Sunn O))): Kannon
Southern Lord (2015)
Don your robes, light your torches and bow down to the Drone; Sunn O))) are back, in black.
Kannon is the sound of pagan rituals, full moons peering through dense forest foliage, firelight, candles and old gods rising from the murk. Hooded figures huddle over their instruments in the mist. Dense waves of distorted drone impregnate your body and rattle your organs. Your joints threaten to come loose. Your only option is succumbing to the meditative trance placed on you.
For almost 20 years now Sunn O))) have traded in down-tuned guitars playing snail-paced riffs at bowel shattering volumes, each note drawn out into a feedback drenched drone. Their music is thick and textured like impasto paint, a sound that takes physical form. They’ve spent time embellishing this concept with all manner of decoration, taking the sound as far as they can, but Kannon strips back the guff and returns to their roots.
The choirs, chamber orchestras and FX from 2009’s Monoliths and Dimensions have been stripped right back and buried in the mix. Anything non-guitar is present for atmosphere only, a mere canvas for the band’s blackened drones.
Regular collaborator Attila Csihar returns to provide a range of bizarre incantations and proves what a versatile contributor he is to the realms of extreme and experimental music. He floats between monochromatic chanting, and textural growls reminiscent of Tuvan throat singing or the extraterrestrial from the Predator movie franchise. He is theatrical, cinematic and incredibly evocative.
I was enamoured by the ambition of Monoliths and Dimensions on its release. You had to admire the balls that Stephen O’Malley and Greg Anderson showed by taking the project so far from its core. But eventually I returned to those earthier, grittier and frankly more contemplative early recordings. On Kannon, Sunn O))) sound like they too have realised simplicity is a blessing. This record is a fucking cracker.
Mohammad: Som Sakrifis
On the other end of the Cello spectrum to Okkyung Lee, is this stellar release on everyone’s favorite label right now, Pan. Mohammad is comprised of three Greek artists Nikos Veliotis, Costantino Kiriakos, and ILIOS. I know of ILIOS through his Antifrost label but can’t say I’m familiar with the other two guys, however that may change.
What we have here is a brilliant example of the power of drone, illustrated by the haunting, deep beauty of Cello and Contra Bass. Where Okkyhung Lee attacks her instrument, Veliotis and Kiriakos coax long and considered notes from their muse while ILIOS takes a backseat, colouring the background with skittery electronics.
The Cello is the perfect drone instrument. In many ways, Som Sakrifis is like an acoustic Sunn O))) trip, but darker and more melancholic (don’t ask me how this can be darker than Sunn O))), but it is). Som Sakrifis is mournful music for solo listening at night, with the lights off.
My favorite moments are when Veliotis and Kiriakos violently and suddenly shift notes, their fingers and bows scraping against the strings like they’re actually tearing sound out of their instruments. The hairs stand up on the back of my neck every time. There’s also great beauty in the way they often play in harmony, each musician following their own narrative, settling on the same note for a few beats and then sliding tones and semi tones apart which creates a restless energy.
When this sort of music is done right the effect is completely immersive and deeply personal. It’s no coincidence that drone forms the basis of various religious ‘musics’; it can be a spiritual experience. Anyone with even the remotest interest in drone and minimalist music needs to check this record out. In a genre filled with Souncloud and Bandcamp mediocrity, Mohammad are the real deal.
Kareem: Porto Ronco
The Death of Rave (2013)
It begins by oozing out of your speakers, and gently simmering in a murky puddle. Bubbles of radio miasma drift off and burst quietly in the shadows. The atmosphere is warm but airless and desperate. A series of electronic groans takes over and leads us towards a beautiful Kevin Drumm style drone, power lines crackle in the distance while feedback rings in and out of consciousness. The drone becomes more menacing, discordant, rattling. It mutates through crushing distortion, a static-y hum and detuned television reception before quietly drifting away on a single, ringing note.
This record is fucking amazing. Seriously. Patrick Stottrop, aka Kareem has been around since the 90s making spooky hip hop riddims and damaged industrial techno but it’s this drastic change of direction that’s grabbed my attention. Apparently inspired by a deceased relative and named after small European town where his grandfather lived, Porto Ronco is void of rhythm but overflows with ambience. It’s a unique record but if you think of Mike Shiflet, maybe a little of Ben Frost and the least menacing moments of Haxan Cloak you’re somewhere in the same shadow as Kareem on Porto Ronco.
I’ve been listening to the 45 minute mp3 version of Porto Ronco, but there’s also an edited, 30 minute version available on vinyl. Would this shorter, broken up version lose its effect? I don’t know, maybe. You can pick up both for the one price on Boomkat. Do yourself a favour.
Ensemble Pearl: Self Titled
Drag City (2013)
Stephen O’Malley seems to release a new collaborative record every other day. The guy is prolific, and it’s not like he’s banging out ‘noise’ tracks on a broken synthesiser in his bedroom either. He creates intricate and highly considered music, as described in this fantastic video interview at the Red Bull Music Academy. In general we’ve come to expect a trademark sound from O’Malley and the projects he’s involved in; that of crushing and meditative doom ambience. There are exceptions though.
For example, last year’s stunning and underrated KTL record (his collaboration with with Editions Mego boss Peter Rehberg) eschewed doom for a much more delicate combination of acoustic and electronic drones. Ensemble Pearl takes another surprising left hand path.
Perhaps it’s the presence of Boris collaborators Atsuo and Michio Kurihara, bringing that group’s occasional post rock leanings to the table. Or maybe it’s something to do with Ensemble Pearl’s fourth member Bill Herzog. Whatever the case, O’Malley’s stamp isn’t as significant on this record. For one, distorted guitars are kept to a minimum. Ensemble Pearl emphasises drums, bass and clean guitars with none of the dissonance you’d expect. It’s surprisingly rhythmic, with guitars following the drums’ lead through a trip hop paced, psychedelic hoe down. Atsuo’s kit drips with reverb, creating a dubby vibe that’s most enjoyable.
The sparse arrangements make me think of Boren & Der Club of Gore minus the foreboding anxiety. Ensemble Pearl is a warm and dreamlike experience with crisp and spacious production. Tracks like Wray tackle a palette of xylophone-like synthesisers to create an ambience that’s almost heavenly. Wray is among the most beautiful pieces O’Malley has been involved in, calling to mind the more abstract moments of bands like Godspeed you! Black Emperor!
The other reference point for Ensemble Pearl is O’Malley’s beloved Earth, although this time around the influence appears to be Dylan Carson’s later interest in droning Americana. But perhaps that’s an unfair comparison because Ensemble Pearl conjures up much more ethereal emotions than Earth’s parched and lonely landscapes. This record is a real creeper, and by falling in love with it I’ve renewed my excitement in O’Malley’s sonic experimentation. I can’t recommend Ensemble Pearl enough.
Burial Hex: Book of Delusions (reissue)
Cold Spring (2012)
It kinda concerns me when I want to describe a record that I really like as Gothic. Thankfully I’m not talking eyeliner, capes and teased hair. No.
Originally released on vinyl, and now re-issued on cd with additional tracks from an earlier split with Zola Jesus, there’s something distinctly Gothic in the sense of art history and architecture about Book of Delusions. It’s in the choirs and violins that drift through the record. Its cavernous sound, as if it was recorded in a giant, 12th Century Church. Decaying altar pieces and frescoes come to life. Shards of dusty light sear though stone rose windows.
My only other experience with Burial Hex has been the four track drone epic, Initiations which I quite liked at the time, but fuck me this is so much better. The tracks on Book of Delusions are noisy but song-like in structure, at one point even slipping into a Public Image Ltd style jam. They’re painful and cathartic. Like Prurient with less synths. Main man Clay Ruby does some seriously anguished howling throughout on this record, which somehow merges nicely with the choirs and strings. The occasional drum beat, glacially paced and doom ridden, heightens the drama and adds to the gigantic sound.
Is this what Burial Hex sounds like on on other releases? Someone please confirm. Book of Delusions is almost a prefect storm of horror noise, drone and post-post rock. Most recommended.
Black to Comm : Earth
De Stijl Records (2012)
What planet is Black to Comm from? How can this be the first Black to Comm record I’ve heard?
Lately I’ve been bored with experimental/noise based music, but I picked this up on a whim because I’ve seen the Black to Comm name floating around in lots of different places over the years. I hadn’t realised just what an effect Earth has had on me until I noticed in iTunes that I’ve listened to this record nearly 35 times since I got it a few weeks back.
The solo brainchild of Mark Richter, owner of the De Stijl Record label, Black to Comm is based on a fascination with super old records. Like Philip Jeck, Richter samples and manipulates obscure recordings, twisting them into abstract patterns and shapes. He embellishes found sound with odd acoustic instruments and electronic disarray. Disembodied voices lurk in the background wispy and faint like ghosts, the needle crackles away comfortingly on vinyl and melodies shimmer in endless loops while odd noises haunt the darkest corners of each and every track.
The result is spectral, somewhat melodramatic and entirely ‘what the fuck’. It has the grandiosity of Godspeed you! Black Emperor! with a far more whimsical attitude.
On Earth, composed as the soundtrack to a silent film by a Singaporean artist, the glue that binds these montages are the vocals provided by Vindicatrix; a rich and monotonous series of incantations which could easily become grating, but in this context they take charge as a Medium contacting the spirits responsible for this music from the other side.
The critic Simon Reynolds has written quite a bit about Hauntology (see his latest release Retromania), a phrase he applies to a group of artists on the Ghost Box label who mine old BBC recordings to create ‘spooky’ music that lies in the realm of Camp. Reynolds loves these artists and the way they embody a history that’s supposedly haunting us in the present. I think Earth is a much better representation of this idea and Richter’s incantations are startlingly original by comparison. This is music that requires patience and dedication, the patterns are detailed and intricate. Listen at night, with headphones.
Felicia Atkinson: Les Boise Rouges
Unread Records (2011)
Felicia is a French musician and artist whom I stumbled across over at the Free Music Archive where you can download a copy of this out of print cassette. I’ve not explored the archive much before but after finding this diamond in the rough I’m keen to dig around a bit deeper on there.
Felicia makes ethereal drones using a guitar and effects pedals. Breathtaking clouds of nothingness that don’t appear to have any particular destination in mind but never slip into self indulgence. The compositions range from sparse and acoustic, like This Impermanent Gold which makes me think of Jackie O Motherfucker, and montages that combine blissful guitars with miscellaneous noise. It’s the latter pieces where Felicia excels, managing to build up a vortex of sound that threatens to unhinge itself from reality. If you’re a fan of the mighty Yellow Swans you’ll be familiar with this trick. It’s a great act she’s got going here, and Les Boise Rouges is highly recommended as an antidote for those late nights at home when the world feels like it’s getting the better of you.
Necro Deathmort: Music of Bleak Origin
Distraction Records (2011)
The internet might tell you that Necro Deathmort are some sort of Hip-Hop Black Metal hybrid, but don’t believe the hype, as Public Enemy would say. Music of Bleak Origin might open with a head-nodding riddim but the listener is quickly thrown into doomier and more industrial territory. This is a Post Rock soundtrack with some neat little tricks thrown in to keep things interesting.
Temple of Juno flirts with grime infused beats before it unleashes droning guitars and whirring electronics, and then closes out like an Acid techno meltdown. In Binary mixes dark Jazz in the vein of Bohren and der Club of Gore with stunning doomscapes indebted to Nadja.
Necro Deathmort are at their best when the electronics take a back seat, the beat slows to a crawl and the guitars are allowed to drone away in thick slabs of blackened muck, as they do on The Heat Death of Everything which ends in a gorgeous cacophony of guitars detuning themselves into oblivion. But the album is let down on the middle run of tracks where gothic Industrial takes over, creating a nightclub scene for people in eyeliner and platform boots.
It’s obvious this duo likes the balance between Industrial cheese and shoegazy doom. Necro Deathmort’s previous record is called This Beat is Necrotronic, if that tells you anything about where their head is at. Thankfully, the majority of Music of Bleak Origin falls into the doom category, albeit an electro-fied take on doom, and as long as they stay focused on that element I’m willing to keep listening.
Altar of Flies: Permanent Cavity
iDEAL recordings (2010)
When walking under powerlines there’s that low-range hum and gentle crackling which emanates from the wires. It comes with an intangible sense that dangerous currents are wiggling into your pores, altering your genetics. And then the fear that a bolt of electricity could erupt from overhead at any moment, a freak twist of fate collapsing the powerlines. Angry snakes of electrified wire swing down to strangle you in a whiplash of white-hot noise. This is an anxiety brought to life on the opening track of Permanent Cavity.
Altar of Flies is the moniker of Swedish drone and noise artist Mattias Gustafsson. This is his debut full-length, a collection entrenched in drone but pushing the genre to its limits in terms of dynamic and composition. Gustaffson is never complacent enough to sit on a single tone or frequency for a punishing length of time. He manipulates a baseline of gentle analogue drones and punctures them with shards of crusty feedback and debris. Tracks never finish where they started and Gustaffson is in complete control of every single journey. He uses quiet to build tension, and when only he’s ready does he unleash the screaming beast you knew was lurking in the dark all along.
At his harshest, the sound reminds me of Lasse Marhaug, while the gentler moments remind me of Wolf Eyes at their most creepy. There are moments of sea sick synthesisers that raise a toast to the more ambient moments of Sweden’s Black Metal history without falling into theatrics and cheese.
The phrase Post-Industrial comes up a lot in reviews of Altar of Flies, and while that sounds to me like some of the wank I had to deal with at art school back in the day, I think the reference to the Industrial scene of the late seventies and early eighties is important here. Because although parts of Permanent Cavity are heavily processed, there’s not much that sounds digitally cold. It’s organic and warm (and also fucking terrifying at times) and at the core of its racket lies lies a collection of human junk and hand made sound machines, all hungry and vying to eat each others souls. There’s a beautiful sense of decay about this record, a permanent cavity indeed.