Music Reviews

Hermetic Brotherhood of Lux-Or: Sex and Dead Cities

 Posted by Stuart Bruce (@)   Electronics / EBM / Electronica
Dark / Gothic / Wave / New Wave / Dark Wave / Industrial Gothic
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Oct 28 2019
Artist: Hermetic Brotherhood of Lux-Or
Title: Sex and Dead Cities
Format: 12" vinyl + Download
Label: Boring Machines
This eighth album from the duo of Laura Dem and MSMiroslaw is more ‘Dead Cities’ than it is ‘Sex’. Predominantly it’s a rich hybrid of thick atmospheric rumbles and drones with muted and distant-sounding reverb-laden slow percussive rhythms, a mixture of acoustic and synthetic that’s so thoroughly effect-washed that origination starts becoming irrelevant. Rather than the sound of a dead city, it’s generally quite busy, with these soundscapes throbbing to sounds of distant machinery and conversation.

After a mostly ambient humming opener “To Die In A Decayed Country”, the sex of the title appears suddenly in “River Flows From Incinerator”, a plaintive slow pulsing drone spontaneously interrupted by orgy sounds that disappear as quickly as they arrive, resulting in one of the strangest breakdowns I’ve ever heard.

At times this release even recalls the Future Sound Of London track “Dead Cities” as well, but darker- most notably in “Ruins And Shell Casings”, but also throughout.

“Seven Minutes Of Nausea” is not unfairly named, but it’s also not unbearable. It brings in woozier tonal shifts and more rapid fluctuations onto the established patterns in order to raise the discomfort level towards, but not over, the edge of bearability. It’s quite discombobulating. As it fades, it leaves just looped thumping industrial hits behind, which follow nicely into repetitive and angsty final track “Fear Of The Living” which feels like a call to arms- or a clarion call for zombies.

It’s a strong, tightly packed 34 minute package of post-industrial darkness and contemplative wallowing, a thick aural body scrub that’s oddly refreshing.

VV.AA.: Now That's What I Call Silence!

 Posted by Stuart Bruce (@)   Experimental / Avantgarde / Weird & Wired / Glitch / Noise / Field Recording
Dark / Gothic / Wave / New Wave / Dark Wave / Industrial Gothic
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Oct 23 2019
Artist: VV.AA.
Title: Now That's What I Call Silence!
Format: Download Only (MP3 + Lossless)
Label: Silber Media
The brilliant title of this release is worth the price of admission on its own- but it also gives you a slightly misleading idea of what to expect here. In the natural world, real silence is non-existent, and in our modern day life, even more so. Here, seventeen different artists have offered up their very different interpretations of attempted, circumstantial or artificial silence- and some of them are very, very loud.

Some scenes, like X-Bax’s “Don’t Be So Cagey” or Baptizer’s “Whispers Of Rovinj”, are true representations of natural near-silence, with indistinct open atmospheres. In recordings that range from 30 seconds to just over 10 minutes, you are drawn in and encouraged to reflect on the base level of noise that exists in your life.

Other tracks however, in the words of clickbait, “will surprise you!”. Small Life Form’s “Empty Vessel” is a heavily driven noisy industrial drone, the kind of thing employees have to wear ear protectors and have special training for, and Remora and Konbanwa both offer up gritty mechanical-sounding flat sonic platforms. Ben Link Collin’s “The Concealed Surround” is conscious sound design full of hollow resonance, creating a haunting sci-fi soundscape that gradually becomes more animalistic as it evolves. Charles De Mar’s “Nap Time” seemingly twists the sound of soporific baby sleep.

And furthermore, other tracks seem to pay only passing service to the concept (or at least, to the concept as I understand it). Goddakk’s “North 7th” and Electric Bird Noise’s “A Walk Around The Neighborhood” are both dark bits of guitar strumming but decidedly musical, while Premature Burial’s “Signal To Noise To Signal” is thumping, musically industrial rhythm work. High Tunnels’ “Food Lion Meat Cooler” is a fascinating sort of hybrid between a complex electronica heartbeat rhythm and the sound of ice cracking, while the 30-second pieces are the oddest, almost comical parts.

The idea of the release is drawn from the 2000 “Blank Tapes” by Reynols- plus John Cage, naturally- but the noise of imperfect recording mediums is not a big player here. It does show up in the microphone peaking of Heavy For The Vintage’s “Attempted Baptism, Accidental Suicide”, for example.

It’s a really strong collection of tracks that shows off the broad range of sounds on the Silber label, but if you bought this release expecting ambient noise for nodding off too, you’re in for a shock.
Artist: VV.AA.
Title: On Corrosion
Format: Tape
Label: The Helen Scarsdale Agency
“On Corrosion” is an ambitious art project. It’s the Helen Scarsdale Agency’s 50th release and the theme is based on founder Jim Haynes’ work curating an art collection under the name “On Corrision”. Ten different established sound artists have contributed their own full-length albums inspired by, or in response to, that theme. Over the course of nearly seven hours, these works head off in a variety of different directions, with diverse and varying appeal (some more than others). It’s appropriate that each album has its own artwork and subtitle as well, since largely they would stand up as sound works in their own right even if disassociated from the overriding theme- yet as I work through each release, I find myself spotting commonalities between each, leading to over-use of the word “also” in introducing each in the context of the last.

Fossil Aerosol Mining Project’s “Hydration Equilibrium” is a series of disquieting found sounds constructed into occasional patterns and rhythms on a drone base. ‘Disintegrated media’ is a successful subtheme, drawing and dismantling recordings from old tapes into an extensive entropy of modern broadcast noise, and meaty final track “Only The Green, Blue and Black” is a highlight.

The corrosion in G Park’s “Nosode” is largely digital, heavy bit-crunching, phasing and thick shifting equalisation taking fairly ordinary sounds like dripping taps and breaking them down into evil-sounding and edgy sonic abstracts across two fairly flat but intriguing 17 minute textures.

Himukalt’s “Torn Asunder- The Half Girl” is an exercise in unrelenting fury. Passionate angry feedback and noise walls punch your ears repeatedly, heavily distorted spoken-word monologues are barely discernible, raw sexual noises are thrown in for added affrontery. It jumps between structureless assembly and infrequent more industrial pattern-based sections such as when a kick drum pops in and out of “Cruel By Most Estimations”. “Absent” is the most successful track but the whole thing feels like reading somebody else’s private diary about a relationship that’s broken down in violent fashion.

Alice Kemp’s “9 Dreams In Erotic Mourning” also feels like relationship breakdown channeled into sound, but very differently. The stereotypical British bottling up of emotion seems at play here, as lethargic synth-piano melodies take precedent and suppressed feelings creep in at the edges, in the form of electric hums, masturbatory and pained vocalisations, identifiable rustling, and the like. These feelings break through periodically, most notably in the screams of “Alles Ist Wie Es Ist”, but it remains an odd balancing act of repression and expression.

Kleistwahr’s “Winter” also juxtaposes long harmonious melodic pads with more impulsive and gritty injunctions, this time more guitar-like, but across these two twenty-minute pieces it’s a contrast that feels more assured, almost enjoyed. It’s a tourist’s journey through discord but it somehow feels safe and unchallenging. Even as the pitch steadily shifts up and up and up in “Rust Eats the Future”, it somehow never sounds stressful or tense- which is very curious considering the ingredients.

“A Collection Of Damaged Reel Tape Loops” by Francisco Meirino also makes awkward noise palatable. There is no melodic element here, but there are windy envelopes that stroll over the main meat of the production, which is unrecognisably distorted sonic blowout and feedback that comes round and round, in looped patterns, to create rhythm and structure seemingly by accident. What could possibly me old music hall recordings drift through into your consciousness vaguely as it progresses, a literal but powerful interpretation of the corrosion of recorded sound-history.

No-wave, anti-rock duo Neutral offer up “Lagliv” which feels faintly anachronistic in this set thanks to the dominance of heavy guitar thrashing. A cacophony of dramatic documentary sound and spoken-word elements ride atop thick noise work but it still feels like the album here which is closest to what it would sound like if performed live. Of the two eighteen-minute tracks here, it was “Ganska lagt / Ocksa” that felt more accessible to me thanks to its increased inclusion of electronic noise, since I’m an electronics kid at heart.

Pinkcourtesyphone’s reliably minimalist “Shouting At Naunce” is an entrancing but uneventful forty-nine minutes of light electronic pulses, long delays, and slowly fading and breathing hums that’s absolutely charming and eminently soporific. Second piece “Alternatory” is marginally more melodic, adding to the sense of lullaby. If anything my only criticism of this work is that, in view of the overriding theme of the collection, this work doesn’t sound corroded- if anything it sounds smoothed, like a glossy sonic pebble. It joins other Pinkcourtesyphone releases on my sleep playlists.

Relay For Death’s “Mutual Consuming” is also a pair of long ambient works with a wave approach and a soporific flavour, but quite a different tone- there’s something steadily metallic about the resonances here, never straying fully into nails-down-the-blackboard territory but sharp enough to give an underlying sense of tension. Unlike the previous album, this does build to something dramatic, with second piece “Terminal Ice Wind” stepping assuredly up in level until it earns some dramatic deep bangs and crashes, corrosion akin to hearing the rapid cracking of a huge ice sheet from the point of view of someone trapped in the ice.

Alice Kundalini, as She Spread Sorrow, offers up “Orchid Seeds”. It’s storytelling-driven, powered by a breathy spoken word narrative that’s frankly hard to follow and feels invasively and deliberately over-intimate. This works on top of a bed of dark sonic textures, primarily super-low bass rumbles on the border of reproducible sound and ordinary hearing, but also cut through by higher-pitched rapid pulses and some very high-pitched squealing sounds that add to the discomfort. Occasionally, kicks and sub-bass sounds borrowed from dubby deep trip-hop bring everything up a level, making tracks like “She Didn’t Care” more memorable. Despite being split into five pieces, it mostly plays as a single unit, with the track divisions feeling as much chapter-based as they are by sonic change. A word of warning about the distant relentless old-fashioned telephone ringing sound that sits in the background of “Queen Of Guilt”- it will make you think your phone’s ringing, even if it doesn’t sound anything like your ringtone.

It’s presented as a 10-cassette set in a wooden box, but I only have the digital files to review so I can’t comment on the physical aspects of it. The packshot photo certainly makes it look like a thing of retro beauty though.

Sonically, it’s certainly a work of art. The way in which ten different artists have tackled the overarching theme, drawing parallels between themselves but also setting off in ten tangibly different directions. Everyone will have different favourites- I’d probably single out Pinkcourtesyphone and Francisco Meirino as mine- but people with a lot of time (and presumably money- I don’t know the asking price) to invest in dark electrosonic arts will find a lot that’s worthwhile in this nearly seven-hour-long collection.

HXXS: Year Of The Witch

 Posted by Stuart Bruce (@)   Electronics / EBM / Electronica
Dark / Gothic / Wave / New Wave / Dark Wave / Industrial Gothic
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Oct 15 2019
Artist: HXXS
Title: Year Of The Witch
Format: 12" vinyl + Download
Label: Captured Tracks
Recording “Year Of The Witch” was something of an adventure for the duo of Jeannie Colleene and Gavin Neves, who initially recorded it whilst living out of a van whilst on tour, having that hard drive stolen and having to re-record it from memory against the clock.

Perhaps that process helped them in trimming the fat off and offering up an 11-pack of tight, dense three-minute helpings of angry anti-pop built from semi-complex electronic rhythm patterns, sharp and sometimes discordant guitar stabbing, some esoteric acoustic loops, vocals that rapidly tip over from singing into shouting and lyrics oozing dissatisfaction with modern society and politics.

Highlights include “Double Down” with its distinctive assembly of a kind of industrial glam rock, and “Their Satanic Majesty’s 3rd Request” featuring Kyp Malone of TV on the Radio adding a strangely Neil Hannon flavour vocally. “Full Health” is an eye-opening hybrid of gutpunching proto-techno drum production played against the angry indie-guitar side of things, while bouncy “Build A Fire” ends the album with a shade of fun.

At times I can’t make out the lyrics, but otherwise I’d call the production polished, playful and inventive. As it often the case in bands like this, the intros and outros of the songs exhibit some of the most experimental work, like the curious anticipation that opens “Hail Mary”. A deliberate weediness at times might get some tracks labelled as lo-fi, but that wouldn’t be entirely fair.

There’s a beat poetry meets theatrical performance aspect to tracks like “This Loss Of Blood Has Me Feeling Some Type Of Way” which would undoubtedly be powerful live. The reliance on repeating lyrics into mantras is often powerful, but not always- “Hard To Tell” feels like a bit of a mis-fire.

It’s strong independent electro-anti-pop with a strong voice, and if you enjoy hearing frustrations vented over enjoyably awkward sounds, this is a half hour worth checking out.

Unknown Land: Dark Seasons

 Posted by Steve Mecca   Dark / Gothic / Wave / New Wave / Dark Wave / Industrial Gothic
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Oct 12 2019
Artist: Unknown Land (@)
Title: Dark Seasons
Format: CD
Label: self-released
Rated: *****
Unknown Land is a unique artistic collaboration between Lucia Ponticas (Chile) and Rob Bryant (Australia), two musicians on opposite sides of the earth, making music through satellites in space. The project was conceived in 2015 after Lucia and Rob met on twitter, promoting their respective solo projects "Lucia Fenix" and "Bare Island". Very quickly they realized their styles complimented each other perfectly, and Unknown Land was born. Despite living in two different cultures, speaking different languages and even when one's days are the other's nights, their passion for music prevailed. The discography of UKLD consists of four productions, the debut album 33° (2016), the subsequent EPs REDLINE (2017) and UNO (2018), and their latest album, 'DARK SEASONS' (2019). Lucia contributes all the vocals as well as lyrics and some synth work, while Rob provides guitar, synth and percussion programming. I find it especially intriguing that these two have such a cohesive and distinct sound being virtually worlds apart in distance.

The album is a brief one, only eight tracks in just 34 minutes which assuredly leaves you wanting more. This isn't synthpop, goth, industrial, EBM, or ambient. It's closest to darkwave but even then, different than what you might expect. While slightly similar to groups like Bel Canto and Chandeen, Unknown Land is more steeped in the downtempo realms of trip hop and shoegaze more than dream pop, although there are dreamy aspects as well. While the opener, "Gargoyle," is largely atmosphere and vocal calisthenics, "Kingdom," which follows is superb exotic melodic songwriting with a dreamy arrangement. "Tau" continues the exotica as Lucia's voice rises and descends low dancing on a musical topography in perfect balance with her voice. Rob's somewhat minimal rhythm is just enough to convey motion, which is all that's really needed here. As we get deeper into this work on "Cathedral," the vocal tends to blend more seamlessly into the music evoking a special sort of magic and symbiosis that transcends anything even remotely "pop". The distinctly shoegaze aspect of this album emerges full bloom in "Siren" when Rob conjures Robin Guthrie with gauzy, shimmering guitar. While there are cool lyrics in the song, it will be Lucia's wordless melodic refrain that will etch itself indelibly in your memory. The same is true for the wordless vocal opening of "moonlight" - "oohooh..ah...oohooh..ah...oohooh..ah...oohooh..ah..." - simple, but absolutely brilliant. And yes, there are lyrics that follow, but the brain remembers what stands out. In "Firelies" Lucia moves toward more lyric-oriented melodicism, still with a background of swirling, wordless vocal melody. The closer, "Hollow" ramps up the intensity on all levels bringing the album to a close with a satisfying conclusion but still leaving you wanting more. On a certain level I'm reminding of Collide, in the way kaRIN and Statik mesh together, but Unknown Land is still quite different from that industrial duo.

Seductive, immersive, and pulsing with promise in a deliciously dark setting, ‘Dark Seasons’ is as gorgeous and bleak as the album cover, an endeavor worthy of being picked up by well-known label (Echozone, are you listening?) as Unknown Land deserves much more exposure than they’re probably getting.

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