Of all the records to have come my way recently, Governance by Birmingham band khost is probably the most punishing. Combining harsh noise with an industrial stomp and muscularity, Governance is far from an easy listen; but at the same time, it’s one that’s relatively easy to sink in to. Whilst khost may excel at creating an atmosphere of utter darkness, filled with horrific malevolence, they do so in a way that includes just enough shades of light to make the darkness all the more effective, whilst also stopping it becoming overwhelming. This sense of contrast is vitally important, and helps make Governance be such a success.
Given that Ulnar comprises of Rui P. Andrade and Vitor Bruno Pereira (of Aires, Verãopop, Shikabala), my expectations were quite high going in to Dreaming Of Sailing Further West. The duo had previously worked together on Pânico-Ambiente,a record of harsh noise, but this new release leans more towards the ambient side of the noise spectrum. There are harsher elements than a typical ambient album would contain, but Dreaming Of… casts a deeply meditative, captivating spell over the listener for its half hour duration, conjuring up atmospheres of desolation, loss, and yet also something close to redemption.
In the increasingly populated world of extreme music, it gets harder and harder to stand out. There’s only so many novel ideas out there, and there’s no guarantee that musicians have the requisite talent to properly convey what they have to express. It’s this context which helps make american seem an all the more startling prospect. Their mix of black metal, industrial, and harsh noise already sounds exciting on paper, but what Violate And Control demonstrates is that the duo have both the ideas and talent to take this combination in to strange new places. This results in an album that feels remarkably fresh, even as it indulges in some of the most horrific music committed to tape whilst still remaining listenable.
Woe unto thee, underground record released in December. Such is the nature of music journalism and blogging that the last few months of the year are almost inevitably more focused on retrospectives and lists, rather than paying as much attention as usual to new releases. This is why the debut album from Violent Magic Orchestra, Catastrophic Anonymous, passed me by. It’s a shame that this record wasn’t released at a time more receptive to coverage. Comprising Japanese metal band Vampillia, Paul Régimbeau (Mondkopf, Extreme Precautions, Autrenoir), and Pete Swanson (formerly of Yellow Swans), Violent Magic Orchestra have unleashed something that lives up to their name.
Sometimes, the most disturbing aspects in art are the most human. Whilst extra-dimensional Lovecraftian creatures and blasphemous demons may have their own type of power and horror, they can be as nothing when compared with a well-placed spoken word sample. SWVMPS by rabitrup is proof of that were any ever needed. The music itself is powerful enough, mixing industrial, harsh noise, and even dubstep elements in to a challenging listen. But what really makes this three-track EP horrifying are the spoken word samples, which give the music extra context and power. If you’re feeling emotionally fragile or downcast, this is a record to avoid; but, if you want an experience of staring in to the void that is humanity, press ahead.
2016 has been the year that saw me listen to, and review, more music than ever before. For every release that gets reviewed, there’s several that I don’t have the time to write something on; or that I listen to, but simply don’t get excited over. It’s also worth bearing in mind the purposes of this blog – exploring the underground. With the odd exception (such as the new Darkthrone), I have no interest in writing in the “big” releases; I want to help give some exposure and coverage to the small and underground, not go chasing whatever review or feature will get me the most hits. I’d also point out that it’s easy to lose sense of what actually is mainstream and underground when you spend so much time immersed in music. Sure, everyone may have access to Bandcamp and Youtube and a legion of Spotify recommendations, but it’s easy to overestimate just how big our favourite bands are.
That said, there’s still some mainstream releases I’ve really enjoyed this year and want to share some thoughts on in another post. But here, I want to take the time to give shout-outs to those more underground releases which didn’t quite make the cut for my list of 25 favourites of the year.
Apathy isn’t really an album to be enjoyed. Whilst there are lots of elements I like about the first full-length from Shrug, it is a bleak, harrowing listen, dealing as it does with issues of depression, illness, and suicide. It doesn’t shy away from any of its themes, confronting them with a straightforward approach that can be quite uncomfortable, and is remarkably honest. There’s no suicide idolatry here, no veneration of depression as artistic inspiration. Instead, there are elements of harsh noise, experimental electronics, and goth rock, resulting in something quite unusual, but very convincing and brave.