Friday, March 30, 2012


I am pleased to report that I have been taken on as a writer by The Inarguable, a fine site that covers much of the same material as Emotionally Voided with a much larger readership. In light of this move, I'm choosing to put Emotionally Voided on hold. Everything I'd be writing about here is easily something that could go toward The Inarguable and reach more people-it's a great opportunity for both myself in terms of exposure for my writing as well as the musicians whose work I write about. I will still post to EV-if there's ever something that The Inarguable doesn't publish, or if Jon already reviews something that I want to weigh in on as well (which will more than likely occur, as we have very similar taste) then I'll publish it here. I hope you'll continue to follow me over at my new home, and I'd like to thank everyone that read my work here and supported me. All the bands and labels I'm currently in touch with-I hope to continue to work with you and review your work, exposing it to a much broader audience. Thanks everyone.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012


Stopgap release from the still-augmented Melvins, stepping back from the raw brilliance of "Sugar Daddy Live" and into the over-saturated studio megolomania that has defined the last few records of this particular lineup. The Big Business presence is still too strongly felt for my tastes; to a certain degree I feel their sensibilities curb Buzzo's aggressiveness and the resultant mix is something less than what either could achieve on their own. The vocals are far too immense here, burying the songs under an avalanche of triple tracked, echoed out harmonies and counterpoint. It's a chorus of monstrosity, a madrigal of malignancy, overwrought and ultimately too concerned with tunefulness. Buzzo has always warped and fucked with his vocals-it's been a key part of the Melvins sound-but it was never as insistent as it has been with the addition of Big Business. It's too poppy, and it's too much. What worked so well for Karp trips the Melvins up, continuing the band's identity crisis.
As for the music, it's pretty much what you'd expect. As Buzzo's gotten older he's become more technically flashy with his riffing; Crover's endless improvement as a drummer has allowed the Melvins to churn out song structures that twist and assault and make little sense when viewed through a prism of traditional timing. As always the double drumming is incredibly impressive; the sheer strength of the percussion on "The Bulls and The Bees" more than warrants a spin. The problem is it can't save what's essentially a fairly boring stretch of songs. There are moments of brilliance: "The War on Wisdom" devolves into some serious off-time metallized intensity at its end, and "We Are Doomed" hearkens back to the truly immersive and brutal sludge belligerence of the type found on "The Maggot"'s mighty "Amazon II," complete with an abundance of scathing guitar shrapnel and scorching feedback laid down over a crushing, hypnotic riff. But the rest of the album is dullsville. "Friends Before Larry" and "A Really Long Wait" are standard Melvins time fillers masquerading as experimentation; the opium den vibe achieved by "A Really Long Wait" is only marginally interesting, and certainly not done well enough to carry four minutes. Closer "National Hamster" cuts close to the rock and roll trope quick, with some heavily melodic riffwork that recalls Buzzo's shadow heroes Ted Nugent and KISS, but much like the worst of their work, the track is arena posturing by the numbers with only a fucked up over-effected vocal to redeem it. And it doesn't.
This EP is free courtesy the Melvins and Scion A/V, and I certainly applaud the generosity of both parties. It isn't a terrible record; it simply isn't a great one. I truly think the Melvins have been in their current incarnation for far too long. There was something magical about the core group of Buzzo and Dale, and each of their longer term bassists (Lorax, Mark D, and Kevin Rutmanis) grew the band's sound without the radical reinvention the current lineup has wrought. I'm very much looking forward to the new Melvins Lite record, essentially the classic pairing of Buzz and Dale with the addition of Trevor Dunn. The Melvins are still an exemplary band capable of colossal heaviness; perhaps the future will deliver on the promises of the past.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

CIRCLE "SERPENT" (Ektro Records)

Another new Circle live album, capturing a fairly intense set circa fall 2011. The recording quality is absolutely stunning, as though you were front and center sweating it out with the band and banging your head til it was fucking rubber and blood. For an hour's worth of performance Circle seemed intent on going all out here-this is probably one of the most aggressive sets I've heard in years without resorting to post-metal theatricality-and the sheer audial spectacle of "Serpent" is more than enough to recommend it, but this is more than just a new live record from a group whose discography is littered with them. This is a demonstration of the awesome communal power of dynamic energy, a transmutation of collectivism wrought into raw kinetics.
Warming up with "Lintu Joe," a meandering progressive number replete with interwoven discordant guitar damage and a seemingly open structure, the band barrels into "Vaellus," laying waste to any pretense of a "Telescope" or "Forest" type evening. There is no room for introspection this time-Circle came to fucking rock this shit under a tidal wave of New Wave Finnish Heavy Metal, and they go at it with aplomb and abandon. "Vaellus" is all crushing power chord majesty backed by a rainbow splurge of scorching keyboard, devolving into a tangle of harmonized leads that whip themselves back into fist pumping chorus modalities. It's eight minutes of pure metallized bliss, the scorching crunch of mutated thrash by way of mid-80's chart-hungry Judas Priest. "Rautatie" appears here again, commanding near 20 minutes of weirdo space enchantment and flippant schizo vocal posturing, a scat devolution of elongated histrionics that showcases the fucked-up side of what Circle can do when they want to be "exploratory." "Saturnus Reality" blasts out of "Rautatie"'s wind down, a furious blaze of ripping hardcore bordering on black metal, near three minutes of total upheaval with no disguise. It's awesome to here Circle embracing this sort of punk antagonism, yet another side to the multifaceted infinitity-a-hedron the band has honed itself into. "Laake" slows things down a bit, dispensing with the breakneck pace of "Saturnus Reality" in favor of some Ted Nugent style swamp riffing, a sleazy stomp across overly familiar rock and roll stomping grounds. It's overtly formulaic but not unenjoyable. "Blue King" and "New Fantasy" continue the regression, a wheezing descent into the band's final movement, an orchestration of adulation that more than merits this record's purchase.
The band's final track here is a ten minute run through of Brian Eno's seminal "Here Come the Warm Jets," an epic build up of gorgeous pop simplicity that rages itself into a dervish of breakneck power chord thrashtasms and operatic vocal skyscraping, a window onto the carved out ceiling of the universe. Circle stay incredibly true to Eno's original, amping up the rock fury of it and playing deep into the subtle menace of the track without going to far out into the metal realm with it. It feels like a natural extension of where Eno would have wanted to take the track, an excursion into the deep end of the rock/ambient pool, a pit of sludge gone off to die, a white star black hole born of grandeur and a joyous ache. Circle's delight in shredding this track is evident, and listening to it you wish it was 1000 minutes longer, and endless repetition of the massive final riff looped into oblivion.
While there's nothing here that reinvents the formula or pushes Circle's trademark sound any further, it's still an astonishing live document by one of the most interesting and unpredictable bands currently operating on the fringes of metal. You never know what Circle is going to do, and that's incredibly exciting. They're both mysterious and evocative, hidden but available. Their penchant for oblique and bruising meserization reaches an epic high on this set. This is a band that's capable of virtually anything, and superlative live records like "Serpent" stand as the irrefutable proof. The world knows no limits. We exist in an idea of expanse. Don't let conceptualized definitions restrict the possibilities available. Explore, explore, explore. You can stare into the sun, and the lights are fucking beautiful.

CONAN/SLOMATICS "SPLIT" (Burning World Records)

Slow motion syrup drip from across the sea by way of Conan and Slomatics, a crushing unity of minimalist rock throb harnessing the dwarfing power of distorted bass. Like a beamed in message from some transdimensional epoch since past, the warping haze of the sludge whipped up here casts a spell of goopy obliteration aimed directly at the quivering flesh. Skin trickles and sloughs, exhaustion creeps in, and the glaring cough of the sun drenches your eyes as you helplessly gaze across a dead, wretch desertscape. Make no mistake-the cover art here is fucking spectacular. But the music contained within more than fulfills the promise made by the accompanying inks and colors.
Conan open the set with three tracks of their meandering, quasi-hypnotic stripped down approach to the low end. Fresh off an EP on Aurora Borealis, here the band dials in on a narrow wavelength and stays true to the path defined by their previous work. Slow, lurching melodic basslines, jazz-inflected drums that skip, stutter, and lope drunkenly across your ears, and a scathing vocal that owes far more to Tom Araya's aesthetic than anything even approaching melody. Imagine Kyuss sans guitar, given over completely to the sanctifying tone of pulsing bass amplification, and you're getting there. Take all the overt heaviness out of that and you're left with nothing but the idea, and that's where Conan thrive. Opener "Retaliator" is an illustration of post-refinement by way of archetype reappropriation, the vestige of tunefulness bowled under an expanse of molten sludge and pounding, tribal drums. There's an aura of restraint in Conan's work that yields something akin to mesmerization, a willingness to allow the band more space than you'd give your average doom merchants or sludge slingers. There's a touch here, something delicate amidst the crumbling, driven fury. It's a different take on a familiar formula, and it propels these three songs into a higher realm of quality than you'd expect.
As good as Conan's slaying side is, Slomatics takes it further out and does it a tweak better. Of interest to me primarily for sharing space with the godlike Like A Kind of Matador on a split that regrettably never came to pass, the band traffics in a slow motion gruel that hearkens their Irish rock roots (the melodious harmonization of Thin Lizzy) and throws them against the belligerence of abrasive contemporaries like the Electric Wizard or Bunkur. Whatever room to breathe was afforded by Conan is completely vacuumed out by Slomatics, who erect a veritable wall of bruising distortion and thudding, aching drum terror. The vocals are an echoed out wreckage of void, a faraway cry of disgust and contempt, like the reverbations of a lunatic in the hollows of space. Slomatics favor a tongue in cheek classicism that isn't afraid to indulge in the approximation of solo guitar heroism or the grandiosity of compositional excess (again ala Thin Lizzy); somehow they're able to transform those tropes into something that sounds like it belongs in the annals of doom without taking itself so horribly serious. This isn;t suicide music or a rite of personal mourning; this is simple science fiction battle metal, the kind of call to arms that would fling you onto the nearest giant snail with halberd in hand. It's pretty fucking phenomenal.
Burning World has put together a fairly exceptional piece of work. These two bands go together, each one a perfect complement for the other. This isn't cookie-cutter musical matchmaking like so many black metal CDr atrocities; this is a well-thought out and conceived commission of work from two outer-genre doom metal revisionists. While there's enough slaughtering heaviosity here to feed a galleon of misanthropic gluttons for days, there's also a complexity, despite the instrumental minimalism, that appeals to those looking for a more intellectual approach to glacial movements. Like tar sliming down a mountainside, this shit will leave you charred and melted away. Lava flow dread and apocalyptic sludge prophesy masked as mere monochromaticism. Bathe in the lake of lack.

Saturday, February 11, 2012


Easily the most purely rock-oriented effort from Pharaoh Overlord since 2004's "The Battle of the Axehammer" as well as the most narrowly defined, "Horn" captures the band at a 2010 gig in Finland totally laying waste to any idea of complexity or intricacy in psychedelic music. Turning in four behemoth tracks, the band endlessly recycles one two- chord riff, starting off with a cover of the Spacemen 3's seminal "Revolution" and devolving into the chaotic reductionism of "Sky." This is an aggressive set by Pharaoh Overlord's standard, veering dangerously close into Circle's NWOFHM territory with the emphasis on vocals and structure-the riffs become so polluted with repetition and layered guitar the songs seem completely alive and charged, leaping off stage with throat-slashing fervor and a sexualized antagonism not oft heard in the usually narcoleptic drone-dirger's marathons.
Hypnotism has always been at the heart of Pharaoh Overlord's sound; the nod-off and gentle drift has been a patent part of their formula since the group's inception. The band has been less prone to meandering abstractionism than any of founder Jussi Lehtisalo's various side projects: barring the classic rock recidivism of "Out of Darkness" and the skeletal clatter-psych of "Siluurikaudella," Pharaoh Overlord have honed in on one single idea and hammered it into the ground until blunt. That bludgeoning, riff-oriented approach has endeared the band to the narcoleptic-minded astral explorers that actively seek out the transformative in music; for everyone else it's the bloated death stomp of fetid dinosaur rock, lacking in imagination and void of ideas. You're either tuned in to this and it fucking destroys you or it's the most boring shit you've ever heard in your life. For me Pharaoh Overlord are the guidebook for ascension, a willful glorification of the power of simplicity and vision to achieve a transdimensionality. "Horn" can open a door if you let it; the cosmic goop free-floating past is nothing less than the deteriorated residue of millions of minds blown and shredded away into one great all-encompassing cross-planetary stream of consciousness, a dip into the pool of life, the warm placid breath of creation slipping past your tongue and deep into your inner reaches. There is no gaudy excess or superfluous posturing, only the holy power of the one true riff, stripped to its essential value and given up in its purest form. This is an offering and a communication, a tear in the universe pulsing with an electric and overblown aura.
That this ritual was expressed on stage, in front of thousands, speaks to the band's considerable power. The majority of the material here, as always, was rooted in improvisation, the startling ability to allow the music to dictate its own path an to blindly follow wherever that presence may lead. Pharaoh Overlord (and the entire Circle camp, for that matter) have never shied away from this complication; indeed, they've openly embraced it as a means to an end, the path of obliteration and reductionism as revealed by free-form radical composition born of the moment and of the mind. "Horn" is birthed via the primal magma of rock and roll, obstinate in its infantile fury and frightening in its utter shallowness. Everything reduced to its obvious distillation. Everything rendered to its most fiery form, a great conflagration of ideological tropes and blood-spitting showmanship. Heads down, amps cranked. There is only this one truth now. There is only this one idea. You don't need anything else.
You shouldn't have ever wanted anything else.
"Horn" is going to change anyone's mind. This is a record for the faithful, not a missionary expedition into the great rock unknown. For those who were left somewhat perplexed by the recent deviations from formula, this record is a serious return to form with a renewed focus on the blatant, a fervent belief in the grandiose pomposity of rock posturing. The confident struts of Gene Simmons cross-dissolved into a stage full of fake blood dried up and crusted over, the moment and the reality. The cross-pollution of of pointless ideology and neck-shaking headbanging riffology. Grind away, recede. Grind away, recede. Repeat ad nauseam. Allow the self to collapse, dissolve. Drift into the nothing. Feel the ethereality. Forty minutes to erase your brain. The wax as law. The candles are lit. The ritual will commence.
Can you hear the amplifiers humming?


Gooped-up mess of post trance psychedelic warble from Campbell Kneale, building on the direction showcased on "I Hate Even Numbers." Whereas that record suffered from something of an identity crisis, with Kneale floundering to find the common ground (mostly unsuccessfully) between Aphex Twin and Astral Social Club, here he hits it exactly right, throwing elements of deep jungle dubstep into a blender with the raucous, wishing guitar destruction of My Bloody Valentine. The end result is a sort of bastardized "Graceland," a tripped out mindfuck that draws equally from burbling, spasmodic rainbow noise and Afrocentric rhythm. Similar to William Bennet's Cut Hands project but far less sinister, Kneale basks himself in the jubilation of uninhibited physical expression and cranks its into chainsaw grating grind plasma.
Across the space of 32 minutes, Kneale manipulates and thoroughly destroys an array of detritus, warping it beyond and recognition. "Queasy" is the perfect word-the whole affair sloshes and drips like a hurl of vomit off the deck of an ocean liner. The magnificence is staggering, the majesty drunken. Everything stumbles, trips, and falls flat on its face, the blood oozing onto the deck in a prism of broken hues and shivering tendrils of technicolor. Slices of the sky get shorn into pinwheels of evisceration, spinning and whirring in an approximation of clockwork, except every time is wrong, every second miscalculated. This is horror and distance in the worst possible way, obfuscation made possible by violent disorientation. It's John Carpenter by way of Merzbow, the complete nullification found in the very center of the color wheel. Kneale absolutely shreds his guitar, sending it into the great nocturnal beyond where every sound gets disassembled and thrown back as a fraction of its original sonic signature. The wall of torment becomes a disease of sound, a towering pile of sickness and filth rising to the surface above a hopeless, stuttering loop of empty percussion. Kneale's textures glimmer as diamonds in the dirty ocean, lights buried in mountains of shit, puke and spectacle fused into a glitterati of mammoth proportion. The immediacy of "Limbless Soldiers Flight" is a like an enchantment, a screaming wizard assault on the senses. The ripping buzz of discordance married to the "smash your face against a wall" aestheticism of grindcore. If Andrew W.K. were less of a classicist, he'd make this sort of record.
Kneale revels in the extreme. His desire for beauty pushes Our Love Will Destroy The World's sound far into the red zone of abstraction, each composition a startling futuristic regression compared to its predecessor. This is a project that just gets better as Kneale slowly but confidently sheds the mantle of Birchville Cat Motel. While the correlations will always be apparent to longtime followers, the sheer joy on display here should be more than enough to cement Kneale's stature as one of this century's most creative sonic architects. There is nothing here if not the joy of creation, a mad dance in the heart of conception running pace alongside the fervency of feverish vision. Kneale wants to dismantle the world and build it up in his own image, a grinning Cheshire cat winking at the abstraction of the sun. The refraction of vomit, the collapse of dimensionality, the ascendency of the astral. The ether is alive and throbbing, the walls are quavering and separating from themselves. The only thing left to do is dance.


The eternity of the bleak rendered into limbo hymnals courtesy Kevin Drumm, taking his recent exploration of minimalism to a new extreme with this two cassette set. Comprised of 4 lengthy pieces adding up to one whole, "Dying Air" utilizes absolutely no electronics in its evocation of the ethereal, sounding something like a rotted out haunted house about to collapse upon itself in a heap of dust and decay. This is an open, volatile recording, full of menace and imbued with a sense of lurking terror. Here Drumm is truly working with sound-i'm hard-pressed to pick out anything even resembling an instrument-and his success in creating such a darkened, nocturnal ambience with a few echoes and clangs is mesmerizing. The idea of "field recordings" takes on an entire new context as Drumm takes and shapes severely disparate elements into a work that is at once pictorial and wholly indescribable. The stench of emptiness, the loneliness of engulfing abandonment. Both surface here, scarring and shredding as they worm their way into your dreams.
"Dying Air" is a mirage, willing itself into being on the strength of pure expectation. Existing as a washed out haze, the four parts conjoin into a veritable cloud of unknowing sans any metaphysical context. It's barely real, but its presence is magnificent and foreboding, threatening the listener with the implication of violence and the blackened terror of the unseen. The spaces between the sounds become as hollowed out and cut away as the sounds themselves, audial memories returned to the corporeal realm to extend their spectral hands amongst the living. Their touch is chill and enervating, the cumulative effect of Drumm's composition being an intense and fractured anxiety that crawls across the skin like a pallor, blubbery and congealed. This is truly dead air, wasted and lost, stumbling through the nether until its final, choking dissipation. There are no mourners, and there are no real memories. All that remains is a whisper, a flicker in the eternal night, a wish against the actual. This is the revenant of harm inflicted, of atrocity perceived. You have been made a participant, a spectator, willingly or unwillingly.
Drumm has carved out a face of anguish with this set; the darkness inherent in all of his work reaches a near suffocating level here. The back-end processing of his music usually allows for a certain distance; even wrapped up in the death-throes of "Sheer Hellish Miasma" there's an idea of respite, because it's known this was a manufactured aura. It must end. With "Dying Air," Drumm grants no such assurance. These are the banal, haunted sounds of existence, the creaks and groans of life deteriorating all around us. These minute screams are here, buried, scraping their way to the surface. The end is bubbling up like rancid fish, flesh flayed and hanging off the carcass as so much dripping, gummy viscera. The gate is open; the way is known. These are the echoes of finality.

Friday, February 3, 2012


As cinematic, affecting, and expansive in its scope as its exhaustive title implies, Verwustung's sophomore album is a gorgeous hybrid of blackened, blasting ferocity and delerious post rock melody. Like Weakling by way of Mogwai or classic era Ulver co-opting the Cocteau Twins, Verwustung create washed out swirls of gazed-out impressionistic sorrow filtered through a severe and emotional intensity; "harrowing" is the closest approximation, but elements of regret, memory, and bitter reflection all cloud the proceedings, rendering the band's aesthetic in shredding sheets of monochrome. Few albums have so perfectly captured angst and banality, the weight of existence, the cost of inner refection without growth. Consideration gives way to obsession, which leads to removal from reality; so too with Verwustung's music. As the album progresses the aura becomes more and more transformative, further and further away from the actual. Transcendence and surreality are achieved through the listener's willingness to succumb. The environments "I First Saw You..." offers up are distinctly hazy and vague; like the elusive, minimalist album artwork, it's more about conception and a personal connection to the sounds than any sort of guided journey towards a predestined feeling.
Whether Verwustung are black metal or not is an irrelevancy. Much in the same way that parent project Airs co-opts black metal aesthetics to heighten certain aspects of their sound, Verwustung uses the BM template to push a very personal vision of destructionism to the fore. It isn't any attempt to align themselves with modern black metal; the aggression of black metal is simply the vehicle used to achieve a punishing take on shoegaze, a blinding, halted snowstorm of washed out atmospherics and dreamy guitar drapery. Vocals here are transformed into near-wordless expressions of agony; their quality becomes sheerly instrumental rather than a constraint of narrative exposition. Their inscrutability makes them that much more powerful, because the listener is forced to react to and indentify with the emotion inherent in a sound. It's intellectual without being pompous, psychological without being pretentious. In this regard Verwustung approaches the lofty heights scaled by suicidally-fixated projects like Make A Change...Kill Yourself or Trist: the emotion becomes more important than any other aspect, and the communication of that to the listener is something very personal and very difficult. Verwustung succeeds marvelously, imbuing their music with a depressive grandiosity that rivals the wallowing soundscapes of Loss or the soaring roar of Sigur Ros. There is a purity here, a beauty, that is simply staggering.
The majority of "I First Saw You..." is given over to aching pastoral evocations of loss, ache and expanse. Chiming guitars and swoons of echo and delay take the songs out to encapsulated infinities, brimming over with fog and obfuscation. Menace lurks beneath the veneer; behold the devastating, crawling, mathy riffing on "For the First Time, I Can Feel" or the equally oppressive (yet lovely) "Comasleep." Sounding like a black metal version of Codeine, Verwustung tramples over any notion of hopefulness and offers up a bleak, despairing portrait of modern melancholy that owes as much to cultural isolationism as it does to a fear of people. The glacial plodding of the track is reminiscent of the grim march towards death and failure we all engage in everyday; the longing expressed by each strained and bent note points at a truth few are willing to acknowledge. There's an obvious worthlessness to being; life, shorn of all personal connection, is merely an exercise in passing time.
By the time you get to the album's final two (and best) tracks, the punishingly heart-scarring "Please, Let Me Undo It All" and "When Our Hands Met," the stage is set for an epic denouement of self-loathing and ultimate immolation. Across the collective space of about 20 minutes, Verwustung embark on a journey of personal failure void of any redemption; sorrows stacks upon sorrows, regret fuses to anxiety, and the crippling flood of yearning buries you under the weight of its demands, urging you ever closer to the suggestion of suicide, release, and the blessed ultimate forgetfulness. The devastating force and sheer beauty of these two songs only heightens their efficacy; it isn't difficult to picture a marriage of headbanging and weeping as the album reaches its implosion. Strained notes call out. Piles of distortion and rainbow textural blurring get buried under mechanical blastbeats and scorching vocals; hypermelodious shards of guitar lead the charge to a rejection of self and an acceptance of cosmic insignificance.
The end result is a void of feeling, hollowed and ready to receive. Possibility recedes behind reality; any concept of the future is obliterated by an obsession with the past. Memory is dangerous: broken and lurid, bathing itself in swathes of interpretation, it offers up a skewed picture that we're all too willing to believe. Our unconsciousness becomes an affirmation. Our perception of self becomes the reality we demand of others. The true rot of culture is narcissism; the true root of culture is self-aggrandizing. That duality creates discord, an unending psychic sickness, a constant state of unease and distress. Verwustung tap into all those feelings, birthing an album that's surely in contention for my best of 2012. A total fucking masterpiece of reflective emotion and embittered truths. Highest possible recommendation.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

BOSSE "VISIONS OF THE END" (Ars Magna Recordings)

Richard Bosse's music is beyond unique. Contemplative, natural, void of any pretense, and possessed of a lush tranquility that somehow manages to unnerve, his records are demonstrations of the lulling power of repetition and layering. Bosse builds tiny walls of guitars that become towers of aching beauty and restraint, at times recalling the majesty of "Kveldssanger"-era Ulver or Drudkh's recent "Songs of Grief and Solitude." Bosse has allowed this association with black metal without actually resorting to any of its touchstones; despite a split tape with Trancelike Void and a previous release on Those Opposed records (part of their "Desolation Propaganda" boxset alongside depressive destroyers Lyrinx, Austere, Isolation, and Nox Inferi) the project has always followed its own distinctive path, an exploration of solitude and loneliness spiraling into works of immense beauty and resonance. The emotional element of Bosse's work rivals that of any of the bands he's been paired with; in that regard, Ars Magna is the perfect label to release "Visions of the End." The intensity of Richard Bosse's personal vision suits the label's focus on reflection, be it violent and destructive, expansive, or inward.
Consisting of six untitled compositions, "Visions of the End" is easily Bosse's most approachably gorgeous work. Echoes of neoclassicism, post-rock grandeur, medieval madrigals, and elegiac psych folk are all woven into a drunken mesh of lament and hushed loveliness, guitars clouding over with melodious drones and glacial washes of darkened ambience. The record has a stateliness that defies categorization. At times i'm reminded of the more conservative side of Mogwai; other moments recall the autumnal splendor of Eona's "Croyances Eternelles"or the Rose Ensemble's masterful "The Road to Compostela." These are meticulously crafted compositions aimed to elicit very specific emotions and feelings. If you give yourself in to them, they will wrap themselves around you and utterly envelop you in their ethereal, baroque grasps. These songs are cloaks, wisping shrouds of fragmented memories and assembled regrets blossoming into full-on marches towards sorrow. The inherent, consuming sadness present in these recordings is astonishing, and a wonder to take in. Bosse achieves true, pure, transcendent beauty on "Visions of the End"; the hopelessness offered here is tempered only by the twilight elegance so apparent in Bosse's aesthetic.
Much in the same way Obsequiae base their music around medieval counterharmonies and Renaisssance structure, arriving at an entirely new vision of black metal that transcends its primal influences, Richard Bosse reaches deep into history and imbues his music with something utterly timeless and transformative. This is affecting music; this is soothing music; this is the sound of regret, anguish, contemplation, anxiety, and understanding crafted into something completely open and willing. This record will give back what you bring to it and more. Its expanse is near immeasurable, its depth and resonance frightening in their combined severity. Like drowning, like every color at once, like negation, like emptiness, like triumph. Bosse reaches a level of emotional connection similar to that achieved by Sigur Ros: free of influence and removed from any conception of what their music should be, they allow themselves the openness necessary for true communication. "Visions of the End" wants that level of connection with the listener. The willingness, the openness-that's left to you.

Saturday, January 28, 2012


By 1988, Ted Nugent's pretense to any sort of aesthetic was dead. His career was becoming less about his music and more about his growing media personality centered around his "radical" conservative views; the Nugent of the late '70's whose only mission in life was the acquisition and enjoyment of "Wang Dang Sweet Poontang" and variations on "Stormtroopin'" was nearly lost to twice told tales and bittersweet arena rock memories. The man was being forced to live the legend, and like any addict, Nugent's need for sex formed the basis for a parade of justifications resulting in one of the most tired-sounding albums in history. The conquests were becoming empty, the riffs becoming rote. "If You Can't Lick 'Em...Lick 'Em" illustrates that decline in shades of boredom and self cannibalization, signaling an artistic nadir for the Nuge as well as the danger of complacent stagnancy. Everything about this record is a contrivance, from the gratuitous pro-cunningulus cover art to the insipid lyrics peppered throughout. If it's a mission statement, it's abhorrently puerile; if it's a rock and roll love letter to rebellion, it's willfully ignorant.
From the outset, the album lacks any sense of urgency. The Nuge's usual feeling of rampant, unbridled intensity is lost; the evocation of youthful willfulness he'd been known for across his entire career here evaporates under the weight of feigned ambition and dreams of the Billboard Top Ten. It's easy to see why Nugent set his sights so low: the highest charting rock albums of the year belonged to Def Leppard, Guns N' Roses, and Van Halen. Little wonder Nugent tempered his approach to a more competitive level; while nowhere near the electronic bid for relevance ZZ Top would institute (to financially gratifying effect), the "Motor City Madman" obviously attempted to simplify his approach and filter it through a wash of contemporary preferences. One can either view that decision as prescience on the part of a veteran or bland catering to popular concession. The usual preoccupations were still present; here they were just watered down and sent out to mainstream America for its consumer consideration.
Opening track "Can't Live With 'Em" is full-on Accept derivation, laying out the Nuge's eternal misogyny on top of a riff that vomits up "Cat Scratch Fever" by way of Judas Priest. Nugent both requires and loathes women; while before Nugent transformed this appropriation of outdated gender modes into rock and roll revelation, here it becomes another whiney lament from some asshole who isn't getting laid as often as his dick gets hard. The album is rife with these sorts of ruminations: "The Harder They Come (The Harder I Get)," "Separate the Men From the Boys, Please" and the sixth grade level observation "Skintight" all dwell on the not-so-subtle desires of their protagonist's quest for gash and his inevitable sociological ascendancy. Nugent spells it out early into "Funlover", telling us "Explicit sex, it ain't my cup of tea/Unless of course it's happening to me." The selfishness and narcissism inherent in Nugent's lyricism here expand themselves to near Brobdignagian levels; lust is its own validation, the accompanying journey to satisfaction nothing less than a right and a rite.
Musically the album is close to pure embarrassment. Nugent recycles riff after riff, turning in an exhausted batch of songs that feel mechanical and lifeless even as they attempt to depict a supposedly technicolor life of libido-fueled hedonism and wild abandon. The title track is a nothing less than blatant rewrite of Nugent's own "Stranglehold," from the opening fretwork to the screeching rockabilly fills and the overwrought psychedelic solo. "She Drives Me Crazy" comes off like a bad Alice Cooper imitation (another artist struggling with reinvention) complete with Nugent's stab at vocal histrionics, while "Spread Your Wings" recalls Hendrix's "Little Wing" right down to the quacking guitar tone (though it's hard to imagine Hendrix penning lyrics as woefully empty and sentimental as "Turn on your love life baby/Let it shine down on me tonight/Let's fly away, I mean it fly/You just spread your wings baby.") These sorts of metaphors had been well-exhausted by the time Nugent co-opted them; accordingly, they read like half-assed attempts at lowest common denominator poetry fused with high school grandiosity. "Separate the Men From The Boys, Please" rips off Journey's "Stone in Love" and turns it into a sub-prog exploration of tired "look at me" drumming alongside an overabundance pinch harmonics. Only the solo section of "Funlover" comes anywhere close to imaginative, with Ted whipping out a flurry of neoclassical harmonies that borrow liberally from Iron Maiden while giving Randy Rhoads a run for his money; the track's triple-tracked lead lines are the only real reminder of Nugent's utter mastery over the guitar and the classical rock form. Beyond that it's paint by numbers six-string heroism: fluid but pointless to the point of tedium.
Nugent was never a major force in establishing the 1980's rock framework; as such, his contributions (or lack thereof) to the form at the time still go widely unheralded in the great history of rock. It's important to remember that people like Nugent were attempting to remain viable in a rapidly overcrowding market. Young upstarts like Guns N' Roses, Warrant, and, to a lesser degree, Poison, were all cashing in on what Ted Nugent had worked so hard to personify for the last decade. His stage persona was Marc Bolan to the nth degree, reinterpreted by everyone from Axl Rose to Stephen Pearcy and David Lee Roth (perhaps the only real "contemporary" to Nugent the genre could offer.) Albums like "If You Can't Lick 'Em...Lick 'Em" serve only to steer us away from the hubris of gross egoism and self-infatuation. Beyond that it's lessons, if any, are mere punchlines. There's not a single memorable riff to be found here, only retreads and reappropriations. One can only wonder what Ted's diehard fans thought (though i've read some reviews citing this as one of his best late-period recordings); the sense of abandonment once heard so loudly in the music could only have been surpassed by the sense of abandonment now felt by the faithful. With "If You Can't Lick 'Em...Lick 'Em," Nugent effectively signed his own death warrant.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

KLOR "KLOR" (Ars Magna Recordings)

Brittle and immediate black metal iconoclasm from Denmark courtesy Ars Magna Recordings, again delivering on their aesthetic of emotionally fractured artistry filtered through traditional frameworks. Klor's self-titled debut is unique in the respect that it advances both an extreme, chilling distance as well as strains of extremely accessible extremity by way of shorter song structure and a reliance on simplistic (if obscured) melody. I'm reminded deeply of French post-industrial blackened terrorists Haemoth in Klor's approach; the same sort of reliance on machine generated texture imbues both projects with a manipulative removal that comments on black metal's outsider mentality as well as the more modern leanings towards depressive readings of existence and being. But whereas Haemoth proposed an indelicate violence directed towards the fabrication of modernity, Klor becomes reflective; the rage turns inward, channeling aggression in an insular direction with an end goal of self-eradication. Simply put, Klor hammer the sorrow into you.
Klor embrace a certain psychedlia in their approach to black metal; their tendency towards symbols alongside song titles like " Helmet Overgrown With Weeds" and the beautiful "Senseless Fire Ritual" both embrace and reject black metal's propensity for extension and hypnotism, employing battle imagery and pseudo-Satanic rites to evoke the idea of expanse and openness. While none of the songs on Klor's debut are overly long, they attain the feeling of length by way of repetition and hammering intensity; the relentless drum programming yields near-kosmiche patterns of inner escape and psychic recidivism. The stretches and yawns of time become gulfs of monochromatic technicolor vista, a flood of emotions painted all in one shade of despondency. The eight songs here become as one, a suite of existential torment that owes as much to Vomir as it does to Craft.
Anger is secondary to regret, though. Nostalghia and yearning become an ache that can only be adequately represented through violent confrontation with one's self; Klor inhabit the state of inner severance necessary to fully reflect on one's being and make the decision to sever connections with corporeal. This is not an endorsement but the suggestion of possibility; the vistas are open and receptive, the eternities blessed with majesty and willing to receive. Such is the way of torment. Violence becomes a shadow of intent, and failure becomes the mark by which all effort must be measured. The fragmented colors marking the inner design of Klor's debut aren't just dissassociative psychedelic tricks; they're a representation of the vomit colored insides of modern malaise, true banality and angst tossed off as graphic design. The outer design rings true: there is no variation, only sedation and the vastness of the always. The narcoleptic, dreamlike state that existence demands becomes a weight that bogs down value and self-worth. Klor works in shades of grey; the mesmerization results from the extreme tonalities apparent in the regurgitation of blandness.
Klor's debut acts as a sort of go-between for old traditions and modern black metal. At once both basking in primal aggression and reveling in post-modern texture, the depth of the record reveals itself upon multiple listenings. This isn't simple, nor is it easily digestible; it's trussed up in recognizable form purely for the purposes of distortion and obfuscation. The music is infectious, the vocals harrowing and carved out. This is music to tear yourself apart to, the shearing away of psychic excess in the hopes of arriving at deeper realizations regarding one's ultimate place in the world. Ars Magna Recordings again establishes itself as one of the leading labels interested in psychological black metal. Klor is a knife meant to help you shed the pretense you've been building your whole life. Make the first cut, and flay away the unnecessary. The weightlessness becomes flight, soaring apart from the earthly realm.

WOLD "BADB" (Crucial Blast)

Crucial Blast reissue of Wold's explosive 2004 demo, an almost unholy fusion of black metal aestheticism and blurred wipeout noise that heralded the coming of a severe new voice in the black metal underground. "Badb" is nothing short of amazing, as essential now as it was originally, the ideas explored within having been co-opted by a dearth of lesser practitioners and calibrated into something nowhere near as potent as the distillation Wold themselves achieved. This demo laid the groundwork for "Stratification" and easily ranks as the band's second-finest work; its fury and passion simply obliterate the good majority of modern black metal by way of sheer force and tenacity of vision. "Badb" wasn't just a mutation of the black metal form; it was reinvention.
Aside from its intensity, "Badb" was Wold's most orthodox effort. The influence of the old masters like Gorgoroth and Darkthrone is felt here more strongly than on any Wold effort to follow; while much has been made of Wold's harnessing of black metal blizzardry to form their unique sonic worldview, less effort has been directed towards actually placing Wold in the traditional black metal context. While the band may have bent the aesthetic into contorted formations of its obvious expectation, the simple blunt trauma of black metal's refutation has always been present. "Badb" makes that rebelliousness abundantly clear from the onset, as waves of screeching horror scar over you like wounded detritus windblasted across the empty Saskatchewan plains. The purity of winter and the majesty of nature are at the forefront of Wold's approach and ideology; for all the quasi-religious psychobabble that would accompany the band's future output, "Badb" is remarkably focused in its depiction of eternal raging night and howling void.
Here Wold let loose black metal's tendency towards alienation; the actuality of a riff meant little compared to the overbearing strength found in the conceptualization of a snowstorm. Electricity pales in comparison to the might of the black, the infinite roar of the yawning bleak. "Badb" is the very center of eternity, the endless recycling of sound unto itself achieving a marriage of histrionics and undiluted terror. Distortion becomes translucence; blazes of white noise become the peaks of transcendence, cracking open the eye at the top of the world. The cosmos yields to the strength of Wold's summoning; the framework of black metal crumbles beneath the weight of their ferocity. What's left is a perfect sonic summation of the genre's power: stripped of form, the only discernible element becomes the anger, the simplicity and primal force of base emotions. Like Abruptum before them, Wold tapped the ether and came back with the sounds of the end, the audial absence of light wrought into towers of crushing rage.
Crucial Blast's reissue boasts glorious new artwork more accurately reflecting the band's vision and ideology; the hypnotic patterns of black and white ultimately congeal to a mess of blanked out space and washed out understanding. Delerium is the terminus of psychedelia, and Wold reach the bottom in a mere 30 minutes. Like a windstorm fracturing any attempt at clarity, "Badb" reduces black metal to its essence and molds it according to a rigid vision of ethics and traditionalism, the implied violence of the genre rendered into shrieks of Merzbow-influenced hyperstatic owing much to the misogynistic shrapnel of peak-era Whitehouse. Indeed, it isn't difficult to imagine "Badb" as the soundtrack to murder; whereas most modern black metal goes for the insular reflection of suicidal despair or existential angst, Wold turns it completely outward and offers up a anthem to carnage, the ultimate embrace of selfishness and self-actualization. Individualism is the only value worth promoting; culture is a poison. Society reeks of banality; community is as illusory as cooperation. Act as one for one or relinquish the right to exist. Wold's ethics are provocation. "Badb" pushes those ethics to the forefront, yielding a work of intense thematic complexity and philosophical muddiness. Being is as you make it; don't waste the experience.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

TRIST/LONESUMMER "SPLIT" (Ars Magna Recordings)

Suicidal black metal iconoclasm by way of stumbling obstinancy and an adherence to individualistic ritual, the hollow spectre of feeling permeating. United by Ars Magna Recordings, Trist and Lonesummer are two black metal artists that communicate an approximation of the same ideal and aesthetic through vastly different means of confrontation. The focus here is emptiness, meaninglessness, regret, anguish, depression, the mark of failure-in short, negative fucking emotions filtered through the raw and blown out framework of depressive black metal (i could go further out and subcategorize this more, but there's no point-Trist defines this style for me, and Lonesummer grasp the yearn and hyper-devastation that the sound demands to be truly effective.) The resulting music on this split shapes that negativity into fractures of grey and bleak, reflecting the tortured and obscure photography of Alison Scarpulla that adorns the cover. This is a journey inward that ends in immolation, in a total rejection of the self that carves identity and actuality to shreds, leaving only the nightmare of memory and the bitter ache of nostalgia as reminders of time gone past.
Trist's return to the field ends a near four year silence aside from the instrumental self-released demo "Ve Snech Nekrvacim." The two massive tracks on that recording hinted at both a vague new direction (the almost ambient reconstruction of black metal by way of brutal repetition and deeply textured sonics) and a reinforcement of Trist's original ideal (the depiction of crippling emotion and anxiety and the communication of those same feelings in a physical way); here the two are fused seamlessly into something stronger and more defined, increasing the music's efficacy and allowing the power of the feelings involved to wash over the listener as an ocean. "Vabeni Pokojne Tmy" is twenty minutes of monotonous, blurring guitar backed by the standard simplistic, numbing drums Trist has employed so well in the past. The track is a heavy cloud of strangling atmospherics, the mist of sadness spreading into expanse, the tendrils of recollection thrown up against the reality of the actual. Trist's world is one where there the only option for escape is suicide; the weight of life and the tedium of existence stretches into forever, leaving shadows and want. The extremity of Trist's approach is complicated this time out by the buried vocals, screaming from underneath a muddy pall of distortion and echo. The muted cries become just another textural element in a composition already packed with them, resulting in a greater feeling of distance than Trist has achieved in the past. This removal serves the band's aesthetic well; if the music is representational of the purity of feeling and the voice the human element to the suffering, this music demonstrates the overwhelming nature of emotion and how easy it is to become lost in it, in yourself. The reflection Trist offers is one skewed and obfuscated, the mirror warped to the point where you don't know who you're looking at anymore. The displacement becomes another thorn of sorrow, stabbing into weary flesh. The aura of exhaustion Trist summons up across the span of "Vabeni Pokojne Tmy" is frightening, and like all music from the band, harrowingly intense. I know what it's like to feel this way; that recollection gives Trist's work a deep personal resonance for me.
Lonesummer's side of the split, while no less intense, takes a near opposite approach to black metal aestheticism. Turning in five bursts of pained emotional shrapnel in just under fifteen minutes, Lonesummer incorporate some of the passion and melodic severity found in early '00's screamo and mould it to a distinctly black metal template, creating a sound that references both the extreme end of depressive black metal (the vocal performances are eerily reminiscent of those found on Silencer's "Death Pierce Me") and the sort of veering-towards-collapse ferocity of Orchid. Lonesummer's work is black metal by hallucinogenic, hazy association, challenging preconceived notions of the genre's limitations while at the same time working within its confines to reconstruct its most obvious tendencies. Like Trist, Lonesummer traffic in the overwhelming pain of negative emotions and the often unbearable weight of regret and memory; their off the rails approach to introspection carries a violence and wild-eyed terror that threatens more outwardly than inward (listening to Trist i imagine dark, empty rooms and flickering candlight illuminating razor blades and splashes of blood, while listening to Lonesummer i imagine gigantic empty landscapes and a feeling of paralyzing fear, loss, and claustrophobia.) Lonesummer makes me believe it with this record. The passion and extremity are there, and it's completely upfront. Even the few moments of respite that betray their more "shoegaze" leanings-the delicately strummed clean guitars and hyper melodic screaming guitar lines-have a feeling of menace to them, weighed down with sadness. This is the best material i've heard from this unit; absent is any trace of the "experimentalism" that defined their early work along with any flirtation with pure noise. This simply transcends what they've accomplished previous.
Ars Magna Recordings has done a wonderful job on this beautifully conceived split, from the simple pairing of artists to the austere lifelessness and fragility of the striking layout and artwork. Everything makes sense. I expect nothing less from a label that has so vividly defined the personal nature of black metal for me, and i'm hard pressed to think of a label discography that reaches so deeply into the pale of depression without relying on contrivances and cliches. This is certainly music for suicide orchestration, but it also serves as a reminder of art's strength in times of personal adversity, and how the creation of something real and meaningful can impact both the lives of its creators and the lives of those affected by and receptive to it. I'm glad i'm one of them.