Wednesday, August 05, 2009

This is My Music: Vol 4 (Vol. 4: The Metal Years)

Absu Absu (Candlelight) CD - I've been aware of these old warriors for a few years now, but I must admit shock upon discovering they were actually from Plano, Texas, of all places, a suburb of Dallas that's more known for its (once) high priced country club homes and teen heroin epidemics than real deal furious as fuck occult black metal. Absu started as death metal and devolved to their more blackened state across the '90s. The progression is documented on Tumult's 2CD Diabolic Occult Metal (the band's own designation for its brand of Texas bm), and that there artifact comes highly recommended if so inclined. What else: I've almost seen Absu live twice now, but various fateful anvils have crushed my plans -- scheduling conflicts, bus breakdowns. They're playing a rescheduled hometown gig in late Summer.

Absu is the latest Absu album in a long minute, and if I'm not mistaken, only one original member remains in the band, yet this is genre-defining stuff. Masterful jackhammer riffs propelled by inhuman double bass drum battery, mind-blurring change-ups. More than a hint of the progressive stylings found during weirder passages of recent Enslaved and Leviathan albums can be glimpsed, all deployed with a fury closer to prime Mayhem. Metal with chops that maintains the all important primal metal edge. Hailz, bros!

Current 93
Aleph at Hallucinatory Mountain (Coptic Cat) CD - I don't think anyone's ever considered these Gnostic spell-casters to be metal at all, but if not why do so many metal headz love this band? And why does it seem like all of David Tibet's favorite bands are metal, or at least proto-metal? Rush, Uriah Heep and Black Sabbath on down the line to Sleep/Om and Mayhem. Tibet certainly likes to rock, but he likes to rock weirdly, and Aleph At Hallucinatory Mountain is some of the weirdest rock I've heard this year. With contributions from James Blackshaw, Keith Wood, Mr "Party All Night!" Andrew W.K. and the brilliant Alex Neilson (among many others), Tibet has once again assembled a classy ensemble to tell the story of Aleph at Hallucinatory Mountain. There's much more fuzz than ever heard on any previous Current 93 album, big booming drums, and an overall more pronounced doom vibe while still maintaining noticeable links to past c93 releases. I like this very much, but rest assured, your mileage will vary dependent on your penchant for Tibet's crypto-religious fascinations. Overall, almost as good as Black Ships Ate the Sky. Almost.

Locrian Drenched Lands/ Rhetoric of Surfaces/ Burying the Carnival/ Exhuming the Carnival (At War With False Noise; Bloodlust!; self-re.) CD/CD-R/c-38 -- This amazing Chicago duo brings a new twist to the genre of so called drone metal. Named either for the mythical Greek tribe or the musical mode of the same name, both allusions are appropriate for the grim, hypnotic desolation that Locrian conjures. Their sound is pretty much unparalleled when we get analytical, not that I want to. Locrian manages to explore the crossover between early Popol Vuh, Frip/Eno circa No Pussyfooting and more recent doom/black metal developments (Earth and SunnO))) included) with results that are never less than harrowing and deeply enveloping every step of the way. Of the three releases that found their way into my mailbox recently, the Drenched Lands CD is my favorite with its deft mix or languid slow melodies, minor key isolationist loops and endless feed-backing howls. It's an epic that's brilliantly composed and executed from start to finish, and a vinyl version just dropped! The CD includes a massive bonus track every bit the match of its six predecessors. One of the best long players I've heard in '09.

Rhetoric of Surfaces explores similar terrain on a slightly more dissonant mode. Think Skullflower wandering the murky marshes just below the Castle SunnO))) complete with dark clad minstrels conjuring their mind-bending symphonies of industrial despair. The tracks are longer and grimier in this set -- recorded live for radio -- each offering its own glimpse at echo-drenched tonal voids. Rounding out my dandy box of Locrian madness is the excellent Burying the Carnival/Exhuming the Carnival cassette which results in roughly 38 mins of scorched trance dirge -- tectonic bass hum and squealing angular guitars beneath vocal howls of death on side a, something slightly more exultant on the flip. The guitar work is positively vertiginous and devastating in a way that only amplified feedback can be. The aural equivalent to greyfield-sickness stuck in a lockgroove.

Deathspell Omega Mass Grave Aesthetics (Norma Evangelium Diaboli) CDEP - DO is one of France's best and longest running black metal groups. Mass Grave Aesthetics is one 20 min thrashing monster which reveals every facet of what makes these evil bastards one of the best extreme metal bands on the planet: blistering blastbeat eruptions, cycling mid tempo riff mantras and experimental/noisy ambient interludes being just the beginning. Deathspell enthrall at any speed, in any mode, across this suite-like aural desecration. The end results land somewhere between prime Emperor and Nordvargr and challenge the conventional wisdom of just what black metal can be. Progressive as fuck.

Prurient & Kevin Drumm All are Guests in the House of the Lord CD/Prurient Cocaine Death (both Hospital Productions) both CD - This one's special. I must admit past Prurient releases I've heard have left me shivering in the dark with head splitting. Scabrous static dissonances seemingly the preferred mode of discourse. Of course there are dozens of releases bearing the Prurient name out there, and I've barely begun to scratch the surface. All Are Guests in the House of the Lord suggests closer examination of the catalog is long overdue. It sees the one man harsh drone/noise unit's fury tempered brilliantly by microtonal string bender Kevin Drumm's minimal guitar textures. The end results would sit proudly on the shelf between Wolf Eyes' Human Animal and Sunn's Black One. It's almost metal, philosophically speaking, relaying the kind of soul-destroying thematic concerns often explored in harsher metal these days. Like Wolf Eyes, the vocals owe more to classic hardcore, albeit of the most unconventional variety with effected hues ranging from screaming shrieks to nitrous huffing bass howls, all punctuated by grinding distortion one moment, bottomless microtonal chasms the next. The overall feel is one of great regret, vocal howls begging forgiveness on the eve of unalterable doom.

While visiting the Hospital Productions it dawned on me that Prurient's Cocaine Death (a collection of three long gone cassettes) really is a black metal album. It's more like the ghost of a black metal album if this particular record had been scored by David Lynch and Varg Vikernes using nothing but voice, feedback pedals, recordings of the burning of kindling and the shredding of old newspaper clippings, though it's actually much deeper than all that. I have no idea what's making this hallucinatory drone, thinking some sort of fuzzed up synth concoction much of the way, in conjunction with the incredible vocal performances -- again ranging from underwater gurgling groans to the most tortured naked howls -- and an arsenal of cortex tickling things that go bump, The results are never less than fascinating. Nary a dull moment for folks into the trippier side of noise.

Wolf Eyes Always Wrong (Hospital Productions) CD - When confronted with the reality of Always Wrong, I'm reminded of K.W. Jeter's infamous Dr. Adder, the dystopic nightmare sci-fi to end all dystopic nightmae sci-fis. After this one there was really nowhere left to go in terms of exposing/ridiculing mankind's own seemingly inborn desire to destroy itself, often ironically, through ill conceived attempts at improving some situation or another. Basically Jeter is saying that if we're not careful, in the end we're all going to be Frankenstein's Monsters fallen victim to science/technology and our own selfish/perverse desires. Old story -- mankind shooting itself in the foot. Only now we're shooting up our bodies with silicone, and sucking our innards out completely here in the States while young women in Asian countries willfully go under the knife just so they can have more Caucasian features. All the sudden Wacko Jacko isn't such an isolated freak.

Dr. Adder is the go-to guy for underground medical procedures in this technological nightmare. He's the back alley abortion doctor/junk peddler. He's the discredited plastic surgeon who lost his license years ago but still practices anyway. He's equal parts Frankenstein and Joseph Mengele; only his test subjects are hookers and street trash obsessed with augmentation, self mutilation and perversion. Just like those strange visions Jeter channeled back in '72, Wolf Eyes sees it all with a grim prophetic eye today, and they know that in many ways it's already here.

The first song on Always Wrong is "Cellar." It's possibly the most stunning single encapsulation of what makes Wolf Eyes the unabashed masters of sculpted rhythm noise that they are. Its precise composition of primitive surging (non glitch) electronics, street rat vocal ranting and lurching beats is high drama meets visceral sound art. It's the sound of one of Doc Adder's fucked-up back alley procedures gone horribly wrong. And you can almost dance to it. Sick. The rest of this dreaded beast follows suit with jagged distorted squalls, angular guitar clang and electronic howls crawling through the mix like rabid sewer rats hungry for blood. Ugly. Beautiful.

Bone Awl All Has Red/Night's Middle (Klaxon) cass./7 in. - One bone of contention (no pun) among metal vs hardcore geeks is the question of when did the split occur? As in when did hardcore and metal diverge along the rock timeline and become philosophical opposites, and does it even matter? Anyone who's spent some quality time with Slayer's Show No Mercy or Metallica's Kill Em all can't deny the impact hardcore had on the burgeoning thrash scene of the early '80s. But some time on down the line, after Scum and Reek of Putrefaction, a certain subset of the thrash underground took a sharp 180 degree turn away from the more hopeful aspirations of early h/c. Those pesky Norwegians introduced the idea of the tormented death thrash assault which dared celebrate war and blasphemy! The underground rock world was never the same again, having birthed its own Fallen One, self imposed to endless realms of torment and suicidal rage. Blah, blah, blah.

Enter Bone Awl. This Novato, Cali longhair trio plays grim thrash that's back to hXc basics and to the point, so what you got is minimal garage metal with black screech vocals over wicked first wave hardcore rhythms right out of the early Wire/Black Flag handbook. Pretty incredible when you get right down down to it. And they can do it live and make it fun to quasi slam-dance to in the process. One of the best old school sorts of live shows I've seen this year. Pretty much all their releases sound the same (good). There's an LP that's out of print (bad), but either this 5 song tape or 3 song 7" would make worthy introductions.

SunnO))) Monoliths & Dimensions (Southern Lord) - Took me a few serious appraisals, as it were, but I now know that Monoliths & Dimensions is one of the finest SunnO))) opuses to date. It spans their storied musical catalog in feel and content, yet offers something new too. This is the SunnO))) jazz record! Only not really. It's another SunnO))) record though -- as solid as granite but still somehow progressing and evolving. Attila Cishar delivers some of his most powerful vocal performances to date (anywhere) ranging from guttural spoken word to spectral chant-drone over killer molten riff doom and foundation rattling sub-bass. Perhaps the most incredible thing here is "Big Church (Megszentségteleníthetetlenségeskedéseitekért)" -- thank you, cut & paste! -- which merges the patented sludge doom with dumbfounding choral embellishments and Cishar's own remarkable bass vocal capacity. I'm reminded of an old Mirror track off their Nights LP, banished here to the deepest, darkest of realms. Quite incredible. Dig the sad, sad horns on the eulegic "Alice" (Coltrane I'm thinking - RIP) which is the closest SunnO))) has ever come to that newer, more haunted vibe of recent Earth recordings. It's something indeed. Masterpiece.

Khanate Clean Hands Go Foul (Hydrahead) LP - The people who think Sunn O))) is ridiculously monotonous would no doubt jump out the window after five minutes of Khanate ripping time-space with amps set to 11. Hell even Stephen O'Malley finally got tired of playing this unholy racket and put this beast down for good a couple years back. Khanate lasted longer than most of O'Malley's storied metal/noise ensembles though, so there was clearly something to this strangled take on tortured noise doom meets Fushitusha. No band got to the blackened heart of true doom with such psychotic intensity as these grim thrash/noise miscreants across roughly four albums.

Why even care at all, you say? Well Khanate is fucking TIGHT, man! Their songs may be slower than creeping death, but you will never find a more capable, taut, tension mounting techtonic fury to batter your ears with. So they're gone now. Clean Hands Go Foul is the posthumous swan song, and it's a monster. Present is the strangled low frequency fury of past releases and Alan Dubin's always amazing shrieking vokills, but there's something new too --an almost floating quality in the guitar textures. I'm not saying this is upbeat, but it definitely feels almost suspended in air at times, above what I don't want to know. Something black and boiling over, I'm sure. Odd to think that Khanate will actually be missed by some sick bastards.

Xasthur All Reflections Drained (Hydrahead) 2CD - Concept of art as suffering. No transcendence, no rapture. Xasthur purports to be about nothing more than willfully wallowing in suicidal despair. This is fuckin' stupid but I'm digging it anyway. All Reflections Drained is a definite improvement over Xasthur's Hydrahead debut, Defective Epitaph, and it's drearier than anything the one man (duo here with help from Striborg!) band has released since Nocturnal Poisoning. Drums are more minimal and punk influenced than on earlier recordings. Some new guy is handling vocals and "ambience." Malefic still screams to the moon in a demonic banshee wail, and his cover art remains some of the most unsettling/unique shit in the racks. You'd think it was all done to death at this point, but Xasthur continues to weave a grim spell that's hard to escape. That's kind of a bummer, though, cuz I'm pretty sure this stuff is designed to drive the listener to suicide. I got the version with a bonus CD which I'd recommend grabbing if you come across it but would only call essential to dudes who don corpse paint more than once a month and live in their mothers' basement. \m/

*Author's post-it-note-script thingy: I realize that my definitions of METAL in the above article are rather bold and contrary to what YOU and YOUR DOGMA might consider to be TRUE METAL, but in my world -- NO RULERS, NO RULES -- and if you don't like it, eat turkey, Christian skum!