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Monday, April 21, 2014

Skorneg - "Foehn"

Artist: Skorneg
Album: Foehn
Year: 2014
Label: Malignant Records
Genre: Drone
Website: www.malignantrecords.com













Basics:
Skorneg is the new side-project of extremely talented Frederic Arbour (Cyclic Law, Visions, Instincts, Havan). This time he teams up with the project Skinwell. This particular album is based around cold, minimal, drones meant to invoke feelings of glaciers, icy winds, barren landscapes, etc. It contains only four tracks, each of which are 9-12 minutes in length. For whatever reason it was released on the US label Malignant Records instead of Arbour's own Cyclic Law.

Stuff:
Ironically, the last review posted (Mystified) was lamenting the downfalls of an album of minimal drone which didn't quite have that "it" characteristic that transformed minimal, boring drone into something meaningful and transcendent. In that sense, Foehn provides an appropriate contrast. Of course Frederic Arbour understands the nature and subtleties of this style of music, as he has built his career on it.  This is the kind of music that, while being "boring" and repetitive, is able to fully immerse the listener and draw them into a new, detached realm. The first track "Skorneg" feels as if the listener is standing on the precipice of a giant, seemingly bottomless, chasm with an ancient stone stairway leading down into it. Through layers of deep drones and scattered, buried/manipulated sound effects, Skorneg is able to craft an absolutely massive, bleak soundscape. It's hard to explain verbally, but it has a sense of profundity to it that lesser works of drone lack. It is able to connect with you on a subconscious level and transfer feelings and images to you that more bombastic, and/or less developed music cannot. There isn't much point of reviewing each track individually because they are all of similar scope and tread nearly the same vicinity. This album gives me the sense of ancient, barren, arctic tundras sparsely littered with weathered, antediluvian ruins. I get a very clear picture in my head of a darkened, sallow sky and cold winds blowing snow and ice around you. This is very "heavy" and kind of claustrophobic music, similar to something like Collapar's Beyond the Event Horizon,  and of course the Visions material to some extent (though it certainly feels very terrestrial, whereas the aforementioned carry a distinctly outer space/cosmic vibe). With each of these tracks you get this sense of such overwhelming, almost unfathomable hugeness. Instead of his usual motif of travelling the cosmos, this feels more like falling inward, indefinitely, into the planet (and by extension I suppose, yourself). This feeling is especially evident on the album closer, the fittingly titled "Sherpas". Usually, I try to explain music in simple and concrete terms to provide an idea of what exactly it sounds like, however with this it's unecessary. The individual elements sort of don't matter; they mesh together such that they create something new entirely that goes beyond and far outweighs a mere collection of audio components; the result is a new, almost multi-dimensional piece of expression that you "feel" as much as, or perhaps even more than, you "hear". It's something that you experience.
My only critique, which isn't really one, is that this is extremely subtle music that you must fully devote yourself to. If you only listen in passing or inattentively than it will likely feel empty and boring. However, if you fully give yourself the space and time to engage than it's majesty will unfold and make itself known to you. I imagine this would be phenomenal to experience live. Unfortunately, the record is only 42 minutes long and it would have been nice if it included at least one more song. Hopefully this is not simply a one-off project!

Overall: 
An expert work of drone. If you like minimal, but highly atmospheric and darkly visionary music than buy this! Of course for fans of Cyclic Law and frigid, desolate soundscapes. Perhaps its due to the ever-present darkness, but this release just does it for me in ways that I find lacking in similarly themed albums such as the Glacial Movements stuff.


Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Mystified - "Eschate Thule"

Artist: Mystified
Album: Eschate Thule
Year: 2014
Label: Cryo Chamber
Genre: Drone
Website: www.cryochamber.com













Basics:
I'm always a bit skeptical when I hear a new Mystified album; a quick look at discogs shows us that this is a project with over 300(!) releases to date over it's rather short life span, which doesn't even include his various side projects. Is it even remotely possible to craft good music when you're making tens of albums per year? Well, the newest (at least for this week) Mystified album takes us on a journey to the cold, white lands of the far north. The cover art is absolutely beautiful, though perhaps it gives us an unrealistic expectation for the audio portion.

Stuff:
Usually when an album is described with phrases like "never ending tundra" and "frozen wasteland" it means that it's going to be monotonous, lengthy, minimal drone, and that's exactly what we get here. The opener "Bering Strait" is one of the best on the album. It's got a very melodic guitar-like drone that carries the listener on a cloud of light. Every so often there is a weak drum hit that fits, but could have been processed better and more powerfully. The song has the right tone, but doesn't really go anywhere despite being nearly 9 minutes long. As you will see, that is a dominant defining characteristic of the album. One of the focal points of this release seems to be strings, which appear on several tracks. Our first introduction to them is on the second track "Frozen Vapor".  Honestly, they sound kind of jarring and annoy me. As with the first song, this one contains an interesting and seemingly arctic vibe, but it doesn't evolve in any discernible way. It's basically a dude playing a few notes on a synth over an unchanging low rumbling drone for 8 minutes. The third and longest track, "Deep in the Tundra" takes us in a darker and more organic direction. This one features what sounds like crackling ice and water mixed with a deep drone. This song builds up a suitable ice cave vibe, though despite following a similar template, it pales in comparison to something like Necrophorus' "Drifting In Motion" (Which is basically the standard for arctic ambient imo, hence why I reference it in every review of this style). Even still, this is one of the better tracks on the album although it could have been several minutes shorter and dictated the same journey. "Patriotic Exploration" is easily the worst song here. It's got a terribly annoying looping string sound  that clumsily repeats each iteration with an awkward stutter. It sounds like a cheap children's museum display where you're watching a wooden figure dutifully climb a tiny glacier while a broken speaker tells you about the conquest of some notable arctic explorer, and this awful string sound is supposed to represent his glorious anthem. "Northwest Passage" returns to the sweeping strings sound of the second track, and the album closer "Whiteout" goes back to the spacious, ice cave vibe, courtesy of what sound like field recordings. Unfortunately, "Whiteout" is more minimal than it's predecessor "Deep in the Tundra" and the quality of said recordings isn't too good. You can get a quite usable recording of water (for example) with the stock iphone microphone, so I'm not sure why in 2014 people are using low quality samples.

Overall: 
Overall a mediocre album. Not awful, but at the same time nothing particularly stands out about it. It has more low points than high. It's like a Kammarheit record if you took the soul and defining characteristics out of it. It's slow and repetitive, but it fails to grasp & immerse the listener. It's hard to accurately articulate critique of this type of music because it's so subtle and there is a very thin line between minimal & boring and minimal & genius. Eschate Thule contains plenty of elements from the formula, but it just doesn't have that "it" characteristic that transports it across the threshold from boring, droning ambient to enveloping, deep droning ambient. If Glacial Movements was a camp atop a massive glacier, this would be the traveler in a boat at the foot of its icy wall, looking up at them.

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

GET THIS ALBUM(S) - Skadi



One of my friends recently turned me on to the criminally underrated dark ambient project SKADI, and I wanted to bring them to your attention here. I'm not sure what the current status of the band is (hopefully still active), but he recently re-issued some of his work under the "pay what you want" scheme on bandcamp. These albums were written in the early/mid 00s and as such they bare a strong resemblance to great albums from that time; notably the sacral and industrial elements of Raison d'etre - "In Silence, Sadness, and Solitude" and the tribal flavor of Ah Cama Sotz - "10 years Bat Vibez". In my opinion, those were some of the best albums from that time period and it's fantastic to hear another producer who excels at creating that type of stuff. He also has one hard copy album that was released in 2006 on the label Art Konkret, though I have not been able to track down a copy yet (hopefully will soon.)

You can check out his music here; I highly recommend grabbing everything that he has up as it is all excellent.

BANDCAMP
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SKADI @ FACEBOOK
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Thursday, March 27, 2014

Aeoga - "Temple Treye"

Artist: Aeoga
Album: Temple Treye
Year: 2014
Label: Aural Hypnox
Genre: Ritual Ambient, Drone
Website: www.helixes.org/auralhypnox













Basics:
This is the new album from Aeoga (A duo comprised of member(s) of famed ritual group Halo Manash) and it is the first release in almost 10 years following 2005's Zenith Beyond the Helix-Locus. If you are familiar with the Aural Hypnox label and it's acts than you probably have a good idea of what to expect from this album. It continues with the typical ritualistic droning ambient sound the label is known for. It includes plenty of flowery, abstract language such as: "An outlandish touch ignites the earth-bound stellar components into bi-directional currents. Abstract electro-acoustic currents, coarse drone ambience and meditative rhythms guide onward on the pathway eating itself. "

Stuff:
The album begins with "Feast of the Stance" which opens the ritual. It is comprised of deep, ritualistic drones and an ever present horn type sound which begins to pull the listener away from the material world. Next, the listener is plunged into the ether between realms on "Between the Crescent Hooks". It is a somewhat typical "ritual" track which mixes steady droning bell-ish sounds, evolving fuzzy noise, and layers of eerie pads to create an ancient and unsettling atmosphere. Towards the middle, a buried churning drum beat appears to give the listener something concrete to hang on to amidst the nebulous, shadowy inner realm. Standard content for the course, but it's done quite well and succeeds in being visionary and hypnotic. While the previous track is a fantastic bit of deep, ritual music, "Telemorphic Cuts" is sadly just bland. It's little more than a steady, nearly unchanging drone noise for 7 minutes with minimal wind-like sfx every now and again. "Temple Treye" thankfully continues where "Between..." left off with the heavy, primordial atmosphere generated by layers of darkened, faceless drones and tribal percussion, illuminating energy currents typically unseen. There are also haunting vocal drones that weave in and out of perception. "Transparallel Mist" is the longest song on the album and seems to be a mixture of the two proceeding cuts. There is a monotonous, unchanging drone similar to "Telemorphic Cuts", combined with the same type of abyssal atmosphere generated on "Temple Treye".  The closing song "Feast of the Trance" parallels the opening song - drones and horn sound again.

Overall: 
For me this is a mixed bag. While many tracks exemplify the ritual ambient aesthetic and are super encompassing and deep ("Between The Crescent Hooks" and "Temple Treye" should be on every fan of ritual ambient's playlist - these are perfect for contemplating matters of the self.), others are quite boring. Maybe in the context of a ritual the complete lack of content would be fitting, but for active listening it doesn't work. Fans of Aural Hypnox and the previous work of Aeoga and Halo Manash will enjoy this, as will fans of gritty, lo-fi, ancient sounding material like Archon Satani, Endvra, Trepaneringsritualen, etc.

Huron - "The Other Side Of Reality"

Artist: Huron
Album: The Other Side of Reality
Year: 2013
Label: Raumklang Music
Genre: IDM
Website: www.raumklang-music.de













Basics:
I've been following IDM producer Huron for a while now, and after several releases on the Crazy Language netlabel I feel like he really came into his own with 2012's Pictures From The Past. 2013 brings us the further refinement and evolution of his sound on The Other Side of Reality released via Raumklang music; this is also his first hardcopy release.

Stuff:
I guess the easiest way to describe this album is to think of a hybrid between the dark, futuristic, complex IDM sound of Access to Arasaka's more atmospheric material, say ==Null, and the spacious mixing and plucky, emotional melodies of DNN. I don't want to draw too many comparisons because I feel that would diminish the quality of work presented here; however, that should paint a pretty accurate picture - and it is most certainly a recipe for success. Huron brilliantly mixes beautiful, emotive atmospheres (lots of big pads + melodic stuff - typical a pleasant sounding piano) with complex and unpredictable swirls of percussion and sfx. While the beats and percussive elements lend a distinctly mechanical sound (and some, like on "Vector Change", have a nice industrial bite to them), the synths balance it with deep, dreamy, organic flavor. The result is that this music feels like a future where nature has been symbiotically incorporated into machinery to utilize the best of both worlds. Every song on the album is well done, and while they share similar characteristics, I can listen to the entire thing all the way through and not get bored. Again I will draw the comparison to Access to Arasaka, but think more structured and musical, with a distinct path to tread from beginning to end. Along the way are various wonders to see (though none terribly divergent from the origin), as the songs don't stagnant or get repetitive. While the sounds he uses aren't totally unique, the skillful composition paints them in their best light and makes these IDM tropes feel new & exciting again. There are also three beat-less interludes throughout the album which I found to be pretty enjoyable and fitting with the overall atmosphere of the album.

Additionally, I want to make mention of the absolutely phenomenal mastering here from Alexander Dietz. This record somehow manages to be much louder than most other stuff, while still being incredibly punchy, crisp, and spacious. Totally perfect for this style of music.

Overall: 
An incredible album that will please fans of IDM, especially the Access to Arasaka type stuff (which is my personal favorite style). I wouldn't be surprised if this ends up on my best albums of the year list. Don't miss it!!

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

MultiColor - "Cyclicity"

Artist: MultiColor
Album: Cyclicity
Year: 2014
Label: Tympanik Audio
Genre: IDM
Website: www.tympanikaudio.com













Basics:
Here we have the debut EP from the recent Tympanik signing MultiColor. There are 3 original songs and a remix from Balkansky (the downtempo alias of DNB phenom Cooh). Don't really have any further info on this guy so let's have a listen.

Stuff:
Upon the opening of the EP I am immediately impressed. This definitely fits well within Tympanik's ranks. MultiColor creates a hybrid of IDM/ambient/glitch which reminds me of the classic acts who got me into the genre - stuff like Boards of Canada, Plaid, Mouse on Mars, etc. He does an excellent job of mixing weird & glitchy melodic textures with constantly changing beats & rhythms to create continuously evolving tracks. I appreciate that there is some degree of unpredictability here, as well as various sections within each song - parts with melodies, parts with more subdued pads and atmospherics, ambient interludes, etc. The opener "The First Stage" sets the tone - a lighthearted groovy track with a catchy main melody and lots of subtle sounds and sfx to keep your attention. The second track "Moving Up" is my least favorite, because the main melodic thing starts to annoy me after a while, but I appreciate the nostalgic value it generates as it reminds me a lot of something I can't put my finger on. Tycho or something. Anyway, this song has a nice multi-faceted interlude in the middle and demonstrates MultiColor's song writing abilities. The third and final original track "A Special Moment" might be my favorite here; it's got some neat glitchy & filtery guitar plucking combined with great evocative pads and atmospheric sfx. It's also the most driving and upbeat piece on the EP. It feels like a warm autumn night under the moon. I also enjoyed the Balkansky mix of this track which adds in more glitchy percussive elements, although the mix is kind of unbalanced with the melodic stuff being way too low.

Overall: 
While not exactly "innovative" - these songs certainly bring to mind other artists, it's really nice to hear new acts that actually try with IDM. I think it's gotten very easy to lose interest in contemporary IDM because the genre is seemingly past it's prime (which is a paradox because it should be better than ever with all the new gear/equipment that is available) and the vast majority of newer acts are stale, 5th rate, watered down versions of prior artists who have all but abandoned the characteristics which defined the genre. However, MultiColor stands out from the pack as a guy that is actually hitting the fundamentals of the style - experimentation, unpredictability, making new and interesting sounds + creating songs out of them, challenging his equipment, etc. This EP has definitely piqued my interest and I am excited to see what he does in the future. Fans of Tympanik and related labels will absolutely appreciate this one. Keep a eye out.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

New Review Index

Today I decided to finally rework the whole Review Index which used to appear as a list on the right hand side of the page. Now it has it's own separate page and I am working to update it with all the reviews that we have done. The bulk of the new reviews appear within the issues and don't have their own individual link, so it will take me a bit of time to get all of those added, but it will happen soon. You can view it HERE or from the link in the right hand collumn.

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Orphx - "The Sonic Groove Releases Pt. 1"

Artist: Orphx
Album: The Sonic Groove Releases Pt. 1
Year: 2014
Label: Hymen
Genre: Dark Techno
Website: www.hymen-records.com













Basics:
Orphx is one of those bands with multiple faces. While they are known to people like me for their ambient rhythmic noise-esque material on Hands, they've also done ambient on labels like Malignant, and more recently, are quite known in the techno scene for their dark techno tracks. This album compiles, in CD format, some of those techno style tracks that have been released on vinyl via Sonic Groove.

Stuff:
To be honest, techno isn't my thing. One of my friends has been trying to get me into "dark" and "industrial" techno for years to no avail. However, after listening to this album I guess I am beginning to see the appeal. He always speaks of how "dark" and "atmospheric" the stuff is, and when it comes to this record I actually agree. My favorite thing about Orphx is how they are able to give their tracks a dreary, crackly sort of feel which is extremely hypnotic; and they port this over into the techno template.  The material on this disc more or less sounds like rhythmic noise that isn't distorted. You've got a variety of percussive elements which continuously fluctuate, combined with steady basslines and the occasional dubby synthline.

The opener "Cracktest (edit)" is ok, but has way too much obnoxious, overly loud high frequency stuff. However, the second track "First Light" really got me into this record. The beats are heavy and slightly crunchy which harken back to the standard Hands sound, but the cleaner mix provides space for the dark, sunken atmosphere to seep through. The song is pretty dynamic and despite being straight 4/4 for 7 minutes, I don't get bored of it. It's got an incredibly organic vibe, like a club within the earth where everything within venue is made of dirt, roots and leaves. Despite not really liking techno, I do enjoy the occasional bit of dub techno, and I am happy to see that Orphx incorporates this style into some tracks. I really enjoy the bassline and melodic plucks in "Stillpoint" and "Dispossession" and find this material to be powerfully encompassing.

I can't get into every track here, as some fall victim to the folly of the techno status quo: too repetitive, too few different sounds, and/or no synths or melodic bits to latch onto. Every song utilizes a pretty similar set of sounds, so I tend to get bored after 4-5 of these in a row.

Overall: 
The fact that someone who doesn't listen to techno enjoys most of this is pretty impressive. One for fans of rhythmic noise and dark techno who enjoy organic and mesmerizing atmospheres. Probably best suited for a club, but many tracks are interesting enough to be enjoyable during home listening. Personally, I still prefer material like Circuitbreaking (the songs, not the damn interludes) or Insurgent Flows, but can respect this stuff as well. I think that if you are a fan of any of Orphx's work than you will be able to appreciate at least some of what this CD has to offer. For fans of dark techno, this is likely right up your alley.

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Decondition - "Sukellan Tuntemattomiin Syvyyksiin"

Artist: Decondition
Album: Sukellan Tuntemattomiin Syvyyksiin
Year: 2014
Label: Force Majeure
Genre: Noise, Power Electronics
Website: http://www.nuitetbrouillard.com/













Basics:
Decondition is a project from Finland that has a prior release on Freak Animal Records.

Stuff:
I wish people wouldn't send me this type of stuff. I'm sorry but I hate this kind of "music". This album is 13 tracks of harsh and abrasive noise. There are sometimes industrial and junk sounds buried in there, and occasionally vocals, but everything is so distorted and squashed that it's near impossible to make out any specific sounds. It just sounds like a muck of distortion. There are 13 tracks but they all sound exactly the same to me. Each piece is wall to wall noise which never dies down and never lets up. I don't really hear any discernible sounds or textures here, just noise turned up as loud as it can get. One of the problems is the mastering which is limited to infinity and beyond, destroying any and all dynamics that could have been present. There are a couple of tracks like "Diseased Within" that could/should have been a little more subdued / ambient and developed a bit of atmosphere and mood, but because they are so smashed it completely destroys this potential and turns them into painful and fatiguing walls of sound. The problem that bands like this face is that if EVERYTHING is unremittingly harsh, than NOTHING is. If the whole record is turned up to 11 the entire time than you have nothing to compare it to and it ceases to have any punch or impact. A powerful record needs contrast; it needs tension; it needs mood, and direction. This has none of those. This is unfocused, unbridled aggression that ultimately achieves nothing. I feel that sure this record is incredibly "harsh", but as a listener I don't get anything out of the experience except for a headache. This record is the equivalent of banging your head repeatedly into a concrete wall; you get seriously injured and accomplish nothing.

Overall: 
If you want to feel super elitist about yourself and listen to music that is so harsh, abrasive, and pointless that no one could possibly enjoy it, than pick this up.

Mind & Flesh - "Martyr Generation"

Artist: Mind & Flesh
Album: Martyr Generation
Year: 2012
Label: Force Majeure
Genre: Death Industrial, Power Electronics
Website: http://www.nuitetbrouillard.com/













Basics:
I don't know anything about this project, other than what the press release tells me. Apparently he had a couple of other projects before this one, and one of them released on Slaughter Productions. This seems to follow suit and be minimal, classic death industrial.

Stuff:
From the start I'm already dreading having to review this. The first track "Walking Target" is terrible. It's simply some garbed vocals talking over a ultra simplistic crunchy loop for the entire 3 minutes and nothing else. Things start to pick up a bit on "From The Cradle to the Grave"; this time we get traditional death industrial in the form of minimal dark atmospheres, a crunchy percussive loop and the typical quasi-tormented vocals. I enjoy the elements presented, but this track showcases the main flaw of the album which is complete lack of dynamics and direction. The track is basically the exact same thing for 6 minutes, the only difference is that the background ambiance gets slightly louder as the track progresses. The rest of the album follows the same sort of template. Abrasive bits of noise and loops run through a ton of reverb which gives it a dark and old school feel, and occasionally vocals. "Blodskam" is a bit more ambient and "atmospheric" - as much as you can be with a total of like 3 different sounds. It sounds like a blackened operating room that sits lifeless and dormant, but hey, maybe it was used for something scary in the past. "Destroyers", "Purgatorium", and "Learning to Hate You" are all pretty good. They employ some heavy industrial sounds, plodding rhythmic elements, and some buried droning sound(s) all drenched in verb. The sounds and textures are promising, but again they don't change or evolve whatsoever. It's like being in a situation such as Hostel where you are about to become the victim of a guy who indicates that he will brutally maim and torture you, but instead the guy gets kind of nervous and just holds a chainsaw towards you for an hour and you lose any fear you had and wonder when the hell the guy is actually going to do the damn thing. Then ultimately the dude ends up wussing out and departing, leaving you very much alive and intact after the ordeal. The final track, "Clashing Icons" is a nearly 11 minute piece that is purely ambient; it contains a few hollow droning sounds and no noise or abrasive bits. A fitting closer for an aggressive album, but it could have be equally effective in less than half the duration. This is the part where you're sitting alone after the dude has left; sure the room still holds an air of the macabre, but there is nothing to fear since you're about to go home unscathed.

Overall: 
Ok so, I like the overall atmosphere of this record and I like what he was going for. It's incredibly dark and claustrophobic. It's filthy and creepy and evil. It is successfully able to build and sustain that murky, primal "death industrial" feel. However let's be real, there is no songwriting here. Every track is a couple of things looped ad nauseam until the track arbitrarily ends. There are no significant builds or changes within any track; any tension or atmosphere built up wears off after you've heard it loop 25 times in a row with no variation in sight. It feels like this type of music tries way too hard to cling on to the past, with a deathgrip on an antiquated sound. Maybe this kind of thing made sense in the early 90s when people had minimal equipment and this was really all they could do. But it's two decades later and it would be so easy to make this music SO MUCH MORE. There is so much that can be done with this genre, but unfortunately instead we have albums like this which refuse to leave the safe-haven of familiar ground & overly simplistic composition, and ultimately bring nothing new or innovative to the table. As a guy who has been composing since the mid 90s, you'd think he would be able to come up with a little more than this.  While this type of thing is probably very enjoyably and cathartic to make (and perhaps even play/experience live)...it's much less fun to listen to on disc.