Scummy death metal from Melbourne, Australia. They are mainstays in the extreme scene there, and dedicated students of the craft. Double bass kick pummels and crusty dual guitar attack, with the occasional big guitar solo. Filthy vox that sometimes get lost in the mix. I’m totally cool with losing the vox in the mix, but I might want some other element to enter in its place…a middling reviewer’s perspective. What do you need to know? Every track is brutal, stripped-down, maniacally focused on the endgame. The album builds in force as it progresses, and the conflagration licks at the eaves by track 5, Manifesto Putrefacto. Here we find some really cool dynamism—wild, careening changes in tempo and cascading guitar riffs that have a narrative arc to them, a sense of taking the listener somewhere rather than simply stringing together one brutal passage after another in head-pummeling delirium. The title track has epic ambitions that nearly get there. Drop in Semblance of Malignant Mastery for four minutes of a nearly relentless speed that flirts with complete abandon, including an unhinged solo. Unwilling to go out timidly, they close out with moments of rapture amidst the flames in the final track. In summary, a pretty consistent release. The first four tracks are good, but the best stuff is found in tracks five through nine.
Frenzied tortured vocals of the damned. The landscape bereft of hope. Released on CD ten years ago, and re-released on vinyl five years later. Track one, eight minutes of building walls of dislocated delirium held in a stasis, suspended on the edge of misery. When they pick up the tempo, you understand how the term black metal comes to be associated with this project, but doom is always mentioned in the same breath. Track two has a longer run time (20 min) to lay rotted foundations and erect walls of pitted, charred stone, piece by cursed piece. A pitiless sky for a roof. The overall mix, the approach to the guitar picking, the song structures, point to something idiosyncratic. Yes, it’s doom, yes, it’s blackened, but these guys are weird. There is something strange about them, and they aren’t trying to be, they just are. About halfway through the second track the weather changes and it’s almost like a ray of light pierces the black clouds (almost). Fury unleashed in vain. Concludes with a brilliant ethereal fade-out.
The sound of Germany’s Sun Worship is associated with a particular kind of black metal that features expansive atmospheres and longer compositions, and are sometimes compared to bands like Wolves in the Throne Room and Ash Borer. The guitar rips the air like a chainsaw and the blast beat drums rattle the earth. The production quality is relatively good—the guitar work is clearly discernible and the cymbal crashes don’t overwhelm the mix. One of Sun Worship’s distinctive features is the vocal style. It’s a weak point for some black metal observers on the internet. For this listener, there are shades of a very hoarse Aaron Turner (Isis, Old Man Gloom, Sumac, et al) captured live. Fortunately I don’t find it too distracting, but there are parts where he actually sings, like in Track 4, “Torch Reversed”, and it almost doesn’t work. At the very least, the eccentric vocal style offers a different texture/dimension. Track 1, “Zenith”, is a brief intro track that starts off with a marching drum beat with some spacy sounds thrown in. Soon, the full power of the sound drops in with the second track, “Void Conqueror”. Track 3, “Devoured”, has ringing chord structures and evil riffs amidst the relentless drums. The epic quality of the record really picks up with track 5, “Soul Harvester”, and continues for the remainder of the tracks. Side C is particularly riveting on this count, starting with the cold, minimal, brooding synth intro of “Pilgrimage” all the way through the captivating “Coronation”. This record demands my attention and keeps me guessing how they will bend and shape their ferocity next.
Here lies beauty to pierce your heart with a shard of ice. Here sprawls a desert of jagged cliffs weathering under the wind. Mizmor has demonstrated the ability to create cold atmospheres and skull-rattling, doomed textures on previous works. However, this recording presents a new level of craft and complexity. The end result is something to get lost in, and you may feel like you’ve gone somewhere by the end. Four tracks, ranging from roughly 10 to 20 minutes, and each its own self-contained epic. A colossal achievement.
Death metal from Toronto. Tomb Mold can deliver mind-hammering heaviness with highly technical aptitude. What keeps me enthralled is the proggy inventiveness applied to the medium. A proper base of brutality is cut through with creative twists on familiar riffs and tropes, often producing what some might call “grooves”.
Track 5 might be the most straight-ahead/conventional track on the album. Elsewhere, you’ll find twists and turns in each track. The first track starts out quietly before delving into the chasm, with a quieter acoustic guitar interlude in the middle. Early favorites: tracks 1, 2, 4, and 7. Track two induces involuntary head nodding with iron-clad riffing. There simply are no flaws in this dual guitar attack. Track 3 is one of those instrumental, atmospheric pieces found on death metal records these days to further the overall narrative. There are glitchy samples with a beautiful, forlorn guitar part playing underneath. If you must know, the lyrical themes and concept for the album cover artwork orbit around extra-terrestrial invasion, death serving as a portal to other dimensions (or perhaps additional, miserable lives), horrific death. Track 7 is a proper way to close out this album—the attack is sustained, unrelenting, the bass and guitars create interesting (dis)harmonies in the riff architectures, and there’s even a massive guitar solo if you’ve found that lacking in your life. Similarly, in a breakdown halfway through track 4, Tomb Mold exhibits the type of riff construction that simultaneously soars and crushes, writhing in that tension between destruction and transcendence.
Noise rock. A little mathy, but mostly belligerent. For those familiar with Noxagt, you know they do mathy, noisy stuff. The recording on this flexidisc is notable for its lofi production. Blown out, pounding, incessant cymbals, dazed guitar, throbbing bass undercurrents. Trebly, hot blast furnace sound. The tri-fold scheme of the flexi disc seemed to resist the weight of my tonearm, so I used a razor blade to sever the flexi from its folder. An act of deliberate, surgical mutilation of the original seems to carry the theme of the audio forward (and make the disc functional). All instrumental, five and a half minutes. Give it a spin.
The arrival of “Saturnus” provides ethereal sounds with orchestral-inspired keyboard instrumentation. Minutes stretch in a haze of drifting shimmers and the occasional dramatic surge of sound. This recording moves slowly like the score for a moody, somewhat eerie film. It’s very much a companion album to this artist’s earlier release “The Luciferian”, added to the library last August. Tracks are fairly consistent across the CD. To my untrained ears, all the tracks are pretty similar, so you might select based on how much time you need in your break clock, and you’ll get a consistent atmosphere of unease and wilting beauty. A couple tracks, like “Red Sun Rise” start out quietly. Tremorous dreams await.
The Bay Area’s Vastum have unleashed their latest release, and it continues in the vein of their previous works, including “Hole Below” from 2015. This is considered old school death metal, and the band is frequently compared to Bolt Thrower, a band active from the mid-80s to the early 2000s. The old-school element comes from the riffs that are heavy and at times complex, but played at medium tempos that are seldom mind-bendingly fast or glacially slow. Two vocalists work well off each other: Daniel Butler and guitarist Leila Abdul-Rauf, whose distinctive vocal style can be found in other projects known to KFJC, like Saros and Hammers of Misfortune. An early favorite is Abscess Inside Us (A3). An off-kilter time signature teeters on a razor wire edge before dissolution swallows the end of the track. On its heels, the title track has a great intro, dripping with ghastly atmosphere. Generally, this record rewards a close listen, and each track has its merits. Borderline mathy/proggy structures are woven to support the overarching goal: to paint a bleak picture of shame, pain, and anguish from violence, including sexual violence. Riffs are held in check, so that the ultimate release covers the sky in darkness. To be sure, Vastum flashes the blades of previous recordings, but the cuts here are new, fresh, and deep. The haunting guitar solo in the final track crushes.
Teitanblood has been known to KFJC dating back to the Firebunker era, and their new release needed to be sought out, post-haste. This will be the third Teitanblood release to stain the library with punishing, blackened death metal. Most tracks are blistering fast and brutal, with a few cinematic interludes/intros/outros. A track breakdown follows.
1. Ominous intro, washes of sound, minimal hums and atmospheres
2. Grim, crushing heaviness starts out slowly and builds momentum
3. High speed insanity, guitars spiraling out of control, blast beat mayhem, dripping with evil
4. More mayhem, unrelenting, continuing the tradition of the spiraling, unhinged guitar solo
5. Battering ram assault
6. A segue track, or intermission; the tolling of bells in a forsaken landscape of char and ash, with electrically distorted voices and intonations
7. Continues track 6, with mad men introduced. a light touch of malevolence
8. Tracks 6,7,8 are designed to basically run together to form a piece with a total run time of 11:43. From the charred landscape, the baneful choir rises, triumphant in its purely malevolent glory. You will submit; you have been bested. Track 8 unspools in a long, deliberate, extraordinary build to an enveloping din, and fades out with keyboards and churchy sounds.
9. Enough concept, let’s pulverize!
10. Opens with a big, crushing riff. The drums are a bit less diabolically fast and the thick, filthy guitars fill the space. By the end the tempo is cranked up to full insanity once again.
11. Starts out quietly; the calm descends on glowing embers cooling into a cold, deepening darkness. Demented, a baneful choir of spectres rises.
Atmospheres, blips, klangs, noisewashes, vocal samples. Beats drop in like depth charges. Soaring melodic elements establish themselves and fade. Pitches shift up and down, reeling, forms disintegrate and reform. There’s an extraordinary variety exhibited from track to track, and even within tracks. “Krafteno” brings a more traditional sequencer sound, a blend of clean synths with dirtier, grimier electronic beats and textures. The overall vibe here is insistent, present. “Macrobid” establishes hiphop beats with a droning bass track, a canvas for a variety of samples to interlace and juxtapose each other. “Memory” is a majestic cathedral-like synth piece without a drum track. “Treading Water” starts out really quietly, establishes eerie atmospherics, and then overlays audio taken from a visit to the doctor’s office, a discussion of an evolving diagnosis, until the sample becomes manipulated, repeated, mangled…it picks up a theme eluded to in the beginning, in “A Snap of the Neck”. An tour van accident in 2005 left Pierson a quadriplegic; fortunately he continues to craft these works that speak to his experience. The final track starts with a minimal rhythm and progresses into exuberant trance/techno.
Dax Pierson is well-represented in the KFJC library, mainly by his participation in the projects Themselves, Subtle, and 13 & God, projects that dance the line between hip hop and unorthodox genre-bending experimentation. This is only his second entry in the library as a solo performer; Lexi Glass reviewed the 18th Annual SF Electronic Music Festival compilation, on which his track “Live @ Life Changing Ministry” appeared.
Death metal with a satisfying amount of doom thrown in. Crushing, a bit atmospheric, unrelenting. Vocals are way down in the mix, but present, and it works. It’s all about those filthy guitars. The drums provide a pummeling barrage but aren’t the focus.4:42 Full gallop of the apocalypse horse leads to a staggering breakdown.2:04 This song is more like an interlude, or an idea for a song that didn’t become a fully-fledged piece. Instrumental. 3:47 Intensity picks back up with this track. Funereal doom-reminiscent breakdown before a crashing end.4:16 Moderately fast-paced death leads to a trudging middle section before resuming the onslaught.3:42 Starts out relatively mellow. There’s a somewhat unhinged guitar solo in there.4:58 Features the heaviest, chuggiest riff on the CD.
3LP box set release from 2015 offers six sides to explore full of psych skronk ecstatic noise rock improvisation. Not sure where to drop in? Select Side D. (A breakdown of each side follows below.) On the whole, it’s fun to listen to this genre of music getting made in real time, and with a frenetic, jangled, anxious energy as opposed to happier, tranquil, figure-it-out-eventually, meandering psych jam sessions. Laddio Bolocko go full out on many tracks, exhibiting notable stamina as they work through ideas while keeping their collective foot pegged to the floorboard, tempo- and intensity-wise. They also exhibit a chameleon-like interest in trying out different genres and textures. The best stuff on this collection is more raw and unhinged than the band’s studio releases, and points to the next evolutionary step, notably the Psychic Paramount, the reckless experimental outfit that absorbed half of Laddio Bolocko after its dissolution. Be sure to check out the liner notes printed on each disc sleeve if you’re interested in learning how the musicians lived in New York (both in Brooklyn and upstate), toured, and made these recordings along the way.
Side A: a side-long excerpt from an extended jam made shortly before the saxophone player joined the band. The keyboards featured prominently over a driving drum line give this track the most conventional psych jam feel in the collection. That is, until the end, when the jam devolves into some Casio-keyboard mayhem. Made in the band’s living/rehearsal space in Brooklyn.
Side B: recorded at a house in the Catskills where the band lived for a while, during the same year Laddio Bolocko appeared in the KFJC Pit. B1: an assemblage of multiple sessions/ideas. amorphous noises and drones rise and fall. piano and determined munching of potato chips or similar snack gives way to some strange western saloon crossed with a science experiment. eerie scifi vibes. B2: noodlings and wanderings, particularly on sax. B3: percussion-driven composition with other noisy and sax-induced parts.
Side C: more from the Catskills sessions. C1: a bit more smoothed-out sibling to B3, driving percussion with minimalist keyboard element. C2: starts out mellow; drums, bass, and sax. it’s mellow but there’s always some tension brooding under the surface. C3: recorded audio detritus lends some interesting sonic textures. C4: the elusive guitar resurfaces in this amalgamation of attempts and explorations. bass and drums tend to keep things held down while other sounds flit about. C5: sharp, high-pitched machine whine with some sort of drum machine going in the background. C6: ritualistic drums, twisted carnival organ, redlining sax squawk.
Side D: return to Brooklyn. D1: brief, cool-sounding bass line with drums and sax. D2: probably the standout track on the collection. The guitar establishes a driving rhythm and the band begins to build structures around it. The drummer, bassist, and sax player had heard the guitar part for a few minutes before laying this track down, so the spontaneous ignition happening here is pretty amazing. Mesmerizing result. D3: Part B to the previous track’s Part A. Adds synth to the mix, guitar soars, and plays like a sinister doppelgänger to the pt. A’s beauty. Super rad, down to the moody dissolution to close it out.
Sides E and F were recorded live in Slovenia. These are driving, straight-ahead, full-throttled tracks that should fit in a variety of sets. A couple tracks are live versions of tracks found on the studio album “As If In Real Time”. E2 is a quick shot of adrenaline. E3 provides a glimpse into the band’s ability to play with dynamic range and respond to each other in a live context. Tension built and released. F1: another version of the track included in the Live From the Devil’s Triangle v1 compilation. The end of this track bleeds right into the F2, where they get into a live jam. F3 closes out the collection with a melding of the eccentricity of the Catskills jams and the intensity of their live improvisations. Breakdowns amidst the freakouts allow the sound of the audience to come through.
There’s something quite compelling and rich in the sounds presented here. They tower above our heads like spectral skyscrapers rusting in place, stone monoliths clothed in frost, rivers of ice excavating trench graves. Deathprod, the project of Helge Sten, has been piquing the interest of KFJC DJs for some years now, as evidenced in reviews by Cinderaura, Muad’Dib, and Louis Caliente. At times the sounds are punctuated by pauses, or rise and fall in waves, or maintain a near-steady state of presence. Landscapes of cold, bare earth, toxins carried on currents. Nothing on the previous three sides really prepares you for the massive, overdriven “Black Transit of Jupiter’s Third Satellite”. It arrives fully formed, a behemoth. Thunders, temblors, acrid scourings, wave after wave in slow evolution, shaping the new normal. Or rather, those three sides of electronic exploration have perfectly prepared you for the arrival of “Jupiter”. Intercepted messages sent from the future.
This compilation CD captures remixed and original Merzbow compositions from 23 years ago. The seven tracks you can actually hear (more on this at the end of the review) provide a fairly eclectic spectrum from techno to unrelenting noise. The opening Jim O’Rourke track is a little sleepy, but Merzbow’s track 2 goes off like a rocket engine. Panasonic’s remix on track 3 brings some rhythm discipline to the noisewash, positively toe-tapping after the track 2 sandblaster. The juxtaposition of minimalist house beats and high-RPM machine noise is mesmerizing. Rehberg/Bauer reformulate ear-piercingly high pitches; this track is built for pain. Russell Haswell’s remix “Micromedley” is indeed a bit of a grab bag, with an extraordinary variety of sounds and textures, some found, some synthesized, that never stays in the same place for very long. Autechre’s contribution is decidedly in the vein of Autechre—a reliably late 90s exploration of programmed percussion and bouncing tones. It will lull you into a relaxed state just in time for Merzbow to vaporize you with more blast furnace heat. The closing track by Bernhard Günter is either 14+ minutes of silence, or it’s mixed so quietly as to be essentially unusable on the air.
Descriptions of death metal with ambitions to take on more, in terms of technical complexity, composition, nerdy science fiction novel themes, and face-melting riff architectures serve as a warning for some listeners. The genre simply isn’t for everyone, and can be polarizing amongst metal adherents. That being said, if you’re up for this kind of thing, Blood Incantation delivers. I’m freaking out over this recording (captured on 2″ magnetic tape, as it turns out).
Track 1 is death metal that bursts from the gates at full throttle, spliced with passages that flash some progressive leanings, as soaring riffs occasionally rise from the onslaught. This track, it seems, is intended to lay a solid foundation of razor-sharp brutality; the proggy quotient will gradually increase as the record progresses.
Track 2 continues where track 1 leaves off—for the most part, it starts out brutal and technical. Two minutes in, they break into a Middle Eastern-referencing, ancient Egypt spacecraft-invoking passage that reminded me of “In Their Darkened Shrines” by Nile—but only obliquely. Though resolutely technical, Blood Incantation never indulge a sometimes detrimental laser focus on technical prowess that made sections of “In Their Darkened Shrines” overstay their welcome. This slower-tempo passage continues up to minute 6, when the pace and intensity begins to rebuild.
Track 3 is an early favorite of mine, as it’s so easily distinguished from the other tracks. Almost (but not quite) exclusively instrumental, a quiet, fever dream introduction leads to beautiful, hypnotically interwoven guitar parts that build like a storm. Such beauty is then released and a satisfyingly odd time-signatured pummeling takes over, only to close with a return of the hypnotic riff.
Track 4 is an eighteen-minute, three-part sprawling opus (with a sprawling track title to match) that exhibits the full range of textures, time signatures, riffs, and mayhem the band is capable of producing. An ambient breakdown at minute six provides a mind-altering rest complete with a Pink Floyd “On the Run”-style synthesizer part. Just before they go too far into Floydish diversions, they return with headbang-inducing fury. There’s a lot here to unpack, many interwoven themes that I can’t always trace together. By the 14th minute, I don’t remember how the thing started, but it doesn’t really matter, because this particular part of the track is so beautiful. It’s a long journey but every passage has its own rewards. I’m looking forward to playing the track in its entirety where the break clock can accommodate it.
This CD from Thunder Bay’s Alienator starts out with…are those some stoner grooves mixed with hardcore vocals? I’m cool with the idea, but the initial tracks didn’t really speak to me. The album improves as it progresses though. Starting with track 6, “Renovicted (Ode to Vancouver)”, the band really gets after it and cuts loose, demanding my full attention. Track 7, “Drag the River”, is good too—an interesting riff is matched to some urgency and dynamic shifts/builds. 8, “LRH”, keeps the momentum going at a good clip. 10, “Intravenous Flytrap”, has thick sludgy riffs woven with galloping old-school metal riffs, but can they hold the momentum? Tracks 11 and 12 are okay, but not quite as memorable, followed by a decent close-out track. Situated amongst other recent additions to our library, Alienator isn’t yet bringing the fury, from a hardcore perspective, at the same level as Cell Rot, and within the metalcore vein, the songwriting lacks some of the dynamism of Call of the Void. In the early tracks the instruments attempt some variety in terms of tone and intensity, but the vocals tend to stay on one level, and though heavy, we’ve come to expect people working in this genre to either sound like they’re ripping their vocal chords out, Jake Bannon-style, or threading their sounds with angular, unconventional riffs. Alienator have a good basis to work from but might need to figure out where they’re going to push it harder. If it were a five-song EP comprised of tracks 6, 7, 8, 10, and 13, I’d be less nit-picky. FCC track 13.
This is the first album in the newly reconstituted version of Swans. Moving forward, Michael Gira will assemble a shifting cohort of collaborators based on the specific needs of the project. Many musicians on “Leaving Meaning” have worked on earlier albums by Swans and Angels of Light. This is a gentle and contemplative album compared to some previous Swans works. Gira often uses a soothing vocal style, accompanied by richly textured but spare arrangements. In the CD format, the 90-plus minutes of material are split over two discs. Track D1-3, “The Hanging Man” and D2-4, “Some New Things” are a bit more tense and writhing, and perhaps more reminiscent of recent Swans works. The title track, D1-5, is hypnotic and achingly beautiful, trance-inducing Gira vocals with piano, double bass, and percussion provided by members of the Necks. Track D2-5, “What Is This?”, runs in a similar vein. Track 6 on each disc has FCCs.
Carlton Melton does psych—or, to quote The Quietus from a nice write-up of the album, astral psych. One observation from The Quietus that resonates with me is the idea that CM have been on a mission to distill their sound over the years, perhaps break it into its component parts. Their recent live mic in the Pit (11/2/2019) is evidence of their current working method, and the same could be said of “Mind Minerals”, their most recent LP, released last year. Each track takes a limited host of sounds and explores them inside and out, giving them time to breathe and expand. The album has its more rocking moments, but a lot of it is slow and patient jams and noodlings. So definitely more open-ended, free-form, and minimalistic than, for example, “Out to Sea” from 2015.
A1: Big, amorphous intro.
A2: Establishes a straightforward beat, pretty deliberate in not changing up the routine too much to start.
A3: Mellow, serene. Staring up at a starry night sky.
A4: Starts out with the drums running solo, and then the guitar comes in hot. Definitely the most rocking song on this side.
B1: Droney synths with a hint of percussion, minimalistic.
B2: Easy drive down a country back road. Rolling along, but not in a hurry. The fields pass by.
C1: Let’s open it up a bit and ride the cymbals, let the amps scream. Let’s not be hasty and settle into it.
C2: Droney, meandering guitars and minimal percussion. Sun-faded memories.
C3: A synth patterns starts out this very minimal slice of mood.
D1: Blissed out, spaced out patterns. Best track for considering the inner spaces.
D2: Turned-up amps blazing. One last jam before fading to noise.
This is beautiful, devastating black metal from 2004, re-released 15 years later. This is the last full-length from Armagedda before they disbanded to pursue other projects. Over the span of their three full-length releases, the band initially helped define black metal at the start of the century, and then immediately began pushing against nascent orthodoxies. “Ond Spiritism” is marked by a full sound—layers of immense, immersive guitar and bass, and excellent instrumentation. Vocals drip with evil while remaining clearly discernible (lyrics are in Swedish). There’s a fair amount of variety in the compositions—varying textures and tempos, including the occasional use of minimally distorted guitar. Tracks B2 and B4 are shorter, quieter pieces; the former features a simple, echoing guitar against a backdrop of falling rain, and the latter features a choral element with mournful, atmospheric keyboards. But the other tracks are furious and unrelenting. An early favorite is track A4, which uses a simple, driving structure that repeats to create an atmosphere of loss, mourning, and despair, while also teeming with urgency and dark energy. Tracks A1 and A2 both start with simple guitar passages before ramping up to full intensity. As soon as the record ends, I just want to start playing it again.
I imagine some will detect an influence of John Zorn, maybe Red-era King Crimson… Here follows my travelogue through this slab of heavy, turned up progressive sounds from the NYC three-piece called PAK. 1: The machinery is slowly starting to move. Heavy machinery, lumbering, tentative explorations, directions attempted. 2: Sharp guitar (you can feel how hot the amp was in the studio), assertive bass, drums keep this thing from spinning off the rails. Mathy, proggy (mildly thinky), with breakdowns 3: Some early chugging structures. Driving, with wild swerves off the road and back, can make for a bumpy ride. 4: Eerie, formless sounds streak across a night sky as percussion and other instruments begin to assert themselves, but the overall vibe is spaced-out and pensive—the machinery sleeps a restless sleep. 5: Kicks off with a straight-forward (for this group) riff, and even has a guitar solo at the third minute. By far the “jammiest” track on the record. 6: The only track with vocals exhibits an anti-consumerist rant. Musically it kind of drags a bit in the beginning, particularly since earlier tracks 1-4 are sonically adventurous by comparison. After about 4 minutes it picks up and starts to motor along with guitar work that weirdly reminded me of Larry LaLonde in early-90s Primus recordings. When the tempo slows down again, we are wading through sludge. The bizarro guitar sound at the end is a well-suited conclusion. 7: Gradually falls into a nearly hypnotic groove with loopy digressions. The last two minutes devolve into a sonic unravelling.
PAK recently played the Uptown with PG13, whose record I reviewed a few months ago, and the bill makes sense: this is heavy, pounding music with weirdness and time signatures that are proggy enough to flirt with jazz.
12345 S. El Monte Road Los Altos Hills, California 94022
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