Unsustainable Social Condition – Pleasure Seeking Pacifists (C17, Phage Tapes)

harsh noise, harsh noise wall, Noise, Review, Uncategorized

pleasure seeking pacifistsUnsustainable Social Condition has been reviewed here before, so you know the drill: harsh noise bordering on power electronics project from Matt Purse, often supremely devastating. He returns with another release of two tracks for Phage Tapes on Pleasure Seeking Pacifists, offering about 17 minutes of electronics debasement.

The first side is “Many Were Terrified of Their Saviors,” a pummeling track that in many ways resembles a wall of harsh noise as electronic static and bass elements abrasively destroy the viewer’s ears. In the background is modulation that at times resembles yelling or screaming, a fluctuation that adds a lot of nuance to the otherwise stoic track. It’s a heavy and deafening experience.

On Side B we have the title track “Pleasure Seeking Pacifists,” which again borders on harsh noise wall territory with a heavy bass rumble and some intermittent alterations in a trickling static element at the forefront – this almost seems like radio chatter or like someone repeatedly messing with the dial. It’s a lot more dynamic that “Many Were Terrified of Their Saviors” about halfway through the bass rumbles become more pervasive, the static swirls more consistent.

Pleasure Seeking Pacifists is another great offering from Unsustainable Social Condition, short but abrasive enough for all harsh noise fans. And you’re in luck: it’s still available on Phage Tapes.

Thirteen Fingers – Pater Mortuus (C32, Phage Tapes)

Drone, harsh noise, Noise, Review

pater mortuus

Thirteen Fingers is a harsh noise project for North Carolina. The alias has a few releases out so far, some digital albums and a couple of tape collections including one on Richard Ramirez’s Dead Audio Tapes with Four Flies. On Pater Mortuus, Thirteen Fingers gives us six tracks of relatively similar lengths that emphasizes loose rigidity of sound.

The first untitled cut opens up with a wavering shudder that continues throughout the track, although Thirteen Fingers allows textures to interplay throughout. There is a lot of crunch to the tracks on Pater Mortuus, and in a way they resemble walls in structure; but much of the time the project is quick to twist and re-layer noises together. There’s a pattern of taking crumbles of bass and then overlaying them with focal sounds, like the second untitled’s whirs and loops.

The second side in general steps back a bit from the harsher moments for longer, atmospheric cuts. “Untitled 4” adds a screaming siren layer to its bass, giving the listener a sharp contrast to the walled textures that come before it. “Untitled 5” is the longest on this cassette, a brooding drone that features staccato rumbles and a vibrato tone.

All told these are six great slices of harsh noise, with the first side hitting the heavy parts of the genre while the second manages to offer up dronier visions. Thirteen Fingers effectively manages both, and Pater Mortuus is strong because of it.

Gnawed – Terminal Epoch (CD, Phage Tapes)

harsh noise, Industrial, Noise, power electronics, Review

terminal epoch

Terminal Epoch is a full-length Gnawed album from Grant Richardson, and he’s become quite the aficionado of the power electronics scene. All of Gnawed’s output is consistently grueling; the devastating recordings are populated with the staples of the PE genre without feeling like the same tracks over and over again. That’s a difficult thing to do with a full-length like Terminal Epoch, with twelve tracks to fill. But the CD, clocking in at over 40 minutes, never repeats the same thing.

It certainly fits into the style of power electronics that Gnawed has been putting out for years, though. Tracks like the opening “Savage Judgment” paired with “Taken As Scorn” would sit well on any cassette Gnawed as put out; they use the vocal manipulations and pounding, slow synth beats that make up traditional PE tracks. But what always amazes me about Gnawed as an artist in the forefront of the field is that his tracks always feel incredibly powerful, mixed with the clanging industrial beats as emphatic as feedback is with harsh noise artists.

Gnawed varies things considerably, however. It’s not all about the methodical rhythmic beats; “Lip Service,” “Retribution,” and “To Crawl” manage to loop industrial rhythms without needing a thudding stomp. “Deconstructed” only sticks around for a minute, while other tracks make use of unusual source sounds like a monotone scrawl of static or a quiet sampled vocals. Gnawed’s signature whorled screams are still present, but they’re muffled occasionally.

The source sounds elevate Terminal Epoch above other PE tracks. Screeching electronics is par for the course, but piecing together specific sounds, like the synth line from the title track, takes a lot more foresight. It makes it well worth the listen.

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Astro & Winters In Osaka – Reverberating Forest (CD, Phage Tapes/Dismantle Records)

dark ambient, Drone, harsh noise, Noise, Review

astro winters

Reverberating Forest is a collaboration between the harsh noise wunderkind Astro and the droning, noisy collection Winters In Osaka. The disc holds one forty minute track that combines both harsh noise and drone together, with Winters In Osaka and Astro trading off for center stage in various vignettes.

The single, titular track begins with a shimmering drone from Winters In Osaka; everything is perfectly balanced, from the guitar lines to the subtle entrances of sound. Even some noise gets thrown in here or there with some kettle-like whistles and crashes underneath the sustained tone. Throughout the first twenty minutes or so, Reverberating Forest feels on edge; it often goes back and forth between movements, sometimes shifting into climaxes and at other times allowing the sound to recoil from its scope.

The climaxes work well to include the harsher aspects of noise, and the shift often allows some extra effects to be added. Around twenty minutes in the work shifts to a more Astro-centric approach – the drone is given up in favor of Astro’s demolition of the soundscape. Eventually the drones of Winters In Osaka do return; however, the segmented nature of this collaboration tends to make it feel more like a split than both acts working together.

Still, Reverberating Forest is a fascinating forty minute listen, perfect for a shorter trip where the track can be encompassed in full. The drone and noise combo works well together thanks to the many climaxes, and it seems these two acts fit quite snugly into the other’s work.

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Brandkommando – NOW! (C56, Phage Tapes)

harsh noise, Noise, power electronics, Review

Brandkommando plays power electronics, and on NOW! he takes an obvious political stance thanks to the imagery of soldiers armed with riot shields and gas masks. Brandkommando’s sounds are deeply rooted to repetitious noise, often using martial rhythms along with more sprawling noises and vocals not shouted but filtered through distortion and echoed as though being carried through a loudspeaker or bullhorn.

NOW! is often surprisingly less tense than other power electronics, the noise carried by the repeating rhythms. Brandkommando often uses the same sort of formula for each of his tracks, and that means that a lot of these tracks tend to blend together – if not listening thoroughly, they can often sound entirely the same, simply a shuffling beat mixed with small strands of high-pitched feedback as in “Sold Privacy” or the title track “NOW!”

Brandkommando does step out of the norms at times though, especially on the aggressive “Too Much Information,” which features a guitar-focused rhythm along with sprawling lines of noise mixed with the regular vocalizing from Brandkommando. The same is true of “Idols” on Side B, which again combines a stronger rhythm section that gives the blurry vocal spiels some context, and even the final track “Consumption,” with a ringing synth pulse and unwavering feedback.

So NOW! works best when its noise backgrounds match the darkness of its political undertones, when Brandkommando has a chance to allow the subtleties of his rhythms menace and threaten the clean repetition of the tracks. In general, NOW! is a typical power electronics release, but there are moments where Brandkommando breaks away from the formulaic in order to craft some really dark noise.

Alisa-Yhtye – Untitled (C46, Phage Tapes)

harsh noise, Noise, power electronics, Review

Untitled is actually an older release from noise act Alisa-Yhtye, which was originally self-released back in 2007. Phage Tapes picked up this release, putting it out on the label on a C46 with some great artwork. This tape features six tracks, three per side, of totally unrelenting harsh noise from the moniker.

The first cut features an extremely chaotic looping of noise, industrial-driven with a pulsating pattern that slowly adds new ideas and textures to the mix. Despite seeming straight-forward at first, Alisa-Yhtye expands on the concepts of harsh noise by adding an almost power electronics anger to the sound, and it results in punishing explosions of sound and surprising stop-starts that change the dynamic of the rhythm. Track two is just a white-wash of sound, really harsh grating windbursts of noise that tend to singe the ears while in the background, feedback and quick bursts of sound add undertones to the searing assault. The third track is the polar opposite, focusing on the feedback with the static underneath rather than vice versa. As it stands, these tracks are a bit too similar, and the third track is rather familiar fare for harsh noise.

Over on side B, the first untitled track falls into the same style of noise, with rhythmic walls of sound often seeming to rage just underneath the surface of the cacophony. This time, though, Alisa-Yhtye adds a roaring scream, perhaps sourced from some sort of revving engine or even vocal growls, that adds a niche to this track. The second track blends with the first, maintaining that area of revving electronics yet dropping the harsher areas of the previous track, and this cut drones more with a lower bass rumble beneath. Unfortunately, after the intensity of the the previous track, this sort of loses the momentum that Alisa-Yhtye had built, and the stagnant rumbles don’t do much for me here. But it’s made up for by a schizophrenic final track, combining elements of eclectic harsh noise twiddles and low manipulated samples for a juddering, stuttering finale.

There’s a lot to like about Untitled, and Alisa-Yhtye adds a lot of flavor to the harsh noise tracks on display on this cassette. They often fall into a rhythm, except that rhythm is very blistering with some incredibly pummeling noise that takes high-pitched electronics and throws it at the listener with full force. It’s a loud 46 minutes for the most part, and that’s what matters.

 

The Kali Ensemble – The Kali Ensemble (CD, Phage Tapes)

dark ambient, Drone, harsh noise, Industrial, Noise, Review

The Kali Ensemble is the duo of Mike Page and Pentti Dassum, although on this release it would seem less like a collaboration of the two and more like each are disassembling and remixturizing each other’s work (note the “vs.” in both song titles). There are two quite long tracks on this CD, both hitting the 33:33 marker for a grand total of 66:66.

The first track on here is, I believe, Page’s contribution with “The Seven Tongues Mk. 1 (Page vs. Dassum)”. Page’s track is quite sprawling, opening with guitar drones and random twines of feedback outbursts, often loud and cloying in their pitch and range. But the track continues to expand with its drones until it develops into a rager of a harsh noise track, with Page layering on different noises, allowing it all to spring forth unexpectedly in a seriously aggravated display of electronics. After that, Page winds things down slowly, first bringing us back into a drone and then ending with a rhythmic tune of bells and metallic odds and ends, an exotic mix that is both hypnotic and strangely out of place.

Dassum’s contribution, “The Seven Tongues Mk. 2 (Dassum vs. Page)”, is a little more up-front in the mixing, with an industrial drone that often presents large lulls of sound. Snippets of electronics can be heard, like the ebb and flow of subtle synth-like sounds or the crash of static seas, but towards the middle of this track Dassum pares everything back for a simple oscillation of sound that hints at an explosion just in the distance, with everything fluttering and peaceful; likewise, there’s a sample of running water, birds chirping, along with the far-off peal of feedback that taints the sound and then envelopes it in a death grip of dark pulsating chords.

What we get from the Kali Ensemble is two tracks of great industrial drone dedicated to Kali. Both Page and Dassum contribute excellent tracks, pulsating and expanding through various exercises. If you have time to spare, devote your attention to the full length of these tracks – they’re well worth listening through as a whole.

Barrikad – We Make Nihilists Smile Again (CD, Phage Tapes)

dark ambient, Drone, harsh noise, Noise, power electronics, Review

We Make Nihilists Smile Again is a set of three collaboration tracks featuring Barrikad and a different artist. Kriminaaliset Metsänhaltijat, Fear Konstruktor, and Government Alpha lend a helping hand, infusing Barrikad’s sound with distinctive differences. This CD from Phage Tapes comes with pull-out liner notes that feature five different excerpts from philospher Giorgio Agamben’s book The Coming Community.

“Black Hammers”, the collab with Kriminaaliset Metsänhaltijat, features a long-running drone of distant bass pulsings, along with a closer whir of electronics and perhaps either tape manipulations or actually sound recordings of monkeys chirping and yowling in the jungle. Needless to say “Black Hammers” takes on the aura of a dark jungle full of unrest, and the distance of the recording, which feels like the mastering is pushed way back, causes the listener to really pay attention to the sounds that oscillate within this track.

The second track, “Governmentality”, features Fear Konstruktor, and again seems to play off of the less-is-more approach with a slight buzzing and pulsing of electronics with background clicks and taps, offset by surging static deep beneath it all. It’s another drone piece, a hypnotic display of the effects of simple whirs and and taps on the human mind and the ability to focus intently on such minimal sounds. At some point garbled vocal samples play overtop of the drone, and this repetition is very effective to the mood of “Governmentality”; it makes one wonder, after reading the philosophies of Agamben, what speech the vocals once delivered.

The two drone pieces make up the meat of We Make Nihilists Smile Again; Government Alpha’s collab “Destroy, Destroy, Destroy” kicks in with its harsh noise collision, but despite the influential and long-running GA appearance, the track never really elevates above substandard hits of static and peals of noise. It’s not a bad track, but it’s entirely expected from Government Alpha and rather mundane compared to the stellar collaborations before it.

These collaborations are fairly well-done, but I will say that, being new to Barrikad’s sound, I could never really pinpoint a time where I could pick out Barrikad’s own contribution to the mixes. The tracks all seemed to sound like noise from the guest contributors, and while that’s not entirely abnormal for a set of collaborations, I found myself wishing that I could get just the hint of what Barrikad sounds like solo.

Priest In Shit – Icon/Effigy (7″ LP, Phage Tapes)

harsh noise, harsh noise wall, Noise, Review

 

This is Memory Wave Transmission’s first record review, and thanks to Phage Tapes, it’s certainly an awesome one. Priest In Shit is a harsh noise group featuring Richard Ramirez, Sean Matzus, and Vance Osborne, something like a supergroup of noisicians that often play in their other project Black Leather Jesus. Icon/Effigy is short but intensely harsh, with two side-long tracks barely hitting the nine-minute mark collectively.

With three members, it’s quite apparent that Icon/Effigy would have a lot going on in its two tracks. “Icon” features some scratchy texturing of junk electronics, which often alternates and shifts to give way for some distanced static sounds. Everything seems filtered through a scratchy contact mic, giving the noises an even more lo-fi, undefined sound; what’s great about this, though, is that it allows certain elements of the noise to drop out, for contrasts to be made between the static and industrial clatter of a restrained crunch beneath the more dominating whorl of harsh electronics. Despite being assaulting to the ears, the track also has a refined, almost rhythmic pattern to it that makes “Icon” ironically unlistenable and yet strangely hypnotizing.

“Effigy” has that same signature sound, very scratchy and buzzy but with numerous textures and noises filling its bulk. There’s a sustained buzz and judder underneath, with a heady bit of static that fluctuates atop it; and thanks to the multiple players, multiple layers of slashing static butt heads. It’s interesting that Priest In Shit never really erupt but always simmer and boil; the fact that it’s apparent that they could if they so chose to makes it that much more exciting to follow Icon/Effigy through multiple listens, continuously flipping the record.

 

 

Richard Ramirez/Black Leather Jesus – Scrapyard (CD, Phage Tapes/R.O.N.F Records)

harsh noise, Industrial, Noise, Review

 

Scrapyard was originally released in 1995 with a limited run on vinyl, and as has been the custom for much of BlackLeather Jesus’ earlier work, the album has been re-released on Phage Tapes with a more attainable number. The disc features all three of the original tracks, with two cuts from Ramirez and one longer track from the ensemble Black Leather Jesus. There’s also an additional, new track from Ramirez, which adds a bit extra for those who already own the original.
 
The Richard Ramirez tracks are extremely recognizable, certainly reminiscent of his early work in harsh noise. “The Collapse of an Industry Long Forgotten” is mostly cut-up work, scrap electronics writhing together, with shards of static and twirls of feedback oscillating together. Occasional rhythms stay for only a minute before Ramirez tweaks the sound, and there’s a more chaotic approach to his early work here; it’s also quite a bit less refined than later projects, even in the setup, which seems very minimal here. Overall, the first tracks pretty standard harsh noise fare, with much of the shifts being subtle knob tweaks or static shudders that trade back and forth between feedback bursts.
 
“Male Nudity Among American Wreckage” is similar in style to the previous track, but it’s a bit more structured, keeping defined tones longer than its predecessor for a less-varied but more rewarding track. Ramirez keeps some of the churning static longer, adds an incessant beeping sound, and even moves the noise amongst different speakers, making this an experiment that finds Ramirez capturing a more dynamic sound. It’s still very jumpy, but it manage to return to the same themes throughout. There’s even some interesting vocal sample work, decomposed and twisted into small bits of repeated bursts. It seems a prelude to the porn samples Ramirez uses on the new recording on this disc.
 
Black Leather Jesus get one track on the disc, the longest-running “Human Connection (An Obscene Turn of Events)”. If you know the noise act, you know their sound often combines industrial scrap sounds with harsh noise, and this track is no different. The sound seems a little pared back, with a rumbly bass filling the void while screams, electronics, and even some guitar-like fiddling progress in front. There’s a lot going on during the track, and that’s thanks to the myriad members that make up the project; each gets a substantial role here, and the twenty minutes of the track are nearly filled with different sounds throughout.
 
And finally, there’s the new addition to Scrapyard from Ramirez titled “Just Like Me”. Like Ramirez’s newer solo stuff, the track begins with a lengthy gay porn sample; although that is the end of the explicit content, if you’re not comfortable with that kind of thing (for any reason), I would suggest staying away from this track, and especially at work, since it does get pretty dirty. Nevertheless, the track has the best mastery on the album,and it’s also the most original piece. Ramirez uses his background in walls to create a subtly moving piece of harsh noise that really emphasizes cut-up sound; the bulk of the track has a real junk metal sound to it, with the electronics used sounding like they were heavily deconstructed and recorded through a terribly scratchy contact mic. With that said, it’s an excellent piece of noise, and it’s so interesting to compare the changes in Ramirez’s sound and note the growth of this remarkable artist.
 
But while the last track on this split is spot-on, that doesn’t make Scrapyard enough to recommend to those who already have the original LP. To be honest, the original tracks are only sub-par from both artists; I would recommend, however, for those who haven’t heard this to pick up the new edition.