Monday, January 28, 2008

the latest wave of reviews

Annihilator -- METAL [SPV USA]

For those not hep to the old school, Annihilator is basically Canadian guitarist Jeff Waters plus whoever he can talk into playing with him for a record or two, and the band's reputation rests mainly with their first (and best) release, the 1989 album ALICE IN HELL. Since then, the band's output has been very much hit or miss; Waters is an unquestionably enthusiastic ambassador for metal, but his judgment has been called into question more than once, usually with good reason. This album, though, is a bit different than most Annhilator albums in that it's largely a concept album about the glory of metal, and -- more importantly -- one that invites a great many guests to the party, which brings a reasonable level of variety to the tracks, especially where vocals and solo are are concerned. Said guests include Alexi Laiho (Children of Bodom), Michael Amott and Angela Gassow (Arch Enemy), Corey Beaulieu (Trivium), William Adler (Lamb of God), Jeff Loomis (Nevermore), Jasper Stromblad (In Flames), Steve "Lips" Kudlow (Anvil); in addition, the backing band includes not only Dave Padden on lead and backing vocals, but Mike Mangini (Steve Vai, Extreme, Annihilator) on drums. So there's plenty of potential for whole-grain metal goodness here, and for the most part, the concept does bear fruit... although how tasty you find that fruit will depend heavily on how entranced you are with 80s metal, because this definitely sounds like a throwback to 80s thrash, which has its good and bad moments, to be sure. The songs themselves are no great shakes -- with titles like "Clown Parade," "Operation Annihilation," and "Army of One," you can quickly get the idea that this will not be a highbrow experience -- but with the possible exception of "Couple Suicide" and its near-disastrous attempts at funk, they aren't awful either (damning with faint praise, I know, but given Annihilator's songwriting history, this is a big improvement over some of their late 90s and later albums). The playing, though, is another story -- highly aggressive and thrashy, with plenty of guitar solo madness, all of it soldily rooted in the headbanging excesses of 80s thrash. It's also true that the band's approach to thrash is somewhat generic-sounding at times and the lyrics are nothing to write home about, but if you grew up with the sounds of early 80s thrash, that just sort of adds to the album's twisted charm. Ultimately all the guest appearances do little more than add seasoning -- if you're not already clued in as to who's doing what, it's unlikely you would notice most of the time -- but a little bit of seasoning, along with an interesting concept / gimmick (depending on how you choose to view it), goes a long way with a band like Annhilator. It's not the instant classic some of the press would have you believe, but it's not the awful disaster some reviews make it out to be, either; it's ultimately just Annhilator with some guests making a yet another album rooted in 80s thrash. It's also quite likely the best album the band's made in ages, so if you were down with Annihilator at any point early in the band's career, you might want to give this a listen.


Deadlock -- WOLVES [Lifeforce Records]

German exports Deadlock do a pretty good job on this album of combining elements of goth and technical metal with a highly melodic bent. Their secret weapon is second singer Sabine Weniger, whose divine, gothic vocals make an effective counterpoint to the harsh barking of the band's other vocalist, Johannes Prem. It helps immensely that they've managed to find an excellent balance between the wildly divergent sounds of gothic keyboards, aggressive drumming, and guitars that alternate between highly technical riffing and more folky passages. Sure, plenty of bands have tried their hands at combining goth and metal, but few have done it in such an ornate and unpredictable fashion, or with such explosive results; the band frequently shifts gears without warning, something that's more difficult than one might think when blasting off from one genre into another one so radically different. The gothic moments are truly gothic, even symphonic, and the metal moments are truly extreme and technical, while the passages that bridge the two extremes create an interesting, atmospheric sound in of itself. Such extreme attempts at cross-pollinating between such different genres rarely works, but here it works extremely well.

Lifeforce Records

Harlots -- BETRAYER [Lifeforce Records]

Listening to this is an exhausting experience; the band is harsh, dark, and unrelenting in its heaviness for the most part, with a sound that combines the more complicated technical fetishes of extreme metal with the face-stomping violence of hardcore. Compressed and diabolically focused songs speed by, propelled by complex and extremely hyperactive drumming and ornate guitar riffing buried in a wall of sound, and narrated by a howling, angry vocalist whose barks and shrieks are the perfect accompaniment to such turbulent sonic excess. It's not all just blind, brutal pounding, though; "Dried Up Goliathan" slows the pace down a bit to accomodate near-jazzy guitar before eventually launching into a wall of noise and pained shouting, and "The Concept of Existence" opens with white-noise guitar like a sonic landslide before shifting gears, growing progessively faster and more metallic. The album's final track, the lengthy and progressive "Suicide Medley," is practically an interstellar psych jam that evolves from highly melodic guitar passages into more blunt expressions of abject heaviness. Buried in all the frantic chaos is a lot of exceptional guitar work and highly impressive drumming; the band is nothing if not highly disciplined, although the sheer ferocity of their attack tends to make this somewhat obscure upon first listen. This album is proof that it is indeed possible to combine a progressive, at times even baroque, musical vision with obsessive speed and spine-crushing brutality.

Lifeforce Records


I was never a huge fan of this band during their initial period of success in the 80s, but I never had anything against them, either; I just didn't particularly care for their distinctly European brand of power metal (or, for that matter, their fondness for shrieking, falsetto-obsessed singers). Since then the band has been through some serious ups and downs (not to mention numerous lineup changes and at least one truly disastrous change in direction), and the current lineup only contains two original members (guitarist Michael Weikath and bassist Markus Grosskopf), so I could understand where old-school Helloween fans might approach this with some sense of trepidation. Fortunately, the current lineup's sound has far more in common with the band's original sound than some of the previous lineups, and this is a really good album that sounds more like a return to the glorious excess of 80s metal than anything that's currently fashionable. Even better, relative newcomer Sascha Gerstner, the band's latest second guitarist, meshes extremely well with Weikath; their tight, blazing power adds plenty of punch to the more aggressive songs, especially on "The Saints," which has one of the most impressive twin-guitar passages since the days of Iron Maiden or the heyday of classic-era Judas Priest. There are softer, more obviously commercial moments as well, such as the obvious single "As Long As I Fall," but even those manage to be radio-friendly with descending into soppiness, and the rest of the album is frantic, aggressive, and full of power without sacrificing their taste for melody. I'm personally not so keen on the operatic vocals -- the only singer in metal who does that right, in my opinion, is Rob Halford, and while Andi Deris is good, he's not Rob Halford -- but they're appropriate for the material, and he certainly doesn't embarrass himself. The biggest reason to embrace this, though, remains in the rock-solid drumming, the sharp riffing, and the o-so-very European guitar solos. Fans of old-school Helloween should be happy to hear this; fans of old-school power metal will want to check it out as well.


In Battle -- KINGDOM OF FEAR [Candlelight Records]

Hailing from Sweden and sounding very much in the vein of violent, speed-obsessed bands like Marduk, this is the band's fifth release (including a four-track ep released in 2003). As the band's name, logo, and cover make clear, this is forbidding war metal at its most intense, but since this is a Swedish band, after all, there's a fair bit of melody hiding in the chaos. They're not exactly breaking new ground -- this is the same kind of revved-up blackened thrash that's been streaming out of Sweden and other nearby countries for the past decade or so -- but they're good, with plenty of serrated high-speed guitar action and intensely powerful drumming (although it's mildly disconcerting that for such a quintessentially Swedish band, their singer sounds an awful lot like the singer for Finland's Impaled Nazarene). The album is well-produced -- I have no idea who was in charge of capturing the sound, but the band's sound is clear and distinct throughout, despite being raw and violent, which is no small feat. Aside from a few moments here and there (and those moments tend to be really brief) where they slow down into a grim, crushing groove, the album is mostly a high-velocity affair; the drums in particular are ridiculously fast and relentless, just what you'd expect of a band that's currently on tour with Marduk. Fans of intense, aggressive war metal will not be disappointed.

In Battle
Candlelight Records

Tor Lundvall -- THE SEASONS UNFOLD sampler [Strange Fortune]

This four-track sampler from ambient-drone artist Tor Lundvall is an advance taste of his forthcoming four-cd set THE SEASONS UNFOLD, and if the rest of the set sounds like this, it should be a worthwhile listening experience indeed. The four tracks here are an intriguing mix of ambient and minimalist pop, haunting and mysterious, beautiful-sounding music that's heavy on the atmosphere and light in almost every other respect. This is music to play on the stereo while lying in bed on a rainy day, especially "29," the sampler's best track, a simple and hypnotic piece of drone-pop buoyed by a repetitive bass line and a spiky piano motif that could be a lost track from the TWIN PEAKS soundtrack. Much of this, in fact, greatly resembles the work of Angelo Badalementi, only with more emphasis on the ghostly ambience and leaning more in a drone-pop direction. All of the tracks are excellent, with some more airy and ambient than others, but all anchored in minimalism, ambience, and drone, with instruments drenched in reverb. The sampler cd is available for free to anyone ordering from the label's web site, and given that the label's releases include albums by Coil, Current 93, and Sol Invictus, that's probably good enough excuse to go shopping just to pick this up as well.

Strange Fortune

Olekranon -- s/t [Inam Records]

The ever-prolific Olekranon returns with six more ice-cold explorations of the joyous union of processed guitar drone and minimalist beats, and the results are every bit as impressive as the consistently excellent releases that came before this one. This is drone-disco for the chill-out generation, with repetitive, near-static guitar frippery floating like fog over shifting, spidery techno beats; the guitars are more about noise and texture than actual music, sounding one moment like drifting fog, then like the distant hum of cyclotrons, as relentless beats come and go. Even when actual riffs appear (as on "Bubonic"), they are repeated like a loop until they merely become part of the sonic landscape, accenting and never detracting from the hypnotic machine beats. On "In Celebration," clouds of drone fade in, growing and swelling, accompanied by electronic glitches, until thudding beats arrive along with a bright, simple (but effective) melodic pattern; more skittering, chittering noises surface on "Spillage," along with a watery clanking riff and heavier beats. The overall effect is that of a dark, cold wind spilling through an abandoned city in the process of being rebuilt -- a soundtrack for construction by way of beat-happy robots and a wind with a mind of its own. Excellent, as always, and limited to 49 copies.

Inam Records

Vopat -- s/t 3" cd-r [Inam Records]

The latest transmission from Vopat is short but potent, with six songs in just over twenty minutes; oceanic sound, in the form of layers of heavily reverbed and processed guitar, is the major motif here. The mesmerizing "Find Something" opens with a sound much like My Bloody Valentine after listening to stacks of black metal albums, with wave after wave of dark, droning guitar cycling through different tonal registers, only to finally evaporate in an extended wash of celestial ambience. "Calico File" opens with a lonesome, melodic guitar line that turns into crushing guitar and an ornate riff that is only the beginning of a series of shifts in dynamics; "Shrift" is driven by eerie tremelo guitar like the sound of cicadas from another planet and a wave of drone that rises and falls, all of which segues into the slow, majestic riff of "Opius," a melodic and melancholy riff that goes through several subtle permutations over a shifting bed of bright, harmonic drones and eventually an interstellar solo of sorts. It's all instrumental, all possessed of a deeply cosmic vibe, and all excellent. It's also -- like all Inam releases -- an extremely limited press run, limited to 100 copies. Get it while you can, this is good stuff.

Inam Records

Sunday, January 20, 2008

thee grimm and unnatural second post of january

Bardoseneticcube / Noises of Russia -- NEW ORTHODOX LINE [Some Place Else]

I've been wondering about Russia's noise scene for a long time now; their culture seems to me that it would be a natural breeding ground for noise, but for some reason very little of it has trickled out of the country (or if it has, it's been in such obscure fashion that I've missed it), so I'm stoked to hear this, a compilation of tracks from two of the biggest players in the Russian noise / post-industrial scene. Bardoseneticcube favor noise with a surrealistic bent, while Noises of Russia incorporates other disciplines (most notably drone, dark ambient, and experimental music) into their interpretation of noise. The bands work together here to craft one long, sprawling track (47-plus minutes in length) that flows in movements from eerie chanting to repetitive rhythms bracketed by muted noise to dark ambient soundscapes and noise and more, all with a dark ritualistic feel and a sound that owes more to dark ambient and the avant-garde than to any concept of traditional noise (although there is plenty of noise content here; it's just part of the sonic terrain rather than the main focus). As the piece progresses, it does become more rhythmic, eventually moving squarely into post-industrial territory, and things do become progressively noisier toward the end, although the dark ambient drones and experimental textures never completely fade out of the picture. The result is a long, haunting journey through hidden crevices of the psyche, and an innovative juxtaposition of genres, textures, and sounds. This is music for the subconscious, a sonic ideal in which the sounds and emotions of the hidden parts of the brain are brought forward and into the light for closer inspection. This disc has much in spirit (if not in sound) with the recent Aluk Todolo release; it's all about mystery and ritual, and the attempt to elucidate upon the inexplicable. Having never heard either band before, I have no idea who's responsible for what parts of the sound, but it hardly matters; the totality of their collaboration is so complete that it becomes its own thing. Pick this up and expand your horizons.

Noises of Russia
Some Place Else

Burning Witch -- CRIPPLED LUCIFER [Southern Lord]

All the extreme doom revolving around the Southern Lord axis -- Sunn O))), Khanate, all the splinter bands, all the followers and worshippers -- begins here, in the band Stephen O'Malley and Greg Anderson formed in Seattle in 1996 immediately following the dissolution of the short-lived Thorr's Hammer. (Anderson didn't stick around long, though, leaving early to move to L.A. and form Goatsnake, so he doesn't actually appear on any of the recordings.) This is ground zero for blackened drone doom, not to mention the Southern Lord label (the original cd compilation CRIPPLED LUCIFER was the label's second release, right on the heels of the Thorr's Hammer cd that served as the label's formal debut); in the decade since the band's 1998 implosion, their meager output -- one three-track demo and two 12" EPs, each clocking in at approximately half an hour -- has assumed legendary proportions, and become intensely collectible (just check out Ebay to get an idea of how much $$$ you'll have to cough up to get your hands on a copy of TOWERS or RIFT.CANYON.DREAMS). Their cult status has been aided immensely by the fact that up until now, actually hearing them has been incredibly difficult -- the original EPs were released in limited quantities (500 copies each) and were obscure at best at the time of release, and the original cd compilation, after three pressings, has been sold out for years. This double-disc collection, which essentially compiles the band's entire post-demo recording output, goes a long way toward rectifying that situation.

Of all the O'Malley-related bands that followed in the wake of this one, the one Burning Witch most resembles is Khanate, although there are significant differences between the two bands. For one thing, Burning Witch, despite their eccentric singer and intensely slow pacing, still at least marginally builds from the foundation of traditional metal, with recognizable riffs and actual song structures; sure, it's slow, but it's not so slow that you can't tell what's going on (unlike Khanate, whose glacial tempos, akin to the speed of clouds dissolving, made it nearly impossible to discern the actual riffs and beat patterns). A lot of fuss has been raised over the years about singer Edgy 59's unorthodox delivery, but he at least sounds sane, whereas Khanate vocalist Alan Dubin sounded positively psychotic, and unlike Dubin, there are moments when he actually sings rather than shrieking like a butchered pig. As in Khanate, there's a certain level of psychodrama at work in the delivery, which -- accompanied by a constant barrage of slow-motion thunder -- sounds pretty apocalyptic, even now. I can only imagine how out-there this must have sounded when TOWERS was first released.

As for the compilation itself, well, it's a vast improvement over the original cd compilation in every respect. Expanded from one disc to two, the band's entire career is on display here, consisting of both EPs in their entirety, along with the tracks "Communion" and "The Bleeder" (from the 2000 Hydra Head split with Goatsnake, now out of print) and "Rift Canyon Dreams" (from the 2004 Dos Fatales Records split 12" with Asva, now out of print as well). I don't know if everything has been remastered or not, but it sure sounds like it. Then there's the packaging, an elaborate gatefold affair containing a massive booklet printed in metallic gold ink, also available directly from the label's mailorder in a limited run (2,000 individually machine-numbered copies) with a bonus dropcard allowing the proud owner to download the band's 1996 demo and a four-track live recording from the Pioneer Square Theater, recorded in Seattle in 1996. The label has gone to enormous lengths to present a really compelling package here, and if you're into any of the bands that came afterwards (especially Khanate) or just slow, rumbling drone doom in general, you don't want to miss this.

Burning Witch
Southern Lord

Conveniens -- CLEAR [Convenience]

Originally pressed on clear vinyl when first released in 1987 (copies of which were promptly "permanently borrowed" by DJs due to the album's unconventional look and sound) and long out of print in its original format, the band -- John Maz on drums and David Sterling Smith on keyboards, still going strong lo these many years -- has seen fit to make it available again on cd, completely remastered and with an additional track. The presentation is again clear -- the disc comes in a white case with a clear insert -- and the disc is enhanced, including additional content beyond the music. (They wanted a clear cd too, but tragically had to live without it, since the disc pressing industry can't make that happen for sound logistical reasons.) The music itself consists of the original ten tracks plus "Epilogue," a bonus studio jam coaxed out the band by Iain Burgess (yes, the same producer / engineer known for his work with bands like Big Black, Breaking Circus, Jawbox, and more), with an adventurous sound somewhere between Herbie Hancock-style jazz and Wax Trax gone new age; if you subtracted the guitars from Last Exit and they were a little more laid back, it might sound something like this. Impeccable engineering brings out the clarity in the impressive drumming -- this could have worked just fine as a percussion-only album -- and the two grand piano pieces (one solo, one with flute accompaniment); even the busy tracks are clear and distinct. The new-age keyboards make a surprisingly pleasant counterpoint to the often-insistent drumming, and the songs all flow in an effortless, organic manner that makes it impossible to tell how much of this was planned and how much was improvised. Even better, this sounds frightfully modern for an album that was recorded over twenty years ago. Why has such a brilliant band remained so willfully obscure all this time? Your guess is as good as mine, but you can check out the tunes via the link below (and buy the cd, if you're so inclined) and see why they still deserve a better profile.


Flourescent Grey -- GASEOUS OPAL ORBS [Record Label Records]

Flourescent Grey's debut album (reviewed here many moons ago, when it first appeared in 2006), was more of a spaced-out, tripped-out sound collage affair; this album represents a mild shift in direction, with more emphasis on beat-heavy, glitch-influenced electronica shrouded in ambience and experimental sounds. Originally scheduled for release on Isolate until that label's founder Wai Cheng died in December 2006, that label's unfortunate loss is this RLR's gain; this is exotic, entrancing material, full of hyperkinetic beats that grow and expand like a viral form of avant-garde techno, garnished with atmospheric ambience and plenty of startling, otherworldly sounds. Some of the tracks, like "Teleological Attractor," with its stuttering vocabulary of glitches, phaser bursts, and bell-like tones, are less rhythmically oriented and more fixated on issuing strange noises into the void, but most of the tracks are supremely rhythm-driven, with rhythms drawn from techno and IBM territory, rhythms that start off repetitive but complex and grow even more complex both rhythmically and tonally, all while surrounded by an ever-shifting palette of arcane sound effects and ambient washes. Much of it sounds like post-EVANESCENCE Scorn, but busier and far more diverse; one track, "Physically Modeled Theme For Children," introduces the xylophone to a mix straight out of a science-fiction film, in which the rhythmic content is often provided by pinging beats and dubbed-out drums as bizarre tones shift pitch over electronic glitches. "Celtic K-Hole" opens with an arpeggiated Celtic melody on what could be an effects-laden guitar or piano and is soon buried in looped beats and sonic effluvia before finally ending in wooshing noises that spirals up and out, elongating into cracked noise that segues into the next song. The entire album is filled with abrupt changes in direction and texture, yet all of it is anchored by the consistent use of glitch electronica and body-moving beats. Weird, yes, but hypnotic, heavily layered, full of fresh sounds and beats, and definitely listenable.

Flourescent Grey
Record Label Records

Gelsomina + No Xivic -- FURNACE [Some Place Else]

Gelsomina is a harsh noise unit from Finland that is already legendary in noise circles for their loud and balls-out approach to noise terror; No Xivic is the name under which Finnish artist Henkka Kyllonen releases dark ambient music. Together (and separately) they create on this disc some of the most impressively loud and out-there noise you're likely to hear anytime soon. The title track is a 25-minute collaboration, recorded live in 2006 in Turku, Finland, that finds them embracing the joy of krautrock and setting it on fire; bleating, bobbing sheets of electronic music and drone are buried in caustic waves of scrap-metal noise and distortion, coming across like a frightening audio hallucination akin to speakers tripping out on powerful psychedelic drugs. About halfway through the piece, the real noise assault begins in earnest, growing steadily out of control as the speakers begin to sound like they're being mulched; then everything begins to cycle up into high-pitched wailing and dense, circling walls of sound and fury before closing out with shuddering waves of violence. The Gelsomina track that follows, "Everlasting Fire," is another beast entirely; too many voices speaking at once bleed into sonic babbling over a thudding, minimalist beat, then a grinding wall of harsh noise begins to drown them out -- and without warning, everything explodes in a ear-scorching burst of screeching white noise and pure sonic obliteration punctuated by unnerving screaming and other aberrant forms of chaos. This one will shear off the top of your skull if you have it turned up too loud.... The No Xivic track, "Greater Suffering," starts out in a much quieter vein, with somber dark ambient drone that eventually incorporates noise textures and a rumbling much like the sound of buildings collapsing in the distance; it's not as savage as the Gelsomina track, but it's certainly disquieting enough in its own right. Stellar work from start to finish.

No Xivic
Some Place Else

Gorefest -- RISE TO RUIN [Candlelight USA]

Dutch death metal proponents Gorefest have been around since 1989, but most death metal devotees had pretty much given up on them after the release of pop-tinged albums like SOUL SURVIVOR and CHAPTER 13 in the late nineties. Not surprisingly, their audience dropped them like a hot potato and they split up in 1999. They reformed in 2004, though, and their "comeback" album LA MUERTE two years ago was a surprising return to form; this one, their latest, just confirms that they really mean business about returning to their heavy, death-laden roots. There's nothing terribly new or original here, true, but at least they're serious about unleashing lots of intensity and metallic damage; this is a heavy, heavy album, bursting with speed, frantic drumming, and a crushing guitar sound. Their harsh, punishing sound is rounded out by samples and disquieting sound bites, but the main attraction here is the tight, relentless drumming and equally bruising guitars. (The whacked-out Slayersque solos may be an attraction for some listeners as well, although they don't do that much for me.) The best moments are when they slow the pace and bear down like a bulldozer, obliterating everything in their path with monolithic riffs; even the fast parts, though, are plenty heavy. As a side note, I'd like to point out that despite the album having only nine songs listed, the disc has eleven tracks, so you get plenty of metallic bang for your buck....

Candlelight USA

Knights of the Abyss -- JUGGERNAUT [Candlelight USA]

This is the band's debut, and it sounds like much of the current crop of US metal bands: lots of super-fast drumming, intensely complicated songs, hyperactive buzzsaw guitar, and a vocalist who sounds like he has one foot each in metal and hardcore camps. The only problem I have with this is that all of these bands are starting to sound alike to me, and this band, while not bad by any means, sounds an awful lot like a dozen other bands I've heard in the past year. If you can get past that, there's plenty to like here; the band is insanely intense, obscenely fast, and their vocalist generally sounds like he's trying to push his spleen through his throat. They're definitely metal, no question about that, although I think they could work a little harder on making their songs easier to tell apart -- there's not a lot of variety here, just ten songs in which they play real fast while the vocalist yells a lot. Of course, given that they have over 35,000 friends on their Myspace page, the problem could just be that I'm too old-school (and maybe just too old, period) to fully appreciate what they're doing....

Knights of the Abyss
Candlelight USA

Luminous -- LINKS [Tara Records]

Guitarist Mike Chaplin must be one of the only artists around to be equally influenced by Nurse With Wound, Whitehouse, and Peter Sotos on one hand and Bob Dylan, Tom Waits, and Billy Childish on the other. Active as a solo artist (both under his own name and as Luminous) in both alternative pop and experimental modes since the mid-nineties, his work in Luminous has so far had only limited release (two download albums, various compilation tracks, etc.) up until now; this is the first full-length Luminous release. It consists of two thirty-minute drone-noise tracks that sound very much like Troum channeling the spirit of Nurse With Wound and Whitehouse; the first track starts out with dry ambient grit and eventually evolves into tranced-out repetitive noise rhythms drifting through oceans of static-filled dark ambient sound and the occasional rising peal of feedback. The effects are simple but effective, creating the sensation of an electronic mole slowly eating his way through the earth in darkness. The second track, while still retaining a lot of subterranean rumbling and grit, is more concerned with odd tones, both high and low, that burst through the dark ambient rumble at irregular intervals. The intensity of the tones gradually increases over the length of the piece, as does the irregularity of the ambient background sound, which eventually becomes noisier and more chaotic, until the sounds that burst forth from the background grow harsh and glitchlike, and steadily more disturbing. The last ten minutes of the piece is a series of harrowing screeches that alternate with disorienting patches of glitch mania, trading back and forth in hypnotic fashion, filled with disorienting dropouts and unsettling bass tone squelches. It never rises to the level of fury of, say, a Whitehouse release, but it's definitely without the bounds of early Nurse With Wound audio torture. Interesting and eccentric material that should be of interest to anyone who's ever wondered what a Troum / NWW mashup might sound like.


Nebris -- BLEAK ANGELS [Dystonia EK]

The label was apparently active for some length of time in the 90s before shutting down for unspecified reasons, but has now returned with its first release in seven years, and that release kind of makes me wish I'd been hep to the label during its earlier incarnation (especially after seeing the long list of obscure releases on the label's website; there's no telling what kind of whole-grain goodness I missed out on here). The release in question is cryptic -- one disc in a beautiful three-fold digipak with a minimum of information that doesn't include any mention of the band members -- and consists of three long tracks of gradually building noise from the amplified sound of organic material and rocks, kora, and Tibetian thighbone trumpet. If that sounds exotic, well, you're catching on... this is some eerie-sounding stuff, a series of dark, gritty soundscapes for the damned rising from the rubble of some vast apocalypse. The first track, "V," presents shifting layers of noise strata that subtly grow in intensity until ceasing abruptly near the thirteen-minute mark; after a few seconds of silence, an unearthly wind begins to rise, spiraling into oblivon before seguing into track two, "II," which opens with a continuation of the wind sound as it takes on a thicker and deeper tone, then stretches into a different dimension as noise begins to build in the background. As the track rolls on, the sound builds in density and intensity, as the sound of wind is gradually overtaken by a growing cacaphony of scraping, breaking, shrieking noises that continue to grow more insistent. The final track, "IV," is a growing maelstrom of wind, noise, and clatter that gradually evolves in density and texture, reaching near-catastrophic levels before finally dying out in a stuttering bed of hiss. Recommended, and not just for the stunning artwork, either.

Dystonia EK

Niellerade Fallibilisthorstar -- SKRANKVERK [Dystonia EK]

This Swedish band with the tongue-twisting name (I'm still not completely sure I've spelled it right) was formed in 2001 and appear to be collage artists; this, their fifth release, was recorded on location at various abandoned buildings, swamps, and forests, using materials found at each site, and the results have been cut-up and arranged in the studio to form ambient-noise collages. The six lengthy pieces here collect a wide variety of sounds -- some obviously processed, others far more ambiguous, nearly all of them unrecognizable -- into heavily-layered sonic sculptures of ambient noise, although some tracks (like "Ohagn" and "Ral") include rudimentary rhythms as well. Too noisy (although not generally in the sense of harsh noise) to be truly ambient and too spacious and amorphous to truly be songs in the traditional sense, these tracks more closely resemble soundtracks of incidental music, or perhaps field recordings carefully reassembled and constructed to sound almost random while still retaining a subtle level of composition. Stretches of natural ambient sound are broken by jarring noises; muted rhyhms from unknown "instruments" are supplanted by jagged clattering; peaceful moments of naturalistic ambience are shattered by explosions of sound. The very nature of the album's recording and editing process makes everything mysterious; the deliberate use of randomness makes it unpredictable, sometimes to the point of being unnerving -- even in the quiet moments, after a while, you're waiting for chaos to happen. Interesting and unorthodox, at times even haunting, with plenty of attention to detail. The disc also comes packaged in a lovely triple-panel digipak with excellent art.

Niellerade Fallibilisthorstar
Dystonia EK

Nunn / Michalak / Bruckmann / Stackpole -- GHOST IN THE HOUSE [Edgetone Records]

Billed as a "soundtrack for the subconscious," the album certainly lives up to its billing -- this is loose, sparse, amorphous music in an avant-garde vein recalling dreamlike states. The quartet is an interesting collection of artists known for their originality: David Michalak (lap steel guitar, buffalo drum), Karen Stackpole (gongs, percussion), Kyle Bruckmann (oboe, English horn), and Tom Nunn (crustacean, water phone, and other original inventions). The presence of gong-obsessed drone genius Karen Stackpole is what got my motor running when I sat down to review this -- as far as I'm concerned, there's nowhere near enough Stackpole recordings available in this godforsaken universe -- but the presence of Tom Nunn and his eccentric homemade music devices also held much promise after hearing his IDENTITY album (reviewed in a recent post). Sure enough, this is interesting stuff; sparse and dreamy, full of ghostly sounds and reverberating drones, with no real structure to speak of, but instead a sound like the music of evaporating gas clouds. Bruckmann's oboe lends a late-night jazz feel to the proceedings, but otherwise the seven songs on this disc come closer to resembling ambient soundtrack music than anything else. There is a rhythmic element to "Cellar Dwellers" that makes it a bit less nebulous than most of the other tracks, but most of the time the percussion that does exist is limited to brief snippets -- this is an album more devoted to drones and fragmentary elements of barely definable sound. Exotic and ethereal without being totally weightless, soothing without turning into sonic wallpaper, deep and mysterious... definitely worth your attention. (Stackpole's on it, remember.)

Kyle Bruckmann
Tom Nunn
David Michalak
Karen Stackpole
Edgetone Records

One For Jude -- REGENERATION [CD Baby]

The French band One For Jude returns with ten new slices of melancholy orchestral pop that owes as much to late-eighties new wave (especially Joy Division) as to traditional pop and classical sounds. The entire album is in French (including all the liner notes) so I have no idea what they're singing about, but it sure sounds good, especially since they have a grand piano (or else a keyboard capable of a really good simulation of the same) and they know what to do with it. (You can hear MP3 samples at the CD Baby page listed below.) Their mix of traditional pop sound and more modern electronica is a hypnotic and compelling one; at times they remind me of Ultravox with better musical taste, and their general direction is not too far removed from the sound of early 4AD artists like This Mortal Coil. It's dreamy, melancholy pop music with a repetitive electronic core, romantically mysterious in that way the French have long mastered, and it all sounds excellent. Give a copy of this to your girlfriend for Valentine's Day and she'll be really impressed with your taste and originality (that's a tip, guys). If you don't have a girlfriend to give a copy to, you can listen to it yourself for your own pleasure. Dig that impressively romantic sound.

One For Jude
CD Baby


Van delivers once again; this is the debut disc by solo misanthropist Emil Brahe (Danish, I think, but don't hold me to that), and it's a slow, pained mix of creeping funeral doom, squalling white noise, and pure black metal misanthropy. What sets him apart from other like-minded purveyors of rage against humanity, though, is his use of tradtional folk and jazz instruments (banjo, clarinet, accordion, etc.) in an extremely untraditional, even unorthodox, fashion -- mostly as dark drone accompaniment to the crushing wall of guitar filth and plodding drums, but sometimes even as the main event. There are plenty of surprises along the way, including the use of bright snare sounds and military-style percussion in "Boginki" and the diseased accordion wheezing of "Apocalypse," but mainly it's a persistently downtrodden exercise in excruciating audio torment designed to put off all but the most dedicated listeners (deliberately so, no doubt). At times Brahe approaches the slow, soul-crushing heaviness of Corrupted -- no mean feat -- but with a moderately more progressive vibe thanks to the decidedly un-metal additional instruments, which helps give the songs an unusual sound, similiar to Wormwood's unorthodox approach to doom (only much, much heavier and far more misanthropic). The album's title, repeated frequently throughout the album, is the theme of the day here -- with titles like "Centuries of Human Filth," "When Angels Rot," and "The Inanity of Man" (where he gets some extra help in the guitar department from Martin Jacobsen), it's pretty clear to begin with that Brahe holds nothing but contempt for the human race (justifiably so, if you ask me), and even though his words are largely unintelligble in time-honored doom / death fashion, their caustic import is not. Essential doom that's dark and hateful enough for black metal fans, but definitely not for the faint of heart.


To Blacken the Pages -- NONE [Colony Records]

Ireland's favored purveyor of black guitar drone returns with three more long tracks of blackened sonic destruction. The opener, "Alien," starts with relatively clean single-note guitar drones, a slow and minimalist riff that is repeated for some time until it grows far louder and more distorted, until that increasingly distorted riff is matched by squealing feedback guitar that adds a dark ambient field around the centerpiece notes. As the piece evolves, the din in the background grows louder and more insistent, a swirling vortex of screaming white noise that threatens to bury everything else as it approaches. Eventually the arpeggiated riff disappears and all that's left is a humming, swirling vortex of black noise drone that mutates into waves of subterranean distortion and high-pitched howling; by this point we're fully into old-school Skullflower territory, where's it's all about violent power-drone and noise chaos, the audio equivalent of watching a solar system explode and then drift apart. This segues into "None," which features more droning dark-ambient guitar and endlessly-reverbed chords that dissolve into clouds of noise and still more wailing interstellar drone. The final track, "As If Forever," is more of a celestial drone (although still plenty thick and loud), and every bit as heavy. So far TBTP is batting a thousand; those who didn't get enough of the molten-guitar heaviness of the recent Skullflower reissue might want to check this out.

To Blacken the Pages
Colony Records

Trelldom -- TIL MINNE... [Regain Records]

Prolific they're not: the band, led by frontman Gaahl (Gorgoroth, Gaahlskagg, Sigfader), has only released one demo and two albums besides this one since 1992. (In fact, their last one came out in 1998, an absolute eternity in the music biz.) Of course, Gaahl has been busy (those three bands, remember?), not to mention he spent nearly two years locked up in prison for various offenses against humanity, and he's known for being particular about what he does, so maybe the long interval between albums isn't so surprising. Gaahl is strictly old-school, and given that he's had the same lineup for a decade, one would assume the same is true of them as well; certainly the album sounds like it -- this is no-frills, straightforward, old-wave black metal, all rampaging war drums, vicious guitar with the sound of angry wasps on steroids, and nearly invisible bass, over which Gaahl alternately shrieks or intones in a dark, forbidding manner. Their sound is violent, remorseless, and unforgiving; it's also relentlessly monochromatic, given to hypnotic repetition, and the few moments when they slow down are mainly to act as a counterpoint to all the frenzied thrashing. There are a small handful of ornamental touches here and there -- the warped guitar and disembodied female vocals in the background on "Steg," for instance -- and the final track "Eg Reiste i Minnet..." opens with over three minutes of scraping, screeching folk violin that segues into a brief spoken bit and another minute or so of eerie gutteral moaning over a dark ambient background, but otherwise the disc is mainly an exercise in adherence to the original roots and values of Norwegian black metal. How you feel about that should be your guide here.

Regain Records

v/a -- WE ARE UNTOUCHABLE [Abelian Groups Records]

Now this is an eye-opener: 37 artists on a 3-inch cdr, pressed in a run of 66 copies. Yow! And what artists, at that -- obscure noise theorists like Torturing Nurse, Sick to the Back Teeth, Wraiths, Israeli Intelligence, Knox Mitchell, Controlled Dissonance, etc., etc. With this many artists crammed onto a disc capable of holding maybe 25 minutes of music total, you know the songs are going to be way, way short, and they are... and loud, too, way beyond loud. In fact, these songs are less "songs" than they are short, violent bursts of noise, static, and audio filth in a wide (and wild) variety of styles, most of them fully capable of blowing your brains out your ears if you have the stereo turned up too loud. There's no point in going through all of them one by one; let me just assure you that there is plenty of psychotronic harsh noise horror happening here, in one bite-sized increment after another. If you're down with harsh noise, you really kind of need to hear this. Good luck on getting one before they're all gone. This comes to you courtesy of a tiny label in Kent, OH and is available as a painted or unpainted cdr (you get to specify which); either version comes with a silk-screened cover and a photocopied insert with all of the artist info crammed in together in glorious eyestrain-o-vision. You'd never guess so much catastrophic earhate could be compressed into such a short running time....

Abelian Groups Records

V:28 -- VIOLUTION [Vendlus Records]

No telling what the band's cryptic name is all about, but this is their third installment in a trilogy about the destruction of the earth, with a sound that combines black metal and industrial elements to grim effect. This is no lo-fi affair, either; it's loud and heavy and well-produced, with thunderous machine beats, ice-cold keyboards, and plenty of serrated, hateful tremelo guitar. The nine songs (technically eight plus a brief industrial intro) on this disc are grandiose and epic in their vision and intense in their execution, varying from slow, depressive dirges to fast-paced raging; the slower moments are vaguely reminiscent of mid-period Burzum, but the rest of it is closer to the more speed-obsessed bands of the first wave of black metal, only with enormous, punishing beats instead of soggy cardboard drums buried deep in the mix. There are plenty of great guitar and keyboard riffs, too, and excellent use of keyboard ambience and background noise / samples that add texture and depth to the forbidding shapes of sound. Guest appearances from Garm (Ulver), MZ.412, Mike Vanportfleet (Lycia), G.G.F.H., and Negru Voda only add to the complex feel of the album. Some of the more chaotic passages remind me of the recent Verdunkeln album, too, which is not a bad thing at all. Intense, intelligent and progessive material that never forgets the basic black metal principles of hate and misanthropy, and whose power is only aided by the unforgiving nature of the amped-out machine rhythms.

Vendlus Records


Two cds full of Xasthur's patented depressive grandeur -- are you man (or woman) enough to handle it? This double-cd, Xasthur's third release on Hydra Head, is actually the latest (and final) version of an early release recorded in 2000-01 and originally issued on cd-r in a limited run of 150 copies. The Swedish label Total Holocaust Records released a reworked, considerably more instrumental version on cd and cassette in 2004; the same version was eventually released on vinyl in a limited edition of 500 by the French label Debemur Morti Productions. Which brings us to the latest version, which returns to the original version -- presented on the first disc -- and throws in six extra tracks of unreleased material recorded around the same time as the original recording. That's 21 tracks total, my troubled li'l black metal wolves; you'd best lock up the razor blades before sitting down to consume this heavy burden.

Musically and historically speaking, this was a transitional album for the band, as it marked the point where Malefic became the band's sole member, thus allowing him to present his chilly vision of bleak sounds and moods in undiluted form. This album finds him much closer to his metal roots than on later albums, as evidenced by covers of Burzum's "Black Spell of Destruction" and Mutilation's "Eternal Empire of Majesty Death." There's a baroque feel to the album, due largely to the preponderance of symphonic keyboards and eerie choral vocals; of course, there's also plenty of his signature hissing cheese-grater guitar present to keep the hate alive. There's a lot more variety here as well, in terms of song lengths, tempos, tones and textures, and shifts in mood; Malefic has always been brilliant at distilling the core essence of very different styles of black metal, weeding out the bullshit, and combining the best parts of those styles into something new that nevertheless retains the original feel and intent of black metal, and there's plenty of layered stylistic combinations on this disc. Malefic's obsession with well-crafted work is definitely on display here; there's an orchestral bent to many of the tracks, and even the less symphonic work is well-arranged and well-played. Of course, it doesn't hurt that he has one of the greatest guitar sounds of any currently functioning black metal band, a gruesome barbed-wire wail with a surprising amount of melodic and harmonic content for such a deliberately horrifying sound. His ability to join such a corrosive sound to depressing keyboard washes is no small feat, either; in fact, Xasthur is one of the few black metal bands that actually knows what to do with a keyboard. It's also worth mentioning that while he uses a drum machine for the beats, he gets a lot of different tones from it in addition to plenty of variety in the beats. Hardcore Xasthur devotees who don't already have this, you need it bad; for newcomers, this is as good a place to start as any. Consider the bonus disc exactly that; the first disc alone is worthy of your attention even without the extra goodies.

Hydra Head

Saturday, January 12, 2008

new post coming soon

I am nearing the completion of several projects (mostly Korperschwache albums) that have distracted me from TOTDA for the past few weeks, and thus there will be a new post sometime next Sunday evening (the 20th), followed by one post a week until I'm caught up with the backlog. I hope to be completely current again by the end of February (ironically, about the same time last year that the ezine got behind in the first place, thanks to a virus turning my previous PC into toast). My apologies for the delays; thanks for your patience.