Sunday, January 29, 2012

BOSSE "VISIONS OF THE END" (Ars Magna Recordings)

Richard Bosse's music is beyond unique. Contemplative, natural, void of any pretense, and possessed of a lush tranquility that somehow manages to unnerve, his records are demonstrations of the lulling power of repetition and layering. Bosse builds tiny walls of guitars that become towers of aching beauty and restraint, at times recalling the majesty of "Kveldssanger"-era Ulver or Drudkh's recent "Songs of Grief and Solitude." Bosse has allowed this association with black metal without actually resorting to any of its touchstones; despite a split tape with Trancelike Void and a previous release on Those Opposed records (part of their "Desolation Propaganda" boxset alongside depressive destroyers Lyrinx, Austere, Isolation, and Nox Inferi) the project has always followed its own distinctive path, an exploration of solitude and loneliness spiraling into works of immense beauty and resonance. The emotional element of Bosse's work rivals that of any of the bands he's been paired with; in that regard, Ars Magna is the perfect label to release "Visions of the End." The intensity of Richard Bosse's personal vision suits the label's focus on reflection, be it violent and destructive, expansive, or inward.
Consisting of six untitled compositions, "Visions of the End" is easily Bosse's most approachably gorgeous work. Echoes of neoclassicism, post-rock grandeur, medieval madrigals, and elegiac psych folk are all woven into a drunken mesh of lament and hushed loveliness, guitars clouding over with melodious drones and glacial washes of darkened ambience. The record has a stateliness that defies categorization. At times i'm reminded of the more conservative side of Mogwai; other moments recall the autumnal splendor of Eona's "Croyances Eternelles"or the Rose Ensemble's masterful "The Road to Compostela." These are meticulously crafted compositions aimed to elicit very specific emotions and feelings. If you give yourself in to them, they will wrap themselves around you and utterly envelop you in their ethereal, baroque grasps. These songs are cloaks, wisping shrouds of fragmented memories and assembled regrets blossoming into full-on marches towards sorrow. The inherent, consuming sadness present in these recordings is astonishing, and a wonder to take in. Bosse achieves true, pure, transcendent beauty on "Visions of the End"; the hopelessness offered here is tempered only by the twilight elegance so apparent in Bosse's aesthetic.
Much in the same way Obsequiae base their music around medieval counterharmonies and Renaisssance structure, arriving at an entirely new vision of black metal that transcends its primal influences, Richard Bosse reaches deep into history and imbues his music with something utterly timeless and transformative. This is affecting music; this is soothing music; this is the sound of regret, anguish, contemplation, anxiety, and understanding crafted into something completely open and willing. This record will give back what you bring to it and more. Its expanse is near immeasurable, its depth and resonance frightening in their combined severity. Like drowning, like every color at once, like negation, like emptiness, like triumph. Bosse reaches a level of emotional connection similar to that achieved by Sigur Ros: free of influence and removed from any conception of what their music should be, they allow themselves the openness necessary for true communication. "Visions of the End" wants that level of connection with the listener. The willingness, the openness-that's left to you.

Saturday, January 28, 2012


By 1988, Ted Nugent's pretense to any sort of aesthetic was dead. His career was becoming less about his music and more about his growing media personality centered around his "radical" conservative views; the Nugent of the late '70's whose only mission in life was the acquisition and enjoyment of "Wang Dang Sweet Poontang" and variations on "Stormtroopin'" was nearly lost to twice told tales and bittersweet arena rock memories. The man was being forced to live the legend, and like any addict, Nugent's need for sex formed the basis for a parade of justifications resulting in one of the most tired-sounding albums in history. The conquests were becoming empty, the riffs becoming rote. "If You Can't Lick 'Em...Lick 'Em" illustrates that decline in shades of boredom and self cannibalization, signaling an artistic nadir for the Nuge as well as the danger of complacent stagnancy. Everything about this record is a contrivance, from the gratuitous pro-cunningulus cover art to the insipid lyrics peppered throughout. If it's a mission statement, it's abhorrently puerile; if it's a rock and roll love letter to rebellion, it's willfully ignorant.
From the outset, the album lacks any sense of urgency. The Nuge's usual feeling of rampant, unbridled intensity is lost; the evocation of youthful willfulness he'd been known for across his entire career here evaporates under the weight of feigned ambition and dreams of the Billboard Top Ten. It's easy to see why Nugent set his sights so low: the highest charting rock albums of the year belonged to Def Leppard, Guns N' Roses, and Van Halen. Little wonder Nugent tempered his approach to a more competitive level; while nowhere near the electronic bid for relevance ZZ Top would institute (to financially gratifying effect), the "Motor City Madman" obviously attempted to simplify his approach and filter it through a wash of contemporary preferences. One can either view that decision as prescience on the part of a veteran or bland catering to popular concession. The usual preoccupations were still present; here they were just watered down and sent out to mainstream America for its consumer consideration.
Opening track "Can't Live With 'Em" is full-on Accept derivation, laying out the Nuge's eternal misogyny on top of a riff that vomits up "Cat Scratch Fever" by way of Judas Priest. Nugent both requires and loathes women; while before Nugent transformed this appropriation of outdated gender modes into rock and roll revelation, here it becomes another whiney lament from some asshole who isn't getting laid as often as his dick gets hard. The album is rife with these sorts of ruminations: "The Harder They Come (The Harder I Get)," "Separate the Men From the Boys, Please" and the sixth grade level observation "Skintight" all dwell on the not-so-subtle desires of their protagonist's quest for gash and his inevitable sociological ascendancy. Nugent spells it out early into "Funlover", telling us "Explicit sex, it ain't my cup of tea/Unless of course it's happening to me." The selfishness and narcissism inherent in Nugent's lyricism here expand themselves to near Brobdignagian levels; lust is its own validation, the accompanying journey to satisfaction nothing less than a right and a rite.
Musically the album is close to pure embarrassment. Nugent recycles riff after riff, turning in an exhausted batch of songs that feel mechanical and lifeless even as they attempt to depict a supposedly technicolor life of libido-fueled hedonism and wild abandon. The title track is a nothing less than blatant rewrite of Nugent's own "Stranglehold," from the opening fretwork to the screeching rockabilly fills and the overwrought psychedelic solo. "She Drives Me Crazy" comes off like a bad Alice Cooper imitation (another artist struggling with reinvention) complete with Nugent's stab at vocal histrionics, while "Spread Your Wings" recalls Hendrix's "Little Wing" right down to the quacking guitar tone (though it's hard to imagine Hendrix penning lyrics as woefully empty and sentimental as "Turn on your love life baby/Let it shine down on me tonight/Let's fly away, I mean it fly/You just spread your wings baby.") These sorts of metaphors had been well-exhausted by the time Nugent co-opted them; accordingly, they read like half-assed attempts at lowest common denominator poetry fused with high school grandiosity. "Separate the Men From The Boys, Please" rips off Journey's "Stone in Love" and turns it into a sub-prog exploration of tired "look at me" drumming alongside an overabundance pinch harmonics. Only the solo section of "Funlover" comes anywhere close to imaginative, with Ted whipping out a flurry of neoclassical harmonies that borrow liberally from Iron Maiden while giving Randy Rhoads a run for his money; the track's triple-tracked lead lines are the only real reminder of Nugent's utter mastery over the guitar and the classical rock form. Beyond that it's paint by numbers six-string heroism: fluid but pointless to the point of tedium.
Nugent was never a major force in establishing the 1980's rock framework; as such, his contributions (or lack thereof) to the form at the time still go widely unheralded in the great history of rock. It's important to remember that people like Nugent were attempting to remain viable in a rapidly overcrowding market. Young upstarts like Guns N' Roses, Warrant, and, to a lesser degree, Poison, were all cashing in on what Ted Nugent had worked so hard to personify for the last decade. His stage persona was Marc Bolan to the nth degree, reinterpreted by everyone from Axl Rose to Stephen Pearcy and David Lee Roth (perhaps the only real "contemporary" to Nugent the genre could offer.) Albums like "If You Can't Lick 'Em...Lick 'Em" serve only to steer us away from the hubris of gross egoism and self-infatuation. Beyond that it's lessons, if any, are mere punchlines. There's not a single memorable riff to be found here, only retreads and reappropriations. One can only wonder what Ted's diehard fans thought (though i've read some reviews citing this as one of his best late-period recordings); the sense of abandonment once heard so loudly in the music could only have been surpassed by the sense of abandonment now felt by the faithful. With "If You Can't Lick 'Em...Lick 'Em," Nugent effectively signed his own death warrant.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

KLOR "KLOR" (Ars Magna Recordings)

Brittle and immediate black metal iconoclasm from Denmark courtesy Ars Magna Recordings, again delivering on their aesthetic of emotionally fractured artistry filtered through traditional frameworks. Klor's self-titled debut is unique in the respect that it advances both an extreme, chilling distance as well as strains of extremely accessible extremity by way of shorter song structure and a reliance on simplistic (if obscured) melody. I'm reminded deeply of French post-industrial blackened terrorists Haemoth in Klor's approach; the same sort of reliance on machine generated texture imbues both projects with a manipulative removal that comments on black metal's outsider mentality as well as the more modern leanings towards depressive readings of existence and being. But whereas Haemoth proposed an indelicate violence directed towards the fabrication of modernity, Klor becomes reflective; the rage turns inward, channeling aggression in an insular direction with an end goal of self-eradication. Simply put, Klor hammer the sorrow into you.
Klor embrace a certain psychedlia in their approach to black metal; their tendency towards symbols alongside song titles like " Helmet Overgrown With Weeds" and the beautiful "Senseless Fire Ritual" both embrace and reject black metal's propensity for extension and hypnotism, employing battle imagery and pseudo-Satanic rites to evoke the idea of expanse and openness. While none of the songs on Klor's debut are overly long, they attain the feeling of length by way of repetition and hammering intensity; the relentless drum programming yields near-kosmiche patterns of inner escape and psychic recidivism. The stretches and yawns of time become gulfs of monochromatic technicolor vista, a flood of emotions painted all in one shade of despondency. The eight songs here become as one, a suite of existential torment that owes as much to Vomir as it does to Craft.
Anger is secondary to regret, though. Nostalghia and yearning become an ache that can only be adequately represented through violent confrontation with one's self; Klor inhabit the state of inner severance necessary to fully reflect on one's being and make the decision to sever connections with corporeal. This is not an endorsement but the suggestion of possibility; the vistas are open and receptive, the eternities blessed with majesty and willing to receive. Such is the way of torment. Violence becomes a shadow of intent, and failure becomes the mark by which all effort must be measured. The fragmented colors marking the inner design of Klor's debut aren't just dissassociative psychedelic tricks; they're a representation of the vomit colored insides of modern malaise, true banality and angst tossed off as graphic design. The outer design rings true: there is no variation, only sedation and the vastness of the always. The narcoleptic, dreamlike state that existence demands becomes a weight that bogs down value and self-worth. Klor works in shades of grey; the mesmerization results from the extreme tonalities apparent in the regurgitation of blandness.
Klor's debut acts as a sort of go-between for old traditions and modern black metal. At once both basking in primal aggression and reveling in post-modern texture, the depth of the record reveals itself upon multiple listenings. This isn't simple, nor is it easily digestible; it's trussed up in recognizable form purely for the purposes of distortion and obfuscation. The music is infectious, the vocals harrowing and carved out. This is music to tear yourself apart to, the shearing away of psychic excess in the hopes of arriving at deeper realizations regarding one's ultimate place in the world. Ars Magna Recordings again establishes itself as one of the leading labels interested in psychological black metal. Klor is a knife meant to help you shed the pretense you've been building your whole life. Make the first cut, and flay away the unnecessary. The weightlessness becomes flight, soaring apart from the earthly realm.

WOLD "BADB" (Crucial Blast)

Crucial Blast reissue of Wold's explosive 2004 demo, an almost unholy fusion of black metal aestheticism and blurred wipeout noise that heralded the coming of a severe new voice in the black metal underground. "Badb" is nothing short of amazing, as essential now as it was originally, the ideas explored within having been co-opted by a dearth of lesser practitioners and calibrated into something nowhere near as potent as the distillation Wold themselves achieved. This demo laid the groundwork for "Stratification" and easily ranks as the band's second-finest work; its fury and passion simply obliterate the good majority of modern black metal by way of sheer force and tenacity of vision. "Badb" wasn't just a mutation of the black metal form; it was reinvention.
Aside from its intensity, "Badb" was Wold's most orthodox effort. The influence of the old masters like Gorgoroth and Darkthrone is felt here more strongly than on any Wold effort to follow; while much has been made of Wold's harnessing of black metal blizzardry to form their unique sonic worldview, less effort has been directed towards actually placing Wold in the traditional black metal context. While the band may have bent the aesthetic into contorted formations of its obvious expectation, the simple blunt trauma of black metal's refutation has always been present. "Badb" makes that rebelliousness abundantly clear from the onset, as waves of screeching horror scar over you like wounded detritus windblasted across the empty Saskatchewan plains. The purity of winter and the majesty of nature are at the forefront of Wold's approach and ideology; for all the quasi-religious psychobabble that would accompany the band's future output, "Badb" is remarkably focused in its depiction of eternal raging night and howling void.
Here Wold let loose black metal's tendency towards alienation; the actuality of a riff meant little compared to the overbearing strength found in the conceptualization of a snowstorm. Electricity pales in comparison to the might of the black, the infinite roar of the yawning bleak. "Badb" is the very center of eternity, the endless recycling of sound unto itself achieving a marriage of histrionics and undiluted terror. Distortion becomes translucence; blazes of white noise become the peaks of transcendence, cracking open the eye at the top of the world. The cosmos yields to the strength of Wold's summoning; the framework of black metal crumbles beneath the weight of their ferocity. What's left is a perfect sonic summation of the genre's power: stripped of form, the only discernible element becomes the anger, the simplicity and primal force of base emotions. Like Abruptum before them, Wold tapped the ether and came back with the sounds of the end, the audial absence of light wrought into towers of crushing rage.
Crucial Blast's reissue boasts glorious new artwork more accurately reflecting the band's vision and ideology; the hypnotic patterns of black and white ultimately congeal to a mess of blanked out space and washed out understanding. Delerium is the terminus of psychedelia, and Wold reach the bottom in a mere 30 minutes. Like a windstorm fracturing any attempt at clarity, "Badb" reduces black metal to its essence and molds it according to a rigid vision of ethics and traditionalism, the implied violence of the genre rendered into shrieks of Merzbow-influenced hyperstatic owing much to the misogynistic shrapnel of peak-era Whitehouse. Indeed, it isn't difficult to imagine "Badb" as the soundtrack to murder; whereas most modern black metal goes for the insular reflection of suicidal despair or existential angst, Wold turns it completely outward and offers up a anthem to carnage, the ultimate embrace of selfishness and self-actualization. Individualism is the only value worth promoting; culture is a poison. Society reeks of banality; community is as illusory as cooperation. Act as one for one or relinquish the right to exist. Wold's ethics are provocation. "Badb" pushes those ethics to the forefront, yielding a work of intense thematic complexity and philosophical muddiness. Being is as you make it; don't waste the experience.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

TRIST/LONESUMMER "SPLIT" (Ars Magna Recordings)

Suicidal black metal iconoclasm by way of stumbling obstinancy and an adherence to individualistic ritual, the hollow spectre of feeling permeating. United by Ars Magna Recordings, Trist and Lonesummer are two black metal artists that communicate an approximation of the same ideal and aesthetic through vastly different means of confrontation. The focus here is emptiness, meaninglessness, regret, anguish, depression, the mark of failure-in short, negative fucking emotions filtered through the raw and blown out framework of depressive black metal (i could go further out and subcategorize this more, but there's no point-Trist defines this style for me, and Lonesummer grasp the yearn and hyper-devastation that the sound demands to be truly effective.) The resulting music on this split shapes that negativity into fractures of grey and bleak, reflecting the tortured and obscure photography of Alison Scarpulla that adorns the cover. This is a journey inward that ends in immolation, in a total rejection of the self that carves identity and actuality to shreds, leaving only the nightmare of memory and the bitter ache of nostalgia as reminders of time gone past.
Trist's return to the field ends a near four year silence aside from the instrumental self-released demo "Ve Snech Nekrvacim." The two massive tracks on that recording hinted at both a vague new direction (the almost ambient reconstruction of black metal by way of brutal repetition and deeply textured sonics) and a reinforcement of Trist's original ideal (the depiction of crippling emotion and anxiety and the communication of those same feelings in a physical way); here the two are fused seamlessly into something stronger and more defined, increasing the music's efficacy and allowing the power of the feelings involved to wash over the listener as an ocean. "Vabeni Pokojne Tmy" is twenty minutes of monotonous, blurring guitar backed by the standard simplistic, numbing drums Trist has employed so well in the past. The track is a heavy cloud of strangling atmospherics, the mist of sadness spreading into expanse, the tendrils of recollection thrown up against the reality of the actual. Trist's world is one where there the only option for escape is suicide; the weight of life and the tedium of existence stretches into forever, leaving shadows and want. The extremity of Trist's approach is complicated this time out by the buried vocals, screaming from underneath a muddy pall of distortion and echo. The muted cries become just another textural element in a composition already packed with them, resulting in a greater feeling of distance than Trist has achieved in the past. This removal serves the band's aesthetic well; if the music is representational of the purity of feeling and the voice the human element to the suffering, this music demonstrates the overwhelming nature of emotion and how easy it is to become lost in it, in yourself. The reflection Trist offers is one skewed and obfuscated, the mirror warped to the point where you don't know who you're looking at anymore. The displacement becomes another thorn of sorrow, stabbing into weary flesh. The aura of exhaustion Trist summons up across the span of "Vabeni Pokojne Tmy" is frightening, and like all music from the band, harrowingly intense. I know what it's like to feel this way; that recollection gives Trist's work a deep personal resonance for me.
Lonesummer's side of the split, while no less intense, takes a near opposite approach to black metal aestheticism. Turning in five bursts of pained emotional shrapnel in just under fifteen minutes, Lonesummer incorporate some of the passion and melodic severity found in early '00's screamo and mould it to a distinctly black metal template, creating a sound that references both the extreme end of depressive black metal (the vocal performances are eerily reminiscent of those found on Silencer's "Death Pierce Me") and the sort of veering-towards-collapse ferocity of Orchid. Lonesummer's work is black metal by hallucinogenic, hazy association, challenging preconceived notions of the genre's limitations while at the same time working within its confines to reconstruct its most obvious tendencies. Like Trist, Lonesummer traffic in the overwhelming pain of negative emotions and the often unbearable weight of regret and memory; their off the rails approach to introspection carries a violence and wild-eyed terror that threatens more outwardly than inward (listening to Trist i imagine dark, empty rooms and flickering candlight illuminating razor blades and splashes of blood, while listening to Lonesummer i imagine gigantic empty landscapes and a feeling of paralyzing fear, loss, and claustrophobia.) Lonesummer makes me believe it with this record. The passion and extremity are there, and it's completely upfront. Even the few moments of respite that betray their more "shoegaze" leanings-the delicately strummed clean guitars and hyper melodic screaming guitar lines-have a feeling of menace to them, weighed down with sadness. This is the best material i've heard from this unit; absent is any trace of the "experimentalism" that defined their early work along with any flirtation with pure noise. This simply transcends what they've accomplished previous.
Ars Magna Recordings has done a wonderful job on this beautifully conceived split, from the simple pairing of artists to the austere lifelessness and fragility of the striking layout and artwork. Everything makes sense. I expect nothing less from a label that has so vividly defined the personal nature of black metal for me, and i'm hard pressed to think of a label discography that reaches so deeply into the pale of depression without relying on contrivances and cliches. This is certainly music for suicide orchestration, but it also serves as a reminder of art's strength in times of personal adversity, and how the creation of something real and meaningful can impact both the lives of its creators and the lives of those affected by and receptive to it. I'm glad i'm one of them.