Top Six Avant Garde Releases of 2012
6.Locrian and Mamiffer Bless Them That Curse You
Bless Them That Curse You is a collaborative album between Locrian and Mamiffer, and it’s an excerise in how sound can be molded to adjust our emotions. Beyond that, something about this album is so powerful and heavy, I’m almost at a loss for words to describe it. When I listen to this album, I just can’t help but to look within myself and think about my part in life. Locrian and Mamiffer have created the perfect depressing soundtrack for an uplifting life. That’s pretty fitting, because every song on this album is a short film filled with tension, suspense and mountains of organic audio magic. What’s interesting about this release is the way that everyone who hears it will be touched by what they hear in a different way. On the first song, “In Fulminic Blaze,” there is a shamantic energy that flows through the song like the wind. Locrian and Mamiffer are able to project their music through a kaleidoscope of juxtaposition, where what might appear harsh becomes beautiful. Bless Them That Curse You illuminates how sounds are as important as vocals, which there are very few of on this album, although you would never notice. Their 18-minute, 59-second ethereal majestic composition entitled “Metis/Amaranthine/The Emperor” is simply a masterpiece in my universe (how many times have I played it? I lost count at like 75). One of the few songs with actual vocals, it always puts my mind in the right state to appreciate all that is special around me. The vocals on this record seem to float out of the singers mouth into your ears, before expanding into sonic oxygen. I don’t want to give it all away, but I will say that 10 minutes into “Metis/Amaranthine/The Emperor,” something happens – you just have to listen to find out. Bless Them That Curse You will soon be released via Profound Lore (CD – available March 6th), and is out now Sige/Utech Records for the vinyl format, and stay tuned to Sige/Land of Decay for the cassette version. For a look at the awesome artwork and packaging, go here, to check out a rad Artist to Artist interview with them go here and to be able to listen to “Corpus Luteum” off of this killer record go here. In closing, CVLT Nation would like to everyone who created this very special piece of history; this is music that has the power to change DNA!
5.Sun Splitter III
I’m covered in sun right now, but my whole world is a bright grey, because I’m blasting the new Sun Splitter record entitled III, out now on BloodLust. To say that I’m excited about this album would really fucking be an understatement! Sun Splitter have created a record that will be spun at least twice a week for the rest of my existence on this planet. This collection of songs will open doors in your imagination that you didn’t know existed. Play their track “The Serpent’s Golden Death” and you will hear pounding dirge that will pick you up off the earth and have you looking into the eyes of your eternal madness. The thing that is so radical about the way this band writes songs is that they are able to bury harsh noise in a beautiful grave where deranged sonic flowers grow. Sun Splitter are the perfect balance between ancient organic sounds and machine-like audio rain that crashes against your skull. It’s not about what you are hearing on the surface – this band’s magic is hidden under layers of ethereal feedback and aggressive distortion. They are brilliant at conjuring up whirlpools of cryptic rhythm. They weave melody into their own tapestry of angst that I want to cloth myself in. The closing track, “Two Cold Oceans,” is a 16-minute-long stellar example of how this band manifests magic. The riff in this tune is catchy as fuck, but it’s the way that the song melts into a lake of moving noise that keeps your attention. I really don’t care what kind of music you are into, Sun Splitter should be heard, and when you are done, tell a friend so that they can share the knowledge of this killer band! Even this review can’t speak to the heights that Sun Splitter can take you – on the real, they are my brand new high.
4.Anatomy of Habit
The new Anatomy of Habit self-titled EP is a sonic diagram of audio magic, and it’s available here. For me, this band defies labels, which makes them masters of their own universe. They define what it is for all elements of a band to come together as one. The first thing that grabs my attention about this release is the insightful lyrics that I can relate to like I know them on a personal level. Anatomy of Habit’s vocals puts so much emotion into his delivery that there is no way not to feel where he is coming from. Then you have the musicianship of this band, which speaks its own language of rhythm and bugged-out repetative melody, that creates a surreal and enchanting atmosphere. Song number two, “The Decade Plan,” is something that I will listen to from now until my last breath. The words on this record will have a conversation with your inner doubts, and afterwards your insecurities will become the things that make you strong. As songwriters, Anatomy of Habit know how to wrap your eardrums in dirge before burying the nonsense of the outside world in its own unmarked grave. What I enjoy about this band is not just how they sound, but also how they make me feel with each listen. Anatomy of Habit use space an instrument of awesomeness that will expand your imagination with each listen. If I had it my way, every living being would inject themselves with this music, and maybe then we might start to know what’s real. Anatomy of Habit should be shared, so make sure to tell your friends that you know a band that breaks down the human condition like no other!
In a recent interview that Zach of the Spectres did with RØSENKØPF, the dark NYC trio named a diverse array of influences that included Skinny Puppy, Aphex Twin, and the Birthday Party. This makes sense, when one listens to the new 6-song, self-titled LP on Wierd Records, the home of modern coldwave-infuenced acts like Led er Est, Xeno and Oaklander, and Martial Canterel. Unlike those labelmates, RØSENKØPF have a grittier and more psychedelic approach that incorporates some aspects of deathrock (and even black metal) into what is an overall experimental industrial-sounding whole. It’s hard to believe San Francisco’s Chrome have not been brought up as an aural point of reference when describing RØSENKØPF; Chrome’s weird mix of postpunk, psychedelic rock, and dark, industrial atmospherics is a good analogue to the strange, black vortex of noise that RØSENKØPF creates.
The lead track “Burning Spirits” on the new LP (no relation to the Japanese crust fest, to my knowledge), starts off with a slowly building medley of primitive synth and drum effects, like an early Foetus song. Finally, swirling psychedelic guitars kick in and then howling, Exorcist-style vocals issue forth from the white noise maelstrom. Here, the vocals are a little like Bone Awl or Transilvanian Hunger-era Darkthrone. Fans of black metal would definitely dig this, and, in fact, “Burning Spirits” seems to be a live fan favorite. It’s not hard to imagine Varg Vikernes of Burzum making a track like “Burning Spirits” back when he was experimenting with synth-only compositions. RØSENKØPF are not quite as lo-fi as Burzum’s synth-only stuff, and there is something about RØSENKØPF’s overall style of music that reminds of newer lo-fi goth rock acts like Blank Dogs, Blessure Grave, Grave Babies, and Soft Kill. And yet RØSENKØPF are more experimental than any of those bands.
My favorite track on RØSENKØPF’s LP is probably “Heed.” (RØSENKØPF drummer Emil also notes that this is his personal favorite song by the band.) It’s in “Heed” that I can most clearly hear strains of bands like the Birthday Party, Bauhaus, and other deathrock acts. Saira’s low, rumbling bass is great; Soren’s twangy Birthday Party-esque guitar fits perfectly. The nearly 6 minute-long song sounds a little like an acid-soaked jam session between a drunken Nick Cave, Whitehouse, and Bone Awl on shrooms. The vocals get a little howly, again, at the song’s apex – something that adds an unexpected black metal element into the mix. Live, Emil’s drumming is simply incredible (see the video of this track below). The band state that a common technique of theirs is to use a pre-programmed drum machine with Emil’s live drumming tracked on top of it.
Indeed, there is a “jam session” quality to RØSENKØPF’s songs, and this is only partially reflected in the fact that most tracks hover close to the six minute mark. (The song “Burning Spirits” is itself about seven and half minutes long.) RØSENKØPF’s songs have unique underlying structures; there is the feeling that by the time one reaches the end of a song one is listening to something completely different than how the song began. A good example of this is the track “Troth,” which is a wandering musical journey from point A, to point B, to point X, then back to point C, and so on. The early experimental synthpunk of acts like Nervous Gender or Reseau d’Ombres figure large in my impression of RØSENKØPF’s sound, and even if the band isn’t cognizant of these influences, they feel like kindred souls to RØSENKØPF to me nonetheless. It’s easy for me to imagine RØSENKØPF developing into a band like Lost Sounds – especially the way Lost Sounds sounded on their first LP, 1999′s Memphis is Dead, when that band tried to mix black metal, deathrock, and garage punk together into a strange new mix. (See Lost Sounds songs “It’s My Dream” and “Satan Bought Me.”) If Rosenkopf proceeded in that trajectory, it would be a great development; but even if they stayed as they are they would still stand out as one of the more original bands working in this territory today.
Unlike fellow Wierd artists like Martial Canterel, RØSENKØPF’s songs are not generally danceable. So, although RØSENKØPF’s name (and the way they spell it) might attract fans of witch house, it should be known that the band’s stuttering drum beats, Soren’s swirling guitars, spacey synths, and screaming vocals ensure folks will be more likely to want to drink absinthe and take acid to RØSENKØPF, not pack the dance floor. “RØSENKØPF is the result of the combined influence of 3 people coming from very different points of reference,” bassist Saira recently explained, which is easily believable. “There was no pre-meditated plan. This is just what comes from us working together.” Singer/guitarist Soren added, “We try not take ourselves too seriously.”
If you like no wave-y type stuff like Nervous Gender, early experimental industrial like Foetus or some of Chrome’s psychedelic postpunk, experimental black metal, and the weirder early stuff by Alien Sex Fiend (or better yet, Alien Sex Fiend collaborating with Whitehouse) you will dig RØSENKØPF. Their approach is novel and even kind of deconstructionist – stripping down aspects of various genres of music and recombining disparate elements into a darkly trippy new whole. Simmering and noisy tension music, sizzling with white noise, bleak psychedelia, and suffused with shadowy undertones — that is RØSENKØPF in a nutshell.
Zach of the Spectres recently did a great interview with RØSENKØPF here.
2.Hexvessel No Holier Temple
Text by Astrid Tonella
Label: Svart Records
Hexvessel – No Holier Temple
In 2011, Hexvessel released its debut album Downbearer, a little jewel that has rocked my soul for quite a while and has become very intimate to me. For those who are not familiar with the band, Hexvessel is a psychedelic rock folk octet hailing from Finland, founded by Mat “Kvohst” McNerney vocalist for Dødheimsgard and Code.
After a first album highly acclaimed by the critics, there was no wonder Hexvessel’s second opus No Holier Temple was highly awaited. But with no surprise, the band offers us another very unique masterpiece. This is a very daring album, powerful and extremely varied as much in the choice of instruments as in the difference ambiances and emotions it provides. The sound of Holier No Temple sounds like it could have been recorded in the early 70’s, which enhances the vibe researched and adds coherence to the whole album. Its atmosphere and identity is so strong that you’ll feel teleported somewhere in a Finnish forest while listening to it. What is interesting about this record is that you can get it right from the first listen. Full of subtleties, you’ll pick something new each time you listen to it, which shows how rich this album is.
The opus opens with “Heaven On Earth Magic,” which is a prelude to the journey Hexvessel is about to embark on with you. An acoustic ballad that resounds like a hypnotic enchantment, as if the spoken lines were meant to take up your mind and set you in phase with Mother Nature.
The ceremony continues with the bewitching “Woods to Conjure,” a very dramatic yet soft piece. With this track, the band sets the tone for the rest of the album and shows that they control perfectly the blend of genres and the incorporation of new sounds. The guitars, McNervey’s gifted voice and choir intoxicate you right from the start. The hypnotic trumpets, completely unattended, add drama, make you shiver and contribute to build one of the strongest pieces of the album.
“Wilderness Is” is an instrumental short work, allowing the listener to take a break and serves as an introduction to the next track, “A letter in Birch Bark,” providing a very magical and heartwarming atmosphere with the beautiful mix of accordion, mandolin and vintage guitars.
“Elegy to Goyahkla” is another short piece in the album, like a bridge enabling the transition towards the very powerful “His Portal Tomb.” Once again, this track is the pure demonstration of the diversity of this album, but also how the band is at one. The construction of this 10 minute track is impressive, melting strength and softness. The song starts strong with very catchy doomy riffs and driving percussions, before melting with flutes and memorable vocals, culminating in a complete delirious drone of guitars and great vocals.
The calm comes back with the entract “Are You Coniferous,” a song that conveys a very dark carnival atmosphere. “Sacred Marriage” definitely evolves into the more folk roots of the band, still looked out by their psychedelic touch. The sad violin and acoustic guitars rock the listener, slowly evolving toward a very intoxicating atmosphere. Everything flows together so perfectly, making this song like a dream.
The following track, “Dues to the Holmen,” sounds more like an evocation with spoken words, accompanied by an hypnotic clarinet and acoustic guitars, later followed by humming riffs, slowly leading toward “Unforseen Sun.” This is the longest part of the album, a monumental, outstanding and complex piece built with mind-blowing droning riffs. The ambiance there is growing crescendos with the addition of guitars, keyboard and choir, before attacking towards a more rock/folkish part. A real showcase not only of their musicianship, but also of their magical abilities to combine different styles while still remaining coherent.
The octet buckle the belt with “Your Head is Reeling,” which is actually a cover from Ultimate Spinach. It’s a song that they completely appropriated, making it much more powerful and psychedelic than the original version. Absolutely Genious.
With No Holier Temple, Hexvessel proved that they didn’t intend to draw on their knowledge, but upgraded their sound to a whole new level of sophistication. There is so much to appreciate in this work of art: its grace, its subtleties, the imagery but also its harmony. Like stated earlier, there are a variety of instruments you can perceive in the album. A calculated move, not for the sake of being original, but because each instrument has its purpose, its place and contributes in building this specific atmosphere. The vocal parts are amazing and incredibly varied, a range that didn’t feature in Dawnbearer and that once again adds richness to this opus.
Haunting, their songs resonate in you like something familiar that always has been in a corner of your head, and soon you’ll find yourself singing along after a couple of listens. Holier Temple is, without a doubt part of my top 5 album of the year.
1.Menace Ruine Alight in Ashes
Menace Ruine’s latest offering, Alight in Ashes has a presence like few records. Powering through overdriven, blackened industrial instrumentals with singer Genevieve’s beautiful vocals playing off them masterfully, I was at first taken aback. However, with after a few listens, I can say without a doubt that Menace Ruine have crafted their finest work yet. Previous offerings have toed the line between blackened doom, drone, and martial, yet the singular vision of Alight in Ashes is it’s most powerful strength.
It should be noted that the production of this record may be an issue for some. It is an exhausting listen. The guitar relentlessly drones on, often times to near piercing levels, and the vocals are so up-front that you may find yourself having to listen to this in chunks. It’s an interesting approach for a band that have largely dealt in a lower fidelity sound prior. Yet Alight in Ashes has a clarity and depth which manifest a monumental atmosphere, and I found myself consistently coming back to it, listening for more and more below the surface.
Opener “Set Water to Flames” is a clear high point. Genevieve’s vocals are a bright contrast to the blackened industrial ambience provided by S. De La Moth. Martial drumming resonates clearly throughout this track, an influence that will appear again and again. At over twelve minutes, it never once comes off as over long or drawn out.It is cold and forbidding, eschewing technicality for pure, brutal wintry ambience.
“Salamandra” takes a more neofolk approach; while the instrumentals maintain an industrial edge, Genevieve is in full form here. Her performance throughout this record is uplifting, keeping it from becoming too arduous of a listen. Bringing to mind Lisa Gerrard of Dead Can Dance, there is a haunting, occult-tinged beauty that matches perfectly with the ugliness of the instrumentals. “Arsenikon (Faded in Discord)” is, appropriately, far more entropic compared to the first half of the record. S. De La Moth takes the helm here, powering through a freeform instrumental that is more noisey than anything prior. Genevieve, for once on this record, sounds like she’s being overpowered by what’s going on around her.
As this record progresses, it appears to break down into more and more experimental flourishes. Whether it’s the distorted strings of “Disease of Fear” to the funereal death march of “Cup of Oblivion” this record maintains a cohesive style without becoming repetitive, which is a difficult achievement considering how limited the instrumental palette is.
Menace Ruine have crafted a discography that places them on the outliers of genre definitions. Alight in Ashes is a haunting, powerful document in their history. While the duality of this record may be offputting at first listen, listen to it a few times, let it sink in. Menace Ruine remind us that there can be beauty in the grotesque.
Top Six Sludge Albums of 2012