Music Reviews



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Artist: Beta (@)
Title: Reflections in Darkness
Format: CD
Label: BLC Productions
Distributor: Metropolis (USA); e-noxe, Alive (Europe)
Rated: *****
This is Beta's debut, or so says BLC's rap sheet on this one-man Industrial crime wave. The website, however, of Ian J. Velasquez--Beta himself--shows a prior, out-of print release, Without/Within (and contains .mp3s of several of its tracks). But back to the task at hand. We are dealing with driving, relentless electro rhythm, laced throughout with hallucinated speech samples and nightmare-induced auditory imagery mixed in at just the right liminal level. None of the original-mix tracks on Reflections in Darkness is under five and a half minutes (save for opening track "Absolution," basically a song-length intro to the record itself); my current favorites are "Possessed," the de facto aggressive centerpiece, and the slower, slinkier "Escape." Four of the other tracks appear again in the back of the CD as guest remixes by different collaborators (Skoyze, Agonoize, Implant and Schattenschlag), but on first blush they don't seem to contribute as much to the overall Beta lustre, and therefore serve to max out the disc capacity. And therefore perfect for your next unbroken spell of doing whatever or driving wherever on your favorite type of rocket fuel, so get ready to settle in for the long haul. Speaking of which, although the label is based in Little Rock, Ark., a clue or two in the liner notes point to the Los Angeles area as Beta's likely habitat, so for God's sake don't piss him off in traffic. Cool body-part photo pastiche artwork, too, courtesy of a design entity named DeadDreamer.
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Artist: the Wretch (@)
Title: Ambulatory
Format: CD
Label: Magnatune (@)
Distributor: Magnatune
Rated: *****
One thing I admire about the Wretch is the evolution of his sound--not just album to album, but track to track. Never one to stay in the same place, the Wretch’s Michael Weeks likes to keep his listeners on their toes. His new release, Ambulatory, is no exception to this. The mood and theme of each song manage to be substantially different, showing the listener a massive array of the influences and interests that helped shape this album.

On this newest release, Weeks takes his listeners on a journey through the darkened, eclectic corridors of the schizotypal mind of the Wretch. Ambulatory’s base sound is an ever-changing mixture of cold, dark drones accented by heavy, spastic beats that sometimes become so intricate and precise they almost dare the listener to call them IDM. The feeling and style of each song is diverse, yet each track manages to feel like part of the whole. Each track is a glimpse in a different facet of a singular troubled mind.

From the foreboding beginning to the somewhat creepy, but almost friendly, end; Ambulatory grabs and holds the listener’s attention, whispering distorted nothings and relentlessly assaulting the unsuspecting cochlea. As only his sophomore release under the Wretch pseudonym, Weeks has managed to reach musical standards most independent artists can only dream of. Ambulatory leaves no doubt in my mind, Michael Weeks/the Wretch is going somewhere, strap in now so you can say, "I told you so," later.
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Artist: Fektion Fekler (@)
Title: Into the Sun
Format: CD
Label: Static Sky Records (@)
Rated: *****
The two protagonists of industrial synth/darkwave duo Fektion Fekler have almost, but not quite, grasped their musical genie coming out of its bottle. The bad news first: although they have been recording since 1989, artistically an advantage from any perspective, the musicianship on their new 14-track release yet has some room for improvement. In spite of really cool effects on the vocals, too many of the tracks suffer from off-key singing. I emphasize this not to be unfair, but because so much else about this disc is already incredibly good, that it could have been great. Nevertheless, FF presses bravely on: woven into the last two-fifths of Into the Sun is an unexpected (for this first-time listener) and refreshing batch of lovely, acoustic guitar-driven songs reminiscent of Meddle-era Pink Floyd. "Liberate Tutmet," the last song (if you don't count the "hidden" track), resolves the CD nicely with its eerie, This Mortal Coil-like splendor. Finally, the vocal performances on these just manage to redeem the other trouble spots on the disc.

Assuming that vocalist John Bustamante is also the mysterious "Womb Dabbler" listed among the guest credits (as "vocals and lyrics by..."), he and brother programmer/guitarist/bassist Robert offer not only decent industrial fare but heartfelt odes as well. This serious commitment to doing something sincere and different with their genre will for sure make FF stand out as a whole. They definitely have the tools; all they need is a little troubleshooting.
Artist: Habeeb (@)
Title: Il Cancello Della Morte
Format: CDS (CD Single)
Label: Somnambulant Records
Rated: *****
The return Of Habeeb with this disc is a treat, and one I have waited for since his last disc, "Il Cancello Di Morte." This disc could be considered a continuation from the 3", and if that is the case, then it is a continuation into a dismal abyss. "Della Morte" has grown into a much darker beast, and touches less on the light atmosphere heard previously and goes straight for the throat, purely suffocating the listener with solid foundations, dirge-filled drones and sparse but extremely effective texturing. The disc clocks in at just under one hour and the 8 tracks flow seamlessly together, till a sample in the intro of the last track, which takes you away from the depth of this release for a second, but only momentarily and you return to the full and corrosive sounds.
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Artist: Pascal Comelade
Title: Back to Schizo (1975-1983)
Format: CD
Label: Gazul Records
Distributor: Musea Records
Rated: *****
Pascal Comelade is, apparently, a French pioneer of minimal, experimental music dating back to the early days of the synthesizer. The track listings in this compilation of early works spells out the instrumentation used in each, more often things like toy keyboards, toy saxophones and regular acoustic pianos than actual synths (in this case, to be precise, the Synthi EMS-AKS). Clocking in at just over 41 minutes, most of the 26 tracks appear to be not much more than short pieces of sonic wallpaper, in the form of tape loops, chiming and tinkling little abstract melodies, simple scales, and ambient treatments. In a couple of the songs ("Fluence" and "Ready-made 4", tracks numbers 1 and 21) are heard swooshy electric guitar overlays, strongly reminiscent of those on Robert Fripp & Brian Eno's 1973 epic "Heavenly Music Corporation," two years precedent to the starting date of this CD retrospective. (Eno and Michael Nyman are, in fact, listed among his influences.) There may be question as to Comelade's possible influence on important Industrial/EBM ancestors such as Throbbing Gristle or Cabaret Voltaire, but clearly his work is not as truly pioneering as might be assumed.

Nor, in the present time, has he moved on much beyond his toy piano arrangements, or improved his original repertoire. An online look at his more recent catalog reveals weird, ethnic-sounding hybrid titles (seldom with any accompanying audio), and covers of old standards like "September Song" and rock songs like the Stones' "Brown Sugar". Still, monsieur Comelade becomes more and more intriguing the more one listens and investigates--and this reviewer can only conclude that Back to Schizo may be the most promising and logical starting point.
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