. The tracks often sound like the ambient sound of a busy construction site -- listening to tracks like "Rachis" and "Porcelain," you can just imagine jackhammers at work breaking up concrete as cement trucks grind away under the endless blare of warning horns. The sound is not random, however; while the tracks are loosely structured, the signs of structure are indeed there, and over time in each piece, the layers of sound gradually shift so that different sounds come into focus. Static may be an element in these pieces, but the pieces themselves are not static at all. Pace's attention to detail is particularly revealed in tracks like "Party Foul I," where deliberate EQ abuse and growing layers of drone and choppy static create a suffocating, claustrophobic vibe that culminates in an abrupt drop into ambient sound that's followed by a series of unpredictably timed explosions of noise that end in a crushing wall of sonic violence. Unlike a lot of harsh noise artists, Pace gets a lot of mileage out of well-placed moments of silence or minimal sound (a tactic put to best use on "Morning Ritual - Evening Ritual"), which makes harsher tracks like "Black Watermelon" all the more excruciating when they arrive. This is excellent stuff, reminiscent of a darker and harsher version of Hum of the Druid, and well worth seeking out.


Haemorrhaging Fetus -- PROCREATION: A DISEASE / TANGLED DESIRES [Gaping Hole]

This is a stellar example of the brick-wall, white noise attack popularized in the nineties by the likes of Macronympha and OVMN (and carried on to this day by The Cherry Point and similar bands). The three tracks on this, the band's first full-length vinyl release, are taken from two earlier (and now out of print) cassette releases, and they're all supremely catastrophic exercises in audio immolation. Vast, dense layers of white noise and crunchy power electronics create a dark, relentless sound like a sonic cancer determined to eat you whole from the inside out, then spit out the shiny white bones. There's no joy here, no melody, no deep philosophical meaning -- just grinding harsh noise designed to clear out your sinuses and scrape the inside of your skull clean. As with most harsh noise releases, this is all about power and intensity, but unlike some of the less-skilled harshheads, Anthony Shaw has a keen grip on the proper use of dynamics and an appreciation for variety in textures, which means the sound never grows stale. Deliberately ugly and impressively intimidating (in both sound and vision, given the lurid packaging), this is an album even old-school noiseheads can appreciate. Limited to 250 copies; comes with an insert including liner notes by Sam McKinlay.

Gaping Hole [SNSE]

Harry Pussy -- LIVE IN AUSTIN TX [Sister Skull]

Hot on the heels of the Load Records compilation reviewed last time around comes this, a synapse-frying document of the band's April, 1997 appearance at the Blue Flamingo in Austin. This particular date is a legendary event in Austin noise-rock circles, and was recorded (most likely on a hand-held recorder, judging from the chaotic and impressively lo-fi sound) during the band's last tour, which places it squarely in the context of the material on the Load compilation. In fact, there's probably a considerable overlap between the material on both releases; I say "probably" because the action on this disc is so out of control that it's frequently hard to tell exactly what they're playing unless you're a hardcore Pussy fan. The entire performance is only about twenty minutes long, with plenty of audience participation, and while the sound is nowhere near as professional (to put it mildly) as that of the Load release, this is probably much closer to the band's original spirit -- when the band is performing, the sound sounds more like explosions of metallic noise than actual songs, and when the band is between songs, the audience is just about as entertaining as the band. It's hard to tell one song from the next -- the poor recording quality reduces everything to the sound of madmen banging on sheet metal while firing off M-80s in metal pans, basically -- but given the nature of the Pussy's violently abrasive noise-fu, that's actually a good thing. I can only imagine how genuinely obnoxious this must have sounded in the actual venue, by all accounts a tiny, decaying shithole (like most Austin fringe clubs, come to think of it). This is noise rock the way it was meant to be heard, and it's a good, good thing that this document has finally surfaced, even if the sound is not exactly audiophile quality. Of course, an audiophile recording of the Pussy would be a contradiction in terms, so this is just the way the band should be remembered, right? This is beautifully, painfully abrasive listening, and if you're down with the Pussy, you need to hear this.

Sister Skull [c/o Venison Whirled]

Hellveto -- NEOHERESY [Pulverised Records]

For a (one-man) band most people have probably never heard of, Poland's Hellveto has been awfully prolific since its inception in 1998; this is the band's eleventh full-length album (not counting five demos, two splits, and several compilations), and its third release on Pulverised. True, most of those releases were on obscure labels in the band's homeland, but assuming those prior releases have been of this quality, that's still no excuse for this band to be unknown. (Of course, it probably doesn't help that the lyrics are all in Polish.) Best described as orchestral pagan black metal, what makes this album so unusual are the Slavic rhythms and folk stylings, so different from Western notions of rhythm, that permeate the songs. This is especially true on the album's best track, "Herezja," where those hypnotic rhythms are matched with savage militaristic guitar riffs; I have no idea what the song is about (those Polish lyrics, natch), but it sure sounds terrifying as hell. A few of the songs have moments that lapse into a more generic-sounding form of black metal -- hyperspeed drumming and blurry tremelo guitar -- but most of the time it's a more alien-sounding affar. "Milczace Sumienie" opens with fast but eccentric drums and neo-folk guitar that doesn't last long enough before bursting into one of the aforementioned passages, but after the eerie opening synth passage, "Choragiew Ktora Splonie" launches into more of the militaristic Slavic rhythms as the synth drones along with guitar that alternates choppy, minimal riffs with streaming tremelo noise. There's plenty of blazing fury on here, yes, but the best parts are ones firmly rooted in the musical heritage of the band's homeland. Highly recommended for those interested in hearing dark, violent music that isn't cut from the same cookie-cutter mold as much of today's increasingly generic black metal. The disc also comes with a multimedia video of the opening track "Taran."

Pulverised Records

Hourglass Drops vs. Norss -- STELLA [self-released]

Two bands from the Netherlands lay down some of the darkest and most minimal drones imaginable on this disc. The first five tracks are by Hourglass Drops, who favor a sound akin to black wind roaring through snow-covered mountains bereft of humanity, a sound that's sometimes augmented by sweeping filtered noises as well. On "They Who Were Cast Down," it's a cold, hissing drone broadcasting from someplace distant; "Morning Dew," by contrast, is a more rhythmic drone accompanied by gurgling, plinking effects. The drone on "Death of a Planet" is considerably denser and bass-heavy, but still filled with mysterious sweeping noises. The other two tracks are in a similar vein as "Morning Dew," variations on a theme of reverberating effects and shimmering, droning fog rising from a masoleum after midnight. "De Hemel Valt," the single track from Norss (at 37 minutes, probably longer than the entire rest of the album) is even darker, driven by bass shuddering, overmodulated sound, and spooky effects that come and go as the sound gradually grows even thicker, denser, and scarier. The tonal quality changes over time, but not by much; this is definitely a minimal affair, even if there's a fair amount of variation in the aural texture as the piece progresses. Definitely worth hearing, especially if you like your drones dark, mystical, and (especially on the Norss track) bordering on noise. Limited to fifty copies.

Hourglass Drops

Ginger Leigh -- MERCHANT OF DEATH [Masuno]

One guy with enough vision (and enough gadgets) can make plenty of whacked-out sounds, as this disc proves. The nineteen tracks on this disc are short musical vignettes, each one usually built around a repeated sound or effect and garnished with other sounds, some melodic, some exotic, and many just plain noisy. A black sense of humor manifests itself on tracks like "Charcoal Man," which opens with a jaunty sample promising "most enjoyable" listening and is followed by a demented electronic waltz accompanied by bloodcurdling shrieks, and "al-Ironman," which is essentially the best part of Black Sabbath's "Iron Man" (the intro, natch) looped endlessly as demented noises and distorted voices battle over it. A lot of it resembles twee-electronica in the hands of a demented, noise-loving eccentric, or perhaps mutant dance music accompanied by the pipes of Pan (or maybe Zamfir). The songs aren't really structured as conventional songs for the most part, but rather assembled as layers of loops and sounds... but what an abundance of strange sounds and beats! Maybe this is exotica for the new millenium. Whatever it is, there's certainly plenty of bouncy beats and perverted sounds to tickle your inner ear.

Ginger Leigh


Germany's best thrash band -- still making the rounds after lo these many years -- returns with its first studio album in five years, and it's a good one. It's not as insistently, insanely fast as their earliest material, but it's still pretty frantic, and unlike some of their more, um, "experimental" albums of the nineties, it's pure thrashing madness from start to finish (with the exception of the initially mid-tempo "Amok Run" and its pretty, melodic intro, and the brief instrumental "Corpses of Liberty" that acts as the intro to the album's final track). Unlike most of their contemporaries in the genre, they aren't mired in recreating past glories (like Exodus, Destruction, and all the others currently coasting by re-recording early albums they would have been better off leaving the hell alone) and they aren't slowing down with age (which is more than you can say for Metallica and Slayer, judging from their most recent albums). Kreator was always heavily influenced by Slayer, and it really shows on this album, especially on tracks like "Demon Prince," where they sound more like old-school Slayer than Slayer these days. In terms of songwriting they're not exactly breaking new ground, true, and at times they do sound a bit too much like Slayer for their own good, but at least they make up for these drawbacks with razor-sharp playing and a ferocious attack that borders on the truly frenzied half the time. Extra attention to the production (courtesy of Colin Richardson, producer for Slipknot, Cradle of Filth, and more) makes this one of the best-sounding Kreator albums in recent memory, too. The bonus points they lose for originality issues are more than earned back by manic peformances and a really strong batch of songs. Drummer Ventor in particular sounds really worked up on this one, which in turn just spurs guitarists Mille and Sani into even more frenzied fits of axe-strangling. It may not be their most original work, but it's certainly among their most consistent, and a straight-up punishing work of excess brutality.


Locrian -- RHETORIC OF SURFACES [Bloodlust!]

The more I hear from the Chicago noise duo Locrian, the more impressed I am. Combining a deep appreciation for drone and harmonic noise, the six longish tracks here are actually a combination of old, out of print material and new, unreleased stuff. The tracks have been selected and sequenced, however, in such a manner that the album sounds like a coherent, cohesive statement of singular vision, as opposed to a collection of odds and ends. Part of this, I suspect (although it's hard to be sure having heard only a small sampling of the band's catalog so far), is their attention to quality control; this is a band that consistently releases excellent work. Whether that's due to routinely high-caliber performances or a good sense of what's suitable for public release is an open question, although I suspect it's the former as much as the latter. On this particular release, it doesn't hurt that everything was remastered (by Jason Soliday) for maximum conformity of audio quality.

Two of the tracks, "Burying the Carnival" and "Visible / Invisible," were previously released on split cassettes with Continent and Colossus (and reviewed by TOTDA back in August); "Gruen Transfers" is from the Scissor Death compilation NO MORE NOISE; the final two tracks, "Chiladni" and "Amps Into Instruments," are from the band's self-released (and now out of print) cd-r / double-cassette release II; and the opening track, "Drosscape," is previously unreleased. Regardless of the different sources and time periods involved with these recordings, aesthetically speaking, they're all squarely in the territory of ominous, dark-ambient noise drone; some of the pieces are more rhythmic than others, and there's a fair amount of variation in the noises and textures involved (the band favors a sound rooted heavily in the use of guitar and keyboards for the bedrock of their droning noise death), but they all share a dark, plodding atmosphere filled with swirling shards of noise and harmonic overtones, and the pieces flow together well. The sounds are sometimes harsh, but outside of an unexpected peal of really piercing feedback early on in 'Burying the Carnival," this is not work that assaults your senses with cut-up explosions and noise bombs. The pieces are more concerned with a hypnotic trance vibe and a vaguely metallic tonal quality, and above all else, the healing power of the almighty drone. If you've never heard the band before, this is an excellent place to start, especially since their earlier stuff is so hard to find. Bonus points for the simple but elegant graphic design.


Necroblaspheme -- DESTINATION: NULLE PART [Agonia Records]

What is it about France that spawns such consistently interesting, even innovative metal bands? On their second album, Necroblaspheme combines elements of black and death metal with a moderately avant-garde sensibility, then express their extreme heaviness through complex, atypical song structures that could pass for prog-rock if it weren't for the band's soul-crushing heaviness and physically exhausting execution. This is a band with ambitious ideas and the technical skills necessary to pull them off, and the imagination to incorporate non-metal stylings like musique concrete (most notably at the end of "Wounded," where the song abruptly ends with about fifteen seconds of what sounds like a garbled radio transmission processed through a heavy noise filter) and the swirling industrial noise drone that ends "Nameless." Unlike many bands who attempt to be complex and "different" only to end up sounding like a noisy, unfocused mess, this band succeeds in their quest for complex originality without sounding forced. They are unquestionably first and foremost a death metal band, but their ability to channel sounds from several different genres into a cohesive sound gives them a depth and power that makes them a band to watch.

Agonia Records

Olekranon -- ARMOR [Inam Records]

The latest album from Olekranon is more of the same -- buzzing, drifting drones over minimal, ghost-like beats -- and this is a good thing, because while Olekranon has been seriously prolific, the quality control has remained constantly high. This time around the drones and simple but potent melodies sound more keyboard-driven than ever before (although that could just be efx-processing on the guitars) and the drums, while still minimalist, sound more tribal than techno. The billowing clouds of sound drifting over the hollowed-out, reverb-heavy drums leans heavily toward cyclotron noises and dark-ambient washes, but there's plenty of crunchy noises as well (see the intro to "Armor") and occasional bursts of gorgeous melodicism. As always, the overall sound is dark and mysterious, and this time around a heavy infusion of repetition (especially where the drums are concerned) makes everything trance-like as well. Amid the sounds of rusting machinery and sand in the gears, the ambient noises and wind-like sounds are both alien and organic; it's hard to imagine how any of this came out of actual instruments, which just makes it all that more intriguing. The artwork is pretty swell, too; a full-color insert on stiff paper is swaddled in vellum, and both the insert and cover are adorned with exotic Bosch-like paintings by Megan Abajian. Essential listening. Limited to fifty copies.

Inam Records [c/o Vopat]

Pinko Communoids -- VOLUME ONE [inharmonik]

The band is an improvisational trio from Charlottesville, VA -- not the first place that immediately springs to mind as a hotbed of improvised sound -- and the three tracks here, totaling just under fifty minutes, were recorded live to two-track in 2006 and 2007. Their sound is sparse and more than a little bit enigmatic; the players are listed in the booklet, but not their instruments, and outside of the readily identifiable sound of squeaking violin and the occasional percussion nattering, it's hard to tell what they're using to create their spaced-out sheets of abstract sound. That sound is largely spare and uncluttered; more often than not only one instrument is playing, and even then only making minimal sounds, often processed, that sound like emanations from a vibrating spaceship. Even for improvised music this is pretty unpredictable listening -- you never know what's going to happen next, or whether it will be the sound of actual instruments or weird hovering noises, and when they do actually play musical motifs, they don't last long. Divorced from the live context, where their actions might have been a tad more comprehensible, the recorded document is severely mystifying. Interesting, yes, but mystifying nonetheless. They do have a nice feel for flow -- they understand how to keep things moving, and their improv style never descends into aimless dithering, even when they're taking a mighty long time between actions. Their use of silence (or near-silence) as a strategic motif is a large part of what makes them interesting, as it happens; that, and their fondness for eccentric noises. You can hear all of "Gust" and a segment of "Dusk" on their website, along with a significant number of other live recordings, if this attempt to explain the inexplicable has piqued your interest.

Pinko Communoids

Skullflower -- TASTE THE BLOOD OF THE DECEIVER lp [Not Not Fun]

As the post-reformation Skullflower catalog begins to pile up, one thing becomes clear: the reformed version is definitely less about rock and more about noise. The original version of the band benefited heavily from the fact that it was indeed a band, and like most bands, it had an actual rhythm section, which meant that even in their most formless moments, there was still some vestigal notion of structure to their songs. Now, with the band consisting of either guitarist Matthew Bower solo or Bower plus a utility guitarist (most recently Lee Stokoe, who has appeared on several of the latest releases), that reluctant concession to structure is pretty much gone; what you get now are free-form pieces heavy on repetitive efx mantras that play out without really going anywhere, or chaotic noise-hell explosions of sonic distress in which everything descends into the realm of sonic immolation. Both varieties of earhurt are present on this album (and it is an album, the band's first full-length vinyl release in ages), with three songs on each side. The sonic terrain is more or less in the same vein as the two most recent offerings, DESIRE FOR A HOLY WAR and PURE IMPERIAL REFORM, but there's also a psychedelic aspect to much of the material that's missing from those discs. This is not a relentless onslaught of savage, face-peeling noise; sure, there are tracks like that, but other tracks are more committed to hypnotic space-rock riffs at the center of the skronk. The distant, minimalist drum machine pulse that has cropped up as of late appears here as well, at least on some tracks, and when I say minimalist, I mean one persistent beat buried in the background, an anchoring rhythm that has little to do with the noise happening on top of it and exists primarily for the hypnosis factor. How much of this new approach lies in Bower's growing infatuation with black metal is hard to guess, but I'm pretty sure that fascination has something to do with the evolving quality of Skullflower's recent sound. Speaking of sound, this is nowhere near as loud as the average Skullflower album, possibly because of the volume limitations inherent to vinyl, but it sounds good and it's worth hearing. Good luck on finding a copy, though; it was pressed in a limited run of 500 copies and is sold out at the source already.

Not Not Fun

Voetsek -- INFERNAL COMMAND [Selfmadegod Records]

This is the latest trend in metal: dudes (and dudettes!) young enough (well, some of them, anyway) to be my children working hard to recreate a sound that was already growing dated before they were probably even born. (The trend just before, which still continues -- this is metal, after all -- was bands who have been around forever re-recording old classics for no clear reason, and the trend before that was bands playing entire albums live, a trend that has tragically spread to the indie-rock world, all of which just proves that there are sure a lot of easily-led sheep on this planet.) I'm also mildly puzzled as to how a Bay Area band ended up on a Polish record label, but it's a strange world after all, isn't it?

The band, one of the more entertaining exponents of the retro-thrash movement, works really hard (especially on this album) at sounding like a thrash band from the early eighties, and in this respect they are largely successful, mainly due to the serious guitar chops (something that's a lot more obvious when they slow down and settle into a mad groove). The rhythm section is solid and the guitar action is impressively frantic, the songs (seventeen of them!) are short and adorned with titles like "W.W.L.D. (What Would Lemmy Do)" and "Blueprint for the Perfect Circle Pit," and there's a black sense of humor at work through the entire album. There's very little here that's truly original -- they are basically reinventing the wheel here, just like all those other retro-thrash bands taking their turns at imagining they're 1984-era Alcoholica -- but they're intensely energetic and reasonably melodic in places (mainly during the parts played at something less than light speed). The one huge stumbling block for many (outside of the middling production) will probably be the vocals of Ami Lawless, who spends much of the album channeling the voice of Cornholio. Whether this strikes you as amusing or irritating will probably depend on your sense of humor (and affection for Cornholio). They're probably not the next Metallica (or even the next Nuclear Assault), but they're entertaining enough for those who can't get enough of the thrash revival currently taking place, and they get bonus points for being coed, having short songs, and the title of that song about Lemmy.


Sunday, November 9, 2008

the post-election listening queue

Abstract Sound Systems -- GOSSAMER [Machine Tribe Recordings]

This is dreamy, minimalist music, consisting mainly of solo piano (heavy on the reverb) against subtle ambient backgrounds. Some of the tracks are more obviously electronic in nature -- "meditative" features a repetitive electronic piano pulse upfront and a background filled with occasional snippets of conversation, odd noises, and brief snatches of harmonic accompaniment -- but regardless of the instrumentation, the songs are mainly focused on hypnotic repetition and tonal color. Sweeping oscillator waves are also present on "straana" along with the ambient sound, creating interesting tones and unexpected shifts in sound. With seven tracks total, this is a low-key but intriguing exploration of minimal sound and textures that's not quite ambient but definitely not rock-oriented. It's experimental, yes, but nonetheless highly listenable.

Machine Tribe Recordings


Here are some essential facts that might be useful to know about this intimidating double-disc release: This New Zealand group is a duo consisting of Dead C member Bruce Russell and cohort in sonic immolation Alastair Galbraith; their improvised performances are noise-laden affairs built around loud guitar drones, violins, and abused electronic devices; and this is a reissue of two works (their second and sixth albums) originally available on Corpus Hermeticum and out of print for quite a while now, which were probably never seriously available in the US in the first place. The first disc is technically the second of the two albums, originally recorded in 1995, and consists of six tracks of squealing, droning noise that largely resembles what might happen if Hijokaidan decided to cover Tony Conrad -- guitars feed back endlessly while a violin saws away in slow motion, creating dissonant drones that are equally hypnotic and grotesque, as power electronics in the background create textures that are all but drowned out by the guitar and violin. Peter Stapleton joins in on jazzy, rolling drums for the third track, "The expulsion of the triumphant beast," where the white noise heat simmers in the form of buzzing amp hum for the first few minutes before things start getting considerably more chaotic, but otherwise the tracks are unencumbered by percussion, and thus free from the strictures of tempo and time, making them seem almost endless, and thus mind-altering.

The second disc, an album first recorded in 1993, contains two long pieces (each 28-30 minutes) that pretty much embody the same artistic philosophy and tendency toward massive earhurt as the offerings on the first disc. The first one, "Fama fraternitatis," begins with piercing guitar drones and segues into movements of choppy power electronics and skittering violin, eventually returning to the wailing guitar feedback; as the piece progresses, the interplay between guitar, violin, and electronics becomes increasingly more complex as the wall of sound grows and recedes, but never dies away. The second track, "God's love to His people Israel," includes drummer Peter Stapleton, and is considerably noiser, a more obviously lo-fi recording of a show filled with noise and chaos. The performance is a howling maelstrom of abrasive power electronics, squealing guitar feedback, dissonant violin, and passages of thunderous drumming; the piece sounds less like music and more like the audio equivalent of clouds of shrapnel being ejected by a violently malfunctioning sandblaster. This is skronk at its most impressive and obnoxious; for those not down with the healing power of pure unadulterated noise, this is probably the biggest endurance test since the Swans live classic PUBLIC CASTRATION IS A GOOD IDEA.

This is pretty iconoclastic stuff; there's no attempt whatsoever to appeal to any sense of melodicism or structure or anything readily definable as music -- they just create an ungodly wailing din, and an extremely loud din at that. Which is not to say it's bad, just that it's definitely antimusic, and as such probably an acquired taste; if you're not into stuff like Tony Conrad, Ascension, Hijokaidan, or even the Dead C, you're probably not going to get much out of this, but if you are, this is absolutely punishing in its boldness and extremity. Given how obscure the band is -- as far as I know, this is the first time the band's music has been readily available in any form in the US -- this also provides valuable documentation of New Zealand's noise rock scene, and No Fun deserves major props for making it available again. Perhaps if this release does well, they'll see fit to bring more of the band's catalog back into print.

A Handful of Dust
No Fun Productions

Ala Muerte -- SANTA ELENA [Public Guilt]

This album is the sonic equivalent of that surreal zone between waking and sleeping -- hazy and dreamlike, beautiful yet ominous, a meditative sound that subtly hints at the possibility of nightmares on the horizon. Ala Muerte is essentially Bianca Bibiloni -- while she's occasionally joined onstage by others (including Darsombra's Brian Daniloski, who'll be accompanying her on a forthcoming tour), on record she does all the work, singing and playing everything from guitar and double bass to viola and drums. She favors a minimal, uncluttered folk style augmented by dark, psychedelic sounds in the background courtesy of vaguely dissonant noise and field recordings; the result sounds like a sixties folk singer playing in a field as cities burn behind her. Her beautiful yet amorphous singing owes a lot to the ethereal styles of Bilinda Butcher and Liz Frasier, and her playing -- especially where the acoustic guitar is concerned -- references not only pure sixties folk but the hypnotically repetitive style of mid-period Swans (a point reinforced by her use of uneasy background textures, similar in fashion and effect to the use of textures and field recordings on the haunting Swans classic SOUNDTRACKS FOR THE BLIND). The juxtaposition of folk and neo-classical stylings next to gauzy sheets of sound and choral vocals initially make it sound like a collision between the worlds of folk and shoegazer music, but the addition of those cryptic background textures and a constant tone of uneasiness have more in common with avant-garde territory. Don't be fooled by that tag, though; this is highly melodic, harmonic music, albeit swaddled in a cocoon of smoke and darkness that creates an unsettling balance between the rapturous and the terrifying. You can enjoy this purely on the basis of Bianca's breathy vocals and stellar psych-folk playing, but the sinister ambience in the background means that there's more to this shot of neo-folk than you might realize on first listen.

Ala Muerte
Public Guilt

A Tomato A Day -- THE MOON IS GREEN [Public Eyesore]

Band leader Brian Poloncic began making music after a stint in a mental hospital (where he was treated for schizophrenia), but you'd never guess that from listening to this album. While his mental state (as articulated in the poop sheet that came with this disc) may have some bearing on his musical state, it's also misleading, because it suggests that this is going to be the product of a confused mental process, and instead it's merely a straightforward pop record. In fact, it's one of the most accessible albums I've ever heard on the PE label, and while it's possibly a tad eccentric by mainstream pop standards, it's certainly light years removed from the usual free jazz / skronk / improv aesthetic championed by the label lo these many years. Playing guitar, percussion, and singing, Poloncic is ccompanied by a cellist, bassist, and synth player, and the seven tracks on this album incorporate elements of post-rock (odd noises, background sounds, deviations from traditional song structure at times, and so on), but is otherwise squarely in the pop-rock tradition. Given the emphasis on Poloncic's mental state, comparisons to lo-fi pop maven Daniel Johnston are almost certainly inevitable, but Poloncic's songs are far more accomplished and nuanced than anything Johnston's ever done, although the two artists do share a certain tendency toward melancholy themes. There are times where the material resembles the psychedelic near-country style of The Black Heart Procession; there's a folk element that predominates throughout the album, even during the moments that hint obliquely at his noise roots (he also plays in the free-noise ensemble Naturaliste). This should certainly be an eye-opener for those steeped in the PE catalog, and enjoyable listening for anyone who appreciates well-crafted pop songs played with unnatural passion.

A Tomato A Day
Public Eyesore

Darsombra -- NYMPHAEA [Public Guilt]

Leave it to Public Guilt to come up with an interesting spin on the remix record -- what we have here is thirteen artists (including Darsombra) remixing a classic track that has been part of the band's set for years, and is now being retired. (The only recorded version of the track is on the triple-cd various artists compilation co-curated by Public Guilt, Epicene Sound, and Underadar in 2007.) Remixers include Guilty Connector, Max Bondi, Strotter Inst., Destructo Swarmbots, Perfekt Teeth, Ala Muerte, and Magicicada; the disc opens with Darsombra's heavy, pulsing remix, which offers some sort of basis for comparison to the remixes that follow. It's interesting to hear how radically different the remixes are, too -- my personal favorites are the ones by Max Bondi and Bleeding Heart Collective (which is heavy on the rhythm tip and emphasizes vocals not present in the Darsombra mix), Guilty Connector (where a subterranean pulse and the swirling high end notes are most prominent), Perfekt Teeth (who concentrate on the rhythmic drone and push everything into the red, creating a sound constantly on the verge of breaking up), Magicicada (who reduce everything to lonesome sweeping drones backed by minimal, nearly subliminal beats), Strotter Inst. (whose bizarre, beat-heavy remix sounds severely different from all the rest), and the Heirs of Rockefeller (who warp and twist the track's sound into something fairly psychotic, with a rhythmic pulse that grows in volume only to get warped again and keeps shifting gears). All of the remixes are good, though -- no small feat for a remix compilation of this size -- and there's a sufficient level of variety to keep things interesting from one track to the next, not to mention some really devolved approaches to sound that will contaminate your ears and your mind. It's a limited-edition affair (250 copies) and comes in a nice package with art and design by Chase Middaugh, who's done work for Aidan Baker and Suishou no Fune. If you're already hep to Darsombra, you'll definitely want to check this out.

Public Guilt


Heavy rhythms, distorted sound, hideously muffled vocals, and short songs make this an interesting (or excruciating, depending on your perspective) listening experience. This is remarkably straightforward for an eh? release; if you removed the odd vocal approach and a tendency toward eccentric mulching noises in the background, you'd be left with a mildly avant but still tuneful post-rock band with a sound not too far removed from early Public Image Ltd. In fact, I'm halfway convinced this is really a grotesque take on dub, given its deliberately peculiar mix and rhythm-heavy approach. I particularly appreciate the methodically slow and stripped-down drums and the mutant guitar sounds (especially on "Barren," where it sounds like the guitar has been dipped in sludge and is fighting its way through a swarm of locusts). Essentially encompassing the best aspects of Mouthus, Arab on Radar, and the aforementioned PIL, then throwing in a swirling slo-mo free jazz dissonance into the mix just for laughs, this is far more accessible than most of the label's output, but still eccentric and deliberately irritating enough to mystify or just plain piss off the average rock listener. I wonder what kind of reaction this band gets when they appear live. Great stuff, assuming you're okay with monstrous vocals and serpentine guitars breathing skronk and dissonance.

Gamma Goat

Carlos Giffoni -- ADULT LIFE [No Fun Productions]

Giffoni is a busy guy, what with running No Fun and curating the No Fun Fest and appearing in several bands and who knows what else, but like every other musician on the planet, sooner or later he has to sit down and make some noise of his own, hence this latest solo release. This is a bit different than what he's done in the past -- here he's entranced with the aggressive potential in mixing rhythm and noise. "The Endless Mirror" opens with a repetitive noisy synth pulse that is joined, over time, by different sounds, textures, and riffs, all of them equally rhythmic in their own right. On "Comfort and Pleasure," the repetitive sawtooth synth waves are so static -- at least at first -- that for the first minute or so you'll be convinced the cd is stuck, at least until the oscillator sounds start sweeping intermittently through the background. The rest of the disc continues in a similar vein, with heavy, pulsing synth-noise rhythms in the foreground as strange things happen in the background, and it's generally pretty mesmerizing; the use of analog synths for the hypno-riffs means that the sound has teeth and a nice tone at the same time, which means it's less of an exercise in blinding harsh noise than a textured sonic attack. Of course, some of the sonic action in the background gets pretty violent from time to time, especially on "This Is How You Pull the Trigger" -- if you have the stereo turned up too loud you'll pay for it, no question. This is what Tangerine Dream would sound like if they made a noise album, and the use of analog synths makes it a nice departure from the great mass of noise albums made with efx pedals.

Carlos Giffoni
No Fun Productions

Harry Pussy -- YOU'LL NEVER PLAY THIS TOWN AGAIN [Load Records]

With a name that's difficult to forget and a tendency toward shrieking noise-rock hell, the little noise band from Miami that could spent five years in the early to mid nineties inflicting their sexy audio trauma on audiences far and wide before calling it quits. They left in their wake a couple of albums and a hefty collection of singles and splits that were hard to find then and impossible now, so this collection should come as a nice surprise to Pussy fanatics. (To give an idea of how prolific they were, keep in mind that all of the stuff on this disc was recorded in the space of one year.) This single disc rounds up a staggering 42 tracks, taken from a lot of material that's now out of print (their self-released tour 12", the LIVE AT SALON ZWERGE 12", the Cherry Smash 10" recording of their final show, the split singles with Pelt and Frosty, and the De Stijl singles) along with some unreleased material culled from live shows and various recording sessions. All of the material has been remastered for maximum headache potential, too.

The band's core lineup consisted of Adris Hoyos on drums and scary, screechy vocals, Bill Orcutt on guitar and vocals, and either Mark Feehan or Dan Hosker on second guitar, and their sound was essentially a tsunami of noise straight out of the eighties no-wave playbook. (It's no accident that one of the tracks here is a cover of the Teenage Jesus and the Jerks classic "Orphans"; other covers that hint at their influences include songs by O.D.F.X., Nip Drivers, and Kraftwerk.) Hoyos shrieks and howls like she's being prodded with hot coals while attacking her drum kit with furious abandon as the guitarists wrestle with grotesque, dissonant riffs and squalls of feedback, and the result sounds like a collision between the worlds of free jazz, no-wave, and noise. Their songs were short, frantic bursts of energy, sometimes chaotic and barely decipherable, at other times moderately easier to grasp but no less caustic, with lyrical concerns rooted mainly in a lusty sense of black humor. The performances on this disc are excellent, sometimes even otherworldly, driven by the hyperkinetic drumming and excruciating vocals of Hoyos, who often sounds like she's channeling both Diamanda Galas and Lydia Lunch. This disc is compelling evidence that Harry Pussy was not just an excellent band, but quite possibly the single biggest link between the original no-wvae movement and the current wave of noise rock. If you have any interest at all in Harry Pussy, then you need this disc, and you need it now.

Harry Pussy
Load Records

Man's Last Great Invention -- NONE [eh?]

All hail the healing power of minimalist hiss 'n drone -- that's the theme behind the six tracks on this enigmatic release. The first track opens with nothing more than extremely audible tape hiss and goes on to expand into slow-moving drones (some instrumental, some vocal) swathed in endless acres of reverb that rise and fall like solar wind throughout the piece. The first piece segues into the second, where the density and volume of the drones grows steadily greater; that, in turn, segues into the third, where the drones aren't quite as intense and oblique vocal wailing eventually becomes a predominant part of the sound. The fourth track begins much as the first one did, but incorporates a moderately more aggressive rhythm to the drones; the drones also become darker and deeper (and at last, even more rhythmic) toward the end. The fifth piece is more of the same but also includes passages consisting of high-pitched, bell-like tones; the drones on the final track -- mostly heavily-reverbed vocal lines over subterranean rumbling -- are light and airy, and the first four or five minutes are the most ambient part of the entire disc, right up until the abrupt introduction of some unexpected drumming. The drones are the important part, though, and they are present throughout the track, providing a haunting counterpoint to the freestyle drumming that comes and goes. The overall effect is a meditative and subdued approach to free drone, and the disc is well worth investigating for the serious dronehead.

Man's Last Great Invention

Narkoleptik -- SO SWEET, SO PERVERSE [Mask of the Slave Records]

Romania's Narkoleptik combines old-school power electronics with some interesting new ideas. The opening track on this five-track ep, "1988," opens with harsh buzzing and cut-up sound that drifts into trance-like bursts of reverb and delay over a brooding synth drone. The entire track is a shifting exploration of the power of electronics abuse, especially in terms of applying deliberately excessive amounts of reverb and delay to already disorienting noises. This opening track sets the stage for a similar aesthetic running through the remaining tracks; "Coming Down Hard" is much noisier, sounding like the slowed-down audio of a bomb burst and overlaid with more endless reverberation, and "They All Deserve" continues in similar fashion, with forbidding levels of reverb pulsing over harsh ambient grinding like a sandstorm in progress. Things take a different direction to some degree on "Driving Force," where a vast dark drone works at swallowing whole the cryptic reverb-soaked rhythms, and the disc ends with the title track, an even darker and more hypnotic death-drone so loud and overmodulated as to border on actual noise. Mysterious and alienated, accomplished without being pretentious, and completely uncompromising -- this is a stellar combination of power electronics and dark drone that isn't bogged down in dubious politics or infantile themes. Highly recommended. Limited to 100 copies.

Mask of the Slave

Oblong Box -- 13TH FLOOR 3-inch ep [Public Guilt]

The disc's title and the song titles strongly suggest an affinity for horror soundtracks, which is borne out by the sound of the four tracks themselves. Uneasy snippets of barely-audible conversation and textured drones create an unsettling feeling of foreboding, whether it's in the heavy dark drone of the short opening cut "Is Now the Time?" or in the ghostlike tones of "The Quiet People." The drone action is sparse and intense, black in tone and stealthy in the manner by which it penetrates your psyche. The sweeping curtain of drone is augmented by sinister noises and billowing sheets of sound almost symphonic in nature on the disc's centerpiece, "The Room on the 13th Floor," which sounds like glacial winds blowing through a warehouse where the only inhabitant is some doomed soul gurgling through his death throes. The final track, "Tower of Lies," is just as minimal as the rest but even more eerie, with buzzing static that cycles into pained feedback and more shuddering drone-fu, suggesting the dark spectacle of electrical towers imploding in the middle of the night under a full moon. It's impressive, evocative stuff, and a compelling argument for the idea that where music rooted in soundtracks is concerned, less is definitely more.

Oblong Box
Public Guilt

Vopat -- CALL TO THEM 3-inch ep [Public Guilt]

Vopat returns with a dense wall of sound and heavy riffs swaddled in psychedelic drone -- in other words, good stuff. The three-inch format means the six songs are necessarily short, which is not a bad thing, and the sound is gloriously cranked up on tracks like "Random Lights" and the title track, while other offerings like "Selanor" (with its spare, robotic percussion and tinkling note clusters) are a bit more subdued, if every bit as psych-oriented. Heavy drones and bracing beats abound on this disc -- this is one of the heaviest things Vopat has released in a while -- usually in the context of a drfiting tsunami of sound designed to overwhelm your senses. The sound itself is generally somewhere between ominous and ecstatic, with plenty of acid-drenched guitar lines and translucent clouds of sound to alter your consciousness. Dreamy, drifty, droning whole-grain psych goodness that also comes swaddled in swank packaging. I'm sure it's limited too, so you'd best check it out while it's still around.

Public Guilt

Vopat -- LATHE 3-inch ep [Inam Records]

The five tracks on this ep were originally recorded in Austin in 2006, then augmented with additional material in 2008 in Bloomington. This is not as heavy as recent Vopat releases, but it's certainly rooted in the same noise / drone / psych aesthetic and impressively varied from one track to the next. The first track, "Lumen," starts out as something that's almost pop in sound, and by the end has mutated into a shrieking, hypnotic dissonant guitar squall. "Sentiment" is one of the prettiest tracks Vopat has ever done, filled with gorgeous guitar and tranced-out melodicism; by contrast, "Dermis" is all urgent rhythm and more of that squalling, dissonant guitar that ended the first track. The remaining tracks are all equally heavy on either the psych or drone tip, and it's all high-quality listening, like everything else by Vopat so far. More proof that somebody's still flying the shoegazer flag, too. Limited to 50 copies.

Inam Records

Sunday, October 26, 2008

it's all about that delayed reaction

The current post has been delayed due to tedious life junk and a sudden upswing in Korperschwache activity (you know, my band). The next post should appear in a couple of weeks, most likely the weekend after the election. Sorry for the delay!

Sunday, September 28, 2008

september's second salvo

Abstract Audio Systems -- POEMS FOR INNOGEN [Machine Tribe Recordings]

The eight tracks of interstellar ambient electronica on this disc are dedicated (more or less) to the concept of inner and outer space; the pieces float and drone like the electronic recreation of solar wind. The sound is reminiscent of Tangerine Dream's more ambient moments. Some tracks (like "flower and vine" and "the dandelion clock") are built around the sounds of a real piano, which is nice, but the entire album's sound is as lush and sumptuous as it is vast and droning. This is mysterious instrumental art with deep emotional resonance. Experimental sounds lurk in the background of these tracks, but the reverberating sounds of electro-drone are very much upfront most of the time. With the exception of "full of stars" and "dulcinea," the closing tracks and the most experimental ones, this is largely an exercise in celestial drone and tonality, a blissed-out sound that pure-drone enthusiasts should find highly captivating. It's also surprisingly more emotional than the average ambient album, which only makes it that much more interesting.

Machine Tribe Recordings

Bonechurch -- WITHIN EMPTY SPACES [Machine Tribe Recordings]

Mysterious sounds abound on this album, with eight tracks of dark-ambient soundscapes filled with otherworldly drones, brooding attitude, and inexplicable sounds. This is the audio realization of the concept of the ghost in the machine -- icy drones drift like cold white fog around disquieting noises, tracks are built on crumbling echoes of disintegration, and everything feels like anti-music made by ghosts. This is drone in service of horror soundtracks, a dark and spooky journey into pure unbridled creepiness, with a feel somewhere between classic isolationism and ambient black metal. The music may be abstract, but it's certainly not unfocused; listen to this late at night with the lights off and see how long it takes to grow truly unnerved. Strong stuff; highly recommended.

Dan Burke / Thomas Dimuzio -- UPCOMING EVENTS [No Fun Productions]

The fifteen tracks on this disc frequently bear a strong resemblance to the early work of Illusion of Safety, which makes sense when you consider that IOS founder Dan Burke is one-half of the noisemaking duo at work here. The source material was all recorded live over three nights in San Francisco, with Burke using a laptop, various objects, and sound sources while Dimuzio used a sampler, feedback, processing, and sound sources; the results were later edited and mastered by Dimuzio. Much of the material here shares the IOS aesthetic of minimal sound and extended periods of silence or near-silence, along with a certain texture of electronic noise drone that is Burke's audio signature. Ambient drone is the major force at work here, and most often the backdrop against which they overlay ambiguous samples and cryptic textures, most of the time in a fairly understated fashion. This is sound that happens slowly, deliberately, with an emphasis on minimalism and droning waves of meditative unease; it's not terribly aggressive, but it is frequently unsettling. The dark, oceanic sound that pervades much of the disc has its roots in the early IOS catalog, although that minimalist sound is augmented by layers of texture and odd snippets of sound that add a bit of aural spice to the zoned-out proceedings. It would be interesting to know who did what in terms of creating the initial sounds (just as it's equally interesting to note how much it really sounds like IOS, even though Dimuzio was the one in charge of the final editing). IOS fans and those harboring nostalgia for the first wave of isolationism should hear this.

Dan Burke
Thomas Dimuzio
No Fun Productions


This duo from Bristol (UK) claim on their Myspace page to sound like "Phil Collins on helium, slowed down," but a more accurate description might be Leonard Cohen fronting the Human League. This is their second album, and they're even catchier this time around and considerably more focused. The nine songs are all nothing but Cohenesque vocalizing over synth bleats and trance beats. The disc they sent didn't come with titles, but several of these tracks are the sheer epitome of catchiness, and even the tracks that aren't so catchy are still pretty agreeable. Their methods may be low-key and lo-fi, but the results are a lot more spectacular than you might expect given their modest origins. Most of the stuff released by Void of Ovals is pretty weird and kind of out there, but this is the closest the label's come to releasing something with actual commercial potential (although it's still plenty strange). Great, unassuming stuff.

The Dagger Brothers
Void of Ovals

Funereal Moon -- SATAN'S BEAUTY OBSCENITY / GRIM... EVIL... [Autopsy Kitchen Records]

Not to be confused with the Polish band Funeral Moon, this is the equally obscure occult black metal band from Mexico, in existence since 1993 but hardly a household name by any means, and this disc is actually two releases in one. The label approached the band about reissuing their 1996 vinyl-only release GRIM... EVIL..., and ended up with not only that, but a whole pile of new recordings, essentially an EP entitled SATAN'S BEAUTY OBSCENITY. The new stuff comes at you first, four tracks of unnerving darkness that veer from ambient soundtracks to mordant plays based on satanic philosophy to grim, lo-fi bursts of hypnotic, misanthropic black metal that takes all its cues from the old school (Bathory, Burzum, etc.). There's a fair amount of the lurching, dissonant unpredictability you'd find on any early Abruptum release, though, and that's what makes them stand out from the rest of the blackened hordes. This is creepy-sounding stuff; the opening track, "The Last Prophecy," is a spoken-word piece swaddled in depressed ambience, the track that follows ("Black Sphere") is fast and blurry but also riddled with strange-sounding guitars, and "Poison in My Heart" is a slow, crawling beast somewhere between Abruptum and Burzum at half-speed. ("Luna Funeral," the last of the recent material, continues in much the same vein.) The earlier material (five tracks worth) is similar in intention and execution, only recorded in a fashion even more exquisitely lo-fi -- near-static guitar riffs float over barely-audible drums as the vocalist croaks in an appropriately grim fashion, and while the drums are a tad more present on the faster songs, the production is still suitably primitive for such unfashionably hateful songs. Bonus points for the grotesque guitar sound and a sick vibe that's vaguely reminiscent of Beherit (even if the playing is better). This is excellent stuff, and it's a mystery why they're just now coming to light. Hopefully this and the forthcoming new full-length album will gain them the attention they deserve.

Funereal Moon
Autopsy Kitchen Records


Formed by Kai Hansen when he left Helloween in 1988, Gamma Ray has continued in the same vein of progressive power metal as Hansen's former band. This album, the band's ninth, is more of the same -- complex arrangements that leave plenty of room for highly technical shredding, lots of high-pitched singing, enormous levels of prog bombast, and more keyboards than you could ever wish for. Gamma Ray's heavily progged-out style of power metal bombast is not really my thing -- I prefer my metal heavier, nastier, and considerably more keyboard-free -- but this is not a bad album by any means. The arrangements are pretty spiffy (and relatively concise for a prog-metal band; only three songs are over six minutes long, although to be fair, the closing track "Insurrection" is nearly twelve minutes); the performances are sharp (especially the guitar playing), with the band locked together tighly even during the passages of pure blinding speed (of which there are many), and Hansen's singing, while not my thing at all, is impassioned and impressive. This is apparently a sequel of sorts to an earlier album, and while I know nothing about that, I do know that this is quality material that should hold much appeal for fans of the band and similar practiioners of prog-metal like Helloween.

Gamma Ray

Grave -- DOMINION VIII [Regain Records]

One of Sweden's earliest death metal bands (they originally formed as Corpse in 1986 before changing their name two years later), Grave remain one of the most consistently heavy bands in the death metal canon, and this -- their eighth full-length album -- is no exception. The opener, "A World in Darkness," is not only one of the heaviest tracks I've heard in a good while, but boasts a harmonically corrosive guitar sound that is the embodiment of pure audio sickness... a sound that continues throughout the album, I'm pleased to note. Their brooding metal angst works better at slower tempos -- things tend to get a bit chaotic when they ramp up the speed -- but even at fast tempos, their excruciating guitar sound keeps everything intense. Still, the best moments are the slow ones, like the bludgeoning intros to "Stained by Hate" and "Dark Signs," where things are slow enough to let the full impact of the creepy guitar sound to shave off slices of your skull. The faster moments are intense and frantic -- full of energy, sure, but considerably less controlled. The slow to mid-tempo parts are where the band saw away your consciousness with icy menace; by comparison, the super-fast parts are impressively obnoxious, but nowhere near as scary. The whole of the band's sound, though, is one of dark, oppressive fear and loathing, with surprisingly little prettiness given their status as a Swedish band; in fact, the only real melodic interlude on the album is the intro to "8th Dominion," which doesn't last long and is soon replaced by more caustic gear-grinding. This is the real sound of death metal, like jackboots walking all over your face. Nice to see that over two decades in the business has not diminished the band's capacity for ugliness.

Regain Records

Hair Police -- THE CERTAINTY OF SWARMS [No Fun Productions]

It's been a while since I last heard Hair Police, and it appears that they've grown even noisier and crankier in the meantime. The six tracks here are an orgy of sonic violence drawing from noise, metal, free jazz, and Ra only knows what else, with the trio creating an enormous racket using different strategies and tactics from one track to the next. The opener "Strict" is a swirling blast of dissonance, clattering, and busy power electronics, the audio equivalent of a room-scale version of the big bang, but the track that follows it ("Intrinsic to the Execution") is built on low-end drones that come and go at first, then are joined by peals of noise and bursts of sonic violence. The rest of the tracks fall somewhere between these extremes, relying most often on pained feedback, crunchy low-end histronics, and grinding walls of electronic noise to get the point across. There's plenty of nuance to their harsh noise assault, though, and unlike many of their equally violent-sounding contemporaries, they understand how to use dynamics in a way that keeps the intensity level constant without turning everything into a formless, endless ocean of pure white noise that quickly grows old and familiar. The sheer variety of textures and their crafty deployment insures that the individual pieces are united in a certain level of unease and unpredictability, while the peaks of volume and sheer density of sound at times renders everything appropriately forbidding. This is probably one of their best releases yet (although given the size and breadth of their discography, it's hard to say that with absolute certainty).

Hair Police
No Fun Productions

Head On Collision -- RITUAL SACRIFICE [Beer City Records]

This is true: I first this heard this disc back to back with Impaled Nazarene's first album, and it did not suffer by comparison, so there's no question it's highly intense. Hailing from St. Louis and the metallic brainchild of Paul McCauley (formerly of hardcore band Very Metal), this band is the latest entry in the re-emergence of thrash. I'm old enough to have lived through the first wave, and one of the things I find interesting about this band is that while they possess the same level of energy and most of the mannerisms of the early thrash bands, they don't sound so hopelessly derivative of them the way a lot of current thrash bands do (most of whom are very clearly reinventing the wheel built by bands like Metallica, Destruction, Kreator, Sodom, Dark Angel, and similar bands). That may be the result of their hardcore roots, or maybe they've just figured out a way to resurrect a burned-out genre with some relative degree of freshness, but either way, they sound a bit more fresh than most of the current thrash revivalists. They are also very, very intense, which certainly doesn't hurt. The eleven songs on this disc are characterized mainly by constantly pummeling drums, endless blazing guitar, energetic rhythms comparable to a train barrelling off a cliff, and the occasional whirlwind solo. The lead guitar bits are actually the most noticeable link to old-school thrash, especially that of the European variety. It's all very fast, very heavy, and absolutely serious about capturing the insane energy level that always signaled the hallmark of a classic thrash band. It's kind of early to decide if this is classic thrash, but they're certainly headed in the right direction with this album.

Head On Collision
Beer City Records

Mouth of the Architect -- QUIETLY [Translation Loss]

For a band that's heavy as hell, this is a surprisingly pretty-sounding album. Descended from the likes of Neurosis and King Crimson, the band's approach this time around is rooted in trance metal with a pleasing harmonic and melodic core buried under all the fuzz and pained shouting. There's also more than a touch of psychedelia in tracks like "quietly," where acid-drenched guitar lines bridge the movements of increasingly layered heaviness. This is definitely art-metal; the songs are all fairly long, "hate and heartache" opens with the sample of a cranky old codger railing on about the decline of civilization, "pine boxes" features an eerie sampled vocal loop as a major motif, keyboards not only make strategic appearances on most songs but actually carry most of the weight on a couple ("pine boxes" and "medicine"), and the songs are less about blazing metal riffs than the ebb and flow of thick layers of heavy, droning sound. Tripped-out guitars filtered through delay open "guilt and the like," and remain a constant presence even after the drums and ambient sound kick in, building in thickness and volume as the song progresses. Processed guitars and strange sounds are pervasive on "generation of ghosts" and "rocking chairs and shotguns" as well. The heaviest song on the album is the final one, "a beautiful corpse," which begins in a loud, oppressive fashion and only grows more agitated and violent as time goes on. I know this band's brand of post-rock trance metal is constantly compared to Neurosis and Isis, but as far as I'm concerned, they're consistently much better at this avalanche of sound attack than either of those bands. Fans of the band's previous material will not be disappointed, and those who wish Jesu's ambient shoegaze-metal would show some aggression will definitely want to check this out.

Mouth of the Architect
Translation Loss

Tartar Lamb -- 60 METONYMIES [Public Eyesore]

This collaboration between Toby Driver and Mia Matsumiya is essentially an alternate version of their regular band Kayo Dot (a band I have yet to hear); on this release, they are joined by Tim Byrnes on trumpet and Andrew Greenwald on drums. The four lengthy pieces on this disc sound like electronically processed classical music (sort of) in a postmodern, avant-garde context -- the instrumentation and composition of the pieces are very much in a classical mold, but the use of ambience, elongated notes, unusual time signatures, complex and fragmented musical figures, and processed textures as both rhythmic elements and background noise all have more bearing on modern experimental processes. It's this combination of the old and the new, the studied and the unscripted, that makes their sound so intriguing. Their use of space and the extended timing of much of the music -- with notes held for long periods and an underlying drone aesthetic -- creates a sound that is extremely open, and the excellent recording (by Randall Dunn, who has also recorded similar work by Sunn O))) and Earth) makes everything clear and easy to discern. Even when all four players are present, their playing is so sparse and the arrangements so carefully considered that they do not interfere with each other. The music that results is evocative, delicate, and highly mesmerizing. The packaging and artwork are pretty fabulous, too.

Tartar Lamb
Public Eyesore

Vader -- XXV [Regain Records]

Poland's favorite death metal sons have decided to celebrate their 25th anniversary by following the recent (and controversial) trend in re-recording old material for a double-disc collection of their best songs. (There's also a limited edition version that includes a dvd with sixteen videos spanning the length of their entire career, but that's not the version currently under discussion, so if you want to know about the dvd, you'll have to go buy that version yourself.) I'm not familiar enough with Vader's early output to know if the decision to re-record songs was a "necessary" one (for technical or copyright reasons), but unlike a lot of purists who prefer the original recordings even when they're not necessarily good, I'm perfectly okay with artists re-recording material to improve the songs or recording fidelity. The double-disc set includes 26 songs (there are three bonus tracks along with the dvd on the box set version), and they all sound pretty swank to me. One of the way I measure greatness on metal recordings is by how often I have to get up and play air guitar while the album is playing, and this set scores extremely high on the air-guitar meter. The song selection is great -- there's no filler here -- and the re-recorded versions give the disc a uniformity of excellent sound that would have probably been impossible had they simply compiled all the original tracks. (Apparently, judging from other reviews I've seen, they took some liberties with some of the recordings, including adding keyboards here and there that didn't exist before, but since I'm not familiar with the original material, I'm not really qualified to comment on that; you'll have to use Google to search for those reviews, if this sort of thing really means something to you.)

The songs are all pretty much the living definition of frenzied heaviness, too; it's hard to beat Polish metal bands for pure bludgeoning power, and Vader is no exception to that rule. The current lineup is essentially founding guitarist / vocalist Piotr "Peter" Wiwczarek and the three additional members who appeared with him on the previous full-length, IMPRESSIONS IN BLOOD, and they are supremely tight; the songs are well-executed and brimming over with superhuman drumming, meaty and memorable riffs, and an extremely physical sound with plenty of low end to go along with the sharp-edged guitar sound. The set heavily favors their early stuff (all the material on the first disc is taken from their first three albums, while the considerably shorter second disc compiles material from the next three albums and various EPs), and while keyboards do appear here and there, 99% of the time it's sheer, pounding heaviness. The later material is a fair bit more melodic than the early, considerably more riff-driven stuff, but it's all heavy as hell (especially "Dark Transmission," one of my favorites from the entire disc). If you've never heard Vader before, this is definitely the place to start.

Regain Records

Matt Weston -- NOT TO BE TAKEN AWAY [7272 Music]

I can just imagine the calls Weston must have gotten from the pressing plant -- "Dude, are you sure the cd's supposed to sound like this?" This is a seriously damaged-sounding set of recordings; Weston's forte may be experimental percussion, but much of this sounds a lot closer to glitch electronica amped-up to mind-exploding levels of cut-up white noise. It's hard to tell how much of this is heavily-processed percussion sounds and how much is just pure crazed noise, but one thing's for sure -- it's highly unpredictable and frequently unnerving. Which is not to say it's totally random-sounding; even at its most cut-up and exotic, patterns and rudimentary structures emerge that hint at an underlying composition and planned sort of intent, now matter how obscure that intent may be given the audio fireworks on display. The seven tracks employ different noise strategies but all sound like music being spindled and mutilated; it's impossible to listen to this as background music simply because so much of it will inevitably make the listener wonder if something is wrong with the disc. Extreme glitch electronica that borders on white noise is the main sound pervading this release, and it's a masterpiece of deliberate sonic immolation (and clever audio manipulation), assuming you can listen to it without being driven insane. This is fine, noisy work, although I'm sure it will confuse the hell out of those unprepared for such radical experiments in audio deconstruction.

Matt Weston
7272 Music

Robert Ziino -- SLAVES FOR THE BILLIONAIRES [Experimental Artists]

Ziino returns with ten new slices of electronic frippery and drone action, each five minutes long. Looped sounds of enigmatic origin, grinding noises, and keyboard drone form the general structure of these tracks, recombining those elements into different compositions of equally hypnotic quality. Ziino has always been a bear for strange sound effects, and this album is no exception, but this time the strange sounds bear some passing resemblance to melodic content and are imbedded in highly listenable rhythmic structures, making many of these tracks some of the most accessible music he's made so far. Of course, some of the other tracks are even more out there than ever, stacking up discordant effects and wailing drones to form nearly impenetrable walls of agitated, pulsing synth hell. This is the work of an artist far more interested in audio textures and sound for its own sake rather than traditional songs with chord progressions and melodies, concepts that don't really exist here, but there's a structure to the pieces that is not merely coincidental, and the sounds are often so exotic and unusual as to be entirely captivating. Ziino is still relentlessly experimental is both sound and vision, but the new emphasis on structure and reasonably catchy sounds makes this disc a more accessible experience for the uninitiated.

Experimental Artists

Sunday, September 7, 2008

thee first synapse-shattering post of september

A Death Cinematic / Obscuritan Design -- VEINS LIKE TRENCHES... DUG DEEPEST WITH DRIED BLOOD [Winepress Records]

This fabulous (and, at 20 copies, ultra-limited) DVDR release on Winepress Records, in a package designed by Simple Box Construction, is a collaboration in which A Death Cinematic provides sixteen minutes of eerie, disembodied ambient drone soundscapes that are matched by an equally eerie form of animation from Obscuritan Design. The sound is classic ADC, featuring ambient spaghetti-western guitar mutated into something far more sinister and assorted sounds of an ambiguous nature, all in the service of haunted soundscapes that drift and billow for sixteen minutes while slow-motion scenes of nature unencumbered by the presence of filthy humans slowly segue from one location to the next. The total effect is one of sinister, unsettling beauty; the lonesome and unpopulated scenery of the video segment looks suitable for a Khanate video, while the soundtrack is every bit as unnerving and steeped in isolationism. Tragically, the DVDR is already out of print -- not surprising, given its limited release -- but you can see portions of it on the ADR Myspace page, along with other interesting bits 'n pieces to see and hear. Check it out.

A Death Cinematic
Obscuritan Design

Robert Anbian -- I NOT I [Edgetone Records]

Anbian is a major figure in the underground poetry scene of San Francisco, and this double-disc release covers a lot of ground -- subjects like race, war, poverty, music, and urban life turn up again and again, along with numerous other aspects of modern life and the more timeless concerns of the human condition. The first disc compiles 24 short spoken-word pieces, most of them short and to the point, more poetry than prose. Most of these pieces have been published in books and magazines, and a few are the words-only versions of pieces that appeared on a previous disc with jazz instrumentation, while a few are apparently new, appearing here for the first time. The subject matter of the pieces cover a wide spectrum of subjects, taken mainly from life on the margins of the big city, rendered vivid with trenchant observation and occasionally inspired phrasing. The second disc contains two lengthy stories that take up over an hour. The first piece, "The Day I Became White," revolves around the story of a young Anbian's introduction to a black classmate in grade school; the specific incident at the core of the story provides the opportunity to broach other subjects, mainly the broader subject of race and society's response to such, and his own family's difficulties with prejudice, all of which circle around the actual story, with the story serving as a touchstone for these other, wider concerns. "War" uses the subject of war as a stepping stone to riff on music, the politics of ridicule, why people feel compelled to serve, why wars occur, and war's impact on culture, from obvious to more subtle and insidious examples. Morbid black humor is a constant thread through the poems and stories; his delivery is sharp enough, and his observations compelling enough, to make the entire release interesting (and from time to time even mesmerizing) even to those not already hot for the spoken-word thing. What initially appears highly intimidating -- two discs worth, eek! -- turns out to be not just accessible, but far more entertaining than one might expect.

Robert Anbian
Edgetone Records

Ballroom Dance Is Dead -- s/t EP [self-released]

The band was started by Grant Curry (bass, effects) and Lynn Wright (guitar, piano, effects), inspired in equal parts by the work of Brian Eno, minimalism, trance music, and the spirit of Sonny Sharrock. On this EP they've added Tony Nozero (drums, percussion, electronics) and Mike Dillon (percussion, tabla) to the mix, and the five tracks on this short release live up to the original concept. Dub and ambient are big influences on the sound here, especially on the spacious opener "Damascus," and the bass-driven "Carnival Dirge" sounds like it could have emerged whole and intact from any one of Bill Laswell's numerous ambient-dub projects. Despite the tranced-out ambient dub vibe to most of the material here, there are plenty of post-rock skronk moments as well, although they appear in relatively subdued fashion and subservient to the trance feel. "Goodbye to All This" is one major exception, with its uptempo rhythm and bright guitar sound, although it somehow still manages to work with the other tracks despite its obvious differences. The final track, a dub-heavy rock version of Coltrane's "India," feels perfectly appropriate to the concept at hand and sounds pretty swell in its own right. The dub action never quite descends into the hellish feel of Public Image Ltd., Scorn, or Painkiller, but the overall feel is in that general ballpark, only more subdued and more conventially listenable. Eerie, tranced-out stuff that's worth hearing.

Ballroom Dance Is Dead

Blackwinds -- FLESH INFERNO [Regain Records]

I don't know anything at all about this band, and the endless stream of dissonant black metal bands sucking at the tit of eternal fucking evil makes it hard to tell everybody apart now without a scorecard, but one thing's for sure: this is a really evil-sounding recording. This is a guitar-heavy band, one whose sound and attack fall somewhere between Gorgoroth and Watain; they're not so terribly interested in the technical aspect of things (although they aren't exactly sloppy, either), but rather more concerned with conjuring an atmosphere of hopeless nihilism and true blackened evil. In this venture they are successful. When they pour on the speed they creep into the territory of bands like Marduk, but while they definitely like to keep things basic, they're not quite that simple (or monochromatic). This is the true essence of old-school black metal, delivered with a thick, distorted sound that's only occasionally broken by the appearance of minimal keyboard washes. Even better, while none of this is terribly original (and frankly, given how overcrowded the genre has become over the past decade, originality would be difficult to achieve for any black metal band at this point), all of it is excellent -- there's enormous power behind the band's attack regardless of the tempo. I actually prefer the slower tracks, where the melodicism of their lead guitar playing becomes considerably more evident, but the fast moments are exciting in their own right. There are ten tracks on the album, all ranging in quality from extremely good to excellent. Let's hope they don't disintegrate or anything, because with only one other album and an EP to their name, they obviously hold plenty of promise for the future.

Regain Records

Business Lady -- TORTURE FOOTAGE [Load Records]

California's answer to Lightning Bolt -- well, sorta -- makes their recorded debut with this forceful collection of hyperkinetic sonic mantras. Occupying a sonic territory somewhere between Duchesses (or maybe Silver Daggers) and Lightning Bolt, their songs are driven by insistent, pounding drums, percolating bass churn, squealing guitar bleat, and a fondness for tempos derived from an excessive worship of coffee machines. The sonic anarchy on display here is very much in keeping with the general Load aesthetic; this is well-rehearsed noise rock made all the more vivid through flawless and frenzied execution. Wigged-out psychedelic no-wave by way of California dreaming, in other words. So vigorously wound up that it's kind of exhausting to hear, which only makes me wonder how much energy it must take to play this stuff, and just where they're getting all that energy from in the first place. Espresso? Big bags of sugar? Fat lines of cocaine? I dunno, but whatever it is, the result is the sonic equivalent of exploding gas molecules bouncing off way too many walls. Weird and overly enthusiastic, this is definitely recommended listening for the young (or at least the young at heart).

Business Lady
Load Records

Circles -- WEIGHS A TON [Wooden Man Records]

The ten songs on this album, the band's second, are a little less country and a lot more jazz-rock this time around. The catchiest and poppiest track is the first one, "Steal for the Lord," about a young man who learns to do just that, and the most "out there" moment is probably the free-jazz heaviosity of "Learn to Swim." Between the two extremes are a lot of songs equally informed by new country and swingtime jazz, with a jaunty sound that strikes a nice balance between two genres you don't see welded together very often (despite the fact that acts like Willie Nelson made the possibilities of such a merger clear early on in their careers). Indie rock straddling the fence between two wildly different genres rarely succeeds because the task is so difficult to do without appearing to be hip and ironic, but these guys know what they're doing; this is good stuff, well-played and executed with considerable verve. It's also far more accessible than the bizarre, genre-melding pedigree might suggest, too. The more excitable moments that border on freejazz might scare off some of the more timid listeners, but those moments are rare; most of this is well within the bounds of the conventionally accessible. Weird, yes, but accessible.

Wooden Man Records

Day Creeper / Night of Pleasure -- 7" [self-released]

Day Creeper and Night of Pleasure are both from Columbus; the former are new to the scene, while the latter have been out a while, with a single on Columbus Discount Records. On the Day Creeper side, "And How!" is driven by simple but insistent drums, vague nods to pop sound, and guitars delving into clever progressions and occasionally laying back to accomodate a relatively (for punk, anyway) sophisticated arrangement that comes to an abrupt end when you least expect it. "My Blue Screen" derives a lot of its power from snarling, fizzy guitars and a blunt (but tight) simplicity that plays out quickly and wastes absolutely no time in delivering its message. NOP's two tracks find them just as racuous and pleasantly lo-fi as always; "Spasm Chasm" opens with insistent galloping bass and is soon augmented by lots of crashing and bashing; "Hipster Downgrade" is a more frantic burst of energy, drowning in treble and the charming no-fi sound greatly in evidence on their earlier single. Why they had to put this out themselves is beyond me; I'm kind of surprised CDR didn't pick it up (although to be fair, they put out so much stuff that budget considerations become an unpleasant consideration sooner or later, I'm sure). Cool stuff, especially on the Day Creeper side, although you'll probably have to acquire it directly from one of these swell bands.

Day Creeper
Night of Pleasure

Dikeman / Barrios / Makihara -- WE NEED YOU [Eh?]

Featuring John Dikeman on tenor sax, Jon Barrios on bass, and Toshi Makihara on percussion, the three tracks on this release -- a total of approximately forty minutes -- are a perplexing assortment of squeaks and creaks, esoteric free jams that as often as not degenerate into stretches of near-silence before climbing back up into agitated explosions of barbaric sax bleat and cranky clattering. The "rhythm section" has less to do with traditional rhythm than with making eccentric ripples of noise while Dikeman wrings tortured, shaking notes from his sax. The energy level ebbs and flows in a genuinely unpredictable fashion; even taking into account the unexpected nature of free improv, these guys are so cryptic that it's nearly impossible to guess where they're headed at any given moment. There's plenty of space evident, especially during the quieter moments; occasionally Dikeman will have the chance to bleat and squeak without too much accompaniment (or accompaniment that is very much in the background, and not terribly intrusive). One of the more interesting things about the trio is Makihara's idiosyncrastic approach to percussion; there's no information on what kind of kit (if any) he's using, but it certainly doesn't sound like a traditional one, and his percussion style is rooted in an eccentric approach to beats, one in which he is less interested in "keeping time" and more concerned with providing texture and counterpoint to the bass and sax lines. Not that either of those guys are behaving in any kind of traditional fashion, either. This is not totally out in left field, and when they're cooking it's fairly busy (and quite energetic), but it's certainly not traditional jazz by any means. Puzzling, often deliberately so, but still most intriguing.


Electric Bunnies -- "Fantastic Metal Eye" 7" [Columbus Discount Records]

Who can resist the diabolical lure of cute bunnies with instruments? These are some weird-ass bunnies, though -- "Fantastic Metal Eye" is all amp hum for ambience and bouncy punk thumping with vocalists who sound like they're on helium -- at first listen it sounds almost like a deviant version of electronica, but no, it's just punked-out effervescence with peculiar production values. "Beautiful Pants" loses the amp hum but throws everything into doubletime, with rampaging military drums revved up to double-speed and squeaky chipmunk bleating. It's over before you can even begin to truly appreciate how deranged it is, too. The flip side, "Bubble Bath," is lo-fi punk funk, a jumpy instrumental with a great, catchy rhythm and squiggly guitars waffling away in cryptic fashion over a bouncy bass line. Cute, fun, not at all boring. I'm pretty sure it's a girly-girl thing, which may have a lot to do with the hyped-up fun quotient and lack of post-ironic postmodern bullshit angst.

Electric Bunnies
Columbus Discount Records

Gorgoroth -- LIVE IN GRIEGHALLEN [Regan Records]

As anybody who's been following the fallout from the Gorgoroth split knows by now, there are two versions of the band -- one fronted by Gaahl, the other by Infernus -- and lawyers are involved as everybody argues over who owns the name and who has the right to put out what, etc., etc. As a result, this live album, released in June, is currently in limbo, as the Norwegian copyright court declared in August that Regain can't distribute it until everybody gets their shit together and all that hoohah. Which is too bad, because this is a pretty fearsome live document -- not very long, true, with only eight tracks, but those eight tracks are extremely intense and well-recorded. Gaahl in particular sounds genuinely possessed, and the drumming also stands out in terms of sheer energetic ferocity. They get a good bass and guitar sound as well, something particularly evident on tracks like "Forces of Satan Storms," "Possessed (by Satan)," and "Revelation of Doom." I'm kind of confused as to the real nature of the album -- if I understand correctly, it was recorded live in the studio, which means it's really a studio album rather than a stage performance document -- but either way, it's most punishing. Too bad almost nobody will get to hear it anytime soon thanks to all the irritating legal wrangling, but the music biz is frequently full of unpleasant hassles, eh?

Regain Records

Holy Roman Empire -- EGRESS [Slanty Shanty Records]

The solo project of Lucas Williams, Holy Roman Empire has a unique and distinct sound rooted in shoegaze, but it's a different brand of shoegaze -- the hugeness of reverb worship and the emotional feel is there, but it's all the work of one guy, stripped down and sparse rather than the kind of oceanic sound popularized by bands like Lush and My Bloody Valentine, and the guitar work is acoustic more often than not. In fact, the unplugged instruments and general approach remind me a bit of the band Tinsel, although that band was inspired more by Leonard Cohen than shoegaze. At any rate, there's a lonesome, not-quite-alienated emotional feel to the songs that's offset by the often gorgeous playing and eccentric background sounds. For a while back in the 90s there was a whole burgeoning movement of bands like this, solo bedroom practicioners armed with just a handful of instruments, a four-track, and a sheltered attitude -- a whole young generation looking for both a new way to express themselves and to connect with others. This is a throwback to that movement, one defined by naked emotion, delicate songs, and a certain level of pure fearlessness matched by an equal level of ambivalence. It's not exactly heavy, but it's real and heartfelt, emotional in a way that's more honest and direct than the average modern band. Fans of emotion-drenched bedroom rock like early Liz Phair, Sebadoh, and Guided by Voices should definitely check this out.

Holy Roman Empire
Slanty Shanty Records

Impiety -- DOMINATOR ep [Pulverised Records]

Hailing from Singapore, of all places, and obviously influenced by the likes of Hellhammer, Bathory, and Morbid Angel, the band has come a long way since its initial primitive demo offering in 1991. Seventeen years and almost as many releases later, their most recent release features five relentless songs of exceptional aggression played at maximum velocity. There's no subtlety whatsoever to any of this, and it's not exactly a monument to originality either, but it's certainly ferocious and punishing, especially where the drums are concerned; this is some of the most frantic drumming you're likely to hear anytime soon outside of an Impaled Nazarene album, and the guitar work is equally raging as well, with million-note-per-second solos spurting forth at regular intervals. The result is a high-paced form of barely controlled chaos designed to give the metal faithful plenty of reasons to bounce around the room thrashing like they're on fire and to horrify and irritate the rest of the world. What they lack in originality or distinctive songwriting, they more than make up for in unstoppable persistence and sheer speed-addled heaviness.

Pulverised Records

The KBD Sonic Cooperative -- FOUR PLUS ONE [Eh?]

The cooperative in question is Michael Kincaid (drums and percussion), Gabe Beam (horns and electronics), and Ryan Dohm (trumpet, cello, and no-input mixer), and the five tracks presented here -- four of the recorded in the studio, one recorded live -- are all classic examples of free improv on the fly, using mostly traditional instruments to achieve unusual sounds in a decidedly untraditional context. This is improvisation that favors subtlety, minimalism (for the most part), and the extensive use of space along with creeping dynamic shifts. Much of the time there's not much happening at all -- quiet phrases emerge at low volume, an instrument makes some noise, then it all settles back into silence broken only by the ambience of their surroundings -- although when they start to work their mojo, there are times when things get relatively busy, although never to the point of resembling anarchy. The four studio recordings offer different opportunities for the various players to take the lead, and to explore different strategies and sounds in their improvised assault on minimalism. The live piece is not particularly different in concept from the studio pieces, although the change in location does give it a mildly different feel from the other tracks. It's an interesting collective with a measured approach, and the disc provides evidence of the ability to approach improvised sound from several different angles, all with intriguing results.

The KDB Sonic Cooperative

Los Angeles Electric 8 -- s/t [self-released]

Hey now, this is some interesting mojo: eight guitarists acting as an electric chamber octet, playing compositions by Nathaniel Braddock, Dmitri Shostakovich, Randall Kohl, Felix Mendelssohn, and Wyane Siegel -- obscure composers to be sure, but the results are mighty interesting. Working in the same kind of context as the Kronos Quartet or Rhys Chatham, these eight guitarists reinterpret music designed for other instruments (piano and organ, mainly) and transform them into eclectic post-modern works of guitar art. Fans of Tone, Savage Republic, and Godspeed You Black Emperor will like the sound of these extended set pieces; for that matter, anybody with a hankering to hear the possibilities of well-executed compositions for multiple guitars should find this worth investigating. Best of all, this sounds like the collective was having a lot of fun while recording these tracks -- the concept sounds ambitious and has the potential to be overly academic, but somebody apparently forgot to tell the band this, because they keep things hopping in lively fashion throughout the entire disc. One of the best tracks is the long, slow, hypnotic dirge "Dominio Figures," the final track on the album... but really, all of the album is great. A great idea with great execution, and ideally there's more to come in the future.

Los Angeles Electric 8

Netherbird -- THE GHOST COLLECTOR [Pulverised Records]

This is the band's first full-length release after a couple of singles and EPs, and it definitely benefits from the band taking its time to get to this point. Despite coming from Stockholm, Sweden, a metal scene noted for a distinct and particular sound, they manage to reach beyond that stock sound to present thirteen tracks diverse enough to incorporate elements of black metal, doom, and folk-metal into the more familiar melodic Swedish metal attack. Surging guitars and melodic solos ride over a framework of relentless beats and minimally hypnotic structures that have more to do with black metal than anything else. Elements of symphonic metal (including the occasional female vocal) creep in as well, mostly to offer a contrast to the more blazing parts. This is definitely progressive metal with gothic touches, but still plenty heavy, and while it combines features of several different subgenres of metal, it fuses them together in an organic way that doesn't feel contrived. The band has a real flair for the dramatic and an excellent sense of timing in terms of how they move from one motif to the next. Right now the band is strictly a duo, but they are in the process of acquiring other full-time members, fully intent on performing live, and it should be interesting to see how the drama and intensity of these songs translate to the stage.

Pulverised Records

Ophibre -- HERB AS GIFT [Heavy Nature Tapes]

This disc consists of two long, untitled drone / noise tracks -- just under thirty minutes total -- and is limited to 50 copies. The first track opens with glitch-like screeching and tweaked noises that are soon joined by ambient static and a sonorous drone that rises and falls with hypnotic regularity to form a subtle oceanic rhythm over which strange noises happen, a drone that grows for around fifteen minutes, at which point it abruptly segues into the second one, which is dominated more by odd noises and static that rumble along, periodically jumping in volume but mostly low and relatively understated. Around the four-minute mark the dynamic shifts to a louder, denser quality and a growing level of crustiness to the static-laden sound. This is excellent stuff, and I wish there had been more of it.

Heavy Nature Tapes

Rent Romus' Jazz on the Line Quartet -- FILMTRAX: ROBOT (RATS AND OTHER MEMOS) [Edgetone Records]

Sax and percussion guru Rent Romus originally formed the quartet in question back in 1986 while attending the University of California in Santa Cruz, then abandoned it in 1994 to move into other avenues of sonic exploration. He has now brought the quartet (rounded out by Scott Looney on keyboards, Ray Schaeffer on six-string electric bass, Philip Everett on drums and percussion, and in addition to these players, special guest Andre Custodio on electronics and congas) back to life for this release, seven tracks composed for a film by Steven Marshall. The seven tracks on this disc may have been intended as soundtrack music, but they work equally well divorced from the film; there's plenty of verve and energy to the performances, Romus is out front much of the time, wailing away on his sax while the rest of the ensemble a serene rhythmic mojo behind him, and the performances are spirited and melodic without straying too far from the traditional sound of jazz. This is probably the closest Romus has come to a conventional jazz sound in years, and while it may not be as exotic as some of his more challenging material, it sure sounds mighty fine.

Rent Romus
Edgetone Records

Romance of Young Tigers -- MARIE ep [Quilt]

Now this is cryptic stuff: the two-track cd-r comes in a black and white sleeve featuring a mysterious young boy on the cover, which in turn is packed inside a handmade sleeve fashioned from a map of New England, all of which is squirreled away in a green burlap sleeve with the band's name and release title stamped across the front. I had to resort to the magic of Google to confirm which was the band name and which was the EP title. It turns out the two tracks are parts one and two of a track called "Marie," and the first one opens up with slowly rising peals of drone, the volume starting out inaudible and taking its sweet time (over a minute) to become seriously noticeable. Over a period of several minutes, that drone -- a seesawing sound that rises and falls with hypnotic regularity -- grows louder and more intense; eventually gritty noise and static seeps into the wavelike sound as well, cutting off abruptly. After a while, other sounds begin to creep in as well, even as the seesaw drone bobs slowly up and down like waves in the ocean. As time passes, the cathedral-like sound in the background grows in volume and intensity until it becomes the foreground, only to recede again. Eventually the cavalcade of sounds floats away, leaving only the wavelike drone, which itself finally dies away, receding steadily into the distance as the piece comes to an end. The second track is... a continuation? a variation? a remix? It's hard to say, but it unfolds in similar fashion, anchored by drone and leavened with strange sounds and ambient frippery. This variant does appear to get louder and darker, but is otherwise much the same kind of sonic beast. Thirty minutes, then, of epic drone goodness. This release is available in various configurations, all of them limited, as well as a 12-inch vinyl EP (itself limited to 250 copies) that comes with a free digital download of both tracks and a poster.

Romance of Young Tigers

Jess Rowland -- THE SHAPE OF POISON [Edgetone Records]

Oh, I like this. Working with a piano and laptop computer, Rowland creates near-ambient pieces grounded in minimalist piano lines swaddled in reverb and subjected to heavy, near-endless delay, a ghostlike sound augmented by loops, glitch electronics, and actual snatches of melody. The three lengthy pieces on this disc were recorded live at the ODC Theater in San Francisco in February of 2007, as part of a performance commissioned by choreographer Manuelito Biag. It's not hard to see how these exotic-sounding pieces could work in the context of a dance troupe, but it would certainly have to be an exotic one, composed of dancers used to performing in the context of avant-garde work. The beautiful-sounding piano parts are offset by glitch sounds, stuttering piano motifs that sound like samples of a skipping cd, and other unnatural overlaid sounds that provide interesting textural counterpoints to the minimal piano playing, but have the potential to be most distracting to all but the most intensely focused dancers. Minimalism and repetition are constant motifs through all three pieces, forming the backbone of a sound that is often laced with unexpected sounds and bursts of glitch electronica as well as intermittent snatches of melodic piano that appear without warning, only to fade away in great washes of reverb and delay. Rowland has some highly creative ideas about the use of the piano, both in terms of actual musical content and in the unusual shape of sound, and a fresh ability to see the use of one of music's oldest and most traditional instruments in a new and startling way. Her ability to compose such fractured pieces with a surprising level of emotional resonance, and her talent for integrating modern electronica textures into these pieces, says much about her skills as a conceptualist and a composer. This is an excellent release, and I sincerely hope she continues to explore this direction in future performances.

Jess Rowland
Edgetone Records

Scissor Shock -- SYNONYM FOR THE WORD DECAY [Lazer Seizure Records]

I have no idea what "genre" the band belongs in (there's a big debate on the subject in progress on their Myspace page, if you care about these things), but one thing's for sure -- they're definitely products of the ADD generation. This twelve-track EP is approximately thirty minutes long, and no motif in the constantly-shifting cornucopia of sound ever hangs around for more than a few seconds. Everything I've heard from them so far sounds pretty much like a cd being played on fast-forward, and this is no exception, although there are a couple of unexpected deviations from the hopalong splattersound like "fahey ghost," an obvious tribute to the cranky (and dead) guitar god that's my favorite track, if only because I'm a Fahey fanatic. (There's also a sequel, "ghost fahey," that's almost certainly the same track played in reverse.) Elements of just about every form of music you can imagine -- but mainly jazz, electronica, and the more disquieting edge of ambient -- show up in the songs here, usually in short bursts and juxtaposed in bizarre fashion. They're definitely one of the more listenable bands in this frantic cut 'n paste audio electroshock arena, and their "what the fuck?" mission of pure sonic chaos is helped considerably by swell song titles like "psychic vision of a strangulated woman who is missing her shoe" and "johnny merzbow is dead." If you've heard their previous work (of which there is seriously a lot -- the band is nothing if not excessively prolific) and liked it, you'll like this one too; if you haven't, well, this is a good a place to start as any.

Scissor Shock

E. Doctor Smith and Seth Elgart -- K2 [Edgetone Records]

Smith and Elgart, who have been collaborating together for nearly thirty years, have come together now (with the help of a few friends) to create a tribute of sorts to the early giants of ambient and new age. Employing laptops, Moog keyboards, synths, Ebow, and more traditional jazz instruments, the two men lead a series of session players through ten airy tracks that are part jazz, part ambient, and part new age, light-sounding but compelling instrumental pieces that have as much in common with elevator music as with experimental free jazz. That might not sound so complimentary, but the fact is that the music here is highly listenable, and not boring at all; the sound is not threatening or abrasive, but the rhythms are pleasantly hypnotic and the melodies pleasing to the ear without being unduly aggressive. This may be new age music, but if so, it's new age for a more sophisticated listener, comparable in sound and intent to the early work of Brian Eno and Tangerine Dream. The only real difference is the use of considerably more modern technology, although how much difference that really makes in the final sound is a matter for debate (other than making the process simpler and easier, especially in comparison to the trial and struggle Tangerine Dream used to endure on a daily basis while trying to tame the then-new equipment at their disposal, which often behaved unpredictably and had a tendency to drift out of tune). This just serves as an excellent reminder that new age instrumentals are not always the equivalent of sonic wallpaper.

E. Doctor Smith
Seth Elgart
Edgetone Records

Sujo -- "Arak" 3-inch cdr [Inam Records]

More swank (and limited) coolness from Sujo and Inam Records. Their latest salvo of churning drone clocks in at just under 21 minutes and features more of the ominous, shimmering drone prevalent on its previous releases. As before, the sound is vast and tidal, one that segues from one distinct movement to the next without being radically obvious in the process; the sound flows seamlessly, in organic fashion, sometimes with beats, sometimes without, but always swaddled in clouds of drone. At times ethereal like vapor and at some points dense and harmonic, the sound Sujo generates often manages to be incredibly sinister yet supremely gorgeous. Like a symphony that builds to climactic moments only to recede into more brooding passages, the track offers plenty of dynamics and fleeting moments of resolution. Swell, swell listening, and like everything else on Inam, sporting simple but nifty art (lovely line art drawings on the inner insert and outer vellum sleeve) and limited availibility (in this case, 100 copies). Get it while you can.

Tenth to the Moon -- s/t [ISP Music]

If the band's debut studio album (which fully delivers on the promise of their live EP from a while back) bears the occasional eerie resemblance to now-defunct purveyors of nightmare rock Pineal Ventana, that's probably because Mitchell Foy is at the center of both bands. The lineup has since expanded from two members (Foy and Doug Hughes) to three (Tim Shea on bass), moving from pure electronics and drums to something a bit closer to a traditional band configuration (if not necessarily a more traditional sound); the sound on individual songs is further rounded out by the contribution of a fair number of extra players, including two guitarists on a few different songs, several vocalists (lead and backing, including former Pineal Ventana shrieker Clara Clamp on "Kadaver Dogs"), and Sean Moore on drums for two tracks. The result of all the extra personnel is a widely varied sound that makes the band's aesthetic hard to pin down. Their sound is still heavily based in electronics, but the addition of drums and guitars again brings them back into the realm of industrial rock, but the fact that so many people come and go means that the songs -- while built around a similar sound courtesy of the trio of Foy, Hughes, and Shea -- are all fairly different, with some far more layered and textured than others. Comparisons to Pineal Ventana are probably unavoidable to some degree, especially since several of his former bandmates popl up on this album from time to time, but where that band was more about tribal sonic violence and themes of horror and uncontrolled chaos, this band's attack is far more varied and controlled, built more around themes of paranoia than psychosis. This band's sound is also far more centered around the buzz, rattle and hum of diseased electronic gadgets, with the stringed instruments just rounding out the sound. Featuring twelve songs built on the sounds of vaguely sci-fi psychodrama, this is potent, pulsing stuff.

Tenth to the Moon
ISP Music

Those Who Bring the Torture -- TANK GASMASK AMMO [Pulverised Records]

Another Swedish band, this one apparently weaned on a heavy diet of war metal in general and Impaled Nazarene in particular, featuring former members of Ribspreader, Paganizer, and Knife In Christ, so you know they're dedicated to all that is rude and heavy. This grinding collection of serrated riffs and remorseless beats is the band's second album, and it's unquestionably heavy, with thirteen frantic skull-rattling tunes celebrating war, violent death, and goats (which is what makes me think they must be down with Impaled Nazarene, who also share their other lyrical fixations). The drumming at times is straight out of the grindcore school of sheer relentlessness, and there's plenty of straight-up death metal riffing all over the place. The one major drawback is that there's not a tremendous amount of variety in the songs, although some of them are festooned with circling melodic guitar solos; outside of that, the songs are pretty consistent in their bone-crushing heaviness, with regular bursts of galloping drums and frenzied guitar energy. It may not be the most original sound ever developed, but it's played with enough pure blind ferocity and executed with enough speed-obsessed precision to make it worth checking out.

Those Who Bring the Torture
Pulverised Records

TL0741 -- BACK TO MINUS [HC3 Music]

No telling what the band's name means (if anything), but the sound is a tad more classifiable -- experimental electronica, heavy on the drone theology and peppered with cryptic machine noises, repetitive noise rhythms, and laced with sheets of ambient sound that's equal parts noise and drone. There's a deeply mysterious feel to a lot of the material, but especially the title track, with its whirlygig noises and fractured electronic chattering. Of the five pieces here, three of them are relatively long (between ten and fifteen minutes each), extended sonic landscapes with plenty of room for the exploration of different sounds and structures that evolve like the shifting of tectonic plates. The remaining two tracks are considerably shorter -- just under six and five minutes each -- and, befitting their truncated length, more persistent in their focus. It's fitting, too, that the final track is the dreamiest, a subdued collection of drones and chittering noises that ends the album in a pleasant and low-key fashion. A fine collection of drone / noise soundscapes, packaged in an oversized plastic digipak with suitably cryptic artwork.

HC3 Music

Uke of Spaces Corners County -- SO FAR ON THE WAY [Corleone Records]

The demented offering of former Impractical Cockpit member Dan Beckman (surrounded by a rotating cast of players) comes across sort of like a post-rock answer to Leonard Cohen fixated on visions of Sun Ra, or something equally ridiculous and cosmic. Those perking up at the mention of Impractical Cockpit, incidentally, should note that this band sounds nothing like that one. The core of the album resembles the work of guitar primitives run amok, with extra textures courtesy of cheap keyboards, singing saws, and miscellaneous forms of impromptu percussion. It's a sound that fuses the appeal of old-school campfire folk singalongs with the whacked-out approach of noise rock, a surreal approach that yields intriguing (and often psychedelic) results. The cover of Sun Ra's "Outer Spaceways" only proves that the band is coming from a much different headspace than their folk-rock forebears, and the rest of the album is just about equally "out there a minute." Not quite folk rock, not quite jazz, not quite noise, but surely somewhere in the vast wasteland between the three idioms, this one will definitely provoke a lot of head-scratching in the average unprepared listener. It's worth hearing, though, if only to hear how such disparate themes can come together with pleasing (if sometimes perplexing) results.

Uke of Spaces Corners County
Corleone Records

The Unholy Two -- "Kutter" 7" [Columbus Discount Records]

Dunno much about this band -- they're from Columbus, which tells you nothing, I know -- but they bring on the caffienated clatter with noisy authority. "Kutter" opens with grotesque squealing and drums that can't decide whether or not they want to do anything before finally settling into fast-paced rocking with murky sound, buzzing bass, and a most agitated singer. Before it all ends there's a plodding, tortured breakdown that eventually disintegrates into more amp squealing and minor chaos. Chaos is a pretty good term for the song's entire aesthetic, actually; it's channeling the ghost of the original Stooges in more ways than one. "Porkys" is not quite so murky and wrapped in enigmatic chaos; in fact, it's a straight-ahead burner, classic old-school punk rock that verges on the shambolic and sports a "troubled" mix that propels the vocalist right in your face. It's intense, aggressive, obnoxious, and best of all, it doesn't last long -- just long enough to make its point by stepping on your face a few times. Bonus points for misappropriating the Freemason logo; extra bonus points for the rude naked cover. This is sold out, as it happens, but the label's promising a repress in the (near?) future, so keep your eyes open.

The Unholy Two
Columbus Discount Records


Rising from the ashes of Nihilist in 1989, Unleashed has since become one of the standard bearers for Swedish death metal, focusing mainly on themes of Viking culture, paganism, and war. Heavy stuff, in other words, and the band's sound is appropriately punishing. This is their ninth studio album, and it's a good one, with thirteen tracks of possessed thrashing anchored by chugging riffs, highly melodic solos like musical explosions of shrapnel, and song structures that are defined more by esoteric movements and tempo changes than routine chord progressions. This is fierce, aggressive music with no ambivalence whatsoever, even during the brief interludes of neo-folk prettiness that often presage furious descents into heaviness. Their roots in old-school death metal can be heard primarily in the slower-paced breakdowns and some of the more intensely thrashing moments, but even when their connections to the past are fairly obvious, they retain a fearsome, bludgeoning sound that is uniquely their own. I'm generally lukewarm on Swedish death metal bands because they have a tendency to get too wrapped up in melodicism at the expense of riff-laden brutality, but Unleashed strike just the right balance between the two concerns. There's plenty of melodic content here, sure, but it's generally delivered at lightning speed, with solos roaring past like notes wavering in a hurricane, and they rhythm section is so intensely punishing that even without the melodicism they would be an exceptional band. Fans of Swedish death metal -- or pure unadulterated heaviness in general -- will not be disappointed by this album, which is remarkably filler-free, no small feat these days.