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.