Review: Hans Castrup – Heterogeneous Cell Information (Karlrecords, Mar 15)

German sound artist Hans Castrup is no stranger to working with unconventional sound sources, having been releasing recordings in various realms of experimental electronic music since 1981, whether as a solo performer or contributing tape and synth sounds to his band Poison Dwarfs. But his past three solo records on Karlrecords, including the recently released Heterogeneous Cell Informationinvolve a much more intense and subversive approach to music-making, coming across as uncanny, immersive symphonies of sounds natural, unnatural, and everything in between. Every other track on Heterogeneous Cell Information features the vocal talents of Carla Worgull, whose haunting, droning overtones cast Castrup’s much less recognizably human compositions into a new light. But the interplay between his dense overlays of simmering synths, murky magnetic tape manipulations, and unidentifiable recorded excerpts and Worgull’s vocalizations is only the most immediate example of the contradictory relationships that make the album such an elusive, alien experience. With these Castrup demonstrates his versatility in varying approaches, by both seamlessly interweaving electronic and organic sound sources and allowing both organic and controlled dynamic behavior in his induced interactions—with the latter I mainly refer to the convincingly natural motion of opening track “Cell Information,” which contrasts sharply with the disarming stop-starts of “Plain Cutting Edges.” Even when Worgull is not present the pieces are just as otherworldly, giving Heterogeneous Cell Information consistency but not homogeneity, a quality quite faithful to the album’s title.

Review: Akasha – Canticles of the Sepulchral Deity (Grey Matter Productions, Mar 15)

If you’re not careful, the sheer intensity of the infernal heat that radiates from Canticles of the Sepulchral Deity will scorch you. Even ‘radiates’ seems like too neutral of a word for the menacing presence this album possesses; singing flames and gouging claws are born with a fury from the relentless, thrashing, sooty blasts, waves of scathing sound snaking from the chaos in a manner much too confrontational to be described by such passive diction. The hellish dimensions created in each song are inexplicably crafted by only one musician, the sole member of Akasha known only as Leech, who is somehow able to propel the music forth with the strength expected of an entire ensemble. The production style isn’t entirely crystal-clear, but lets each and every element cut through, giving the crunching guitars the overwhelming power they need on barn-burners like “Vibratory Waves Collapsed” yet allowing the tightly controlled rhythm section to shine on “Psychic Fog, Draconian Paroxysm.” While firmly rooted in its black metal sensibilities, Canticles of the Sepulchral Deity dips its talons into a range of other styles to fuel its aggression, embarking on full-throttle punk gallops at times and venturing into nightmarish death breakdowns on tracks like “Enthroned in Catacombs.” If you think this one can’t live up its cover, think again.

Review: Rural Tourniquet – Let the Animals Scatter the Remains (Anti-Everything, Mar 15)

Rural Tourniquet, a trio on whom information is sparse other than that it appears to share members with Indiana outsider collective Crazy Doberman, conjure uncanny, apocalyptic soundscapes with their atmosphere-focused approach to improvisation on Let the Animals Scatter the RemainsThe group stitches together grating violin abuse, shifting electronic textures, piercing feedback, gurgling mouth sounds, and a host of other gleefully plundered sonorities, weaving a lush but broken tapestry of waste and desolation. In my review of Timothée Quost and Jaka Berger’s collaboration, I discussed collective improvisation as offering a possibility for a sonic result that’s less of a parsable conversation and more of a single cacophony from multiple sources. That couldn’t ring more true here; despite Rural Tourniquet being comprised of three members, it moves its pieces along with the focus and harmony of a lone entity, whipping skin-crawling textures into frenzied tornadoes, bolstering strings as harrowing as Penderecki’s with menacing hums and unsettlingly organic textures, bringing the whole thing to an unlikely close in an acid cloud of reverb and restless scrapes.

Mix: New Metalcore

Reviewing that Nostromo EP yesterday really reminded me how much I am loving this endlessly bountiful resurgence in metallic hardcore. So many creative new bands are emerging with unique takes on a sound that, for me, really never gets old, and harkens back to bands near and dear to me such as Disembodied and Acme. Sharing occasional commonalities such as genre-mixing, high pitched wah pedal breakdowns, and an overall emphasis on bone-crushing rhythm, this new generation of bands is something for which I’m very happy to be alive to see.

Palm

00:00. Vein – “Broken Glass Complexion” from Errorzone (Closed Casket Activities, 2018)

02:27. Revolve – “Trepidation” from Dragged Into Extinction (Trial by Fire, 2019)

05:22. Problem of Pain – “The Rust in My Veins” from I Will Always Want to Let Go (Blood & Ink, 2018)

09:32. Tourniquet – “Lilith” from I Hate the Way This Makes Me Feel (Contraband Goods, 2018)

11:26. Wristmeetrazor – “XOXO (Love Letter from a Loaded Gun)” from Misery Never Forgets (Prosthetic, 2019)

13:12. Wolf King – “Further” from Loyal to the Soil (Prosthetic, 2018)

16:11. Palm – “Blood Clot of Pain” from To Live Is to Die, to Die Is to Live (Deliver B, 2018)

20:02. Joy – “Bleak Home” from No Light Below (self-released, 2018)

22:19. Nostromo – “Uraeus” from Uraeus (self-released, 2018)

27:17. Castor’s Hollow – “Court of Dragons” from Shape and Void (self-released, 2019)

29:36. Pupil Slicer – “Spectral” from split with Sense Offender (self-released, 2019)

32:24. Ithaca – “Impulse Crush” from The Language of Injury (Holy Roar, 2019)

35:35. Seeyouspacecowboy… – “Absolutely Absolute Absolution” from Fashion Statements of the Socially Aware (Dog Knights, 2017)

Review: Nostromo – Narrenschiff (self-released, Mar 8)

If the new Daughters album last year wasn’t enough to sate your appetite for unlikely comebacks in heavy music, Swiss hardcore outfit Nostromo has you covered. Almost exactly one year ago they released two individual tracks, “Uraeus” and “Corrosion”, their first recorded output since 2004’s Hysteron – Proteron. Unlike that album though, which presented a quite unexpected stylistic departure from the previous two records in the form of progressive, all-acoustic guitar compositions, the thrashing metalcore is back on Narrenschiff, and sounds just as fresh almost fifteen years later. The production is much more full and muscular than the stabbing angularity of Ecce Lex (which, to clarify, is also fantastic), giving crushing weight to every instrument. The dense guitar arrangements don’t lose any of their clarity though, and every note hits with its own force even as they collectively form formidable, nearly impenetrable walls of dissonance and distortion. Penultimate track “Septentrion” might be the most epic the band has ever penned, its patient atmosphere-building and evolving riffs showing a promising inclination toward longer songs—it and “Uraeus” are already the lengthiest they’ve ever released. “Das Narrenschiff” ends things on a satisfyingly fucked-up note, capably wrapping up this superb return to form. Welcome back!

Review: Dirac Sea – Negative to the Power of Infinity (Perpetual Abjection, Mar 8)

When the Bandcamp description for Negative to the Power of Infinity states that it is “a great one to sit back and explore,” it could not be any more of an understatement. Peter Keller’s newest project as Dirac Sea (other aliases include Condo Horro and Bacillus, the latter of which released the crushing and terrifying Serial Infector last year) embarks further into the cosmos with its immersive blend of shifting crackles and spacey ambience. The attention to detail in each of the three extended pieces is nothing short of astonishing; sputtering textures like the restless underpinnings of an unchecked blaze form the basis for drones that float off into emptiness in “Interstellar Waves at 1019eV,” creating a soundscape that is simultaneously physical and elusively celestial. Keller harnesses his sounds with the patience necessary for wall composition, but also with an ear for subtle development, allowing the two facets of this dual sonic environment to breathe in and out in harmony with each other. For this reason it would be criminal to jump ship on any of these tracks before their full duration; in doing so you’d miss the gorgeous tones that occasionally emerge amidst the reticent cacophony of “Interstellar Waves,” or the evolution of the hulking hums and laser blasts that underlie the tense “Negative Charged Muon Courting a Negative Charge Pion,” or the motion of “Probing the Void” that seems to both speed up and stay the same. Negative to the Power of Infinity is a masterpiece of the contemporary wall noise renaissance, developing its ambitious ideas with admirable skill.

Note: the image used here is cropped from the one used on Bandcamp. Each CDr copy is individually spray painted and therefore unique.

Review: Ted Byrnes – Double Negative (Absurd Exposition, Mar 3)

As I sit down to write about Ted Byrnes’ new tape Double Negative, I realize that there is really nothing I could bring up or praise that Sam McKinlay hasn’t already acknowledged in his beautiful piece about the album. So instead I will reprint it below (full credit to Mr. McKinlay, who makes his own music as The Rita and with Byrnes as CACKLE CAR, and the Absurd Exposition page) and do my best to continue the discussion.

Byrnes performing at the Warp Weft release event

“One of the most interesting aspects of Ted Byrnes’ C16 work Double Negative is the fact that it is presented by Absurd Exposition, which is very much an analogue electronics based label that is most commonly concerned with ‘harsh noise’ and ‘power electronics’. The exciting aspect of Ted’s percussive work versus the electronics is its incredibly common means to an end. After years and years of my delving into the world of silicon and germanium fuzz circuits with various colleagues, contemplating the electronic processing of source into rough textures can really make someone question the various apparatuses conceptually, especially when you experience raw comparable sound via internal combustion, or in Ted’s case – percussion. ‘Striking something’ for a conceptualized sound acts as a pinnacle of deconstructed sound technique, especially when making a career out of creating seemingly percussive rough textures via electronics, can make the artist doubt their practice and its analogue gear avenues that may simply be (in extreme terms) a ‘waste of time’ when compared to straight well conceived percussion. Again, presented within the world of harsh noise specifics, Ted Byrnes’ rapid fire washes, lines and layers of shifting percussively created textures very much converse in the language of harsh noise with a vicious truth that analogue electronics may never be able to replicate.
Every year I think about ditching my electronic gear and just having some ‘percussive’ setup like strips of aluminum that are lined up to make ‘slapping / snapping / crack’ noises, but then I’m constantly reminded of Ted’s work and the fact that I’m just purely jealous and should just stick to what I know.” 

As McKinlay says, improvised music and especially abstract percussion shares a great deal of qualities with ‘noise,’ an observation immediately apparent from the squealing abrasions and endlessly pummeling walls employed on Double Negative. It’s a, if not the, culmination of Byrnes’ visceral approach that he’s taken on recent releases such as Materialism and Source, and leads me to question the often ambiguous dividing lines between noise and other abstract musics. It’s easy to fall into a bottomless pit of semantic runarounds in discussions of genre, but in this case it comes down to what definition we give ‘noise’; while an archetypal artist in this area would use tabletop electronics such as effects pedals and contact microphones, if the sound produced is viewed as an isolated entity, the breadth of ‘noise’ grows tenfold. I by no means intend to completely abandon the attachment of methodology to the sound it creates, because the actions behind the sound and the relationship between the two are often just as important. Instead, with this hypothetical redefinition, I argue for a less restrictive view of noise music, one that doesn’t exclude atypical approaches. This ultimately allows me to articulate what is so magnetic about Double Negative: that it doesn’t hide its direct physicality behind curtains of effects and manipulation, yet still fills the same void as more conventional harsh noise works do, a dual identity that cannot, and should not, be ignored. So when McKinlay resolves to “stick to what [he] know[s],” I couldn’t agree more; the best noise is made when the artist uses the arsenal with which they are familiar, reaching that clamorous catharsis in entirely their own way—which, certainly, is what Byrnes accomplishes with Double Negative.