I don’t know much about the occult; the extent of my knowledge of dark, unholy rituals is limited to what I’ve seen in folk horror movies. But in my humble opinion, I’m pretty sure “Invoke,” the opening track of Pharmakeia, does exactly what its title implies. Amidst cavernous darkness conjured by droning tremolo guitar and propulsive blast beats lurks a terrifying energy, one that almost dissuades me from listening because I feel like I’m allowing it to escape. This newest proclamation from the mysterious Prava Kollektiv is the debut release by the project Pharmakeia, the details of which are expectedly sparse, but the music speaks for itself. From the first nightmarish minute of “Invoke” the self-titled tape is a harrowing stumble through an atmosphere of pure evil—and I know that sounds hyperbolic, but I can’t think of any other way to describe the hellish angularity of the riff near the end of “Worship,” or the inhuman wails that pierce the darkness of “Calling,” or the ending of “Request” which sounds like a literal nightmare. Pharmakeia isn’t just dark; it feels completely saturated with malevolence, steeped in shadow and turpitude, and is an entirely unforgettable experience.
Pharmakeia is available on cassette and (eventually) LP here.
The dynamic processing and detailed sculpting executed by Marie Rose Sarri and Philippe Lamy on Acte de Foi (“act of faith”) begins without hesitation on “La vie à bord”; the immediate appearance of electric whirs and sticky sound extractions is a prompt demonstration of the advanced techniques at work on this short release. Sarri and Lamy, a pairing of sound artists from across the EU, use computer software to produce much more freely manipulable sound objects from raw field recording sources, and the result is a collection of motion-filled pieces that fizz and crackle with energy. Though the two artists’ gathered sounds are clearly significantly altered via this electroacoustic toolkit, the elements often retain their original weight and timbre: the distinct echoes of cylindrical piping, ghostly hums of air vents, gentle metallic clatters and vibrations… these are just a few examples of the skillful retainment of reality that makes even the most active and removed moments of Acte de Foi an oddly space-indebted (and even domestic) work. The tape is spectral and synthetic yet grounded and physical, a contradiction that makes for a unique experience.
When I first started listening to black metal it was often legitimately frightening. As a depressed high school kid discovering Mayhem and Darkthrone in the depths of a dark Midwest winter, it was a quite ideal milieu for experiencing the oppressive effects of this music to the fullest. Now, seasoned kvltist that I am, there’s so many more things I look for in atmospheric metal, and it’s no longer a common occurrence for a release to be truly scary. But Australian one-man-band Burier is here to quench that need with their debut self-released cassette, a 28 minute long desperate howl from the blackest and most evil of chasms. Burier’s unyielding walls of blasting anguish are swathed in an all-consuming, impenetrable haze of no-fi production, which distorts the artist’s ice-cold riffs, pained shrieks, and thudding drums to a perfect balance between entirely unintelligible noise and Nattens Madrigal-esque fuzz. It’s been a long time since I’ve heard a black metal album that establishes and maintains an extreme atmosphere this well, and while I always hesitate toward comparison I can’t help but think of the buried wails of Paysage d’Hiver and even the immersive psychedelia of Murmuüre. Burier is another entry into the incredible arsenal of black metal artistry that 2019 has presented.
When it comes to extreme music, the blender analogy is pretty overused. Sure, harsh or loud or fast music can be dizzying and cacophonous, but it takes a special sort of auditory chaos to truly sound like the music is being hurled around in a blender. Speed Ball Is Dead, the (oxymoronic) most recent release from Australia noisecore quintet Speed Ball, fits that description. Through the crunchy lo-fi murk it’s often impossible to discern whether the spastic outbursts are governed by any semblance of structure or are just completely arrhythmic blasts. The harshest elements are the ones that surface in the muck most frequently: the broken guitar eviscerations, slashing cymbals, and entirely unhinged, desperate moans give this ten minute long frenzy plenty of sharp edges. These elements really do sound like metal blades knifing through the distorted mass that surrounds them, and the effect is quite overwhelming—and yes, almost cyclical. This makes the otherwise homogeneous duration of Speed Ball Is Dead engaging and visceral throughout. Though they seem to want to convince you of the opposite, Speed Ball is not dead, and boy oh boy are they loud.
According to Discogs, sound artist Carl Kruger is “influenced by micro and macro sound.” At first glance that doesn’t seem to say much at all about Kruger’s music; after all, don’t all artists deal with sound somewhere on the spectrum between “micro” and “macro”? But that’s not exactly the case. Speicher (which means “storage” in German) and much of the rest of Kruger’s staggering discography thrives off the contrast of small and large sounds, translating the forceful clunks, clatters, and bangs of junk and other trivial materials into kinetic, hyperactive orchestras. “For My Nephew, Jordan” is a raucous tornado of heavily processed found sound, mercilessly twisted and sculpted into a variety of formations; the restless din of small objects, field recordings, and other oddities first takes the form of an overwhelming assault of abstract physicality, evolves into a reticent repose of detached glitches, and finally coagulates into a rumbling mudslide of noise. Speicher is only a C20, and before you know it things have moved on to “Outing,” a much more meditative piece that bases itself around a quiet environmental recording, concealing nocturnal murmurs within its lush mass of textures. Speicher is another amazing release from Kruger and from Tunnel Secret.
With a sonic arsenal as comprehensive as Joakim Blattmann’s on Bird Helmet, it’s no surprise that a very particular—and abstract—atmosphere can be conjured so well. The prolific artist, whose body of work mostly consists of live performances and installations with physical music releases seeming to be a rarity, constructs a lush sound environment of avian-adjacent sonorities, from actual field recordings of birdsong to spectral electronics and manipulations that evoke wings and flight in a much less straightforward way. The detailed collages of processed guitar, tape, and contact mic recordings act as a cradle for the untouched fragments of nature that occasionally emerge, sometimes complementing and assimilating the organic elements as mentioned previously, and other times drawing attention toward the disparity of source. Blattmann’s powerful, layered creations are both weighty and woozy, dense and filled with energy even as they drift with airy freedom. “Triel” ends up as a very physical track with its seething electric drones and tense rattles, with sparingly used violin contributions from Per Waago laced throughout. Bird Helmet isn’t a very long tape, but it’s just as pleasingly indecipherable as its enigmatic title; I think that unpacking all of its layers will take quite some time.
The avalanche of emotional hardcore assaults that comprises Mission Priorities on Launch brings a new meaning to the phrase “wall of sound.” The album’s production places all elements of the New Jersey quartet’s music on equal footing, wrapping the gorgeous guitar harmonies, pained screams, and propulsive drumming in a single, perfectly muddy package. There’s no way Hundreds of AU’s masterful balance of eviscerating emoviolence and impassioned, melodic crescendos could be better communicated; transitions that may have been jarring otherwise, like the progression from the ecstatic anthem climax of “Thruway” into the much harsher “No Sweet Home,” are made to sound natural and cohesive. Mission Priorities on Launch is a short album, clocking in at around 23 minutes, but the extended stretches of third wave post-rock-esque dynamic build-ups don’t feel like they slow anything down—mostly because the things they build to are absolutely stunning. “The End Result” is a very fitting title for a song with one of the most exhilarating payoffs I’ve heard in this sort of music in a long time.