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.