Merzbow/Actuary – Freak Hallucinations (12″, Obfuscated Records/Love Earth Music)

Drone, harsh noise, Noise, Review

merzbow actuary

Merzbow’s noise output has certainly lessened in the past couple of years, especially after his 13-volume birds set that featured far too much drums, but this split with Actuary on Obfuscated Records and Love Earth Music shows he has clearly learned what his fans want to hear from him. You know what to expect from the Merz; Actuary is a group of five who play any number of different genres within noise, many of which can be heard on Freak Hallucinations. The pairing is interesting, because Merzbow offers up one long harsh noise track while Actuary divide their half into three tracks with three different avenues into noise.

The first side is Merzbow’s long-running “Sugamo Flower Festival,” which starts out with a repetitive whirring and looping static and ends with it as well. Over the course of the 20-minute runtime, Merzbow hits a lot of different sounds – there aren’t any drums, but the noise itself has a lot of bassy percussive elements. There are moments where it sounds like the track incorporates vocal samples; there’s a completely destroyed electronic synth effect that runs up and down the scale seemingly at random; a bit further into “Sugamo Flower Festival” comes a mid-pitched alarum tone that stays with the track for most of the way. There are a ton of effects in this track as per the Merzbow motive, but this release sticks out for me as a return to basics. Merzbow has thrown out the trappings of his previous output – and in the 13 Japanese Birds set, you pretty much knew what you were going to get every time – for harsher and more dynamic sounds, ones that pair electronic with analog or found sounds.

The Actuary side is split into three tracks, the last one being the longest. The first one, “Only Ghosts Hate New Things,” is a drone with synth stings and manipulated background vocals – there’s one deep, reduced speed sample, along with a couple that sound like kids playing or laughing. It’s a creepy track that utilizes very thin strands of static to its benefit. “Inhuman Bondage” follows the same idea with slow, trickling drone lines, and this one incorporates feedback wails repeatedly while the drones shimmer. The longest track, “Ritual Embrace,” finishes the record with an excellent power electronics-esque track, complete with a looping pattern that’s paired with a lot of different textures as well as the first sign of vocals from Actuary. It’s definitely the best offering on this record from the group, and it is an effective summation of the other tracks.

Both artists offer up a great side of vinyl; Merzbow finds himself back in form, while Actuary’s blend of droning harsh noise is both effective and nuanced. A recommended split for anyone who likes Merzbow, but also a well-rounded record overall.

20130505-205303.jpg

Droughter – Skin Gentleman’s Club (CD-R, Obfuscated Records)

harsh noise, Industrial, Noise, Review

skin gentleman

Droughter is Kevin McEleney, who also works under the name Drag Age (which has been reviewed on this blog). On Skin Gentleman’s Club, Droughter douses everything in gasoline and sets fire to it; any rhythms created by looping he destroys, any exhibiting signs of musicianship are eventually waylaid. Droughter leaves a desolate landscape in his wake, and the album is so completely off-putting that it’s just fantastic.

There’s a raw edge to all of the tracks on this album; they don’t feel polished or professionally mastered, leaving all of the roughness of the analog sound intact. Droughter hits hard with opener “Threshold,” its title a testament to the areas it reaches. There’s lots of sharp spikes of feedback, but they’re not overdone.

Crackling textures and shifting tones are also big on Skin Gentleman’s Club. The middle portion of “Threshold” features some great crunchy textures that come and go, and both parts of “Skin Gentleman’s Club” have huge bass-driven static. “Folio 1 (Reprise)” has a looping sample that Droughter quickly drops into oblivion. And “Taunt and Dismiss” is sure to leave the listener with a hellish landscape.

Droughter’s noise is harsh, loud, and raw, and the sounds on Skin Gentleman’s Club are intense. This is pure noise, full of dips and static and even some vocals. Put some time into this release, you won’t regret it.

20130505-205303.jpg

Josh Lay/Crown of Bone – This is a Tourniquet of the Light, the Black Obituary. (CD, Obfuscated Records)

Black Noise, harsh noise, harsh noise wall, Noise, Review

josh lay  crown of bone

Before this split release I hadn’t heard anything from Josh Lay as a solo artist; he used to be a part of Cadaver in Drag (which I love, and I cherish the one cassette I have by them), and he’s also got his own moniker of Swamp Horse. Crown of Bone is a project by Dustin Alan Redington who runs Occult Supremacy (shameless plug: Tomb of Trinkets’ Drugged Lunch will be coming out on that label shortly), and also makes up part of the group Tenebrious. On This is a Tourniquet of the Light, the Black Obituary. (period included on the release), both artists offer up oppressively bleak tracks that span over 20 minutes apiece.

Josh Lay’s track “A Shroud of Ice & Bird Feathers” is first. This track is quiet – both literally and minimally – so you’ll have to turn it up a little bit. Lay layers twinkling atonal music box tones, screaming witch vocals, and his own blackened screams on top of each other, all of it rushing together with a gurgling background. It’s all very minimal – there’s no explosion of sound besides Lay’s grunts, so you’re not going to get bombarded – but the creepy crawl of this track gets to you all the same. It depends on how you feel about Lay’s vocals, though; at times they seem a bit corny paired with the quiet of this track. If you can get into the black rasp of his voice, you’ll have a good time with this.

Then Crown of Bone comes in with “Tormented in a Gouge of Razors.” Be ready to turn your system down! This is mastered loudly, but the first moments of the track are meant to throw you off. A quieter bit of static lulls us away until an absolutely crushing wall filled with deep growls drops on the listener. This is a mixture of harsh noise wall and more; the wall continues for a while, but it does change to different textures in the middle of the track until that wall comes back. In the distance we can hear little chirrups of sound, sometimes strands of bass-driven static or higher-pitched crumbles. It’s all very thick and entrancing, and the vocals are excellent.

You can’t go wrong with This is a Tourniquet of the Light, the Black Obituary. Two great artists with different takes on horrific black noise get their own space to terrify, and the CD comes from Obfuscated Records, meaning the package is put together extremely well.

20130505-205303.jpg

Endometrium Cuntplow – Eclipse Blindness (CD-R, Obfuscated Records)

Drone, Glitch, harsh noise, Noise, Review

eclipse blindeness

Endometrium Cuntplow is David Lucien Matheke, who has amassed quite a number of releases in the past few years. Eclipse Blindness is three tracks at about 45 minutes in runtime, released on the great Obfuscated Records label. It comes with a high-def glossy insert and some picture artwork on the CD cover, and it all looks great for such a small release.

The first track on the album is “Phasing In”, and it sets the tone for the rest of the album. There’s a linear progression through each track on the disc; like its title, the opening track is sort of an introduction to Endometrium Cuntplow. A locked groove opens things, sort of like a digital version of the scratching of a record that’s run its course. Over time, the track opens up with more sounds piled on top; alarum blasts and blipping tones that feel slightly mismatched from the loop are added, creating a whirlwind that sounds off-kilter and mesmerizing.

It leads into “Staring At the Sun”, a more blustery track than its predecessor. The loops are still here, but this time there’s what sounds like a fuzzy guitar line fed through lots of effects. It builds to greater heights, a frenzy that adds more electronics than the previous track – and it climaxes into “Blurred and Obscured”, which is, for this release, the harshest track that sounds exactly like what the title entails.

I like the perceived theme throughout Eclipse Blindness, and I think it works well with Endometrium Cuntplow’s blend of rhythm and harshness. And thanks to the excellent production values and packaging from Obfuscated Records, this is an album that’s worth your listen and your money.

Circuit Wound – Patience Wears Thin (CD-R, Obfuscated Records)

dark ambient, Drone, harsh noise, Noise, Review

patience wears thin

One lengthy track populates Patience Wears Thin from Circuit Wound, the noise project of Jay Howard. He’s got a lot of releases under his belt, so his seniority has been proven in the noise field. This release, which clocks in around 35 minutes, pairs drones with harsher noise as Circuit Wound molds the sound over the entirety of the track.

“Patience Wears Thin” begins with a light droning; a ringing tone pulses softly, sometimes changing pitch as other quiet tones enter. It’s all seemingly calm – not really the sort of thing one might expect from a project named Circuit Wound – and the peace stretches out over long minutes. It begins to drain on the listener – with one long track, it’s going to get pretty boring if this drone continues to repeat. And then the harsh blasts of heavily modulated noise kicks in, the heady blasts of very harsh and high-pitched static with the oscillating tones of knob twists and turns.

For the most part, this type of abstract and uncalculated noise isn’t my favorite, but in “Patience Wears Thin” the abrasive wallop of random bursts of noise works after the heavily repetitive beginning. It’s an obvious ode to the title; Circuit Wound waits and waits for the listener to slip into a comatose state expecting the drone to continue on, and then hits with a relentless assault. The layering of the cacophony, too, is some of the better harsh noise I’ve heard.

Everything eventually slips back into normalcy with an ending sustained note that carries us through. Circuit Wound continues to try our patience after each arc, continuing the same pattern just long enough for us to wish he’d move on – and then it does, to other avenues of exploration.

Pulsating Cyst – Horrible Signal (7″, Obfuscated Records)

Drone, harsh noise, Noise, Review

horrible signal

Pulsating Cyst is a relatively new project that I haven’t heard of, but this short 7″ LP from Obfuscated Records marks a good beginning for any noise fan. With three tracks and two locked grooves, Horrible Signal is a good introduction to the sort of droning noise that Pulsating Cyst brings to the table.

Horrible Signal is compiled from live excerpts, though I’m not sure how (each track has a coherent feeling to it, so I wonder if these tracks were performed entirely or constructed from others). We start with “Alien – SF Dissonance Party/The Lab”, a track that plods away with squeals of noise and deep droning constructions. It’s the longest of the three, but its direction is obvious from the start; Pulsating Cyst continues the sound throughout, and incorporates different pulsations from noise to give it that thematic imagery of an alien spaceship on course for planet Earth. It ends with a locked groove that’s quite hypnotic, beginning with bassy beats and ending with a whoosh of static.

The flip side continues with two quick cuts. The first, “Monster – Sound Invocation/The Handbag Factory” features heavy shuddering bass lines and occasional squeals and peals of electronics outbursts as well as shimmery digital-like noise in the background. It often reminds of some of Merzbow’s output; the electronics are seriously decayed and whining, and Pulsating Cyst loves to let them squawk in distress. “Broadcast – Open Windows/Kill Radio” has more of those wonky electronics sounds – whirring, shifting textures, very laser-like blasts of noise, and occasional feedback scrapes. It’s short and grating, the type of harsh noise that’s always memorable. We end with another pulsing locked groove, this one simpler but still a joy to keep spinning.

Horrible Signal is a short but excellent release, and I would take it any day over a long blast of repetitive and overdone harsh noise. It’s a fresh dose of sound – Pulsating Cyst doesn’t linger too long on the same sounds, but the idea of each track remains even as the textures are shifted.