Review: Rorcal – Muladona (Hummus, Nov 8)

“With a haunted look in her eyes, she said, ‘It’s comin’ for us…’ ”

Rorcal is yet another well-established band of whom I only became aware after hearing their 2019 release. The Swiss quintet has been around for over a decade now; their first EP came out in 2006 and Myrra, Mordvynn, Marayaa, their debut full-length, in 2008. Since then they’ve been honing a style formed from equal parts cavernous black metal and atmospheric sludge riffs, and Muladona is the latest remarkable entry in the continuum. Subtitled A tale by Eric Stener Carlson performed by Rorcal, the LP opens with a passage from the original Muladona, the 2016 Tartarus Press novel, read by the author himself. As Carlson sets the scene for the supernatural horror soon to occur against the bleak backdrop of a post-WWI Texas town ravaged by the Spanish flu, the musicians of Rorcal translate the tension and pervasive sense of impending doom into a seething rumble of noise out of which grow destructive but deliberate avalanches of unison hits. This first track, “This Is How I Came to Associate Drowning with Tenderness,” contains only a hint of the formidable power that Rorcal harnesses over the course of the album, where the massive, dense guitar mudslides coat hypnotic blast beat sections and the unified sludge slams conjure terrifying strength from the shadows. “Carnations Were Not the Smell of Death. They Were the Smell of Desire” is a concise and hard-hitting amalgam of everything that makes Muladona so fantastic, forcing heads into motion as its stretch of repetitive blasting culminates without warning into a crushingly cathartic sludge climax. The samples of Carlson’s reading throughout, whether it’s amidst the rubble at the end of “I’d Done My Duty to My Mother and Father. And More Than That I’d Found Love” or is set right in the middle of the chaos of epic closer “I Was the Muladona’s Seventh Tale,” gives Rorcal time for crucial moments of mood building and provides valleys of meditative yet harrowing respite before the deafening evil forces its way back in—and then retreats for a surprisingly optimistic conclusion.

“Every day since then has been a gift.”

Review: Mare di Dirac – Ophite Diagram (Gradual Hate, Nov 3)

Mare di Dirac is the duo project of sound artists Luca Di Dato (better known as Poseitrone) and Lorenzo Abattoir, the latter of which has produced much of my favorite music in and outside of 2019, from the new Psicopompo (Abattoir & Hermann Kopp) LP Seven Sermons in Stone on Alien Passengers earlier this year to legendary static noise explorations LACH (self-titled cassette by Abattoir & Clive Henry) and Your Sewer / My Church under the alias Nascitari. The two musicians have also collaborated as Meconium, a conceptual piano exploration, but as with all of Abattoir’s collaborative efforts the music of Mare di Dirac is an entirely different beast, combining electroacoustic processing with rhythmic, spiritual traditional musics. In their words, Mare di Dirac is “based on the fundamental principles of quantum physics applied to field recording of ritualistic practices from different traditions,” an arcane mission statement that becomes much clearer once you hear Ophite Diagram. From the first moments of “Preludio” this focus on that strange duality is realized; the band establishes a dark, foreboding atmosphere within which their detailed dissections can occur, a construction that on this track specifically is helped along via the contributions of clarinetist and fellow sound explorer Mauro Sambo. Ophite Diagram is sure to be a strange and fascinating journey for listeners, especially if they have experience with ritual ambient music, because this is certainly unlike anything under that descriptor I’ve heard. The deliberate, plodding, hypnotic rhythms of tribal percussion occasionally crop up as familiar handholds on tracks like “Cista Mystica,” but such moments are always surrounded by the shifting clusters of processed recordings, buzzing and creaking and crackling and tumbling like some impossibly complex, kinetic collage-sculpture of metal, wood, and drum skins. The deeply deconstructive nature of the album is additionally reflected in the track titles themselves, from the vaguely promissory “Evocation ov Something” to the subversion-acknowledging “Serpent’s Hologram.” Though bathed in pitch black dread-drones and yawning chasms of reverb, Ophite Diagram is uniquely tactile and fragmentary, simultaneously evoking and dissecting the mysterious religiosity that this sort of music so often evokes.

Review: Kucoshka – Women and Police Everywhere (self-released, Oct 29)

The well-documented and well-love hardcore subgenre commonly referred to as “mathcore” holds a very special place in my heart. Exemplary artists like Hayworth, Gaza, Inside the Beehive, Arms, and others reach absolutely spectacular and soul-crushing heights through their unholy marriage of extreme, teeth-gnashing breakdowns, hardcore energy, and technical experimentation. It is perhaps the last artist I mentioned (Arms) to which the singular style of newcomer band Kucoshka comes closest; both share the melodic post-hardcore inclinations and complex, prog-indebted arrangements, but where BLACKOUT was a claustrophobic descent into dense, dark, noisy depths, this new project’s first (though maybe second?) full-length Women and Police Everywhere sprawls itself across a much wider area. The vocal performances are endlessly various, ranging from the Infest-esque tough-guy shouts (which themselves have an amazing versatility, from screaming “I’m a fucking physicist, bitch” on cacophonous opener “Young Turks to adorning the bizarre, swinging pub-punk at the beginning of “Info Wars”) to disarmingly clean, ersatz melodic hardcore breaks to unhinged shrieks. Though the production style isn’t the cleanest, it was a great choice for this album despite its emphasis on technicality, as much of the enjoyment of listening to Women and Police Everywhere is getting hopelessly lost amidst the chaos; and trust me, there’s plenty of it.

Review: Vessel of Iniquity – Star of the Morning (self-released, Nov 2)

So what are the chances that I mention Vessel of Iniquity (the solo moniker of multi-instrumentalist A. White) in a review of similar-spirited music and then the day after discover they’ve released a new album? They seem pretty slim, but who cares—because it happened. Hot on the heels of the Void of Infinite Horror LP released earlier this year on Sentient Ruin (which was a hair’s breadth away from appearing on my midyear top ten list) and the self-released Conjuration of the Fire God last month, Star of the Morning continues with more of the project’s harrowing descents into shadow and caverns of nocturnal terror, auspiciously opening with the ritualistic percussive buildup of “Maledictum” before the blast beats first appear in “Deo Non Estis.” The expectedly formidable, atmospheric maelstrom of guitar and keyboard is less clean this time around, the densely packed layers instead plagued with rot and oppressive lo-fi smog. “Stella Matutinam,” despite it translating to the album’s somewhat optimistic-sounding title “star of the morning,” is definitely one of White’s most disturbing tracks yet, plowing through a shroud of consuming darkness with propulsive, thundering programmed drums whose unpredictable rhythms both temper and contribute to the chaos. The drum machine isn’t anything new for the project, and I usually don’t welcome such a choice of instrumentation in this sort of music, but once again White proves his mettle at making the synthetic rhythm section sound anything but, imbuing the crashing cymbal cacophonies with razor sharp bite and the pummeling double bass stampedes with bone-crushing weight. White’s agonized shrieks are also in top form here, tearing up from the pit of despair and melding with the tumult of pitch-black distortion. With a strong finish in the form of the extended nightmarish havoc of “Descende,” Star of the Morning is yet another excellent release from Vessel of Iniquity.

Review: Caïna – Gentle Illness (Apocalyptic Witchcraft, Nov 1)

As an avid consumer of experimental art, I come across a lot of music in the form of abstract sonic amalgamation, much of which is constructed from quite disparate sound objects. That being said, though, few pieces have made me as strangely unsettled as “Wellness Policy,” the sparse introduction to Gentle Illness, multi-instrumentalist Andrew Curtis-Brignell’s newest album as Caïna. There’s nothing particularly immersive or captivating about the track, which is perhaps why it’s so effectively disturbing; in and around the relatively unassuming sounds of what sounds like an old therapy session recording and somber piano lies that loud, grating, completely emotionless cloud of electronic squall, deafening and defiant in its opacity, which makes the sudden excursion into much more conventional black metal once “Your Life Was Probably Pointless” hits even more startling. Between Curtis-Brignell’s furious bouts of shadowed growls, layered guitar lines, and surgical drum machine blasting (the latter of which definitely reminds me of Vessel of Iniquity’s brilliant Void of Infinite Horror from earlier this year) are more in the vein of those elusive atmospherics, but something the entire album is concerned with is the careful construction and release of tension, from the cathartic assault after three minutes of building unease in “Your Life Was Probably Pointless” to the synthetic, rhythmic mood piece of “Canto IV” and fluid dynamic structure of “My Mind Is Completely Disintegrating.” Buried beneath the noise are largely indecipherable lyrics with subject matter “ranging from the UK’s lack of mental health provision to extraterrestrial psychics via demonic possession and the metaphysics of suicide,” but the overall tone of despair, anger, and horror is more than intelligible.

Review: Validine Chronus – Blood Moon (self-released, Oct 31)

In 1998, the debut album by Validine Chronus (hereafter VC), Ultia, became the first release on Cyclene, a community and label for producers of experimental electronic music (other VC releases on Cyclene include Tofu, Cellulose, Agar [1999, CYC-002] and Quinto [2006, CYC-021]). I don’t know much about what happened in the time between those releases and the recent 20th anniversary reissue of Ultia in March of last year, but I do know that VC’s career has now restarted in earnest, with wonderful releases like Transdermal and now Blood Moon. VC’s penchant for textural ingredients like soft, brooding drones that often emulate the otherworldly transmissions of shortwave radio; buried tactility; and metallic, subtly melodic synth cells is quite pronounced on Blood Moon, a C66 whose six patient compositions occupy a particularly dark and brooding milieu. There’s somewhat of a nautical theme present, and not just from track titles like “Shipwrecked” and “Storm”; in fact, it’s on “Mission Control (Concern)” that we observe the first palpable sign of this element, as the unmistakable rattle of metal cables and aquatic flow of shifting static evoke a strangely synthetic maritime environment. The second part of the staggered “Mission Control” suite is the tape’s most overtly tonal excursion, forming itself around a dense cluster of progressive electronic arpeggios before its structure collapses into the foggy, menacing tension of “Storm.” In my opinion this is the tape’s best track, a slowly shifting mass of pitch-black thunderclouds and oppressive murkiness that flows into the reserved but still somewhat terrifying “Consequence.”

Review: Carlo Giustini – Custodi (Lᴏɴᴛᴀɴᴏ Series, Oct 28)

Since the release of La Stanza di Fronte, Treviso sound artist and cassette tape lover Carlo Giustini’s debut album, on ACR at the beginning of last year, the young musician’s music has traveled along a clear trajectory. The spectral drones and use of fidelity/absence-as-sound that dominated that curious tape have remained steadfast elements in Giustini’s work, but as he progressed through various releases on labels such as Bad Cake, Purlieu, and No Rent the presence of melody and other more traditional ambient qualities have become increasingly prominent. Custodi, his second release on the Rohs! Records imprint Lontano Series, is perhaps the furthest removed from the ghostly abstractions of La Stanza di Fronte, for almost every track—excluding perhaps the best one, “La sala più a Nord”—has a clear harmonic backbone that weaves throughout the familiarly fuzzy field recordings and reverb-soaked ennui. Profoundly nostalgic, Custodi attempts to answer a particularly difficult question: “Is it possible to capture the sound of a state of being, of a memory, of a past sensation? Is there a possibility to translate [sic] a thought which once was into vibrational waves?” Magnetic tape, especially in cassette form, is often heavily associated with memory, from the murky sonic qualities of the medium itself to the things it frequently captures: thoughts, conversations, etc. But portraying the “sound of a state of being” is more complex than just replaying a concrete auditory keepsake, something Giustini obviously understands judging from his abstract approach. The three tracks on side A of the album are gorgeous meditations that make use of guitar and keyboard along with Walkman/microcassette recordings, and like last year’s Non Uscire there’s a soothing evocation of winter folded within the music’s dreamy drifts. But the essence of Custodi is best represented by the aforementioned “La sala più a Nord,” which combines deeply domestic recordings with soft environmental textures and is the only track that does not include musical instruments. Such a beautiful vignette perfectly communicates the incommunicable feeling of home, going about a routine in the comforting silence of your own dwelling, mundane moments whose significance isn’t known until they’re long gone.