Sunday, May 3, 2009

reviews running 'round the maypole

NOTE: As some of you may already know, -- the original site of DEAD ANGEL, and location of the archives -- has gone offline, for reasons too tedious and annoying to get into here. I have already moved the Korperschwache and Skullflower pages, which are slowly but surely being updated, and before the year is out, I'll be moving all of the DEAD ANGEL archives over to this blog. In the meantime, all that stuff will unfortunately be unavailable, but if you'll bear with me, it will all be here eventually.

Black Hell -- HOW THE REST WAS LOST [Sounds of Battle and Souvenir Collecting]

This disc certainly lives up to the band's name -- it's black as midnight and heavy as hell, full of twisted riffs, gasoline-soaked guitars baking in distortion, and drums like an avalanche in progress. They shift gears a lot and the singer, when he bothers to sing, sounds a little like King Buzzo, but this is no Melvins clone; they're much more straightforward in their boot-to-the-face approach, and more consistently concerned with pure and total heaviness. There's more to the band than just soul-crushing riffs, though, as evidenced by the blues-laden guitar cutting through the sonic bedevilment in "Storms of Jupiter." The metallic angst is augmented at times by odd sonic frippery, like at the beginning of "Lycanthropy" (which also features some really tricky drumming and some of the album's heaviest riffs) and the ending of "Planet Maker," but the vaguely proggy and experimental moments are significantly outweighed by the straight-up metal vibe. This is more in the vein of Don Caballero, Mouth of the Architect, or Black Cobra, however, rather than traditional metal; they neatly avoid the cliches that tend to bog down most metal bands, retaining only the fuzzed-out guitar worship and massive, skull-penetrating riffs. Seriously, this is one of the heaviest albums you'll hear this year (that isn't by Khanate or Moss, anyway, and this is nowhere near as glacial as the work of those bands). It comes in a digipack with brilliant art, too, and it's limited to 200 copies, which is kind of insane since this is way, way better than most of the poo that gets pressed up in lots of several thousand by your average metal label, but that's they way the little guys have to roll in an economy that's going down like a man on fire, I guess. If you value all that is heavy without being stupid, you'll glom a copy of this while it's still available. Worship or invite well-deserved ridicule from those in the know, doom childe.

Black Hell
Sounds of Battle and Souvenir Collecting

Kawabata Makoto -- THE TALES OF THE DREAM PLANET [Housepig]

This is not what I expected, not at all. The head acid-eater behind Acid Mothers Temple usually tends to gravitate toward high-energy freakouts, but this disc is two long (and I mean LONG -- the first track is over 45 minutes) tracks of droning, floating, oceanic guitar that more often than not sounds like drawn-out keyboard drones. The first track, "She Came from the Shining Sea," is long and hypnotic, heavy on the swirling ambient drone, with a sound like waves pulsing lightly in the ocean far, far away from any semblance of land, or perhaps cosmic gas clouds floating through the vacuum of space, borne by solar wind. It's a sound that's both interstellar and ambient, at times highly reminiscent of early Lull, and certainly a far cry from the histronics of Makoto's main gig. The second track, "Kiss on the Dream Planet," is the "short" one at just under seventeen minutes, and it's yet another dronefest, this time dominated by muted feedback drones that rise and fall, decaying into silence before starting up again; the wavering feedback drone is eventually joined by what sounds like faraway cosmic keyboard wailing (although it's probably just guitar and excess reverb). Low on action, high on atmosphere, this is a really good ambient drone album; I would have never guessed Makoto had it in him. He should do more stuff like this (and for all I know he has and I just haven't heard it). This swell disc comes in a dvd-style case (square, not rectangular) with full-color art and is limited to 500 copies, so you'll want to hustle, since everything related to AMT sells out faster than you can sneeze. And yes, the cover features a naked woman, like damn near every other AMT / Makoto-related release. Would you expect anything less?

Acid Mothers Temple

Malachi / The Bastard Noise -- THE IMMORTALS [Hear More! / Housepig / 200 Mg]

This is one of the best things I've heard in a long time, all the more so because it's so unexpected coming from Housepig (plus two other labels). Featuring two tracks each by Malachi and Bastard Noise, this is a brilliant example of the potential for heaviness inherent at the crossroads of sludge rock and noise. Malachi, with members of doom-laden bands like Artimus Pyle and Fuck Face, drop some mournful cello lines into their abrupt spasms of agony and come across like an avant-garde version of Eyehategod -- tortured and heavy, yes, but capable of graceful and surprisingly innovative moments, without the sick psychological need to wallow in filth and drug-soaked misery. Their two tracks integrate experimental and minimalist passages into songs that eventually explode into bursts of pained howling and subterranean heaviness without succumbing to the dope-addled caveman aesthetic so endemic to the sludge-rock genre. Their second track also features a nifty, hypnotic, and heavily-repeated guitar riff that abruptly segues into a stunning display of bone-crushing heaviness accompanied by a dark and melodic cello line. The Bastard Noise pieces, built (as usual) around the magical mystery mojo of rampant oscillator-fu, are more noisy but also more ambient, more concerned with atmospheric drones and sci-fi sound than any pressing need to sandblast your face. That said, their second track does have moments of gloriously static-riddled noise hiding in the groaning ambient river of sound and efx-swaddled vocal treatments. The disc comes in a swell-looking six-panel insert by Thumprint Press, housed in a heavy poly sleeve, and looks as good as it sounds. This is essential listening, no question.

Bastard Noise
200 Mg
Hear More!

Mount Vicious -- LEATHER BEER CADDY ep [self-released]

This is not, technically speaking, a real and formal introduction to this Oakland "supergroup" featuring current and former members of popular Bay-area bands like Replicator, City Volume, Cold War, and The Long Thaw (among many, many others) -- these are current versions of five songs scheduled for eventual release, in different form, on the band's impending full-length debut. They recorded these songs and issued this ep (with only fifty copies available on cd-r; everybody else can download the tracks on the band's web site) to give people an idea of where they stand right now, musically speaking. Not surprisingly for such a high-energy outfit, they're impatient and want to bring the rock to you RIGHT NOW. And this they do, with much flair. Their songs are a weirdly distinctive amalgamation of classic, mainstream Big Rock and spazzed-out postmodern math rock, heavy and catchy and baroque all at the same time, with big riffs and squiggly guitar lines over a monster rhythm section. If you've heard Replicator -- particularly the material they were doing at the tail end of their existence -- it's not difficult to see this as the natural progression of that aesthetic, but the material here is a shade closer to anthemic rock and, while still plenty complex and proggy, not quite so totally mired in the obscure rhythms of math rock. I haven't heard any of the other bands germane to the members of the band who weren't in Replicator, so it's hard to guess what they bring to the table, but the sum of the parts is certainly exciting. The emphasis on guitar frippery (there are three guitar players, offering plenty of opportunity to get some really rocking polyrhythmic six-string action going) definitely works for me. They're certainly off to a promising start with songs this good and playing so energetic.

Mount Vicious

Olekranon -- s/t 3-inch cdr [Inam Records]

The skeletal beats are back, but the sound is a lot thicker and noisier this time around, especially on the opening "Panacea," which is centered around a trippy and fuzzed-out bass riff. The frenzied action eventually segues into noises run in reverse, which in turn evolves into more subdued beats and a chillier ambient guitar sound overlaid with wind-like sounds and occasional sheets of static. "Armored" is a bit closer to the "classic" Olekranon sound of minimal beats and airy, ambient guitar, but also sports some clanking machine-like rhythms that lend it an industrial feel. "Solemn" mixes big, big beats with swirling, hallucinogenic noise guitar descended from My Bloody Valentine to trance-like effect. Happening stuff, as usual, and as always, limited (this time to fifty copies) and enclosed in gorgeous full-cover art.

Inam Records

Olekranon -- GAITAN [Inam Records]

This one is a full-length, with ten songs of simple but potent beats and swirling guitar drones anchored somewhere between the extremes of ambient drone and wailing psychedelia. The aesthetic at work remains essentially unchanged from previous releases -- minimalist beats rise and fall amid billowing sheets of guitar fog, trancelike rhythms provide the foundation for tripped-out soundscapes, and the songs unfold like the soundtracks to ethereal dreaming cities. There are times when it sounds like instruments other than guitars may be involved -- pipe organ, perhaps, on tracks like "Bundles" and lumbering bass lines reminiscent of early Joy Division on "The Elite" and "Amilda" -- but mostly the sheets of sound come courtesy of processed guitar, winding over repetitive and propulsive techno beats. The exception is the final track, "Skipjack," a short and beatless slice of revolving drones that ends the album eerie and ominous note. As usual, the quality control is high and the overall effective dreamlike and mesmerizing. Limited to 100 copies with a full-color insert inside a hand-stamped letterpress eco-pack.

Inam Records

Sujo -- s/t 3-inch cdr [Inam Records]

The eternally-mysterious Sujo return with three more tracks of dark, brooding noise drone. It's all instrumental work, just like previous releases, and steeped heavily in dark ambient noise; the brooding sound drifts along in clouds of venomous static and swirling, reverb-heavy background washes, with an effect that's far more uneasy than one might expect for a sound so relatively subdued. As little as I know about Sujo, I have to believe that the aesthetic at work here is directly influenced by the 90s isolationist movement; this has plenty in common with bands like Lull and Null. The final track, "Dirt Cover," reveals a surprise -- actual beats! -- and a sound more in line with traditional shoegazer music, at least for the first few minutes, after which it begins to revolve around a dirtier, noisier rhythm akin to machine music. This is swirling ambient psych music that should have enormous appeal to droneheads. Limited to fifty copies with swank packaging.

Inam Records

Sujo -- BLOOD SAINTS [Inam Records]

This full-length release actually isn't a whole hell of a lot longer than the three-inch reviewed above, with four tracks in just over thirty minutes, but more Sujo is better than less Sujo, and half an hour is plenty of time for the pulsating noise drones to work their diabolical mojo. Some of the action here is fairly heavy -- "Helenise" is driven by a huge slo-mo rhythm and fuzzy guitars set on celestial drift, for instance, and the title track is a dark, morose funeral dirge shot through with strange sounds and unsettling bursts of noise. The opening and closing tracks, "Purgatorium" and "Chalice," are more hazy and psych-oriented, more exotic and less threatening, but still very much in dark ambient territory. It comes in a nifty letterpress sleeve and, like all Inam releases, is limited (this time to 48 copies).

Inam Records

Terminal 23 -- THE MELTING OF ICE ep [Inam Records]

More mysterious noise-drone action from Inam Records, this time the work of an Athens trio wielding strings, efx, generators, and homemade electronics, all recorded to two-track. The first track, "Sort Hagl," is centered around a cranky buzzing drone that cycles over and over as other noises, humming sounds, and random sonic violence come and go behind the cyclotroni sound. The cyclotron rhythm eventually segues into an asthmatic mechanical wheeze that dies away as the track segues into "Drivis," where the rhythm is not quite so heated, even though the sound is still rooted in vaguely dissonant but subdued shards of noise. The final track, "Rod Mane," is the quietest of the bunch, with a slow cycling rhythm and ambient sound pulsing in waves like the ocean tide, a dirge drone that plays out inexorably over the course of approximately eight minutes, finally expiring with a brief screech of muted feedback. The trio of drones work equally well as separate pieces or as one long track, and can be enjoyed as background noise or with more studied listening.

John Wiese -- CIRCLE SNARE ep [No Fun Productions]

Recorded while in the middle of a 2008 tour of Scandanavia and Europe, this four-track, thirty-minute ep unleashes some truly grotesque compositions of glitch noise and butchered sound. Three versions of "Circle Snake" (one through three) act as exploded diagrams of chaotic noise, as elements of glitch electronica, power electronics, and cut-up sonic violence explode in bursts of random fury. The tracks are predictable only in their unpredictability, and the harsh noises and squelched spikes of demolished, crackling sound are unnerving in their unfathomable origins and electric intensity. The last track, "Mystical Finland," features intermittent bursts of noise and thumps amid long stretches of near to total silence; again, there is no apparent tempo or order to the structure, with a strong emphasis on sheer randomness. Wiese's approach to harsh noise lies in the context of glitch noise and cut-up structures appropriated from Burroughs and Gysin; it's a more intellectual approach to noise than the average power-electronics release, and as such should be of interest to those with an interest in a more academic approach to noise.

John Wiese
No Fun Productions