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Artist: Svarte Fjell
Title: Horisont
Format: CD
Label: Le Crépuscule du Soir (@)
Rated: *****
This seems to be the debut of Norwegian artist Roy-Arne Knutsen. I was also unfamiliar with the label Le Crépuscule du Soir, but then again I am not into black metal. No problem, this is not black metal, but rather solid dark ambient that would be quite at home a country over on Cold Meat Industries with fellow Scandinavians Mortiis or Arcana. We get off to a slow start though, as 'Frostland' lays down some noisy, repetitive synth drone. Not too engaging, and 'A Road to Nowhere' begins where 'Frostland' ends, but then moves into a slow cello line with scratching that makes it sound like an old record. Now we're getting somewhere. 'Svarte Fjell' is where the going gets good though, as we move into a more epic feel with strings, militaristic percussion, and synth washes that give it a cinematic feel. Cue the battle scene. Definitely reminds me of old Mortiis. 'Bamse Brakar' slows it down a bit with staccato strings over dark atmosphere and a plodding bass drone that reminds me of Arcana's 'Dark Age of Reason.' By the time we reach 'Nordavinden,' the battle is over. The percussion is gone. All that remains is mournful synth. By the time we get to 'Horisont,' there is little left but the earth and the dead on the fields. A bit of synth and space. Overall this is pretty good dark ambient and a good introduction to this artist. I'll definitely be interested to see how this artist progresses. This is limited to 200 copies, so if you want this you'll want to get it quickly. This album weighs in at around 45 minutes.
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Artist: AeTopus (@)
Title: Angels and Machines
Format: CD
Label: 12Ton Productions
Rated: *****
AeTopus is the work of Washington-based artist Bryan Tewell Hughes. The press sheet states that 'AeTopus has become recognized for its unique crossover sound - one that is too fantastic and original to be called 'New Age' or 'World,' yet too dynamic to be considered pure Ambient or Chillout.' Let's see if this description holds up. The disc opens with 'Angels and Machines,' which sounds like something you would find on labels like Narada, with a new age ambient feel. We move into a Middle Eastern vibe with 'Reflections in the Glass,' so I can see where the world descriptor sticks. 'Origin' sounds like something off Delerium's Karma album, with esoteric female vocals over world-ish soundscape. 'Alley of Dust and Soul' is a bit harder to pin down. It's slow moving, with percussion that punctuates the atmosphere. This is where AeTopus seems to try to break out of the genre mold. 'Angels and Machines 2' seems to be a reprise of 'Angels and Machines' with some female vocals speaking in what sounds like French. Overall this is pleasant listening, but a bit too new age for my dark ambient leaning tastes. I could see this music working well for a soundtrack though, so if cinematic music appeals to you, this may be one to check out. This album weighs in at around 27 minutes.
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Artist: Jeff Kaiser and Phil Skaller
Title: Endless Pie
Format: 2 x CD (double CD)
Label: pfMENTUM (@)
This is a collaboration between Jeff Kaiser (trumpet, flugelhorn, voice, and electronics) and Phil Skaller (prepared piano). I was unfamiliar with their work, and the artwork looked pretty cheesy, so I didn't really expect a whole lot. And then I put in disc 1 (blueberry pie), pressed play, and was assaulted by 'Unchangeable Fundament,' a 13 minute opus of spastic improvisation and demented scat singing. It was amazing. But few can keep up that kind of intensity, and the next few tracks were not as engaging. 'People from the Machinations' was really minimal, and by the time it redeemed itself with more weird vocals, I had almost lost interest. But then 'Two Unknowns, The One Being' shows that they can still be minimal and engaging, with a lot of dissonance. This gets more interesting as it progresses, and reminded me a bit of Bob Ostertag's 'Attention Span.' And then we are on to two more standout tracks. 'Galileo Uses Propaganda' comes out of the gate fighting, with distorted screams over machine gun piano. This is noisy and awesome. 'Anticipated By Bacon' continues its crunchy, reeling ride, which also moves into rapid fire horn and piano. The rest of the disc continues with a decent mix of chill elements and speed. Moving on to disc 2 (cherry pie), we once again begin with my favorite kind of jazz ' crazy. 'The Puppet Does Not Have A Soul' is almost 15 minutes of crazy improv, noisy and chaotic with lots of feedback. Unfortunately, disc 2 is not nearly as engaging as disc 1, since it seems that this is where they decide to showcase their minimal side. For example, 'Behave Very Much Like After-Images' is really sparse and minimal. There is a lot of clicks and not a lot else. 'The Problem of Telescopic Vision' is almost like listening in on a recording of a warm up, with a few notes and some scratching that never really goes anywhere. 'As Some Relics' started off promising, with some scratching, bottles rattling, slow trumpet, and some piano string plucking which then moves into what sounds like a didgeridoo, but it's kind of all over the place and doesn't seem to have anything keeping it together. We finish off the disc with some noisy jazz. Perhaps the best analogy I could give is that if the blueberry disc were a solid, then the cherry disc would be a gas. It's almost like two very different albums in the same container, so this is a mixed bag. When I have pie, I like it to have some weight to it. Those whose tastes tend toward the minimalist may prefer the sugar-free diet pie. This album weighs in at around 109 minutes.
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Artist: Magnetica Ars Lab / Maurizio Bianchi-M.B.
Title: LoopKlängeNoise: Verses Without Words
Format: CD
Label: Final Muzik (@)
Rated: *****
Maurizio Bianchi, like many noise musicians, has put out an enormous amount of material over the past three decades. My previous exposure was limited to some compilation releases and the 1993 re-issue of Aktivitat, so I was interested to hear more. I was unfamiliar with Magnetica Ars Lab, but it seems to be the project of Arnaldo Pontis, a computer specialist and electronic musician. You could almost call this M.B., Magnetica Ars Lab, and friends, since there are guests on every track. However, with these friends comes some interesting chemistry. Overall, this is a lot mellower than I expected. Don't get me wrong ' this is still very much in the noise realm, but it is not quite as unrelenting as the other stuff I've heard from him. Indeed, tracks like 'Mauthausen Tube (Spectators)' could almost be called 'slow noise' ' not overly harsh, but a bit dissonant. Others, like 'Frastimu (Mountain Lake)' feature vocals and loops over rhythmic noise and sawtooth synth waves. But there is some variety here; 'Burning Point (Duel)' almost has a power electronics feel with distorted yelling over the noisescape. For my tastes, tracks like 'Vladimir (Night)' are where this album really shines, with heavy noise and a nice depth of sound and texture. 'Deliberate Destruction (Roses)' likewise brings the thick, grinding noise that builds layer on layer until it completely descends into drone. And you have to love a disc that samples William S. Burroughs' thanksgiving monologue for a track called 'American Blues (Old Village).' Overall, this would be a pretty good introduction to noise for the uninitiated, and still something there who like it heavy and loud. The booklet has interesting artwork and quotes from the likes of John Cage, Jean Baudrillard, and Luigi Russolo (the man who wrote the wonderful manifesto, The Art of Noises.' Quite enjoyable and limited to 300 copies, so you'll want to get this one. This album weighs in at around 74 minutes.

4.5 stars
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Artist: Radio Free Clear Light
Title: Joyful Noise Vol. 2 - Nomina Nuda Tenemus
Format: CD
Label: Black Note (@)
Rated: *****
I had never heard of Radio Free Clear Light, but the press sheet compares them to Coil, so I was interested. That said, if you're going to compare yourself to one of the greatest bands to grace this planet, you need to bring your A game. The label describes it thus: 'Birthed from a night of intensive musical experimentation and invocation, Nomina Nuda Tenemus explores mystical fervor through burning viola and fascinating vocalization set in a matrix of transgressive electronic music touched by dark ambient, dub, dance, noise.' So far, so good. Putting it in the CD player, I was sold on the Coil comparison, at least for the first three tracks. 'Tertius Equi' and 'Adelmo's Window' would be at home among the Musick to Play in the Dark set, or perhaps Stolen and Contaminated Songs. 'Brunellus' was reminiscent of The Angelic Conversation. But then the comparison doesn't quite hold up. As we move into 'Penitenziagite' we have Middle Eastern-tinged female vocals over percussion and a repetitive bass line. This later turns to male and female groans punctuating the music, followed by weird babbling which turns to a violin line over calm female vocals. If this sounds like more than one song, it felt that way, and at over 10 minutes seemed to go on longer than it needed to. 'The Seven Trumpets' brings us back into Coil-land along the lines of Stolen and Contaminated Songs again. 'Salva Me Ab Ore Leonis' puts their own stamp on things with a nice mix of chaotic noises juxtaposed with peaceful drone and pulsating repetition with female vocals added more for atmosphere than content. 'De Te Fabula Narratur' seems to be channeling Love's Secret Domain with a nice heavy beat. The last three tracks of the disc throw down some nice atmosphere with some beats thrown in for good measure. The verdict? This was pretty nice overall and hung together well. Although the Coil comparison is legit, I think that this stands well on its own without the comparison. With the exception of 'Penitenziagite,' this was pretty enjoyable. I also get the sense that they would put on a great show. This album weighs in at around 73 minutes.
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