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.
Archgoat are a venerable Finnish death metal band that wield elements of black metal. They are willing to slow it down slightly and allow some doomy elements in, but mostly it’s high-speed, stripped-down, no-frills Satan worship. Low, throaty vocals are brutal and uncompromising. Guitar work is tight and provides the essential ideas without extraneous detail. Reviews note that “The Luciferian Crown” marks a turn to more complex song structures than previous releases, perhaps augmented by the addition of a new drummer who demonstrates a means of playing within Archgoat’s sound while shaping it to his own ends. Or maybe it’s due to the fact that the band takes a lot of time between full-length releases: this is only their fourth LP since 2006. Good production quality permeates the roughly 30 minute recording. Track A1 is a very brief atmospheric intro that quickly gives way to a thundering maelstrom with slower breakdowns. A4 Starts out with some squealing animal sounds, then brings headbang-worthy riffage in copious amounts. A5 begins with an almost punk feel, making for a fairly old-school sound that serves as a reminder that the first incarnation of the band released their first demo in 1989. A6 Starts with some creepy forest sounds before getting into the fast blast-beats. Tracks on side B consistently hover around four minutes in length, and many feature slower breakdowns and keyboard elements. B2 is a slower track that elicits slower fluctuations of the head upon the quavering neck. Track B4 even has a brief clean bass solo. Any track on the record will do the trick.
First side is minimalist, with chanted lyrics in German. Mostly two bass notes bowed repetitively with a smattering of other instrumentation. Sonically, it’s a 10-minute death shuffle back and forth across a gray, frozen courtyard. Second side is generally a bit more psychedelic. Longer-form textures. Distinctly electronic noises careen back and forth, high-pitched waves approach uncomfortable levels. There might be a guitar in there and some organic-sounding percussion. Overall a nice eight-minute space-out anxiety trip. For extra fun, play at 33rpm.
Beware ye seekers of wildly unfamiliar sonic terrain. Bay Area-based Iron Crown adheres to the ancient bong-riffing rites. (Ancient, in this case, dates back to period between 1970 and the mid-90s.) They have studied their predecessors and submit their offerings to the sacrificial altar, already piled to the rafters with stoner dreams from days of yore. Following on their debut release from a couple years prior (also in the KFJC library), “Before the Void” was well-recorded at Oakland’s Earhammer. The riffing is well-assembled. The regular-dude vocals prevalent on most of the tracks are a little out of place, but on the other hand it may differentiate Iron Crown’s sound from similar artists. Detractors will point to the lack of originality, but sometimes a smoke-shrouded slab of doom doesn’t need much alteration. Dune Rider is a nice instrumental track that moves along at a good clip, but the album is fairly consistent throughout, with no tracks lasting much more than five minutes, and no FCCs.
Human—machine juxtaposition, taken very seriously. It’s a good use of its context, the Center for Automotive Research in Columbus, Ohio. Robots were building a race car during the recording. The building’s machinery has a compelling voice, and the recording captures this as well as its cavernous acoustics. Compositions are slow builds, with pounding percussion, to wailing guitar passages. I found the vocals hard to take in the early tracks—desperation shading into near whimpering. Over an hour and ten minutes of material is presented, and a bit of it feels like filler. Tracks 5, 6, 10, and 11 recommended. Track 12 is maybe the best, if you simply want a rock song. Track 13 is okay too. FCC on track 8 (fucking).
Consistently beautiful, minimal compositions of guitar, awash in cavernous echoes. Stephen O’Malley of Sunn0))) provides guitar, and François Bonnet (who also works under the project name Kassel Jaeger) pursues studio manipulations of those sounds. The effect is tranquil but brooding, the slow unfolding of night shadows, wind howling on lonely mountaintops. The last track is distinct from the others due to its more assertive use of keyboard drones. Its title means “steps in the ashes”, and one can picture a film where a survivor steps out into the light of a ruin and considers a broken future.
Two to three minute bursts of lo-fi, Satan-worshipping black metal from Eureka, California (though originally from Norway). The record starts with an interesting, quiet intro, vaguely ominous, nearly pleasant. But everything after that charts a descent into the defiled pit. Wreathed in filthy guitar tone, a spectral distortion cleansed of its soul. Sometimes the drums come in really high in the mix—some tom strikes achieve a separation so as to be disembodied from the band. In this lineup they still had a bass player, and at best he adds a bit of thickness to the din. Super washed-out vocals are the right sound for this maelstrom. If side A isn’t suitably lo-fi, switch to side B, which is all rehearsal versions, including rehearsal versions of tracks found on side A. The guitar tone here is more of a common noisy variety and loses some of that “spectral” quality noted earlier. It’s clear that they just went through the set, playing each track in succession, so it’s a cool approximation of a live recording. The last track is the filthiest of all, like it was recorded by a single mic going into a Radio Shack tape recorder. The cymbal crashes just clip out completely. This is a heavy dose of sickness.
Oakland’s Cell Rot released this deput LP just over a year ago, and now it’s time to bring it to the KFJC airwaves. Recommended for heavy rotation: this is well-built hardcore flecked with metal, completely enraged and death-obsessed. The album basically drops into full speed after the introductory track and doesn’t relent. Drop in, spit your pain and disgust, repeat. Tracks are short and to the point. The vocals are furious and consistent throughout, finding that balance between control and abandon. That description could apply to the instruments as well: the band is tight without sounding uptight; they hit their marks with enough confidence to allow reckless performance to inflect the outcome. The record is so consistent that any track will do (look out for a couple FCCs). Well, except for the intro, which really is an intro, consisting of just a vocal track and brooding, ominous guitar feedback, and leads immediately to the following track. Playing both “Intro” and “Born Into Pain” could be a nice choice, and that will still only take 2:29 to play. Tracks are typically threaded together with walls of feedback—in other words, there aren’t clean breaks between tracks and you’ll have to rev up to 33 quickly when cueing (plus cut away quickly to your next track at the end). The last track, “No Redemption”, is a great way to close out the record, and might be my early favorite.
Ramleh have been honing their craft, off and on, for 37 years. When the band reformed in 2009, they set out to work in both the power electronics sound typical of their early days and with a more straight-up bass-guitar-drums rock sound. With this double LP we hear a variety of sounds: droney electronics, straight-up noise rock, indignant vocals with understandable lyrics, fuzzed out drum machines, and meandering guitars. Despite this eclecticism, Ramleh manage to carry a sonic theme throughout. (The lyric themes and the track titles—Futureworld, No Music For These Times, Your Village Has Been Erased—are easy enough to thread together.) The sound trends dark but isn’t unrelentingly dark. Favorite tracks: D3, D1, A1
A1. Big, oceanic synth sounds and textures. Brooding bass portends doom. Drums provide a light touch. Instrumental. Towards the middle of the track, things start to pick up. Tempo, guitar complexity. This long track is somewhat different from the rest of the album, but again, there are sonic themes, a mood in the sound, that can be traced throughout.
B1. Driving drums and bass. Vocal element. “Virus synths”. They take a theme and ride it hard, which is perhaps another way of saying it’s borderline repetitive. Towards the ends there’s a bit of a freak-out noise break-down.
B2. Thick ascending/descending synth part reminiscent of Recognizers. Digital big brother perhaps? Guitar wanders in and out, but the synth drone is predominant, especially in the beginning. Instrumental.
C1. Pretty conventional-sounding rock song, complete with cowbell. (!)
C2. Ominous synths with barked vocals, a soundtrack for civil disorder and the unravelling of society. The shortest track on the album by a long-shot.
C3. They kind of jam this one out a little harder. Instrumental. Very rock and roll with dash of noise; has some psychedelic leanings, though to be sure, this is a borderline bad trip.
D1. Doomy beginning, heavy. Vaguely like early Swans. Contains the one FCC on the album (shit). After a solo vocal phrase, there’s a rousing finish. Probably my favorite track on the record.
D2. Synths and drum machines return. Spare at points. A pretty guitar sound swoops in and comes as a bit of a surprise given the pervasive atmosphere of the album.
D3. A heavy rocking piece to close this out. Thick, overdriven bass, layers of delicate guitar work. Epic, suffused with feeling, such disappointment at the way things have gone. Ultimately the song exhorts us to change course; “it’s never too late”.
Malignant are a Southern California-based band delighting in the sonic terrorization of late 80s/early 90s death metal. They don’t stray far from the genre, and why should they? Pummeling drums, crushing guitar, raw-edged bass, and you can just make out the lyrics of abomination, torture, torment, and blasphemy.
The first track is completely unlike the rest. It starts out with some pretty basic synths—a simple bass synth pattern with higher dee-yoo sounds (like something falling to the ground in a video game). Then a cinematic, orchestral swell comes in that’s quite beautiful and had me wondering where it came from. Are they sampling something from a soundtrack? No one in the band takes credit for playing keyboards, and certainly not for arranging an orchestra (or sampling a horror movie score), so it remains a mystery until the internet reveals otherwise.
The table is set for a death metal onslaught. Tracks 2 through 5 are pretty consistent, but 2 and 5 in particular stand out. Track 2 drops with pure ferocity and a satisfying groove before embarking on the fast-tempo assault. Track 5 brings the evil up a notch. To echo my comment about consistency, tracks 3 and 4 are certainly worthy specimens as well. If I have a nitpicky comment, the bass sound is quite good in the mix, but the moments where everyone except the bassist stops playing while the bass continues solo aren’t sharp enough and interrupt the flow of the tracks. However, overall the instrumentation is tight, and Malignant maintain a high level of fidelity to their chosen genre. You will want to spit your disgust at the world. Death Metal cannot die.
The genre of Paysage d’Hiver according to The Metal Archives: Black Metal, Ambient. Paysage d’Hiver is Winter Landscape in French, and as the project is based in Switzerland, the album title, track titles, and lyrics are in German. This release, Kerker, or Prison, was originally released in 1999, and Kunsthall Produktionen has re-released it 20 years later on vinyl with fine packaging. This recording warrants a 20th anniversary. Painted with a seemingly limited palette, the arrangement of these spare elements combine to suggest a story over the course of four tracks. Elements contrast each other and occupy different sonic regions so that they are clearly discernible. It’s at once despairing and beautiful, primarily a richly textured dark ambient piece, with the last track being the closest to conventional black metal; even so, the sounds throughout are much rounder than the grit and abrasion of the most caustic black metal recordings.
A1. “Depth”. In the rumblings, the stirrings of monolithic subterranean beasts who walk in the endless night, disturbing slumbering caverns. Finally, guitar sounds resolve. Is this a ray of light in this dread catacomb? When it falls into naught, the beasts prowl undaunted. This first track blends into the second…
A2. “Steps” …which starts with a new percussive element. Their dark works accelerate unimpeded. Synths build. Glimmers of light, ephemeral, beauty has returned to do battle with the dark beasts. Guitar returns to cry into the darkness, mournful, all is lost. But the rhythmic machine passes. The beasts and the light, flickering, remain. At the conclusion, a voice emerges, confused? Tormented? Rumblings like wind, an ether, a permeating medium through which souls pass. A slow fade to oblivion leads to an abrupt end.
B1. “Shadow”. The rumblings return. Here, little alters this minimal landscape for some time, and new patterns emerge only gradually. Pulses punctuate the rumbles. Ethereal light glimmers in the unrelenting dark. That voice returns, to be overwhelmed by a new malevolence…
B2. “(Passage/Course)” …a master of darkness. In this concluding track, a driving drum machine is buried in the din of the guitar. Still the glimmering light of the synth flitters across the surface while the beastly voice prowls the sonic depths. Guitar and drums cut through the middle. It’s like the beast and the light are in the room with you an the guitar and drums are heard through a wall. The lyrics might mean, “Is this the life course? Immersed in my inner self, I am bound in the time of the universe, I go the slender course about the knowledge of the shadows”. A satisfying dissolution provides a conclusion.
Black Dog: Filthy vocals, bass buzzes like malevolent electrical wire. Lo-fi production boosts the raw subversion. The mix favors the vocals over the instruments, so turn it up and have Gollum screaming in your ear.
Goddess Aphonic: the quest to meld heavy with saxophone continues. Driving, insistent rhythm section. Snarling bass. The sax carries the main melody with descents into the skronks and shrieks common when a sax is pushed into the red. The sax is maxed out in a way that you can feel the air rattling around the inside the brass. Occasionally, some strangled vocals are forced through the chamber.
The A.D. in the band’s name derives from the fact that the band returned from a 14-year hiatus with the release of the album “After Death”. Now, with this release, the band is referring to themselves as Cavity A.D. KFJC has some comps and 7”s that comprise a portion of Cavity’s output from the 1990s. Internet research reveals this band was an important institution for the South Florida scene, collaborating with folks who would go on to other projects like Torche and Black Cobra. As Cavity AD, they are permitting themselves to diverge from their earlier sound and experiment with new instrumentation and textures.
A1: Long intro consisting of a Mad Max-style primitive drumbeat that gives way to fuzzy guitar riffing and semi-feral vocals that are yelled more than screamed or growled. A2 Reinforces the long drive across the desert vibe the first track flirted with. The primitive beat is established, and as the drive progresses, sparkling guitar washes over the heavier riff. They really want to explore this feeling—it’s a long passage across the desert. B1 Very industrial vibe driven by the percussion. B2 They save the doomiest for last. Unlike the previous tracks, the drum machine feels out of place here. That riff needs the accompaniment of some old-fashioned slow-motion drum-bashing, with big cymbal crashes decaying into the mix. Maybe that’s too mid-90s to be A.D…
Reading up on this on Bandcamp, this is the 7” released in 1998. (It has subsequently been re-released as both a CD and a 10”.) It is considered a bridge between early abstract electronic explorations, like “Instrument”, and later guitar-based works, like “Endless Summer”. (Both of these 12”s are in the KFJC library, among others.) Indeed, the compositions are comprised of a blend of electronics and minimally processed guitar sounds. These two tracks had origins as covers, but you’ll be hard-pressed to hear anything remotely reminiscent of the Rolling Stones or Beach Boys in this material. Minimal, languid, and not even particularly long (3:31 and 4:05), these tracks demand the listener invest their full attention if they are to yield the intended experience.
A1, 9:41—To begin: acoustic guitar strings are struck and decay against gentle waves of vaguely ominous droney washes of sound. More well-formed guitar chords enter the scene and lay the ground work for the vocals, repeating “river is dry again”, among other things. Extremely subtle transition to A2—the tracks essentially run together. A2, 9:43 (time is approximate since it’s difficult to mark the beginning)—This track has more playful guitar fills and slightly more active vocal work. Some listeners will find the vocals a welcome addition to this rather sparse composition, but I’m not especially fond of it. Vocals can be polarizing depending on the listener. Here, they are forward enough in the mix as to be unavoidable—you’ll be into it, or maybe not so much. The vocal element with the guitar gives this Shumoto side a more folk feel than the psych-inflected Rambutan side. Shumoto is Jefferson Pitcher, a filmmaker as well as a veteran musician. He’s worked with a number of artists, including Fred Frith and Scott Amendola. The guitar work, coupled with the overlaid sounds, exhibits a satisfying amount of restraint and feeling. And in the end, the vocal element occupies only a small part of the run time.
B1, 4:05—From the onset, an electric sound much more psych-influenced than the Shumoto side. Rambutan is Chris Hardiman, and recently we’ve had his project Spiral Wave Nomads in heavy rotation. B2, 8:50—Electronic glitches, atmospheric sound samples played in reverse, echoing guitar gently flitting across the top. The intensity of the composition gradually builds over time. Guitar sounds like lonely wind chimes. B3, 6:55—More sparseness and low-level electronic sound patterns. Waves of delay-infused guitar build to a delicate oblivion.
In summary, this 12″ provides five meandering and nicely executed tracks of spaced-out, moody, atmospheric, and at times minimal sonic explorations.
Split 7″ of Belgian (Agathocles) and Canadian (Existench) grindcore. There’s no time like the present to spray it, not say it. The Agathocles side is a simply filthy recording. The guitar has a weirdly hollow sound. The vocalist has a sort of “normal dude” style, akin to shouting “hey, move your car, dickhead!” So it’s raw and immediate and all those good things true grindcore should be. Existench bring a full-on chainsaw guitar sound with borderline comical put-the-microphone-in-the-back-of-your-throat vocal sound, but it works, once they lock in and get established. Longest track: 1:37; shortest 0:11. FCCs on Existench tracks 5 and 6; the latter is a clip of Trump talking about making America great (hate) again, followed by FUCK YOU! That’s the 11 second track. Less is more.
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