Music Reviews

Marc Kate: 00

 Posted by Steve Mecca   Industrial Noise / Power Noise / Harsh Noise
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Dec 29 2016
Artist: Marc Kate (@)
Title: 00
Format: CD + Download
Label: self-released
Rated: *****
Unless you are from the San Francisco Bay Area you have probably never heard of Marc Kate. In his career as an artist/musician he has actually done quite a bit though. Originally trained as a filmmaker/visual artist, Kate applies cinematic and conceptual approaches to music and audio production. Among his accomplishments he is the leader of the post-punk band Never Knows and has released solo material on the labels Computer Tapes, Jacktone, Looq, HNYTRX, Trip Show and Treehouse Muzique, and his own imprints - Untitled & After, and Failing Forms. He has collaborated with dark cabaret artist Visantos and pop singer Tim Carr, composed soundtracks for choreographers Monique Jenkinson and Keith Hennessy (Circo Zero), and contributed to the soundtrack of cult horror film 'All About Evil.' He's launched a couple of podcasts (Why We Listen, and Scary Thoughts: Horror Philosophy and Culture), and even more than that. But let's get to the present release '00', an excursion into the world of dark ambient and power ambient.

Kate's description of the music on '00' takes the form of a sociopolitical statement. "I had hoped to create something that would simultaneously hammer against neoliberalism and cut an escape from the despair of its suffocating web. Seven short soundtracks for resistance. Seven songs lost in the confusion of what that resistance looks like." I can appreciate that, especially in music of this genre(s), where so much of it seems amorphous, and just of a general, dystopian, pessimistic nature, or yet another version of a Lovecraftian nightmare. '00' is the follow-up to 'Despairer,' an album in the same genre(s) released by Kate earlier this year. I have listened to some tracks from 'Despairer,' and in comparison '00' is a much angrier and oppressive listen. Where there was a certain amount of subtlety on 'Despairer' (not that there weren't sections that had walls of noise built on distortion and feedback) it has taken a back seat to a more aggressive and hostile environment. Most evident is that 'Despairer' is devoid of any percussion and drums. '00' opens on 'THEY" with the slow, methodical thudding of heavy drums. The music is colder and more sinister. The beast has woken and will not go gently into that good night. Even when passages are sonically minimal there is a pervasive aura of dread and foreboding. One of my favorite track on the album - "Coalition against Death" is pure tribal black metal. It could have gone on twice as long and built to an earsplitting climax and I would have been even happier. Final track on the album "We Weren't Designed to Live Like This" sums up the sentiments in the heaviest march of doom I've heard in a long time.

This is not the kind of ambient you can put on as background music. This is more than just the abyss staring back at you; this is the abyss enfolding and consuming you. And for'll have to take notice.

Himukalt: Conditions of Acrimony

 Posted by eskaton   Industrial Noise / Power Noise / Harsh Noise
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Dec 27 2016
Artist: Himukalt
Title: Conditions of Acrimony
Format: Tape
Label: Helen Scarsdale Agency (@)
Rated: *****
Himukalt is the work of Nevada-based artist Ester KÄrkkÄinen, who also does interesting visual work with Xerox machines. With a title like “Conditions of Acrimony,” it sounds like we’re in for a whole lot of love songs. Or not. The label describes this as “exhaustive, claustrophobic, and cryptic, these lacerated (de)compositions address collapsed psychological states that dislocate the body, the self, and the spirit into horror, fear, doubt, hostility. Such have marked the acme for the most virulent strains of power electronics and industrial decay (e.g. Puce Mary, Anenzephalia, Maurizio Bianchi, Maria Zerfall, etc.).” Let’s see if it lives up to the hype. We open up with pulsating noise and extremely distorted voice. Indeed, you could put this in the same ballpark as Genocide Organ, with its heavy static and overdriven bass. Next up, we have staccato voice snippets with pounding percussion and grinding noise. Himukalt definitely comes from the slow-moving school of power electronics and there is a good mix of high pitched whine and low bass rumble. “Without Laughter” closes out the side with a much more subdued track. This is like listening to a noise concert from outside the venue with short moments of louder sound. The overall feel is that of standing outside a power plant, with a menacing hum alerting you to the dangers inside as a helicopter circles around and over you repeatedly, closer and closer each time. This builds in intensity until you think that it is going to completely turn loose. But as quickly as it arrives, it is gone, with only the sounds of distant voices as evidence that it was even there. If I had to describe this track in one word, I would be “tension.” Seriously, not a lot of artists know how to pull this off, and this track alone is worth the price of admission. Flipping the tape over, we get pulsing drone with what sounds like a processed impact wrench sample. This gives way to ominous drone with digital tones and line hum just beneath the surface. All of this is punctuated by very short noise bursts until it becomes noisier over time. This is a nice balance of atmosphere and noise. Next up, we have rumbling bass with a man repeatedly saying “who cares? And other less intelligible things over a boiling analogue stew. The tape closes with the plea, “Please don’t call for an ambulance.” If you like noise and power electronics, this is definitely one to pick up. Bonus props for not taking the easy way out. With a title like Conditions of Acrimony, one might expect the standard violent imagery that has become almost cliché in power electronics circles, but this tape manages to portray a sense of ominousness that is more Amanita Phalloides mushroom and less serial killer. Well done. This tape is limited to 100 copies.

Merzbow / Raven / Dao De Noize: Animal Liberation

 Posted by eskaton   Industrial Noise / Power Noise / Harsh Noise
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Dec 27 2016
Artist: Merzbow / Raven / Dao De Noize (@)
Title: Animal Liberation
Format: CD
Label: 4iB Records (@)
Rated: *****
I was quite familiar with Merzbow’s work, but Raven and Dao De Noize were new to me. The press sheet describes the first two tracks of harsh noise (if the inclusion of Merzbow hadn’t clued you in yet) as “complex with a high level of hypnotic and sonic energy. The message of what these artists stand for are uniquely expressed by heavy layers of organic sounds, high frequency screeches and low level drones that almost sound like animal screams and grunts in the abattoir.” Hmmmm…. if I had not read the press sheet and just heard these tracks absent the album title, I would never have known. Even the track titles do not really give us a clue. After all, “Unjustified Murder” could just as easily be a Slogun song (or any other power electronics artist, for that matter). And yeah, before you ask, I get noise. I’m a noise musician too and have been listening to this stuff for 20 years. So let’s get into it. Merzbow opens up with “Granulation 221,” a track that features a drum machine run amok and a cacophony of other noises. This is the harsh noise wall that Merzbow is known for, but I have to admit that it gets a bit dull in the middle. At around 14 minutes in it gets a pounding beat that breaks it up for a bit and from this point on becomes more engaging with shifting waves of sound. Next up, we have Raven, the work of Serbian artist Djordje Miladinovic. “Unjustified Murder” is a 10 minute slab of noise that is much more engaging than the previous track, but no less ear cleansing. Nicely done, with a good balance of high pitched white noise and low frequency rumbles. Finally, we have Ukrainian artist Artem Pismenetskii, who records under the name Dao De Noize. This is a departure from the harsh noise wall of the previous two tracks; the press sheet describes it thus: “The tranquil hums overlapped by murmuring soundscapes with the background beating of hearts and animal bellows, bleats and cackles complement and complete the album.” For once, the press sheet is pretty accurate. The composition actually evokes the title of “Slaughterhouse Diary,” with the coldness of machinery drowning out the high pitched wails. The ending heartbeat-like thuds at the end was a nice touch. Of the three tracks, this is the standout of the album. This disc is limited to 200 copies and weighs in at around 50 minutes.

Uncodified / Wertham: Vindicta II

 Posted by Vito Camarretta (@)   Industrial Noise / Power Noise / Harsh Noise
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Oct 16 2016
Artist: Uncodified / Wertham (@)
Title: Vindicta II
Format: CD
Label: Old Europa Cafe (@)
Rated: *****
Four years ago, the brilliant noise sculptor Corrado Altieri (Uncodified, Chandor Chasma) and Marco Deplano (Wertham, Caligula031, Foresta di Ferro) started "Vindicta", an announced trilogy focusing on the somehow exciting and extremely ferocious history (and codes) of Sardinian criminality (the so-called Anonima Sarda, even if it was not a properly organised band of criminals) by means of an impressive hybridization of corrosive power electronics and industrial into audio files from archives, which documented this obscure side of the sunny Tyrrhenian isle, which keeps on being pretty unknown to the masses. Codes...according to unwritten ones (consisting of 23 main rules according to an essayist, who studied its history), "Vindicta" (meaning "vengeance") is a sort of right that a family or a clan could use a series of "offensive" behaviour (ranging from a banal insult to libel, defamation, homicide or more commonly rustling). The second chapter of this collaborative process seems to focus on a particular aspect of this phenomenon, the imprisonment or the confinement of bandits and their legendary escapes (one of the most famous bandits, Matteo Boe, the so-called "icy-eyed bandit", managed to be the first one to escape from the top-security prison in the island of Asinara), but translates other aspects into sound or I'd rather say by means of really acute and ear-drilling noise (an emulation of the typical way that bandits used to intimidate the family of the people they kidnapped to ask huge ransoms, the cutting of ear parts that were mailed to parents?). The concept of justice, openly opposed the one of the bourgeois one, got translated into abrasive noise in the track "Justitia (Justice)" and its extremely brutal declension got transplanted in the harsh tunes of "Veridade (Truth)" or the wild idea of life and social codes inspires the ferocious pulsations of "Comente sirbonisi, comente margianisi (Like boars, like foxes)". Besides the use of samples, all tracks got extensively explained and described in the attached booklet of the release. Corrado/Uncodified and Marco/Wertham wisely intersected superb noise-shaping and social and historical themes, where human instincts and wildest (and sometimes hidden) side of human nature got somehow mirrored by likewise sharp frequencies.

Zinc Room: Window of Erich Zann

 Posted by Steve Mecca   Industrial Noise / Power Noise / Harsh Noise
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Aug 21 2016
Artist: Zinc Room (@)
Title: Window of Erich Zann
Format: CD
Label: Zhelezobeton (@)
Rated: *****
Zinc Room is a collaboration between Alexander "I" (Prognostic Zero, and label-head of Evil Dead Productions) from Ekaterinburg, Russia, and Kein (Sol Mortuus, Church of Howling Dog, ex-Thy Repentence, etc.), and this album, 'Window of Erich Zann' symbolically marks the past 10-year anniversary of the project's activity, containing containing several re-worked compositions from Zinc Room's 2004 debut, 'Cold Corridors of Fear'. My only acquaintance with Zinc Room comes from the review I did not too long ago of Sol Mortuus's 'Extinction,' a whole different animal than this work. While Sol Mortuus is along the lines of electro-acoustic ambient, Zinc Room is harsh noise dark ambient with black metal leanings. Quite a difference, eh? So if you're not up for that, you'd better move on, because no mercy will be shown for the casual listener.

Before we get into the music, we should consider the title - 'Window of Erich Zann,' which is based on a 1922 short story written by H. P. Lovecraft titled "The Music of Erich Zann". In it, a poor university student seeks lodging in a creepy old apartment building with few tenants. One of them is a mute German violinist named Erich Zann. Over time the student gains Zann's trust and discovers the old violinist has discovered melodies and rhythms of sound of an almost otherworldly nature. Zann plays these sounds to keep back unknown and unseen creatures from Zann's window, which is said to look out into a black abyss. One night, Zann's music reaches a crescendo, and the student, staring out the window in hopes of seeing the normal world outside, instead stares into an infinite abyss. The window shatters, and an unnatural wind sweeps through the room, carrying away all of Zann's music notes into the darkness, despite the students attempts at catching them. Fleeing the house after he finds Zann seemingly dead despite his body still playing the violin, the student escapes not just the house but the neighborhood entirely.

Now you may have a better idea of what you might encounter on this album, but you're still going to need a guide, and that's where I come in. Beginning with the title track, "Window of Erich Zann," a foreboding and low drone heralds some manic cello by Kein, along with a cacophony of of metallic noises set to stun on a variety of frequencies. Noise enthusiasts are going to love this novel opening. "Cold Corridors of Fear" (presumably one of the re-worked tracks from Zinc Room's debut) has heavy cello drone with repeatedly struck cymballish noise which eventually fades while thick drones emerge, both low amnd mid-range. More repeated, echoed noise strikes begin again, and after some rumbling, it fades out on a ring-modulated spacey synthetic drone. "Dust of J. Curwen" uses distorted noisy percussive bashing and roaring bass guitar for its rhythm over which unintelligible and nasty back metal vocals shout something ineffable while feedback squeals emerge now and then. "In the Night Beyond the Wall of Sleep" is a phantasmagoria of noise, drone and misery that will test your sanity. "V-29. The Temple" is a tumultuous storm of rumbling noises with some repeating bird-like higher pitched sounds interspersed. It eventually fades into low drone and creepy organ towards the end. "The Rats in the Walls" (title taken from another Lovecraft short story) is more black metal, driven by cello drone here. The heavy, bombastic distorted cello is not to be missed!

The titles of the last two regular tracks, "The Dreams in the Witch House" and "Landscape. At the Mountains of Madness" are also taken from Lovecraft stories. For the former, I really need to quote Lovecraft -

"His ears were growing sensitive to a preternatural and intolerable degree, and he had long ago stopped the cheap mantel clock whose ticking had come to seem like a thunder of artillery. At night the subtle stirring of the black city outside, the sinister scurrying of rats in the wormy partitions, and the creaking of hidden timbers in the centuried house, were enough to give him a sense of strident pandemonium. The darkness always teemed with unexplained sound—and yet he sometimes shook with fear lest the noises he heard should subside and allow him to hear certain other, fainter, noises which he suspected were lurking behind them."

The music is sort of like that, but maybe amplified a hundred times. As for "At the Mountains of Madness," a Lovecraft tale that has always chilled me to the bone, the repetitive rhythmic clanging, the wall of drone and feedback, and other dire elements all seem calculated to drive the listener insane.

There are two bonus tracks: "Grave Abyss," a sonorous dirgy bombastic track flecked with metallic noise, and "The Evil Clergyman," with distorted intense metallic rhythm over sinister black metal dark melody. It is relentless and unforgiving. Definitely not for the meek. Yes, this is an album for harsh noise aficionados and fringe black metal enthusiasts. All others beware. Lovecraft wrote a short story titled, "The Colour Out of Space"; perhaps Zinc Room, if they want to continue along these lines might do an album titled "The Colour Out of Noise", and yes, noise does come in different colors.

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