Friday, 29 October 2010

The Mistress and the Icelanders

The Mistress...

Not satisfied with having given birth to the forefathers of drone - Earth; one of the most inspirational black metal bands of the 21st century - Wolves in the Throne Room and a splendid little arty blackish metal band in Fauna, Olympia, Washington has decided to honour its majestic landscape via an unholily awesome blend of Diamond Head, Thin Lizzy, Jex Thoth and Witchcraft! I'll be damned to a purgatory of enforced neverending exposure to Massive R 'n' B Hits if their debut album Agony & Opium is not one of the best albums in any genre of 2010. Lead singer Christine Davis takes her vocal cues from such disparate artists as ZZ Top's Billy Gibbons, Witchcraft's Magnus Pelander and dame Diamanda Galas. In a recent interview for Asgard Root Issue 3 (which is a long term project I'm afraid folks - but will be something to look forward to!) she confessed to smoking kitten fur before singing - a fantasy of course, but one that can give as apt an idea of her enchanting voice as any blow by blow account. Added to the charming yet forceful ebullience of Mistress Christine's sultry, whiskey drenched vocal chords is the band's uncanny ability to forge riffs and hooks that weave their way into your very being and demand you (in my case) to make the considerable effort to get off your arse and return the needle to the start of the record and get on the Agony and Opium train for yet another intoxicating ride.

The Icelanders

Árstíðir lífisins, or to you and I 'The Seasons of Life' is the debut album of an Icelandic collective brought together by a deep respect of Iceland's fascinating history and an urge to document it through the medium of music, and more specifically a 70 minute blackened 'folk' metal masterpiece that makes a mockery of its 'first album' status. Major praise must go to the designer of the artwork and booklets, which as you can see are nothing short of spectular and in containing text in both Icelandic and English are no less informative. Founder Stefán's astounding vocal display is a real highlight, spanning the deep reverent Pagan-esque baritone to howled depressive black metal malcontent with supreme efficacy. Unlike the rather popularised accounts of Iceland portrayed by the 'Viking' metal hordes, Árstíðir lífisins' stories tell of the subtler and yet harsher truths of the settlement of their great country prior to 950AD.

'It will not be long before the cold creeps around our homesteads. We freeze and we starve...Nobody comes, nobody helps. We are alone facing the giants and the waves of cold death. Heavy waves attack our little wooden boat, saving fish from being caught. Hunger drives us out to sea, not knowing what lays behind the dark waters. Nothing.'

Of the nine beautifully composed tracks, each a chapter in the band's sensitive and heart-wrenching retelling of the settlement story, it is hard to pick out the stars as each shines brighter than any band could hope for on a debut album. Tracks iii and iv however, are as good as any to showcase the band's unbelievable range - the former a sprawling, epic account with such diverse elements as acoustic guitar, clear baritone narrative, ghostly female backing and seagull field recordings as well as the staple metal footing. Meanwhile the fourth piece is a harsh, black metal affair (albeit with some clear vocal moments) that conjures an atmosphere of pure hopelessness and despair that the likes of Silencer would be proud of. Above all, these ten (yes 10) Icelanders have laid down a stormer of an album and the benchmark against which all future heritage black metal (why should the term apply to England alone) records should be judged. The Filosofem of heritage black metal if you like. Congratulations must go to Van records for releasing this extraordinary recording and for creating such a beautiful product. Heilsa!

Monday, 11 October 2010

Nechochwen - Azimuths to the Otherworld

Nechochwen - Azimuths to the Otherworld

Just a quick one to recommend this amazing neofolk-tinged US black metal project. I've been meaning to post something on here about this little beauty for a while now, and if it happens to have passed you by then I hope this acts as a prompt to dig around for a copy. The two chaps behind Nechochwen hail from West Virginia and have a shared fascination in Native American history and heritage. This has inspired them to create an epic hour long fourteen track journey into the ancient history of the noble story of two factions of these fascinating people - the Adena and Hopewell - occupants of the Ohio River valley 3000-1300 years ago. Archaeology has gleaned that these people were responsible for vast and impressive earthworks and mounds that were aligned to the sun and the moon using astrology and a (not fully understood) unit of measurement as well as hallucinogens and rituals to enable these structures to act as space ships for the souls of passed ancestors.

Just how passionate these two men are for this ancient history and these mysterious folk is evidenced in the emotion and energy imbued in the album, which via lengthy song structures and a potent use of cathartic release achieves the rare feat of working only as a whole piece. The magnificent sound is realised through a potent combination of raw sounding, expertly produced black metal, combined with some really beautiful acoustic passages. So, sit down, plug in and be taken away to the Otherworld.

A phenomenal achievement, and another extremely.

Saturday, 9 October 2010

Swans - My Father Will Guide Me Up a Rope to the Sky

Fourteen years on from the last Swans album, 'Soundtracks For the Blind', which was to all extents and purposes their, erm, swansong (sorry) - Michael Gira has reimagined his Swans project and returned to damage our ear drums and darken our souls with a new recording entitled 'My Father Will Guide Me Up a Rope To the Sky.'

Now, this title may have you dreaming up the horrendous possibility of Gira coming out and saying - I was an evangelical Christian all along and now that I've got your attention - GOD IS REAL! Of course that is far too far-fetched to be possible and could never happen. Ever.

Fear not, for not only is 'MFWGMUARTTS' (that barely reduced the type effort) an angry, churning, vicious and unmistakably Swansy effort but it is one of the most potent records I've heard all year. The fact that this is not (as Gira has been at great pains to point out) a reunion but rather a new dawn is evidenced as much by the personel as anything. Most obvious and conspicuous by her absence is the non-appearance of Jarboe, an omission which is obviously a shock, but only marginally more so than the incredible 'You Fucking People Make Me Sick' in which weirdie beardie Devendra Banhart's inimitable croon is echoed by Gira's 3 year old daughter singing "I love you/Young flower/Now give me/What is mine” before all hell breaks loose and an industrial deluge rains down crushing all in its path.

Despite the notable Jarboe-less-ness of the record, Gira has penned a wholy worthy addition to the Swans cannon and an album that grows and grows upoon each and every listen (well I'm only up to around 50 so I can't be sure of the exponentiality of this phenomenon, but I can only go on experience). Of course, in between 'Soundtracks...' and 'MFWGMUARTTS' (god bless 'control c') Gira has given us the more pensive and harmonious Angels Of Light - a weighty and precious gift in itself, but even so a new Swans album is something to salivate over and then savour, slowly and guiltily like a good stilton.

Quite simply if you've never come across Swans before (apart from giving yourself 50 lashes) this is a magnificent place to start. Absolutely essential.

Sunday, 26 September 2010

Night Science IV - Zine (mini) review

Cipher Productions is based in Australia and they have come up with something truly special for their 4th issue of noise zine Night Science.

150 odd pages of reviews and interviews, with some small and informative advertising that never imposes itself on the pages. Interviews include the awesome Hum of the Druid's protagonit Eric Stonefelt, who weaves textured noise and drone, creating pieces of neverending intrigue, combined with visual art that goes beyond mere complementary status and actually fuses with the sonic output in some sort of visionary symbiosis.
Other interviews with Golden Serenades - guitar smashing noisy motherfudgers (see video below)...

Kazumoto Endo, Raionbashi and The Haters - plus much more. There are endless pages of well-organised and intelligently scribed reviews that will have you pestering Pete over at Second Layer for a copy.

If all this shizz is not enough for you then it also comes with a beautifully pressed 8 track CD with tracks from the featured artists. The two Hum of the Druid pieces are worth the £13.99 price alone. Suffice it to say this is absolutely obligatory for anyone with a remote interest in the world of noise.

Analogue delight

I have to recommend everyone a fabulous little cassette releasing label called Sunyata Recordings.
Not only are the releases of extremely high quality - notably the immediately sold out Life in the Dark - The Sunya is Rising (CDR)* but Zem, who runs the label is an extremely congenial fellow and a pleasure to deal with. The vinyl revolution was predictable, but the cassette comeback less so. Nevertheless, small boutique labels releasing high quality, limited recordings in analogue format have found a niche and with a little quality control provided by the likes of myself (ahem), you can get yourself some little gems. Enjoy.

* not to worry - you can hear a 20-odd minute track here

Friday, 24 September 2010


Having been ill for a substantial period I finally succombed to a period of time of work and unfortunately this site has been rather neglected (well, totally left for dead more like!). I was initially rather naive about how much time I might have to post here and with wishing to up the pace on work on issue 3 as well as concentrating on getting well, working on the record store's website and all of life's more mundane requirements I'm reducing my expectations of this blog.

Hopefully this will have the effect of inspiring me to post more regularly with rather more conversational entries and rather less reviews. Let's see.

Anyway - I hope I haven't lost all the readers out there and hopefully you'll find something here that will make your visit worthwhile.

This time, I can guarantee you that my recommendation of Christian Mistress will inspire you. They will be interviewed in issue 3 and I leave you with this amazing song...

Tuesday, 10 August 2010

August listening so far

Right, this blog is rapidly becoming more of a - what am I listening to - page, but at the moment, with work continuing on issue 3, 'real work' commitments and generally just life getting in the way, c'est la vie, I'm afraid. Anyway, I hope it leads to some great discoveries.

Here are my current favourites

  • 2 amazing releases on new label Le Crepuscule du Soir. Both one-woman projects in Turdus Merula (latin for blackbird) and Draugurinn
  • Domgard, Drapsnatt and Enthral new offerings on the formidable Frostscald roster
  • A Forest Of Stars - Opportunistic Thieves of Spring
  • Winterfylleth - The Mercian Sphere
  • Beherit - Engram
  • Jex Thoth - Witness
  • Grey Waters - Below the Ever Setting Sun

Sunday, 27 June 2010


Just a quick note to say that I'm back from an extended period away and will hopefully find some time to keep this up-to-date.

Essential listening of late:

Grand Magus -Hammer of the North
Whitehouse - Great White Death (vinyl reissue)
Nachtmystium - Addicts - Black Meddle pt II
Skogen - Vittra
Sabbath Assembly - Restored to One
Menace Ruine - Union of Irreconcilables


work on issue 3 will be getting underway shortly. I will post more news as and when it is appropriate.

Friday, 21 May 2010

Xasthur - Portal of Sorrow

Xasthur - Portal of Sorrow, 2010 (Disharmonic Variations) 78%

Eschewing any kind of major label, for this, Xasthur's final album is understandable when the work is as grand a departure from the established sound of the band. Malefic has expressed a desire to remove the shackles that genre-releases place on his work and move further into neoclassical territory. Portal of Sorrow sees Malefic - this time listed in the liner notes as Scott - paired with US dark folk chantreuse Marissa Nadler - whose own work comes highly recommended by me, by the way. Nadler's otherworldly vocals are used not only used in a choral way, but themselves can be seen as an added instrument, aiding the flow of the lo-fi songs. There is of course, a black metal foundation to the release, with the trademark buzzing guitars and mid-paced drumming taking prominent roles in many tracks. Then, we have the plodding, doom-like elegies such as The Abyss Holds the Mirror, which in reality is closer to Amber Asylum than any black metal - and if not for the croaking vocals of malcontent (which themselves are barely audible) it would be, as Scott wishes, free from any genre constraints.

The packaging for the album is, to be kind, minimal - the two page booklet in its purple hue has a DIY feel to it and holds little information bar some lyrics to a few of the songs. The album's cover, meanwhile is a collage in homage to the dead and the ghostly apparitions peering through the fog represent the vestige of black metal that remains, gloomily in the background from the netherworld, bidding farewell as one of the scene's most prodigious contributors prepares to embark on another journey.

So, after all that, is it any good? The short answer is YES. Upon more indepth analysis, however I would have placed this as high as any of Xasthur's previous albums had the songwriting been as strong. Arguably this is the most ambitious of the Xasthur works and the atmosphere is amazing - there is, however sadly just that little bit of magic missing from too many of the songs to herald Portal of Sorrow as the classic swansong it could have been.

Monday, 17 May 2010

Terje Rypdal - Crime Scene

Terje Rypdal - Crime Scene, 2010 (ECM, ECM 2041) 88%

Norwegian jazz guitar veteran and ECM stalwart Terje Rypdal is showing absolutely no signs of relenting going into his 64th year! A stunning ensemble cast consisting of trumpeter Palle Mikkelborg, Stale Storlokken on Hammond organ and Paolo Vinaccia on drum and sampling duties contributes to marking this set as one of the highlights of Rypdal's career. Commissioned by Nattjazz, Bergen, 'Crime Scene' is as its title would suggest, an exploration and homage to the Crime genre, aided and abetted by well-integrated and utterly inspiring samples from choice movies, ranging from the infamous 'fava bean' quote by Hannibal Lector, to the De Niro 'you talkin' da me?' shenanigans. The deliciously sombre trumpetting is in fact a major highlight and sets as much of the mood as Rypdal's unmistakable guitar playing. The sound quality, being ECM, is impeccable and the 14 tracks merge together as seamlessly as continents, providing a perfectly knitted listening experience that will, I feel, appeal to jazz and experimental fanatics as well as those like myself who cherry-pick from genres according to mood, atmosphere and musical power. One of the highlights of the year so far, for me.

Friday, 7 May 2010

Genocide Organ - :Leichenlinie: 1989/2009

Genocide Organ - :Leichenlinie: 1989/2009, (TESCO - TESCO80) 89%

Over 20 years since the original cassette issue of the most important release of German post-industrial noise and early power electronics - and 10 years after the first digital imprint, TESCO give :Leichenlinie: their distinctive workover. The hard-hitting glossed photographic image of a pile of bodies lying inert, lifeless on the white snow against the backdrop of a pine forest's edge in stark monochrome with a black border and solid white text on a black matt digipak platform represents perfectly the sounds housed within.

The electronic fodder is militant and assertive, grounded by the pounding and disorienting kick drum, leaving its captivating imprint indelibly stamped in our minds. There are warped vocals that hint at something of an appreciation of early proto-black metal, with none of the farce. And with songtitles such as opening invocation 'Ave Satani' this is further evidenced. Other songs such as 'Negros In Sky-Wars' and 'Stalins Orgeln' are monikered in such a way that the band's apparent right wing views come to the fore. I say apparent as the band never gave/give interviews - so forgive me if I'm wrong. Going back to the first track - 'Ave Satani' this is as close to the perfect black metal intro as you could possibly wish for and as the last rites are sounded, you are left firmly in the mood to be terrified. As the opening EVP-style tortured vocals and electronic distortion, coupled with the sort of bass-wobble in more leftfield dubstep today open 'Mind Control' there is nowhere to run - like rabbits caught in a stormtrooper's headlights you can but yield, frozen in awe as the Genocide Organ steamroller reaches hysteric levels of terror.

It is hard to think of a black metal band this terrifying and paradoxically guiltily alluring other than perhaps Abruptum at the peak of their powers. The samples include dictatorial speeches, tortured reminiscences of a special forces agent and each one fits like a white glove into the album's vision. Fifth track and more typically titled (for a power electronics release) 'Come Orgasm' is one of the most noise-drenched affairs, beginnning like a Sewer Election piece and although it builds up more structure than that might suggest, there is a noise aesthetic introduced with this track that is not so prominent elsewhere. The quieter, more sample-led verses such as 'Face Of Horror' are equally important as they give the mood changes neccessary to declare the album the masterpiece it undoubtedly is.

I can give no higher recommendation than to assure you that even now at 17:59 on a friday afternoon in May, I am genuinely unsettled listening to this for the third consecutive time.

Monday, 3 May 2010

Ramleh - Hole in the Heart

Ramleh - Hole in the Heart, 2010 (Dirter - DPROMCD73) 95%

Originally issued in analogue format on the legendary Broken Flag Records back in 1987, Ramleh's seminal, haunting power electronics meisterwork is finally available on CD thanks to Dirter Promotions. Indeed it's been quite a year for Ramleh lovers, with their first new album since 1997 - the bleak, unique Valediction on UK label/distro/shop Second Layer Records. For the uninitiated how to describe Ramleh? Well, forget conventional musical references and think of subaquatic half-heard melodies played through darkened tunnels occupied by the ghosts of a thousand prematurely dead sailors each emitting charges of pulsing electricity, captured in the form of EVP. Occasional vocals permeate the swirling sonic chaos, adding their own haunting fuzz to proceedings - working in perfect symbiosis with the incessant buzzing feedback.

The stark monochrome artwork is perfect and is reminiscent of the recent backdrop to the cinematic rendering of Cormac McCarthy's equally bleak, post-apocalyptic vision - The Road.
At times the impact of the vocals is almost like the Islamic prayers of a mosque filtered through a dense fog of evil static. I can guaranteed that even if this release is not to your taste, that if you track it down and give it your full attention, it will leave its imprint on you. It's an album that will not leave you, even if you wish it to. 2 discs so heavily charged with the voices of the dead that they practically levitate into your petrified CD player. The word essential has never been so apt.

Saturday, 1 May 2010

Glass Coffin - Blood Of A Godless Moon

Glass Coffin - Blood Of A Godless Moon, 2009 (Skullrot Productions) Limited edition Demo of 50 copies - Recommended

Glass Coffin is the black metal project of Josh Lay, who runs analogue label fiends Husk Records - known more for handmade noise cassettes and 3" cds. Here, Josh explores his love of lo-fi early black metal with that underproduced sound that we all grew up on in the early '90s and guess what? It slays! Shit production value, harsh and raw as hell vocals, ominous guitar lines and quasi-militant drum fills are the order of the day, backed up by some memorable vocal lines and catchy hooks - yes they are there buried under the layers of feedback! A real nostalgia trip, recalling early Darkthrone especially - and obviously as Darkthrone were and are, influenced by black and death metal as well as dirty, filthy punk. Switch off the lights stick this little bastard in the player and scream 'Anti-Christian Warfare...Anti-Christian Warfare...Anti Christian Warfare!!!!' You know you want to.

Friday, 30 April 2010

Deafest / Livimorket Split

Deafest / Livimørket, 2009 (9th Meridian Records) 78%

A rather curious anecdote to start this review. A little while back we had a visit from a band called Maths at the end of an arduous tour. The man behind Livimørket popped in to Rapture, our shop in Witney, and managed to pick up some music and a copy of Asgard Root. This is how I find myself in receipt of his split with Colorado troupe Deafest - and what a treat it is too. Let's begin with Deafest, whose name refers to the wise belief that humanity is the 'deafest' species on this planet, unable to hear the Earth's needs. Before you cry 'hippie' let me reassure you that there are no cowbells and drum circles going on here! Rather, what we have is a splendidly produced two-track lament at our exploitation and destruction of the world around us. Buzzsaw guitars wine their melancholy tunes, with a faint, tribal drumbeat a mere balast for the creativity around it. Lookinf over the website for Deafest it is clear that they've been productive for some time and I can only ask why it is that I have only just chanced upon them in the unlikeliest fashion. Hailing from Littleton, Colorado Deafest will suffer obvious comparisons to Wolves in the Throne Room, who along with the likes of ColdWorld and Xasthur are obvious influences - but Deafest certainly exhibit enough vitality to be considered on their own merits. The sumptuous melodies that float around the spacious 'From Subterranean Seeds To Supporting The Sky' resound with an ancient and profound reverence for the natural world, while the quieter moments on 'The Coyote and the Valley' represent a mournful eeyrie, bemoaning the sorry state of the Earth. I am certainly going to look for some of this fascinating two-piece's other releases and urge you to follow suit.

England's Livimorket are a slightly different proposition and it's nice to come across a split with two diverse, but equally interesting artists. An ephemeral, wisplike production provides an eerie backdrop to Livimørket's sorrowful black metal/dark ambient hybrid beast. A major point of reference would have to be Paysage D'hiver, a reference I would not throw around lightly, while
the slowed down doom-drenched passages hint at more than a passing respect for the likes of Celestial, Corrupted and Esoteric. The two tracks are entitled 'Crucible of Spirts' I and II and perhaps reflecting the nature of the spirit world, they utilise endless repetition, which coupled with the aforementioned wafer-thin production produces effective results.

As a newcomer to the 9th Meridian label I can safely say that I will be delving deeper into its canon in the coming months, if this storming little release is anything to go by it will be well worth the listening time.

Tuesday, 27 April 2010

Palace Of Worms - The Forgotten

Palace Of Worms - The Forgotten, 2010 (Flenser Records - FL01) 95%

The first release a label offers up is an important mission statement to the world and a chance to make a real impression. Jesus Christ impaled on a sharpened stake do they make their mark with this offering. San Fransisco has proven to be a gritty urban backdrop to some truly great black metal related artists - just thinking on my feet there have been Leviathan, Weakling, Ludicra, Crebain and of course in the past the almighty Possessed. You can add Palace Of Worms to this list and they will not be out of place.

Like Crebain, Xasthur and Leviathan, Palace Of Worms is the work of one man - Balan and like Leviathan before him Balan's work in the form of a demo was taken to the (vast) shelves of Amoeba Records by a guy named Stevil. Far harsher and more intense than the Palace Of Worms demo, The Forgotten is a blast of fresh (foul) air that carries the trademark Bay Area sense of melody along with a buzzing, feverish intensity and an almost psychedelic guitar sound at times that perhaps owes to San Francisco's history in this Nuggets-era style. There is evidence in the pulsating drone, accompanied by grim sound effects and sporadic rasps during the fourth track of a keen interest in experimental/noise, while some of the more dizzying necro stylistics scream Watain and Deathspell Omega.

The songwriting on the album is second-to-none, with a real highlight personally being the third track and its ridiculously addictive guitar sections - a track, which like all the others remains nameless. The lack of song-titles and indeed lyrics in the inlay means we can only guess at the source of Balan's own personal misanthropy, but who cares? Let's just rejoice in it, irrespective of its source and pray to Lucifer himself that the Bay Area scene continues to bear such succulent fruits for us to pluck, horde and fucking devour. This comes with the highest possible personal recommendation.

Bosse-De-Nage - S/T

Bosse-De-Nage - S/T , 2010 (Flenser Records, FR03) 85%

New label Flenser have sent me two absolutely stunning releases by USBM artists The Palace Of Worms and in this instance Bay Area troupe Bosse-De-Nage - both of whom are strong contenders for interview space in issue 3 of Asgard Root. It'd be fair to say that both bands have impressed me immensely, a fact that coupled with Flenser Records' stunning attention to detail prompt me to recommend that you keep a firm eye on this label if you have any intention of experiencing the very best that USBM has to offer.

Bosse-De-Nage recorded this debut back in 2007, but due to a variety of reasons, not least being a (ridiculous) difficulty in finding interested labels, the release is finally seeing the light of day. That Flenser picked up on the release owed much to Ludicra/Agalloch drummer Aesop Dekker posting some of their songs on his popular blog The Cosmic Hearse.

Musically, Bosse-De-Nage blend raw black metal aesthetics and vocals with dreamy guitar led meanderings and tangibly human drumlines that together form a potent mix that recalls early Darkthrone as much as it does the likes of Alcest, UK black metal horde Fen and even at times some postrock. Fellow US black metal ecowarriors and Asgard Root interviewees Wolves in the Throne Room may be another influence for their use of repetition, while 6th track 'Excerpt...' builds tension in a similar way to Godspeed You! Black Emperor. What is most impressive over the 7 strangely titled tracks ('Marie Pisses Upon The Count' anyone) is the fluid assimilation of the bands disparate influences into a convincing concoction that never feels forced and resounds with passion and organic fury.

A mention must go to the surreal black and white Lynchian artwork which is stunningly presented on a linen textured insert - the icing on the generously and sumptuously filled cake indeed. Suffice it to say that I consider this to be one of the most interesting and worthwhile black metal releases of the year so far. Shame on which ever labels passed this by back when it was recorded and praise be to Flenser for giving it the platform it deserves.

Friday, 23 April 2010

Ludicra - The Tenant

Ludicra - The Tenant, 2010 (Profound Lore - PFL056) 90%

San Franciscans Ludicra are unusual for a black metal band in that they count among their number two women (vocalist and guitarist) and yet there is absolutely nothing ‘gothic’ about them. In fact, Ludicra have links to the crust and grindcore scenes and the gritty elements to their sound owe in part to this and also to the city that spawned them; many of their themes deal with the struggle and grime of daily life in San Francisco. ‘Black metal with a social conscience’ I hear you cry! I believe I’m right in saying that frontwoman Laurie even helps out at the soup kitchen. Yes, it would appear that Ludicra’s distance from the original xenophobic, nihilistic black metal scene is more than mere geography. Ludicra are one of the most idiosyncratic of USBM bands, using black metal as the canvas onto which they splash the paint of many an outside influence.

The Tenant represents the band’s fourth album proper, since their exhilarating albeit raw debut Hollow Psalms. It also marks their debut on ever-reliable label Profound Lore, who give the release their trademark digipak makeover and a rather sexy gloss/matt hybrid cover. The interplay of Laurie’s acidic black metal rasp and understated clean vocals is excellently implemented and never sounds forced or overly artistic as it can on say an Opeth album.

The songwriting undergoes an improvement again even after the amazing Fex Urbis Lex Orbis. It would be fair to label The Tenant as not only Ludicra’s most ambitious work to date but also their most diverse. One might surmise that the band’s heavy touring with prog-metal troupe Hammers Of Misfortune has rubbed off on them somewhat. The percussive element is superb and varied, which one might expect considering that the drummer is, as ever, none other than Aesop of Agalloch fame. There is nothing left to say but to heartily recommend that you pick up a copy of this sprawling post-black metal masterpiece.

Thursday, 22 April 2010

Demdike Stare - Forest Of Evil

Demdike Stare - Forest Of Evil LP (Modern Love - Love 060)

Lancashire's occult electronic duo of Sean Canty and Miles Whittaker make it their mission to fuse their immense knowledge of obscure horror soundtracks and dub vinyl treasures into a heady concoction that plays like a woozy Absinthe fuelled waking nightmare and buries itself through burrowing basslines and Alice Coltrane percussion under the pores of every listener ecstatic enough to snap up this marvellous limited vinyl release.

The first in a trilogy of LPs to come out on Modern Love for 2010, Forest Of Evil is a are combination of the clever, the simple and the stunningly effective. Following on from 2009's lengthier but no less devastating CD collection Symbiosis, the pair stir up their witches brew of tar-black drones and psychedelic beats and percussion in a way that will recall a more claustrophobic concoction of Finnish experimentalist Mika Vainio and in the dronier sections is capable of producing such spiritual results (though by no means as minimal) as the one and only Eleh.

The Iranian background sounds so prominent in Symbiosis take a back seat to the alchemic, supernatural dronescapes that are hinted at by Andy Votel's excellent ouija board artwork. This leads nicely on to the bandname - Demdike Stare, which to understand we must be aware of Miles Whittaker's other project Pendle Coven, named after Pendle Hill in north-east Lancashire, an area much frequented by keen ghost-hunters and infamous owing to the witch trials of 1612, during which ten suspected witches were executed. Demdike Stare was the name of the most infamous of these witches. A pertinent point indeed as the band of the same name are making quite a name for themselves.

I am fully aware that this is not the type of music I am known for eulogising over, but this is one of the most startling releases I've come across of late and is fully deserving of its place on my turntable inbetween blastings of Witchsorrow and the new Negura Bunget. I'm sure Sean Canty, who is known as much for his love of obscure Nordic Doom as for his fascination in dub would agree. Good music is good music. Darkness is darkness.

Tuesday, 20 April 2010

Pete Steele - (1962-2010) R.I.P.

Type O Negative's giant frontman Pete Steele has died again.

This time, however, it is no farce. After the band faked his death in 2005 and having prior to that come close after an overdose, the 6 foot 7 singer/bassist has finally left us, succombing to heart failure at the age of 48. In his early days, Steele (born Petrus T. Ratajczyk) played bass in a handful of proto-hardcore bands in his native Brooklyn before starting up thrash legends Carnivore, a band whose trademark nihilism acted as a precursor to that employed by his most successful band, gothic metallers Type O Negative. Type O were always something of an enigmatic band and their blend of goth, postpunk, The Doors and new wave was not for everyone, but nobody can argue the impact of the band from raw and brutal debut Slow, Deep and Hard through to classic album Bloody Kisses and it's poppier follow-up October Rust on the metal and goth scenes respectively. From the epic pop-doom catchiness of 'Christian Woman' to the wistful melancholy of Seals and Crofts cover 'Summer Breeze' which would be later used in the dramatic opening credits of I Know What you Did Last Summer.

Using Steele's striking physique as a marketing play, Roadrunner's success as a label owes much to Type O Negative and especially their plentiful airplay in the early-mid nineties on MTV with videos such as Summer Breeze. This fact has been acknowledged by Monte Conner, Senior VP A&R at Roadrunner Records. "Peter Steele was an integral thread in the fabric of Roadrunner Records, having been with us from 1985 to 2005. Type O Negative kicked down doors for Roadrunner with 'Bloody Kisses' giving us our first Gold record in November 1995 and our first success at commercial radio with 'Christian Woman.' To this day, artistically it is one of the defining records on this label as well as a universally regarded classic in the heavy metal, hard rock and goth rock genres. I will always treasure my memories of working with a true artist like Peter Steele, and fondly remember the respect he showed me and others here as well as his deadpan, black sense of humor. While the music world suffers a huge loss with Peter's passing, his legacy will surely endure." A fitting tribute to one of metal's most charismatic characters.

Steele will also be remembered for explicit shots taken for a Playgirl feature which prompted wild rumours over his, erm, 'size'. Another shocking moment in his career also linked to his physical self included using a close up of his own anus for the darkly humorous album Origin of the Feces. Often shocking live audiences with self-deprecating sense of humour and by deliberately sabotaging his own songs, it can truly be said that he was a unique man and in my household at least, Bloody Kisses will certainly be aired on a regular basis and if you walk past my window during such an airing you'll most likely bear witness to a mass of hair and some decidedly gloomy rock-god-like air guitaring to the sheer popdoom majesty that is Christian Woman.

Key Discography

  • Carnivore: Carnivore - Roadrunner Records, 1985

  • Carnivore: Retaliation - Roadrunner Records, 1987

  • Type O Negative: Slow, Deep and Hard - Roadrunner Records, 1991

  • Type O Negative: The Origin of the Feces - Roadrunner Records, 1992

  • Type O Negative: Bloody Kisses - Roadrunner Records, 1993

  • Type O Negative: October Rust - Roadrunner Records, 1996

NDE - Krieg Blut Ehre Asche

NDE - Krieg Blut Ehre Asche, 2009 (Cold Spring - CSR110) 74%

Like a solitary figure making his way through dense fog on a winter moor, NDE are shrouded in veritable smog of mystery. Two Belgians, no website, no details and a penchant for blending acidic black metal rasps with marching martial beats, ruthless death industrial monotony and crunching noise, one thing in however is visible in crystal clarity, NDE mean serious business. ‘Krieg…is disseminated into eight brutal parts, the pinnacle being the sixth, in which the digitally affected black metal shrieks duel with distant female operatic chants amidst a blizzard of evil noise until we are suitably cowered. Scene 1: Satan offers man immortality in exchange for an album that can be used to strike fear into mortal man. Scene 2: NDE enter studio. Scene 3: Krieg Blut Ehre Asche is laid down. Scene 4: The fucking end. No rulebooks have been torn up, no ground broken, but my speakers are wailing with the threat the world’s end.

Sunday, 18 April 2010

Record Store Day 2010

Working in a record store on Saturday 17th April 2010 meant I was in for a hectic time. Internationally recognised as 'Record Store Day' it was an occasion to celebrate the record store's function in providing an educational, informative and congenial setting for the exploration of new and interesting music. Of course, the day-to-day reality can be far less glamorous than this and is often more about the bulk selling of a title not owing to anything other than its marketing acumen (and wallet) of its backers. However, yesterday was all about celebrating the continued rennaisance of vinyl as a format and the more interesting aspects of the work we do. Arriving at the shop (Rapture in Witney) at 8.25am to find a horde of people waiting outside was rather exciting and although we kept the limited edition product 'round back' until the clock struck 9, we opened the doors and there was a tangible buzz of excitement in the place.

As a shop we managed to procure everything we asked for in terms of limited edition vinyl, although unsurprisingly we were allocated a mere 5 Blur 7's and 6 Beatles 7's. This meant we decided to set up an ad hoc raffle with a draw later in the day to decide who would be lucky enough to purchase these gems. At the time of writing the bidding on EBay for a Blur 7 inch is up to £250.00. We sold our copies for £6.99. Was this stupid, ill-thought, naive? No. We decided to make the day about the customer and to give people the chance to fall in love with vinyl all over again. Some of the more interesting items included a Mogwai/Fuck Buttons split 10"; a Wooden Shjips 7" and a Flaming Lips double which comprised of a rendition of 'Dark Side of the Moon'!

There were over 50 entrants for the draw for each of the Blur and Beatles 7 inches and those that came back to the shop victorious did so grinning from ear to ear. Fortunately I don't think any of them were in it to sell on their prizes on EBay, otherwise we might as well have done that ourselves. No, the good old collector's spirit was pungent in the air, which ironically as a volcanic cloud hovered way above hung electric in as blue an april sky as one could care to imagine.

The day was a real success. Not only did we organise many live bands playing in Witney during the day under the clocktower outside Waitrose(!) including Hannah Lou and Trevor Moss of Indigo Moss, Danny & the Champions of the World and country/bluegrass newcomers The Roundheels, but even David Cameron was doing the rounds in his local constituency. Unfortunately, for it would have put the icing on a splendid day, he had left the vicinity prior to one of the members of jazz collective The Rabbit Foot Spasm Band calling him the naughtiest of 'C' words in the late afternoon haze, stunning the Waitrose shopping stragglers. and amusing pretty much all of us. Our festivities moved to a local club for some more live music in the evening but I must confess to sneaking home to rest after a crazy day and more importantly to fawn over my purchases.

We had people travelling from Wolverhampton, Northampton and Birmingham to attend and they all left with sackfuls of loot. In terms of sales, we sold over 150 different vinyl items as well as many CDs and nearly all the limited stuff was snapped up pretty instantly. As an insider did I manage to snaffle some gems? Well, I didn't put in for the Blur or Beatles but managed to pick up some far more interesting pieces. 4 in total - Midlake's 'Trials..' on vinyl; a Nick Cave 12" single; Soft Machine live in '71; and the Sabbath/Metallica split, which was admittedly an investment as the two tracks are rather horrendous. Sabbath's effort is a horrific version of Paranoid with alternate (read dreadful) lyrics, while Metallica's contribition is the terrible Frantic remixed by Unkle. Never mind, I'll send that one into the EBay ether. The other bits are gorgeous. Just so it wouldn't be too unmetal a session I bought the Xasthur demos on vinyl too.

I must congratulate Spencer Hickman of Rough Trade for organising the event this year, not to mention my colleagues at Rapture who continue to strive to provide a mine of information for folk looking to enhance their music collections. I urge any of you to make next year's event even if you missed out this time, but more importantly to support your local music shop (as long as they're deserving of that support) as after all, everyone goes to town but who wants it to be devoid of the wonderful life-affirming addition that is the record store.

I'm off to spin Soft Machine and enjoy Sunday's setting sun.

Friday, 9 April 2010

Cages - Folding Space

Cages – Folding Space, 2009 (Cold Spring - CSR121CD) 80%

The work of Nola Ranallo and David Bailey, Cages’ Folding Spaces represents the welding together of the pair’s dreams, translated into an audio context and shared via tapes, packaged and posted before being knitted together to form a quite singular release that is enough to leave even the most ardent comparer scratching his head. Nola’s vocal style is similarly varied to Bjӧrk, though with a touch of the irreverent ire of Diamanda Galas. Her looped panting on third track ‘Cavern’ lends the release a DIY feel and within its context conjures the sort of trapped nightmare sequences represented by Panicsville’s Andy Ortmann. The highlights of the album for me however remain the utterly beautiful ‘Dream Dip Sailor’ and blues-tinged ‘Psalm to Mother’, during which Nola’s vocals threaten to lurch right out of the speakers and take on the sort of dreadful physical manifestation only Takeshi Miike himself could envision. Not for the fainthearted, but paradoxically rather gorgeous, the lyrics mirror the music and I couldn’t help but think of not only Edward Lear, but a Joanna Newsom of a darker, more desolate galaxy.

“Why drink from the trees
when the leaves are soaked with piss
The moon is a locket filled with tar
To paste over each scar”

A truly unique affair, ‘Folding Space’ is by no means a typical Cold Spring album, but will find a treasured place in the collection of many an open-minded lover of extreme and experimental music.

Tuesday, 6 April 2010

A trip to Prague - Record Store Heaven!

Upon our arrival in Prague it would be fair to say that encountering interesting record stores was low on my list of expectations, some way behind low-priced beer, cubist architecture, stunning bridges, castle walks and lots of potato! This skepticism proved unfounded as each little shop that was sought out bore sumptuous fruit. Firstly there was Bazar on Krakovska , a ridiculously higgledy-piggledy shop (see above photo to the right) with absolutely no sense of genre-division at all. The CDs were (thankfully) alphabetized but the vinyl, was at floor level, jammed tight and particularly browser unfriendly (a cursory flick through, suggested that this was not a real travesty as the majority of the records looked rather crap). Back to the CDs, however and it is no exaggeration that in the 'L' section Leona Lewis was sandwiched by Laibach's Wat and Luror's The Iron Hand Of Blackest Terror! Alas both albums are already in my collection, but after around an hour's blissful and hurried (my long-suffering wife was waiting for me) browsing I exited with 3 Einstürzende Neubauten deluxe CD reissues and a Lydia Lunch retrospective. Not bad for starters!

The second and by far most surprising store we encountered was very close to our excellent hotel - Kings Court, called Music Antiquariat CD-LP, which is more of a vinyl specialist really; the majority of which is second hand and particularly browser friendly. The counter is bedecked with a turntable, which the owners are happy to fill with records of your choice - if only in my case for fleeting moments - not surprising given the nature of my selections! Well, sufficed to say I ended up spending rather more than I expected in-store after finding...are you ready... Atlantean Kodex's incredible Pnakotic Demos in a 10" box set; Ordo Rosarius Equilibrio's Onani on white vinyl; Wire - Pink Flag viynyl; Sir Richard Bishop's beautiful drone record While My Guitar Violently Bleeds; Hypothermia's rare Kaffe & Blod again on vinyl and two Amon Duul II records! There were other gems inside the shop including records on Cold Meat Industry, TESCO and some tempting black metal picture discs. I could have gone even madder than I did. So, if in Prague pay these fine places a visit and you never know what treasures you might uncover. Please feel free to share similar stories of great travel finds by commenting.

Monday, 5 April 2010

Dekadent - Aesthetix

Dekadent – Aesthetix, 2010 (Goatowarex – SDL043) 90%

After their split of 2009 with much hyped Joyless, Romanians Dekadent have taken an immense step forward with their hugely ambitious, multi-textured debut full-length ‘Aesthetix’. Avant-garde black metal that pushes the boundaries and will send purists crying to mummy is the order of the day here – hell the fourth track is even a Ladytron cover! Not to be confused with symphonic BM Slovenians of the same name, Dekadent’s diversity of influence is astounding and one might easily suppose an appreciation of Forgotten Woods, postpunk, The Cure, Amesoeurs, Lifelover, Nuit Noire, ROME, The Knife, horror soundtracks (especially The Omen) and far more in-between. Entitling their tracks ‘Audio Curse From Transilvania’, ‘Suicide Hobby’ and ahem ‘Whore Riflefuck’ is a suggestion that the Romanian horde have a ripe sense of humour, but the fun is held together surprisingly well and the jarring sense of many such diverse works is refreshingly minimised. A magnificent display of vocal diversity adds to the musical eclecticism and makes for an album that you will return to again and again (if you dare). The lyrics are predominantly English, though there is some use of native Romanian, and strongly hint at despair over the state of their country – an inkling borne out in the liner notes in which the band offer a big “FUCK YOU” to Romania because ‘in spite of its natural beauty, cultural values and folklore is full of retarded people that make each other’s existence impossible’. I think many would agree that you guys in Romania are not alone in your dark thoughts towards the state of your nation and its inhabitants. ‘Aesthetix’ is one of my most treasured recent boundary-pushing black metal discoveries and a must for those who’ve flirted with the likes of Solefald, Amsvartner, Lifelover, Nuit Noire and are looking for a new night time companion.