Saturday, July 30, 2011


Oozing slab of overlording guitar drone mixed up with Scorn-like approaches to soundscaping, approaching something frighteningly immediate and visceral. "They Hide in the Shadows" documents a live performance in Canada circa November 2011, and what few supplicants bore witness to this scourge are probably still reeling from the mass of it. Gates owe heavy debt to the obvious forerunners of the metallized drone scene, offering up a guitar avalanche that recalls the finest moments of both Earth and Sunn 0))), but where both those projects were content to wander in bloated stagnancy Gates grab you by the throat and grind your face in the artistic dirt. This is a heavier record than anything Sunn 0))) have issued; the guitar tones alone threaten suffocation. And while Sunn 0))) have attempted to marry black metal aestheticism with drone menace, Gates gets it perfectly right, creating a horrid mesh of crushing atmospherics tied to throat-shredding vocal theatrics that recall the violence of black metal without dipping into the shallow pool of imitation.
With three songs clocking in at thirty-three oppressive minutes, "They Hide in the Shadows" serves up total immersion in crumbling fuzz towers and scathing electronics. Frigid and stoic minimalism gives way to roars of free-flowing amplifier sludge; wave after wave of the stuff sloughs over your ears until consciousness becomes a receding memory. There is little room for comfort in Gates' room, with the only respite from the carnage being the few moments of gentle drift before the guitars come slaughtering back in, merciless and hungry. The second track features the histrionic vocal performance, a hysterical and violating invasion of space that recalls the power electronics work of Whitehouse or Prurient. The emotions are obviously different, but what Gates lack in comparison to the sorrowful lamentations of Prurient or the sheer misogyny of Whitehouse they make up in pure lung-shredding force, as convincing a portrait of anger and frustration as anything William Bennett ever laid to tape. That only one track features these mangled words serves the record well; 3o minutes of this sort of exorcism would easily become overbearing, threatening to detract from the equal power of the music.
What's most impressive about this is that it's a live performance; these guys actually set up in a space and thrust this out in the flesh. Having seen Sunn 0))) several times and been bored off my ass, i can safely say this Gates appearance sounds like it was devastating beyond compare. Too often drone artists are let off easy, with the performance demanding little more than the actually button pushing it took to create it. Here you get the feeling that this was a ritual, something special and secret and not meant for every ear. "They Hide in the Shadows" was nothing less than a summoning, a vexing of forces wavering beyond the wall of the everday, an evocation of superb and majestic violation. This sort of force warrants attention; this is true power ambient. Can't wait for the full length.

Friday, July 29, 2011


Few modern black metal bands have been as willfully obscure as Clair Cassis, seemingly intent on draping their entire output in a haze of wanton unknowability, the fogs of mystery shrouding their catalogue and giving way to a confounding amalgamation of severely hypnotic black drone and a stargazing sort of deepest-night dreampop. "Luxury Absolute," their third recording, continues this mesmerizing descent but does little to take it any further than it's already gone, content to drift along a molasses sea of thick, unctuous guitar fuzz and absolutely cavernous walls of bass. This is a very heavy album in a literal sense; the low end will pretty much rattle any speaker you play it through, no matter the volume. Of course the record is designed to more or less bury you under sound, so higher volumes are going to yield more immersive results. The overall effect Clair Cassis have always aspired to is a feeling of drowning and here the sonics reach that desired oceanic level; "Luxury Absolute" wants to pull the listener down, dragging them to the nadir of existentialist inquiry until it becomes an astral experience wherein the self becomes one with the totality and all ties to the material are cut.
As a band, Clair Cassis deviates little from the formula previously laid out by its parent unit Velvet Cacoon. Huge washes of thick droning guitars cloak themselves in low end goop and run themselves into oblivion over vaguely audible drums. Clair Cassis run a little closer to the line of structure-the drums are actually present in the mix-but this is still black metal at its most syrupy and narcoleptic. The major difference between Clair Cassis and Velvet Cacoon lies in album runtimes; where VC was content to stretch things out to near infinite lengths, CC revels in brevity, crafting little black metal nuggets that hover around just long enough to begin sinking in before they wisp themselves away like fogs across a stinking river. Simplicity dominates, with most songs being simple two or three chord progressions; atmosphere does the majority of work across "Luxury Absolute." Opener "Antique Sea Smoke" is almost bouncy in its crushing waltzy lope until it recedes into a gorgeous and haunting web of acoustic guitar fragility. "The Royal Nocturne" cloaks itself in progressive dissonance, betraying the band's more modern post-rock leanings. "Olive Ink Seahorse" is lovely black metal by way of My Bloody Valentine style overwrought guitar aesthetics, while "The March of March" approaches a near krautrock level of bludgeoning tribal repetitiveness, pretty much demanding subservience to the awesome wall of guitar vomit spewing forth. "Under Sleep Grey Elms" reverses the opening formula and segues lonely acoustics into a forbidding cloud simplified math rock forumulae, nearly collapsing under its own bloated weight. Only "Soft Castles" truly recalls the empty majesty of Velvet Cacoon, a three minute dirge of soupy bass tones and windy fuzz scars.
Overall the album feels incredibly brief, but that's to its strength. Whereas Velvet Cacoon could wear out all but the most devoted insomniacs (of which i am still one) Clair Cassis strikes quick, cuts deep and leaves you wanting more. It's fitting that they're on the Khyrsanthoney label; the band's focus on opium-esque soundscapes and evocative word paintings meshes well with the label's dreamy, blackened tone. Visiting their website is like falling into some dying ancient beehive, where the honey is well beyond fermented and the buzz of the dead bees haunts every corner in spectral, cathedral-like detail. Dank fetid oceans and rotten beehives: it's either the foul measure of pretension or the new stench of paradise. The choice to wade in and drown drunkenly is left to you.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011


Like a gilded warhorn flowing over with blood, so trumpets the new Skullflower record, misting all with a clouding stormspatter of rage and humiliation. Continuing down the path of epic Wagnerian destructionism that he began to blaze with last year's amazing "Strange Keys to Untune Gods Firmament" record, here Matthew Bower reins in his magnificence impulse to give us a record beholden to brevity but sacrificing none of the symphonic mentality that has made the modern Skullflower such a fucking monolith. This shit will completely level you, tell you you deserve it and then piss all over you, all the while screaming some pagan spell of disease to the churning skies overhead.
"Fucked on a Pile of Corpses" opens up with a strangely melodic blast of bass-heavy thrum and throb, a pulse that opens up to full on torrential bursts of waste that wither back into sonic lava. Soon after Bower unleashes the beast and throws down a near definitive Skullflower psych-waste trawl through group improv beginning with "Viper's Fang," as devastating a group piece as the type found on more rock oriented records like "Infinityland" or the mighty "Last Shot at Heaven." Guitars scream and wander while drums plod ever onward, stuttering and blunt, striving to outweigh the bulk of Samantha Davies' death cello. This sort of attempt at classicism is not lost on me; Bower's approach to sonic painting remains distinctly Wagnerian as he tosses on layer after layer of quaking melody and raging feedback, resulting in a bulk of songs that serve more as an extended suite than any sort of collection.
As usual one track flows right into the other via abrupt wall cuts; one scream is replaced by another and the beast rumbles on. After the full on band attack of "Viper's Fang" things get more blurrier and more aggressive, with the players summoning up dark storms of audio discontent and unleashing them through the speakers. "Fucked on a Pile of Corpses" is all as one, a mountain to climb or an ocean to traverse, and despite its meager runtime the album proves an enervating listen, sapping as much as it can from you in the time it forcibly occupies your space. Skullflower disallows concentration, wresting you from comforts and throwing you into an existential void where coldness rots at the center of foulness and the stench of raw disdain and challenge hang rife in the black. This is violent music, made for dark worship in abandoned churches, with chalices raised and rites invoked. Knives will gleam in the night and blood will be drawn; fornication and abuse trade themselves up to a sort of self-styled absolution, and a troubling transcendence is granted via ancient invocations of magick and an open embrace of chaos. Skullflower births dead dreams; Matthew Bower conducts sickness through the mangled strings of a guitar and the electric howl of amplifiers unleashed. Lee Stokoe asserts himself here as well, adding significant presence to Bower's manipulations and cloaking the whole ordeal in vile, fetid atmospheres that owe much to his work with Culver. At this point it's difficult to imagine Skullflower without him, the progressions he's coaxed out of Bower yielding much of the band's best work. Turgid Animal owner and operator George Proctor contributes here as well, pretty much cementing this as one of the most saturated Skullflower recordings to manifest. There's a definite power electronics feel to the proceedings, but Bower's willingness to let "traditional" structure seep in via drums (however buried) and vague melodies allows "Fucked on a Pile of Corpses" to reach the near celestial highs that "Strange Keys..." reveled in. This is pure beauty forged from the rancid fires of anger and hatred, proof that majesty is rightly born from lineage.
While it isn't the unbelievably epic statement that "Strange Keys..." or "Circulus Vitiosus Deus" was, "Fucked on a Pile of Corpses" is prime Skullflower, another instance of Bower's juggernaut operating at peak artistic opulence. He simply cannot miss. For all this record threatens to give into its own weight, Bower brings it all back on the final track "Sleipnir"; underneath walls of horrific noise and piles of guitars, the drums ever so slowly begin to assert themselves until you're finally forced to acknowledge the idea that this isn't as far removed as it purports to be. This is the endpoint of all psychedelia, the surrendering of shape to become something formless and powerful, a rattenkonig of musicianship that relishes the creation of sound above the creation of music. This is holy inversion; this is black sacrament; this is pure and true and absolute. This is the end, the void, the rejection. This is the sound. Fucking perfect.

Saturday, July 23, 2011


Originally released in 2007, re-released domestically by Moribund Cult. Mortualia is one of the many side projects of Horna's Shatraug, focusing on repetition and the depressive atmospheres commonly found in suicidal black metal. Horna has long been one of the most problematic black metal units for me, with a lengthy discography littered with mediocre material that ocassionally spawns works of amazing BM art, like disc two of 2008's "Sanojesi Aarelle." That record in particular traded Horna's usual chromatic duststorms for something much more melodic and unrelentingly hypnotic, basically hammering away at a riff for minutes on end until a voiding blur of speed and disgust was achieved. It signaled a side of Horna that perhaps had been lying dormant; it could also have signaled the inevitable cross-pollination and self-cannibalizing of material that occurs when someone from Band X is tied to 20 other projects (case in point: the minimal difference between Horna and Sargeist, of which Shatraug is the principal composer as well.) Either way, it was and remains Horna's best work. Small wonder that it followed just months after Shatraug unleashed Mortualia's self-titled debut.
Consisting of five tracks (this re-release adds an incredibly unnecessary sixth) and clocking in at near 70 minutes, Mortualia is an epic sprawl of strained sorrowphonics and insane, hysterical caterwauling vocals. Close to the ghostly style of extreme vocal acts like Urfaust, Devilish Era or Silencer, Shatraug shreds his throat raw in an attempt to drag you down into the void of feelings that "Mortualia" ultimately becomes; while at times the vocal performance seems a little over the top, more often the extremity works, helping to create a suffocating atmosphere that washes over like so many grey clouds come to bring hopelessness. Without the vocals (and there are many lengthy passages without) the music mires itself deep into the mucky trenches, drowning itself in pools of stagnant self-loathing and bitter, choking depression. The level of mesmerization that Mortualia achieves is commendable; the guitars are almost eternally out of tune and tinny, the drums amateurish and the bass lumbering quasi-melodically like some bastard son of Ulver's "Nattens Madrigal", but it works. Marvelously, in fact. This is some seriously hypnotic material, and i found myself lulling out and falling deep into something close to catatonia as the album worked its magic over me.
Lesser bands have tried this formula and found it difficult to maintain any level of quality (the vast majority of Self Mutilation Service's catalogue speaks easily to this); bedroom black metal is unfortunately a province open to anyone with a guitar, and a computer. But where so many others have failed, Mortualia basks in a sorrowful, ragged glory. Frustrations become vexing oaths of vengeance sworn at both the world and the self, a feeling of disgust welling up inside that threatens to consume its host in a desperate act of final self-immolation. Razors across wrists, nooses strung up for necks, bottles of pills emptied without leave. Any and all are fitting for the environment that Shatraug has so carefully crafted as Mortualia. The music itself begins to act as the abrasion, slicing away chunks and leaving flailed and pained wafts of flesh where once was whole. It gets in, and it starts to hurt. That's what suicidal black metal is supposed to do. It's music for sorrow, it's music for hate, it's music to kill yourself to. Mortualia attains this, daring you to light a candle and snuff out a flame. Agony can be transformed into art and pain can become beauty, but this is all ugliness and despair. Bury your head in your hands and hope it will pass by. Or give in. Either way, this won't go away.

Friday, July 22, 2011


The final White Stripes performance, recorded for posterity and released in a gorgeous 2LP edition that pretty much doesn't exist (it was given only to members of the Third Man Vault); if nothing else it serves as a fitting reminder of just what the White Stripes gave to me personally in terms of refining my own musical aesthetics. This is a fierce show, burning with a near religious fervor as Jack White screams his breath away testifying to the righteous power of interpretation and gives in to pure regressionism. Both he and Meg absolutely demolish these 22 tracks, bashing them into the ground and leaving little other than crushed viscera behind, along with a muddy mixture of sweat, blood, sex, and the intoxicating magic of rock and fucking roll. As overhyped as the White Stripes got towards the end of their career (my review of their final album was incredibly negative, and i still stand behind it) they could always summon up that inner animalism and channel it into something grossly direct and unfettered, a straight line to adrenalized swagger that seemed as drunk on life as it did on music. At their best the Stripes were a near holy experience; this double record exists as a document of that shining light.
Drawing deeply from their own discography as well as the geography of the venue (they turn in covers of both Son House and Robert Johnson), "Live in Mississippi 2007" finds Jack and Meg at the precipice of their fame, just about the time Jack began overreaching artistically and right before Meg found herself collapsing under the weight of notoriety and anxiety. There's a definite "live wire" feeling to this set, a surging blue electricity that screams nervousness as much as it does rehearsal. The White Stripes were never a tight band; instead they lived on the immediacy of their material, going in the direction that seemed most right at any given time and often emerging with brilliant, intense communication between themselves. In some instances the songs could suffer from these stripped down renderings ("Icky Thump" benefits from its bloated production on record) but just as frequently they soared to new heights ("Hotel Yorba" becomes a much better song live, while "Ball and Biscuit" easily transforms itself into a thrusting knife of splintered guitar fury, spitting solos like shrapnel); there were very few lackluster White Stripes performances, and even fewer that didn't have some sort of madness floating through the air. The amount of sound Jack and Meg wrench out of one guitar and one small drumkit is extraordinary, especially on Meg's end-her persistent bass drum monotony easily falls into the "earth-shaking" category, while her reliance on the ride cymbal lends every song a feeling reeling, near-drunken intensity. She even takes center stage for a few minutes to snake through "In the Cold, Cold Night;" reminding us why pretty much most every indie kid on the planet wanted to fuck her. Jack warps his guitar with a sick amount of octave pedal transmogrification and his fuzz tone wanders very close to fields of warm and bitter nauseau, filling space with waves of crackling distortion and the stray excursion over to the keyboards and organs. His solos, while never flashy, rage with amateurish aspiration to mountainous heights (in just a few years he would be the one of the subjects of the amazingly insipid documentary "It Might Get Loud" alongside Jimmy Page and The Edge) but remain grounded by a Greg Ginn-esque passion and willingness to vanish into the music and the moment. Perhaps that idea suits both Jack and Meg best, that comfort in receeding into the sounds and disappearing into the exact manifestation of the NOW.
Whether they knew somewhere that this was the end is up for discussion; it seems like they were staring down at the earth from the most outer reaches of space. They were at the height of their powers here, having taken their own material as far as it could possibly go and choosing to pluck from history the choicest bits of regionally relevant (as well as musically) material to shred into pieces, creating frothingly livid versions of classic blues stompers that raged harder than anything they'd come up with on their own. Yes, the White Stripes could get heavy, but they never sounded more insane than they do here tearing up "Stop Breaking Down" or "Death Letter." The birthplace of the blues seemed to get at something that was desperately wanting to get out of Jack and Meg. Like the similarly revelatory take on "Ain't That a Shame" that appeared on Nirvana's "With the Lights Out" set, these covers illustrate the power that primacy and aggression can hold over a band, and when said band is open enough to allow that demonic spirit to waft in and take control, the results can be magnificent and larger than any venue could hope to contain. This is the place Jack and Meg get to here; this is the White Stripes at their absolute best. There's a simple joy here that transcends any conceptual misstep found in their recorded work; this is the shit that matters.
It's sad this work didn't make it out to a wider audience. It would have made for an amazing swan song, as well as an excellent reminder of exactly why the White Stripes were so great. Few bands can work so simply and be as effective; cutting everything away and leaving you with just the riff only works when the riff fucking kills. And most of the Stripes' riffs do. I still remember the first time i heard "Expecting" and how it completely flattened me where i stood. This is what power sounds like, i thought. This is where i need to get to. Near a decade since then and i'm still trying. The White Stripes help me remember how.

Thursday, July 21, 2011


Distant and austere hyper-elitist black metal from the depths of USBM obscurity. Sitting somewhere between the voiding nowhere frost-ambience of Paysage d'Hiver and the manic, throat slitting bloodlust of "Deathcrush"-era Mayhem, Battle Dagorath stake a claim for black metal's future, a future that narrows its vision to the point where progress ceases to exist and reverence is the reigning mood. Cloaked in ghostly atmosphere and drenched in frigid ferocity, "Ancient Wraith" is exactly that-an unrelenting endurance test of snowblind, screaming black metal fury evoking the violence of the movement's inception as well as the epic feel of time stretching contemporaries like Krallice and Deathspell Omega. But where both those acts shroud their presentations in a cloak of pretentious composition orthodox commentary, Battle Dagorath exist solely for the purpose of black metal as a force, a near living musical entity possessed of a unique and volatile spirit that speaks in a voice beholden only to those desperate enough to seek it out and face its trials.
Comprised of four sprawling tracks plus an into and outro, "Ancient Wraith" makes its intention known from the outset. Swirling winds and blowing snow are heard amidst a whorl of majestic, sorrowful keyboard dirging, each note breathing into the next and growing ever more ominous. The breaking point hits and the band then launch into 45 minutes of sheer blackened assault, barely letting up across the album's length, pausing only to swarth you in dissonant, yearning melodies and frost-scalding ambient stretches, creating the idea of snowstorms as mesmerizing gateways to the void, the closest approximation of nihilism and decimation that the earth offers. This is nature rendered in an almost godlike, mythical manner; this is an illustration of all human life being snuffed out by a force that always was, and always will be, larger and more encompassing. There's an anger present throughout "Ancient Wraith," perhaps the same sort of disgust that Varg Vikernes felt toward the new gods of Norwegian culture, perhaps a simple desire for the eradication of all humanity and the quiet but beautiful loneliness of the howling, empty winds dashing through the forgotten landscapes of history. Whatever the source, this rage consumes and ignites Battle Dagorath's intensity, resulting in a black metal record of unparalleled sonic violence that can't help but burn itself out; the outro track is a 20 minute eruption of amplifier vomit and pure distortion meltdown, a communication from the abyss that somehow seems soothing and lulling after the hypnotic devastation that preceeded it.
This is an album that is seeking nothing from its release other than its own existence. There is a feeling that this band could give a fuck about anything anyone has to say regarding their work-it simply is, and that should be (and is) enough. Few modern black metal bands (especially from the US) so effectively channel the spirit of the old masters; in "Ancient Wraith" it's difficult not to hear the influence of the snarling chromaticism so present in the earliest Mayhem recordings or the epic, pagan feel of Nargaroth's landmark "Herbstleyd" album. Rather than merely regurgitate these sounds, though, Battle Dagorath imbues them with a distinctly US aesthetic marked by deep ambient explorations existing in the outer vestiges of black metal's reach. This is where the sidewalk ends, and an infinite drop-off into nothing begins. The feelings here are real. This is not manufactured intensity for the extreme masses. This is obtuse and hidden, giving itself over only to those who are most worthy. This is the continuation of black metal's philosophy, going beyond aesthetics into an appreciation for what black metal actually stands for. Pure winter hatred, natural reverence, nihilism, rejection; these are the cornerstones of wrath, tossed like a bloody glove into the faces of the weak and sedated. Highest possible recommendation.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011


Two excised chunks of lengthy performances from Expo '70's 2010 tour, one from New York and the other from California. I can't help but feel a little bit cheated on this one, because these aren't really complete pieces-they're just 20 minute snippets from what were probably epic brain-melting, fog-drenched jams beamed in from the outerzones. Expo '70 is a project that works much better across the double LP format, where the songs can really stretch themselves into rivers of narcoleptic hash dreams unfettered by a single record's paltry (for this band) 40 minute runtime. "Inaudible Bicoastal Trajectory" just barely allows the mind to warm up and begin to ooze into the crevices of liquification that Expo '70 can summon up, and the whole thing is over well before you've had a chance to leave the earthly realm for territories more astral and vague in their constructions. When you're not throwing yourself into 70 + minutes of this stuff, it seems more like an introduction than a record proper.
Side A is the lighter of the two, the NY side, played spontaneously while the film "Fantastic Planet" screened in the background. The piece is not a soundtrack per se, more like a visual counterpart to an audio performance, but it's hard not to imagine Expo '70's gentle, tangled guitar lines weaving in and out of the syrupy French animation like so much blood through oil, creating rich tapestries of interlocking components that comment on and enhance each other's presence. That sort of prophetic element, the ability of one work to somehow anticipate another despite the separation of years, is reflective of the kosmiche depth that Expo '70 always tries to achieve. This piece forsakes some of the droning heaviness in favor of a softer approach- floating, say, rather than sinking- but doesn't sacrifice any of the trademark stratospherics, delivering cavernous, heavily echoed guitar lines that reach up from the ground like tendrils stretching to the stars. The strain here is less about weight and more about yearning, a desire to see how far you can go before you rip yourself in two.
Side B is far more ominous. Given life in sunny California, this improv finds the band working fixedly in the John Carpenter vein, burping up fat, worming synth lines of bass menace while amplifiers groan and growl alongside them. This is a piece more concerned with stagnancy and atmosphere than direction, and the drones become nearly suffocating across their 18 minute span. Guitars sputter out here and there and some skitterish motorik percussion presents itself toward the track's end but mostly this is just darkness wrought into sound, a heavy batch of mass thrown out for your brain numbing pleasure. It's easy to think of waxy candles burning down while blood drips across creamy, dusty walls in some long lost Dario Argento film; the music doesn't read violent but it doesn't like the light, either.
Taken together the two sides showcase a nice dichotomy that more or less defines the Expo '70 aesthetic. Drone lends itself well to both darkness and light. The major flaw here is that these are mere excerpts-both pieces could easily (and probably did) move in vastly different directions across their actual, majestic, consuming lengths. That we're given mere bits of these performances and expected to come away with an idea of the whole is a little sad; at the same time, it's difficult to picture Expo '70 releasing these sorts of shows in their entireties as they'd all be 3 or 4 LP box sets. It's up to us to connect the dots and imagine exactly where we're supposed to go. Obviously the stars, but 40 minutes will only take you so far.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

WHITE HILLS "H-p1" (Thrill Jockey)

When people think of psychedelia their brains usually come back gasping on a smorgasbord of explosive colours and swirling, air-warping patterns of refracted light. The concept of psychedelic "space-rock" rests heavily on transforming these patterns and explosions into sound, of grabbing the listener by the mind and flushing them down an LSD-washed hole to the very center of their own awareness; oftentimes the experience of psychedelic immersion can be equated to those warm colours and hypnotic, dancing patterns. But there's another side to space-rock, the side that actually delivers on the promise of space: cold, empty, motorik excursions into the further reaches of head-nodding wasteoidism where the deep, expansive echoes aren't so much sounds created by manipulated machines but rather the sonic equivalents of free-form floating through a gigantic, terrifying emptiness, heading towards a nadir of existence where matter simply ceases and any sort of "awareness" gets crushed under the weight of its own being. This is the sort of territory White Hills exists in; a cosmic anger directed at every fiber of our modern technology-dependent lives, a Kacyznski-esque call to action delivered via some of the most oppressive, violent psychedelia recorded since the first Acid Mothers Temple cassette.
I've had problems with White Hills in the past. Their expansive back catalogue, while shot through with moments of fiery, abrasive rock brilliance, too often gave way to meandering drifts of pointless knob-twiddling and stomp-box wankery masquerading as high art. There was a huge lack of focus, an inability to think on a grander scale and turn in a cohesive work that both took you to the outer fucking fringes and kept you locked in to one underlying thematic aesthetic. White Hills were prone to jamming and fucking around with neither being mutually exclusive; the records suffered and I found myself unable to truly "get into it" without being derailed by some burbling skittish synth work or a skewed take on musique concrete whipped up in the garage that went on for ten minutes. "H-p1" corrects all of those errors and sets the dials to "rock," recording close to in the red and spewing out a devastating slab of mind-melting audio void, like Pink Floyd getting sucked into a black hole or Hawkwind landing on the surface of the sun.
Based around an idea of modern disgust and boredom tethered to a style of bottomed-out self-fulfilling hopelessness, "H-p1" churns out an impressive amount of cold, hateful atmosphere right from the first song. This is easily the heaviest White Hills have ever been, and the way they sift and seep throughout the record's 72 minute runtime reads little else than anger tied to a frustrating restlessness. Guitars are huge and for the most part unfettered by the rampant psychedelic effects of albums past, the bass locks in, grinds out and fucking crushes the opposition with brain-puking distorto-throbbing, the keyboards and synths craft clouds of space-swirl to wrap everything in and the drums lay it out in strict motorik thought-numbing thuds, daring you to even fucking consider the deeper ideas. Technology has lulled us, and fuck if White Hills aren't going to illustrate that narcotic lull through the near sacred power of holy repetition and thick, unrelenting TONE. This is powerful music, more of a sermon than a simple rock record, a moment of veiled transcendence that only fully gives itself over to your mind once it's eradicated the will of your body. It's a full on psychedelic fucking journey through the dankest parts of your worst days spent hiding in the dark of your rotten apartment, desperately self-medicating and looking for something, anything, to take the edge off while somehow still staying "connected" to all the seemingly important bullshit happening around you. Cell phones, television, social networking-all part of the problem, all symptoms of laziness, complacency, and a growing sense of isolation that asserts itself ever more fully with each new iPhone update. We don't need this shit. It's psychic destruction sapping away the best of us. The only thing left at the end of it all will be millions of ringing phones, dead apps and a stagnant pool of ice and ash washing over the collected bodies.
Brooding, evocative, gnarly, desperate as fuck-this is White Hills at their absolute best, their most devastating. "H-p1" is a grinding assault for your attention that goes to the deepest reaches of icy space with on intention of ever coming back. Existence eventually becomes subtraction, refraction eventually becomes void. Throw this record on and drop the fuck out. A total masterpiece.

Friday, July 8, 2011

STEPHEN O'MALLEY "ROMEO" (Editions Mego/Ideologic Organ)

Monolithic to the point of primeval, this is easily the best thing O'Malley has committed to tape in years. "Romeo" is a 40 minute slab of viscous, oozing, evil drone, creeping along the bottom of dirt like some sort of fat, drunken slug. Drudged up from the darker recesses of O'Malley's Paris residence in evocation of the mirage-deadened illusion of the Middle East, the piece slimes along glacially in one direction: down.
Freed from the pretentious confines of Sunn 0))), O'Malley completely lords over tone, belching forth a vomit of free-form sludge and distortion that washes across your brain like LSD melting over hash. Chords waver in and out while a constant whine of amplifier eruption holds sway in the background, crafting a devastatingly oppressive environment that promotes suffocation and total immersion, leaving little room for anything so lofty as contemplation or meditation. "Romeo" is all about sound and totality, the sum of vision and execution minus Sunn 0)))'s meandering bullshit.
My major problem with recent Sunn 0))) material (pretty much everything since "White 1") has been the unnecessary intellectualization and over-complicating of something that should be absolutely visceral and immediate. Drone doesn't have to be labored over; the best material in the genre (Birchville Cat Motel, Lull, Climax Golden Twins, etc.) has a free-floating feel that seems heaven-bound even when it's chained to the earth by its own consuming heaviness. It doesn't have to collapse under the weight of its own perceived importance like virtually all of Sunn 0)))'s latest recordings. When O'Malley is operating on his own the output increases in quality about a millionfold; it's like he's able to tap back into the allure of drone and its deeply magnetic power when he's allowed to work outside the artistic confines of Sunn 0)))'s narrow musical view. Some could say i'm splitting hairs at this point-bloated guitar drone is bloated guitar drone, i guess-but the difference to me is exponential. In the case of "Romeo," guitar + amp = destruction, whereas in Sunn 0))) guitar + amp = bland and overwrought sound installations replete with about ten too many fog machines.
Hopefully this is the future that O'Malley's work will take. I don't need all the posturing and logistics that digging Sunn 0))) demands these days; i'm much happier being crushed under the considerable heft of "Romeo"'s formless empty drone-flow. This is the potential that was so evident in "The Grimmrobe Demos"; this is the promise of Earth's majestic legacy fulfilled. A major work for guitar based droning as well as a one-way ticket to the darkest heart the blinding void, "Romeo" summons the abyss and carves it into something without shape but entirely terrifying. Recommended.

Friday, July 1, 2011


A partially successful collaboration between Locrian and Horseback, diving into the vaguer reaches of black metal and power electronics and emerging with something not entirely new but far from derivative. For two bands with such prolific back catalogues the most striking thing about "New Dominions" is its scant length. Across a one-sided LP running a little shy of 20 minutes, the two entities cross swords and see what happens when the sparks congeal, birthing a study in coldness and industrial wastescaping that evokes both Joy Division at their most despondent and the more challenging sides of forefathers Skinny Puppy. Whole both artists have aligned themselves with black metal on past efforts, "New Dominions" eschews that influence almost to the point of dismissal; were it not for the rasping vocals or the frigid aesthetics this is a record that could easily sit alongside more ambitious, pop-oriented depressionism like Have A Nice Life or Sun Kil Moon. The tracks here are monotonous, repetitive, and mechanical-the sad part is that only one of them is any good.
"The Gift" opens the record with an aura of bleakness, as bowed metals and muted percussion create a din that never gives way to more than an incessant whine. Distant vocals attempt to further convey a sense of harshness and inhospitability; without any real framework as far as composition goes the vocals end up sounding out of place and unnecessarily caustic. Here the ensemble comes across as unbelievably minimalist, building up a lake of sonics that reminds of something a band like Wolf Eyes would have thrown away. The track treads water for about six minutes until it peters out into nothingness; there's no memory of it beyond a collection of creaking blanditudes.
"Our Epitaph" fares much better and more or less justifies this LP's existence. Immediately more recognizable as an actual composed work, the track springs forth from a massive, brutally simplistic two note bassline; the repetition is so bludgeoning across the song's near 15 minute expanse it creates a sense of disorientation and near nausea. Vocals here are much better, cruel and distant but clean, surgical, menacing; the sense of something wrong lurking beneath everything you're being presented with is very strong to the point where a gnawing fear begins to creep in to the cracks. You want to attach yourself to the melody but it's so laconic and unrehearsed that it feels more like a lament than any sort of human expression; a ghostly message from far away, clouded and dwarfed by machine-like waste and an endless emptiness. Guitars and metals scream from a void place, growing ever louder and more commmanding, eventually overtaking the track. "Our Epitaph" is a masterful, measured exercise in the creation of tension and manipulation of the listener's expectation of release. The fact that none is forthcoming, that the tension just mounts and mounts, that the knife just twists deeper, is illustrative of the tremendous powers both Locrian and Horseback can harness when they're working at peak levels.
Supposedly "New Dominions" is based on a nonfiction book that postulates humanity's quality of life given total environmental collapse. I could care less; i don't get that idea from this record at all. The amazing, gorgeous cover art hints at destruction, decay, and ruin; the images of fire, rust and the destruction of structure leave little to the imagination. But the music doesn't achieve that sort of vision-this is troubling material that caters more to a personal perspective, something that each listener will have to attach meaning to on their own. This isn't a story, and it seems fairly ridiculous to me that either the band or the label insists it is. The length of the LP doesn't really permit that sort of involvement; it seems arrogant to state that 18 minutes is enough to sustain a book-length narrative. What this is, though, is a tremendous piece of vinyl art, a communication between two viewpoints that manages to create something stronger than either viewpoint's singular vision (at least in the case of "Our Epitaph.") I'd love to hear more from this pairing, perhaps across a double LP format where they can attempt to marry their far-reaching ideas of nonfiction adaptation to the appropriate amounts of material.


One of the most difficult to obtain AMT releases (it's taken me several years to track this one down), surfacing during the troubled period after Cotton Casino's departure, "Close Encounters of the Mutants" finds the group relishing in the magic of gooped-up ultra-fuzz droning, a meandering piece of work that exceeds its own simple ambition by giving in to tremendous guitar excess and psychedelic knob-twiddling. For me this is one of the better albums post-Cotton, a drooling dollop of space-crazy extremism and vocal histrionics courtesy Afrirampo, the group's chosen replacement for their missing muse. The pixie-ish ladies of Afrirampo perform more than admirably here, shrieking and giggling like some candied version of the girls from the Mothra films, dancing in and out of the headphones like spirits of the ancient Japanese forests that AMT have been known to evoke. The magic of those mythologies infects this record with a focused intensity that AMT haven't shown in a good long while; this whole album feels like some sort of narcoleptic spell wisping out to hypnotize and transform.
The guitar sound here is like syrup. Thick and viscous, dripping with bloated fuzz and booming echoes, Kawabata's destructionism is front and center here, with every other sound receding behind the walls of distortion that ooze across the album. The weight of the fuzz here feels almost oceanic, like the music is threatening stagnancy despite it's flitting, dancing, anxiety-ridden tendency to veer off into nonsensical freak-out territory best defined by frustrating works like "Absolutely Freak Out-Zap Your Mind!" and "Are We Experimental?" But while those albums test all but the AMT completist with their arguable pointlessness, "Close Encounters of the Mutants" evolves to a position of essential-ness by way of its disjointed attempt to find a voice. The pieces here are totally different from one another, lacking cohesion but attaching themselves to each other through the framing sonic absolutism. The record culminates in a massive twenty minute drone that sounds like it's played through heavily delayed bagpipes-whatever the actual instrumentation is becomes less and less important the as music invades your mind and dumps its brain-melting sludge into all the corners of your skull. It's as heavy as the AMT have ever been, trading the guitars for something much more deeply cosmic and lulling, the violence of the previous pieces transforming itself into a numbing wave of gorgeous, brutal room-shaking ambience.
As a document of a group in transition, "Close Encounters of the Mutants" is a fascinating album, showcasing an intensity that very few AMT albums have been able to attain. It's also easily the best record from the Afrirampo line-up, seemingly hearkening back to "Univers Ou Zen..." with its far-reaching eclecticism and willingingness to explore total psychedelic saturation. While it lacks the scope (and length) of a flat-out AMT masterwork, it's a necessity for anyone looking to truly grasp the many and varied faces of Japan's premier brain-fucking cosmonauts. Obliteration and annihilation go hand in hand with a folk-laden serenity, crashing into the bruising walls of tonal massage that close the suite out, resulting in near total sacrifice of self in service to a greater understanding. It seems criminal that this one didn't get a wider release in the states, but it's worht thee years it might take to track it down. Bludgeoning in the best possible way, reveling in its own corpulence-arrogance is rarely this justified, but "Close Encounters of the Mutants" deserves to lord itself over all contemporaries.