Friday, December 30, 2011


Strains of drone interpolated by two of the more classically minded outre practitioners of the art, the noir-tinged Oakeater and the poignant Mamiffer. I can't help but think of this as being an extension of the Oakeater/Everlovely Lightningheart split that came out a few years back; if Mamiffer is the logical progression of Faith Coloccia's approach to chamber music, then this split delivers more intensely on the sound hinted at by Everlovely Lightningheart's complex avant-suites, with Oakeater abandoning their usual lording drone in favor of something more compositionally minded as well.
Of the two, Oakeater's side ends up being surprisingly more varied. Their piece is more a number of miniature movements adding up to one larger whole, with each division highlighting some aspect of repetitive drone via piano, field recordings, or the massive keyboard throb that ends it all. "Iron Age II" was so far removed from the Oakeater i know i wondered if i had the wrong side playing; their reinvention for this split almost seems to be born of a desire to force Mamiffer out of their usual comfort zone by beating them at their own game. There isn;t anything particularly menacing or oppressive about Oakeater's work here; it simply is, it has a stated downward pull, and it's dark like tar. It's a perfectly serviceable addition to their discography thus far if not mindblowing or transformative; it's just another side of the prism. On some level i miss the heaviosity of what i know this unit is capable of. On the other hand i can understand why they might have gone this route considering the pairing, and in that light they outperform Mamiffer from a purely compositional perspective.
The Mamiffer piece seems out of character for them as well, again almost confusingly so. The first ten minutes are a blinding onslaught of glacial drone guitars lifted up by an angelic underpinning, similar to "Earth 2" as filtered through swords of light and fractured glass. Aaron Turner's hand is unmistakably felt on this outing, almost to the point where i'm beginning to wonder where Coloccia ends and Turner begins (as the two are married, perhaps the question of their differing artistic aesthetics becomes moot.) The guitars are encompassing and thick, ever-present and threatening; this is Mamiffer as a sheer tectonic force, melting into a slough of oozing globulation and drowning retribution. When the guitars finally wash themselves and allow Coloccia's piano work to come to the fore, the piece changes dramatically, becoming a stately chamber demonstration rather than a free-form exploration of drone expanse. The two extremes work well together; when Turner layers his effected slabs of distortion over Coloccia's keywork the piece achieves a muted sort of bliss.
It's an interesting split from two highly individualized musical units; the differing approaches add up to a smothering whole that yields maximum obliteration for altered consciousnesses. This is sonic syrup, ear goop for the intellectually minded, modern composition by way of a cut and paste approach to the banalities of being. Everything inspires, and everything in turn can be a building block. The mystery lies in the assemblage.


Obliterating white noise tinged with the spectrous hand of blackened iconoclasm via extreme revisionists Sutekh Hexen. Severe interpolations of black metal's aesthetics yield a deathly tornado of frightening sonic enormity, a death knell for falsifications and a lament for the uninitiated. This is ritual music in the same way as Encoffination (recently reviewed); the reimagination of established doctrine creates something toxic, overbearing, and wrought with pestilence. The idea of atmosphere is not wholly abandoned here; instead abandonment becomes the atmosphere, illuminating a dark corner of loneliness and isolationist horror that borders on outright menance. Sutekh Hexen create music born of candlelight knife gleam and the ritual carving away of flesh. The means lie in the end; ultimate cosmic understanding through baptism by pain and flame.
If the goal here is to wash away any idea of the self then these six tracks achieve it by way of unrelenting tidal waves of winterblown blackened howls from the void, the destruction of the physical erupting into swarms of buzzing torrential storm. Structure and construct are folded in on themselves to birth something at once more towering and complex, a blueprint for loss and disappearance that sounds the way with reductionist fanfare and dismantled black metal classicism. Guitars and vocals are here in spades; they're simply grafted onto new forms, given second lives by hammering obfuscation and hyper-processing. Drums become a mere idea, the remnanat of a vestige of a thought, the kindling of memory sparked to blinding evocation. Tracks like "Haunted" and "Haunting" trade on black metal's obliterating assertiveness; the extremity lies in the further deterioration of these understood templates to a point of muted but raging primitivism. Sutekh Hexen are able to strip black metal's essence to its most simple form and further render that anger to something simultaneously choking and cutting. Flesh is pared away, consciousness sheared; reality becomes the dream and the nightmare becomes the actuality. Eternal darkness, eternal evil, eternal night.
Sutekh Hexen's transmissions thus far have been minimal. Nothing like a "full-length" exists and what has emerged have been short blasts of crushing engulfism. While the aura of mystery and the illusion is certainly important to this unit's approach i'd like to see the sound stretched to capacity; if it could maintain its severity across a span of an hour the transcendent potentials would be near boundless. This is another unit that truly understands the idea of cutting flesh to widen sight; the tearing open of the third eye by way of the shear and exposure to the end of physical limit is the very heart of black metal's most sacred inheritance. While the 18 minute live performance that closes out this collection chooses to wallow in the stagnant pools of darkened drone theatrics, the incredible intensity of the summoning cannot be denied. Even when it's quiet, this shit is deafening. This is the sound of the black spaces in between the black spaces; this is the sound of nothing wrought to being. The void howls; the abyss looms. We all teeter at the brink; Sutekh Hexen have found the strength to fall.

CIRCLE "INFEKTIO" (Conspiracy Records)

Washed out weirdo drone from hypno-rockers Circle, a pretty heavy stylistic deviation from the last several records. Hearkening back to midnight moonlight deep consciousness works like "Forest" and "Mildjard," "Infektio" sees the band touring the wastes of fractured psychedelia, marking the jagged outcroppings of structure with operatic par demonic vocal flourishes and flourishes of jazz-inflected piano. Guitar is reduced to texture and embellishment; the very notion of rock is tossed aside in favor of vaguely classical orientation and stumbling attempts at compositional maturity. This is Circle at their most reductionist, channeling the abstract and latching it to the idea of form in way that recalls the ethereal explorations of the Necks. Bits of classic rock poke their way through (as in the power chord elongation of "Maatunut") but overall this is aboriginal originality, aiming for the stars and disappearing into a wealth of deep space and lone beach fires.
Fifteen minute opener "Salvos" sets the tone for what follows, with shards of jagged guitar stabbing like icicles across a thick bed of tarring sonic goop that burbles and stretches its way into the cosmos. Power electronics by way of playful abstraction, experimentation as fostered by total ineptitude; Circle dabbles in the rot and emerges with an excursion into the outer reaches of bubbling texture. The rest of the record gives way to more "obvious" rock structure, but only as compared to Circle's vast discography: this is a stretch by a band known for them, and a certain spaciousness begins to take over the proceedings despite most of the record being jam-packed with sound. It's a concept as much as a construct, and in fitting with Circle's ever-present aura of mystery that exact concept is a MacGuffin in the service of wide-eyed creation. By turns brain-numbing (see the John Carpenter style novocaine synth work in "Peruuttamaton"), rambling (the good-time Western feel of "Pisara") and confusingly reminiscent of jagged free-jazz (virtually everything else here) "Infektio" is a deliberate mindfuck from a group known for freely and delightedly throwing curve balls at its audience.
Apart from all of "Infektio"'s weirdness, though, there's still a certain sense of distance, of unapproachability, that remains a hallmark of the Circle aesthetic. A pessimistic coldness cycles through all of the tracks here, a sort of aura reliance on the mystique of extremity and metallized drone that allows Circle to traverse a greater musical expanse than a less-wordly band could. "Infektio" clearly makes its case a journey and an experience right away, as the broiling density of "Salvos" immediately attests. This is music on a path, and the moment that first note hits your ears, you're swept up and caught deep in it. It's confounding and mesmerizing as much as it is jarring; that Circle can create that level of connect/disconnect with such isolating, polarizing sounds is testament to their strength as arrangers of the disparate.
"Infektio" is not a great starting point for Circle novices. A certain familiarity is demanded from the listener to truly open it up. There is nothing approaching the "arena" spectacle of the recent live outings, nor anything calming enough to appeal to the free-folk sympathizers that attach themselves to more relaxing pieces like "Forest"; gone too is any sort of semblance to the metal overlords found flexing their rock chops on workouts like "Hollywood" and "Sunrise." Everything here is set for the express purpose of disorientation; hypnotism is allowable only as a product of forcible removal. Dive in and drink deep of the glacial stagnancy; drift off on ripped shreds of wafting petrification. "Infektio" is rightly disease-ridden.


I'm not sure what to make of this. Pharaoh Overlord have long been one of my favorite bands, given to the total worship of the power of the riff, simplicity filtered through aggression resulting in some of the most punishing head-nodding zone-out jams this side of 5ive. The formula has rarely changed, with each album wrapping itself up in numbing repetition and adolescent to the point of brutal guitar figures until total immersive hypnosis is achieved, the terminus point of so much rock bloat packed into such tightly constructed paths. On "Out of Darkness" Pharaoh Overlord performs a complete reinvention of sound, succumbing to the '80's rock worship hinted at in so many records by parent project Circle. Here that hint is turned into full blown adulation, such a beautifully accurate approximation of sound that's it difficult for me to decide if this record is heartfelt tribute or all-out parody (my extensive Circle collection leads me to believe the latter, but this record makes it a very tough call.)
As with Circle's "metal" record "Hollywood," "Out of Darkness" is brimming over with hallmarks of the the '80's metal sound: pure Marshall crunch, soaring vocals, workman-like bass and harmonized guitar lines echoing the Maiden heyday. The album instantly recalls Judas Priest and Accept in its brute force and speed metal aspiration; even insipid swill like Sammy Hagar gets referenced on empty-headed rockers "We Came To Rock" and "No Speed Limit." As historical revisionists, Pharaoh Overlord are insanely well versed in the posture and aura of the era they're looking to evoke; when attempting to view the music as a worthy and original piece of the overall discography it falls far short of the line. Despite the metallized, exuberant strength of tracks like "Out of Darkness" and the majestic, insane "I Am The Light" the record as a whole stumbles into 1985 filler type material, with bland, twisting songs that reference Sebastian Bach and the darker side of purely chromatic compositional atrocity ("Transylvanian Afternoon" is such a poorly conceived song it's a wonder the pointless riffs don't fly out of the speaker and slap you in the face for even listening to them.) The highlights can't recover the album as a whole-it's just too ridiculous. The lyrics don't help matters any either, boasting some of the most inane and cliched rock tropes they make "Hot For Teacher" read like T.S. Eliot. And while the vocal imitations are admirable, the fact that several songs devolve into Layne Staley type ululations pretty much kills it for me. With such a massive pool to draw influence from, why choose the voice that indirectly birthed Godsmack to the world?
My familiarity with the Circle universe (as well as that of project mastermind Jussi Lehtisalo and Ektro Records in general) helps me understand why this record turned out the way it did. There's nothing wrong with incorporating influence-Circle did the same thing on "Hollywood" but managed to inject enough of their own aesthetic into to it arrive at something new-but this sort of "all-in" abrasiveness is a serious backwards step for a group already deep into the lake of recidivism. I love a lot of this record: the guitar work is stellar throughout, and the band sounds tight as shit. But it's just too silly for me to really appreciate it as anything other than a lark outing. If the whole record had veered more in the direction of "Devastator," nine minutes of hyper-repetitive Judas Priest riffing that barrels towards total guitar solo collapse, i would have been able to more firmly place this record in the Pharaoh Overlord lexicon. Instead we're treated to a loving tour of '80's metal icongraphy. It's nostalgic but much like the glut of bands that polluted the 1980's landscape, it wears out its welcome very quickly.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

SERVILE SECT "DEMOS 2005/2006" (Land of Decay)

Far-reaching black metal narcolepsy illuminating the more cough-syrup aspect of expansive psychedelia, courtesy Servile Sect. Coming off this year's astonishing album "Trvth" for Handmade Birds, this demo collection is an effective stopgap historical document showcasing the mind-numbing freakism this band is capable of achieving; this is nothing less than a reiteration of the cosmic in the black metal lexicon transmuted via low frequency and a total reconfiguration of classicist aesthetic, arriving at two lengthy pieces that emphasize the inquesting side of the genre as opposed to its more aggressive public persona.
Servile Sect are a black metal band in the loosest sense of the classification; since their debut they've played up the druggier, more wasted elements inherent in BM (extremity leads to clarity) and crafted a sonic hypercube of frosted rainbow collapse and sky-shattering histrionics. "Demos 2005/2006" finds the duo experimenting with (or wallowing in) gross electronic discombobulation, an electronic severance with the genre actuality that begets a molasses-like drift of expanse, a burbling, sputtering descent into the lower depths of redefinition that owes as much to the Hanatarash as it does to "Deathcrush" era Mayhem. The style becomes the substance; the pool becomes the ocean. Such is the propulsive force of Servile Sect; the two pieces here achieve a rare infinity of purpose, an endless morphing and process of self-recycling that becomes a heady sonic goop capable of true psychedelic fracturing.
This is zone-out level shit. There is little to no off-the-rails severity to be found; instead there's a dark contemplation rendered via a panoramic miasma of abused effects, synthesizers, and a willingness to break with the commonplace and the expected. To me this is the root of black metal; for the less adventurous it might seem little less than a total and complete affront. This is not a rejection of black metal ideology but rather an innovation, a remolding to fit the needs of a technologically rampant culture. The specter of advancement haunts this collection, as though the sounds found within were the remnants of an apocalyptic time capsule washed up on the shores of earth ten millenia from now. The inability to harness the ideas we've put forth leads to the question of their ultimate end, and by extension ours; we're slowly destroying ourselves and eroding the very concept of humanity with each shiny new piece of inefficiency. Servile Sect curls in amongst those warnings and melts them down into audio rot, a transmogrification of the NOW into some future THEN, as evocative a warning as a Tarkovsky film. The confines exist within the actions; to go beyond and traverse the myriad layers of being is the true discovery.
"Demos 2005/2006" is remarkable astral exploration; the flippant approach to consciousness displayed across these two tracks approaches a dark hypnotism seen in the works of Lustmord or Deathprod. From a purely classical perspective these works seem to recall the early approach of Plasma Pool; the electronic aspects also obviously echo the synthesized soundscapes of so many first wave black metal"intro" pieces. But this cassette goes well beyond the constraint of a mere introduction; this is hypercolor indoctrination, the erasure of the mind to start anew. Invite the cleanse.


Mournful, cavernous, totally crushing death metal from Encoffination, hearkening back to forebears like Incantation and Immolation while going further out than either band ever did in terms of glacial pace and sickening claustrophobics. The sound here is enormous, completely engulfing in terms of reverberation and echo, the dismal gorges of guitar eruption coursing across the ears like so much dead wood and wasted ash. Everything here is downtuned to the point of near inaudibility, the only constant a droning, pained squelch of wavering guitar strings scraping across the idea of harmony. Encoffination crawl along the bottom of death metal's aesthetic template like detritus, preying on the rotted carrion of vestige left behind from a dead musical art.
The death metal revival aspires to this sort of sound. This is what it's supposed to be. Drawing from the best of the last two decades, Encoffination emerge with something bludgeoningly heavy and soaked in funereal atmosphere, the heavy reliance on bell clangs on "O' Hell..." notwithstanding (they're effective but at times a little overbearing.) This is a beating of bruises made horribly real by the hulking physicality of the music; this shit has an honest, massive weight that will reduce you to a quivering mass of cowering flesh begging for ignorance. This is not for trendy ears, nor is meant as mere flirtation. Those acquiring this are actively seeking it out; the diehards from the early '90's for whom death metal begins and ends with the likes of Cancer and "Left Hand Path" era Entombed. Technicality, often a prerequisite for this style, becomes an utter irrelevancy in the face of such stylized brutality and measured aggression. This breed of death oozes rather than gallops; the pace truly is glacial, with the frigid enormity of a howling, oppressive mountain. Encoffination will sink you.
The anti-Christian elements that characterized so much of the early movement are here in abundance; along with the gloriously and appropriately fetid cover artwork, song titles like "Rites of Ceremonial Embalm'ment," "Ritual Until Blood," and "Annunciation of the Viscera" leave little to the imagination other than a warped palette of putrid color and the rotting stench of consecration through the abuse of flesh. The focus on dark arts and some sort of communion through mutilation and ritual rings loudly throughout "O' Hell...", allowing the listener access to an idea that exists only in the more hidden recessed of modern culture. The cthonic aspect of Encoffination's delivery is chilling; there aren't many bands that can harness this ideology and not collapse under the weight of falsification. Only contemporaries like Teitanblood and Vasaeleth are walking the same path, and even they aren't bringing this much pulsing, seething disgust to the genre. This is not reinvention; this is total worship.
It saddens me that death metal had such a short run; as aaesome as this record is it's arriving about fifteen years too late. Had death metal not succumbed to its own stagnancy and actually allowed itself to incorporate anything from outside, it might have advanced to this point and remained the virulent underground force it originally was. Instead fashions changed and extremity left death metal gasping; the death metal of today's musical landscape bears little resemblance to what came before, aside from some grunted vocals and double bass theatrics. For the most part the sense of danger and weirdness is gone. That's why Encoffination are so fucking amazing. They tap into that dead strain and take it to its logical extension. Incantation was headed there and they just hit a wall; Encoffination have torn that wall asunder and gone into the great death metal beyond. It wasn't meant to get faster, just heavier. Funeral doom relies too much on space; death metal relies on filling that space in a claustrophobic way. With "O' Hell, Shine In Thy Whited Sepulchres," Encoffination have buried anything that ever existed in that space. Total mastery of the form and reinvention of the template. Superlative.


An insane fetish item immediately upon release, this collaborative effort between Liz Harris (better known for her work under the Grouper moniker) and Ilyas Ahmed plays to the strengths of both, and while it easily surpasses anything Ahmed has done as a solo artist, it falls a little short for me as a piece of the Grouper discography. Harris' greatest asset has always been her severe reclusiveness and the aura of shattered, spectral loneliness that haunts her work; here that isolation is introduced to collaboration and while still achingly beautiful, something important gets lost in the transformation, something personal and harrowing and devastating. The beauty becomes a commodity; the introspection and aesthetic of confession becomes not a matter of privacy but of appeal.
Do not let it be said i think this record is at all "bad." It is gorgeous and frustrating, inviting deep reflection and evoking the idea of fizzled out stars, lapping ocean waves across empty beaches, and the cold austerity of an ever-devouring night. The music here seems appropriately distant, beamed in from somewhere amidst watery galazies smeared across the wastes of space, bounced echoes falling back to earth for the few tuned receivers open to the glitches between static dead air. Harris really can't fuck this stuff up; it's too ingrained in her approach and far too important a piece of her artistic self. This is the very notion of creativity as escape: these creations give Harris the strength to accept her existence, the filter through which she can view the world. While that may be a bit psychiatric in its evaluation, the level of personal connection Harris puts in to her recordings more than justifies it. There are few artists working in this vein that put so much of themselves into what they do; Liz Harris pours out of every recording she makes, and the strength of her vision separates Grouper from virtually every other project working in the field. Ambience isn't so much an evocation of mood as it is a state of being; the haunt of sorrow infects the work of strongest players in the field, be it Troum, Aidan Baker, or Lovesliescrushing. The ethereal becomes the real. What is true is what is thought, what is felt. The heart goes beyond the corporeal. The mystery is the reality.
To his credit, Ahmed mostly lets Harris work her magic. The usual overbearing nature of his fragile, spacious guitar work is here put to work in establishing a rich and hazy atmosphere, his clear, delayed lines stretching out Harris's songs and lending weight to key passages as well as accentuating particularly crushing chord changes. His playing lends a certain frame to "Visitor"; without it, the record could easily dissolve into post-delay creationism and hollowed out chamber-draping. On the one song where he takes the vocal lead, "Flickering," he seems to mirror Harris' style, simply a male version of her laconic, dragging drawl. He becomes a part of her puzzle, carving out new pieces that may or may not fit into the picture as a whole. Ahmed's strength is his willingness to recede, to accentuate, and ultimately to embellish. His solo work is far more sparse and delicate; here he lets himself be washed under the tidal wave of Grouper's aesthetic.
And as lovely as all of it is, there's a feeling of blankness. It isn't as expansive as other Grouper records, nor is it as frightening in its sacrifice of self. "Visitor" is hidden, pillowed under a mountain of Harris' previous work, slumbering alongside her more wrenching structures. Only "The Edges" approaches the vistas of beauty ripped open by her discography; it's the only song here that could stand alongside Harris' output and feel like it truly belongs. I understand that verdict may seem harsh, but i feel that Harris is not simply making albums; she's painting an entire worldview, giving like-minded, hurting individuals a prism through which they can view the world and better work within it. This music is strength to a lot of people, myself included, and anything new from Grouper is osmosed and transformed into part of our personal beings. Much like the music of Trist, the music of Grouper helps me; i don't know if i can word it any better. There is something to what Liz Harris does that has a tremendous emotional resonance, and its either there or it isn't.
If you can find this (i couldn't) then by all means buy it-you will not be sorry; you might even find yourself transformed after the process of listening and absorbing it. There are better places to start with Grouper, perhaps not so with Ahmed (his solo records are so removed and dry there's little to connect to); either way the pairing of the two is a twenty minute bath of warmth that won't fail to make an impression. Just not as deep of one as i'd like.


A hyper-limited split LP created especially for the Earth/Sir Richard Bishop joint European jaunt back in 2008, this record sees both performers basking in the utter opulence of the electric guitar, making their case for the instrument's continued validity and evocative essences. It's a surprisingly pure and homely recording given both musicians' reputation for audience antagonism (via belching glacial nowhereness in the case of Earth vs. a "what-the-fuck" approach to reality from Rick Bishop) and has an unexpected warmth to it; gone is the desert-baked isolationism of the reinvented Earth along with Bishop's frighteningly cold bath of shattering technique. Both have traded in for a sound more personal and magickal, tending towards the image-laden rather than the simple audio wash.
Earth's contribution, "The Peacock Angels Lament," is the more radical of the two pieces, as well as the one more caught up in its own pretension to grandeur. Performed entirely by Dylan Carlson alone, this expanse of guitar formalism has more in common with the traditional Earth than it does the lonely dust swarms of recent outings, despite its heavy reliance on vaguely bland jazz explorations and faux-Eastern lividity. The focus on the guitar as a single source of sound, free of any accompaniment, firmly roots this piece in the direction of Carlson's past. That isn't to say just because he throws on a guitar by himself we're back in the "Earth 2" realm-it's simply a matter of tone. The somewhat oppressive atmosphere here is similar to the enormity found in works like "Seven Angels" or "Like Gold and Faceted"; it's heavy and engulfing, almost clogging in its syrupy opulence. The guitars may ring rather than slough but the point is clear: you're getting dragged under. Carlson doesn't emerge entirely victorious, though. Too much of "The Peacock Angels Lament" is full of wandering, wiry, self-serving guitar solos that do little to advance the motion of the song as much as they seek to reassure the listener that Carlson still likes the instrument. I would have been happier with more tone and ether as opposed to pointless legato runs and scale regurgitation; Carlson evidently feels a need to play rather than simply create.
Bishop, on the other hand, turns that flexing of technique into something beautifully immersive and constantly in a state of druggy flux. Bishop has never shied away from guitar demonstration-his mastery of the instrument is so advanced and genre-shredding that any time he chooses to play it's a delight-nut here he narrows that technique in for the purpose of creating a space. "Narasimha" is nothing less than its own perfectly contained world, a mirage-like painting of distorted Arabia by way of the great cosmic bazaar, a melting pot of culture and influence that becomes an-opium fogged drizzle of hallucinogenic, dreamy bliss. Hypnotic, buzzing, and gorgeous, Bishop's side draws you in with relentless layers of droning guitars and clouds of finger-picked haze, a horizon of astrals that seems both blank and endless. This is a place to exist, a place to forget, a place to transcend. In thirteen short minutes Bishop's fretwork and soundscaping become a portal to the worlds unknown, consciousnesses untamed and adrift.
Together the sides function as one lengthy trip, with Earth's side being the initial lull and Bishop providing the rabbit hole to the void. If Earth had been able to go a little further, perhaps drawing more deeply on their rich feedback-laden work of the past, then the split would have been enormously successful. As is it's a collectible bauble for the financially secure, teasingly out of reach and scarce. Earth has done better work; Bishop continues to ascend.

Friday, December 23, 2011

BOSSE-DE-NAGE "ii" (Flenser Records)

Superlative black metal revisionism, both aesthetically and ideologically. Bosse-De-Nage traffic in an extreme form of philosophical alienation redolent of power electronics acts like Whitehouse; the focus is on degradation and and the banishment of sexual limitation as key to a larger sense of cosmic understanding, the literal realization of Hell Milita's credo of "cut your flesh to widen your sight." The shearing away of the self can lead to a greater realization of one's ultimate position in the order of existence. That some are consigned to a position of "lesser" being is simply a philosophical matter of fact, a subscription to de Sade's ideal of individual pleasure taking precedence over a greater good and a precursor to Ayn Rand's fervent belief in the denial of selfishness being tantamount to betrayal of everything worthwhile in humankind. Bosse-De-Nage engage all of those ideas across the span of "ii," creating a new template for hypnotic black metal in the process and advancing the genre light years in terms of intellectual concept. This record is simply existing on a higher plane, and its hand is out for you to grasp.
Combining black metal motivation and frameworks with the spacious resolve of late '90's post rock, "ii" is a delirious tour through the spaces left open by violence and conceit, the end result of elitism, arrogance, and unleashed aggression ultimately channeled into grotesque acts of humiliation perpetrated against willing subjects. It's Slint by way of Mayhem, stopping for tea and conversation with the imagery of Pier Paolo Passolini along the way. The division between master and subject is of immense importance throughout, the sexual connotations allowed full bloom and fetid rot, creating a transgressive atmosphere that basks in the compelling warmth of terror and fright as much as it does in the cold austerity of distance. Everything is arousal; to the truly awakened, there is no act which does not contain an element of sexuality. Its exploitation is a matter for those attuned to the specific dialogues hinted at by the order of the material. Only those willing to explore further reaches are allowed access; bluntly put; penetration is a concept granted only to those individuals with the will to power.
As troubling as this exploration is, Bosse-De-Nage force their music to drive the point, crafting a 43 minute dervish that never lets up in intensity even when it's breathing in the empty spaces. Melody is subservient to vision, and vision is subservient to concept. Drums and guitars essentially take on the form of words, grazing you emotionally and intellectually, provoking response and contemplation. While many black metal acts working in this genre use blunt repetition to reach a point of transference and transcendence, Bosse-De-Nage employ repetition as merely a means; the end point is not as important as the journey to that point. This is a long road meant to inspire thought and discussion along its path; traveling alone only means an inward regression to an acceptance of the more primal states of being. The aggressive tendency in Bosse-De-Nage's music is an outward manifestation of the anger and will to power in all of us, the deeply-hidden drive towards ascendancy and mastery. The sadomasochistic lifestyle is only one aspect of this manifestation; murder, rape, subjugation, and ultimate acts of pleasure are the mirrored prism upon which such a philosophy ultimately positions itself. This band uses extreme music to imagine an extreme worldview.
As black metal, it's enormously successful. There's a subtle simplicity beneath the raging torrents, a reliance on obvious melodic figures to reimagine the idea of the romantic in modern music and transform it into something more sinister and noirish. Musically similar to a band like Grand Belial's Key in their invocation of the baroque but not as historically truthful as Obsequiae, Bosse-De-Nage seem content to flirt with extreme music's ability to showcase avant-garde viewpoints without fully consigning themselves to the practice of them. The pallor of the night and the vomit of moonlight infects this record; the acts described therein are difficult to imagine under the harsh light of day. But perhaps that inability to concede on my part is where this record is actually meant to lead; the impassioned postures of sorrow, agony, and regret may only be meant as guideposts to a total rejection of popular mores and norms. Whether Bosse-De-Nage are actually endorsing the philosophies they evoke or are simply propagating them for artistic effect is a dead inquiry; the images are there, and they're belligerently demanding in their scream for recognition. Torture as a choice still seems horribly foreign; immolation as a means to sexual gratification seems even more difficult and obtuse, but the denial of that choice's existence seems equally pedantic.
This is a stunning piece of black metal artistry. The music is jaw-droppingly angular and gorgeous, hinting at what the Louisville scene might have been able to achieve had strains of Norwegian black metal arrived in time. Beautifully recorded, totally vicious and confrontational, "ii" is an apt demonstration of the intellect and the vision fused in the act of creation. The simplicity and space present in the music open up a whole new aura of appreciation, time as a servant to inner existence. It can all stop in the heart of one individual; it can all cease to be in the blink of one willful eye. That it goes on and on and on, raging until its a gale unto itself, is testament to the anger's endurance. The state of being is inherently primal; the denial is the human definition. Bosse-De-Nage recess to a defined degree and unveil an ancient methodology that becomes a bludgeon of post-modernist conception. Narrow is the new expanse. Highest possible recommendation.

PATRIA "LITURGIA HAERESIS" (Drakkar Productions)

Rough and uncompromising, if somewhat derivative, black metal juggernaut from Brazil's Patria. Displaying all the tendencies of Brazilian black metal towards intense aggression, speed, and cavernous production, "Liturgia Haeresis" comes on extremely strong and then fizzles out after about three tracks, continuing Drakkar's unfortunate tendency to release full-lengths by bands that are much better suited to the seven inch format (if this had been a piece of wax comprised of just the first three songs, this record would SLAY.) As it is "Liturgia Haeresis" is an accomplished but overbearing and patience testing 43 minute tour through an onslaught of wearying melodicism and BM histrionics, more posture than substance.
Listening to this record immediately reminded me of Craft, albeit in a much more "unpolished" format. The violence and extremity are there, given an extra set of shredding teeth courtesy dusty production values; beyond that there's little else. A band like Craft are able to inject their black metal with a certain authenticity that appears to be lacking in acts like Patria. It's chaotic, it's dirty, it's rusted out and toothsome, but it's not born of history or influence. It feels incorporated rather than progressive and evolutionary; it's a creation as opposed to a necessity. The best black metal is feral, urgent, insistent, and completely removed from any outside conception other than the oblique and classicist "rules" of the genre; Patria exist by sheer exploitation of those rules and an adherence to preconceived notions of what "underground black metal" should sound like. It's done correctly, but it isn't anything else. Listening to "Liturgia Haeresis," i don't feel any sort of fire or true anger; i only hear the co-opting of form and structure to accomplish a very specific artistic end (to be fair, when done masterfully, that sort of dalliance can result in something great-just not often, and only in the hands of extremely capable practitioners.)
Patria are a band given over to displays of technicality that betray their true end. There are so many razor-sharp melodic guitar lines across "Liturgia Haeresis" that the impact is lost. A better band like Impetuous Ritual understands the severity of juxtaposition between melody and off-the-rails intensity and architecture; the songs then become capable of inducing a blurring sense of awe and a feeling of being buried under something incredibly powerful and towering, even in a stripped down formation. With Patria, that sense of compositional maturity is lost beneath a veneer of youthful exuberance. This is a band of dabblers as opposed to a set of individuals who live and breathe black metal (again, this is a very thin line, and an admittedly aesthetically elitist one.) There are great tracks here: "Death's Empire Conqueror," "Underworld Temple," and "Sons of Destiny" all achieve a rousing blend of black and thrash metals with just the right hint of rock and roll swagger. But other tracks, like the weighty and boring "Nevoeiro" and the stagnant attempt at atmosphere "Legio Mortis Nostrae" (a feeble attempt at achieving the black metal archetypes created by Varg Vikernes' lone guitar pieces on early Burzum recordings) only highlight Patria's failure to communicate the actual passion of black metal and insinuate themselves into the genre framework. "Liturgia Haeresis" then becomes a study; while the approach is intellectually correct and wouldn't sound out of place to those whose only familiarity with black metal was mainstream waders like Cradle of Filth or Dimmu Borgir, to the devotee there is something key missing from Patria's sound.
Normally Drakkar are a label beyond reproach. They have a finger on the pulse of the underground that few could hope to replicate, and their contributions to black metal as a genre cannot be understated. With releases like this, they undermine that contribution and end up trading on their status rather than validating it. This is a rare misstep for Drakkar, and while not a wholly terrible one, it just lacks the fire that normally issues from a label in a constant state of conflagration. Recommended for those curious about the intellectual properties inherent in black metal. For all others, buy anything from Impetuous Ritual instead.


Latest transmission from the always outstanding Bardo Pond, this time paired with California's improv-sorcerers Carlton Melton, resulting in a slab of heavy wax that pretty demolishes any semblance of the physical in search of something far more abrasive, heady, astral, and inward-focused. The two side long jams presented here stretch into the eternal ether, shrugging off corporeal form in favor of utter translucence and osmosing transfigurations. Space rock as rock, bludgeoning and monolithic in its presence. These two tracks have a gravitational weight, given to the pull as much as the soar.
Bardo Pond's contribution "Fallen" is an abnormally aggressive, doom-influenced crawl of a track that shows the band in pure rock out stumle form, searching for the nearest set of stairs to throw themselves down. The Gibbons brothers bear axes meant for scars, and the tendril leads they whip out are far more menacing than anything they've committed to tape since the last Alesehir album. The spectre of Sabbath cloaks this particular session, lending the Pond a severe approach to their usual transportative transcendentalism; while there's nary a power chord to be found across the stretch of "Fallen" there's no shortage of power, and the unbridled electricity Michael and John unleash is kept in check only by the constant threat of drum overload. Isobel is in fine for here as well, her flute playing elevating the track to the level of the mystical, spearing your brain into complete meltdown mode with the lulling caress of her psychedelic flourish. When her vocals finally present themselves they soar, ripping apart the sky and breaking the clouds off into pieces of fearful fluff. Bardo Pond at their best are a heaven-burning machine of brain-swirling psychedelic force and here they're aiming for total voiding washout, a tidal wave of serenity amped up to a shadowy wall of guitar bleaking. As usual these limited engagements make me salivate at the thought of a new full-length-i'd pretty much buy anything Bardo Pond chooses to release at this point.
Carlton Melton's contribution "Slow Growth" moves in the exact opposite direction, unveiling a heavy wisp of glacially-paced atmospherica that unfurls venomously towards a mushroom cloud of in-the-red oblivion. The heavily processed guitar whispers that open the track come off like the bastard child of Magnog and the Bowery Electric, late night confessionals to electricity that threaten to jump off the rails and fry your insides at any moment. It's beautifully comforting and hypnotically lush, receding into the heavy frontal lobe damage that follows. The meat of the track is a panorama of hugely distorted textures and percussive abrasions, with nothing even resembling a riff able to emerge from the din. The purity of sound here is something bright and spectacular to behold, even brighter to be bathed in. Carlton Melton approach reductionism in a completely obtuse and obfuscated manner, relying on the sheer weight of confusion and obliteration tactics to propel their mess into the realm of the astral. For the most part the track succeeds brilliantly, burning itself out in a spattering of guitar squelches and mutated Iommi-isms that remind you there's actually a band underneath all the sonic goop.
Thick like honey and black as molasses, this split is a high mark for both contributors. Bardo Pond just get better and better with each record, to a point where it's criminal that they don't have any real sort of major label support. Carlton Melton seem to even eschew the idea, so it's unlikely that we'll see anything more easily available from either unit for a long while. The artwork on this one is stunning and appropriately dark; the contrast between it and the clear vinyl inside is a nice touch from a label who understands the art of crafting a meaningful split record. Anyone seeking the astral, this is a necessary warping agent. Recommended.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

AELTER "AELTER III" (Handmade Birds/Eternal Warfare)

Stunning third release from Aelter, who here abandon almost everything about their previously devised aesthetic in favor of something far more organic, ensconcing, and intoxicating. The first two Aelter records were a display of sheer cinematic range and brooding heft, a fusion of Ennio Morricone-style soundscaping with the suffocating sonic bludgeoning of Burning Witch, arriving at a brand of doom metal that became as much exploration as evisceration, a grasp for evocation and image-heavy atmospherics. The result was a potent mixture of gnarling syrupy molasses guitar flow and narrative structure, a picture as much as a sound that conjured up images of desert waste and deep outer space void, the sound of infinity encroaching on existentialism, the smallness of being thrown up in direct opposition to the yawning vastness of the unknown. Touchstones like Earth's "Hex" and the roaring electric waste of Nordvargr birthed a new landscape rich in mirage and resonance; here Aleter take that palette and gloss it over in monochromaticism, achieving a trembling expanse that becomes something close to purity.
"Aelter III" is nothing like what came before, and i say that in the best possible way. In their total rejection of established approach, Aelter have deviated from expectation and turned in a piece of music that reinvents and refines their tone, casting not as doom-carvers but instead as astral explorers of the great wasted consciousness, traversing the finite points of thought to map out the limitations of appreciation and psychic cognizance. Side A of the record, the aptly named "Clarity I", beautifully exemplifies the new emphasis. Consisting of little more than 20 minutes of kosmiche keyboard swells and celestial layering effects, the piece almost instantly ascends the transcendent mountain, creating cloudy masses of enveloping sound that carry and fly like linked wings of one thousand soaring birds, all headed into the receding sky and shrinking horizon. Owing more to the synth wizardy JD Emmanuel and Klaus Schulze, the piece becomes an ever-growing lake of expanse and wonderment, every small bend in pitch and melody becoming monolithic in its emotional impact. Like the best of the krautrockers, "Clarity I" pulls you in and drags you down, deep into its most blanketing recesses, only spitting you out at the bottom where everything has become twisted, the negative image of the positive world. The warm comfort of the track as a whole gives way to the frigid cold ululations that spiral it out, signifying the end. It sputters, haunted and insignificant, ignorant of the towering majesty that came before. Life is not a dream of the past but only a deathly reflection of the present; all that matters is the now.
In that regard "Clarity II" comes off as far more urgent; here the synths and keys transform themselves into anguished minor key guitar treatments that evoke late 90's progressive black metal meshed with hyper-industrialized washouts, the blank sonic temples of void where emotion sacrifices itself to transfusion. "Clarity II" is frightening in the amount of humanity it sucks out of the listener, the melodies so uninviting and austere that distance becomes the only plausible defense, and therefore the only valid response. This is the sound of the arctic, a million miles away and shorn of connection, an endless bleach of white that blinds and torments as it blanches and evaporates. The constant business of the track (courtesy some simply programmed, machine-like drums) only serves to elucidate the eerie downward motion of "Clarity II" as a whole, the vision hinted at being little more than the promise of a bottom. Aleter demands blind faith and commands it though subjugation, as cold a relationship as one between master and slave. When the weighty guitars finally bellow their way in, you almost feel relief at the idea of something filling all the dead space, grateful for any sort of occupation that isn't hollowed and withered. There is simply nothing human here to connect to; it's all pull, all force, all horizon play and moon-scarred vacuum.
Blake Green has gone even further into the notion of claustrophobia with "Aelter III" than he has with any of his other projects. The ubercrush of Wolvserpent seems inviting compared to the stagnant nothing that lives at the center of Aelter. The posture, the pretension to importance, becomes a work of substance in its own right. That sort of nullification rendered into worth is nothing short of magic. "Aelter III" is a spellbinding, shimmery exploration of meditation's outer reaches, an attempted map of the great beyond. That it's entirely in shades of black and grey is not a discredit to the music, but rather a terrifying glimpse of the actuality of the limits of connection. There is a terminus point; Aelter inch ever closer.

ECHTRA "PARAGATE" (Temple of Torturous)

Echtra's most compositionally complex effort, and one that further announces the project's growing distance from the confines of black metal. For me Echtra's strongest aesthetic choice was their embrace of repetition as a means to an end, a blunt force demand on the listener to peek at transcendence and illumination from underneath the cloth of belligerence; on "Paragate" that reliance on repetition is dismissed in order to explore deeper juxtapositions of acoustic and electric, the natural and the modern, with the hope of attaining that same stylization by way of blackened atmospherics and brittle textures. For the most part the record succeeds, showcasing a new level of intensity to Echtra's approach as well a hitherto ignored dreaminess that recalls the blurry work of Troum or Vomir.
"Paragate" is split in to two parts of equal length. "Paragate I" opens up with sharply plucked single notes on an acoustic guitar, a vaguely melodic pattern that both cycles and obfuscates. While acoustic guitars have certainly been a part of Echtra's arsenal, here their presence seems to associate the project more with sister band Fearthainne as opposed to parent project Fauna; there is a sparseness and openness here that veers far from Fauna's crushing assaults, despite similar ideologies. Nature and its fetishization remain the key concern throughout the record, instilling a sense of deep wanderlust and impending dislocality across its measured length. As "Paragate I" progresses you feel like you're wandering deeper into an ever-enshrouded swath of forest, the canopy closing over your head, reducing the touches of the outside to nothing other than memory. The tone is oppressive and little else; there's a fetid warmth and stank to the track that betrays images of moss-covered ancient stones and forgotten hollows grown over with vegetation. The ultimate effect is a shrinking sensation, a reduction in both physical and psychic size that hammers home Echtra's point perfectly. Mankind simply cannot compete with the majesty of the natural world; we are hopelessly outgrown and can be overcome within moments. There are still places in the world that will swallow you; there are still moments in the psychic strain that will rip apart the astral makeup of a human being. Echtra create a swirl of sound in "Paragate I" to paint that reduction; the ten minutes of gale force guitar vomit that closes the track create an appropriately grey sense of psychedelia that points to pure eradication and pointillism.
"Paragate II" offers some respite from the onslaught, opening with a delicate blend of acoustic and electric guitar that is at once beautiful and elegiac. Each sound serves the other; the dance is eternal and destined, so that nary a misstep will be heard. The evocation is intricate and balanced, the spell one of deep enchantment and intoxication. The vestige of black metal hangs thick across "Paragate II"; when the guitars finally come roaring in amid clattering drums and cloudy swooning melodicism the feeling is one of triumphant return. The passage's brevity only heightens its efficacy; a full 23 minutes of Echtra's full-on torrent would only minimize its power. The goal here isn't total hypnotism as on the masterful "Burn It All Away" or the progressive-leaning "A War for Wonder"; instead it's a seduction, a temptation into the forest of illusions and hexes that Echtra inhabits. The meserizations will come of their own accord-the only rabbit hole here is one of bleak and utter shadow, a trip into the endless nightmares of dissonant earthscreams and rupturing fault lines. The break is the totality, the sonics the gauze. Everything here is appropriately hazy and hidden, demanding focus and deep-listening technique to weed out the meaning.
With "Paragate" Echtra have set a new standard for themselves and the Cascadian community they hail from. It simply isn't enough to nod out and ride the hypnotic wave; there has to be something deeper in the mists. Echtra realizes this and has performed a constant transmogrification of their sound, resulting in records of ever-growing complexity and thematic richness. Whether more infantile projects can follow suit is an unknown; the bar has been set almost impossibly high. An ethereal moment for USBM, and one which will hopefully inspire greater creative leaps within the genre as a whole. Recommended.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

AIRS "GLOOMLIGHTS" (Music Ruins Lives)

Exhaustive double album of post-shoegaze and severe hyper-overloaded guitar destructionism, almost too dense to listen to the entire thing in one sitting. The emphasis here is on the awesome power of fuzz, its disassociative properties and penchant for utter terror as well as its capacity for star-scarring moments of emotional reflection and resonance. Airs wears their heart on their sleeve throughout "Gloomlights" and if weren't so earnestly heavy throughout i'd laugh it off as nothing more than isolationist introspectionism masquerading as high art; the fact that it bears such a strong resemblance to music i've made myself forces me to reconsider the emotional origin and assess it as nothing less than personal exorcism through the idea of music.
Airs betrays a certain accessibility that a lot of modern bedroom black metallers won't give in to; the main influences here are actually "Siamese Dream" era Smashing Pumpkins, and, from a more current angle, Silversun Pickups. While i'm on the one hand loathe to reference SSP, on the other i feel like i'd be critically lax if i didn't make note of how heavily "Gloomlights" relies on that particular aesthetic to arrive at its sound. The vocals especially seem evocative of SSP, channeling Brian Aubert's syrupy androgynous whispers into a smothering mess of impassioned confessionals. I've heard Airs referred to as a black metal outfit, which i find to be a woefully inept genre classification, even compared to drone-gazers like Clair Cassis and Lonesummer. This is shoegaze through and through-subclassify it as neo- or post-, but either way the touchstones here are the guitar onslaughts of MBV and Slowdive with a dash of Billy Corgans's perfectionist overdubbing thrown in for good measure. The songs are beautiful, haunting even, capable of prompting gooseflesh in a more introspective or vulnerable state; the layers and layers of endless guitar promote a sort of infinite downward spiral into quagmires of sorrow and self-hate, reflection turned inward towards an inevitable personal disgust and regret. Sadness lurks in every shadow, and Airs make it their mission to shed light on each and every one of those distant pockets of moribund consideration, a cloudy evocation of anxiety and dislocation that picks at the outward feelings accompanying depression and melancholia.
For all its weight, though, "Gloomlights" remains strikingly distant, a piece of art that perfectly captures the feelings of sadness without actually inhabiting them. For me a lot of it rests with the vocals-they're so nearly joyous and singsong that even raging moments like the thrash posturing of "Caves" or the entire earth-shattering gravity of the second disc ring a little hollow. I have a hard time buying the actuality of the desperation without it being translated into sound of the sorts found in more extreme black metal. In that sense Airs' black metal posturing (there are a number of processed blastbeats throughout "Gloomlights") seems more than a bit insincere; i find it difficult to accept in the same way as if Billy Corgan had announced to the world that he'd be focusing his efforts on a black metal album. It's interesting but ultimately doomed because it just doesn't belong in that world. Maybe that's why Airs' flirtation with genre identity bothers me so much. You can co-opt all the signatures of extreme music but if what you're doing isn't actually extreme enough to warrant those affectations, then your output is going to ring hollow with those who know.
Beyond such superficial complaints, "Gloomlights" is an excellent record, worthy of far more than the mere 50 copies released by Music Ruins Lives (if it makes you feel better, i don't have one either-thought i'd like to.) This is the sort of stuff that can change lives if the situation is dire enough-i have no problem seeing this set as the soundtrack to someone's suicide, much in the same way i view the output of Have A Nice Life. Have A Nice Life is a far more harrowing listening experience, but "Gloomlights" isn't far behind; the inner turmoil depicted throughout place it in that special category of people trying to figure out why the fuck they're still clinging to life, hoping there's something beyond simply getting up and making it through another day.
The guitar sounds alone validate this record for me. They're so unbelievably huge it makes me envious, especially considering how simple the recoding setup must have been. I can get lost in the swarms of tones; it's a literal maelstrom of sound. My ears were physically sore by the end of the second disc. But i wouldn't change any part of this record. I wouldn't cut anything, or edit a single second out. The exhaustion becomes part of the message-that fatigue, that wearing down, that feeling of not knowing whether you can actually take any more-all of that is important here, echoing a deeper theme of disappointment and malaise. There's a triumph here, too, but it's in the sense of creativity emerging victorious over banality. Everything else is secondary-the act of birthing something new and colorful and explosive into the world is sacrosanct. In that sense perhaps "Gloomlights" is an affirmation, a commentary on more adult themes than the question of unrequited love and its accompanying difficulties. Maybe the crushing bulk of the material on disc two is getting at something more elusive, the agonizing weight of adulthood come to call. We spend our lives avoiding it, denying it, running from it. I used to say that growing up was the equivalent of giving up. At 32, i'm not sure how close i feel to that statement anymore. I know there's still a lot about the expectations of adulthood that upset me, and sadden me, and frighten me, but at the same time i am so disgusted looking at the "next generation" that i can't help but wonder if some maturity isn't a good thing. I hear that same sort of division in Airs' music; the vestige of adulthood caught up in the indulgence of youth. Where do you go from here? Is the answer total removal, suicide? Can deeper reflection only lead to emptiness? What the fuck have you been doing with all of your time?
These are my considerations across the expanse of "Gloomlights." The title seems strangely apt. Life is like a haze, a fog, an unclear mirror. You think you can see yourself in it, but it's a distorted, reflected view-someone else looking in becomes your prism for self-consideration. There's a distance and a mirage-like quality to what you're immersed in, and that loss of self becomes ever more troubling, perplexing, and disengaging. At its worst it becomes utter isolationism and self-destruction; at best it becomes a malleable despression that can be overlooked with enough outside stimuli. Either way, "Gloomlights" speaks to the sorrow and banality of modern existence in a way that few records have. If you can track it down, it's recommended.


Neige Et Noirceur return with what is easily their most furious, unhindered slab of black metal artistry, forsaking almost all of the dark ambience of their work in favor of a total BM assault. Previous efforts saw the band more than willing to recede into the mysterious comforts of swirling void sound, darkness punctuated by the howl of the wind and the cloak of the night. Winter was a constant evocation, as was the crystalline glow of frigid slivered moonlight and a reverence for a world untouched by modernity; Neige Et Noirceur's musical landscapes were paeans to lupine majesty and traditions of old long since buried by the advance of society. On "Hymnes De La Montagne Noire" the band gives in fully to anger, unleashing an album of off-the-rails machine like black metal that references old masters Darkthrone in its primitive thrash aesthetics as much as it worships at the altar of time-stretching hypnotism of the type birthed by Burzum's "Filosofem."
There is no room for atmosphere here-this is total blinding aggression made up of shredding drum machine violence and severe power chord chromaticism, a potent mix of electricity and postproduction that leaves little room for contemplation. This is a record that seeks to bear down on you immediately; "Hymnes De La Montagne Noire" isn't about philosophy or history or even the shared regional spirit that inhabits so much of Quebecois black metal. Neige Et Noirceur have abandoned the markings that made them distinct and have decided to embrace full-on sonic immersion, crafting a work that desires blood and acquiescence, allowing no mercy and total subjugation. It's surprising to hear something this visceral from a unit who've previously trafficked in almost cryptically isolationist explorations of black metal's outer regions; this is a recording with absolutely no room to hide, every corner stuffed with venom and protracted rage. Like a seething fire, Neige Et Noirceur spew vitriol in all directions, poisoning all with their particular strain of extremity.
Blastbeats abound here, with virtually every song containing some extended section full of them; double bass never lets up, and the hyper-processed vocals cover everything in scars of bloody phlegm and sickness. Even the few moments of respite found throughout are charged and infectious: the ridiculous half-time rock riffage that breaks open in "La Ou Demeure La S" sounds laughable until its repetition reaches a skull-cracking breaking point and you find yourself banging along in unison with the emphases. So too with the vaguely dissoanant, math-inspired shredding that appears in "Neige Noire"; it would sound out of place if it weren't done so amazingly well. This is a band that truly understands how to incorporate influences and exploit them for maximum efficacy. Even the minor sections of ambience cut to the quick, whether it's the washed out echo guitars that punctuate "La Grande Faucheuse" or the myriad moments of acoustic strumming that arise from the ashes of the onslaught; it's all meant to forcibly remove the listener from actuality. Whereas before those transportative qualities were invoked via hazed out stretches of cold and voided negativity, here they're achieved through pure force of will, a blunt expression of astral dimensionality that lets physical punishment stand in for inner vision. The best example of Neige Et Noirceur's newfound technique lies in the opening two minutes of "L'Aube De Magicien", where mesmerizing and lovely clean guitars give way to a barreling tempest of roaring electric guitars. The two mix amongst themselves alongside scathing double bass drumming, creating an illusion of eternity that only lasts about 45 seconds. It's a masterful demonstration of black metal aesthetics harnessed for obliteration.
And obliteration is the key. This is not a record that has any interest in coddling its listeners or gently nudging them to light-soaked respites of mundane transcendence. This is a weightless howl of nothing, a dark tear in a wintry microcosm. The night stretches out, the cold cuts away, the wolves' howls grow ever closer. Soon a collective hunger will be upon you; soon evisceration will be the only escape, crimson upon a blank canvas of willing earth and dirt. Neige Et Noirceur have chosen to work under the mantle of staunch BM traditionalism, and the results are nothing short of deafening. "Hymnes De La Montagne Noire" is an electric jolt to the brain, a dense exploration of wounding sonic extremity that more than lives up to the intensity of its forebears. A bold new direction for an already idiosyncratic band, and a welcome reminder of black metal's origins.

Saturday, December 10, 2011


I've been very unkind to Sunn 0))) in the past. Few bands have disappointed me over as long a period of time as Sunn 0))); my interest in them as a worthwhile unit has waned with each new release since about 2002. That said, i still buy almost everything they release, because at one time they were so fucking amazing that avoiding them seemed the equivalent to turning my back on everything i loved about extreme music. There are still those nights when i'll pull out "The Grimmrobe Demos" and zone out to the nearest nowhere, perfectly happy to drown myself in the sound of tar and nihilism, but that's about it. Everything else is faded, tarnished, a nail in the coffin. The last solid effort was "White 1"; everything that came after was a deeper shade of blushing red. Not even the black metal posturing (as well as the cornucopia of "kult" guest stars) of "Black 1" could re-establish Sunn 0))) with me: the project at this point is essentially dead. Stephen O'Malley is doing far more interesting stuff on his own or with various collaborators, and Greg Anderson could be doing far more interesting stuff if he'd just get back to it (seriously-start a new band...or better yet, reunite Engine Kid.) So what else is there? What can possibly reinvent Sunn 0)))'s sound from the pool of stagnancy? Remixes.
Originally issued as the bonus album to the Japanese version of Sunn 0)))'s sophomore album "00 Void," "The Iron Soul of Nothing" here gets the majestic double LP reissue treatment via Stephen O'Malley's Ideologic Organ imprint (the actual CD is being reissued by Southern Lord, and i'd just like to wonder if anyone remembers when Sunn 0))) were with Hydrahead's noise subsidiary-that's the version of "00 Void" that i have, and i guess it's pretty rare) and takes its place as a rightful piece of the Sunn 0))) art metal legacy. Nurse With Wound have taken the master tapes and utterly transformed the record, turning in a vicious slab of distraught disorientationism that both deconstructs and augments the source material. The rework is a masterful exploration of what is at its heart a ridiculously simple sound-massive guitars roaring into infinity-turned totally inside out to arrive at four pieces that are disquieting, nerve-wracking, and as sonically dense as their forebears.
Virtually every identifiable characteristic of "00 Void" has been cast away by Nurse With wound, who have instead opted for a sound far closer to hushed folk via strained industrialism. "The Iron Sould of Nothing" is still very much a drone record, but it's drone in the way Nordvargr is drone, Burning Star Core. The tension is taken to a near unbearable extreme, and the resultant atmosphere becomes one of severe unease and excruciating anxiety. "Ra at Dawn, parts 1 and 2" are radical conceptualizations of the orginal's "Ra at Dusk," trading all of its sloughing, sludged-out drunken fury for something far more intellectualized and searching. Tones are stretched to a breaking point, high-end scree stepping in for low-end osmosis, with an overall feel of drugged out narcolepsy replacing the overbearing Dylan Carlson style military-march of the original. I'm hard pressed to even identify a distorted guitar on "The Iron Soul Nothing"; to be able to cut away such a defining element of the the source material and still emerge with a record of substance and curiousity is testament to Nurse With Wound's handle on this shit.
Nurse With Wound's penultimate statement here is "Ash on the Trees (The Sudden Ebb of a Diatribe)", a frightening, pitched-shifted deviation from "NN 0)))" that bear zero resemblance to its parent track, becoming one of the most hyper-stylized pieces of music to hit the turntables this year. Drone becomes folk by way of judicious post-fuckery; chromaticism becomes melodicism by the deft hands of sirs Stapleton and Potter. Maniacal, processed voices lead a march to agony via jester-like revery and disassociative obstinancy; the brittle guitar lines evoke mental collapse and a troubling break with reality. This is the stuff of dreams transmuted to simple horror; wings of black and clouds of ochre threatening down on you from above. The liberties taken here speak to Nurse With Wound's mastery of form and mood; the only required validation is how fucking slimy and weirded out you feel after listening to "Ash on the Trees (The Sudden Ebb of a Diatribe)."
To say this record is a surprise would be minimizing it. This is as vital a piece of the Sunn 0))) puzzle as has ever surfaced; it relegates the last five years of this band's output to the "worthless" pile. I know a lot of people will probably react disfavorably to my assessment of the band (i took a lot of shit for not liking "Monoliths and Dimensions") but i would be floored by anyone that could listen to "The Iron Soul of Nothing" and not see it as a tremendous leap beyond the formulaic efforts that have bogged Sunn 0))) down since "White 1." If it takes the interference of individuals like Steven Stapleton and Colin Potter to elevate the band to this point, then draft them in and let them rework the entire catalogue. Maybe that's a bit extreme, but it's not a bad idea. The influx of underground metal figures that have worked with Sunn 0))) over the last few records have added little to nothing to the band's progression; it's nice to see Attila Csihar working again, but he's not really adding anything to the equation. The idea is drone. It needs imagination to really carry it out there. O'Malley and Anderson have exhausted theirs as far as Sunn 0))) is concerned as a recording entity; the power and intensity now lies in the reworking of the materials they've provided. "The Iron Soul of Nothing" is a masterful beginning. As always with O'Malley, the design here is stunning. The actual artwork is by Timo Ketola, and the record itself is gorgeous. Collectors beware.

Thursday, December 8, 2011


Jaw droppingly gorgeous release of pure melodic hyperwash from the neo-shoegaze legends LLC, one of the very few artists to understand and harness the actual emotional resonance inherent in the Kevin Shields/MBV approach to sonic structuring. "Ghost Colored Halo" is a brief 30 minute EP of material showcasing their current approach to blurgaze; here Scott Cortez's tendencies towards swoon-inducing overload (via his excellent Astrobrite project) are condensed into blooming clouds of heady audio goop that confuse the heart as much as they do the mind. This work is more reminiscent of Cortez's recent solo efforts than anything else; there's an austerity here, and something like restraint, that allows these pieces the room to fully expand and cast themselves off heavenward.
To say these tracks are beautiful is a severe understatement; they are possessed of something utterly beyond standards, bordering on the ethereal. If any band exemplifies the hazy and unknowable evocation that is true "power ambience" it's LLC.
"Ghost Colored Halo" moves in a different direction than previous LLC records. There's an emphasis here on clean and pure tone, as opposed to the hyperstatic blur of "Bloweyelashwish" or the bass-heavy thrum of the most recent full-length, "Chorus." Everything sounds simple and reduced rather than Cortez's usual avalanche of frequencies; whereas previous LLC records were syrupy golden mindfucks of the highest stature, "Ghost Colored Halo" finds the duo receding into the comforts of warm and minimally processed tonal purity, coming close to the spectre of Troum or the more classically minded works of Brian Eno. The sound of dreams, or the fade of memory, perhaps.
As hazy as "Ghost Colored Halo" is, though, there are more clearly identifiable song and structure elements than on any other LLC record before it. "Tiger Hunts Alone" has percussive qualities approaching an actual backbeat while the breathtaking "The Wounds That Won't Heal" boasts a near untreated/minimally processed guitar line that serves as the song's anchor (normally Cortez throws everything together and shapes it all via postproduction.) This brazen waltz into the forefront is something entirely new for LLC, and i fucking love it. There's still enough of everything that was so wonderful and transformative to the group present, but now it's meshed to Cortez's more straightforward sensibilities, and the two work in unison to create what is perhaps some of the most emotionally devastating music I've heard this year. "Ghost Halo," the final track here, is nothing but pure heartwrench and yearning intensity, like a desperate grab for the stars before they all flicker out and drop from the sky.
There's no physical release, which is a little sad-it still blows my mind that there aren't more labels willing to back this stuff. Until their next full-length on Handmade Birds, this serves as a reminder of what ambient music can really do. There is really no one out there coming even remotely close to bringing this level of feeling to their music; LLC practically invented this sound, and they still do it better than anyone else. Play it loud, and prepare to watch yourself wash away in a rainbow colored storm. Highest possible recommendation.


Another hypnotic onslaught from Quebec's mighty Forteresse, showcasing absolutely zero growth while still being an example of everything i love about black metal. This is pure and total recidivism, reducing black metal to its most simple and basic tenets: tremelo picking, blast beat drumming, and cavernous atmosphere. The pace here is unforgiving; even the few headbanging moments in which Forteresse relent to half-time are pure intensity. I admire the vision Forteresse have for black metal. In seeking to establish a distinct Quebecois voice, they've crafted something utterly transfixing, blinding, and blurring. There's really no other way to describe what this band does. They just stop time and spin it into a whir of naturalistic aggression.
As always, the melodies and structures remain obstinately classicist; in Forteresse's definition of black metal there is little room for avant-gardism or deviation from the proven. Massive swhorls of fuzzed-out chords lead reverb-laden double bass driven drumming to clouds of furious indictment, the painterly sonic deathgasms of Forteresse's history lessons. The samples of ancient Quebec folk songs remain, leading into and out of insane black metal maelstroms. While one could say their efficacy at this point (four albums in and Forteresse have not changed) is questionable, the atmosphere they lend to the proceedings is simply unparalleled. The blend of traditional with neotraditional (from a black metal context) has become the template on which this unit bases their entire platform, and it's honed to a gleaming knifelike point of precision. There is not a wasted minute or a wasted note here, and though most songs on "Crepuscule d'Octobre" stretch into expansive lengths, i find myself wanting them to go on forever. The sheer and unadorned minimalism that Forteresse embrace is intoxicating and shatteringly psychedelic; this is the obliteration of the consciousness that black metal strives for. Bands like Xasthur and Paysage D'Hiver have to cloak their pieces in swarths of ambience and hypnotic postproduction to arrive at what Fortertesse achieves naturally: pure fucking transcendence. The majesty and power inherent in Forteresse's virulent form of black metal gets at the heart of Burzum's elongation and Mayhem's technical abstraction.
I've heard Forteresse called out for the simplicity of their approach, that what they're striving for is somehow redundant or unimaginative. The only response i have to those remarks is a solid "fuck off." "Crepuscule d'Octobre," and this bands output as a whole, are what black metal is all about, pure and simple. Individualism, rebellion, anger, aggression, and a transport to realms beyond the real. The cognizant hides the truth. Forteresse exist in a world of astral sorrow, a world where a swaying field of wheat says as much about philosophy as a Nietzsche text. Image and thought are closely intertwined; so then are music and motivation. Emotion is the springboard for every action; events of history are defined by the emotions that brought them forth. Existence is not a solely intellectual exercise; it is one defined by your individual experience and your interpretation of the events taking place before you. What goes on inside of you creates what goes on outside of you. To ignore these truths is an act of betrayal, a renunciation of humanity.
Forteresse capture these evocative moments. They are defining, all-encompassing, real and tangible. That they endorse a return to primitivism is secondary to the fact that they endorse a remembrance of the defining characteristics that make us human and unite us. While "Crepuscule d'Octobre" is far from an affirmation, it is a call to action. The demand is consideration: of our lives, of our station, of the histories we've created that do not necessarily correspond to the histories that exist. Forteresse are about nullification through memory, singularity through eclipse. The light destroys. The darkness gathers. The remains are mystic and uncorrupted. These are the true cries of lost and forgotten sad spirits; these are the mournful wails of societies long since crumbled and modes of conduct long abandoned. There was a simplicity to life that is long since lost to us; there was a morality that embraced collectivism and bestowed upon us a rich and varied cultural keepsake. We've lost sight of it now, whether it's in Quebec or the United States. Now we praise dullardism and brainwash tactics disguised as popular entertainment.
It's difficult for me to really communicate how important i feel this record is. I can only implore you to listen to it, and be swept under the power of its aesthetic and message. This is masterful black metal invocation. Highest possible recommendation.


A severe late-night astral trip to the great nowhere, courtesy of frigid isolationist William Fowler Collins. This is a record whose terminus point is total end, a devolution of emotion to the most vacuous point, a meeting place for loneliness and terror. Bleak ambience gives way to roaring waves of spectral suggestion, the illusion of heft bearing down on the mind like the actuality of the infinite. Collins works in minimalism but is more than willing to throw open the gates and let the aura loose; "The Resurrections Unseen" basks in its own open-endedness, allowing for little reflection but amping up the stagnant claustrophobia and horror-film vibe so omnipresent in his work.
This is a record for darkness; like so many before him Collins traffics in the darker recesses of individualism, and to truly listen to his work is to lose yourself in the far-flung strains of the cosmic stream. Records like this demand a letting go, a willingness to exist outside of yourself for a few minutes and really listen to the echoes of the spaces around you. Collins brings those echoes to life strictly in shades of black, the languid gradation suggestive of his music's ultimate theme. Nihilism becomes void, and void becomes terror. Terror is arguably the greatest psychological unnerving of a mind; the total fear of not knowing what, when, where, or why is a reality that most people find difficult to accept or adjust to. Collins harnesses that fear to great effect here, giving us a slab of vinyl that both rewards intuitive investigation and condescends to it. You are allowed to reflect only so long as you react. The stretch is one of hope, or perhaps more fittingly the embracing of the survival instinct. The constant becomes a training method against the unknown, but preparedness can only ward against so much. When disreality comes in to the equation, the sum is no longer an absolute. Across two sides the sounds change in what could only be described as slight variations, but amidst those shifts are a panoply of exhaustive exclamations. This is terror in the same way as Goblin's scores for Dario Argento; indeed, some of Collins' soundscaping here owes much to Argento in particular and horror in general. There's a want to categorize much of "black ambient" as horror-bases or horror-influenced; while in the case of Collins that could certainly be true, there's also something more here at play, a distillation of more aggressive influences into something sinister and reflective. Type go way out on a limb and call "The Resurrections Unseen" a black metal album; while i take a certain amount of issue with that, i can also apprecaite where they're getting that categorization from. Collins has tread the line of metal previously, working with waste-paint desert shatterers Gog; the sheer mass of his sonic concoctions has allied him with more exploratory strains of underground doom. Here his black-washed approach to sonic architecture borrows liberally from the outer strains of atmospheric black metal. Some of the material here wouldn't sound at all out of place on a Darkspace or Neige et Noirceur record, and Collins allows that association for all its worth across "The Resurrections Unseen." In that regard Type's ridiculous boast actually seems justified. While Collins may not be a black metal artist in the strictest terms, he dances with the illusion of it closely enough to render the comparison valid. There is an intensity here; it's simply an intensity of suffocation as opposed to all out aggressive construct.
As a drone record, "The Resurrections Unseen" is massively successful. Each piece here could be stretched out to full-length dimension and still exist independent of all the others surrounding it. There is a reach here, a desire to make contact with something far beyond the earthly realm. Collins' branch is the color of night and weighty as antimatter, but it's extended all the same. The hole becomes the universe, and all that dwells within becomes beholden to the crushing force of Collins' warping magic. Void is collapse; collapse is self-inflicted re-interpretation. Here Collins provides us with pieces that fold endlessly in on themselves, each soft twist bearing new dark fruit from the already poison tree. The offering is endlessness; whether you can bear to anoint yourself is a question Collins leaves to you. "The Resurrections Unseen" isn't an attack, like its black metal influences, but rather a challenge, and, at its most subtle, a question. How far are you willing to go? In the dark depth becomes an irrelevancy, perspective a dream. There is only the forever down. Whether you are floating or falling is left to the listener. Either way, the bottom is a long ways off.


Coming off like an amalgamation of David Lynch's "Blue Velvet" and MBV's "Loveless" stripped to just the atmospherics, White Ring's debut LP, reissued here by Rocket Girl, is one of the darkest, most haunting slabs of neo-shoegaze to grace the turntable in some time. While the appropriate tag for what White Ring trade in is witch-house, i feel that's a little narrow in scope considering the blush of sound these two churn out; the hallmarks of witch-house are all present and accounted for but there's an epic, far-reaching blackness that enshrouds this record so much that to simply identify it as some sort of "chopped and screwed" molasses-paced club music is to do it a woeful disservice. Not to say i dislike witch-house, because i don't-White Ring just goes way further than that and deserve recognition for it.
There's a tendency in mainstream critical media to make sure that witch-house stays small and stays rigidly defined (see any of Pitchfork's reviews of witch material), and that strikes me as odd, because what the genre is truly offering is an amazing template to jump from and bring different shit into. The basics are so crushing that anything else incorporated even moderately well is just going to be monolithic. White Ring get that, and their blending of witch-house with massive shoegaze-sized texture and death metal aesthetics yields a mixture so thick and potent, the emotions are practically carved out of the listener with a cold, gleaming knife. White Ring convert the lush wash of sound from MBV into a distillation of pure hollowness, a blizzard of isolationism and fear that reduces shoegaze's perceived mass and warmth into something claustrophobic, caustic, and all-encompassing. "IXC999" proves unrelenting in its advance, a fusion of bass-driven goop and numbing repetition that bed Kendra Malia's angelic, hyper-glitched and distorted vocals with swooning eruptions of keyboard bliss that drown the room in fetid syrup. "Roses" and "Suffocation" marry standard structure to the gloom of Have A Nice Life and the sweeping expanse of Sigur Ros, arriving at a new plateau of harrowing. "Suffocation" in particular amps up the eroticism (watch the video sometime) and confronts the listener with sexual aspect of bass throb, daring us to not be intrigued and repulsed by what's presented. There's a sickly sweetness to what White Ring do, a feeling of wrongness and taboo that permeates the work. This level of tone is difficult for any band to create let alone maintain across 40 minutes, and White Ring do both beautifully, turning in a record both mesmerizingly psychedelic and achingly confrontational.
While witch-house is by nature a genre concerned with the physical presence of its audio, White Ring go even more out there and embrace a sort of death metal aestheticism in their approach. "We Rot" not only evocatively brings to mind Obituary's seminal death classic "Slowly We Rot" with its title alone, but also with the processing of Kendra's vocals again, this time to the point where octaves and suboctaves rumble underneath her near hysterical shrieks, creating a trichromatic assault that echoes Deicide and extreme BM vocal acts like Silencer and Urfaust. The thunderous bass panning throughout the track adds to this density, making you feel like you're in the center of thunderstorm, your skin being flayed and pelted by burning rains and assorted flying debris. This is apocalyptic shit, made all the more terrifying because it's so seductive.
There is a rank beauty to be found here-the triumphant keyboards that frame the majority of "Black Earth That Made Me"'s tracks ensure it-but there's also a pitch black center of nothingness. So much of the music i love attempts to get to that sacred place of void, where the only thing is the sound, where even the concept of "music" disappears and the only thing you're left to consider is the true reality of creativity; White Ring are getting there too, albeit with more of an emphasis on melody as a guide, as a temptress, as a comfort to lure you into the debauched hole of rampant sexuality and nightmarish hallucigenia that makes up their world. "Black Earth That Made Me" is simply gigantic, a benchmark for its niche genre and a mission statement for a strange, unsettling voice in new wave ambience. Give in and wash under; let the wisps and the breaths take you to the recesses. Highly recommended.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

CHORD "Gdim13" (Self Released)

A short exploration of the titular chord spread across two polar extremes, one the room-imploding tidal slough of distortion that Chord are best known for, the other a very lovely and enveloping pillow of sound that seems as warm and downy as it is mesmerizing. This is a new direction for Chord in that these are very short pieces by the band's usual standard, and also in the narrow focus of each. Normally willing to move glacially from one end of the spectrum into the other, here Chord dives right in and doesn't let up across each piece's entire run time. The listener is absolutely made to consider the sonic gravity of the sounds before them; in this regard "Gdim13" is a heavily weighted artistic statement from a group whose very intellectual and theoretical approach to drone establishes them as peers to towering figures Eliane Radigue and LaMonte Young.
Part One is for me the more interesting of the approaches; instead of cathedral size, crushing power ambience we're given seven minutes of reflective, immersive shimmer drone. I'm reminded of the icy minimalism of Thomas Koner, but the overall mood here isn't one of menace, isolationism, or loneliness. It seems to be radiating something more inclusive and encouraging, a beckoning to bask in an expanse of calm. As usual the piece is built of individual guitars unfurling single notes/tones at an evolutionary pace; as each new guitar comes in, the piece grows in its depth and approachability. The density opens it up rather than closes it off; you're pulled further under as each new sound settles in. There are some intriguing blips and imperfections that insinuate themselves into the song's pastoral quality, but these too come off as more playful and relaxing than jarring. If this is an extension of the experiment that ended 2010's epic "Progression" (the out of place acoustic piece that closes the record) then it's a remarkable success, and i would love to hear Chord explore this aspect of their tonality further.
Part Two is Chord in full on glacial ambient destruction mode, with the guitars belching out feedback that manages to be equal parts rambling sludge and decaying lava. The tones get stretched to pure squall, the amplifiers struggling to accept the band's scorched earth policy of soundscaping. The necessity of sound as an overbearing physical presence has always been an important part of Chord's work, especially when they work in this mode of audio suffocation, so here maximum volume allows for greater detail, as well as opens the door to a voiding sense of obliteration. That rejection of the temporal gives way to the music's true mission of transcendence, and like fellow astral wave riders Skullflower and Birchville Cat Motel, the way to true vision is through true and full immersion. Suffering at the hand of volume will break the gate; this is music that fully demands you let go.
While there's an obvious question of how far Chord can take their formula (it becomes a little stagnant in large doses) the quality of the output resulting from that formula more than validates the band's continued dedication to it. While it can be a little cold if viewed as an intellectual exercise, the theoretics recede behind the overbearing power of the music itself. "Gdim13" is a welcome addition to the Chord discography, and hopefully a preview of denser works to come.