Wednesday, December 29, 2010


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

Wednesday, December 22, 2010


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

Saturday, December 11, 2010

ARCKANUM "SVIGA LAE" (Regain Records)

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


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


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

Wednesday, December 8, 2010


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


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


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


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

Saturday, December 4, 2010


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

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

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

Thursday, December 2, 2010


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

Friday, November 12, 2010


A devastating, hateful knotted up mess of a record, touching parts of doom metal, post-rock, hardcore and free jazz terror until a unified whole of distress and tension is created. This is one of the moodiest, most thorny records i've heard in some time, equally parts challenging and crushing and what it lacks in actual listenability it more than makes up for in breadth. Anguish is Ehnahre's bag, an intellectual and philosophical sort of stylized grasping that becomes distanced and bileous within minutes. If it wasn't so impersonal and poetic i'd call this this most damaged, emotionally wrecked album i've heard this year.
Fittingly enough, Ehnahre are an offshoot of the equally enigmatic and elliptical Kayo Dot, which easily accounts for the compositional ambiguity but not the rage. While Kayo Dot certainly have traffiked in heaviness (albeit of the spazzed out Naked City variety) they've never really been an angry band-every moment of release is crafted for symphonic effect, a stately build up to the architectures of sound the band trades so well in. Like Mogwai, you know where you're headed with Kayo Dot. Sometimes it's cathartic and sometimes it's infuriatingly disappointing but you know where you're going to end up. With Ehnahre you're just stumbling drunk in some rotting, stinking alleyway hoping you don't fall onto a knife and then into a puddle of piss filled with glass.
"Taming the Cannibals" is both stark and full, a dichotomy that works to the band's benefit even as it alienates the listener. You're challenged from the outset-this is Slint taken to a Gorguts level extreme, filtered through a prism of Don Caballero and Atheist on quaaludes. Whether to call Ehnahre metal or not is a good question indeed and likely one that will be debated for a while; the aggression and discordance (as well as the ample amounts of blast beats and double bass dexterity) certainly mark it as such but the pace and atmosphere speak more to Disembowelment and King Crimson than Keelhaul. So too do Ryan McGuire's vocals speak more to a Khanate-esque approach than any other genre, and the presence of James Plotkin in the mastering chair only underline the similarities between the two sonically. Both traffic in spacious, wasted dirging puncuated by harsh vocal admonishments and lyrical declarations of disgust. Both value weight both and both understand dynamic, but where Khanate move at one endless, dragging slosh, Ehnahre dance and dart and stumble, bouncing off walls while spitting in faces. It's fractured-i'm not sure if i can term it any better.
Those fractures add up to an infinite slicing. This music cuts through from the outset, the moment Ricardo Donoso's buzzingly busy drums begin to boggle and disturb the mind on "The Clatterbones" and throughout (and here even the lyrics take on a sly referential, with their latent and hinted anti-semitism recalling the more extreme side of black metal), carrying through to the industrial waste of "Revelation and Decline" and into the tortured doom agonies of "Birth." It's a stunning construct by musicians who are obviously paying attention to both the past and the contemporary, a microscope trained on the debris left by those who came before and did only slightly less. This is music for musicians, yes, but it's also music for anyone who's felt defeated and shit on, as well as anyone who's yearning for an angular and spiteful declaration against everyone else. This is a dance for the world's end, a ritualistic call for blood and acid rain, an elegy crafted out of both temperance and haunting despair. Truly unique, twisting and mathematical, recommended for anyone into both Rodan and Monarch. Great stuff.


This album marks the second Hawkwind tribute album i've reviewed and the third one i own overall. I note this fact because i don't own a single album by the actual Hawkwind-it's just these tributes have had such stellar lineups it makes me forget the fact that Hawkwind never really clicked for me. Call sacrilege on me if you must but i never felt the need to go space-questing with the band that kicked out Lemmy.
"In Search of Hawkwind" originated aa a seven-inch project commissioned/brainstormed by the guys from lackluster psych band Mugstar (what an awful fucking name) and here they spiderweb those little slabs of wax into an all-out hour long freakfest showcasing some of the more song-oriented material from their beloved spacelords. Everything here fits nicely into ten minute boxes. Fittingly enough Mugstar themselves get two tracks, tearing through "Born to Go" and "Paradox" and doing a pretty decent job of both (although Paradox rocks harder and seems a bit more frenzied, both have ample amounts of whoosh and cosmic burbles); the quasi-fine work they do here almost leads one to believe they aren't one of the most workhorselike and boring psych-bands out there. On the opposite end of doing well, Kinski turn in a plodding and near-inept take on "Master of the Universe" that only serves to remind me why i hate them so much. Bland sound, whiny singing and utterly terrible guitar playing (seriously shitty-the guy thinks turning on a fuzz pedal makes you Hendrix-level) along with a turtle-like pace through the song all add up to six minutes of crap served piping hot. If i ever met anyone who told me their idea of psychedelia was Kinski, i might have to punch them in the face. Almost as bad are Magoo (and again, what the fuck? Magoo? Are you kidding me? The only good thing they ever did was share a split with Mogwai) wasting their way through a sunshiney, shimmery version of "Space is Deep." It sounds like something off a fucking Blur album and if i need to tell you why that's a bad thing you aren't the audience i'm looking to reach with these reviews.
So what the hell is good on this record? Anything? Yes. The highlight here, and near worth the price of admission, is Bardo Pond's staggering, mountainous, monolithic wade through the venomous sonic sludge of "Lord of Light." This is prime Pond, an utter vomit of a track, oozing filth and crusty distortion while squeals of rotting wah-horror work their way out from underneath. Isobel's vocals and flute playing are both eerie and angelic, adding a sure sense of beautiful unease to a ten minute metallized funeral dirge. Fucking amazing, and nice to hear Bardo Pond coming this crushingly again. Mudhoney take a punky spin on "Urban Guerilla" and slow it down a bit in the middle to get cosmonautical, reminding me quite a bit of their take on the Spacemen 3's "Revolution" from a few years past. I can't really call their work here psychedelic but it certainly caters to what they do well-amped up garage fury and overfuzzed Fender abuse. Acid Mothers Temple pop up as well (marking their second appearance on a Hawkwind tribute) and supposedly cover "Brainstorm" but it might as well be any seven minute freakfest excised from one of their own songs. These days i feel i'm getting shorted if i'm not hearing AMT in at least 20 minute doses so i can't really count their contribution a high point-it's more like visiting an old friend and catching up over some fantastic coffee and nostalgia. Previously reviewed stumblers White Hills come barreling out towards the end and work up a psych-cloud out of "Be Yourself" while adding another notch to the "quality" side of their tally for me. Not sure if it can forgive so many grievous and boring missteps but it's a fun six minutes to say the least-all roaring guitars and scathing, arcing feedback shaped into huge, glistening bubbles of grime and smoke, drowning out every other instrument until it all fades into a near-folksy jangle. Lastly, the overhyped stumble-psych Moon Duo blow through "Hurry on Sundown" in fittingly narcoleptic fashion, crafting a bit of AM radio minimalism over which to throw down a skronked out crumbling fuzz solo. It's a little too Velvet Underground for my tastes and doesn't do much to distinguish the duo from their full time gig in Wooden Shjips but it's rendered nicely in shades of grey and almost soothingly hypnotic enough for me to dig it.
There you have it. Should you get this one? If you really love Hawkwind, probably (and hell-i might not love them enough to make an honest appraisal of this album) but if you're just looking to hear some good psych damage there's plenty of other places to go. For me the Bardo Pond track cements this one (and let me say again, just so you know-their track fucking destroys) but there isn't too much else to recommend it. I think Neurot's tribute from a few months back was far more interesting as well as sonically devastating and the rare "Underground Daze" tribute double album does a much better job capturing the scope and spaciousness that Hawkwind's best work summoned up. This is just a quick little orbit around the moon.

Thursday, November 11, 2010


Thirty minute slab of vicious, paleolithic space rock from one of modern psychedelia's most inconsistent practitioners. I've steered away from White Hills and kept them distanced from myself for precisely that reason-some of the records they've released onto the world are complete and utter shit-but to my surprise they've put together some of their best material and slapped it together on this very lovely piece of wax (one thing White Hills can never be accused of is skimping on packaging and design; their vinyl is always jaw-droppingly cool and i appreciate that) and induced a head-nodding zone-out trip that rivals AMT at their wooliest.
I can safely recommend this on the awesome strength of the first track alone. "Drift Away" is a stone fucking killer, a maelstrom of guitar rock excess and moog waste rolled up into a thick fat thundercloud of negative bliss and bad vibes. And it rocks hard. Things start off slow and whispered until about four minutes in, when the distortion starts oozing out by the barrel and the drums kick in for some full frontal lobe massage and brain haze damage. Then the guitar solo starts up, cutting through fucking everything else on the track. It's glorious and it doesn't stop until the song does and i fucking love it. The best part is the guy isn't that great-he repeats a lot of the same phrases over and over certainly lacks a little in dexterity-but it doesn't matter because he's in his own little world, there's probably a fog machine vomiting smoke all over the room and White Hills are in the zone on this shit. Skill gives completely over to mood and feeling and desire and that sort of formless forgetting of reality is what the best psychedelic music is about. It's astral, difficult to tap into and it's very real. The fact that i'm disappointed by so much of what White Hills churns out just reinforces the quality of "Drift Away" for me-if they could get to this place, all the time, somehow, then White Hills would be damn near unstoppable.
But they can't get there all the time. This is the sad truth. They try, yes, but in this instance the effort alone doesn't warrant praise. Too many modern psych-rock outfits deviate from the rock aspect and deluge the underground with a reckless belch of worthless, meandering clatter jams recorded in their garage. Too many labels are eager to put that shit out if there's a semi-recognizable name affixed to the effrontery. Take a tour of White Hills' back catalogue and see what i mean. I don't want to listen to some idiot whale on aluminum buckets for 15 minutes in an empty garage. That's not pyschedelic, that's just fucking lame. Plug in, fog up and reach the stars.
Side Two of "Stolen Stars..." is slightly less successful in that it doesn't go for the throat in such an aggressive rock manner but it's still pretty mind melding. Two thick lengthy drone excursions made up of moog waves and feedback try to bring you back down to earth after the cosmic journey that "Drift Away" led you on. It's passable as well as physical (as long as the volume is high enough) but it isn't the same as Side One. I know that i personally favor a slightly more assaultive approach to psychedelia, and maybe my condemnation of White Hills for not fitting into that narrow niche is unfair, but i know they could be there, and that's what bugs me most. The band has talents they're not utilizing to the fullest, and i just won't be satisfied with them until they release the dragon wholly.

Sunday, September 26, 2010


One of US metal's most undeservedly obscure and wholly under appreciated bands returns with their latest full length and it's mind-bogglingly good. For years Dawnbringer have lurked in the shadows, hiding in the crevices of extreme music's facade, continually serving up neo-classical hyperthrashing onslaughts for those diligent and patient enough to seek out the records. Now on Profound Lore i can only hope that Dawnbringer will receive more exposure and show so many sorry, sorry bands how metal should be played. This is some TRVE underground shit, played with a reverence for the classics and a professionalism and attention to detail that blows away most anyone else fucking around with this sort of recidivism.
"Nucleus" sees little change from the last record aside from an interest in writing longer songs. In that regard this feels more like a proper record as opposed to the "glorified EP" feeling that the shorter compositions foistered upon predecessor "In Sickness and in Dreams." The moment "Nucleus" starts blasting into the headphones you feel like you've been dropped in the midst of something fierce and utterly epic. You might as well be standing in a raging circle of horse-mounted knights doing battle, while dust and blood kicks into your eyes and the air rings with the sounds of death and battle. Obviously the classicism of Dawnbringer's approach lends to this cliched medieval feel, but when the riffs are this fucking fantastic you can't complain.
This is a guitarist's band and even more so this record is a six string wet dream. If you could seamlessly intertwine the symphonic riffing of Iron Maiden with the speed of early Megadeth you'd be getting close to the sort of chops on display throughout "Nucleus." Mastermind Chris Black brings some serious A-gaming to the table as far as shredding goes-tasteful shredding, even!-and defies every band on the planet to do better. This is a guy who's lived and breathed metal his entire life and it shows in the output. He even manages to once again integrate some modern black metal influence into Dawnbringer as evidenced by the minimalist blast beat punishments in "The Devil." His vocals have gotten cleaner without losing any of their intensity-overall i'm reminded of a slightly less hoarse version of Lemmy with a little Wino thrown in for good measure-and it works with the music perfectly, adding to the overall feel of metal romance and classical composition on display.
There's few bands mining this territory with any real success. I can think mainly of Hammers of Misfortune and Slough Feg, and i attribute their mastery of the form to the same reason as Chris Black's: these guys live metal. It's deep in the blood. It's like hearing an Iron Maiden riff and having to headbang to it no matter where you are. It's stopping the radio dial every time you hear the faintest snippet of Judas Priest. It's a fervent belief in the importance and vitality of this style of music and the fact that it's contributed so much to the lives of so many disaffected, jaded kids. "Nucleus" is a masterpiece of metal-as force, as music, as lifestyle. Don't fucking sleep on this.

Thursday, September 16, 2010


Sheer agonized and ghosting black metal drenched under the weight of its own wallowing sorrow, creating a crushing feeling of depressing oppression and truly living up to the name Hopeless. This is some serious end-times wrist slitting music-there's nothing but bleakness here and not a single glimmer of optimism. Even the feelings of regret shoved into this record reek of dismissal and failure, a picture of a life lived poorly, bereft of every good thing save memories of loss, disappointment and dead wishes. Yearning is transformed into lament and every desire becomes a taunting, choking piece of bile tossed back into the heart. This is someone's therapy and that feeling easily puts this record into a league with Lyrinx and Austere for me.
The sound is appropriately cavernous, with every instrument soaked in saturating, bloated reverb, creating a mountainous and distant sound. While this approach isn't new to suicidal BM, Hopeless certainly understands the atmosphere it's meant to create and exploits it to great effect. That distancing creates an extreme sense of dischord and hallucigenia in the listener, crafting an aura of unease throughout the album's runtime that's incredibly difficult to get past. This is a tense and volatile listening experience, not for faint ears or faint hearts. Like i said-wrist slitting music through and through.
Also at work is the standard Burzum-esque simplicity and repetition found at the heart of the best suicidal/depressive BM (which really isn't simple at all). Sound is layered and time is fucked with throughout, so guitars become hazes of washed out distortions and pianos become chiming bells tolling doom and end. Drums pound relentlessly and without variation, reinforcing the idea of waiting for death, the one wish that could possibly be granted by self-volition and willpower. The vocals are simply outstanding, hyper distorted and swirled in echo while being pushed way into the red and then buried. It's a superb and tortured performance that could only have been born of real and ample frustrations and while not the equal of Lyrinx or Make A Change...Kill Yourself, it certainly deserves a place in their company.
While the above comparisons are apt, perhaps the closest would be to Shining, as least in terms of aesthetic mission. While Hopeless aren't as near as complex or dissonant as Shining the emotions and intent seem almost exactly the same. Both projects are therapeutic for their creators, offering intensely personal takes on black metal that are meant more to exorcise personal sadnesses and angers than they are to appeal to the black metal audience at large. For that reason, in a lot of art, i find misunderstanding amongst many. For me it isn't worth a fuck if it isn't personal. There's a coterie of individuals who understand that and make art with that in mind, who have to do it because to not do it would be suicide. The power there is obvious-it's profoundly affecting and sometimes unnerving to digest-and it's waiting for those who would seek it out. Hopeless have made that sort of art with "Elements" and it awaits you in all its shrouding glory.


Whoa. It's been a long time since i've posted anything here. I know i've been remiss-the only explanation i can offer for my legions of devoted readers is that shit has changed dramatically over the last few months (for the better) and i just don't have the time to sit down and write like i used to. That isnlt to say that the house isn't crashing under the weight of piles of new music-it is, just as much as always, and i'm listening to it-it's just that the oodles of free empty time aren't there anymore. I'm going to try and post more frequently. I just received a ton of stuff from the Kunsthauch label, so i'm going to start off by reviewing some of their records. Thanks for waiting.


Saturday, August 7, 2010


I don't know that i really even need to review Boris records anymore because at this point, for me, this is a band that can do absolutely no wrong. Every recent release has been so fucking consistently awesome and goosebump-inducing that i've pretty much come to the point where all i'm going to do is rock the fuck out once the needle hits the wax. This one keeps up that fine tradition and more. I'm very very pleased to say that this record is FUCKING AMAZING.
The facts: it's a four song EP, 20 minutes in length, with Boris being fronted by the heartbreaking, defeated-by-life vocals of the Cult's Ian Astbury. It's one of the strongest collection of songs this band has ever thrown together, at once remorselessly heavy, hypnotically simple and wrist-slittingly, hands-raised-to-the sky-in-wonder-and contemplation gorgeous. Much of this comes from Astbury's top notch singing-he takes these songs and interprets them from a point of view that Boris themselves may not have been able to. His style lends an epic, weathered feel to everything, adding a weary aura of resignation that can only come from true experience and reflection. His lyrics are obtuse and magic-obsessed, but i still can't help but feel a deep sort of sadness and questioning in what he's presenting to us. It's really striking, affecting and wonderful. Boris in turn play to Astbury's sensibilities and aesthetics, drenching their songs in massive 80's-rock style reverb replete with those stupefyingly gigantic Phil Collins X1000 drums that so defined the era. It's at once referential to Astbury's pedigree and a calculated stylistic choice that suits the work.
This is an excellent pairing, and kudos go out to whomever suggested this collaboration. Someone obviously knew the strengths these two would bring and help bring out in each other. Astbury sounds like a natural power unleashed, and Boris have crafted some of their finest, most accessible (but still-ALWAYS-fucking heavy) material. The only complaint is the easiest to make-the record is too short. I'd love to see a full length and a tour, but for now this is enough. This one goes down as absolutely fucking essential, highest possible recommendation. But i didn't need to write that, did i?

Tuesday, July 27, 2010


Supremely gorgeous, ultra-dreamy wrist-slitting black metal violence from China's Be Persecuted. Their first album from a few years ago was a favorite of mine (still is), a totally blown out demonstration of depressing holocaust rendered into the black metal template with the only discernible goal being to provide a soundtrack to a million suicides, distanced and cold yet so intimate, affecting and disturbing. This album blows that one away.
What amazes me most about Eastern bands is their ability to absorb the coolest musics from around the world and then spit them back out into something that completely destroys the original. Japan is the finest example of this, and perhaps Boris the best known practitioner, but after hearing Be Persecuted's output i may have to rethink the rankings of removed, repressed or ridiculously enthusiastic cultures that are best able to co-opt musical genres. This is Burzum worship to the extreme, a pure and crystalline distillation of all the things that made "Filosofem" so fucking great. Repetition? Check. Wavering, hypnotic trebly riffs? Check. Beyond hysteria-style vocals that sound like shrieks of frigid wind? Check. Glorification of suicide and self-destruction? Fuck yes. This is a band that promotes immolation, as near an audial equivalent to crippling loneliness as you're likely to find. Every melody is a stare-at-the-floor-and-weep masterpiece. Distortion runs rampant but over everything, almost every song, is a wispy, mournful washout of clean guitar ambience, bubbling over and clouding things up. It's like a little flower of hope trying to bloom up through the cracks of an industrial wastepark. This shit is going to give you goosebumps.
Some may find fault with the lack or originality on display here. To a certain extent i've wrestled with that question but the bottom line is the quality of the music and this is some superlative fucking depressive black metal. Just because every riff has an obvious source doesn't mean its played without passion or feeling. I can't believe this band could put so much into this kind of music and not be honest about it. Coming from as notorious a locale as China only serves to amplify the obvious importance this music must have to these shadowy practitioners of black metal art. This is staggeringly good and i cannot give it high enough praise-file this one next to Lyrinx, Silencer and Shining in terms of mesmerizing nihilistic depression and prepare to be emotionally overwhelmed. So fucking good, gorgeous and beautiful and so so very very haunting.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

SKULLFLOWER/WHITE MEDAL "SPLIT" (Turgid Animal/Legion Blotan)

Normally i don't review seven inches as i find the format far too limiting but i'm making a notable exception because of this putrified slab of rotted wax from the much beloved by me Skullflower, here sharing a black circle with ultra-primal underground black metal entity White Medal.
And true black metal this is. This record reeks of the spirit, more drenched and thick than most records i've heard in the last year. Some people are true channels, true shamans, true gateways, and when they turn their hand to something they're able to call forth visions and images more frightening than you could have though existed. Matthew Bower is such a person. I'm getting to the point where i can't even consider him of this earth anymore-he's so far beyond earthly touchpoints and so immersed in his own violent, elliptical universe that to chain him to one dimensional existence seems an incredible disservice. If "Great Hunter" is Bower's approximation/interpretation of black metal, then i want more of it, and i want it RIGHT FUCKING NOW. This is one of the best, hands-down flooring Skullflower tracks that i have ever born witness to. If you know me and my preferences then you are aware this statement is not made lightly. Bower sticks to simple chord forms and turns in an actual song but rather than being a redundant return to tradition this approach leads Skullflower to some dank, shrouded sacrificial altar where the song becomes a black mass hymnal, a calling to darker others and a blanketing of darkness around the caller. This is the sound of void and this is the sound of rebirth, erupting out of the particle smearing of near seven minutes of earth time. Whether this was part of a larger composition is rendered an irrelevancy; Bower forces you to exist in the NOW with him, thrusting you into a cold, horrifying, infinite blank, a howl and an abyss that threatens to swallow all. Simply fucking stunning in every way possible. Bower to me is at an absolute creative peak and shows no signs of slowing down or fucking up; even the short run time (which has been a point of contention in the past for me with Skullflower vinyl releases) fails to negate the nullifying power of this composition.
You'd think White Medal would have to be awfully fucking good to hold up to Skullflower's side of this split, and fuck yes, they are. Their side is a hissing lo-fidelity blast of raw, in the red ultra stripped down black metal recidivism, recalling both its punk roots and it's more regressive modern leanings by way of acts like Akitsa or Bone Awl. This is some seriously noisy shit with white-hot vocals fed through a shredder, a sound akin to lumps of choking earth being forced down an unwilling supplicant's throat. I'm impressed by the electricity of it and feel that it adequately matches Bower's contribution, albeit in a more digestible, less obtuse form.
This is a release not to be missed by any measure. If you're into "extreme" sounds (a lot of people think they are but aren't anywhere close) there is no fucking excuse not to have this. Fucking essential for fans of Skullflower, mayhaps the future right before our very eyes. This is where black metal could go if it achieved its true potential and was freed from theoretical aesthetic obligations. Necessary and utterly transcendent.

THE MELVINS "THE END" (Enterruption)

Extremely limited live LP from the Melvins. Unfortunately the quality of the performance doesn't quite match the scarcity of this album; i remember being distinctly disappointed when this sucker sold out in about 20 minutes, but now, having heard it, i feel pretty okay about missing out (although the collector in me still yearns a little bit to see it glowing all neon fuschia on the'd be pretty awesome.)
The show itself is recorded well, soundboard at least, from the 2003 tour. The lineup is classic as well-Buzz, Dale and Kevin Rutmanis-but the set is way too short and seems to be a bit of the Melvins by numbers. The most annoying aspect of the whole presentation is the presence of some fairly terrible edits between tracks-i would imagine them the result of necessary trimming to fit the original cassette onto an LP-but there's just no fucking way that you should ever cut ANY part of "Nightgoat" (especially the end-always the best stuff there as space begins to just fall away and a sort of improvisational noise vacuum births itself screaming from the Melvins' wretched maelstrom.) You know you're missing something every time it happens and that really sucks. I wonder how many other Melvins devotees noticed and felt the same way?
The other glaring error is a bit of a dissolve between the band in the midst of the massive "Revolve/We All Love Judy/The Brain Center at Whipples" medley the guys were doing on this tour. They seem to lose one another ever so slightly when Buzzo leads into the ridiculous metal-math riffing of "Judy" and they never quite get it back throughout the remainder. I can forgive the Melvins for having an off night-they've rocked my ears to shit porridge enough nights for me to let a little slip in one of their most technically demanding tracks slide-but why wouldn't they just use a different take from a different night of the tour, or fuck, a different show altogether? Seeing the Melvins so many times has let me witness the fact that the set list doesn't change at all on any given trek, so why'd they okay this?
A bootleg is a bootleg. If it's from a band you love (which is the case here) then any live stuff is cool, especially when it's professionally pressed and kinda-sorta authorized/recognized as an official entry in the discography. But not every live show is essential and not every performance is revelatory, which sadly dooms this LP to a rating of inessential curio at best, a collector's/completist's cash vortex at worst.
The Melvins still fucking rule, though.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

KNUT "WONDER" (Hydrahead)

I guess Knut only had one really great album. "Terraformer" was a masterpiece of post metal hardcore deconstructionism, a rewriting of the form as was already known, a willingness to bend the genre into a shape it wasn't comfortable taking. Vocals were sparse and gave way instead to meandering elliptical instrumentals as engaging and hypnotic as they were difficult and obtuse. Said album obviosuly and easily trumped everything that came before; the fact that an equally challenging remix album was birthed from it is testament to its actual scope and expanse.
So here we have the follow up, "Wonder." Nothing too great here, nothing too amazing; instead a sad throwback to Knut's formative years as a mathematically inclined angular powder keg of hardcore, less interesting than, say, Keelhaul, but more powerful than, say Give up the Ghost or Modern Life is War. There's a ghostly sort of threat to what Knut do, a sort of defiance that at times makes you admire their position but at other times makes you feel like hardcore is the most boring genre on earth. It's tight and narrow to the point that there's only so much you can do within its confines; if you try and work outside of them you're no longer allowed to play.
The best tracks on "Wonder" are the instrumentals; freed from convention, or even the vaguest wisps of accessibility, here the band cut loose and set out to really demolish the structures they've crafted. The sub-Botchisms that define the vocal based tracks here become almost revelatory, meandering missions up the dark river of hardcore post-modernism to the very heart of inspiration. But these missions never reach their goals. Something happens on the way every time. A choke, a gasp, a disease, a descent into insanity. The destination is always out of reach, that forbidden shine glinting off the city of gold, the luring promise of eternal life from a draught off the fountain of youth. It's a mirage, a trick, a cruel deception. For every glorious moment of instrumental dexterity and mesmerization there's a bland and unnecessary vocal extrapolation. If Knut are going to realize their potential they need to embrace the world of instrumental music and realize that challenging audiences is far more important than connecting with them in a superficial and abrasive way. Anger is the easiest emotion to convey and the least enduring; far better to miss a little with real depth than to succeed with needless violence.

PAN SONIC "GRAVITONI" (Blast First Petite)

Pan Sonic's swansong, an album of cold industrial atmospheres and supposed black metal aesthetics that leaves me strangely nonplussed. I've heard many people gushing over how amazing this record is and how "fucking crushing" it is but i've heard better and i've obviously heard far more crushing material. To me this is minor league industrial playdating with a couple of guys who can push buttons and make some fairly harsh sonics but there's no real interest in challenging the audience or testing endurance limits.
It isn't all bad. A certain sort of punishing stride is hit on tracks four and five, when all the volume gets amped up and the distortion levels are pushed further into the red. These two tracks are the meat of the album, the "crush" that others refer to, and if Pan Sonic had let the album continue in this fashion i might have felt differently about it. Instead those two songs are the apex of this album's noisiness and while i understand that pure noise and utter immersion have never been Pan Sonic's ultimate goal, it would have been nice to have gotten lost in that assault just a little further. A pond could easily have become a lake with enough encouragement and time, and maybe that lake could even have become an ocean.
Rather we get a soft and quiet canoe ride through a dark ambient river, beneath a vaguely starless sky while massive stone rifts rise on either side. It's darkness, stark and pure in its simplicity. Only on the final track does the roar return, however weakly, to try again to rip asunder your conceptions of what "intelligent" electronic music really is. There is so much potential here gone unfulfilled. I know that as a casual Pan Sonic fan i'm in the minority with these opinions but as something of a noise devotee i can't abide hearing people attach descriptors to this album that shouldn't be there. If you truly want crushing then you need to listen to some Kevin Drumm or maybe the Rita. Then, once you understand what that word really conveys, you can begin to use it more appropriately. If Pan Sonic ever rises from the ashes of their self-induced demise i hope they'll choose to follow a more abrasive thorn-ridden path; until then "Gravitoni" serves as a mediocre (but serviceable) capstone on a mediocre (but serviceable) career.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010


This is the complete series of seven inches that Boris put out through Southern Lord last year; combined they form sort of a proper album so i thought i'd bundle them together and review them as such (there were four different covers as well- i chose to use the Wata photo cuz she's so darn cute.)
Freed from the conceptual chains of a full length record, Boris used this opportunity to turn in what is both their poppiest and most experimental set of songs to date. This isn't experimentation like their record with Haino or any of their Merzbow collaborations, nor is it an aggressive assault like their mighty guitar vomit record with Kurihara (the flattening and totally amazing "Cloud Chamber"); instead it's experimental in the diverse approach the band takes to songwriting. Over the last couple albums (and "Smile" especially) you could hear Boris dancing with "pop" conventions, embracing an ever more melodic and streamlined sound, a refinement that at once seemed totally natural and really fucked up. One of the heaviest bands ever was suddenly writing these beautiful, rocking, blissed out and memorable songs. What's going on? Where's the Boris that wrote "Vomitself"? Do they even exist anymore?
To me, the answer is no. And that isn't a bad thing at all. Boris is still heavy as fuck-they always will be no matter what they do-but they aren't the slow-motion abrasion unit that they were at their career's inception. Gone is the Melvins worship, gone is the necessity to exist within an avant-garde metal microcosm. It's been replaced by a love of music in general and an allowance of their native mass cultural influences (i.e., insane Japanese pop music) to shine through in what they're doing. "Japanese Heavy Rock Hits" hints at as much in the title, but the music itself proves the point with a more rampant intensity.
Things kick off with "8", easily the most "rocking" song on the set but also probably one the best Boris songs i have ever heard, an incredibly perfect marriage of punk energy and pop songcraft. I wish this was the kind of shit that was on commercial radio all the time, because it should be (and in Japan it probably is); it's that hooky. I could blast that song over and over and never feel the joy it gives me evaporating. It's melancholy and summer rolled into one hyperactive fireball of rock damage.
From there things get a little weirder. "Hey Everyone" and "Black Original" are techno-themed, drum-machine based formulas that owe perhaps more to recent splitmates 9DW , or maybe Boris' approximation of late '80's American dance floor bangers than they do any kind of rock music; the feeling on these two for me is that it isn't really the best sound for them to wallow in, but if given enough time and allowance to play with it, they might end up fucking owning it and proving me very very wrong and very very unfaithful. "H.M.A. (Heavy Metal Addict)" boasts one of those great playful Boris titles that tricks you into expecting a rush of fierce distorto-face ripping but instead reins Atsuo in to a constant driving snare thwack over which Wata serves up a decidely "heavy metal" riff that never really goes anywhere. A drone joke, maybe, or just another instance of Boris doing what they want; either way it works. The triple harmonized legato trilling (!!!) in the middle is just so much referential gravy.
"16:47:52" is an extremely minimalist folk-tinged number that plods along with an endearing constancy and brings to mind a vaguely overcast, almost-raining sort of day. Wata's dry and simply delivered vocals add to the feeling of washed-out resignation that haunts the song, making it way more affecting than you know it should be and adding a confusing sort of depth that you didn't initially expect. "...And Hear Nothing" goes in exactly the opposite direction, a hyper-blissed deluge of melodic distortion that sounds so much like Nadja it's got me wondering why the hell they haven't collaborated yet (seriously-someone at Southern Lord needs to get these two in touch with each other.) It's the most traditionally Boris sounding track on the record and ends up feeling weirdly out of place here, but certainly no less enjoyable. There's a majesty and immensity in this track that reminds me of why i love Boris so much and how enveloped their music makes me feel.
The record closes out with a Wata-led cover of Earth and Fire's "Seasons," a decent enough encapsulation of the idea behind these seven inches-natural change and progression, an inevitably that you live through and sometimes love and sometimes hate. Boris are sometimes ironic, always clever, but never, ever pandering nor unintelligent. The choice makes perfect sense.
The biggest and most positive development within these songs is the growing use, and confidence in delivery of, vocals. Both Takeshi and Wata have very laconic, almost sleepy delivieries, and Takeshi's voice especially seems imbued with that rare tired melancholy that i have heard in people like Thurston Moore, Stephen Malkmus, Paul Westerberg and Greg Dulli. I wouldn't put him in that esteemed company just yet, but there's no denying his vocal presence has grown more powerful on each record, to the point where it's almost become a sort of secret weapon for Boris, a magical bridge that will allow them to leave the world of outsider boutique metal and reach a wider, more embracing audience. This is one of few bands in operation that in my mind can do ANYTHING; i look forward to every new transmission with a barely contained excitement that forces me to twitch and jump as the release dates draw near. The next record is an EP with the Cult's Ian Astbury, and i have no idea what to expect. But i know i can't wait.

Monday, July 5, 2010


Fairly ecstatic and ritualized forms of musical worship dedicated to the Sun City Girls, coming off as a more electrified version of the same without ripping them off. Not easy to do! MMB go off the deep end here, more than surpassing their expansive and exploratory debut. The group benefits immensely from choosing to focus in on one particular sound and mine its every vein rather than going out in all directions and creating a resultant mess of world-music glop and avant-drone posturing. Everything on "Totem One" sounds pure and real, the music imbued with a sort of buzzing and blissful zen transcendence that lets you get in and float away within minutes.
There is a heavy emphasis on nature throughout the proceedings, as many of the tracks have a sort of "campfire/gamelan" feel. The whole album sounds more like a field recording than a studio effort; such an organic approach to the sound and construction of this record produces an intimacy necessary for deeper communication (communion?) and engagement with its audience. While SCG always maintained a sort of humorous and detached distance, even at their most sun-drenched and devotionally fervent moments, MMB are looking to connect with something. There is an understanding in this band of what SCG were always truly reaching for, what they were so easily able to find and tap into. Maybe the detachment came from its effortlessness; it wasn't jadedness so much as it was existence in that realm. Ambrosia was really only meant for the gods.
So this is heaven, then. Or maybe some other plane or dimension. Maybe another sort of consciousness only reachable through deconstruction of self and the use of other forms of communication as doorways. If you can crack the sky open you can bask in the primordial wisdom of the godhead. If you can pry open the third eye you can bear witness to the exaltant majesty of the true endless, the widening void of all that is and all that can possibly be. This is the sound of constant sunlight, the sweat and the din and the buzz, the chimes and the voices rising up in choir to join with all the sounds you're incapable of hearing in your impoverished state of diminshed perception. Modernity and technology work in tandem to obliterate the purity of the astral. Master Musicians of Bukkake, like the Sun City Girls before them, are one of very emsembles (especially outside of the Indian masters) capable of prying open the door and letting you peer inside. Hopefully that small peek is enough to whet the imagination and encourage a more thorough exploration of what lies beyond.