Wednesday, December 29, 2010


After hitting an absolute career high (in my opinion) with 2008's collaboration with Merzbow, "Keio Line," it makes sense that Richard Pinhas would continue to work more in the agitated crystalline drones that characterized that album. "Keio Line" was an instance of the rarest collaboration, wherein the work of both artists becomes so blurred that individual recognition is rendered an impossibility as well as an irrelevancy. That Pinhas was able to spurn Merzbow to such new levels, transforming his normal molten bolts of scalding noise into gorgeous droplets of purified liquid hum, is a testament to the man's compositional vision. Small surprise too then that Merzbow returns on the good majority of "Metal/Crystal"; slightly more surprising is the participation of noise rock poster boys Wolf Eyes, presumably to chunk things up a little bit in case things got a little too soft (don't worry-they don't.)
To come in to this album with any sort of presumptions was actually very unfair of me. The only thing i really thought was that there'd be some great spaced out Frippertronics style guitar playing, as Pinhas has always delivered. Once i saw the players involved i expected a little bit more of a physical, visceral approach; I'm pleased to say that Pinhas has turned in another epic piece of work, a churning ultra dense sea of tones and eruptions that owe as much to the frigid churchscapes of Fripp's solo work as they do the shock and violence start/stop tactics of Wolf Eyes' recorded proliferations. Throw in some Hendrix-on-Pluto style psychedelic guitar explorations for good measure and you'll be getting a grasp on what this set is all about.
"Metal/Crystal" is spread across two discs, with each hour having its own feel and shape. Disc One is easily the more accessible of the two, the calmer and more grounded compositions finding home here. Opener "Bi-Polarity (Gold)" immediately immerses you in a thick sonic soup with a full band onslaught that allows Pinhas to absolutely shred his guitar for 15 ripping minutes, a six-string flight to the outer stars amidst a spinning fluidity of finger-numbing note flurries and kosmiche head-spacing. It's a fucking journey, easily, and one of the most enjoyably laid back pysch jams i've heard in a few years. No one goes over the top but everyone's reaching for the stratosphere.
This could have been an EP boasting that one track and i would have been way satisified but there's two more tracks that follow, both monsters in their own right. "Paranoia (Iridium)" is a 15 minute ride through guitars and electronics, far more jarring, arctic, rough and clinical than the organic rock assault that came before. Here synths and feedback congeal into a rocky, knotted desert of endless frigidity, creating an intense feeling of agitation that could easily spill over into the track's title. Much like in real life, "Paranoia" gives way to "Depression (Loukoum)", the disc's hulking final track and the first of three collaborations with Merzbow and Wolf Eyes. It's an imposing and aggravating piece, a sputtering hash of elecrto-goop that slowly builds itself into a crushing torrent of spaced out loop disease. Merzbow's hand is felt most heavily here, showcasing the jittery keyboard echoes his more recent pieces (especially collaborations) have dwelled on. It takes a while for everything to get moving but once it does there's no letting go til the disc closes itself out on a wave of burbles and brambles. Were Wolf Eyes even in the room on this one? I don't know and i really don't give a shit.
Disc Two is where all the evil's hiding. This is the "noise" set, the holocaust style auditory assault as filtered through the eyes of a King Crimson-obsessed French guitar god. "Hysteria (Palladium)" and "Schizophrenia (Silver)" comprise one near hour long slag through the murk, a dense pit of roaring electronic howl that barely approaches anything other than a mess of horror driven soundscreams. Merzbow and Wolf Eyes both rise to the fore here, washing themselves in Pinhas' guitar drones and coming out dirtier than when they started. "Hysteria" is the noisier, more scathing track of the two but both are aptly titled pieces, painting an evocative picture of inner anxiety manifesting itself as psychic fractures, a rapid and exponential torrent of troubles pouring forth from the tremors of modern existence. As though knowing that 57 minutes of that sort of punishment creates a serious feeling of distress, Pinhas tacks on a lovely seven minute solo suite to close out the record, a chilling but glacially melodic soundscape that helps massage out a few of the knots the first two hours just worked up in your head. It's a welcome respite and a nice, drifting end to such a perilous traversal of space.
Pinhas is working in exciting territory here, dragging the bloated majesty of prog rock into a new era of freeform sound and open ended improv and collaboration. He's doing both noise and psychedelia an incredible service with records like this, showing the true versatility and breadth that both genres can generate when dropped in a fertile enough headspace. Great stuff for anyone into AMT, King Crimson, Fripp and the like.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010


Lovely recent drone composition by the masterful Eliane Radigue, written specifically for cellist Charles Curtis. Radigue is easily one of my favorite drone composers, so much so that simply relegating her work to the "drone" tag seems unfair, given that her pieces are so incredibly in-depth and rich in warmth. It's music that unfolds and envelops, that truly washes over and drags down. Radigue is one of very few composers who understands that music is a great vehicle for journey and transcendence and the lengthy analogue oceans of drift she creates are some of the most contemplative and introspective i've ever heard. These albums require your attention and engagement; they're not made for casual listening. You can have them on but they will always demand more.
"Naldjorlak" is a milestone as it's Radigue's first acoustic composition, performed with no electronic embellishment, relying only on natural acoustics and the performer's interpretation of the work before him. At first i was a little frightened of this limitation but once this piece begins to work its spell the fright melts away and you're pulled into the blanketed darkness of Radigue's arctic and glacial vision. I'm astonished that a cello can produce these sorts of long drawn out sounds. The tones never relent throughout; it's a constant, slowly shifting and twisting work of unreleased tension. Curtis' playing is top notch, easily up to the task Radigue mapped out for him. This is drone championed by groups like Pelt or Avarus, only much more pure and focused. I like both Pelt and Avarus, but Radigue's work here is really something breathtaking; epic and celestial, possessed of an earthless majesty, an absolute force of sound. To have been in the audience for this piece's performance could only have been a transformative experience for all in attendance; i can't envision this music not having a physical, room-filling presence.
Such is the way with Radigue's work. It's stately and towering and demands recognition. Every piece she's created is a magnum opus, the heart of the drone experience, a bath in purity of vision and creation. "Naldjorlak" is slightly more menacing than usual for Radigue but no less powerful or immersive. The time spent on edge whilst listening to this recording is time that Radigue holds you totally in her grasp, pulling your anxieties to surface so that the awesome force of her music can exorcise them out. It is meditation, in a sense, as close as any musician can truly come without resorting to the saccharine. It's simple but complex beyond most imagination, timeless in that these sorts of sound shave always existed, waiting to be assembled and drawn out. This is a communion and a ritual, and i could not recommend it (or any of Radigue's work) more highly.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

ARCKANUM "SVIGA LAE" (Regain Records)

Arckanum was once one of the most mysterious and elliptical black metal projects, a piece of Swedish magick from far beyond and times ancient. Albums were sporadic and little was known about the creator aside from his name but one thing was absolutely assured time and again: quality. The first communications from this classicist project were all fucking brilliant, peaking with the infallible "Kampen" double LP in 1998. Slab after slab of nature worshipping, relentless riffing and a melodic sensibility both mature and unpredictable made for a towering statement of individualistic black metal. Then came a great silence, a number of years devoid of music aside from a few seven inch releases. New material was hinted at but never delivered and the question of Arckanum's future was left to the fates.
In 2004 the floodgates opened with a split release shared with the mighty Svartsyn, a shredding return to neotraditionalist form that still ranks as one of my all time favorite black metal sides. Here was Arckanum streamlined into a mighty slicing monster, everything sloughing off aside from the ultimate purity of raging Swedish black metal, a hypermelodic trem-picked piece of gnostic destruction aimed right for the heart of modern day religion. Anti everything and intent on self-reliance, Arckanum proudly began a deluge of backlogged releases, flooding the market with a wealth of material both new and old and a promise to never again fade so obscurely. "Antikosmos" and "PPPPPPPP" were released in 2008 and 2009 respectively and while each album's arrival was greeted by me with a obsessive hunger i couldn't help but feel that some of the majesty was disappearing from Arckanum. Songs were becoming less epic and far more simplistic from a compositional standpoint, with both albums weighing in at around 45 minutes give or take and boasting none of the trembling melodic frigidity that took the "Skinning the Lambs" split to such anti-cosmic heights of delerium. Instead Arckanum issued two albums worth of Slayer meets Darkthrone style thrashers, a descent into primitivism that did the name few favours and the music even less.
"PPPPPPPPP" was especially rifting, an album chock full of decent riffs but few good songs. The intent was obvious from the cover art- a minimalist homage to pioneers like Venom and, especially, Bathory, but the music didn't yield the fruits from the tree. On the one hand it was good to hear the project so involved with its own destiny but on the other you were hearing only slightly above average material from a way beyond average band. Moments of "PPPPPPPPP" were comparable in spirit to earlier efforts in their reliance on Arckanum's askew ear for eerie melody and harmony lines but in no way did they grab the brass ring of records like "Fran Marder." A moment of truth was obviously birthing.
2010 sees that moment come alive and it's my sad duty to report that Arckanum have given up any position of relevance in the black metal world with their lackluster, brief effort "Sviga Lae." Retreating again to the minimalist and dulling song structures of "PPPPPPPPP" whilst attempting to hide behind a foggy veil of ancient mythology and pompous grandiosity, Arckcanum have turned in perhaps their most dissatisfying album to date. Nothing on "Sviga Lae" is remotely memorable, instead content to exist in a black metal purgatory where riffs need only be vaguely melodic and borderline "harsh" to have merit. The cover art references the purity of cleansing fire and the ensuing rebirth; instead we get only obstinate stagnancy and pointless dirging riffs with no grounding. A descent into primitivism may not have been the worst path for this band; certainly sole member Shamaatae is schooled enough in Swedish lore and languages, as well as in Gnosticism and magicks, to craft a work that both pays tribute to and revels in the rituals of older eras, be they Shamanic or musical. And while the lyrics and language give credence, the music simply destroys it. This is a band that's out of ideas and is content on recycling itself, hoping that the loyalists will throw down and wave the flag for a few more years. Everything here is by the books and rather than run everything down track by track i'll just say it plays out exactly the same as the last two. Nothing differs. Arckanum attempt to hold on to their signatures (atonal melodicism and dissonant vague harmonies) but do so only on the strength of their history. This is an album for everyone who owns all the other albums. It's difficult for me to say that anything by Arckanum is inessential but if you were new to this project there are myriad better places to start. Perhaps another hibernation period is what's really needed here. Maybe the weight of slumber will awaken Arckanum anew to the awesome possibilities their documented talent has forged.


I'm a huge admirer of David Lynch. The films, obviously, but i'm also pretty into his artwork and his music, be it the haunting romance of the "Twin Peaks" soundtracks or his own musical excursions into the deep netherworlds of blank emotion and voiding terror. Much like his directorial work, or his paintings and lithographs, Lynch's music continually unfolds, revealing glacier like levels of depth and detail. While simplistic on the surface, careful attentions to the mediums allow for a world of movement to slither in and envelop, seeping over like a boiling, nebulous blanket.
"The Air is on Fire" is an hour long movement created by Lynch to coincide with a gallery show of the same name held in Paris in 2008. The show was an absolute monster, showcasing Lynch's work across a broad spectrum of media, including photographs, lithographs, film, paintings, sketches and animations. The accompanying book is one of my most treasured items-a hulking trove of Lynch work, page after of page of dark mystery and glare-eyed fright. Fitting then, that the music Lynch created boasts that same massive quality, a feeling of spreading spaciousness and endless, thickening nighttimes.
Made up of wallowing lakes of pitch black ambience, "The Air is on Fire" moves like an encroaching storm, growing ever darker, ever closer, and always building, building, building, creating such a sense of unease and expectation that the only reaction is to turn down all the lights and close your eyes until it all washes over you and away. It scratches and dances soft like a wind, hushing over grounds and caressing the sky only to stop just as suddenly and pull up a choking handful of wet, muffling soil from the earth. It's what i imagine varying shades of black to be when transposed into sound. It's so entirely formless and gigantic, easily standing up to the best work by Lustmord or Nordvargr, or even by Lynch's dear friend and collaborator, Angelo Badalamenti. Perhaps it's Badalamenti's presence that's felt most strongly here, with the vague melodicisms of Lynch's synthesizers hinting at a scarred beauty and a fragrant sort of overbloomed and sickly sweet emotion buried under all that black. By the time the movement reaches its crescendo Lynch has allowed something akin to a traditional chord progression to sneak in, teasing the listener with its hints of song and creating a strong allusion to the "Twin Peaks" theme's aching loneliness and heart-wrecking splendour. This is simply monolithic mood music, one of the finest dark ambient works that i've run across, and another sky-cracking success from one of this century's most fertile artistic minds. Highest possible recommendation.


I don't like Agalloch. I have never understood the overwhelming critical and public popularity of this band. Every effort i've ever heard from them has been the same: incredibly overbearing, self-important goth rock pomp dressed up in thin trappings of black metal. They're black metal the same way that Christian Death are heavy. "Marrow of the Spirit" has arrived with little fanfare but with a ridiculously enthusiastic and immediate reception. Already vaulting to the top of many "best of the year" lists from both major publications (New York Times) and genre-specific rags (Decibel, et al), Agalloch are poised to sweep another number of more deserving releases under the proverbial rug, a triumphant gleam in their collective tear-weeping goth rock eye and worthless trophies in hand.
I wanted to make sure that i hadn't missed something since i'd last listened to Agalloch so i gave this record a thorough run-through last night and my opinion was largely unchanged. Agalloch still sucks, and their music is still a bloated corpuscule of pretentious black-metal aping drivel. I experienced a small tremor of excitement when i found out that Agalloch had enlisted Aesop Dekker (of Ludicra) to handle drum duties on "Marrow" but as fine a drummer as he is, and as well versed in more traditional black metal as he is, it isn't enough to overcome the hulking wreath of overwrought compositional masturbation on display throughout the album. Composed of six tracks clocking in at a substantial 65 minutes, "Marrow of the Spirit" absolutely crumbles under its egotistical vision and ambition. The goal here seems to be (as it always has) epic black metal in the vein of Weakling or Nargaroth and while lengthy songs will get you part of the way there the other necessity is quality, and Agalloch just doesn't have it. Every track is full of bland watered-down post rock bullshit, the sort of guitar triple tracking that even Mogwai would have tossed out for being too fucking lofty. Tones change in the midst of songs, creating a tremendous removal from any sort of transcendence that might have been obtained by the immersive length of the material. It's all just so much black metal lite and it's sad that this is what passes as exemplary extreme metal art. Agalloch take much from a "depressive" band like Katatonia (also pretty overrated, in my eyes) and seek to rough it up by throwing in some blast beats and a few rasps but it's a polymer that fails every time. It's posturing, metal created by artistic music goon minds because prog rock doesn't do so well these days.
Of course there's nothing close to bands like Dream Theater here; a more apt comparison to modern prog would be Porcupine Tree, another band trafficking in a light reimagining of what came before. Both bands write mostly terrible songs and both bands cloak those terrible songs in a package of artistic and intellectual importance, aptly fooling the public (in the case of Porcupine Tree) and the critical community (Agalloch, for so many years now.) There's no redemptive qualities here. "Marrow of the Spirit" is boring, regurgitated and reconstituted crap. There are worse bands, yes, but few that mine a genre so efficiently and cutthroat as Agalloch. By the time i got to the last song, i found myself shaking my head in disbelief and dismay at the horrible pretension of what i was hearing. Acoustic guitars, verses delivered in windy whispers, blobs of guitar distortion hanging in the back, violins wailing mournfully as the album sputters out. Agalloch strive for the sort of beauty found in the most elusive and romantic black metal, the kind propagated by bands like S.V.E.S.T. and again, Weakling, but they will never craft anything as remotely haunting or gorgeous as the first three minutes of "Dead as Dreams." They just don't have the passion or emotion found in that sort of black metal. Instead Agalloch are content to writhe around in the goth-rock sandbox, browbeating black metal to serve their needs while their records browbeat an undereducated audience content with being served falsehoods.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010


The second album from Haino's new band, Seijaku, showcases a radically different approach while still staying true to the minimalism established by its predecessor, "Mail from FUSHITSUSHA." This is Seijaku in full on recidivist rock formation, attacking the idea of standardization with no-wave knife in hand. Immediately more "rocking" (and therefore slightly more accessible) than its forebear "You Should Prepare..." at the outset seems better equipped and more willing to take up the mantle left behind by Haino's psych rock sensibilities. After one track in, however, any notion of continuing a tradition is thrown into the dust and completely obliterated by Haino's fierce artistic obstinancy and newfound dedication to a "less is more" mentality concerning rock and roll.
Things start off almost classically, a straight rock track dominated by lurching bass and simple timekeeping drums whilst over the top Haino lets loose with a few slicing guitar shreds and his near Slayeresque vocals (seriously, the man's vocal performance here is fucking amazing-these two records are worth it just for the vocal anguish alone). Things move along and roll into the expected earthshaking Hendrix-on-ludes solo from the mastermind and then settle back in to the track proper to takes us out. The guitar solo is more or less what we've been waiting for the entire stretch of the previous album but far too short-Haino seems content with teasing us and forcing us to accept what little destructive guitar he's willing to give at this point. This distancing from expectation just creates more tension in yet another record brimming over with it.
After that first track things get more thorny. The remainder of the album is given over to a crushingly minimalist take on the primitive blues, with most of the record consisting of bass, drums and harmonica. The guitar all but disappears until the final monolithic track, and even then there's a sort of restraint to Haino's playing that further pushes the man away from his legacy. This minimalism serves the record very well, drawing us as listeners further in to the dense sex-drenched pre-release world that Seijaku's creating, rumbling things over into a total gurgling boil. Again the colours are pitch black and shades of grey yet you feel sweaty and alive as you wade through this thick soupy dreamscape. Haino's howls ululate throughout, anguished and angry, screaming scorn at some dejection and threatening violence until recompense. It's hot, it's agonized, and it's truthful rock and roll. This is what Robert Johnson sold his soul for. No boogie, no shake-just pure and honest threat.
The last track is the drowning void, 16 minutes of deconstructed blues and fractured yearning. Everything sounds at angles and stumbles along mad and perplexed until its inevitable stumbling petering out. At this point the music just gives up, relenting to Haino's sado-sexual wrangling and giving in to the baser urges found in its very bottom. This is the blues. This is rock. This is what Keiji Haino is so effortlessly able to muster up at his best. This is the regressive dinosaur posturing that made Fushitsusha so fucking unstoppable. While the familiarities are gone-the crushing distortion and reverbs so noticeably absent-the soul of the music remains. Seijaku's second offering is a major piece of work amongst the annals of modern psychedelia, one that cannot be ignored. This work must be heralded lest Haino sound the trumpet and unleash fiery burning apocalypse upon us all. Fucking magnificent.


Easily one of the year's most anticipated releases for me, the dual onslaught of Keiji Haino's new band Seijaku. I think pretty much anyone with a passion for Haino's art has lamented the end of the mighty Fushitsusha and has yearned for Haino to return to full band form. For me the discovery of Fushitsusha was completely life-changing; afterwards nothing was the same at all with regards to music and my appreciation for it and it was the first of many doors opening into a whole new world of formless, devastating spontaneous composition. Certainly as a guitarist Haino has been a primary influence and there's still no one better than the Black One himself at unleashing a stinking torrent of noxious noise filth from the six-string. Guitar as terrorism, noise as a gateway to true and total transcendentalism-Fushitsusha was a project capable of blowing as many brains as eardrums and its dissolution so many years back was cause for great sorrow amongst the faithful.
Of course Haino's kept busy in the interim, releasing shitloads of massive records that assault the ears and warp the mind but there's always been a strong desire to see him back with a band again, just one amongst a small swarm of brutal devastators, wielding the guitar like a hot sword of death and cleaving through throngs of the non-believers with cool casual indifference. Seijaku fulfills a little bit of that desire on this first record, but not entirely.
What's done is done very very well and is extremely satisfying. The allusion to Haino's former psych-rock behemoth in the album title is a bit misleading, more than likely intentionally, and perhaps creates an unrealistic expectation for what's going to ensue. First off-there's virtually no distortion on this album. On two songs that classic Haino sound comes out-reverbed holocaust-but it's used so sparingly as to be almost nonexistent. The focus here is on spaciousness. An aura of black austere cleanliness envelops these proceedings, like some sort of hospital ritual in the dead of night. Everything is clinical and controlled, from the simple repetitive no frills drumming to the throbbing pulse of the quaking bass. Even Haino himself holds back per se, using his guitar to repeat motifs over and over, with little to no extrapolation throughout. It's very noisy, yes, and entirely discordant, but it's nowhere near as punishing as Fushitsusha.
The question then becomes: is this shit any good? Is it worth the massive expenditure? The answer is an unequivocal yes. If Fushitsusha represented a fully immersive and drunken sort of psychedelia then Seijaku is that same psychedelia issued out for the droning mind. This is nihilistic no wave minimalism, delivered with an intense sense of aggravation that i've never heard in Haino's vocals. There's no veiled messages or whispered warnings-this shit is all up front, yelled and volatile. Everything here is outward, made for the listener. It's an empty, desolate recording and rightly earns a place in Haino's oeuvre as one of his most defining, idiosyncratic moments. It's as caustic as you would want without being embraced by consuming flames but there's enough focus on spaces and slow motion to keep you grounded. It's both hypnotic and jarring, like a knife in your belly while you're stuffed full of oxy. Pure electricity, pure void. It's a scream from beyond the reaches of imploding nothingness, with virtually no tether to bind it to this world. The vestiges of influence are there, but as always Haino takes what he appreciates and twists it into a jagged, scarred form intent on leaving new wounds. This is a major new direction for Haino and way way recommended.


By the numbers black metal from a Horna offshoot, so you pretty much know what you're in store for here. Horna kinda bores the hell out of me, even though i own a few of their records-at their best they're imbued with an astounding primitivism and violence, at their worst a bland and boring chromaticism-but i've followed Sargeist since their start and watched them progress ever so slightly from album to album. "Satanic Black Devotion" incorporated the absolute worst elements of Horna and bullied them into a pointlessly caustic and lo-fi black metal shitfest that was neither rocking nor imposing despite its best efforts to seem so. Since then Sargeist have veered away from the atavistic regressive template a little bit with each new outing, culminating in what is easily their best, most satisfying and well-played album (like so many "side project" black metal bands, Sargeist's first efforts were terrribly orchestrated affairs) "Let the Devil In." Right away Sargeist blasts out on fire at breakneck pace, ripping in to the first of ten hymns singing the praises of devotion to the dark lord, a fury of fuzzed guitars, simple and icy freezing melodies and hardcore style drumming that rarely lets up across the album's one hour run time. Upon first hearing it you're immediately sucked in to the headbanging ferocity of it all, and i marvelled at how they kept it up song after song. For about 20 minutes this album is the greatest fucking thing ever, and then it begins to slag as you have to actually listen to song after song of black metal stagnancy. I like simple, repetitive shit-i fucking love it-but something about "Let the Devil In" grows wearying after four songs or so. It isn't hypnotic in the slightest; rather it's just one song after another. Everything bleeds together and it all ends up sounding the same. Sargeist are a project that are much better suited to the seven inch and split album format, where their music can be digested in small doses, thereby increasing its efficacy simply by giving the listener just enough. Anything else from this project just ends up grinding me down.
There are positives, though. The sound of the album is outstanding. It's raw and upfront and immediate. Sargeist aren't fucking around this time and for a little while you're going to believe that this is a band capable of walking all over you and turning you into pulverized bloody spittle ground beneath a heavy leather boot. The melodies here are ultra-anthemic and undeniably great. I've heard them all before in many other black metal records but it doesn't diminish their chilling, thrashing, fists-to-the-air effect in the slightest. If riff-recycling were grounds for rendering black metal records inconsequential then the genre as a whole would have died out 15 years ago. This is old school stuff, taking equally as much from Disrupt as it does Darkthrone. Sargeist are well-steeped in black metal traditionalism and they deploy that knowledge in the greatest possible way-fast, frigid, venomous numbers with spitting, bubbling vocals encased in a sick froth of disgust. If the album were shorter, say six songs rather than ten, i think i'd rate it a lot higher. As is the record's indulgent bloat becomes exhausting. "Let the Devil In" is solid enough but with proper editing it could have been a vicious piece of high speed hatred.


A gorgeous smear of thick, corrupted guitar wash swirling across your brain in a syrupy haze. Since his work in Tarentel Jefre Cantu-Ledesma has kept himself busy in a variety of projects, not a single one of which came close to matching the beauty or epic grandeur of Tarentel's austere slow-burn marches into oblivion. What a fucking delight to hear this record, Cantu-Ledesma's return to the all out sheer physicality of guitar froth dumped on the listener, a psychic massage and a dripping pillow of fogged up ambience. It's absolutely stunning in the vein of Tim Hecker or Lovesliescrushing and represents one of the purest distillations of Kevin Shields' legacy this side of Mogwai's "Helicon 1."
This record plays off as one long sonic blur, a 45 minute blast of hypershimmer and computer-effected feedback terrorism sculpted into towering sheets of blanketing void. It's a windstorm of loveliness, a super dense web of sound that reveals more and more the higher you turn up the volume. Maximum punishment yields maximum beauty, to paraphrase the Sunn O))) maxim. Obviously this sound has been done before by some very capable hands but Cantu-Ledesma's contribution to the dream-pop canon sits nicely amongst the bunch, a portrait rendered by a master craftsman that both reveres and draws upon the influences that came before. "Love is a Stream" is a warm, inviting piece that cloaks you from the first second, and while throughout the trip there are moments of emotional vulnerability as well as ominous sadness for the most part this is a comfort zone. It's a rainbow of sound and drone. Gone is the darkness and icy mystery found in the comparable work of Tim Hecker, replaced by a welcoming rumble and a swirling color wheel of tone. Gone too is the frigid etherealness of Lovesliescrushing and the focus on vocal texture-"Love is a Stream" relies much more heavily on treated guitars and near-blown amplifiers. What's left is simply the awesome power of the electric guitar, the volatile destruction that My Bloody Valentine showed audiences was possible when in the right hands. Cantu-Ledesma doesn't shy away from that influence here, instead embracing the textures and clouds of sound that the instrument and the amplifiers can conjure from the nexus. In a period where so many neo-shoegaze acts are relying on structure and songs, Cantu-Ledesma goes the opposite direction and lays down 12 ink blots of mesmerizing, nauseous beauty with no regard to structure or the vaguest notion of form. It's wonderful stuff, really, and a fitting progression (finally) from the potential for monstrousness that Tarentel hinted at on their debut so many years ago. Tarentel never exploded the way Mogwai did; rather, they built and built and built until the destination was so hazed over that the ending became inscrutable. Tarentel were looking to get lost, and here Cantu-Ledesma has crafted an endless map of infinite expanse.
Complimenting the album proper is the slightly less successful collaborative effort created with pitch-black soundscapist Xela, "Love is A Dream." Here the compositions are smaller, less dense and far less inviting, falling victim to Xela's tunnel-vision paranoid isolationism, creating a feeling of falling down a small, deep hole with no bottom. This record pulls rather than caresses, suffocates rather than aerates. While this approach isn't unexpected for anyone familiar with Xela's aesthetic, nor disappointing in those terms, when bookended with "Love is a Stream" is seems far less impressive and haunting. Taken on its own it might have been seen as something of a frightening inward drone-journey, where black is the end and grey the path, and certainly a departure for Cantu-Ledesma. When viewed as part of the larger work, however, it becomes unnecessary, a 42 minute pull away from the heavenly pastures of what came before. Interesting and well-made, certainly, but not essential. Hopefully Cantu-Ledesma will continue his work in this vein without the contribution of those aesthetically opposed to his creations.

Saturday, December 4, 2010


A cleansing wash of hyperwhite ultra static flatlining black metal, absolutely shrieking from the speakers like tendrils of white hot iron snaking through your brain. Totally flooring and presenting a sort of ultimate engagement sonically with the listener, "Extinction" is easily one of the best pieces of black metal composition i've heard this year. Prior to this release Nekrasov had done little to impress me, deluging the market with a glut of post-Xasthur black ambient/metal nouveau recordings that seemed to be nothing more than notches in the discography belt. With this album, delivered to the considerably higher profile Crucial Blast, Nekrasov have fucking levelled me.
To call this black metal is a bit of a stretch but i want to because it's such a powerful statement. Certainly a lot of critical defining elements are there-ultra distorted buzzing fuzz guitars, warpingly fast blast beat drums terrifying in their relentless beatdown and horrid, high pitched shrieks of caustic hatred-but all these elements appear with far less frequency than the remainder of the sounds that really form the core of "Extinction"'s nihilistic idea, the heavy noise/drone treatments of amplifier vomit and shimmering blackened voids stretched out to excruciating lengths. "Extinction" really bears more in common with the industrial tinged works of Human Quena Orchestra or Noisegate-there's a focus on destruction and its aftermath, an illustration of societal and cultural collapse. You could say the black metal tracks illustrate the Armageddon and the ambience represents something akin to a walk through the resultant nuclear winter, a dance through the end. The sound here is very focused and intent on bringing you to a very particular place, both philosophically and imaginatively. Nekrasov's ability to craft a brutal, unflinching but utterly engrossing sixty minutes that take the listener to that stumbling brink reflects an immense bit of growth from the previous genre regurgitations to the masterwork given here.
And it is a masterwork. I want to call this a black metal album because it represents to me everything that true, caustic black metal should be. It's extreme, punishing, seemingly lo-fi and totally abrasive, yet there's a massive layer of sound lurking beneath and within everything that's presented on the surface, especially as the record spaces out and drifts into the cold harsh moonscapes of the last 30 minutes. It's hypnotic without being repetitious; rather you're sucked into some sort of empty musical void, flung out into further reaches simply floating in the black. Occasionally shimmers of light or some sort of star flurry will erupt across the endless horizons but for the most part you find yourself adrift, watching the limits of the world crumble all around you, never ending but growing ever more claustrophobic with the falling away of each towering chunk of dead sky. It's total immersion in Nekrasov's vision.
High points in an album full of them include the near locked groove section that brings 'Matter is the Bastard" to a close, where the vocals become one long, continuous scream of white sound under which blastbeats and guitars morph into an electrical light razor of screaming, brain scraping horror. "Pre-Fetal Non-Mantra" is a respite of classicist black metal, with one grainy, strainingly melodic riff buzzsawed into distorted oblivion under a trainwreck of clanging drums undiluted fuzz. "No Room For Liberation Found Here or Now" and the hulking 20 minute title track represent the coldest ruins of the world, with the former putting you through the wringer of ultra-grinding molten Earthesque guitar sludging while the latter drowns you under sick, slow massaging waves of heavy refracted drone and whine. Fucking punishing the whole way through and so, so good. Easily a 2010 highlight and a new high point for incredibly raw black metal.

LORDS OF FALCONRY "S/T" (Holy Mountain)

Scuzzed up reverb heavy warbling psych damage from this mysterious ensemble, coming off like Suicide as filtered through the Siltbreeze aesthetic. It's decent enough but nowhere near as impressive as it should be coming from the oft-excellent Holy Mountain camp; even more perplexing is the length of time it took to get this record out (it was in the works and slated for release well over a year ago but kept getting delayed) considering how short and simple it is.
Things charge out of the gate promisingly enough, with a fast paced JAMC style rock blitz by way of Kawabata Makoto, all whoops and howls screaming for prominence over a bed of ultra dirty guitar skeeze and drums that just barely keep up throughout its rote-rock gallop. It's an invigorating first track that keeps its momentum for seven minutes but after that the record just more or less gives up, and we're left with tired interpolations of the same. I i think i dislike the vocals most all, all pointless laconic Gira-esque drawl with nothing interesting or engaging to make them warrant the headspace they do. This album would have worked so much better as an instrumental affair-maybe without the limitation of vocals everything could have really spaced out and gone epic, realizing the hints of cosmic sprawl hidden in the grooves.
As is this is passable psych-rock done by guys who probably get all tore up and head out to the garage to rock out. There's a heavy alcohol vibe here and just a kiss of the drugs but i'd rather be listening to these same sounds from a more dangerous band, say the Black Lips (who do hangover music better than almost anyone) or fuck, maybe even the Brian Jonestown Massacre at their most confrontational (and yes, it pains me a little to say that, but i need you to know how really boring this record is). There's a lot of people working this angle much better than the Lords of Falconry, so much so that i can only chalk this one up to label hype and underground pizazz. Maybe these guys kick ass live, but their record doesn't really make me want to find out. A surprising miss from Holy Mountain.

Thursday, December 2, 2010


An outstanding and extremely accomplished tour de force through heavy metal history and lore by Slough Feg, as true a defender of the faith as ever walked the rancid earth. In the past i've used the phrase "recidivist" to describe metal of this ilk although with this band it seems woefully inadequate and wholly insulting because while the sound is obviously classic Maidenesque metal tempered by a healthy knowledge of Celtic folk and prog as well as almost every trope and trick in the book, there's nothing dusty or oldened nor "classic" about Slough Feg. This is metal from the heart, the sort that rises from riffs coursing through the blood. The music is stronger than the player; the composer is simply a conduit for the message, altogether more powerful and meaningful than any individual song or scream of guitar.
Slough Feg have always been outstanding so the quality of this album is unsurprising. What's surprising is how streamlined it is. Some metal, "classic" metal in particular, has always seemed to be on the verge of falling prey to a true and heavy-handed bloating, a desire to cram so much in to so little and still have the audience walk away understanding the (at times) ridiculously lofty concepts and conceits at play. True metal is a historian's genre, a tromp through slimy back alleys of British history and a deep wade into the pond of mythology and magick, an ancient sort of idea conveyed by what the true connoisseur recognizes as an equally ancient sort of dusty aesthetic and sound. In other words, shine up the British Steel.
That comparison seems apt given the aforementioned appreciation of brevity on Slough Feg's part. On that storied album Judas Priest gave in to a more commercial version of their work and turned in their most well-received (at least publically) effort, and while some purists (myself included) miss a bit of that ancient sounding triumphance, as a whole the album is a nasty little slicer from start to finish (barring of course the near comic "Livin' After Midnight," a somewhat ill-conceived stab at chart topping.) Luckily Slough Feg takes the most important lesson of "British Steel"-brevity and succinctness-and puts it to use famously across "The Animal Spirits." There isn't a wasted minute or note and while some songs pace themselves a little more slowly than others, there is absolutely no drag to the record and very little weight. It's metal cut to the bone, stripped of all the dead flesh and hulking fat. What's left is a jagged ride through pure rock, crying with a mournful nostalgiah and raising a hand in reverence to the grey, dimming British skies. Song composition is at an all time high here, with enough thrashtastic double bass speed riffing to stand up against Mike Scalzi's previous work in the Hammers of Misfortune while never letting go of the Celtic folk-inspired melodies and structures that set Slough Feg apart. Scalzi's vocals have never been better, their operatic soar coasting high above the wicked intertwined guitar work, at times sounding both coarse and workmanlike as well as polished and reaching.
So too is this a guitarist's album, like so much of what i'm drawn to musically. No fan of the instrument will be disappointed here, and perhaps this is where i would most like a little bit of that bloated extravagance to seep into Slough Feg because the guitar playing here is beyond reproach. Tasteful yet over the top all at once, Slough Feg hearken to the best of Thin Lizzy and Iron Maiden's overbearing, harmony-laden appraoch and temper it with Phil Lynott's innate sense of what needs to be there and what doesn't. Live they abandon this a little bit; when i saw them play a few summers ago every solo was harmonized and it became a little much to take. As much as i love guitar pomp, the restraint shown on this record works to the material's advantage.
It's nice to see another band doing true metal correctly, without irony. Mike Scalzi has written a number of recent articles lamenting the loss of metal in culture and taking today's musician's to task for their horrid approximations of what constitutes metal in today's environment. Obviously i love all sorts of metal (i would pretty much defend black metal to the death at this point in my life) but there is a truth to Scalzi's opinions. Everything is becoming a facsimile as music progresses ever further and we're losing sight of what made the forebears of genre so mind blowingly cool and original. It was a sound that didn't exist, a new approach born of what came before. It was exciting and vibrant and a lot of what's materializing today simply isn't-it's just recidivism, to bring that word back, in the very vilest sense. Slough Feg, then occupy a very important place in the musical microcosm, a stalwart castle of tradition and structure, made of brick and mortar and passion. Let's hope it never crumbles.