Review: Ultio – Fera (Brucia, Mar 17)

The inaugural release from Genoa-based label Brucia Records arrives in the form of the recorded debut from enigmatic solo project Ultio. Information on the artist is scarce (the only revelatory detail provided on the Metal Archives is that its lyrical themes are “evil”), but the music speaks for itself. Fera is twenty minutes of seething fire and fury buried beneath a pile of suffocating earth that threatens to give way at any second, the propulsive blast beats and frenzied tremolo riffs constantly pushing to escape their tomb. While the music is veiled in a canopy of fuzz and blur, an aesthetic choice that effectively complements both the atmosphere and subject matter that Ultio explores, the mixing leaves no desire for further clarity, and even the most subtle of elements are allowed due definition. At an average length of five minutes, each of the four tracks are consistently concise, mining from a focused but fruitful palette of inhuman shrieks, frantic dissonance, brief fragments of melody, and cathartic moments of masterful tension release. The EP’s short length couldn’t be more misleading; there’s more here to explore than in countless other more bloated black metal releases I’ve heard, whether it’s picking out the buried screams in the harrowing coda of “Beyond the Fog” or reveling in the glorious climax that concludes “The Right Weapon.”

Review: Bridges of Königsberg – Considered Parallel to Borders (Or Dividers) (Flag Day Recordings, Mar 22)

The first five or so minutes of “The Greatest Awful,” which opens the set of six extended tracks that comprise Considered Parallel to Borders (Or Dividers), is an immediately unsettling dada collage that acts as a fitting tone-setter for the remainder of the album. Recordings of smacking and gurgling mouth sounds; erratic, percussive spasms of distortion; mangled synthesizers; and countless layers of shifting, contorting noise coagulate into something both frightening and enthralling, trapping the unwitting listener in its knotted claws. But Bridges of Königsberg, a trio composed of Christopher Burns, David Collins, and Peter J. Woods, don’t seem to have the goal of making the most disturbing sounds possible, even though it’s often accomplished anyway. They’re more concerned with the interactions between elements: how the cracked, broken techno loops give structure and rhythm to much less compliant noises, how tension-filled drones can slowly force things into a new direction, how bulbous pulses amidst waves of static and fuzzed-out recordings can sound like some sort of terrifying monster forcing its way out of a pit of tar. Considered Parallel to Borders is certainly a harrowing record, but even though its sonic explorations are as angular and jarringly contrastive as the sharp black lines on its cover, the images and atmospheres it evokes are spell-bindingly lush.

Review: Nusquama – Horizon Ontheemt (Eisenwald, Mar 22)

What was it Tenacious D said? “You don’t always have to play black metal hard… I’m gonna blast softly”? Yeah, that sounds right.

Not that Horizon Ontheemt is a “soft” album. Nusquama, a new quintet comprised of musicians from bands such as Laster, Northward, and Turia, have plenty of aggression and anger to expend, and—coupled with all five members’ superb musicianship—that makes for an intense and emotionally draining journey. But still, there is a beautiful frailty to these fluid compositions, even when the band is at its most structured and rhythmic. The guitars are swathed in threadbare blankets of incorporeal effects, allowing them to enshroud and float above the other instruments to evoke space and atmosphere. They’re often tempered by the earthy punch of the drums, which somewhat frequently relegate the rhythmic backbone to more grounded beats, but when the blast beats set in the band’s true ear for textural transcendence is revealed. Every tremolo chord, every snare hit, every agonized wail is delivered with exactly the right amount of power, just enough to establish presence but not so much that anything distracts from the gorgeous maelstroms of unified sound created by a group of artists who it seems couldn’t compliment each other any better. Horizon Ontheemt isn’t even 40 minutes, but it’s a giant of a record, a giant with its feet on the ground but its head and shoulders in the clouds.

Mix: Peculiar and Prophetic Post-Punk

As soon as you attempt to classify (in this case, a more vivid–and fitting–verb might be ‘coagulate’) an artistic movement as fearless and wide-ranging as the mass of eclectic avant-garde rock music that arose in the late 70’s and early 80’s, it begins to break down. While these bands and artists are commonly grouped under the umbrella term “post-punk,” much of it owes little debt to traditional punk, instead drawing from funk, jazz, industrial, surrealist art, krautrock, and many other areas. In addition to looking backward in time for inspiration, many artists arrived at remarkably prescient stylistic cocktails. The often rough, do-it-yourself music foreshadowed things whose full potential wouldn’t be realized until much later, working with anything from collage and primitive musique concrète to tribal rhythms and free improvisation. Here are my picks for the best examples of this awe-inspiring creativity, somewhat skewed towards obscurities that have been lost to time.

Lemon Kittens, 1981 (photo by Akiko Hada)

00:00. Mars – “Helen Forsdale” from No New York compilation (Antilles, 1978)

02:28. Clock DVA – “White Cell” from Thirst (Fetish, 1981)

07:00. A Certain Ratio – “Choir” from To Each (Factory, 1981)

09:44. L. Voag – “Living Room” from The Way Out (self-released, 1979)

12:11. 23 Skidoo – “IY” from Seven Songs (Fetish, 1982)

17:12. Lemon Kittens – “Nudies” from …The Big Dentist (Illuminated, 1982)

20:30. The Stick Men – “Tail Dragger” from This Is the Master Brew (Red, 1982)

22:32. Stutter – “These Are Small Times (Not Good Enough)” from Broken Snakes (Check, 1989)

25:31. D.A.F. – 8th untitled track from Produkt Der Deutsch-Amerikanischen Freundschaft (Warning, 1979)

28:40. Savage Republic – “Flesh That Walks” from Tragic Figures (Independent Project, 1982)

32:00. Milk From Cheltenham – “Snappy Fingers” from Triptych of Poisoners (It’s War Boys, 1983)

34:31. Alternative TV – “Graves of Deluxe Green” from Vibing Up the Senile Man (Deptford Fun City, 1979)

Review: T.E.F. – Framework (Dada Drumming, Mar 19)

What did I do to deserve two of the most important American harsh noise acts releasing new music on the same day? Nothing. Absolutely nothing. Here’s to being a spoiled little bastard with a hefty supply of eardrum punishment.

Houston-based artist Kevin Novak has been releasing recordings as T.E.F. since the late 90’s, and even his earliest recordings, like Tokyo Eternal Folly, display a truly distinct understanding of the harsh noise medium. With Novak, it’s always been quality over quantity, a mantra attested to by his relatively small body of work—compared to many noise artists’ notorious prolificacy—and the stunning heights reached on genre-defining achievements such as Symptomatic Harbinger and Consequences in Conversation. The latter was Novak’s last full-length album as T.E.F., and nearly a decade later its formidable dynamics and cut-up spastics are rivaled by Framework, also on Dada Drumming. This new CD absolutely seethes with restless aggression, its deafening collages of breakneck sample mishmosh, squalling feedback, and god knows what other distortion-smothered sound sources tearing through brief respites with a vengeance. The trademark density that makes T.E.F. releases so replayable is in full force here; though repeated listens won’t make it any quieter, you’ll constantly be picking up on new things, and the overall chunkiness gives Novak’s noise an unmatched set of teeth.

Framework can be ordered directly from the label, and is available digitally on most streaming platforms.

Review: Pedestrian Deposit – Dyers’ Hands (Monorail Trespassing, Mar 19)

In 2008, Jon Borges’ most renowned solo project became a duo with the addition of cellist and multimedia artist Shannon Kennedy. Austere, an ambitious but flawed release, marked the effective conclusion of Borges’ solitary adventures into harsh noise through a lens of both formal musique concrète technique and emotional catharsis. This is not to say that Kennedy’s membership in the project hindered its creative activities in any way; instead, her arrival steered Pedestrian Deposit to a much less raucous and more meditative sonic palette, the newly added acoustic instrumentation and inclination toward visual and spacial integration pushing the duo to create astounding works such as Kithless and Eleventh HourDyers’ Hands is their first release since 2015’s The Architector, an album steeped in atmosphere but less so in compelling ideas, and in my opinion is PD’s best work since the modern masterpiece Fatale. The sense of space in this record is simply mind-blowing, from the echo-caked clatters that plot an abstract void on “What Can’t Be Taken” to the claustrophobic blasts of contorting noise that are some of Borges’ most well-developed and purgative. Dyers’ Hands is focused, purposeful, and the first of PD’s releases with Kennedy to truly embrace the dichotomy of these two artists’ paradigms and how they can both combat and combine. Look no further than the monstrous closing track “Beneath the Salt” for evidence of this seemingly newfound understanding, get lost in the straining string loops and hulking suspense that threatens to collapse at any second—and it does, with a cleansing wash of searing feedback that somehow feels more achingly empty than the quiet reticence that preceded it.

I usually try not to view new releases too far within the context of the artist(s)’ discography, but since Pedestrian Deposit has a body of work that means so much to me, and because of how excited I was to observe this profound maturation in their output, I thought it would be appropriate in this instance.

Review: Nac/Hut Report – Wszystko Jeszcze Jest (Crunchy Human Children, Mar 16)

So, somehow, Wszystko Jeszcze Jest is the first album I have heard from Polish avant-pop group Nac/Hut Report. Considering how much I enjoyed it, it will be far from the last. The duo utilizes an eclectic array of noisemaking devices, ranging from electronics and effects to guitars and their own voices, to sow vibrant gardens of effervescent, colorful sound from which sublime structures slowly sprout. The frequent use of high-speed oscillators and broken guitar chords, and the careful panning of each, creates a feeling of lushness but one with plenty of unpredictability. Though at any given time on Wszystko Jeszcze Jest there are probably a good amount of sounds assaulting your ears at once, they’re always spaced out with fragments of space and silence, introducing the faintest ghosts of rhythmic structure with their pulsing occurrence yet disappearing as quickly and unceremoniously as they materialized. Within this bubbling volatility is where the two artist’s ear for melody is apparent; they not only know how to make the simple but gorgeous loops of vocals and erratic guitar harmonies complement the more abstract elements, but also when to let them flourish and when to let go and allow that fragile semblance of conventionality to melt back into the mangled beauty of its womb.