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.