Music Reviews



Artist: Steel Hook Prostheses
Title: Calm Morbidity
Format: CDS (CD Single)
Label: Malignant Records (@)
Rated: *****
Steel Hook Prostheses (SHP for short) is a (well-known) heavy electronics/dark ambient duo from Texas.
In this specific experimental context bands have usually quite sophisticated concepts and stories behind their musical and graphical aspects. SHP is no exception. As you can read in several interviews here and there in the immense world-wide web, one of SHP’s member thought about such a peculiar name because of the time he spent in a Veteran’s Hospital, where his mom used to work back in the 1970s. Veteran’s hospitals ain’t ordinary hospitals, and this guy had plenty of time to observe atrocities and disfigured people. Therefore, most of SHP discography is really about medical stuff.
‘Calm Morbidity’ is no exception. A quick look at the songs titles prepares the listeners to a full-immersion into freaks (“Cyclopia”), confusion induced by drugs (“Doused with acids”), uncomfortable sensations (“Paresthesia”), etc. In other words, this album is about everything that can go wrong in the medical context. The ‘heavy electronics’ performed by SHP is not particularly original, but I think that in this genre failing in originality is not necessarily a vice. You have to do a lot of chaos, but you have to be good. You have to find a way to drag the listener into your own nightmares: this is the only important aspect of this music. And SHP are damned good. Their music shifts from a power electronics-based structure (“Hand of glory”, “Piss prophet”, “The medics” and in particular “Strangury”) to dark-ambient (“Doused with acid”, “Paresthesia”, “Sulphur Drip”). The dark ambient I’m talking about reminds me some Cold Meat industry-based acts such as Nordvargr or Necrophorus. But there is something more, like Lustmord (in particular “Purifying fire”) or some stuff produced by Aural Hypnox (Arktau Eos and Zoat Aon). The power-electronics parts are, let me say, more ‘modern’ and elaborated than classic projects in this type of music. The voice is distorted and modified way more than usual (take Genocide Organ to the extreme), but there is not a typical ‘noise-wall’, especially because of the dark ambient inserts and in general because it is really ‘synth-based’ (I would say less analog, more digital, but I might be wrong) rather than just grounded in the use of the typical home-made instruments of the noise scene. As I just said, it is not particularly original, but the way they combine different influences is remarkable. ‘Calm Morbidity’ is everything I can ask from an industrial album; violence and mystery at the same time: a perfect combination of power-electronics and dark ambient. Highly recommended.
I have to mention that this album is produced by Malignant Records. It goes without saying, Malignant Records has become one of the most important label for this type of music. I’m not exaggerating when I say that, if you like power electronics, dark ambient or death industrial more in general, then you can buy any Malignant’s release and you won’t be disappointed.
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Artist: Stolen Light (@)
Title: Voices
Format: MCD (Mini CD)
Label: Inner Demons
Rated: *****
I have been familiar with Brett Lunceford's work as Stolen Light and Goose since the 1990's when I became obsessed with collecting the entire Troniks catalog. I then also began to discover his label Zaftig research which seemed to cease regular activity in about 2003. The label did continue to release its Christmas compilation until 2008, after that the label went quiet as did the projects with the exception of a few releases here and there on labels like Phage Tapes and taalem.

At this point, we come to the year 2017 which seemed fairly hopeless with everything going on in the political landscape. Early in the year though Dan Fox who runs the label Inner Demons announces he will be releasing some new work from some projects who have been dormant for some time. Projects like Fox's own Loss, 15 Degrees Below Zero and Stolen Light were announced in the new release lineup and hope had been restored to the world.

Stolen Light takes advantage of "field" recordings whether it be from television or just being out in an environment where a lot of activity is going on. In previous releases, the sounds surrounding these recordings can either be very noisy or subtle ambiance. With "Voices", Brett has utilized an approach that is somewhere on both spectrums. The first track Paranoia sounds like what a social anxiety attack feels like with the voices being clear in the beginning and the static building as time goes on. The noise at the end does almost fully envelope the voices by but they can still be heard in the background with no clear definition of what is going on.

The second track Communication And Commerce leads in with a much more dense layer of people chattering and talking in a loud restaurant or bar. The added noise on top is much more subtle this time but it works very well with this track. It is difficult to get good recordings in a crowded space with lots of sounds but Brett somehow manages to pull it off and make it interesting to listen to at the same time.

This is a great return of an understated artist in the experimental noise scene. My only complaint is the release is too short but since the label only does releases in the 3" CDr format it makes perfect sense. I hope to see Brett return to more long-form releases and there has been a rumor of resurrecting Zaftig Research, even if only for the Christmas Compilations.
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Artist: John Matthias & Jay Auborn
Title: Race To Zero
Format: CD & Vinyl
Label: Village Green Recording
“Race To Zero” is an epic soundtrack for no particular film. Emotive and energetic strings, bold piano melodies, a variety of different percussive techniques and a sympathetic smattering of electronics and detail-driven post-production give the album an extremely high-budget and dramatic feel that just leaps out at the listener.

Tracks like “Tilted Stage” and the unusually constructed “Soma Vapour” bring the electronics work closer to the fore, making music that is reminiscent in parts of a BT or Hybrid score. There are some crazier moments too, such as the near-oompah brass of “Wax Heart” that plays against rapidly arpeggiating synth sounds over complex live-sounding drums.

Like a film score there are a variety of moods and tensions. “Stone Face” is a slightly militaristic call to arms, the clarion call of a heroic fight back, while “Caretaker” is a more plaintive and somewhat sinister piano piece, that leaves you unsure whether the titular character is a good guy in danger, or the source of some evil. While many soundtracks end with the big finale, here we end with “Songbird”, a reflective violin and piano piece with large doses of windy ambience that brings things to an slightly off-kilter conclusion.

It’s magnificent and if this were a film score, I’d be heading down to the cinema to learn more. It’s one of those albums where the only criticism you think of is that, at 38 minutes, it’s too short.
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Artist: Orphax
Title: Warschauer Straße
Format: CD + Download
Label: Opa Loka Records
“Warschauer Straße” is tourism transformed into sound. Amsterdam-based Sietse van Erve attempts to distil memories of a 2016 visit to Berlin into two long pieces of ambient drone soundscape. The tones are a blend of industrial and alien, with a hollow and distant feel. Sustained notes that may once have resembled an organ fade and rise, gracially slowly.

It’s a remarkably prosaic concept for an album- perhaps I ought to express my recent trip to the fish & chip shop as an hour-long drone as well- but putting the theme aside, it’s a solid and straightforward ambient work. Over the course of each of the two pieces, both over twenty minutes long, there’s remarkably little evolution- which may be a virtue, depending on the listener’s perspective. The second piece “Mehringdamm” feels like it has more of a tubular resonance than “Schönhauser Allee” but they are cut from the same mould.

Overall it’s just a little bit too primitive to make it wholly recommendable, but if you’re in the market for a semi-industrial light drone to while away the time to, this ticks the boxes. But when you look up either of these places on Google Maps, they don’t sound like this at all… ;-)
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Artist: Janek Schaefer
Title: Glitter In My Tears
Format: CD + Download
Label: Room40
The prolific Janek Schaefer, responsible for 30 albums in the last 20 years, has in “Glitter In My Tears” released something that is at times raw and at other times polished.

The album opens with “Sparkles Into The Light Of Night”, a gentle, slowly building six-minute ambience that sets the tone very nicely. It makes you wish that some of the other pieces, many of which are under two minutes long, had been explored further and allowed to breathe more. Perhaps Mr Schaefer could have turned this into three or four albums…

There are some tracks that stand out sonically- “Looking For Love” is a piano piece that sounds like a early prototype noodling demo for a potentially cliché piano ballad. The deep bass hum of the following track “Low Points” also clamours for your attention more than other parts do.

Novelty value also plays a part- “What Comes Around” unexpectedly adds a funky looped music sample (faintly Royksopp-esque drums and guitar) skittering around the edge of your consciousness, while final piece “Conclusions In Two Minds” gives you deep male voice choir tones followed by light aeroplane noises. Some experiments work better than others- the looped classical vinyl of “Hells Bells” is surprisingly eerie, but “Dawn Draws In” feels like an unfinished attempt at writing a childrens’ lullaby.

However there are other tracks, like “Swallow Hole”, “All In The Mind” or “Falls From Favour”, that typify the generic synthetic drone sound that suggests a lack of inspiration or distinctive character. There’s nothing inherently wrong with them, but they’re so brief that it’s unclear what they’re really accomplishing- they begin to seem like filler.

Overall it’s a mixed bag, which in itself could be seen as a virtue, as it recalls more diverse classic chill out albums (from Alex Paterson, Jimmy Cauty etc.) which felt more playful and less confined to one purpose or expression. It’s eclecticism is certainly hit and miss but there are enough worthwhile moments in here to justify some attention.
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