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.