Ghost Cult’s dive beneath the crust into the dirty, disgusting and sub-underground is back, as Richie HR returns with a round-up most fetid for your vulgar delectation…Continue reading
It’s been a strange trip for Schammasch. Starting as a not-entirely-successful mash-up of Black Metal and Stoner Doom, they scored an underground break-out with 2014’s Contradiction. That rarest of rarities – a double album that’s interesting all the way through and isn’t Jeff Wayne’s War Of The Worlds – it swaggered out of the gates like a prog-infused Behemoth, all muscular Black/Death Metal riffing combined with effective atmospherics and some genuinely skilful songwriting, and had many professional opinion-givers cautiously predicting them as the Next But One Big Thing. Continue reading
There’s a quiet revolution going on in Dark Ambient, and Cryo Chamber Records are at the heart of it. The sole responsibility of genre veteran Simon Heath, they combine a high level of quality control with high-tech productions, rich artwork (both handled by Heath himself) and a unique sense of shared vision and intent to make them one of the most recognisable and engaging labels in recent years, and God Body Disconnect are one of their rising stars. Continue reading
In the first of an irregular feature for people with irregular music tastes, Ghost Cult plunges into the chaotic cyclone of abstract, dissonant and frankly horrible sub-underground Metal, Noise and Ambient.Continue reading
While not exactly a household name even in underground Metal, Kevin Hufnagel’s CV covers an impressive range of some of the more interesting and experimental bands and albums in modern Metal. His time in Dysrhythmia, Gorguts and Vaura shows a creative, ambitious player who’s not prepared to settle in one place for too long – so it’s hardly surprising that his new solo album leaves behind even the flexible restrictions of those bands to engage entirely with his own creativity.
The music on Kleines Biest (self-released) is a little outside Ghost Cult’s usual comfort zone in terms of labels and references, but if pushed I’d describe it as a kind of abstract composition, drawing on elements of Noise, Dark Ambient and other electronic forms, alongside occasional uses of Hufnagel’s guitar. The eleven tracks are instrumental, and each focus on a particular style or atmospheric theme, covering a broad range from sinister to reflective. There are aspects of Hufnagel’s compositional approach that are suggestive of Scott Walker’s post-Tilt (Fontana) work, but without Walker’s voice and skewed “song-writing”, it takes on more of a background role.
At its best, Kleines Biest is genuinely both daring and engaging collection of tracks from a musician who has clearly set out to challenge himself. Perhaps the most successful parts – certainly from the perspective of most Ghost Cult readers – come when Hufnagel brings his guitar to the compositions, employing abstract, atmospheric riffing that highlights how the trappings of Metal can be used to achieve unconventional results. Like a lot of “background” music, however, it can sometimes slip into meaningless abstraction and hollow sounds – at its worst, Kleines Biest is little more than more adventurous lift music, and the album perhaps outstays its welcome at times, especially during the more ambient or contemplative sections.
A largely successful experiment in stepping beyond the boundaries of Metal, then, for a musician who has spent his career pushing and testing those boundaries, but most people reading this are likely to prefer his work within the more structured format of a band.
It can be difficult with music as inherently niche as Extreme Metal to really know just how “big” a particular band are. From safely inside our little bubble Portal seem absolutely enormous at the moment, a regular feature on End Of Year lists whenever they put an album out. This impression was supported by their performance the day before at Bristol’s Temples Festival, where pretty much everyone present tried to ram themselves into the second stage area to see one of the weekend’s most talked-about bands. Taken out of that context and into the unforgiving reality of a rainy London Sunday, then it’s almost surprising to see them in a tiny pub filled with ferociously dedicated fans. Don’t take talk of “hipsters” seriously – this is music entirely confident in its own small but passionate niche.
Grave Miasma have made a name for themselves playing solid, no-nonsense old-school Death Metal with a dark, “gothic” atmosphere and a pre-frilly-shirts Peaceville feel, and tonight they demonstrate that it is the strength of their song-writing and the confidence of their playing that elevates them beyond the generic. Further proof that playing within a genre does not necessarily equate to a lack of ambition or skill.
Atmosphere, though, is a fragile thing. Without Temples’ smoke machine and elaborate lighting rig, Impetuous Ritual seem less like four eldritch spectres of doom, and more like four guys in their pants and as many nails as they could afford from B&Q. Live, their music is much more savage and bestial than on record, the abstract atmosphere distilled down to pure aggression and violence. It’s a powerful performance, but a little repetitive, and loses some power towards the end of their set – although perhaps that’s simply because expectation for Portal has reached frantic levels.
Impetuous Ritual’s underpants-atmospherics suffer slightly from their mundane environment, but Portal are on a different level entirely – beyond anything as crude as geography. Even seeing The Curator having to push through the crowd in full costume to get to the stage (or watching him be guided on and off the Temples stage the day before) doesn’t detract from the sheer presence they exude once their set starts. Metal is not a genre renowned for its subtlety, but there’s something understated about Portal’s stage craft that’s far more effective than the usual ranting and shouting. The Curator’s deliberate, ritualistic gestures carry a weight beyond the usual air-punching and head-banging, and stage banter is replaced entirely with hypnotic waves of noise which link all of the songs together, so that there isn’t a moment of silence once they take the stage.
All this, though, would be ultimately meaningless if their aesthetics weren’t so perfectly married to their music. Critics attacking them for not having catchy riffs or grooves, or accusing them of being “just noise”, are missing the point – which is that Portal’s uniqueness comes from blending the musical elements of Death Metal with an approach to “song-writing” more akin to Dark Ambient or Noise music. This is particularly noticeable live, where waves of feedback, noise and dissonance flow together in a way which seems almost spontaneously organic – but which is of course planned in great detail. This isn’t catchy Melodic Death Metal, dirty Old School Death Metal or even ten-billion-riffs-at-once Tech Death Metal – this is Death Metal as fully immersive Noise, and live – even to people familiar with their recorded material – the intensity is almost unbearable.
If there’s a single criticism of Portal’s set, it’s how inappropriate some of the fans’ reactions seemed. A horribly arrogant thing to say, of course, and the idea that there’s a “right” or “wrong” way of enjoying a band should be treated with nothing but contempt, but when confronted with something as alien and distinctive as Portal, the old whoo-ing, punching the air and shouting the band name as if they were Slayer just sounds out of place. The only sane reaction to being confronted with this spectacle is just to stand there and take it for long as you possibly can.
Grindcore is not a genre renowned for embracing diversity. Sure, there are degrees of complexity, sub-sub genres (the much reviled Goregrind and unbelievably-somehow-even-worse Pornogrind being tragic examples) and bands who’ve found their own sound, but the basic template laid down by Siege, Deep Wound and the original Napalm DeathThe Peel Sessions (Strange Fruit) is as relevant to the genre now as it ever was.
Which makes Cloud Rat both extremely important and extremely difficult to describe, because their thoughtful, reflective Grind manages to capture musical territory that is both recognisably Grindcore and recognisably different. It’s hard to pinpoint exactly how they accomplish this – they slow down quite a lot, but that’s hardly a new thing; sure, they use spoken word sections and Dark Ambient elements, but again Grind’s involvement with Noise is hardly new. It’s more the way these elements are used, not to crush or destroy but to create a sense of distance and space, which is then contrasted with the more genre-conventional violence and blasting to heighten the impact of both. “Contemplative” is not a word you might ever have expected to read in a Grindcore review, but for Cloud Rat it honestly fits.
Their third full-length album (fifth if you count odds-and-sods collection Fever Dreams and Blind River) since 2010, Qliphoth (all Halo of Flies/IFB) is a snapshot of a ferociously dedicated and hardworking band continuing to carve out their own unique sense of what Grindcore can be. It’s a varied collection, its songs as meandering and reflective as my raiding-the-thesaurus-for-words-that-mean-thoughtful would have you expect, while still as savage and devastating as a Grind album should be. Anyone just seeking wall-to-wall blast beats and mosh breakdowns will be disappointed, but it’s not like those are exactly hard to find. Cloud Rat have offered something both more rare and more interesting, and have made themselves genuinely the best new Grindcore band in years in the process.
Cloud Rat on Bandcamp
All reviewers know, in their secret hearts, that grading albums is an arbitrary process, and that the wider the scale the more subjective the judgement will be. Fans will argue and bicker over whether a given album is a 7.5 or an 8, somehow not realising that these are simply forced formalisations of a personal judgement, a qualitative emotional response squeezed into a quantitative shape. Every so often, however, an album comes along that by its sheer enormity, its absolute refusal to be pinned down so crudely, forces anyone hearing it to confront the essential meaninglessness of their numbers.
AEvangelist have only been around since 2011, and have already released three full-length albums, two EPs and a split, during which they have developed their sinister Death Metal into a genuinely unique style. The blending of Extreme Metal with Dark Ambient/Electronic Noise is nothing new – indeed, my role at Ghost Cult seems to be chasing the multiple products of this relationship and hitting them with a big stick – but bands have disagreed over how to approach it: Portal borrow the composition and layering approach of Noise artists to turn their Death Metal into a dense, chaotic swamp, whereas Grave Upheaval strip their Metal down to its barest skeleton, casting aside all ostentation until nothing is left but fetid Dark Ambient drones. AEvangelist’s approach – more maximalist, and initially quite overwhelming – is to simply PLAY EVERYTHING AT ONCE. At times it seems like there are two AEvangelists – the claustrophobic, shrieking Ambient Noise artist and the cavernous, meandering Death Metal band – and neither is prepared to give the other a moment to themselves, both bands playing their music on top of, alongside and writhing between the notes of the other.
Each subsequent album has taken this approach a little far, and Writhes In The Murk (Debemur Morti) reveals it in its most excessive, most intoxicating, most entirely singular form yet, and on the first few listens it can almost impossible to pick anything out at all. Riffs are buried in noise and static, atmospheric passages are interrupted by monotonous, rumbling-drainpipe vocals, the whole thing could easily be dismissed as an exercise in extremity for its own sake, an example of why musicians set themselves boundaries to work in – many people will doubtless stop listening with that impression in mind, and it’s hard to say that they’re wrong to do so. Persevere, though (and it IS perseverance – this album will make you work for everything it has to give) and a structure starts to emerge from the mire, an alien, shifting but nevertheless consistent logic that reveals Writhes In The Murk as a true album rather than a collection of disparate noises. The key to unlocking its shape lies in the pairing of ambient instrumental ‘Disquiet’ and the heaving, chaotic shambles that is ‘Aelixir’ – all saxophones and flailing, smoky tendrils of broken Jazz – at the centre, with a trio of more conventional (by this band’s standards) Death Metal songs at either side.
Grading music in numbers is, as explained already, a useful lie – painting the veneer of objectivity onto a subjective process that works right up until someone like AEvangelist comes along with an album so utterly, undeniably itself that only the very bottom or the very top of the marking scale could possibly make any sense at all. Writhes In The Murk is not the perfect album (imagining for a moment that such a thing could ever exist), and a lot of people are going to hate it for perfectly valid reasons. However, if you’re able to get past the initial disorientation and look inside, you’ll find an album that follows its own perverse ambition flawlessly, with not a shred of compromise, dilution or failure.
I love repeating myself as much as the next narcissist, but even I’m starting to get tired of talking about the inherent contradictions in “metallic” Dark Ambient. The Universe doesn’t want me to stop, however, and have sent Trepaneringsritualen & Sutekh Hexen (T&SH – I’m not typing that again) to record a live album. The live album – sloppy, raw and drenched in shouts and cheers – seems the very essence of Metal’s Rock n’ Roll heritage, and the exact antithesis of such a delicate, deliberate style of music as Dark Ambient, but One Hundred Year Storm (Pesanta Urfolk) is a two-track, hour long live recording of Pagan/Ritual Ambient that’s easier to imagine coming from a studio.
The good news is that it works surprisingly well, T&SH building up an effect atmosphere through the use of static, guitar drones and distorted vocals. One reason for the success is that this is much more dynamic than a lot Dark Ambient – though atmosphere is still paramount, each track has a sense of moving forward towards a particular goal. Things “happen”, to put it crudely, and the music avoids the aimlessness that their peers sometimes fall into. The sound is generally effective, though sometimes a little distant or fuzzy, and the different layers of sound are clearly audible.
As I’ve already mentioned, however, One Hundred Year Storm is a live album – and that means crowd noise. There is something genuinely disorientating about the cheers and clapping that sometimes breaks out during quieter moments. This is music that builds atmosphere and tension – having a bunch of “Wooh! Yeah!”’s intrude upon that is like watching someone doodle a smiley face on a piece of modern art, and can drag you rather awkwardly from the effect T&SH create.
One Hundred Year Storm is a genuinely effective, captivating piece of dynamic Ambient Noise, and possibly a good starting place for Metallers who want to explore this style but fear that it may bore them.