Music Reviews

Simon Balestrazzi: La Montana Sagrada

 Posted by Vito Camarretta (@)   Ambient / Electronica / Ethereal / Dub / Soundscapes / Abstract
Experimental / Avantgarde / Weird & Wired / Glitch / Noise / Field Recording
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Nov 24 2012
Artist: Simon Balestrazzi (@)
Title: La Montana Sagrada
Format: CD
Label: SantoS Productions (@)
Rated: *****
The crowning achievement of an astonishingly fertile year for the Italian sound-artist and former member of historical band T.A.C. Simon Balestrazzi comes as a dearly dedication to the most known mind behind Panic Movement, the Chilean-French film-maker, author and spiritual guru Alejandro Jodorowsky and particularly to his masterpiece The Holy Mountain, a surrealist "mystery play" about western esoteric background, which cannot be but perceived as a mystical and religious taunt by cultural guardians of the temples of official religions and ideologies. Without going into detail of "The Holy Mountain", who succeeded in shaking flattest cultural grounds, thanks to its good workmanship, which can be explained by the remarkable financial efforts it attracted (it seems it was financed by John Lennon who provided Jodo with one million dollars, even the final result wasn't widely distributed due to some disagreements with Allen Klein) as well, I think it's relevant the intellectual curiosity about the fact this release was initially close to find favor with Jodorowsky itself. According to Balestrazzi's words, his friend Alex Papa, owner of a small alternative bookshop in Bologna, had the possibility to meet Jodorowski with the purpose of submitting the attempt of rescoring The Holy Mountain by T.A.C. (under his own supervision) to him. Such an arduous collaboration, whose boldness is almost obvious if you consider it should compete with ritual music, composed by Jodorowski himself, and contributuons by Roland Frangipane and Don Cherry, was sinking into oblivion, due to some impediments, when Simon decided to take the project out of his drawer in order to get it into print through the small Italian label SantoS Productions. Thank goodness! Simon manages to evoke and stick to the mind-blowing visionary atmospheres of that movie as well as by some sonic hints to the original OST by an hallucinotary crescendo from the obscure starting track, "Opening Ritual" (you can try listeneing to it while watching that notorious sequence, which features his director playing the character of The Alchemist), to the final punching drones and the disquieting sonic setting of "Leopards Milk" by going through the oppressing sound on "Axon", the foreboding one on "Its Perfume Is My Blood", the occult alchemic soup of "In The Rainbow Room".

Funerary Call: Nightside Emanations

 Posted by Steve Mecca   Ambient / Electronica / Ethereal / Dub / Soundscapes / Abstract
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Nov 23 2012
Artist: Funerary Call (@)
Title: Nightside Emanations
Format: CD
Label: Malignant Records (@)
Rated: *****
Harlow MacFarlane began his Dark Ambient project Funerary Call back in 1994 and has had about a dozen releases under that name since then. He also has a somewhat similar (although possibly more abrasive) project called Sistrenatus which has about half a dozen releases going back to 2005. Prior to receiving 'Nightside Emanations' I was not familiar with any of MacFarlane's work, which is too bad because if 'Nightside Emanations' is any indication, I've been missing out on a lot.

The first thing you'll notice about the CD is the unconventional 4-panel digipak, more DVD than CD size with interesting artwork by Russian artist Denis Forkas. The music was recorded in various locations (2009-2011) using wood, bone, metal and stone, in conjunction with analog and digital hardware. From the elongated opening bell tone in the first track, 'Wand of Fire' and the flutes and gongs that follow, you'll know you're in for a ritualistic romp through uncharted territory in primordial terrain. The crackling, snapping sounds (an aboriginal campfire?) reverberating in natural chamber suggest some kind of underground location, and sustained bellish drones and similar tones add an eerie and somewhat mournful effect to the gloom it evokes.

Title track 'Nightside Emanations' is punctuated by slow, sparse percussion with higher sustained tones and drones, scraping sounds, the rumblings of feedback distortion like the waking of some ancient beast, but all in a very controlled, calculated environment. I can hear much of this owing to Stockhausen, and other early purveyors of the avant-garde. 'Thee I Invoke' is possibly one of the best ritual ambient tracks I have ever heard. Beginning very sparsely with some zizzing metallic instrument it builds slowly bringing in another defining sample that I can only describe as a melodic rattling sound, then a hint of drone, the low thudding of deep echoed drum, and a demonic voice pitch-adjusted to the lowest frequency possible (while still making it semi-intelligible) repeating 'Thee I invoke..Serpent of the Deep...' followed by snippets of backward voices and swirling spirit chatter. Parseltongue? This ain't no Harry Potter, kidz!

'Seven Candles Burning' begins a with low frequency bell-tone rhythm while a higher bell tone is struck on the first beat of the measure. Processed noise flows though the aether like a spirit-wind as other spooky elements emerge. I like the way the bell mutates tone in this. Everything becomes woozy and warped as this spirit-wind rushes in and shifts the scene into a completely different dimension. 'The Calling' starts with mournful horn tones possibly blown from the horn of some prehistoric beast, and the supporting sounds employed (including water) augment its weirdly primitive cry. 'Upon the Heath' is purely tribal, with low martial ritual drumming, a sustained low drone, and pitch-shifting higher tone that could be construed as a primitive melody, albeit an ominous and morose one. Very cinematic here, and the perfect close to a perfect album. Funerary Call has created what I would call the ultimate Ritual Dark Ambient album, and even though it is only a little over 49 minutes, there is nothing whatsoever to complain about. The subtlety and nuance Funerary Call evokes on 'Nightside Emanations' is nothing less than sublime. I have come to find that Malignant Records rarely disappoints in this type of music, and they have another winner with Funerary Call's 'Nightside Emanations'.

Holy Hole: Plan Z

 Posted by Andrea Piran (@)   Ambient / Electronica / Ethereal / Dub / Soundscapes / Abstract
Experimental / Avantgarde / Weird & Wired / Glitch / Noise / Field Recording
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Nov 21 2012
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Artist: Holy Hole (@)
Title: Plan Z
Format: Download Only (MP3 + Lossless)
Label: self-released
Rated: *****
This release is the debut ep from an italian duo whose music is guitar driven drone music. According to the press notes this is a young project born in Berlin aiming to develop a blend of psychedelic, math rock and drone music but the result is a carefully produced drone music with a meditative mood.
"Excerpt1" opens this release with a heavy guitar drone colored by a quiet tape loop until a voice line emerge from the darkness. "Excerpt2" is an intro to "excerpt3" a long track beginning quietly until a metallic beat and a guitar line begin to appear and slowly return to silence as the guitar take full control of development of the track. "Excerpt4" close this release with a subtle work of resonance.
Even is the result is relatively distant from the aiming of the artists, it's a solid work worthing a listen. Recommended for drone fans.

Maarten Van Der Vleuten: Are You Worthy?

 Posted by Vito Camarretta (@)   Ambient / Electronica / Ethereal / Dub / Soundscapes / Abstract
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Nov 20 2012
Artist: Maarten Van Der Vleuten (@)
Title: Are You Worthy?
Format: CD
Label: Tonefloat (@)
Rated: *****
There are three constant factors the industrious Dutch producer Maarten van der Vleuten cannot drop: acid house, a certain bend towards experimentation and (mainly Roland) drum machines. His "masked" superabundant musical production under a number of aliases, releases by glorious techno labels such as Apollo Records, Klang Elektronik, R&S sublabel Test Zone, Outrage Recordings, Djax-Up-Beats, Mighty Robot and ESP and partially reprised on his own imprint Signum Recordings, leant towards Detroit techno and acid house, but included many stylistical tricks and that interbreeding between kicking beats and sandpapered sounds which could be considered one of the possible forerunner of the so-called minimal techno (think about a crossbreed between 808 State and Carl Craig), while when he decided to sign his music by his real name, he moved towards a stronger stress on experimental factor, even though he doesn't abandon his primeval passion for house sounds through-and-through. It's not just a matter of bleaching and dosage, which could be explained by an artistic maturity, as he already signed a remarkable ambient-project called In-Existence in the first 90ies, but the interesting eclectism of "Are You Worthy?" supposedly lies on the intention of keeping on researching new sonic balances within the framework of known stylistical codes (a sort of self-awareness) and the crestfallen awareness that every fashion comes and goes, a kind of awareness which can be frequently experienced by contemporary artist due to the accelerated transience of vogue and the resulting feeling of "obsolescence" of the artist itself, as it seems to resurface from the occasional clues, such as the solipsistic odyssey of the lovely "Note To Self: Aye Aye, Bye Bye" (one of the most touching moment of the entire album) or the hazy post-industrial melancholy of "About Things Left Behind", coming after the initial title-track which sounds like a tuning of that above-mentioned "Self", its reawakening on an intriguing breeze of abstract tribalism for a painstaking examination, and before its temporary eruption on the hypnotic ambient-trance of "Shaped By The Sum Of Habits", which seems to be the peak of a temporary process of rejuvenation. The second part of the release unleashes sonic forces, which confutes and stops that process, but in a very immersive way: the murky speaking spectre (in close relation with the dwarf in a red suit and dress shirt from Twin Peaks?) and its inquiring warning on "Schau Hinein" and the inclement narrative voice of some poisoning super-ego on "Blutige Marie" precede the subtly fiendish drones and the haunting dilutions of "Distorted Soul, Awaken!" and the exhausted lullaby/atonement of 'Hold Me, Comfort Me, Embrace Me', which concludes this catchy inner musical journey.
Artist: Cut Hands
Title: Black Mamba
Format: CD
Label: Susan Lawly/Very Friendly (@)
Distributor: Cargo Records
Rated: *****
In a 2011 interview with The Quietus (, William Bennett talked about the effects of polyrhythms on the nervous system, that when we run out of body parts to move, 'It (the rhythm) goes inside, and things happen inside on a more metaphysical level. And on the more rhythmic tracks that's what I'm attempting.'

Cut Hands is William Bennett's so called 'Afro Noise' project. He's best known as one of noise music's longest contributors, as one half of the duo Whitehouse, formed in 1980. Whitehouse would push audiences to exultant states by use of transgressive sounds, language, imagery; a 30-some year barrage to break down all beliefs, all conditioning, to push someone through to a pure experience. Over the years, what most people have come to think of as 'noise' (power electronics, HNWs, synth explorations, tape collage) has become increasingly easy to assimilate: its the same experience every time. Bennett became wary of the technological arms race of the traditional noiz freak. After experimenting with a DJ night of Vodoun ritual drumming at Glasgow's Optimo club, Bennett realized the ritualistic potency and ability to confound and trance-form, when exposing audiences to the rhythms. He pared his music down to sparse percussive elements, then layered with feedback and buzzy synths.

'Black Mamba' is the second full-length from the project, after last year's 'Afro Noise vol. 1', which made everyone drool. Stripped down and sparse, cut hands weaves layers of djembes, doundouns, ksing-ksing and synths into a hypnotic tapestry that will make yr insides dance, for sure. 'Witness The Spread Of The Dream' kicks things off with a tmantra, read by Mimsy DeBlois, who designed the sweet, sweet voodoo album art, and sounds like a creepy hypnotism loop, until tearing into the pounding tribalism of the title track, that sounds like walking into a voodoo ritual, midstep. This tracks showcases one of the deadly strengths of Cut Hands: the ability to change tempo. Much of this record reads like bleak, gray British techno, but almost all dance music gets caught up in one BPM, one groove, and it takes a real prodigy to make a computer swing like a human. Cut Hands African ritual is the height of complexity, its like trying to count a snowstorm. The rational mind goes to sleep, overwhelmed, allowing for something beautiful and ancient to transpire. This version of 'Black Mamba' is a slight variation on the vinyl edition, released earlier in the year, and answers yet another question; yes, you do need to buy every Cut Hands release.

Its continually inspiring to see people who've been around for a long time constantly reinventing the game. They've had time to master and explore their craft, and sometimes it seems that the post-punk underground has been able to produce a number of downright geniuses. The clubs are perfectly poised to fall for Black Mamba, a part of a number of blackened post-Techno magicians rolling up their sleeves and getting primal. In a world that is predominantly defined by people making similar styles of music with similar gear, there is an increasing demand for electronic music that is homespun, handmade. We are all moving into the Heart Of Darkness, with ritual rhythms lighting up the night with the ghosts of embers. William Bennett, (and Raime, and Ekoplekz, and Shackleton), are sneaking in trance music to the clubs, bringing the ultimate dopamine fix, waking something ancient and powerful. Its coming out of a movement from Throbbing Gristle and Cabaret Voltaire, through '90s industrial music and rave. Its dark and its smart and its arty and its weird; i, for one, have not been this excited about a wave of music for a number of years. Hopefully, Cut Hands continual ascent forces cliche noise bands, as well as electronic producers, to step up their game and not get too fatted. And also hopefully, this decadent ritual will continue to spread.

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