Music Reviews

Halo Manash: Elemental Live Forms MMV - Initiation

 Posted by Vito Camarretta (@)   Ambient / Electronica / Ethereal / Dub / Soundscapes / Abstract
Dark / Gothic / Wave / New Wave / Dark Wave / Industrial Gothic
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Mar 04 2017
Artist: Halo Manash (@)
Title: Elemental Live Forms MMV - Initiation
Format: CD + Book
Label: Aural Hypnox (@)
Rated: *****
This recent output by Finnish experimental ritual-oriented Finnish label, focusing on the releases of the Helixes collective, has a relevant historical significance for the followers of their trail and the more obscure (or I'd rather say, esoteric) dark-ritual sonorities, as it includes nine previously unreleased movements by Halo Manash - one of the most famous name on their roster - that were performed during the very first live ritual at Syntesia on Joly 8th 2005 in Tampere, which could be reasonably considered a proper initiation, as the title says. The release is, as usual, maniacally packaged: the 444 copies of regular CD edition are enclosed in an oversized screen printed cardboard covers including a 4-panel booklet, 4-panel xerox-insert and eight two-sided insert cards within a stamped envelope and a similar format got chosen fot the 70 copies of the tape edition, while the 45 copies of the boxset (including both the CD and the tape) also includes a screen printed 30 x 30 cm canvas and four two-sided inserts from the preparation sessions held in Temple Hwaar. In my hands, I have the regular CD edition, and I have to say that its package perfectly enhances the sensation you're handling something really precious, rare and somehow mysterious. According to the introductory words by the label, that live ritual focused "on the boundless elemental form returning from metaphysical pilgrimage", bridging the "worlds of being and non-being" and the three group of three movements by which they subdivided the nine movements of this recording - in details "The Trail of Bones" (from movement I to III), "The Path of Fire (IV-VI) and "The Ghost Ceremony" (VII-IX) - mirrors the world of "re-birth, initiation and primal thundering" respectively. Some listeners could feel detached by this esoteric and mystic dimension of some aural experimentalists, but the evocative power of Halo Manash's music (even at this early stage of their research) can hardly be denied by this kind of listener, particularly in some moments of this "initiation" such as the third movement of The Trail of Bones, where they intersected the nocturnal whispers of the second one, the sonic "lacerations" of the first one and some entrancing tribal percussive hits, the subtle thunderous roaring of the fifth movement (really entrancing!) and the shamanic halo of the final tripartite set "The Ghost Ceremony".

Nash The Slash: Decomposing

 Posted by Stuart Bruce (@)   Dark / Gothic / Wave / New Wave / Dark Wave / Industrial Gothic
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Feb 13 2017
Artist: Nash The Slash
Title: Decomposing
Format: 12"
Label: Artoffact
Canadian multi-instrumentalist, and predominantly electric violinist, Nash The Slash’s 1981 EP “Decomposing” was, it’s claimed, the first EP that was intentionally composed so that it would play ‘correctly’ at 33-and-a-third rpm, 45rpm and 78rpm. In the digital version, each of the four tracks is included three times, once at each of these speeds; vinyl purchasers will have to track down a turntable capable of running 78rpm if they want the full package! Though the original 12” is rare, it has been re-released before so this isn’t the first dusting-down for this particular EP.

The electric violin is the melodic lead on all four tracks, doing the multi-tracked ‘singing’ in a way that’s not wholly dissimilar to how Mike Oldfield will sometimes use electric guitar; initially well rooted in a poppy and familiar melodic structure, but with the will and virtuosity to wander into more prog-rock-esque diversions and solos.

But to call this ‘electric violin music’ would be a disservice. Ignoring the lead sound, these tracks are proto-electro-punk, dramatic synth stabs throbbing over robotic rhythms. “The Calling” is relatively light, with a tonal quality very similar to Brian Eno’s “Another Green World” but substantially faster (even at 33-and-a-third). “Life In Loch Ness” is a darker rumble, with a single electrically-charged rubbery bass note starting solitary before the door eventually opens into a rather epic cinematic overture performed by distorted synths. The seven-minute-long (at 45) “Womble” is early-doors bedroom techno, with heavy reverbs and delays layering up a fantastic groove. “Pilgrim’s Lament” wraps things up sweetly with an almost Vangelis-like warm salve, again with a very cinematic feel.

I’m partially but not wholly convinced by the 33/45/78 concept, which originated from a radio DJ’s error in playing one of Nash The Slash’s previous EPs at the wrong speed rather than from any high concept. In parts, it works- the more filmic pieces “Life In Loch Ness” and “Pilgrim’s Lament” breathe more freely and with more melancholy at 33rpm. However at 33rpm, “Womble” reaches almost ten minutes long, losing its energy and outstaying its welcome a little. At 78bpm however, while things are not completely happy hardcore, is a little bit Pinky & Perky and the squeakiness is no more musically valid than pretty much any 45rpm record is at 78! Certainly I would say you would pick one of the three speeds and stick to it; listening to them back-to-back is a too-repetitive 12-track experience.

The production quality is a little dated but it’s easy to hear why Gary Numan invited Nash The Slash to be his support act around this time. Nash sadly died in 2014 so a chance to revisit some of his work was overdue.

Martial Canterel: Navigations Volume I-III

 Posted by Stuart Bruce (@)   Dark / Gothic / Wave / New Wave / Dark Wave / Industrial Gothic
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Feb 07 2017
Artist: Martial Canterel
Title: Navigations Volume I-III
Format: 12" vinyl + Download
Label: Medical Records
“Navigations” gathers together the contents of three 4-track ‘dusted off rarities’ EPs into one twelve-track collection. The material is from the 2002 to 2004 period, but when you hear it, you’d be forgiven for thinking it was 1980’s vintage. This is thin, slightly punk synthpop with a lo-fi bedroom aesthetic. Principally cold wave, with crisp, straight drum machine patterns, regular 4/4 bass notes and thick analogue-flavoured synths washing the chords over the top, it’s a familar pattern.

There are some strong melodic lines and sounds in there and a very sound pop sensibility. Everything’s a little on the muddy side, but there are the some decent ingredients for sure.

The weakest part of the package sadly, and crucially, is the vocal. Solo projects can often have a hard time judging vocals correctly and the results here are not spectacular. There’s a halfheartedness, possibly a nervousness to the vocal performance which sounds like it might be attempting to emulate the underspoken cool of the Ian Curtis style, but what comes out is frankly on the limp side, and only loosely in tune. Perhaps knowing this, the vocals are mixed and echoed in a way that half-buries them, making them uncomfortably indiscernible. I think some of the lyrics might be quite well-written, but it’s difficult to tell.

“Horror Without You” are “Catalog” are among the strongest pieces, but unfortunately there are no real standout tracks that can lift this bundle above being a collection of “early demos, before we got good” that will only appeal to diehard Martial Canterel fans and friends. To anyone else it sadly has the inaccessibility of a vanity project.

L-XIII: Obsidian

 Posted by Steve Mecca   Dark / Gothic / Wave / New Wave / Dark Wave / Industrial Gothic
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Jan 31 2017
Artist: L-XIII (@)
Title: Obsidian
Format: CD EP
Label: self-released
Rated: *****
L-XIII is the solo project of Neil DeRosa from Salem Massachusetts. Well, you know what Salem is known for, but Neil is also a member of another (numbered) band from there- 1476, along with singer/guitarist Robb Kavjian. (Neil plays drums in that outfit.) In order to get some background on Mr. DeRosa, I had to spend some time tracking down and listening to 1476. Of the three albums I heard - 'Wildwood/The Nightside', 'Smoke In The Sky', 'Edgar Allan Poe: A Life Of Hope & Despair', I found them all to be quite different from each other, exhibiting some eclecticism, sounding at times like Nick Cave (sans the rich baritone), Echo & the Bunnymen, Joy Division, Death in June, and similar artists. Kavjian has a very good voice, and the songwriting is competent. The 'Edgar Allan Poe...' album was the most different being primarily piano (rather than guitar) based, neoclassical in flavor with passages of dark ambient. So now I think I know at least where Neil is coming from.

I must say that the first thing that struck me is that 'Obsidian' is nicely packaged. I like the purplish blue-black color scheme; the DVD style case, and the accompanying cardstock sheets that came with it. That's the standard edition of this work; the "Special Edition" (limited to 9 copies) is even more elaborate. I'll leave the details on that one for Neil to explain if you want to contact him, but only will say that a real obsidian stone is included in the packaging. In the promotional materials Neil goes into detail about the name of this EP, 'Obsidian', explaining the properties of obsidian stone and why he used it in a spiritual meditation ritual. Neil states, "This EP was a snapshot into a really uncomfortable place while trying to perform a surgery for the soul while felling around in the dark." Okay then let's see what the music has to say.

The opener on this 5-track instrumental EP is the title track "Obsidian," and what we get is bass drone with some light semi-sparse piano chords and muffled drums that sound like they were recorded underwater. Kind of atmospheric, kind of amorphous. "Ritual Smoke" begins with some sequenced bellish synth, then a rudimentary piano arpeggio. Heavy bass rumbles in the background, and then the thundering drums come in. A slow lead synth adds some melody. Overall, it sounded like an instrumental demo from a would-be 4AD band that didn't land the contract. On "Black Mirror" the piano is a bit more adventurous and so is the (electronically processed) drumming. Choir-like synths provide some ambience. Although not really dark ambient, there are elements, but I'd be more inclined to call this Gothic. More neoclassical piano arpeggios on "Belgrave Rooftop" with that ersatz choir synth sound back again. It's nearly midway through before any rhythm comes in, and after a pause the drums pick up, and you really know that this was done by a drummer, as it's the most elaborate element of the music. Last track, "Blinding Light" is the most eerie and interesting thing on this EP. The rather elongated and sustained lead synth sounds like a spooky harmonica ('Once Upon a Time in the West' style), the piano playing is more effective, the drumming more coordinated and the piece better orchestrated in total. My feeling about it though is that it could have been developed even further.

My overall assessment of 'Obsidian' is that it's really only demo quality in recording and composition. While the music might make a nice soundtrack for a noirish film, by itself it lacks substance. That's a shame considering all the effort put into the packaging. While the 1476 band seems to put a lot of effort into their music, DeRosa's fist solo effort seems to fall short by comparison. Perhaps his next one will hit the mark.

Ataraxia: Deep Blue Firmament

 Posted by Steve Mecca   Dark / Gothic / Wave / New Wave / Dark Wave / Industrial Gothic
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Jan 10 2017
Artist: Ataraxia (@)
Title: Deep Blue Firmament
Format: CD
Label: Sleaszy Rider Records (@)
Rated: *****
The Italian neoclassical darkwave band Ataraxia has been around since 1985, and has had at least 25 albums prior to 'Deep Blue Firmament,' this being their 26th. In all that time I've heard of, but never really heard Ataraxia. Shame on me. I have no idea why they've eluded me. Really, I should have picked up one of their CDs at least. I have no good excuse. But now I have 'Deep Blue Firmament,' and from the smatteri9ng of their discography I went back to listen to, this seems to be one of their best, if not their best yet. Not to say they haven't done some really nice work in the past, but they've matured and so has their music. With Francesca Nicoli (vocals), Vittorio Vandelli (guitars, bass, backing vocals), Giovanni Pagliari (keyboards, vocals), Riccardo Spaggiari (drums, percussion), and Totem Bara (cello on a few tracks) these folks make music that's absolutely magical on 'Deep Blue Firmament'. They sound fuller and more adept than ever before, The opening track "Delphi" is lushly orchestrated with group vocals that sound like a chorale from another age. Several of the songs have lyrics by poet William Butler Yeats, the others with lyrics by Francesca. At times Francesca's voice is operatic, without convention of opera. At others, just simply mystically folky. Even the male vocals (when they occur) are quite enjoyable. However, it's the elaborate orchestration Ataraxia uses that sets this band apart. Sometimes they almost seem to make Dead Can Dance sound pedestrian in comparison. Even though songs are sung in English, French and Italian, this band is very Italian in flavor. 'Deep Blue Firmament' explores a variety of moods, and although mostly melancholy as dark wave bands tend to be, they never come off as morose. Well beyond bands like This Mortal Coil or Love is Colder Than Death. For those looking for quality Gothic music that has been crafted to perfection, I highly recommend this. Definitely a cut above.

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