Sumbru – Sublunary Visions (CD-R, Hallucination Tapes)

harsh noise wall, Noise, Review

Sumbru is a new project from Julien Skrobek, who also runs Hallucination Tapes and has been a prolific artist in the harsh noise wall genre under various monikers. Sumbru adds a new release to his belt with Sublunary Visions, a two-track forty minute excursion into wall noise based on lunar imagery and astrology. Both tracks clock in around twenty minutes, featuring a similar style of wall.

The first track is “Closed Eyes of the Frozen Moon,” a wall that features a heavy bass wollop that remains pretty mid-paced throughout this cut. Muffled rumbles pair with a crumbly static texture deep in the wall, allowing the bass line to take hold and shape the sound more so than the static. There’s not much change throughout this texture, a heavy twenty minutes that increasingly seems to create a droning tone in the middle of the wall, intentional or just a by-product of the tones.

Track two, “Emerging From the Astral Salt,” maintains a very similar structure, except now both the bass and static tones seem a bit less muffled in the mix. The bass texture features a fast churning rumble, while the static crackle sits within the middle of the track to create a nice even tone throughout. Again, the rumbling bass will be the focal point, but the static texture’s shuddering draws the listener into this hypnotic sound.

It’s nice to see Sumbru working within a textual theme here, because both tracks on Sublunary Visions sound closely reminiscent despite some differences in the texturing. Better, though, is the seamless transition between the two tracks, with no silence between the two. This ensures that the listener’s trance will be unbroken between the two walls. It’s another great release from Skrobek, this time under the name Sumbru, and any listener who has experienced his walls before will know what to expect from this album.

Big Hole – Gertie (3″ CD-R, Not On Label)

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Big Hole has released some excellent harsh noise walls over the years, and Gertie, a 21-minute slab of crunch and static, is no exception. The project doesn’t interpret walls as stoic, unchanging monoliths that force the listener to sit through forty minutes of the same texture looping over and over; while there are projects that do this kind of wall well, that kind of wall noise is often lost in the overwhelming sameness of the genre. Here, the sole track “Gertie” features some textures that never change but also those that intermittently add variation to the tone, a truly enjoyable offering.

The track starts with a real sound clip, an interview with Ricky Hobbs; the release itself is based on the murder of Sylvia Likens, a brutal story of torture and abuse perpetrated by Gertrude Baniszewski and Hobbs that ended with a life imprisonment sentence for Gertie. Horrific murder and abuse plays heavily into this track as Big Hole sets up a damaging static crackle that continues throughout the work while chaotic, arhythmic crackles – in this listener’s opinion, the metaphorical stand-in for torment – continually alters the wall. This is an exceptionally intriguing wall, with the crackling textures becoming a kind of hypnotism and imprisonment for the listener.

Ultimately Gertie‘s running time feels the perfect length, with the wall never ceasing to lose its energy. Big Hole manages to evoke the same tonality as the murder case that he references on this release, and it showcases how harsh noise wall can generate a feeling even when noise itself is emotionless.

Big Hole – Overwhelming & Collective Murder (3″ CD-R, Not on Label)

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Big Hole’s Overwhelming & Collective Murder is a 20-minute disc featuring one wall, and it starts out with a sound bite from Burden of Dreams, a documentary on the making of Werner Herzog’s film Fitzcarraldo. I’ll confess to knowing very little about either of those two things, but one thing I do know is that this sound clip is perfectly in tune to Big Hole’s oppressive ripping wall spanning the course of this album.

“Overwhelming & Collective Murder” begins with a subtler crackling static before the full wall takes effect, and it’s a nice way to showcase the focal tone before moving into the wall’s more atmospheric layering. When the full wall starts, it’s part of that crunchy crackle – which is nicely raucous and rather fast-paced, wriggling endlessly throughout the 20 minutes – along with a somewhat denser static tone that combines quite nicely, plus a higher-pitched texture that makes up all three areas of the wall.

It’s very easy to get lost in this wall despite its harshness, and I’ll confess to getting absorbed in it despite my attempts to keep attentive to its shiftings – after a while, all three of the textures blend so well together that I forgot where they began, and it’s a hypnotic and, as the title states, overwhelming listen that leaves the ears ringing. Big Hole’s release says to listen loudly, and that’s a dangerous request: it’s rewarding and also quite damaging, and that’s probably the point.

recommended

Naughty/Sloth – Split (C20, Sloth of Northeast Ohio)

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Naughty and Sloth get together for a strange mix of harsh noise walls on this split C20, a quick one-and-done for each artist. Naughty is the harsh noise wall project of Charlotte Duchene, a project devoted eroticism and beauty; Sloth is a bit more of a mystery, with the project’s Bandcamp page featuring a slew of releases with crazy titles and often perverse imagery. Here, the two offer two side-long walls, with Naughty’s being a bit more rigid to the HNW format and Sloth morphing a song into a wall.

Naughty is on the first side with the track “Join At In the Bottom of the Swimming Pool”; clearly, there’s some kind of typo with that title, although since I don’t want to assume anything I won’t correct it and will use the title as written on the case (clarification from Naughty: it’s “Join Me At the Bottom of the Swimming Pool”). This is a ten-minute track heavy on the bass, with a low-end rumble throughout and deep crumbling static textures. It’s more ambient than harsh, actually, and it’s quite easy to fall into the rhythms of the static throughout; since this a deeper, more sonorous track, the textures crumble into each other, with little space within the static crackle. It’s good work, one that fans of nuanced HNW will enjoy.

The second side features Sloth (here just Sloth instead of his dual monikers Sloth of Gulf Coast Florida or Sloth of Northeast Ohio), and the track begins with a homemade song that he’s created. It’s a blurry, bleary eulogy to death metal, as one might expect from the title “Death-Metal Died”; there’s a very subtle melody that’s pretty indecipherable, along with singing and some barking lyrics; this gives way to the wall quite quickly, which almost feels like a Paulstretched version the original song. Ultimately, this creates a strange guitar-like drone that’s paired with a lot of crackling static and even some background textures that repeat over the track’s ten minutes. It’s not a traditional wall with static and bass rumbles, but it’s an interesting track for sure that contains a lot of areas for listeners to lock into.

The two tracks on this split are completely different from the other, but that’s kind of what you’d like to see based on two artists doing their own separate works. Both projects offer up good walls, and the major differences with these two harsh noise wall artists provides an eclectic twenty minutes.

Black Matter Phantasm – Spiritual Retreat to the Holy Mountain (C80, Hallucination Tapes)

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Black Matter Phantasm is a harsh noise wall project from Joseph Szymkowiak from France, and though I haven’t reviewed many of his releases on this site, he is a notable artist in the noise subgenre. He’s amassed a number of releases over the years, both with Black Matter Phantasm and with his other aliases, and now he’s returned with a lengthy tape on Hallucination Tapes, a new label from Julien Skrobek. Spiritual Retreat to the Holy Mountain is an 80-minute release broken into two forty minute sides, and this is a heavy dose of more ambient-based noise walls.

The first “Untitled” track finds Black Matter Phantasm working with a few juddering textures. In the background is a fairly consistent blaring drone, and this pattern occasionally works its way to the forefront of the wall as the texture envelopes those around it. It’s one of the most consistently changing textures throughout this work, giving this track a lot of movement even when it’s not truly changing. Likewise, there’s a rumbling texture that carries “Untitled” throughout, not noticeably changing but just stoically plodding away to give bass to the wall. There’s also a very light static texture that crackles minutely, giving “Untitled” its secondary variations – the static shifts ever so slightly, ebbing and flowing as the drone overtakes it. Otherwise, though, Black Matter Phantasm remains locked in the same stylistic wall for the full 40 minutes.

The second “Untitled” track is presented on the white side of this zebra-colored black-and-white cassette, and this one is somewhat similar to the first although the texturing is not quite as heavy or overbearing. The background of this wall features a blown-out wall that’s not quite a bassy rumble; it’s more like standing a distance away from a plane’s jet engine, hearing all of the sound without the vibration. It’s quite nice to get lost in, and you can hear subtle variation in its sound by listening closely. At the forefront of the wall is a similar static texture to the first track except this one’s even more minute, a thin layer of crackle that is spaced apart in a way that emphasizes the delicacy of the texture. Again, this one sticks quite stolidly to its sound for the forty minutes, with subtle change within the wall but nothing immediately apparent.

This is a great release from Black Matter Phantasm and Hallucination Tapes that emphasizes the ambient nature of the project’s walls. I’m particularly partial to Side B’s wall, with a very intense attention to minute details. With this tape clocking in at 80 minutes, listeners will certainly get their money’s worth of wall from a master carpenter.

The HNW Quartet – The HNW Quartet (C40, Hallucination Tapes)

harsh noise wall, Noise, Review

The HNW Quartet is an interesting experiment combining four acts to form a supergroup of harsh noise wall artists. Sumbru (Julien Skrobek), Kune de Lisch (AKA Chibre),PsôM, and Black Matter Phantasm (Joseph Szymkowiak) all join forces for a collaboration of sound across two side-long walls, with both stretching the 20 minute mark. For noise, this is an intriguing combination – collaborations often involve two artists, but rarely a quartet such as this.

The first thing that surprises most about The HNW Quartet is the relative minimalism of the two compositions. With four artists working together, I confess I was expecting something a bit louder and harsher than what is delivered. I don’t mean that negatively, though; The HNW Quartet sits more comfortably in the ambient noise wall sub-genre than anything harsher, and it’s impressive that the artists are able to keep things so fluid and controlled throughout the tracks.

Side A is simply known as “Part 1”, clocking in at 20 minutes. This wall is a fairly unchanging slab of sound with some distinct layers, and it’s the most minimalistic of these two tracks. Surprisingly, all artists are working with very subtle sounds here; there’s a solid bass rumble in the background holding the wall together, a subtle crackle underneath that which is only present with careful attention, a hissing static at the forefront, and, most noticeable, a squealing judder that contains most of this track’s most hypnotic moments. There’s a lot to like and focus on in “Part 1,” from that deep bass shudder – adding just a small amount of space – to the interplay between the hissing and the squeals. The squealing is the loosest, where the semblance of variation can take shape. It’s interesting to hear how stoic each player in this quartet remains.

“Part 2” takes up the full length of side B, and it’s another relatively locked-in wall of sound. Here, the textures are a little harsher, the layers even more noticeable. In the background, there’s a nice multifaceted bass pattern that adds of lot of variation to the tone. On top of that, there’s a hissing, distant crackle that’s not quite static – it’s a very interesting texture, one that’s difficult to describe. Along with that, at about the same volume, is a fly-like buzzing sound that carries with it a different repetitive pattern that sometimes changes pitch. All told, the layers on “Part 2” are fascinating, both as a whole and when one focuses on the minutiae of the sounds.

The HNW Quartet is a great culmination of some excellent HNW artists, and so it should come as no surprise that both tracks, featuring all four players, are expertly crafted and layered. This release is enriching and complex, with enough textural hook to keep listeners engaged.

Tales of the Bloody Bloody Killer – The Six Six Sixers (CD-R, Petite Soles)

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Tales of the Bloody Bloody Killer is a project from Scott Kindberg, also the man behind the Petite Soles label, She Walks Crooked, and half of Ginger Cortes. The Six Six Sixers sound is primarily harsh noise wall, but its two tracks consist of so many shifts and transitions that the wall tendencies ebb and flow as the soundscape develops.

The first track is called “Fleischer Knife Co.”, and it’s the longer of the two tracks at around 18 minutes. TotBBK begins with a wall, blown-out and heavy with a lot of static crackle at the forefront with the hum of electronics in the background, and that continues well over five minutes before fading out to transition into the sound of sharpening knives. Truly, this is a disturbing interlude that is often difficult to listen to depending on how grating the sound of metal sliding across metal is to the individual listener; eventually, the knife-sharpening gains demented and warbly carnival music, with slide whistles and the whole nine yards. A wall begins yet again to end the track, this time extremely harsh with searing static blistering the listener.

“Fleischer Knife Co.” is an entertaining track, but structurally I find the use of the knife-sharpening in the middle of the wall somewhat thematically confusing. I’m not exactly sure why it was bookended by walls, and so I’m left wondering the significance of this choice.

The previous static leads directly into “Blackfire” with no warning, a fantastic transition that gets me every time I hear it – there’s nothing to indicate that this is a new track until the listener realizes that the harshness of “Fleischer Knife Co.”‘s ending has been replaced with a pleasant static crackle and subtle bass textures. This one’s more traditionally HNW (and, really, ANW), and it continues for about 7 minutes.

This is a short but expressive release from Tales from the Bloody Bloody Killer, and the two tracks offered here are quite enjoyable despite my own inability to decipher the context of the first cut.

Big Hole – The Pearl of My Renaissance (CD-R, Not on Label)

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Big Hole has become another artist in the vast field of harsh noise wall known for his great works; The Pearl of My Renaissance, an album recorded back in February 2015, is a self-released CD-R consisting of one massive lengthy wall, clocking in at 72 minutes. The opening sound bite is clearly from Daniel von Bargen (RIP), his voice strikingly noticeable, and at first it seems like – based on the subject matter of other Big Hole works – the dialogue is taken from a film like the notorious Lord of Illusions. However, further inspection reveals that The Pearl of My Renaissance actually comes from a Malcolm in the Middle episode, a pleasantly surprising reference for those willing to do the research.

“The Pearl of My Renaissance” is specifically harsh noise wall, and it’s a cut that’s often particularly overwhelming. There’s very little bass presence in this wall, with a heavy reliance on the omnipresent static in the forefront of the track. This leaves a less dense listening experience, with just a subtle hint of deeper tones toward the background – occasional rumblings that make it through the thicket of crackling sound. The static textures on top are centered and, over time, become difficult to parse because of the insistence of their sound. Big Hole leaves little space in the crackle, and “The Pearl of My Renaissance” becomes akin to torrential rains continually pounding on a thin tin roof.

There are occasional very subtle changes throughout – slight adjustments to the static, I think – but honestly Big Hole remains quite stoic throughout The Pearl of My Renaissance. It’s a difficult listen that’s tough on the ears, and the ending leaves a vacuous silence. This is an uncompromisingly harsh release, and those that last the 72 minutes will feel depleted of energy. That is the point, and Big Hole’s work delivers.

The Killer Came from the Bronx – Purgatoried Torso (CD-R, Ink Runs Recordings)

ambient noise wall, harsh noise, harsh noise wall, Noise, Review

The Killer Came from the Bronx is another project from Julien Skrobek featuring harsh noise walls that seem inspired by slasher/serial killer tropes. The project has a few releases under its belt including the more recent Ripper 1976 on Needle and Knife; Purgatoried Torso was released in 2014 on Skrobek’s own label Ink Runs Recordings.

This disc is similarly stylized to the other releases on Ink Runs as well as the early output of Skrobek’s older label Slow Death Records. It comes in a plastic sleeve with artwork resembling the skyscraper buildings of NYC, with an unmarked CD-R featuring two massive harsh noise walls that run about 45 minutes altogether.

The first track on this disc is “Kill Again,” the longer of the two at 25 minutes, and it features a solid bass line undertone that keeps a raging boil throughout the track. On top of that is a trembling static tone full of crackle and bass, a surging throughline that keeps the wall crumbling. At first this wall seems somewhat akin to an ambient din, but as the listener progresses through its full length, the static tone at the forefront becomes crushing and overwhelming, rarely changing explicitly but seemingly ebbing and flowing minutely. This is unique texturing that often feels enveloping.

But the second track, “Static on the Line,” is the real draw on Purgatoried Torso, a heavy cut that features a raging guitar-like tone with lots of distortion, looping over the twenty minutes of wall. The surge of this sound, like a heavy metal riff repeating over and over again, pairs well with a chaotic static texture, and both of them together create a cacophony that leaves the listener uncertain where to focus attention – in a good way. The wall feels like it is constantly going to fall apart, but it holds on for the full length.

Purgatoried Torso is a great release, and probably one of my favorites from Skrobek in recent memory. The two tracks are perfectly at odds with each other while remaining rooted in The Killer Came from the Bronx’s sound, and as an introduction to this project, it certainly makes me want to check out the other releases under the moniker. Maybe it’s the serial killer in me.

recommended

Big Hole – I Can’t Breathe (3″ CD-R, Not On Label)

harsh noise, harsh noise wall, Noise, Review

i cant breatheI Can’t Breathe is Big Hole’s reaction to the death of Eric Garner back in December 2014. By now, that video of Garner struggling for breath in the wake of a brutal police attack has circulated the Internet and media more than ever, but when I Can’t Breathe was released at the end of December, it was a scandal that helped push police brutality and racism into the public eye yet again. Regardless of one’s stance in politics – and I think it’s pretty clear where Big Hole leans – that video clip is haunting, so of course “I Can’t Breathe” begins with Garner saying just that before he dies.

Then the album launches into its one long wall, clocking in at just under the 20 minute mark. The idea behind walls in general is introspection, mesmerization, a choking sensation of a sound that just won’t back down. It surrounds and pummels, much like the police in that situation with Eric Garner, and here Big Hole provides a wavering higher-pitched static line that snakes and snarls.

All told, this is a pretty unchanging wall, the only thing really giving the listener any movement being the backwash of static as it ripples – and even that, it seems, is less changing than simply oscillating naturally. In the background is a slight bass rumble, and that’s where I would have liked to see I Can’t Breathe expand a bit more. This texture is listenable, it’s chaotic, but adding a heavy bass tone underneath it all – even just minimally – could have really created a suffocating listen to match the theme of this release.

While I Can’t Breathe is a solid wall, it feels a little too thin. I kept wanting more density to the textures; that’s partially my fault, anticipating something the artist had no interest in, but it also feels like a missed opportunity to match the horrible death of Eric Garner to make a stronger statement, especially in a form of noise that often lacks the ability to emote besides the titles the artist provides.