31 May 2017

Tinnitus, Terror and Tranquility #1

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Featuring Gravetemple, Harvestman, Gimu, Vom, Tenhornedbeast

In this blog, I explore some of the recent releases that have diverted my attention. Caused my tinnitus to scream and then possibly soothed my frayed nerves.

GRAVETEMPLE begin this episode of listening dissonance in a fashion that they excel at with the brutal, primal and thoroughly noisy ‘Impassable Fears’ released through Svart Records. For the uninitiated Gravetemple are Oren Ambarchi, Stephen O’Malley and Attila Csihar. The fact that these three kingpins of their respective multi genres are responsible for this release should perhaps, and rightly, strike fear into your hearts of make your draw drop in awe. I experienced Gravetemple live when they headlines Supersonic Festival in 2009, so I had more than an inkling of what this release might hold. They are a band best experienced as such in my view, as their trade is best appreciated at volumes not usually socially acceptable in residential areas. Thankfully for you, dear listener, this recording gets as close to sounding live as you are going to get from a studio recording without sacrificing clarity and nuance. This is not a subtle release, it is a violent yet not entirely unrelenting release. The slabs of guitar noise are signature O’Malley and will sound familiar to those who have experienced Sunn O))) recordings or performances. Csihar has a monstrous presence on this recording, uttering forth guttural growls, banshee like shrieks and shamanic chants that fill far more of the sound field than they humanly should. These two build upon a shifting and ever convolving foundation laid down by Ambarchi who assumes the role of percussionist here. The result, as one might anticipate, is unsettling, claustrophobic and perhaps even at times nauseating. Death metal roots are torn out of the earth and wielded as ritualistic totems. Structure is almost abandoned in favour of trance seeking rhythmic exercises in sonic extremity. However, as hinted early, this dark majik is not entirely all consuming. There are moments to catch breath and perhaps even reflect, as the intense passages give way to rumbles and oscillations that are given space to drift and evolve. However, these interludes do not feel like the light before the dark, they feel more like implosions that precede sensory threatening explosions. There is no point relaxing, the time is better spent preparing for the demands the next segment of the ritual will place upon your body and soul. This is brutal, punishing and harrowing stuff. Consume with care, and more importantly consume in a dark smoke filled venue in front of these disturbing blackened giants if you dare.

HARVESTMAN or Steve Von Till of Neurosis to those who know, has returned with a third album released under this name, again through the Neurot stable. Almost immediately captivating, ‘Music For Megaliths’ is a rich audio tapestry woven from threads both electronic and acoustic. I would venture to say this is more of an electronic sounding journey though you would be incorrect to translate this to mean there is anything cold or harsh about this release. Quite the opposite is true. The synthetic tones are well chosen and fit the acoustic elements like a warm glove. The percussion where present is simple and shares the ride rather than being the vehicle. The instrumentation is varied and interesting to the listener, with even a mention of the hurdy gurdy, an instrument I own but have not yet mastered. Von Till adds to this various other stringed instruments and organic tones that swell and shimmer and even lends his deep vocal tones here and there. Mastering by James Plotkin undoubtedly serves the material well. Seven tracks are contained within, all still very much minor in key and dark in tone. However, they are also evocative of mysterious places and wonder. There isn’t really a threatening or overly ominous aspect to the sound, more-so the listener is invited to allow the experience to wash over them, fill them and transport them away from their present locale to other earthy realms, dark lush forests, old temples, ancient rocks jutting skyward and vast spaces. This is not a fantastical journey though, you’ll probably not be dreaming of unicorns and dragons. This is an terrestrial experience of depth and discovery and one well worth taking in.

GIMU is a Brazilian sound artist responsible for ‘Gone Again, Haunted Again’ which plonked through me door on cassette via Aurora Borealis Records. Whereas I suggested Harvestman to be a terrestrial experience, Gimu is intent on launching the listener away from the earthly and into expansive otherworldly dimensions. Vast reverb soaked sonic vistas skirt celestial thresholds, with largely synthetic pads and swells carrying the listener lazily within endless and expanding dark spaces. This release for me symbolises escapism and meditation, though there is a hint of bleakness that prevails largely I suspect due to a feeling of insignificance of self in such endless soundscapes. The track and album titles for me suggest much negative emotion, ‘Mercy is a Dead Word’ and ‘It’s Gone Wrong Again’ though in reality the music evokes quite the sense of hope. Quite the trip.

‘Initiation’ is the third album from Scottish trio VOM, the first was a CD, the second on vinyl and this one on cassette. Previous releases have been loosely described as goth, coldwave and post punk though in all honesty they have a sound of their own that I perceive as entirely more underground than those tags would suggest. They have also developed a firm following despite their sporadic gigging. It has been a few years since ‘Altered States’ was released to as much acclaim as their debut. It was a well formed shadowy exercise in dark alternative noise. ‘Initiation’ throws their listeners a slight curve ball but not one that will require too much of a stretch to grasp. The minimally tribal rhythms are still there and perhaps more dominant. The spectral and haunted wailing guitars still lurk and slither through the upper frequencies. The bass guitar to me sounds more raw and uneffected, but the key difference to me is the structure. Vom have never appeared to have a formula and certainly don’t borrow one from any other artist or genre, but on this release things sound unplanned and, to a degree, improvised. This could have been at worst disastrous offering little to those who were not around to witness the inception. Thankfully ‘Initiation’ offers much to like and it is not at all difficult for the listener to imagine the head space shared by the band during the recording of these six songs. Tracks are generally longer and center on whipping up a frenzy through repetition and insistence. Cymbals crash frenetically, shadowy guitar thrashings pierce through the drill of the frantic kick and snare while the bass meanders and provides solidity at the same time. Closing track ‘Old Gods’ stands apart somewhat with it’s electronic percussion and almost feels like it could have appeared on ‘Altered States’. In general though it is all rather raw and tribal. The results certainly have some power and show a band who share air and sweat with ease. To me ‘Initiation’ sounds like something the band needed to get off their collective chests before moving on to the next release, gaining wisdom along the way. I can’t help but hope that a little more of the pop sensibility that snuck into their first two albums makes a return in some form.

TENHORNEDBEAST return with another release through Cold Spring Records. ‘Death Has No Companion’ is its name, as for its game… Tenhornedbeast is Christopher Walton who is also known for his work under the banner of ENDVRA. The beast is touted as the bleaker and darker successor. Three tracks are presented, all clocking in at 17 to 24 minutes in duration. ‘The Wanderer’ is an icy exercise in dark ambiance that would also be right at home on a Glacial Movements release. Darkly swirling blankets of misty drone shimmer and slither with a fragile sounding yet all enveloping coldness. ‘The Lamentation of Their Women’ sees the addition of subsonic rumbles and a glacially slow rhythm that sounds like it was laid down by the lowest key of a worn out grand piano cast into a vast cavern. As the track builds, pulsing moans and swirling shard filled winds and further to a sense of isolation and loss. The release closes with ‘In Each of Us a Secret Sorrow’. As the title suggests, there is no note of optimism to be found. The feeling of cold dankness and loss pervades, though I perceive that it is a harsh brightness as opposed to a claustrophobic darkness that serves to lay the absence of hope starkly bare and undeniable. Soothing in a slightly chilling way.

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