Thursday, January 28, 2010
Every great metal riff was written by either Black Sabbath, Iron Maiden or Judas Priest. It's an indisputable fact. Everything that exists now, every genre of metal gracing the planet past, present or future, owes its entire existence to one of those three bands. The only real reason for me reviewing this record is to tell you that it's awesome and you should own it. Because it is, and you should. Some further elucidation: this album was released in 1990 and was a tremendous reinvention for Judas Priest. A few years behind the birth of thrash metal Priest doubtless felt the need to compete in order to stay relevant; stupid, yeah, but when your back's against the wall it's amazing how focused you become and what you find yourself capable of. This is the ultimate power metal album-every riff is a fucking destroyer and they're all fast as shit. It's as melodic as Maiden could hope and as frenzied as Slayer hotwired on crack. Just listen to the opening drum fill on the title track and tell me that shit isn't levelling in the best possible way. This album is merciless in its true dedication to the undying spirit of METAL. Every cliche is exploited for maximum effect, even the cliches that Priest themselves authored and the only feeling throughout is one of deathly seriousness. This was a band with something to prove in 1990-that metal was timeless and born of the earth, that the ideals behind the music were as true today as they were in 1970. Every track here rocks. There is not a dull minute. From the 100 or so guitar solos that trade off during "Painkiller" to the double bass ridiculousness of "Metal Meltdown", from the almost-silly tale of Lovecraftian terror and all out melodic shredfest of "Night Crawler" to the bombastic reverb laden death stomp of the crushing "A Touch of Evil", this is a metal fucking masterpiece. Shitty nostalgic metal revivial bands try to replicate this sound today but they can't because they're seeing it through a prism of irony and a dream of easily moving units-there's no honest belief in the power that this music has. And it is powerful. You would do well to kneel before the twin axes of K.K. Downing and Glenn Tipton, and you'd be even better advised to pay some sort of tribute to the godly Rob Halford, because they made this kingdom, this massive metal landscape built out of blood and sweat and years of toil and dedication. This is true metal art and it is peerless.
A curiously subdued live outing from Circle, recorded for Brian Turner's radio program last back in 2007. The live arena is where Circle are at their best; it's no accident that most Circle recordings i own are live shows (nor does it seem that strange that this band has a larger live discography than recorded) and the joy of Circle live is that you never know what the hell you're going to get. This is a band capable of almost anything, from all out Judas Priest style metal juggernauting (my favorite) to deep woods weirdo commune forest psych. This show, to me, is closest in spirit to their massive jazz-tinged epic album "Mildjard", as both albums are possessed by a strange gentle approach and an aping of free jazz style chops, while keeping a very distanced stance from the concept of "easy listening". Disc One (yep, it's a double) starts off with "Virsi", a folksy tune incredibly reminiscent of Mikami Kan both structurally and vocally, with Mika's hoarse voice plaintively crying out over choppy start/stop chords and drums. About two minutes in and the vocals drop out while the band transitions into eleven minutes of Cecil Taylor on qualudes style jazz posturing, complete with meandering piano and jittery drum scrapes. This gives way into "Rykmentti", a freezing cold keyboard abyss that sounds like John Carpenter trying convince Optimus Prime that human/robot coupling is a good idea. Seriously sharp and incredibly unforgiving; probably one of Circle's most frightening moments. The absurdly titled "In the Name of Rock-Android" closes things out, with 22 minutes of drift that deliver on neither promise of the title. Again, Circle just catches you up in this stuff, even when nothing much is happening at all, and i'm hard pressed to think of few other bands who make sleepwalking sound like such an artistic profundity. Disc Two opens up with "Skiing", an incredibly dark and mesmerizing track that reminded me very much of Neurosis's more searching moments, with Mika sounding especially Von Till-ish. The track presents a truly serene menace, and yeah, there's more of that weird opposites-at-work-together thing that Circle does so well. "Dungeon" is the obvious highlight of the set, probably the most truly gorgeous song i've heard from Circle, thirteen minutes of glorious piano flurry and twinkling repetition that recalls both the Necks and the Philip Glass shit that i was listening to with Ben today equally. Completely entrancing and hypnotic-two whole discs of just that song and i would not have been disappointed. Somehow knowing that they'd hit a high, Circle closes out the album with "Murheenkryyn", the only track that delivers the epic repeto-rock that Circle are known for. Mika is in completely awesome fashion here, his pipes sounding totally raw and shredded as he screams his lungs out over a dirty guitar fueled workout replete with doublestops and guitar-hero posturing, even if the actual ability isn't there. Sometimes even Circle can't keep up with themselves, i guess. Why Circle called this one "Triumph" is beyond me. It's more of a slow burn victory, wherein the majesty of the music flows over you given time, like a lazy float down an empty river canyon in the dead of night, with that big starry sky spread over you, making you feel like you're leaving the earth and beginning a voyage to somewhere much further away. Circle will carry you; they'll fly you; they'll get you there if you trust them. Do you?
Everything about this album screams about being something that it really is not. An album called "Tyrant", issued shortly after Circle began attaching the NWOFHM tag on their records (New Wave of Finnish Heavy Metal for those who haven't heard), featuring two hooded figures on the cover donned in chain mail, with a band photo inside that looks like it was taken on the streets of San Francisco circa 1986, with the band striking some classic Exodus poses, themselves donned in leather, chains and ripped denim vests. This should be totally metal. So you throw on the record, three massive tracks sprawling across about 45 minutes, and Circle have fucked with your preconceptions one more time. There's not a lick of metal to be found here-there's barely any licks at all. Or riffs. Or solos. Not even a harmonized fill. What you get is a jittery, paranoia-fueled canopy of blackened free jazz, each piece dominated by a cloudy overlap of dense, thick guitar/keyboard drone over which the slightest hints of Circle's trademark repetition rains down. Some tracks have moments of more melodic guitar figures, like the first track's endless sort of buildup into a wash of nothingness , others seem to be nothing more than jam experiments put to tape. There's definitely no structure here and very little in the way of composition. This is Circle just fucking around. Aesthetically i'm more impressed because if anything, i would say this is Circle's best co-opting of black metal methodology that i've heard from them thus far (albeit the Abruptum end of black metal). The intermittent vocals that pierce the songs are totally venomous, way more metal than i would have thought Circle capable of, and the whole vibe of this record is DARK. I guess you could think of it as the fraternal twin to the side project that some of the guys put out on 20 Buck Spin a few years ago. As fey as the whole thing is, i found myself pretty absorbed into this record as i listened and i think it's actually pretty damn good. If you're new to Circle, this would NOT be the best place to start, but then again, i'm not really sure where the best place would be. A circle just keeps repeating...
Wednesday, January 27, 2010
Back when the band was broken up, any new issuing of Harvey Milk material felt like some sort of peak into a secret world-they were a mysterious, crushing band with only three albums released, all displaying a myriad of moods and aesthetics, so anything new was pounced upon like the cult treasure it certainly was. Now that they're back and increasing their output, all those archival releases seem a little less interesting. So how do we view this new edition of their very first unreleased album (restored by the good folks at the inestimable Hydrahead records), recorded by Bob Weston back in 1994 and stolen by some guy who had promised to put it out after he fronted the recording costs? All of these songs have appeared in some form or another over the years, and pretty much all of the "official" versions are better in every respect. Nothing has changed structurally in the songs and the only real differences are tonal. What's the value? Who's the audience here? Obviously it's diehards (like me), the idiots who'll slobber over everything with this band's name on it, but it also shows how tight and focused Harvey Milk have always been. There are songs here that ended up on all three of the band's albums, so the varied approach was always there, and the composition and craft were pretty firmly in place right from the outset. What changed between this and "My Love..." is the ambition and imagination. This record, taken at face value, represents only one aspect of Harvey Milk-the lumbering, weighty stagnancy of a band (probably the only band) that could out-Melvins the Melvins. Only "F.S.T.P." would hint at the tear-drawing beauty that these guys were capable of. By the time the masters for this record had been stolen, an artistic leap had been made. "My Love..." is so much more, all over, in every way. So much heavier, so much more confounding, so much more progressive, so much more fucked up and so much more METAL. Within "My Love..."'s first three tracks you have no idea what you're dealing with. When "Courtesy..." dropped a few years after, no one was anywhere near ready for the level of assaulting depression, anger and self-loathing it contained, nor could they take in the gaping, wide-eyed loveliness that was being wrought. Harvey Milk matured at an astonishing rate after laying down this eponymous, glorified demo. It's enjoyable enough, sure, and a great piece of the HM legacy, and it's fun to hear the guitar solo in "Jim's Polish" and think "yep-Creston's from the south", but beyond that it doesn't reach the peaks of the actual official releases. They were right to wait so long on this, and i wonder what would have happened had this album actually seen release rather than "My Love...". I think we'd being seeing a much different band and a much different legacy. Maybe we all owe that asshole who stole the masters a collective thanks.
Monday, January 25, 2010
I expect you not to laugh at this. Maybe the photo, but then again, maybe not. Have you seen John Carpenter's film "Christine"? Have you read Stephen King's book "Christine"? For the sake of this review i'm going to assume you have some level of familiarity with the story, but the basic of it is this: Christine is a classic Chevy possessed by an otherwordly evil with a fierce sense of loyalty to her owner. Arnie is a shy geek who falls in love with Christine, buys her and bonds with her. Arnie begins to change personality-wise (i.e. becomes much cooler) and Christine begins to hunt and kill his tormentors of her own volition. The premise seems so stupid, and when i read it years ago i remember finding it to be a rather minor King work (although he would return to theme of possessed vehicles.machines over and over); the film too i still consider to be something of a footnote in John Carpenter's lengthy oeuvre, despite some gorgeous scenes of spellbinding destruction and a pervasive retreat to nighttime locales. On the soundtrack, however, Carpenter hits all highs, turning in his best work since "Escape From New York". I don't think Carpenter gets enough credit for being as visionary a composer as he is-in the 1980's, no one was doing anything remotely like this and even today people attempt to co-opt Carpenter's sound into their own but always fail, because those droning, blunt synths belonged to Carpenter and Carpenter alone. This was some seriously futuristic, incredibly bleak robot music, and it achieved a true sense of foreboding and creepy ominousness that few other musicians have been able to get. James Horner got close with his "Terminator" score and the overall feel of Paul Verhoeven's filmwork ("Robocop" and "Total Recall" specifically) approximate it but it never sounded as good as it did here. Every short piece recalls the film and upon listening to it i realized how really fucking dark of a movie "Christine" is. Pitch black. The music sounds like machines breaking apart and putting themselves back together again, the crunch of metal collapsing and folding. The infinite propulsion of pieces like "Moochie's Death" and "Christine Attacks (Plymouth Fury)" make you feel like you're bieng chased down and empty midnight highway as a flaming classic roadster bears down on you, ever closer, a senseless, formless, impossible evil out for blood. The morphing lush tones and blended chord swells of "Buddie's Death" predate Badalamenti, ushering in a hushed yet epic and achingly melancholy feel. Arnie's "Obsession" theme repeats throughout, mutating ever so slightly upon each return, twisting in our ears and minds. It's just cool shit, hands down. Sure, the "Halloween" theme pops up a bit recycled in a piece but who really cares? It's supposed to be scary, it's supposed to be tense, it's supposed to be horrific in a way. The idea of a killer car rings laughable, but what we tend to forget is that most of Stephen King's books are set in the real world. It isn't fantasy, nor is it removed from our own day to day. These things just happen, and the fact of their being makes them all the more terrifying and mysterious. Evil really can exist, with or without god, with or without good. Maybe rock and roll really is the devil's music (in the book and film, the only radio stations Christine will play are old fifties rock). Carpenter got that. He was there with it. It made sense to him. It does to me, too.
Sunday, January 24, 2010
One of the latest entries in Marcia Bassett's ongoing exploration of purgatorical guitar drift and one of her more "meditative" sets to date. For me it's very, very hard to separate Zaimph from Skullflower and in that sense difficult to know where Matthew Bower ends and Marcia Bassett begins. A lot of the time i end up thinking of Zaimph as the more feminine version of Skullflower, the slightly more questioning side of kabbalic guitar death-vision. Both projects are out for total obliteration, both projects have a frightening obsession with arcane magicks and occult posturing and both are absolute formless destroyers, but where modern day Skullflower goes straight for the jugular all the time from the first second, Zaimph is more paced and thoughtful and all of Marcia's records have a much more mystical bent to them. Her darkness doesn't seem as pitch black as Bower's, although it's plenty bleak and horrifying on its own. Maybe a better way of putting it: Matthew Bower believes in, and maybe is, evil; Marcia Bassett believes in nothing but doesn't feel that blood sacrifice is without merit. So what's on this Zaimph record? Eight tracks of distorted drone and amplifier wheeze, along with some very ill-placed piano that only lends a sadly comic, "what the fuck was she thinking" feel to the proceedings (luckily the piano only appears in track two and then never, ever comes back). Some parts have the thickness and glacial pace of Earth while others bear more than a passing resemblance to the aforementioned Skullflower, all high end feedback screams and poseur-metal wishful thinking, cloaked in webs of mystery and art-space pretense. Which isn't too say it's bad-not at all, really. Marcia is quite good at creating these darkness tours and unlike Bower she doesn't wallow there-she grabs your hand, pulls you through in a few minutes and then drops you off on a well-lit corner, maybe a bit shaken but for the most part undisturbed. This album in particular is backloaded-the last three tracks for an extended suite of sorts, more drone based than the rest of the record and much more enveloping in a dunk your head in syrup sort of way. Not the best Zaimph album, nor even a decent measure of what Marcia's capable of if we give her time to shake off Bower's spectre (and as we all know, the touch of evil runs deep and cold) but an enjoyable excursion into darker, more psychedelic territories of anti-bliss.
Saturday, January 23, 2010
Latest slab of wax from the aforementioned Campbell Kneale, this time two songs split into four distinct movements, each with their own pace and identity. Side A kicks off with "The Pleasure's Everlasting", opening with a low-end guitar drone and "Criminally Insane" style drum pattern that comes really close to the Birchville aesthetic on "Chi Vampires". After about a minute the floodgates open and a whoosh of uncontrolled feedback and guitar discordia comes washing in, sliming the track in sticky high-pitched waste as the whole thing rumbles along for a good eight minutes. This first part ends and gives way to a roar of formless electricity that seems lifted from (or maybe a continuation of) the form displayed on "Blondesummer Snowqueen", all high-end skree and whir with little regard to structure or pacing, ending as abruptly as it started. Side B is titled "In Sleep We Creep", perhaps preparing the listener for an extended drone workout or a hearkening back to the earliest roots of Birchville, but again Kneale throws a wrench in everything and produces an honest-to-god agitated guitar riff that shambles along unchanging and hectic, feeling like some sweaty frenetic ball being thrown against a wall by a meth addict. Very unnerving and unending, draped in layers of skronk and guitar static. The track ends with the hinted at twinkling sky drones (at least in name), layered and dense and oozing but not fully removed from the nervousness displayed at the commencement (the barely perceptible four on the floor drumbeat underneath makes sure that there's some sort of skittery propulsion). This is a seriously on-edge side from Campbell, a quality not usually found in his work and leading to the obvious question of where things are headed. The grey and cloudy cover art would have us believe that we're in something of a comfort zone, an area where things are floaty and weighty only in our heads, but maybe that's where it's going to be at its worst. Maybe it's a reflection of shared disillusionment and an audio expression of worry. The tension's thick; the rain is coming-fucking dracula clouds.
Campbell Kneale graces us with 24 minutes of audio violence, the latest transmission from his current incarnation Our Love Will Destroy The World. Building on the promise left behind by the mighty Birchville Cat Motel on albums like "Chi Vampires" (coincidentally one of my favorite records EVER) and "Curved Surface Destroyer", "Blondesummer Snowqueen" wastes zero time in showing its hand, growing to a total roar within 30 seconds and not letting up one iota throughout its short, brutal runtime. This is the sound of every Slayer riff collapsing, of all of Sonic Youth's amps blowing all at once, of Merzbow's most melodic dreams becoming reality in a blur of wheezed out sound decay and volume worship. This is sound totally fetishized and called forth for the sake of destroying any eardrum it might come across, enthralling those few strong enough to withstand the onslaught. It just rolls right over you, never stopping, single-minded in its quest for auditory raze. All this comes from a little hut in New Zealand, from a mild-mannered school teacher with a professed love of Judas Priest and a desire to "just make beautiful music." To the right ears, yes, this is completely beautiful, a painting in a thousand colours, a symphony of a million tones, a gateway to some other place where everything makes so much more sense and where experience and the present are the only things that matter. It's a tour de force of modern composition, a master demonstration in layering, but fuck, Kneale's been doing this for years. Do you really need me to tell you this is fucking amazing?
Friday, January 22, 2010
A couple of years ago Conjunctions published an issue called "The New Wave Fabulists". The fiction contained within was demonstrative of the continually blurring lines between genre fiction and literature and strove toward a new appreciation of what used to be thought of as science fiction and horror. The idea was that exercises rooted in genre could still be beautifully executed enough to qualify as honest to god literature and that the reading public needed to reassess what fiction really was. This thinking could just as easily apply to the idea of black metal. Fifteen years ago the qualifications were narrow and obvious, and few bands could hope to attain the violence and conviction necessary to orient themselves as black metal. Today the genre boasts an incredible, almost inconceivable amount of practitioners from all musical backgrounds, a small number of whom borrow the faintest vestiges of the genre and cast it as a template for a new musical palette altogether. One such band operating on the extreme outer fringe are Yoga-you may as well think of them as the Henry Darger of black metal because their music is so fucked up and removed, yet still grounded in the base idea of balck metal, that they truly stand apart from their peers. In that respect Holy Mountain is the perfect label for "Megafauna" and its distanced approach, as they've made releasing true brain fucking albums seem like the most obvious thing in the world. and Yoga are truly brain fucking, make no mistake. Most of the record is based around harsh, screaming feedback samples and loops of stumbling guitar decasia, while a damaged drum machine plods on in the background, rendered bombastic with echo but almost oblivious to the songs it's supposed to be anchoring. Vocals are nonexistent or so processed that they're just another howl (i'm leaning towards nonexistent but i really don't know) and the song titles reference appropriate fantasy horrors and hallucinogenic states of being, like some mushroomed-out Lovecraftian dreamstate. Every now and again a "riff" will surface, rising to the top of the soundlake like some bloated floater, dead and rotting and stinking of infection but more often than not the music languishes in a psychedelic state of insomnia, whirling about like a sandstorm without direction, rooted to one swath of desert, doomed to swirl and whine until it finally dies from lack of purpose. The record as a whole doesn't suffer from the aimlessness though-quite the opposite. These moments in time become hypnotic and all-consuming, completely enveloping your attentions and sweeping you up in their own sense of pointless blackened grandeur. This is disease made into music, a cough that just gets worse and more aggravating, the fever that increases a degree a week and never really breaks, the walking pneumonia of black metal. Strange, strange landscapes that seem utterly familiar, so otherworldly yet born of simple primitivism. It lacks the force and direction of more disciplined black metal projects, but "Megafauna" succeeds in opening up the third eye of extreme music.
Thursday, January 21, 2010
Drunken, dizzying warp-speed electro-glitch grind avant-horror from these two French death metal aficionados. No human being could ever play this live. It's music made purely to be appreciated through headphones at nightmarish, migraine-inducing volumes, full of electric shock pulses and stereo-panning shizoid nuance. Crazy, crazy shit here. Whourkr operate from a purely cut and paste standpoint, filtering samples of guitar riffs through computers and spitting them out via intense editing into weird, fractured, impossible compositions of mesmerizing complexity and seizure-inducing spasticness. The touchstones are many-Slayer, Buckethead, Aphex Twin, Troum, Nemo, Agoraphobic Nosebleed, Genghis Tron, Tim Hecker-but the result is a new kind of outsider metal pastiche, a hypercolour splash of techno-referencing thrash-pop, totally alien and really really hard to wrap your head around. Vocals seem as heavily edited as the guitars, run through all sorts of filters and processors so the only thing that remains is a whirring high frequency clashing with a low distorto-signal of throbbing electricity, something akin to standing in a wind tunnel while someone throws lightning bolts at you. And then there's tracks like "Santo" where a light acoustic intro gives way to a choir of syrupy sweet "aaaahs" before a wash of melodic pummel rains down on your poor eardrums. Or stuttery, ragged songs like "Freugz" and "Cera Pollutea" (even the titles seem cut and paste) where the only real structures are sine waves disguised (or forced into the semblance) as guitar riffs, full of shock-throb bass nausea and an endless deluge of gore-grind level double bass terror. Yes, the drums on here are fucking relentless, continuous stop/start blast beat insanity, never really letting you get away, even for a second. This shit just doesn't let up. It's merciless in its saccharine desire to completely flatten you. By the time the last track wanders in, the strangely calming majesty of the Peste Noire-meets-Mogwai pop epic "Plantea", you're spent. There isn't much else that a record like this can throw at you. It's a perfect example of the growing sub-genre of tech-metal compiled by Jay Randall on the mighty "Drum Machinegun" compilation from a few years back (a totally awesome brainfuck of an album that you should definitely own)-whether they give it a real name or not. Some musicians are out there to fuck with you as much as they can, to take you places where the music can really only be conceptual. Whourkr are right on the ledge, and they're holding out a hand for you to grasp. There's no olive branch, just a taunting half-smile and the infinite expanse beyond.
Monday, January 18, 2010
A 20 minute juggernaut engineered for maximum destruction. I asked a friend if he had heard this LP yet and he told me that he was avoiding it because he felt that drunk driving was nothing to make light of. I was a bit taken aback by that comment as it's obvious to me that Drunkdriver are deathly serious about what they're doing, in a total bloodletting sort of way. I view their stance as one akin to fellow noise rock deconstructionists The Austerity Program. It seems both of these bands would push you down a flight of stairs and then sneer at you from above. This is some mean, sweaty, raging noise ROCK. And that's just Drunkdriver on their own. On this LP they're collaborating with whooshing hell-monger Mattin (of his own devices as well as frontman for Billy Bao) and the result is a similar to the pairing of Pyramids and Nadja-a pure collaborative effort wherein the individual contributions become invisible and the whole becomes something larger and more encompassing than either participant could produce on their own. In short, these two entities were meant to work together. And fuck, is it ever an exhausting workout. Two sides of wax that don't ever let up, offering no mercy and serving up a gurgling torrent of adrenaline fueled blood and spite, cloaked in blankets of brutal repetition and howls of unbridled electricity. It's unhinged, totally chaotic but completely mind-numbing. Think Brainbombs meets Lightning Bolt and you're almost there. It's that frenzied, that crazy, that violent, that cathartic, that unnerving and it fucking ROCKS. It's like some noiseberry crumble served up on a plate of puke and spit and the moment you take a bite someone's going to hit you over the head with a hammer. This is revolutionary stuff, and again, much too much too short, but i don't how much of this you could really withstand. Do you relish the idea of having your head smashed against a wall over and over and over until it's a mushed up pulp of gray brain and clotting blood? Probably not. But those 20 minutes when it's happening are fucking beautiful.
Wow. I'm not even sure how to begin on this record. There's probably about 20 minutes of music on this LP and about a thousand ideas and communications. It's not scattershot and pointless but rather tempered and controlled, even when it's sounding schizoid and fractured. It's a sound sculpture more than anything else, not pure noise nor dark ambient but something born of both those worlds and belonging to neither. When i was listening to it i found myself thinking of John Carpenter, Nine Inch Nails, Whitehouse (Peter Sotos's contributions especially) and Nordvargr, but i don't think Yellow Tears adheres to any of those paths or philosophies 100%. This record confounds me a little, and that's really, really awesome because there aren't many artists out there whose work actually confuses me anymore. Even when it's at its most fucked up and punishing, i've got an idea of where most artists are coming from. With Yellow Tears, i haven't got a fucking clue. There's obviously an element of creepiness here-this could just as easily be the soundtrack to a snuff film as the score to one of the "Saw" sequels. People scream and laugh and cry, massive drones throb and worm around the headphones and staccato bursts of static assault from all angles. But there's also the icy hum of decaying far away synthesizers and the warmth of analogue knob-twiddling, the echoed wailing of ultra-delayed vocals swirling through the skies like forgotten ghosts. It's a symphony, obviously, some sort of honest to fuck composition about decomposition, a tour through a spoiled, poisoned countryside in the dead of night where the people aren't made right. This is the musical equivalent of incest, the thinning of the bloodline and the result of years of desperation and laziness. This is someone's daughter splayed out on a bed naked, knives gleaming in the moonlight. This is the endless bray of sheep and cows and screams in the night. This is the cold, choking hollowness of fear. This is some dank alley where you're going to get knifed and fucked and pissed on. Yeah-it's frightening. I won't sugarcoat it. This is some weird, out-there, messed up music-and it is enthralling from the first second. My only complaint is that it's way too short. It's a different sort of punishment, one that i want so much more of. I can only imagine what these guys would do with 80 minutes worth of space. A worthy addition to Hospital's roster and a terrifying, mindfucking exploration of some twisted psychic terrain.
An extremely limited (and extremely expensive) CD documenting a rare (the first!) live appearance by Steven Wilson, aka Bass Communion, at a festival curated by the mighty Fear Falls Burning. Across numerous releases Bass Communion is very hard to pin down. The core elements remain the same (bass and drone) but the presentation is always very different and varied, making Steven Wilson's project one of the best of the "laptop" droners-whether you'll get a piece of distorted room crushing bass vomit or some jazz-inflected Tortoise-esque-but-way-better-than-they-could-ever-hope-to-be style post rock, it will almost always be expressive, engaging, textured and interesting. Bass Communion has always rewarded deep listening. So imagine my disappointment at this rather lackluster live outing, perplexing all the more because by any measure Bass Communion should totally DESTROY in the live setting. i don't see how they couldn't. The volume must be an event to behold (at least if the venue's sound system is decent). Since i wasn't there i don't know about the actual volume but the performance on this CD is pretty fucking boring. I've never felt that way about Bass Communion before and like i said, it was sort of shocking. The performance is comprised of two tracks, the opener being a 37 minute snooze-athon dominated by atonal guitar wisps and aggravating rises and falls in volume. The track never gets close to any sort apex despite an ever-present attempt at creating tension and even the sporadic fallbacks to bass-heavy drone-throb do little to alleviate the boredom or advance the piece. It's just kinda there, hanging around, not really caring if you're paying attention or not and not doing anything to really engage you either. The second piece fairs a little better but it's only seven minutes-i guess Steven figured that the audience would lose interest unless he was constantly "changing things up" soundwise. This piece is much more familiar Bass Communion territory and reminds me a lot of the work he did on "Molotov and Haze", the glacial slab of glitch-sludge hell that he recorded for Important Records last year. Unfortunately it ends way too soon, the ladder to transcendence cut off many, many rungs shy of the summit. I don't know if it was first-ever performance jitters or just the hard to accept truth that guys playing laptops live is stupid as hell, but this is pretty much a miss. Even more mysterious is how Steven Wilson can be involved with a band as terrible as Porcupine Tree.
Friday, January 15, 2010
Some bands are the ultimate collector's dream and nightmare: tons upon tons of releases, on shitloads of different labels from different countries, all in limited small runs, all insanely high quality. DROWNING THE LIGHT, an Australian black metal project, are one such band, joining the ranks of acts such as Boris, Nadja and Skullflower in terms of music output to awesomeness ratios. In black metal this frequency of releases is more frowned upon and Drowning the Light has been subject to a number of unwarranted backlashes for their dearth of unobtainable releases. At this point even i can't keep up with the wealth of vinyl releases these guys are putting out, chronologically or financially, and while saddening, i've decided to more or less get what i can when i can. Drowning the Light has never disappointed me with their music, so when i saw a US distributor had this newest album in stock, i jumped on it. The bad news is that because i overdrafted my check card paying for this (my own fault) this album actually ended up costing me about fifty dollars. Was it worth it? Absolutely. Limited to a scant 300 copies worldwide (although there's no numbering on this CD, which bugs me a bit) this is easily one of Drowning the Light's strongest statements artistically. There's a good 70 minutes of music here, making this one of their longest albums as well. Let me throw a deluge of monikers towards you to describe this stuff: this is vampyric aristocratic romantic depressive raw black metal of the most elite style. It's obvious that the gentlemen behind Drowning the Light absolutely live and breathe black metal. It's their lifesblood, a complete and ruling passion, combined with a deep historical knowledge of the genre and the ability to replicate and advance a sound that hasn't been accurately reproduced since Darkthrone's "Transylvanian Hunger." Yes, the spectre of Fenriz and Nocturno Culto looms weightily over Drowning the Light, and no other band has tapped into the frigid primitivism of black metal in years. This is church burning music, forest dwelling etudes that hearken a welcoming of an early age, a statement of utter rejection and disdain for modern culture and its values, an homage to the Northern climes and all their icy solitude (and no, i have not forgotten that this band is from Australia). This is simply masterful songwriting, drenched in uncomplicated melodies and headbanging garage production. When people talk about "cult" black metal, this is one of the sounds they're referring to. With no interest in interacting with the scene at large, Drowning the Light are making black metal for the sake of the art alone, a desire to keep the fires in the heart blazing, to hold the torch aloft and see the that the banner flies high and the flame never goes extinguished. "An Alignment of Dead Stars" achieves the hypnotism of "Filosofem" while reaching the emotional gravitation of Shining's most frightening confessions and the sheer beauty of Mogwai's naked guitar deconstructionism, while on the other hand they're able to write music of such anthemic simplicity that the Ramones would give applause. Totally flooring, one of the best albums from a band whose discography is vomiting gold.
Monday, January 11, 2010
Earthen and oceanic both, this the absolute best sort of black metal album. Slow and ethereal, bogging down under the weight of its own floating dreaminess, stumbling but forceful, uncomplicated and utterly hypnotic. Entrancing. Otherworldly. This is the door that Varg Vikernes was forcing open with Burzum and this is what so few people understand. It isn't about racism or purity or nationalism or paganism. It isn't about anti-religion, nor is it even about people and their concerns. It's so beyond that. It's a gate and a mirror. The CD tray states that it's "Awing Art of Northern Nature" and that is exactly correct. This is power, this a force that always existed, before us. A force that will exist long after we're gone, long after every living thing has vanished. It's the power of time and age, the majesty of existence and other styles of consciousness and awakening. It's the dwarfing beauty of nature. Burzum was the first band to truly recognize it and try to pay homage to it, to offer a form of devotion unfettered. This album by Lustre is one of the best records i've ever heard upholding Burzum's vision and while some would view that as a detraction, as some sort of criticism, perhaps against Lustre's originality or intent, i can only applaud the effort and give it my highest possible recommendation. This is almost everything i look for in black metal. Entrancing, repetitive, cyclical song structures, forcing narcoleptic meditation within the listener. Deep, lush tones and cavernous production soaked in reverb. The guitars on this recording are massive, all-enveloping. They sound like waterfalls. Each timbre separate yet acting as part of the whole, the onslaught of watery gushing sound. The vocals are a grisly rasp, sounding like the sickly exclamations of some dying adder buried underneath a mound of mud and leaves while rain pours down from the grey chilled skies above. Keyboards cloak the whole record in their warming, foreboding mists, glossing over everything and holding it in a cloudy swath of medieval melody. Icy clavichord/piano notes cry out from amongst it all, leading you down a path that only spirals further inward. It all keeps going and going, stretching out to a utopian endlessness. Forty minutes isn't enough. It feels like i could listen to this for the rest of my life. This is so much more than music. It is that, an extremely accomplished piece of it, but it is so much larger. This a lamentation for an age, a showing of respect for a force much greater than us, a mourning for what's been lost, buried by modernity and progress. It's a call from the night, from under a shroud of clouds and moons, from beneath the scream of the wind and the eternal dark of ancient forests. Masterful.
Sunday, January 10, 2010
Isolation is a terrifying extreme. The feeling that you're cut off from everything, that no one understands you or can empathize with you, the idea you are without friend and more or less alone in the universe-it's a harrowing and horrifying experience. From a psychological perspective isolationism goes hand in hand with arrogance and oftentimes accompanies depression, leading to increased thoughts of worthlessness and suicidal impulses. From an artistic perspective, isolationism can yield amazing work that is completely devoid of interference, art from a place that others have a hard time reaching. Certainly geographic location plays an important part in the creation of music. Sound is tied to place or origin as much as it is individual ideas and influence. Nowhere is this idea more clear than in the world of black metal. Norwegian BM sounds distinctly different from Swedish BM, which is worlds away from French BM, which is nothing like the sound of US BM (whose actual "sound" is still a matter of argument). As far reaching as the tendrils of black metal are, there are still those corners of the world where it hasn't permeated, where BM artists are rare, where there's no clear cut "sound" to link to, where the only references are the artist's own ideas and the records that they may or may not have heard. Be Persecuted from China, Pyha from the Koreas and Enecare from Ireland are all good examples of this sort of musical isolationism. Another amazing example comes in the form of Grim Funeral, an entity from the romantic wastes of Spain, whose approach to BM is firmly rooted in classicism yet is uniquely individual. My first experience with Grim Funeral was their split album with Ghesteenland, a challenging, lengthy, cold record whose dissonance and crudeness could be seen as off-putting to all but fervent worshipers of Ved Buens Ende and the Black Legions. Now comes the full length on Total Holocaust, five tracks of shrieking banshee-esque BM demanding to be taken on their own artistic terms with little compromise in terms of sound. This is trebly, icy BM-the guitars are drenched in reverb, chorus and echoes while the programmed drums hammer relentlessly away with mechanical inhuman precision. Not especially technical but nowhere near amateur either. The vocals are all over the map-most of the time a chilly scream freezing above the callous music landscape, clouding across the songs like a knifing rain, other times a droning croak of bile and vomit. The music references the grandiosity of Emperor with none of the pomp-songs are complex, long and melodically confusing but never overbearing-the notes just don't go where your ears want them to go. What you know is thrown away in favor of a more distanced approach. Atmosphere is important, but again, never the focus-keyboards are omnipresent but always just behind, cradling and fleshing out. The echoes do most of the work. As the album reaches its concluding apex the mark of Xasthur becomes ever more apparent as the guitars become more distant and washed out, the pace more industrialized and hyperplodding. This record is massive step forward from the split material, especially in terms of production. Whether this ushers in a new style of BM remains to be seen, and what relation this album has to the overall sound of Spanish BM remains a mystery as well, at least until more albums surface. What you can be sure of is that this is an entity all its own, the touchstones obvious but never ripped off. The album cover suggests to me a declaration of war, a military stance, and in some ways the music reflects that idea-there is certainly little reprieve to be found here, even in the final drumless track of guitars and screams, but what war is being declared on isn't clear. The listener? The "scene"? Contemporaries? Life in general? Grim Funeral offer no opinion, only a strange, dissonant work of BM art birthed from their own torments. Not a masterpiece but totally an entity to watch.
Aside from the two "Twin Peaks" collections, this is easily the best collaborative work from Badalamenti and Lynch, serving as an exact evocation of the mysterious, ominous mood of the film as well as an amazing, gorgeous album in it's own right. Rarely do i feel that soundtracks succeed as records because too often someone else's hand is involved in choosing material and things become way too disjointed-the selections don't make any sense, or they veer too far from the film's aesthetic. Music has always been important to David Lynch-so much so that he's stated that his films need to be watched with intense surround sound volume, in pitch darkness, to achieve his desired effect-and that dedication to serving the film beyond the screen has resulted in a truly mesmerizing, immersive album experience. The album opens with "Jitterbug," a play on big band music complete with booming dance drums and subdued brass flourishes. Right away the mood is there. It's completely Hollywood but there's the lurking darkness, the notion that things aren't quite right and they will probably very quickly go all fucked up and wrong. After that we're in pure Badalamenti country, plowed under wave after wave of dark synthesizer melodrama and near pitch black ambient throb, lost in the nightsea of memory loss, consumed by passions that we're not quite understanding yet. Just as you're becoming dazed by all the mood Lynch throws a wrench in with a tripler of older rock and roll, culminating with Linda Scott's syrup-sweet rendition of "I've Told Every Little Star," a '60's romp through girl-crush wonderland. It's a song you've really never heard but it's so archetypal that it feels like you've heard it all your life on every oldies station you've ever tuned to. Then it's right back into the black with the twelve minute synth washout of "Dwarfland/Love Theme", a massive sprawl played by Badalamenti and Lynch themselves that's both incredibly creepy and hauntingly, quietly lovely, an intensely immersive piece that succeeds as its own composition apart from the film. Lynch would revisit this direction a few years later on his masterful "Polish Night Music" album, a lengthy exploration of the synthesizer underbelly. The final chunk of the album is the best, to me, starting off with Rebekah Del Rio's scorching, soul-tearing acappella version of Roy Orbison's "Crying." The power of this performance is breathtaking to behold. Because it's in Spanish i'm forced to react only to the delivery and the emotion contained within and it's fucking astonishing. So, so powerful and gorgeous and sad, totally heartcrushing in the best possible way. We're then treated to three songs by David Lynch and John Neff, all droning rockabilly decontructionism filtered through Lynch's skewed eye. "Go Get Some" features some completely ripping guitar noise and skronk vomit from Neff while Lynch holds it down with a repetitive rock line recalling both Duane Eddy and Dick Dale. "Mountains Falling" hits the same lofty highs, with vocals cloaked in echo and delay swirling all throughout the headphones. Rumbling and hypnotic, growling and surly, swaggering with hinted violence and menace. The album closes out with Badalementi's revisiting of both the opening piece and the love theme introduced in "Dwarfland/Love Theme," bringing things back to their melodramatic beginnings. Much like the film itself, themes are revisited and repeated and nothing ever really comes to light-mysteries just keep unveiling themselves, labyrinthine and shadowed, tantalizing you and calling for you to explore. I thnik the picture chosen for the back of the inner booklet sums it up best-Naomi Watts and Laura Elena Harring staring up into the sky, looking confused, worried and frightened all at once. You just don't know what's going to happen.
Saturday, January 9, 2010
Sometimes i wish Mark Kozelek would just make a black metal record. His work with Red House Painters and his solo stuff seem to be the template for a lot of depressive/suicidal black metal these days and there's no denying his influence over Through the Pain's debut album. I first ran across this band last year via an extremely limited split they did with Trist (50 copies, of which i possess one)-i had to write to the guy from Through the Pain to get the disc as well as pay an exorbitant shipping fee (cost more than the record!) but i was more than willing to do so, as Trist only shares wax with quality like-minded projects. A year or so later and Through the Pain's 4 song album is out via the mighty Total Holocaust and it's pretty much what i would have expected. Aside from Kozelek the other major influence at work here would be Hypothermia, much more recognizable and looming given that this is a BM record. This is simplistic, repetitive material, recorded poorly, played amateurishly, and begging the question of whether or not it can be taken as a serious statement. The derivations bothered me throughout the first song but as the record progressed, becoming evermore loping and droning and melodic across its four pieces, i came to appreciate the album for its own qualities of melancholy examination. This isn't wrist-slitting music but the sound of frustration, of not understanding. There is a burgeoning counter movement within depressive BM referred to (perhaps jokingly) as "happy" black metal, named after the the brightness and major key modality of the songs. Through the Pain could easily fit under this moniker and this is where i see the Kozelek influence, but you could just as well term it shoegaze BM and be okay. All this genre cross-pollinization just confuses the issue, though, and i think it's used more as a conveyance of sound than an actual musical philosophy. Alcest pretty much ripped a hole in black metal that hasn't been sewn up yet and no one wants to think that the genre can stretch so far and encompass so much without losing identity and meaning. In this regard Through the Pain are treading fairly virgin ground and doing so bravely. These four tracks are pretty far removed from their contribution to the "Black Veils" split-the repetitive elements remain but the sound has been reworked and a new take on depression is being revealed. This isn't song-oriented in the way i feel Lifelover is (nor is it as accomplished) but it's stark and honest. The best thing Through the Pain could do is record their albums better, because these songs deserve more than the tinny, claustrophobic production granted them here. Maybe that's part of the idea, but i'd rather hear all that guitar overblown and piercing, groveling in horror and cracking apart under the weight of its own pop-tinged melodocism.