A Death Cinematic / Great Falls -- split cdr [Dead Accents]
Like manna from drone / noise heaven, this three-track split release (featuring two tracks by A Death Cinematic and one by Great Falls) arrives bearing mysterious offerings to the agents of the random. The first track from ADC, "swimming in fires, where oceans touch the sky," is fifteen minutes of heavily distorted single-note guitar lines swimming in an ocean of spring-reverb drones and warbling sounds that build into dense layers of abstract sound laden with harsh noise and amp hum. By the time the track is halfway through, the crunchy guitar texture has turned into something bordering on sheer noise and even the drones have taken on a darker tone, and by the end of the track, the shredded-amp guitar sound has become an overwhelming force of chaos. The second track, "locust clouds have taken to the horizon," opens with sweeping bands of screeching noise, a sound that gradually morphs into the audio equivalent of a writhing nest of snakes as atonal lines of feedback wind around a hypnotic rhythm. The noise eventually turns into a more sedate, if somewhat ominous, guitar pattern and assorted squeaking, but while the tonal palette changes, the rhythmic movement doesn't. The themes of noise and chaos continue in the Great Falls track, "Mac Arthur Lineman, Wichita Park," along with a healthy dose of dark drone and dissonance. Like the previous tracks, it builds in intensity, although this one starts out intense and grows steadily darker and bleaker, like a black hole opening inexorably wider and sucking a disintegrating world into its soul-crushing gravitational center. If you like your drone action dark, noisy, and supremely ominous, this is for you. Limited to 127 copies, the disc comes in a cd wallet-pack with amazing art and design by Simple Box Construction.
A Death Cinematic
Atrum Inritus -- PROGNATUS IN VORAGO [Altar of the Dead]
It's kind of surprising to find a black metal band from Minneapolis; it's amazing to discover they sound like they were born and raised in Norway. They favor the same bleak, frostbitten guitar sound pioneered by the likes of Emperor and Burzum (in fact, they cover Emperor's "Ancient Queen" on an unlisted bonus track) and employ the same mid-tempo feel of Burzum's bleakest offerings ("Dunkelheit" is a good reference point here). At their busier moments, especially when the sound grows thick and dense, they sometimes bear a passing resemblance to Wolves in the Throne Room, but mostly this release is very much in the spirit of the first wave of Norwegian black metal, which is a good thing (as far as I'm concerned, anyway). The material isn't necessarily revelatory in the way those first Norwegian black metal albums were, and some might complain about the fact that the drums frequently sound buried under the crushing guitar ugliness, but this is a pretty faithful representation of the "true" black metal sound, with good songs, excellent playing, and a grim atmosphere rarely achieved with such gruesome vitality on modern albums. This is one of the better black metal albums I've heard in a while, and well worth investigating.
Altar of the Dead
BoxDeserter -- TWO REVOLUTIONS [Edgetone Records]
The two lengthy tracks (one 36 minutes, the other 42) on this disc were recorded live in Detroit at the Bohemian National Home, and even for an Edgetone release it's pretty out there, combining some of the more eccentric-sounding players of the American avant-jazz scene (including Thollem McDonas on piano and conduction, Hasan Abdur-Razzaq on reeds, and Joel Peterson on double bass) with political ideals (the performance includes a recitation by Brad Duncan of the history of colonization in Africa). The ensemble in question consists of seven players -- in addition to the aforementioned members, there's also Michael Carey (reeds), Marko Novachoff (reeds), Kurst Prisbe (drums), and Steven Baker (Laotian mouth organ) -- and the predominance of reed instruments results in a sound that's heavily weighted in favor of bleating and skronking; while there are moments of active percussion, those moments are relatively rare, and the same is true of the piano. Interestingly, given the political nature of the pieces, the playing is relatively restrained most of the time; despite the disjointed nature of the avant sounds, this is mostly sedate in temperament. When the violent moments come, though, they come with serious intensity, culminating in a wild cacophony of textured sounds. The second piece has movements that are so restrained and minimal that almost nothing is happening for lengthy stretches, but there are also times when the action ramps up considerably, not to mention a few places where the contrabass gets some extended play time. McDonas is also far more prominent this time around, whipping his piano into a frenzied state of excitement at times, bridging the more explosive moments with vaguely melodic runs at others. The reeds make an impressive return about halfway through, and the rest of the piece resumes a more chaotic and unpredictable feel that eventually returns to a more sedate passage before ending in a frantic burst of energy. Not a bad outing at all.
Dark Forest -- DAWN OF INFINITY [Cruz de Sur Music]
This is the kind of thing Iron Maiden used to do, back before they turned into a bunch of old men -- fast, frantic, melodic metal with big ideas and plenty of bombast. It's kind of interesting that they're from Birmingham, a part of the UK generally more known for spawning much heavier, darker bands like Black Sabbath and Godflesh; given where they're from, though, it's hardly surprising that they sound decidedly English. There's a faint Celtic feel to some of the rhythms, but the songs themselves are straight out of the progressive section of late-80s NWOBHM playbook, especially where the ornate song movements and elaborate solos are concerned. The singer's banshee wail gets a tad overbearing for my tastes at times, but he's at least tuneful and very much in sync with the band's grandiose vision. The band can play, too; this kind of absurdly ambitious sound really only works with bands with exceptional chops, and the band does not disappoint on that front. They also get bonus points for "The Stars My Destination" -- any band hep to the brilliance of Alfred Bester is all right by me. They're also remarkably consistent over the course of ten songs, which means that if you're down with this style of metal -- and especially if you have a deep fondness for Iron Maiden circa POWERSLAVE -- then you'll find the entire album excellent.
Cruz Del Sur Music
Eloine and Sabrina Siegel -- NATURE'S RECOMPOSITION 33 [Eh?]
You know you're listening to an Eh? release when you're five minutes into the disc and you have no idea what the hell is going on, and this eccentric duet between Bryan Day and Sabrina Siegel is no exception. Over the nearly 45 minutes of the single title track, Day manipulates a variety of homemade instruments while Siegel doodles in abstract fashion with electric guitar, electric bass, and voice; of course, even the traditional instruments are employed in extremely unorthodox ways, and while the tactile sounds emanating from the speakers are not as totally random as they might seem on first listen, they're certainly not linear or confined to any kind of easily recognizable structure. What the performance (or more accurately, performances -- the material was recorded in Lincoln, NE in 2009 and 2010, then I would assume the pieces were edited together) lacks in order, though, it makes up for with a steady pulse of energy that continues unabated throughout the piece. Bonus points for the swell abstract cover art, courtesy of Siegel.
Hag -- MOIST AREAS [Eh?]
This trio operates with standard instruments -- trumpet, bass, and snare drum -- but they sure don't do standard things. They're big on dissonance and their musical offerings are couched in largely atonal bursts of sound broken up by the rumbling and puttering of the individual instruments being shaken and beaten to disgorge new dimensions of the shape of sound. At times they start off in a subtle, unassuming fashion, but it doesn't take long before they whip themselves into a chaotic frenzy of throbbing improv action bordering on noise. Still, there's an interesting texture to their bleating hell tones, and a number of divergent strategies that result in a reasonable amount of variety between the seven tracks. More to the point, they mesh together well as a unit, with a clear unity of vision that translates to a recognizable sound, one that remains consistent despite their different approaches from one track to the next. The trumpet -- bleating, whining, frequently sounding like a horn of the devil -- is the most dominant instrument here, although it's the percussion that provides the most intense moments and the smothering bass sound that provides the atmosphere. Strange and deranged, but possessed of a certain purpose, no matter how alien, that makes it all the more compelling to hear.
Hull -- BEYOND THE LIGHTLESS SKY [The End]
Heavy, heavy stuff, and apparently a concept album, too; a big, bold move for a bunch of guys from Brooklyn. Theoretically the album is a series of songs about the journey of two brothers in the Mayan era taking very different paths to their inevitable destiny, but since I have no idea what the vocalist is yowling about, we'll have to take that on faith. Certainly the songs are ambitious enough; while the opening "Earth From Water" is all heaviness and violence emboldened by an unusual guitar sound that's not quite ugly and dissonant enough to be noise but is still a far cry from any conventional metal guitar sound, it's followed by "Just a Trace of Early Dawn," a gorgeous neo-folk acoustic epic leavened with spiky bursts of bumblebee solo guitar action. Then there's "Curling Winds," which neatly marries the aforementioned neo-folk sound to a guitar riff that's half prog, half blues, accompanied by ringing harmonics, and "Wake the Heavens, Reveal the Sun" is a loping exercise in ominous, building sound that recalls late-period Swans. (Speaking of which, Jarboe is on this album somewhere -- possibly doing the creepy vocal intro to said song, in fact, although it's hard to tell, given her talent for sounding like almost anything, as long as it's creepy.) More of that strange guitar sound turns up in "A Light That Shone From Aside the Sea," where the neo-folk moves segue into something considerably heavier without turning totally brutal, finally ending in a swirling death spiral of psychotronic guitar noise. The rest of the tracks are more in line with the Mastodon version of prog-metal: heavy and dense with cryptic riffs, weird time signatures, and ambitious without succumbing to sheer pretentiousness. And heavy. Very heavy. So far the band's batting a thousand in the quality department; it should be interesting to see if they can keep it up.
Illdisposed -- THERE IS LIGHT (BUT IT'S NOT FOR ME) [Massacre Records]
Denmark's Illdisposed have been around forever -- twenty years now, in fact -- so they have a legitimate right to sound like old-school death metal. True, somewhere down the line they started incorporating synths into their sound, and the results (on this album, at least) are mixed; it's very strange to hear tinkling techno keyboard lines burbling away along with the mandatory heavy-as-lead guitars. Not awful, precisely, but definitely… different. Aside from that, which is actually not such a big deal since the keyboards are only prominent on a few songs, this is a collection of standard-issue death / thrash tunes -- nothing particularly earth-shaking or revelatory, but still definitely the sound of old-school death metal done right. (Well, at least when they aren't indulging in distracting techno-frippery anyway.) True, the "revenge" chant and spoken-word bent at the beginning of "Rape" sounds an awful lot like an attempt at borrowing from White Zombie, with results that are more silly than scary, but the song itself is at least reasonably intense, even with keyboards (those damn keyboards!) present. 80s death metal traditionalists will like this, but those less enamored of keyboards in their metal will want to proceed with caution.
Iron Lamb -- THE ORIGINAL SIN [Pulverised]
The Swedish quartet (including Daniel Ekeroth, author of SWEDISH DEATH METAL) have been in a whole bunch of bands, including General Surgery, Repugnant, Dismember, and Tyrant, so they have a solid pedigree in heaviness, but one thing is obvious more than anything else: they all really like Motorhead. (In fact, they do a passable cover of that band's early classic "Poison." No, it isn't as good as the original -- it is categorically impossible to improve on Motorhead -- but it's passable enough as Motorhead covers go.) They certainly share Motorhead's fondness for overwhelming rock and roll as expressed with furious, stinging guitars and super-heavy drumming, and while the singer's sneering delivery doesn't quite match Lemmy's instantly recognizable growl, it conveys plenty of the attitude necessary to propel such revved-up tunes. Titles like "Suicide!," "I Don't Want To Be Like You" (where it becomes clear that they've spent quite a bit of time spinning the first Sex Pistols record), and "I Don't LIke You" indicate an admirably healthy attitude problem as well, always a plus with this kind of punk-influenced metal. I'm not sure exactly how necessary this is in the grand scheme of things, seeing as how they're basically reinventing the wheel perfected by Motorhead and the Sex Pistols, but at least they're doing it right.
KBD(uo) -- ANY PORT IN A STORM [Eh?]
It takes a certain level of perversity to release a six-track album with no mention of the actual track titles -- some might say that's taking the concept of mystery a bit too far. Nevertheless, the tracks (which I'll helpfully give my own titles just because I feel like it) are interesting exercises in noise, drone, and feedback created by the duo of Michael Kimaid (percussion, electronics) and Gabe Beam (guitar, electronics). The first track, which we'll call "Sometimes at Four in the Morning When I Can't Sleep Because I Smoked Too Many Cigarettes I Fantasize About Nadine Jansen In Her Maidenform Bra," features draining sheets of feedback and bursts of crunchy, scrunchy noise that are occasionally emphasized by random drum hits, coming across like an incredible simulation of glaciers in the Arctic circle engaging in rousing acts of erotic telepathy. Machine-like squeaking and unexpected gales of tinnitus-inducing feedback just add to the composition's unnerving feel. On the second track (that's "Honey, Why Did You Leave Expired Milk in the Fridge Without Telling Me?" to you), simmering waves of feedback and lethargic percussion are overlaid with groaning sounds that are probably bowed strings but sound uncomfortably like a trapped person groaning in distress. The third track, "Pinballs in Heat," is a clattering collection of percussive sounds and twitchy guitar squeaks, while the fourth track -- "Merzbow and The Goat of a Thousand Young Give Birth To a Field of Radioactive Crickets" -- sounds like a vast field of crickets with efx boxes serenading a series of submarines being disassembled underwater. In the fifth track, "The Door Was Built So I Could Slam It Shut When Avon Comes Calling," irregular drum hits and inscrutable percussive noodling is offset by weird sounds of an indeterminate nature and the ghost-like texture of amp hum in the background, a sound only audible in the spaces between the chaos. The final track, a 25-minute epic of noise and deviance I like to call "Pictures of a Locust Colony Devouring Pictures At An Exhibition," is a seething superstructure of random percussion, hideous buzzing, and chaotic waves of sound that winds down about halfway through, turning more minimalist in structure and less chaotic in sound, until the density of sound builds up again, finally culminating in passage of amp hum, feedback drones, and doomed-out percussion that finally devolves into more minimalist clatter over the omnipresent amp hum. The total result is an impressive combination of drone, noise, and percussion that's surprisingly far more accessible than most Eh? releases, and one that's highly recommended.
Thollem McDonas -- GONE BEYOND REASON TO FIND ONE [Edgetone Records]
It's interesting that few people ever consider the piano as an instrument for making noise, or that so few musicians employ that instrument in noise compositions, because as anyone who has ever banged away at one can tell you, they are capable of making a hell of a racket. MdDonas has obviously thought of the piano's power to make an incredible racket, though; "For All Those Presently Living" opens with a titanic burst of jagged, atonal pandemonium as he hammers on a lot of keys at once (and I mean a lot; it sounds like he used his forearms to hit as many keys as possible), and while that eventually dies down into solo piano lines of varying intensity and volume, there are periodic bursts of full-on frenzy again, along with dizzying piano runs that alternate between the supremely melodic and grotesquely atonal. He gets some genuinely strange sounds out of his piano, too, suggesting that he might be using a treated piano. It's worth noting that the three tracks on this album were all recorded live, which is pretty impressive given the sheer level of technical talent on display here. His unusual approach to playing means these compositions are far more texturally expressive -- and often far noisier -- than what you would normally expect from someone playing the piano, and at its most dense, the sound on the first track is often quite violent indeed. "For All Those Who Have Gone Before" isn't quite as apocalyptic, but it certainly has its share of intense moments, with single-note melody lines that increase in tempo until his two hands are pounding away at two different melodies at blurry, mind-warping speed. The final track, "For All Those Yet To Come," is much shorter than the other two at only four minutes, and distills the same general themes and attack of the first two tracks into a concentrated dose of avant sensibility. McDonas is a frankly amazing pianist, and his superior command of technique is enhanced by far more imagination than you usually see in classically-trained players; this album (like his others, in fact) is a powerful testament to what is possible when someone with both an enormous level of technical talent and a wide-ranging imagination sets down to play. Highly, highly recommended listening, especially for those who modern work interpreted through classical skill.
Megaton Leviathan -- MMIX ep [Volatile Rock Records]
So here's the deal: these doom-laden lovers of all that is shoegazing post-rock originally released the five tunes here as a self-titled demo in 2009 and are now making the remastered tracks available again as a vinyl offering (limited to 500 copies) on their own label, mainly to sell on tour. Which is a good thing, because this is swell stuff -- slow wasting funeral doom filtered through fuzzy ambient guitars that owe a lot to My Bloody Valentine, accompanied by the kind of mournful vocals that funeral doom bands do so well. The tunes are dark and forbidding, with wailing hoverbot guitars that turn into oppressive riffs played at a snail's pace and drums that plod along at an impressive crawl. The best part of this band's sound is is their inspired marriage of the slo-mo tempo of funeral doom with the thick and treble-heavy sound associated with the shoegaze movement; a lot of post-rock bands have tried over the years to incorporate that sound into their heavy tunes, with varying levels of success, but few have managed to do it so well (and sound so good in the process) as these guys. It helps considerably that the songs are not just a bunch of riffs strung together and joined by vague waffling; no, these are well-constructed songs played extremely well and with a great sound. If they sounded this good on their first demo, I can only imagine how their new full-length effort must sound. Highly recommended, especially for fans of doom and shoegaze.
Mister Fuckhead -- MISTER FUCKHEAD AND COMPANY cs [self-released]
The band with the genteel name is actually a collective of musicians hooked on noise and drone, including Dan Burke (Illusion of Safety), Andy Ortmann (Panicsville), Dave Purdie (Silver Abuse, Satan2000), Bruce Lamont (Yakuza), and a whole bunch of others you might or might not recognize. This 93-minute cassette is a mostly a collection of live actions rounded out by two tracks recorded in a meat locker, and it's some gloriously noisy anti-music; the opening track, recorded at the Empty Bottle in 2008, sounds like early Einstuerzende Neubauten attempting to recreate the collapsing studio devolvement of Zeni Geva's "Terminal Hz" with jackhammers, blowtorches, and possibly nuclear weapons. The live action that follows, recorded at South Union Arts, is not quite as synapse-shattering but still features plenty of grotesque sonic torture, and the third track on the A-side, recorded live at Ronny's (no, I have no idea where these clubs are located), is nowhere near as harsh but every bit as noisy, with plenty of thumping and bumping amid diseased sax bleating, ugly electronics-fu, and some creepy dude yowling in deranged fashion. On the flip side, the first of two tracks recorded in a meat locker kicks off with some seriously demented horn action courtesy of two saxes, coronet, and a trumpet all blaring away in an extremely dissonant variation on unity. The second track adds another coronet, although the wailing that results isn't all that much noisier (or dissonant) than the first track. There's a similar sound at work in the live action from Beat Kitchen, although it's spacier and possessed of an interesting tone (possibly due to the addition of French horn and electronics), heavy on the drone and glacial in temperament; things get even more musically existential in the live action recorded at the Darkroom, where a similar improvisation takes place with the surreal addition of a kazoo. The final track, recorded live at Elastic Arts and involving the use of tapes, electronics, and field recordings, sounds like the mutant re-processing of the music television stations use to sign off at night, further subjected to reverb abuse and other diabolical forms of efx processing. Final analysis: scrumptious noise + mondo drones + inscrutable aesthetic + devolved sounds = extended listening pleasure.
Morkobot -- MORBO [Supernatural Cat]
Now this is some seriously weird shit… but also monstrously heavy shit, diabolical heavy metal math rock channeling the spirits of Voivod, Melvins, and Lightning Bolt all at once. This Italian trio also reminds me at times of Zu, especially since they favor a really ass-munching bass growl (courtesy of two bassists) and the drummer pounds complicated circles around the other two. Also like Zu, they are purely an instrumental act, feeling no need to add unnecessary vocals to their mind-melting deathjazz. Beginning with the opening track "Ultranorth," they immediately start whirling around each other like dervishes, the musical equivalent of three madly spinning tops circling at high velocity and somehow never knocking each other over. The madness continues for seven tracks, with the band frequently sounding like squeaking, creaking robots undergoing particularly violent electroshock therapy. The twin-bass attack is not exactly a new idea, to be sure, but their unorthodox use of said instruments and the sheer number of efx boxes undoubtedly at their disposal gives them a really exotic, rumbling sound that's remarkably clear and sharp for such traditionally tubby-sounding instruments. This is psychedelic avant garde metal with some serious grooves, too, no mean feat given their byzantine riffing. All systems go; set the controls for the heart of the sun, doom childe.
Noertker's Moxie -- SOME CIRCLES [Edgetone Records]
More smooth chamber-music jazz ensemble pieces from contrabass player Bill Noertker and a revolving cast of players, including four different drummers. So far Noertker has been all about the old-style lounge jazz sound, and this release is no different -- just twelve tracks of small groups improvising with different instruments, among them alto and tenor sax, oboe, and piano. The various drummers bring different styles of percussion to their particular tracks. There's a playfulness to many of his compositions -- he and his ensemble are serious musicians, but they're not uptight -- and a languid sensibility that's definitely out of sync with modern improv's more frantic and cluttered approach to jazz. More to the point, the material on this release, like the rest of the collective's output, is far more accessible than most modern improv work; despite the avant-garde nature of the work, there's a strong emphasis on melody and pleasing instrumental tones that makes these pieces highly listenable. This is relaxed, inviting music that lacks the confrontational edge and deliberate inscrutability so common in the improv genre these days. Those pining for the days before the improv / jazz axis began to wholeheartedly embrace ugliness will enjoy this.
Psandwich -- NORTHREN PSYCH [Columbus Discount Records]
Led by vocalist Ron House (formerly of Thomas Jefferson Slave Apartments and The Great Plains) and packed with veterans of psych / garage-rock bands like The Lindsay, Brainbow, The Tough & Lovely, and Washington Beach Bums, Psandwich is the latest in a long line of Midwest bands combining the aggressive, lo-fi sound of garage rock with the skull-frying freakout moves of acid rock. The operating manual here is pretty much the same for all garage bands since the dawn of the fuzz pedal -- short, fast, peppy songs filled with fuzzy guitars, squeal-tone solos, and ragged but rousing vocals. This is not slick music -- it's very much the product of guys playing loose and fast with the rock 'n roll rulebook, and there are moments where things threaten to come unglued, although that never actually happens -- but that's the entire point; this is more about enthusiasm and a devotion to all things loud. They do let up on the gas pedal somewhat for "Sketchnya," which opens up like a ballad before the rock vibe kicks in with plenty of string-bending blues action to hang with the rocking beat. You can tell they're real players, though, as opposed to dudes stacking up tracks in ProTools, by the way they like to speed up in supremely manic fashion through many of the songs. Best of all, like the best garage rock bands, they have super-mondo guitar tones, heavy on the treble but with enough heft to cut through the iffy production like a hot knife through butter. Swank stuff; the teenage heads will enjoy.
Columbus Discount Records
Ptahil -- FOR HIS SATANIC MAJESTY'S GLORY [Wraith Productions]
The poop sheet that came with this spouts a lot of silliness about "satanic gnosticism" and "adversarial ritual" (not to mention "dissonant flagellation" -- I must admit, I really like that one), but that's par for the course where satanic black metal is concerned, and it's easy to ignore, because the real meat is in the band's flagrantly vile appreciation for old-school black metal. This is black metal of the chaotic variety, so there are plenty of abrupt time changes and plenty of flailing away with relentless abandon at the guitars and drums; we're talking seriously wiggly tremelo action here. Even better, though, are the moments where the drummer puts four on the floor and the the guitars start chugging away in monster grooves. As with most black metal bands, there's no way to tell what the vocalist is yelling about, but he sounds like he really means it, whatever it is, and with song titles like "The Great Satan," "For His Satanic Majesty's Glory," and "The Black Flag of Total Death" (one of the best tracks on the album, as it happens), it doesn't take a genius to tell where they're coming from. There's a significant measure of punk in their sound, though, especially when they start hammering away at brutally simply but insanely catchy riffs. If they had released this twenty years ago, it would have probably become an underground classic; as it is, they're a little late to the party, but still supremely potent in their ferocity and drive. It's got a good beat and you can sacrifice goats to it; what more can a poor black metal boy ask for?
Rarefaction -- … THE DANCER, THE DANCE… ep [self-released]
This is billed as an ep, but if it were vinyl rather than cd, it would really be more of a single -- the three tracks here clock in at less than eight minutes, making it a fine display of brevity and restraint. Clearly a believer in the concept of less is more, multi-instrumentalist Jerold H. goes one step beyond by making those eight minutes count; there might not be much here, but it's all excellent. His aesthetic clearly owes a lot to the late 70s and early 80s post-punk era, with a sound that's heavily influenced by the uncluttered and well-crafted work of bands like Joy Division, New Order, and the Cure, and the gauzy aural clouds of the early 4AD bands like This Mortal Coil and Cocteau Twins. The first track, "SlowFall," is definitely something that could have appeared on one of the first 4AD albums, although its throbbing bass rumble is a bit meatier than anything This Mortal Coil or the Cocteau Twins ever came up with. "For Ophelia and the Silent Sea" is not so dirge-like, combining the aforementioned aesthetic with a neo-folk guitar that incorporates plenty of melody into its rhythm, and the brief but energetic "Happy Endings? (In the Stairwell Everything Was Better)" is essentially a highly rhythmic solo bass excursion that Peter Hook would have been pleased to cough up during a New Order rehearsal. Swell, swell stuff that leaves you wanting to hear more.
Reclusa / Degenerate Slug -- split cs [No Visible Scars]
Crude but compelling sounds emanate like clotted blood from both sides of this split cassette. On the Reclusa side, the five tracks come across like a twisted venture into surreal, devolved sounds influenced by the more clanking parts of early Godflesh and (really) early Beherit -- pounding machine beats, murky sonic textures, pained vocal bleating, and howling, reverb-heavy slo-mo tornado guitar create the perfect mix of lo-fi necro black metal mating with first-wave industrial grindcore. Between the Recluse's psychotic vocalizing and the gruesome sludge wafting around the spooky keyboards, this is pretty unhinged stuff very much on par with Beherit's initial stabs at audio demoncy, only with more precision. (Of course, given the messiness that is early Beherit, this is hardly a difficult feat.) On the flip side of the tape, the diseased sounds of Degenerate Slug aren't any nicer; the liner notes helpfully lists influences including Dissecting Table, Abruptum, and Swans, among other things, and these things, I am happy to report, are all entirely true. The Abruptum influence is particularly prominent, especially on the first track, "Are You Receiving," which sounds like a Swans track playing back at half-speed on a warped tape deck. The tracks that follow -- including one with the absolutely swell title "I Smell the Stench of Your Menstrual Blood At My Fingers" (which also happens to be the track most obviously influenced by Dissecting Table) -- are big on grinding, clanking percussion, debased sonic stinkiness, and other forms of vile ugliness. As tasteful as a bloated corpse in your driveway but far more entertaining, and limited to 50 copies.
No Visible Scars
Sky Burial -- AEGRI SOMNIA [UTech Records]
Talk about ambition, Michael Page has it -- the first track (of two) on this album, "The Synaethete's Lament," is forty minutes long, essentially an album into itself. A conceptual piece of work designed to evoke the immense emptiness of the cosmos and the enormous distances in a constellation of dying stars, the track is heavily weighted in favor of immense, decaying drones and an omnipresent cloud of sound like a the audio equivalent of an expanding gas nebula. The amorphous dark ambient sound is periodically punctuated by psychedelic touches, includes lots of bleating horns (sax or trumpet -- it's hard to tell), probably courtesy of guest player and Hawkwind guru Nik Turner. It's pretty telling that Turner is on board for this deep-space exploration, because this is definitely in the same vein as Hawkwind's more tripped-out space operas, only here the riffs Hawkwind would have employed to move things forward have been exploded and pulverized into an endless trail of space dust floating on a long stream of solar wind. As with previous Sky Burial compositions, the track remains interesting throughout, despite its length, and while it's subdued enough to work as background listening, it's detailed enough -- and filled with such an interesting variety of sounds -- that it rewards the close listener. The second track, "Within and Without," weighs in at a comparatively svelte sixteen minutes and is a bit more aggressive in sound, with harsh processed sounds mixed in with the cosmic drone, including bits that sound like percussion (or possibly synth beats) tweaked to sound like aliens beating on wood blocks and science-fiction phaser sounds. This actually sounds like an early industrial track retooled for a more ambient, efx-laden sound; it's far more rhythmically active than the first track, but every bit as alien, hinting at unfathomable rituals being held on distant worlds. The great sound is enhanced considerably by adroit mastering from Justin Broadrick (Godflesh, Jesu, more side projects than there are stars in the sky), and the equally exceptional packaging includes a full-color fold-out inner poster and another example of the mind-melting psychedelic art deco artwork of Thomas Hooper.
Tulum -- VOLUPTUOUS ASTRAL FREEZE cs [Mancat Records]
Unless you happened to be hanging around Austin in the late eighties and attending shows at tiny, seedy dives, you have probably never heard of this band. (Even if you were, you still might have missed them, since the band only existed for about two years under this name.) If you're down with psychedelic music, though, you might be interested to know that this cassette -- a reissue of their second cassette, originally released on an obscure Finnish label in 1986 -- is an audio snapshot of a band one bassist away from turning into the legendary Austin space warriors ST-37, a band still happening to this very day. I'll spare you the convoluted evolution of the band's lineup and sound -- you can grok the full details at the link below, if you so desire -- and merely say that this sounds very much a product of its time and place, melding elements of UK post-punk and the distinctly Texas take on psych. Comparable in sound and attitude to Scratch Acid, early Butthole Surfers, and The Wild Seeds (more Austin bands swimming in the same kitchen-sink sound inspired as much by The 13th Floor Elevators as by pills and blotter acid). While there are definitely shards of the sparse metallic rock of bands like Gang of Four and Joy Division in the band's sound, their fuzzed-out guitar tone and surreal atmosphere puts them closer to the sonic attack of the first couple of Butthole Surfers albums. Given the nature of the band and the period in which this was recorded, it's only fitting that the cassette is a rough 'n tumble affair with an exquisitely lo-fi sound, recorded pretty much live at the practice space the band shared with Scratch Acid and Not For Sale. Ten shambolic slices of pure underground Tejas, designed to be played in tiny, sweaty clubs populated by people whacked out on Shiner beer and hallucinogens, plus a mondo cover of Chrome's "Anorexic Sacrifice" that tells you everything you really need to know about the band and the scene that spawned them.
Ur -- CLANDESTINE MEETING PARK cs [No Visible Scars]
This drone-loving trio from Italy, who refer to themselves as the "Kali Jugend Orchestra" in the liner notes, have a sound that encompasses both the early industrial movement of the late 70s to early 80s and the more acid-drenched sound explorations of the late 60s / early 70s. It's a sound steeped in drone, muted electronics, ambient sound, and field recordings, represented by two soundscapes each clocking in at just under fifteen minutes. "I" features a buzzing drone and odd, reverb-laden sounds over an arrhythmic beat resembling the faraway sound of artillery fire; after a while, the beat becomes even more minimal and the electronic sounds more sinister, until they all fade away leaving only a bell-like sound that fades away as the track ends. The second track, "II," is darker and more turbulent, with screech electronics and other dark sounds swirling around like a slow-moving cyclone; the track definitely sounds like a dark-ambient take on early Throbbing Gristle. This is especially true toward the end, when the electronics coalesce over a thudding, repetitive machine beat. Subtle but interesting stuff, and limited to 50 copies.
No Visible Scars