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Friday, April 19, 2013

The Expansion of Noise/The Destruction of Drone (2013)

This is the first time I'm really doing an article like this but recently I've gotten quite a bit of releases sent to me from different artists and have given them a little while to digest (some, obviously, longer than others). But with each new release, the urge to write an all encompassing article. Is it a cop out to do all of these releases at once instead of individually? Yes. But based on some of the compilation reviews I've written last year, apparently these bigger write-ups are quite popular and (hopefully) turn those who read it onto more than just a single artist. In the instance of these releases, all of them obviously have to do with the drone and noise genres. What each and every one of them managed to do for me was show a different perspective on those genres. Whether it happened to be through a collaboration with other artists or just a natural expansion of sound, they did leave quite an impression.

Takahe Collage (Handmade Birds)
For as long as I have been aware of it, Merzbow has been at the top of the whole "noise" genre. His work that spans across and over four decades has pioneered, championed, and experimented with the various conceptions and ideas surrounding the genre itself. Seeing how much he releases in a given year, it should come as no surprise that he has already released two albums this year.

Masami Akita's release on the underground darling label, Handmade Birds, adds to the label's strangeness. The three tracks that make up Takahe Collage are just as weird as one might expect to hear from both the artist and label at this point. Pulsating rhythms that accelerate and decelerate throughout the course of a given track while various noises and effects are given free reign to completely rewire whatever idea a track is. Now, obviously I can't say that I've heard everything that Akita has released - I challenge anyone to say that they have heard it all from him - but the handful of releases from his vast discography that I can say that I have heard, are different to this. The soundscapes(?) created on here are far from the intense harsh noise work he's done, but also aren't in the more inventive beat-craft realm either, it's something a bit more "avant-garde" so to say. At times coming across more like 8-bit music, at another it might be closer to effect-driven blasts of feedback. You never quite know where exactly a track is going and that can be part of the fun. At its best, it's a psychedelic trip, it's like all the best music of this sort where it lulls you into a sort of trance where you're open to whatever ideas come at you. At its worst though, it has the same problem I've always had with Akita's music, it is horribly self-indulgent. While the thirty-two minute long title-track encounters this problem it must also bear the weight of opening up the album, though I can't say if it would have benefitted from being the closer either, it just rambles on a bit too long for my taste. So, if that is the album at it's worst, the second track, Tendeko, must highlight the best. In comparison with the first track, it's far less spastic and a bit more pensive (in a sense) allowing for a greater chance to dive into the soundscape and become entranced by it. The droning low-end that is exhibited in the latter half of the track is possibly my favorite part of the entire album. Obviously, the more effect driven sounds are a big part of the sound of Merzbow but in the case of this album, when Akita went into straight noise or drones, I found it to be to the album's advantage.
Cuts (RareNoise) 

The collaboration released just a few months ago between Akita, saxophonist Mats Gustasfsson, and drummer Balazs Pandi is a whole different story. The combination of just those three entities clashing on stage results in a sort of bizarre, John Zorn-ish, mish-mash that really is something to marvel at while listening. You can definitely tell that it was performed live (which it was for those not aware) and it only adds to the chaos that the trio made. It doesn't have that studio sheen that you would hear on Gustasfsson's or Pandi's material or the control or focus on Akita's, which results in absolute chaos. I relate it to the work of John Zorn's live material because it does have that sense of complete improvisation vibe to it, where everything is off-the-cuff and nothing is safe. The press release for this album mentioned that it could be compared to the likes of Lou Reed’s Metal Machine Music or Sonic Youth, and while I can see why those comparisons were made, this doesn't really have the rock foundation that a group like Sonic Youth would bring to the table or the warped sense of genius from Lou Reed (when speaking about that album). Instead, what you have is blistering feedback, frantic bursts of saxophone, and drumming that sounds like the kit is falling apart - obviously, make of that what you will, but while I did feel like several of the tracks were a bit too extended to really be "enjoyable", because let's be honest and say that it is very rare that noise based music can actually be enjoyable, it was consistently interesting. For me, while the shots of utter chaos were perfectly fine, and sort of what I expected to hear from this record, the shorter tracks, The Fear Too. Invisible. for example, was where I really dug into this album; and it's where Gustasfsson really shined. So, as you probably have already ascertained from this, this is not a record for everyone. If you're a fan of any of the trio, than this would be worth looking into, otherwise listen to at your own caution.
Sulphur (Independent) + Corephallism/Gnaw Their Tongues Split (Lascivious Aesthetics)
But of course no discussion about the extremes of noise music would be complete without mentioning the work of Mories' project Gnaw Their Tongues. His project has been the source of a great portion of the best blackened noise to come out in the last decade or so. Taking the foundations of the noise genre and amping up the intensity and perversity to near operatic levels. At times it's been a bit too self-indulgent for my taste but Mories has always had the sense of how to, at the very least, keep a track interesting even if it isn't his best work.

Beginning with the unreleased material of Sulphur, we have Mories utilizing a sound that is both familiar and a bit different from his typical material with the project. The four tracks on here are not quite so abrasive or chaotic sounding as a lot of his older material or as industrially precise as his more recent stuff, dwelling in a sort of weird middle ground. It's a lot more droning, in a sense, than usual. In a sense, it's a bit more contemplative than a lot of the work I've heard from the project. A track like Silence is one of the most sobering pieces I've ever heard Mories release from the project, though that isn't to say the other three tracks don't have their more maniacal sides. The ideas used in From Shoulder to Waist and Choke should be familiar to anyone who is a fan of the project.

And then there's the split with Corephallism. Starting with the GTT side, being the track A Moral Guide to Self-Castration and Necrophilia, you can expect all the typical sounds you've heard from the project. Now, I say that in sort of a throwaway fashion but it's actually a pretty solid piece of work that makes use of the death-industrial(?) genre pretty damn well; and as someone who isn't completely sold on that style of music, I hope that's saying something. The industrial percussion, the frantic screams, bursts of feedback, droning cacophony - what more would you want from a GTT track? I was not aware of Corephallism before this split was sent to me so I was not aware of the style that the project produced - though I assumed that it would be similarly as dark and chaotic as Mories' material with GTT. So you can imagine my surprise when Abandonment began and it was much closer to ambient music than noise. Granted, the distortion and feedback do come in halfway through, but the ambiance remains at the very front of the sound. By comparison, Rapes of Convenience is much more typical of the power-electronics variety, with the sole exception remaining the ambiance. So, from a fan perspective, if you're a fan of the more "noisy" side of GTT and looking for another project that is doing similarly interesting things within the genre, this would be a very nice addition to your collection.

Comforts In Atrocity (Crucial Blast)
Along with that you have the collaboration between Mories and Nekrasov in the form of Mors Sonat. Stylistically, fans of either project will not be disappointed by what the duo play with. There really aren't a whole lot of metallic elements to this project, instead the duo focus on the more moody aspects of dark ambient and drone based music while flirting with the industrialized distortion found in death industrial or HNW music. It's the sort of release that actually manages to prove more dynamic than either of the duo's main projects actually are (or were in the case of Nekrasov). The ambiances are slow and somber to contrast against the harsh and loud industrial noise when it comes into play. The burst the comes in about half-way through opener Holy Holy Holy Nil is genuinely surprising because of how it contrasts against the ambiance that came before it. Honestly, as a fan of both musician's work up to this point, I can say with certainty that this may be among their best work. Whereas the ideas of GTT may always come across as surprising, on recent releases I have yet to find anything quite as abrasive or shocking as the early work was and I much preferred Nekrasov when he was playing with black metal and HNW instead of focusing solely on the latter. This project features the best qualities of the aforementioned genres and turns them into something much less compromised or by-the-books. It's unique is what I'm trying to say.
4 Black Suns & A Sinister Rainbow (Handmade Birds) 
I'm certainly no stranger to the work of Matthew Bower, I have listened to several Skullflower releases in my time and find them to be quite interesting pieces of sonic destruction or noise rock (depending on which album), but this is the first time I'm hearing from his project Black Sunroof!. This two-disc set of black metal-ish sounding by way of noise rock improv by way of HWN is released by my (or our depending on how you prefer) friends over at Handmade Birds records, and listening to some of the label's more recent releases, this one shouldn't come as any surprise. Now, I'm not going to sit here and tell you that this thing is amazing because, "...it's figgin' distorted to fuck and uber underground you'll never hear anything like this," because that would be a lie. This is the sort of thing that people who like doing hard drugs while letting people do things to their unconscious bodies would put on, or in a different light, it's what would happen if Dominick Fernow actually just started using a guitar instead of his voice in Prurient. Is that bad? No, it isn't, but people who are sick and twisted sexual deviants are the sort of people who play this stuff everyday. This is an article about noise and drone pushing the envelope, in my opinion anyway, and this is one of those that certainly does that. It's an insane venture into a world of depravity and sickness that, like most people in the reviews I've been reading for this, would be better if you took some drugs while listening to this. I understand that this isn't really turning out to be a review that's saying, "Go out and buy this," but frankly, if you're like me and you enjoy what Handmade Birds releases, you think Bower is a maniac who releases some of the craziest it's-so-black-metal-it's-not-black-metal records ever, and you think that experimental music is better when you have weirdos like that making it, do yourself a favor and buy this. Then lock yourself in your room for a few days with this record on repeat.

The Day After (Dipsomaniac) 
The work of Enbbilulugugal is one that I am only now becoming acquainted with. Being that this is the project's first full-length in nine years, this was obviously the one I went to first. So, as you might imagine by it being included in here, it's a pretty intense little bastard of an album. The sound of the project is one that blends the intensity and atmosphere of black metal with the violence and chaos of noise music. Granted, that style is by no means a recipe for success and has become increasingly respected thanks to groups like Sutekh Hexen, but this is far more intense than Sutekh Hexen are, even on their first few demos. It's the entire thing is just corroded and decaying in distortion and noise. It crackles, it hisses, it falls off the mark on several instances (in that any fashionable song ideas are overcome by noise), making it an extremely hard record to like. Honestly I'm not even sure if I could say I like this record yet. There are moments, tracks like the oddly groovy ICBM Blues and the dissonant Basement of Doom, that stick out among a few other choice tracks, but for the most part, it's a rather hard listen. Whether that's good or bad I'll leave up to you to decide, but the entire record does feel does give off the vibe that these guys do not give a shit about whether or not you like, or even listen, to this. I, honestly, could have done without all the effects used on the noise, but that's just something that I don't particularly like about any noise or power electronics recording - so it shouldn't come as any surprise that I don't care for it on here either. The short "skits" on here didn't really do anything for me either, they're not good or bad, but more of a relief from the otherwise relentless tone that the "actual" tracks maintain. So, listen at your own risk, but tread lightly.

Kahane + Fistula + Repent (Inam) 
Ok, it should come as no surprise that Sujo is going to take up a large portion of this article what with four releases I've neglected to write about until now. So I'll start with the oldest release and work my way up to the most recent release (which I found out about the day of me writing these reviews). Beginning with the epic Kahane we have the project at it's most post-black metal like. The guitar parts recall all the best things from Alcest and other bands of that ilk while covering the entire thing in a dense smog of distortion and noise. The drums even made me think a bit of glitch music on Achille due to the odd style in which they were programmed. I know the fusion of these ideas may not sound all that pleasing, but trust me, I'm underselling it here. It's an album of immense beauty that is seemingly devoured by brutal chaos. The album's title-track acts as a centerpiece which not only unifies the disc, but also acts as it's most breath taking piece. It's the sort of track that makes you think that the post-rock inspired forms of black metal aren't just rehashes of what the big groups are doing. The four surrounding tracks bring that chaos to an all time high for the project with closer Frei being the most clearly "black metal" influenced track on the entire album, I say that only because the vocal presence is actually audible on it, along with some well executed blasting drums.

Following that was the collaboration with Sun Hammer resulting in the album Fistula. Now, I can't say much about Sun Hammer since I'm not familiar with their work, but the collaboration has definitely resulted in the most noise based album I've heard from Sujo. While there is certainly not a shortage of post-rock inspired atmospheric touches and his trademark distortion tone certainly remains intact, the album as a whole is much closer to straight-up noise than his previous releases have been. The album is much more about building atmospheres under incredibly aggressive tracks of noise and distortion and feedback, which I guess you could say has always been a part of what made Sujo such an interesting project to begin with; but the slow electronic pulses and subtle industrial bangs and clashes that hide in the background were where I was able to truly distinguish this from the project's other work. Frankly, I wasn't as taken with this as much as I usually am with the work of Sujo, but there were some truly outstanding moments on here that definitely warranted the returns I made after the initial listen several months back. The likes of Nataf or closer Wolfshead definitely were impressive pieces that stood out from the rest. So, maybe not essential, but for worth hearing for those two tracks alone.

Next is Repent. Unlike the previous two releases, this album is much more in line with "typical" blackgaze records - having said that, it is only similar in the sound of the recording. Unlike the noisy and extremely dense pieces that Sujo has exposed to us on past releases, this album is far and away his most atmospheric venture. The ideas used call to mind more of the "depressive blackgaze" (I just made that up) bands who tried to rip-off the early records from groups like Alcest and Lantlôs but were nowhere near as inventive or interesting with their songs and wound up releasing albums that were extremely lo-fi and noisy but atmospheric as well. That is the sound that can be found on here. But, with that being said, with this being Sujo, obviously there's more sound to find in here and the melodic ideas are far more memorable and captivating. Yes, this is not the project's noisiest release, but it still features plenty of droning sections of either noise or ambiance, listen to Scoundrels for an example. It's a really nice paradox sound that counteracts most of the project's discography by presenting us as listeners with the project's signature sound and turning it on it's head. In talking about the more melodic side expressed on here, like the blackgaze genre itself does so often, it jumps between post-rock/shoegaze and black metal, and fortunately/unfortunately, that's what you get on here as well. Songs can have focus in on the more ambient post-rock side of the project, as on Nillin, or it can jump into hellish black metal, heard at the beginning of the title-track. If this short review comes off as sounding a bit uneven, that's not on purpose, because like the majority of the project's work, this is very much worth checking out.

Ondan (Inam)
The newest release from the project is the short little album called Ondan. I had only discovered this album once I started writing this article of reviews and decided to just stick it in since I was covering the majority of Sujo's recent releases I should cover the most recent as well. I looked up some information about this release prior to actually listening to it and was surprised by a couple of people actually linking it to the power-electronics style of music. As the previous three reviews have stated, although Sujo is a project linked with the noise genre, I never expected power-electronics, so I came into this album somewhat more trepidatious than usual. When I finally listened to the album, I have to say that that tag wasn't entirely incorrect. In comparison to his other work this album did feel a lot more dissonant and aggressive. The opening title-track is one of the most ferocious pieces I've ever heard from the project; and while the album certainly does have quieter spots that do hark back to the more post-rock driven ideas of the past, those are covered with a uneasy feeling atmosphere. It's the sort of vibe where you know that the track could just explode into noise and distortion at any moment because of how quiet and restrained it feels, especially when the rest of the album is as harsh as it is. Not for the first time listener of the project, but definitely an interesting release for those who have heard the past releases from the project.
Corrosions of Travelled Daydreams (Simple Box Construction) 
The body of work A Death Cinematic has released thus far has (despite my initial bad review) been quite good and consistent. As always, the packaging of this new cassette is fantastically put together, with "dusty" photos acting as an accompaniment to the music, it proves to be K.'s crowning achievement thus far. Essentially picking up from where his 2012 album, The New World, left off musically, this new EP continues perfecting his unique brand of droning post-rock. I guess where that album fell short for me was its replay ability, which, despite my praise for it, I never quite managed to be able to get into it when I put it on except for a few occasions. This new tape takes the basic set of ideas from that record and transmutes them (not exaggerating) into a set of psychedelic trances that I had yet to attain from this project. I viewed The New World as the perfect sunset album at the time of it's release, but this one actually tops it (maybe it's the fact that it's spring and the sunsets feel all the more "intense" so to say). The dusty guitar tone perfectly sets the mood for the sun going down. Even with the mechanical clangs that occasionally occur in a few of these tracks, the quieter approach that, at least to me, these songs were apparently performed in has really payed off with some psychedelic pieces of ambiance. But wait, that's only half the story. As the tape progresses (actually if you flip the tape over) you'll get the much more destructive side of the release. A piece of feedback drenched ambient drone (that is a mouthful). It's the harsher and more noisy side of the project that works best as a night piece. Personally, the reason I'm not delving as much into this side is because I wasn't as taken with it as the first half, but for what it is, it goes above and beyond what most other projects accomplish. I know I'm Not doing highlights in this article, but to me the two clear standouts on this tape were The Chill of The Dawning Greets Us With Hopes of Death and On These, The Raptures of Our Harrowed, Mournful Days, both tracks which perfectly showcase what K. does so well within this project.

Stolen Fire (All Day)
But of course one cannot exclude the work of Jenks Miller when talking about where the drone and noise genres are being taken. His work, whether solo or in Horseback, has made use of both styles while, in the case of the latter group, making it strangely accessible to the average listener. So after sitting with it for several months now, it was with great pleasure that I could finally write something up about this wondrous tape. For all the various sonic experimentation that has occurred in Horseback's discography thus far, 80s synth-pop was something I never thought I'd hear. Side A of this tape features a collection of old demos definitely break new ground for a band that is on the cutting edge of experimental music right now. Set against that, you have some more standard and traditional bouts of feedback drenched walls of noise. While tracks like Do You Have A True Feeling? or the title-track made me think of a very raw and unpolished Depeche Mode, the more aggressive bursts of noise like Luciferian Theme definitely were closer to the stylings of Pruriet. Side B, which features two more extended demos definitely comes across more in the vein of what one might expect to hear from a demos collection of Horseback. North Star Struck (Destroyed Demo Version) definitely sounds like an outtake from last year's fantastic Half Blood album while Transparency (Murdered Again) is sort of a melding of all three styles. It's sort like this avant-garde synth-pop piece. So while the tape as a whole is somewhat of a mixed bag in terms of results, I have to say that it shows a new side to the band that I didn't expect to hear.

Gnawed Gristle and Bone (Ominous Silence) 
Obviously those familiar with this site will know my long standing relationship with the group known as Venowl. From their blackened noise beginnings (which clearly nod towards the work of Enbilulugugal) to their more recent metallic excursions, they have been a group who has always tested not only the boundaries of both drone and noise music, but the patience of their listeners as well. I've been far more taken with their recent ventures into funeral doom and black metal than their early work, so, as you might imagine, this is one of those newer releases. This single, twenty-three(-ish) beast of a track is one of those funeral doom type tracks that just appears so raw and so epochal that it's almost a shame it's by itself. The track itself ranks among the band's best yet, but how does that come into play here? Well, as one might imagine, the line between funeral doom and drone is quite close (drone-doom anyway) and this is one of those that could fall into either category depending on the person. For me, the feedback and extended chord work is far more in the realms of the drone style. I'm sure by now, most people reading this just chock this up to one of those albums I couldn't decide where to place (and you'd be right), but it's far more fun to put a release as interesting and cranium-beating as this one up for grabs in an article like this. It's a slow crawl through the muck without a light in sight. Now you tell me if that isn't the destruction of drone.

So where does that leave us? With all of these different releases that showcase sides of these two genres that we've already seen and yet never seen before. Whether it happens to be in a more traditional way or a slightly more unique and modernistic approach that hasn't been seen yet, these two genres are finding their way into all sorts of interesting projects. From metal to retro-80s synth-pop to HNW to free-form jazz the construction of such dense pieces of art has yielded some of the most interesting releases from this year (and late last year) thus far. There are no scores for the albums above because even though this article was filled with small reviews, it was meant more as a challenge to see if I could construct a piece like this and make it work (please give me feedback and let me know).

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