Monday, April 15, 2019

Hoggle & Ludo- "A Great Beast Becomes a Great Friend"

In my last post, I mentioned how much I love split releases. This is also something I've mentioned more times than I probably should've over the past six and a half years, but it remains true. Today we're looking at a split between two harsh noise artists approaching a similar topic and working with each other's source material to create new art. I'm not going to pretend this is coming with high recommendations for the average reader, as this is intentionally challenging art. Not in the sense of "oh, your weak ears aren't ready," so much as that there is an inherently smaller audience for wall noise and I understand exactly why many may not enjoy it. Still, I feel it's worth celebrating those who are outsiders even in an outsider community, which is why the ongoing works of Hoggle (and this one-time appearance from Ludo) warrant attention on my blog. I hope you'll at least take a short bit to acquaint yourself with this before writing it off entirely.

Hoggle, as you may have guessed, is a noise artist whose art is entirely based around the cult classic film Labyrinth. I'm going to assume that most readers have at least a passing familiarity with the film, from its kitschy Muppet-driven cast to the prominence of David Bowie's bulge throughout the whole damn thing, so we're not diving too deep into that. Essentially, Hoggle's methodology on the few albums in my personal collection seems to be straightforward enough: song kicks off with a sample from the film before crumbling low-end static roars for eight to twenty minutes. This may seem formulaic or repetitive (and, to be fair, it may actually be at times), but I truly enjoy pairing my childhood nostalgia with my adulthood appreciation for experimental music in its many forms. I am a firm believer that noise works better live, when one can witness the form in which it's created, but recordings can still inspire and excite the imagination with a dedicated listen. In Hoggle's harsh noise labyrinth, I'm often reminded of why I'm drawn to such fringe works. This isn't necessarily meant to be groundbreaking; harsh noise wall is a genre rooted in consistency rather than reinvention, and Hoggle is a project dedicated to a film that was released thirty years ago. We aren't looking to the future here, we're looking at and reinterpreting our own experiences.

On this two-tape set, Hoggle is joined by Ludo, a new moniker from Floridian noise luminary Hal Harmon, whose works as Vasectomy Party were some of my personal points of entry into the harsher spheres of modern experimental music. Some of the delight I get from this release is seeing Harmon's homage to a peer. Rather than simply performing tribute by crafting something similarly inspired, it's great to experience tracks like "You Seem Like Such a Nice Beast," wherein Ludo takes Hoggle's work and remixes it into a new kind of aggression (and on the two tracks on the B-side of the first tape where the roles are reversed). I'm not intimately aware of the noise scene's interpersonal politics (and from what I've gathered I'm better off for this), but I love seeing artists collaborating and celebrating their mutual styles rather than sniping at each other or working in direct competition. In such a niche community, we must find the common ground and work together. The very nature of the characters in question (and the title of the split) imply exactly this: an individual who may seem like a threat can be an ally if treated with respect.

As for the music itself, the two tracks of pure Hoggle material are less straightforward than they may appear. "Things Aren't Always What They Seem in This Place" sets things off both as the opening track and thematically, as the initial wildness of the wall condenses to a more focused, tightly wound rumble after a few minutes, only to blossom into another form of motion and vastness entirely a few minutes later. The slow shifting from chaos to a more distinct form into new chaos defies expectations and rewards a close listen, although the definition of "reward" in this context may vary for different listeners. While its accompanying track "The Goblins Torment the Snared Beast" is a more vicious, jagged take on the genre, it's no less deserving of a focused listen. If anything, the raw energy on display here makes it easier to sink into the sound and follow its ferocity. The tracks of Hoggle working with Ludo's source material that make up the B-side of the first tape follow a rather similar path, but not identical.

Ludo's contributions begin with two rearranged versions of Hoggle material, showing a clear deviation in form. "Is That Any Way to Treat Someone That's Trying to Help You?" is an especially strong deviation, following its trademark film sample with sparse, crackling noise that feels more like fizzling embers than an outright din. The slow build of this track, with density creeping in behind the main layer of sound until the two become one, highlights a difference in approach leaves me haunted.  In an even more subtle shift, on "You Seem Like Such a Nice Beast" we hear one of the film's most tender moments slowly overtaken by crunchy mid-range frequencies and the hint of a low pulse. It's refreshing to be able to distinguish the two artists while still finding them complementary. On Ludo's own tracks independent of Hoggle, the format remains consistent, although the walls feel slightly more solid and unwavering, with "A Proper Introduction For New Friends" building from hisses to monolithic sections of impenetrable horror and its counterpart in "A Journey Renewed, But Still Lacking Knowledge" displaying uncompromising harsh mastery.

All told, this release satisfies a certain itch for me. I can only hope it'll hit the spot for you. With just under three hours of music on these two tapes, it's certainly worth the $15 price tag. The Ludo tracks may be a bit better suited for those who are newer to the genre, but the whole release highlights the appeal of harsh noise wall while also showcasing the potential for diversity in an inherently rigid genre. Order through the Hair on My Food Tapes bandcamp page for a tape and a download, as Storenvy orders don't come with digital files (your author may or may not have found out the hard way) and you may as well get the whole package deal if you're going to commit. Enjoy.

Friday, April 12, 2019

The Best Things of 2018

Without even bothering to examine the state of the world (both because it's overdone and because blogging is an inherently self-absorbed thing), 2018 was one hell of a challenging year for me. To be fair, the first few months of 2019 were possibly even harder, but that's a story for the post prior to this one. I spent the year dealing with all manner of personal crises that were almost entirely manufactured by myself, from a resurgence of depression to me managing to break my laptop and spending nearly half the year without a means of maintaining this blog.

Somehow, as anybody able to read this can say, I survived. My perspective is so much clearer now, and while I missed a lot of music during the period where I was without a laptop, I also heard so many albums that I imagine I'll still love years from now. Also, despite the chaos and struggles, I had some truly wonderful times last year, both personally and musically. These small moments dot the darkness like dazzling little stars, and the promise of more moments like them in my future keeps me optimistic as I fight off physical and mental health challenges alike. In this post, I'll strive to share some of the musical aspects of my life (gotta keep some of the personal stuff personal; this isn't a diary) and perhaps I'll help you find something new that you will enjoy as much as I do. If I've missed a favorite of yours, it doesn't mean I hated it or that I forgot it, although both are certainly possibilities. Rather, it's likely that what clicks with me is as uniquely personal as what clicks with you. So feel free to gently send me suggestions, but please don't fret too much if it's just a matter of me not having heard something yet.

For starters, we're looking at concerts. I'm not going to give full reviews, because those alone could easily fill a post:

OMD @ Terminal 5
Vilkacis, Sanguine Eagle, One Thousand Birds, Sandworm, Scant @ Lucky 13.
Roadburn 2018 (highlights include Kikagaku Moyo, Mizmor, The Heads, Godflesh, Old Tower, Waste of Space Orchestra, Hieros Gamos, and Zuriaake, among many others)
Depeche Mode twice in one week for my birthday, in NYC and Boston
Godspeed You! Black Emperor @ Prospect Park (free gig).
Killing Joke @ Irving Plaza.
The Damned twice in one week because they're the Damned, in NYC and Washington D.C.

Yeah, I realize those shows are a bit light on the extreme metal content, but after spending so much of my life attending almost exclusively heavy metal shows, it makes those that aren't metal stand out just a bit more. No love lost, but it's easier to distinguish the things that are a bit different.

Something I noticed in 2018 was that it was truly the year of the split release, for me at least. So many great artists released things that were easily as good as any proper LP. Whether it's the two separate Turia splits, the Asimov-themed La Torture des Tenebres & microcosmys jam, or any of the others listed among this small batch of splits, reissues, EPs, and demos, these were some of the most interesting things that came my way during the calendar year. If anything, the inherent brevity of these shorter releases should make them easier for you to check out. Also, that Book of Sand EP is a strong contender for album of the year, so at the very least you should listen to that.

Book of Sand- Postmodern Witchcraft
Devil Master- Manifestations (compilation)
Fluisteraars/Turia- De Oord
Korpsånd- An Introduction to the New Wave of DKBM
microcosmys/La Torture des Tenebres- The Gods Themselves
Spiritual Cramp- Television (compilation)
Sun Ra & His Arkestra- Strange Celestial Road (digital reissue)
Vastum/Spectral Voice split
Vilkacis/Turia split
Warthog- Warthog

Now here's the part most of you came for. Albums that ruled. I've chosen a handful that I really enjoyed. Twenty album limit here means that there were some truly enjoyable albums that got left off. Doesn't mean they're bad, it just means I had to be firm with myself or else this could've easily tripled in size and made itself a bit bloated and harder to parse. This is a representation of the diversity of great music released in 2018. Everything from truly raw black metal to art rock with healthy doses of a few other things. Am I still heavily rooted in guitar music? Of course. Still, I'm trying to branch out more with time. Hope that one or two of these really click with you. In alphabetical order so as not to give the illusion that I'm capable of prioritizing (although if pressed, I'd likely list that Daughters album as AOTY). I'm listing these as embedded bandcamp links where possible so you can just click and enjoy.

Voices- Frightened (can't find it on bandcamp or as a stream on YouTube so this is a spotify link, sorry)

Friday, April 5, 2019

Songs for Hospitals

Some of you may know I was recently hospitalized following severe complications with my ulcerative colitis. Now that you've read that sentence, all of you know. This may seem vaguely familiar to long-time readers who remember my Crohns diagnosis (now changed to ulcerative pancolitis) three years ago. I was a lot more afraid back then, but my condition was also far more benign. Funny how that works, isn't it?

To make a very long story short, I've spent most of the past four months in varying states of discomfort and outright pain. Since late February, things have been bad enough that I've been incapable of working and have been kept at home. The doctor I was seeing for my condition kept reassuring me that steroids and other drugs would help, but my state continued to deteriorate in spite of his help. Finally, on March 21st, I received a colonoscopy to confirm my state. At this point, the doctor changed my category from "mild" to "severe" and sent me to the hospital for immediate treatment.

I spent a week hospitalized for my ulcerative colitis. Seven days passed in shifting states of optimism and unease. While I was grateful to be on the path towards a long-term treatment and possible solution, there's a sort of fear that creeps in all the same when you realize you're so sick that you cannot be at home and must be monitored by doctors at all hours. The one saving grace for my stay (aside from competent and helpful doctors, naturally) was that the only available bed for me was in a private room. Many rooms in hospitals are shared, often partitioned solely by a curtain between two beds. I had my own door that shut and a private bathroom, which is rather essential with a digestive condition such as mine. With my privacy intact and more time on my hands than I'd like, I made a playlist to busy myself and to track my thoughts as I went. Since I had no laptop or diary, writing my feelings out would prove too complex, but adding songs to a playlist here and there made perfect sense. Aided by a friend's Spotify family account (thanks Chris), I was able to really sit with music and channel the experience as it hit me.

There's something to be said about the power of music to help us convey what we cannot directly access, and there was a general blanket of numbness between me and many of my experiences while I was hospitalized. Whether it was simply how surreal the whole thing is or whether it was so traumatizing in a way that I couldn't process it, I found that listening to music placed me closer to my reality than my day-to-day experiences would've otherwise allowed. With that in mind, I present a playlist that flows from dreadful and dreary to warm and welcoming. Some of these songs are a bit on the nose as they deal with anxiety and stomach issues outright, while others are more indirect and for the listener to interpret. I'd initially planned on giving more of a "guide" here, but unless I tell you every high and low of my time in the hospital and all the weird buried grief and self-doubt that came with it, it's best to just let you go on a journey of your own. It may not mimic mine entirely, and many of these songs may not bring you anything at all, but I hope this is as good a place as any to begin reconnecting with you, dear reader, as it's been quite some time since I've found it within me to really commit to writing on this blog and I have missed it terribly. As always, send me your thoughts at if you'd like to discuss this. Thank you.

Sunday, July 1, 2018

Nahtrunar- "Mysterium Tremendum" (2018)

I've written about black metal for nearly six years. I've been listening to it for approximately fifteen. It's easier for me to find inadequacies or cave in to the desire to revisit old favorites than it used to be, and yet I'm still wholly engaged by the music when it's done right. When I first heard Nahtrunar's stunning new album, Mysterium Tremendum, it was illuminating. I had been in the grip of a period of detachment and discontent, spending more time with other genres that were newer to me and, consequently, more exciting. Then, on a February morning, I happened upon this majestic piece of jet black rawness, glistening like obsidian against its own darkness. The sense of might and melody that captured my teenage mind appeared, renewed by the conviction and intensity of the artist's creation. It's safe to say this will stand among the year's finest offerings in any genre, and it's likely it will be the crowning black metal achievement of 2018.

From the start rather than attempting to alter or obfuscate Nahtrunar's roots in second-wave black metal's rich sound, the approach is a dead-ahead expression of pure atmosphere. Guitar leads shimmer in moments, but lean back into the tapestry of accompanying instruments instead of forcing their way to the forefront. The fusion of leads and vocals in with more consistent layers of sound guarantees that even the most unexpected moments present themselves naturally and consistently. There's also something to be said for the anonymity of Nahtrunar's membership. I've long held the belief that even artists who explicitly remove themselves from the act of performing are still making a performance in their own obscurity. The sense of detachment from self plays directly into the transcendent sounds and aims of the music and serves as a further function of this expression.

Is there something repetitive to the writing by this point? It's possible. There is something challenging about assessing or qualifying exactly why a collection of well-done takes on a familiar sound is somehow better than others. One can state it as a matter of preference, which isn't wrong, but it's more than just that. There's a feeling and a form to something like this that places it in a timeless category. It's the difference between something you enjoy and something you remember. It's hard to state how or why, and this review clearly displays my own inability to touch on this, but Nahtrunar captures the magic and feeling of albums released more than twenty years earlier on Mysterium Tremendum, taking this listener back to a formative place where I first fell in love with this genre. While it may be a silly turn of phrase, I hope you'll also fall in love when you listen.

On a human note, this is incredibly expensive to ship to the United States. I'd love to own this but cannot afford this expense for a single LP. If you are aware of any distros in the North American continent with copies, please get in touch.

Wednesday, June 27, 2018

ProtoU & Hilyard- "Alpine Respire" (2017)

I recently made a commitment to quit behaving like a slave to the demands and deadlines in my inbox and function more like the classic download blogs this was inspired by. I'm not about to hand out free music after six years of keeping things legal, but blogs like SVN OKKLT and Salt Goat (R.I.P.) inspired me to focus on curation rather than timeliness. There is so much music I love and find captivating that simply isn't new. Sometimes new music catches my attention. Today alone, I had two things hit my inbox that I was thrilled to hear, but I can't pretend that this blog is a repository of all things current. Quality over all else, right? With that in mind, here's a dark ambient gem that I received approximately a year ago from Cryo Chamber and still find quite captivating.

ProtoU and Hilyard may be operating on entirely separate continents, but their collaborative work in Alpine Respire is so singular in its effect that it's hard to imagine it as the work of multiple parties, let alone two individuals at such a distance. The opening track plays out in a relatively straightforward fashion, offering up a massive bleak drone that belies what follows, although it sets the tone perfectly. "Blood Grass Sojourn" is where things really come into focus, with clear, evocative field recordings taking the forefront and giving way to hallucinatory ambient soundscapes that stretch on like endless grey skies. The work captures all the emptiness of rural industrial regions, stark in their balance of horror and beauty. There is a sense of peace at the center of the otherwise harrowing sound, especially during the cleansing rush of "Boreal Distillate" as it bleeds into "Final Refugium," but it never fully leaves behind the lingering darkness.

Despite the common, false notion that drone is fixed or unchanging, the movement of these songs shows just how much tension and force can be carried in such direct forms. From slow shifts to sudden turns driven by the accompanying field recordings, there is so much at play in any given moment. This is truly the definition of ambient music as sought by its originators: it can be left to the background if need be, but it will also reward full focus listening. Get lost in your head and in the hills and the haze.

Monday, June 18, 2018

Untangling the Web of "Gnaw": Your Guide to a Few Bands with Similar Gnames

I love extreme metal. If my hunch is right, you do too. That's why we're both here. It's certain that we all have an abundance of bands in our collections with "death," "dark," "black,""moon," and other fun spooky buzzwords that may not even make sense (Evilfeast, I'm looking at you). Still, there's something to be said for specificity in terms outside of the obvious go-tos. With new albums by a handful of similarly named bands, I felt it was high time I set up a primer to distinguish each of these talented and enjoyable acts for the benefit of myself and maybe one or two other people. To be fair, I find it harder these days to run at length about some fucking band that has riffs. I love a riff, but after six years of this it's hard to describe things in a new way. So here's a handful of short-run thoughts on long-form albums and artists that are worth your time. Gnaw on some of these

The most direct award goes to local New York noisemakers in Gnaw. It's easy to make esteemed vocalist Alan Dubin (you know his other bands) a focal point here, but Gnaw is a competent collective regardless of his input. His ominous voice is incredible, make no mistake, but Gnaw is not just a consolation prize for people who miss Khanate. Brooding, swaying streams of sound filter and burst through from behind dirge-like doom structures, making something that sits just outside of most boxes it could be placed within. At times, things veer into the more structural side of industrial music, but the irreverence of Gnaw makes even the most direct things appear to be heavily altered. It swells without becoming unwieldy in its scope, a teetering and tenuous experience that remains just grounded enough to stay contained and consistent.

Gnawed, while similarly noisy, is the only outright actual noise act presented here. Those of you who keep aware of modern death industrial are already sure to be familiar with this project of Minneapolis resident Grant Richardson, but for those not yet in the know, you're welcome. The monstrous and overwhelmingly vast atmosphere of Gnawed's newest work, Ruin, should be a lot to take in, but presents itself in a surprisingly digestible fashion. In the midst of songs that feel more like abandoned, ruined cities, there are still moments of somber peace in songs like "North of Lock" (near the twenty minute mark on side A in the stream above) with an eerie semblance of melody. Last year's Harm was also an absolute mandatory listen, if this entices you enough. Suffice to say, this is one of the more fascinating death industrial or dark ambient artists performing today.

Gnaw Bone is the freshest group in this collection but is equally worth your attention with their hideous, stomach-turning doom. Without forsaking form or clarity, Gnaw Bone offers up four tracks of ugliness on Scorched Earth. Bands like this often get pegged with the "misanthropic" tag, but I feel that'd be selling this short and a little bit off-center. The roaring fury here is more aligned with all-out world-ending chaos than it is an emotion. When humanity's nuclear ambition fails and the world is engulfed by whatever hell we unlock, the title track will seem more prophetic than "metal" in its scope. The hypnotic force of this should be noted by fans of all things unsettling and apocalyptic. Bonus points for keeping things gross while still maintaining crisp and clear production.

Gnaw Their Tongues is probably the most well known artist we'll explore here, which is why it's saved for last. It's almost pointless to introduce Mories/Maurice de Jong, as his body of work has given him amply massive respect and acknowledgment despite the sheer malice with which so much of it is delivered. This recent profile done by bandcamp itself gives a great point for dipping your toes into many of his projects beyond just Gnaw Their Tongues, but I'm electing to share the first album of his I came across. I'm not sure anything I'd heard before L'Arrivée de la Terne Morte Triomphante comes close to the degree of dread and majesty conveyed simultaneously on each of the album's tracks, blending funereal doom and black metal with martial industrial and chilling choirs. It's disgusting but impossible to ignore and inherently fascinating. As an album that manages to balance its grotesque nature with something truly gorgeous, it revels in its own excess. This is likely a familiar album to most readers, but still deserves your time and attention.

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

Into Dungeons of Delirium: A Guide to Dungeon Synth's Stranger Side

Lately, it seems you can barely traverse a piece of underground discourse without coming across mention of "dungeon synth." I'm guilty of contributing to this static myself, but I feel the recent trend of bombastic, medieval dungeon synth is missing some of the woozier, more rudimentary trademarks of the genre that won me over to such minimal sounds in the first place. I'm all for new age and otherwise higher touch stuff creeping in, as it rounds out so much of the concept, but the doors that first opened to me within the broader realm of dark dungeon music were more outsider art than they were anything else.

Perhaps this inclination many artists have towards more orchestrated music speaks to the accessibility of computer programs that assist in digital art creation, but there's something magical about simple sounds. Layered works have their own magic, but the sense that one is peering into a crude approximation of reality that doesn't resemble one's own is an experience that excites me most. While the more majestic works of newly established dungeon synth heavyweights in Old Tower scratch this itch quite well, I thought it would be worth my time (and hopefully yours) to examine a few records that capture the most delirious and peculiar side of this genre.

Roman Master- Roman Master
Roman Master is an American project that partakes in the time honored tradition of dungeon synth as an extension of black metal interlude tracks. Of their first two self-titled demos (EPs?), one is vicious raw black metal, while the other is this strained, remarkable offering of minimalist synthesized sorrow. This demo's songs bleed into one another, following the sequential theme of an individual venturing off to a guaranteed failure on the battlefield. The theme of defeat and frailty is echoed by the hissing, wavering melodies, often carried by a single thin note that just barely cuts through choral voices at their most mournful and warped. Stripped of majesty and elegance, Roman Master cuts to the heart of a specific, unimaginably intense experience.

The Embers of Tara- Realm of Sleep
Following the aforementioned Roman Master into hazy, uncertain territory, The Embers of Tara may strive to avoid such depressive themes, but delves into the uncertainty of dreams where all things that drift into focus become inherently distorted. What may sound like a tape being chewed up by the tape deck is not an accident, but rather an actuality of sleep, wherein points of reference are altered with time and in relation to one's own approach. Distinct melodies flow into new forms entirely through a series of several small shifts, until the original piece seems forgotten while facing the new, distorted version. It's a challenge to both memory and perfectionism, but chasing such fixed points is no more realistic than chasing the very nature of sleep itself. The blurred edges become the highlight rather than a detraction from the original composition, creating a world that is neither soothing nor turbulent.

Iamí- Cavernas do Inconsciente
We're slightly departing from the theme of less orchestrated music here because this is such a trip that it warrants inclusion. Iamí, whose name translates to "night" in the indigenous Brazilian Tupi language, explores self in a psychedelic sense through visual art and synthesizer sounds. Like Roman Master above, Iamí works in both black metal and dungeon synth, yet focuses exclusively on the latter on this most recent release. Plodding low-end notes feel like actual footsteps on a heavy internal journey, while more ethereal synthesizer voices float above, almost separate from the lower frequencies entirely. This separation, perhaps unintentionally, creates a sense of the consistent narrator and the circumstances unfolding around the listener. With this distinct, direct approach to the form, it allows even simple twists of the script to take on a larger significance.

Celastael- My Path
The sparseness of Celastael's two demos is hard to notice at first, as heavy reverb and delay carry single notes across broad expanses. What is most striking about these barebones recordings is not their lack of unnecessary trappings, but rather their brevity. While only one track on this demo passes the three minute mark, every song offered feels like a complete statement, offered up from the haze of a moonlit winter night. The dungeon synth genre seems to give great space to artists who blow a collection of three or four related phrases into twenty-minute epics, with unnecessary bombast in the name of "atmosphere." This is direct evidence that, while such lengthy run-times can be used to great effect (as evidenced in great measure below), a talented artist can fit the whole feeling into a fraction of the time.

Erdstall- Caverns of Endless
In contrast with Celastael, Erdstall makes a strong case for the hypnotic powers of repetition and space. With two massive tracks, Caverns of Endless flows into the doomy spirit of earlier visionaries like Trollmann av Ildtoppberg, but in a way entirely of Erdstall's own creation. Horns swell stretch into infinity, seemingly echoing off countless chambers of some vast abyss. Unlike many of the above releases, rhythm is prominent in this offering, yet not to the point of detracting from the dread-inducing drone that lies at the core of the sound. This project seems to be inactive now, after five years of silence and no other online presence. The absence is truly a shame. Now that these sounds are reaching a wider audience, it would be fascinating to see how Erdstall could progress in such a climate. One can't help but imagine it would feel like the most glorious, unending crawl to death.