ULVER | Drone Activity | ALBUM REVIEW

ULVER | Drone Activity | ALBUM REVIEW

Ulver | Drone Activity | Album review

Ulver Drone Activity
Ulver Drone Activity

Review by: Jimmy Hutchinson

Norwegian band Ulver’s name means ‘wolves’, but stylistically they are chameleons. Beginning their career in the 1990s with a trilogy of black metal albums, they then opted for a starkly different electronic approach in the new millennium with Perdition City. Next, they experimented with modern classical and ambient on 2007’s Shadows of the Sun , before digging out the guitars again for the post-rock-flavoured ATGCLVLSSCAP in 2015, and then settled on a synth-pop direction for the following year’s The Assassination of Julius Caesar. Keeping up so far?

Drone Activity, as the name suggests, sees Ulver adopting a more minimal approach. Recorded live but heavily edited in the studio (in a manner similar to the largely improvised ATGCLVLSSCAP), this year’s album consists of four pieces which are all over 15 minutes long.

‘True North’ starts proceedings with an appropriately chilly drone piece, punctuated by dissonant guitar chords in its later stages. ‘Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea’ incorporates some subtle rhythmic elements and electronic effects, gradually increasing in intensity. It’s interesting enough, if a little overlong. ‘Blood, Fire, Woods, Diamonds’ occupies similar territory. Ulver’s sonic palette is richest on closing track ‘Exodus’, which briefly shifts in tone halfway through to incorporate arpeggiators and bell-like tones, before an ominous low-end storm erupts.

Back in 2010, Ulver performed one of their first ever concerts at The Norwegian National Opera. The show was released on DVD the following year, and is much more akin to a ‘live album’ (in that it features previously released material performed in front of a live audience) than this collection. Here the band uses the concert space as a venue for improvisation. It’s unclear where the live performance ends and the studio work begins, but perhaps this work was more interesting to experience in its original live setting. Time will only tell if Ulver will continue in this vein for a while or promptly abandon electronic drone for something else.

Drone Activity is available from House of Mythology in a variety of formats, including several different coloured vinyl editions.

LUNGBUTTER | Honey | ALBUM REVIEW

LUNGBUTTER | Honey | ALBUM REVIEW

Lungbutter | Honey | Album review

Lungbutter - Honey - album review
Lungbutter – Honey

Review by: Graeme J. Baty

I knew little about the band going into this review. The name grabbed my attention immediately. They have to be interesting with a name like Lungbutter right? A quick listen confirmed by suspicion. Some utterly delicious detuned guitar tones and spoken word groove of lead single Flat White appealed instantly. A slice of American alternative taking me right back to the 90s with a delightful mixture of Sleater Kinney and early period Sonic Youth, coupled with beat poet lyricism. The Montreal trio take that sound and reinvent it to something modern and thrilling. Utterly refreshing in a world of over produced cringe-worthy auto-tuned vocals. Lungbutter serve up primitive and thrilling sounds.


Bravo proves a highlight of the record with it’s catchy detuned hook that you can almost sign along to. Almost, I can confirm that you can dance to it as I am doing right now! Curtain is another standout. A one minute punk-rock  pounder.

Eleven songs in under 34 minutes gives the perfect length. Ensuring it’s not too much yet leaving you wanting more.

It’s a mighty fine debut offering some fabulous sounds that will be adored by those of us who still mourn the loss of Sonic Youth and the chasm their split has left in the alternative music world along with some deep lyrics to explore with repeated listens.

Honey is out on Constellation Records on 31st May 2019

PELICAN  | Nighttime Stories | ALBUM REVIEW

PELICAN | Nighttime Stories | ALBUM REVIEW

Pelican | Nighttime Stories | Album review

Pelican | Nighttime Stories

Review by: Jimmy Hutchinson

Chicago quartet Pelican was formed in 2001, and this is their sixth studio album. Their music is generally pigeonholed as ‘post-metal’ due to its largely instrumental nature, although guitarist Trevor de Brauw is dismissive of labels.

The title track’s relentless heavy riffs are indicative of the band’s current aggressive direction, signalling ‘the resulting dread and anger’ that the band feels at the current cultural climate in America. The album’s title is borrowed from associated act Tusk, whose vocalist Jody Minnoch passed away in 2014. His chord voicings, song titles and structural ideas were a strong influence on the record.

The most initially striking elements of this album, however, are the gentler, more melodic ones: opening track ‘WST’ has a slight folk flavour. It was written as a tribute to guitarist Dallas Thomas’ recently deceased father. ‘I Stared at Me’ features delicate guitar lines and an almost bluesy slide part, before it comes to an abrupt stop at three and a half minutes. Closing track ‘Full Moon, Black Water’ starts quietly before a torrent of riffs erupts, but the piece comes to a fairly peaceful conclusion.

Elsewhere, ‘Midnight and Mescaline’ is more representative: it’s propelled along by strident drums and an army of guitars. Pelican’s sound on this album is at times slightly reminiscent of fellow Chicagoans Russian Circles, although they never quite achieve that seamless a balance of melody and dynamics. They don’t quite have the ambition of English post-metallers Bossk either, but it remains an entertaining set of thunderous guitar parts and intricate rhythms. The album is densely mastered for maximum impact, which is perhaps why the quieter tracks stand out.

Nighttime Stories is available in a variety of formats from the 7th of June.

EARTH | Full Upon Her Burning Lips | ALBUM REVIEW

EARTH | Full Upon Her Burning Lips | ALBUM REVIEW

Earth | Full Upon Her Burning Lips | Album review

Review by: Jimmy Hutchinson

Earth was formed in Olympia, Washington 30 years ago, and Dylan Carlson is the only remaining original member. The line-up for the band’s ninth studio album features Carlson on guitar and bass, and Adrienne Davies on drums.

‘Datura’s Crimson Veils’ sets the tone for most of the record – Carlson’s overdriven guitars play monolithic (but not unmelodic) riffs, accompanied by Davies’ slow-moving, expressive drums and percussion. At no point does the band sound quite as ominous as it did on Earth 2: Special Low Frequency Version, but Earth’s approach has drifted over the years from aggressive drone frequencies to angular, psychedelic-flavoured riffs which slowly envelope the listener. This approach is especially apparent on the longer tracks, and ‘She Rides an Air of Malevolence’ is certainly not for the faint-hearted.

While Carlson has deliberately toned down the use of effects, ‘Descending Belladonna’ features some whirring modulation. Meanwhile ‘Maiden’s Catafalque’, with its languorous phrasing and use of slow delay, is somewhat reminiscent of Fripp & Eno’s experiments on 1975’s Evening Star. The snakelike guitars create a disquieting atmosphere, and here the drums take a little more of a back seat.

Rhythm is very much at the forefront on ‘The Colour of Poison’, however – its abrupt stop/ start nature suggesting at times that the track has entirely ground to a halt, before it shifts a gear into Sabbath riff territory. (Lest anyone forget, ‘Earth’ was Black Sabbath’s original name.)

Carlson has certainly achieved a ‘more upfront and drier sound’ on this album. There is so much space in these sparse recordings that it almost feels at times like the guitars are setting the speed while the drums are adding the tonal colour. (That’s not intended as a criticism: Carlson reportedly felt that drums were buried in the mix on previous Earth albums and decided to grant them greater sonic space here.)

If it’s perhaps true that there was a little more dynamic range on Carlson’s solo album Conquistador from last year, this release is still a majestic beast, and Davies’ restrained but powerful drumming is a highlight.

Full Upon Her Burning Lips is available from Sargent House in a variety of formats (including double vinyl) on May 24th.

BIG|BRAVE | A Gaze Among Them | ALBUM REVIEW

BIG|BRAVE | A Gaze Among Them | ALBUM REVIEW

Big|Brave – A Gaze Among Them | Album review

Review by: Graeme J Baty

There is something special about Big|Brave that I can’t quite put my finger on. I’ve indulged in their new album A Gaze Among Them for a few weeks now, regularly dipping back into it. It holds my attention far more than other records in this genre. Slow doom-laden songs, whilst sounding utterly awesome on first play they tend to lose my attention with the long meandering slow-paced songs that have little traction. This is definitely not the case with Big|Brave.

Opening with the strong Muted Shifting of Space, an epic piece of work at 8 minutes and 41 seconds. The diversity of the seemingly simple sound captivates and engages.

The vocal style is something quite refreshing and maybe a little bit jarring at first listen. I think the typical incomprehensible guttural wails of this genre of music is perhaps a little over saturated these days. This is where Robin Wattie separates Big|Brave from the pack and excels. Her voice sitting perfectly juxtaposed to the music with elements of Bjork in there, traditional Celtic folk and I was also reminded of the female-fronted Brutus who are also making interesting fresh use of well-tread sounds. The combination of music and vocal style creates a unique soundscape.

Holding Pattern demonstrates Big | Brave’s masterful ability to craft songs with dramatic dynamics. Building from a slow start and gripping you tight by the throat until it finally dissipates. Proving a strong highlight of the album.

The midsection of the record finds the pace slowing with Body Individual leading into the first sub-five-minute song This Deafening Verity. This builds tension and anticipation which Sibling brings with its deep whale song guitar tones and throbbing bass.

While quite a short record at only five songs in 39 minutes. It’s fully evolved, well paced and each play brings the depth of the songwriting to light. It’s a gem of a slow burner. The more I listen to the record the more I adore it. Out on Southern Lord Records on 10th May 2019.

I think this music will be utterly devastating in a live setting and you’d be wise to check them out on the upcoming UK/Europe tour which includes a stop in Newcastle!

BIG|BRAVE Live dates:

16/05 DE Nurnberg Musikverein

17/05 DE Berlin Urban Spree

18/05 PL Poznan LAS

19/05 CZ Prague TBA

21/05 NL Haarlem Patronaat

22/05 BE Antwerp Kavka

23/05 FR Lille La Bulle Café

24/05 UK Bristol Rough Trade

25/05 UK London Raw Power

27/05 UK Newcastle The Cluny

29/05 FR Paris Instants Chavirés

30/05 FR Brussels Magasin 4

01/06 CH Winterthur Gaswerk

03/06 DE Wurzburg Cairo

04/06 DE Hamburg Schute

 

NINE INCH NAILS  | 25 Years of The Downward Spiral | FEATURE

NINE INCH NAILS | 25 Years of The Downward Spiral | FEATURE

25 Years of The Downward Spiral by Nine Inch Nails | Feature

Feature and photos by Jimmy Hutchinson

It starts with a brutal blow; then another, and another. 23 seconds in, everything explodes: ‘I am the voice inside your head (and I control you)’. Welcome to the world of The Downward Spiral.

Brian Eno described the experience of listening to Iggy Pop’s 1977 album The Idiot as ‘like having your head encased in concrete’. ‘Mr. Self Destruct’ borrows that approach and then builds a factory over the top. But it’s not all sonic chaos – there is a brief but dramatic shift in dynamics halfway through the song, and after four and a half minutes it collapses to pave the way for the comparatively melodic ‘Piggy’.

It’s the constantly changing moods and dynamics of this album that keep it entertaining – and still surprising – after 25 years. As aggressive as some pieces can be (‘Big Man with a Gun’), The Downward Spiral has plenty of quiet (‘A Warm Place’), fragile (‘Hurt’) and downright weird (‘March of the Pigs’) moments that make it a compelling experience.

Inspired by the emerging industrial scene, Trent Reznor founded Nine Inch Nails in Ohio in 1988, and later assembled a live band to tour debut album Pretty Hate Machine. Subsequent E.P. Broken marked a significant change in direction, intended to reflect the band’s live aggression (and also Reznor’s frustration with original label TVT). The band’s second full-length release is a concept album about ‘someone who sheds everything around them to a potential nothingness’, gradually abandoning their ‘career, religion, relationship, belief and so on’.

Musically, The Downward Spiral continues Broken’s use of layers of distorted guitars and synthesizers, but also features more traditional instruments such as acoustic guitar and piano, and heavy use of sampling and computer editing. As such, its principal ‘instrument’ is the recording studio, and there are plenty of unusual compositional touches.

As dense as the instrumentation and as manic as the time signatures on ‘March of the Pigs’, it abruptly dissolves into a gentle piano coda – twice. The programmed synths and beats of ‘Ruiner’ give way to wind sound effects and a raucous guitar solo from guest Adrian Belew. And infamous hit single ‘Closer’ is such a masterpiece of multitrack mixing that it’s almost easy to forget its ‘controversial’ chorus and promotional video.

Reznor’s wide palette of sounds is complemented by his varied approach to vocals: sometimes a hysterical scream, sometimes a barely audible whisper. The album is also incredibly well structured: each track segues into the next – at times jarringly, and at others with immense subtlety. It’s impossible to imagine the melancholic final notes of ‘A Warm Place’ (which borrows liberally from Bowie’s ‘Crystal Japan’) without the gradual intrusion of the hissing reeds that introduce ‘Eraser’.

Apple Music is currently describing the album as a ‘bold, no-look dive into the abyss’ – but for all its abrasive textures, The Downward Spiral is not short on melodies or hooks. ‘Piggy’ is driven by a walking bass that anchors the song, despite the occasional bursts of noise and an enjoyably chaotic drum solo (played by Reznor himself). ‘Hurt’ has gained fame outside of the album, but the cover versions usually remove its dissonant tritone – the most unique element of the song. The 14 album tracks were fertile enough ground for multiple remix releases, including the March of the Pigs and Closer to God singles, and two international variants of the Further Down the Spiral album.

The Downward Spiral was a colossal success, in an era when the mainstream was ‘salivating over melodramatic angst’. It sold nearly 119,000 copies in its first week, and ultimately over four million copies worldwide. The band stole the show at Woodstock ’94, covered head to foot in mud, and even won themselves a mention in the ‘Homperpalooza’ episode of The Simpsons. With success came pressure to tour and record a follow-up. It took Trent Reznor five years to release The Fragile – but that’s another story.

The ‘Definitive Edition’ of The Downward Spiral was released on 180-gram vinyl in 2016 (pictured). It includes an essay by John Doran. You can still order a copy on nin.com.

LIGHT CONDUCTOR | Sequence One | ALBUM REVIEW

LIGHT CONDUCTOR | Sequence One | ALBUM REVIEW

Light Conductor | Sequence One | Album review

Light Conductor - Sequence One album

Review by: Graeme J. Baty

Light conductor consists of a duo of accomplished musicians; Stephen Ramsay (Young Galaxy) and Jace Lasek (The Besnard Lakes). Sequence One is their first album and I was intrigued to hear more.

I’ve been leading quite a stressful and hectic life thus far in 2019, this album has been on my iPod for a couple of months and it’s been a lovely soothing retreat from the world. I’ve struggled to put into writing exactly what this album means to me. Perhaps it’s more for a feeling than a thought. That is the magical thing about music, maybe it doesn’t need to be explained but just allowed to wash over you and embrace your very being. It’s mentally soothing and pleasant. Light Conductor is mood music, soundscapes of simple composition that feel like a journey to some unknown star light years away.

A Bright Resemblance starts the record with a simple theme, repeated ad nauseam until you forget the loop and get drawn into other parts of the drone, lost in sound until you remember it’s there and you start to enjoy it again. Chapel of the Snows finds the loop twisting into a darker tone, I’m fully immersed now and the theme is embedded within my mind. The variations become quite engaging and curious, where will it go next?

Far From the Warming sun starts the second half of the album and allows for a brief readjustment and new theme to evolve before it fully appears. The second half is an entirely more oppressive and darker tone but I love this. Title track Light Conductor closes the album with the only vocals on the record, a kraut/pop rock anthem that acts of the album’s crescendo and comes as a pleasant and unexpected twist.

As stated I have struggled to put this one into words. Forgive me for the brief review. I don’t feel I can really do this experience justice with mere words alone. A remarkable instrumental piece that will teleport you beyond our universe.

Out on 8th March 2019. You can order it from their Bandcamp page

BLACK TO COMM | Seven Horses for Seven Kings | ALBUM REVIEW

BLACK TO COMM | Seven Horses for Seven Kings | ALBUM REVIEW

Black to Comm | Seven Horses for Seven Kings | Album review

Review by: Jimmy Hutchinson

With a whir of oscillating brass, Seven Horses for Seven Kings roars to life. Brief opener ‘Asphodel Mansions’ sets an ominous tone, which gradually shifts into full-blown horror on the nightmarish ‘A Miracle No/ Mother Child at Your Breast’.

Black to Comm is the solo project of German musician Marc Richter, whose albums are generally constructed from distorted samples, looped and layered to create a disquieting ambient field. This latest album features additional rhythmic elements – tribal-sounding drums, which add an occasional urgent feel to these recordings. Richter has described a growing fondness for playing live shows, which perhaps accounts for a greater sense of immediacy.

Some of the more affecting passages on the album are the more unexpected – the squawking Berlin-era Bowie-esque sax sounds on ‘Licking the Fig Tree’, for example, or the sudden atonal voices on ‘If Not, Not’ which are reminiscent of Ligeti’s avant-garde compositions.  Proceedings seem to reach something of a culminating point on the relatively calm ‘Angel Investor’, which features layers of distorted mellotron, and leads the listener to the lengthy final track’s mournful -sounding collage of loops, distorted noises and speech samples.

Black to Comm has created an interesting and atmospheric piece of work, which is more accessible on subsequent listens (although it isn’t quite as dense and absorbing as Svarte Greiner’s ‘Kappe’, for instance). However, the longer pieces in particular create a palpable sense of dread, and the album is recommended for dark ambient and noise fans.

Seven Horses for Seven Kings is available in digital and physical formats from ThrillJockey, including a limited vinyl pressing.

MARKERS | Heaven in the Dark Earth | ALBUM REVIEW

MARKERS | Heaven in the Dark Earth | ALBUM REVIEW

Markers | Heaven in the Dark Earth | Album review

Review by: Graeme J. Baty

Heaven In The Dark Earth

I’m finding 2019 to be a very interesting year for instrumental music, already some amazing releases; Steve Strong, Teeth of the Sea and Rosetta. Markers popped up on my radar and having heard lead track Marine Parlance I was quite intrigued to hear more.

The band consists of London based math-rock veterans Jason Carty and Jodie Cox. Associated with such acts as Bullet Union, Exes, Narrows, Earth, Sex Swing, Foe, Art of Burning Water, which is quite an impressive list!

The album starts out with Fountain; a sparse soundscape with beautiful reverb drenched crashes. Providing the perfect mood setting for what is to come.

In Amber follows and sets the tone for the rest of the record. Beautifully bare minimum guitar tones, a smidge of reverb and a very clean guitar tone. A kind of ‘less is more’ approach which works strikingly well. As I find myself lulled into a pleasant meditation. The album continues this pace with a brief interlude for Haar. Before the crowning peace Muisca closes the record.

The minimal instrumentation is actually quite refreshing, I often enjoy densely layered music which requires repeated listens and heavy perseverance to fully engage and understand. Here the musicians let the music do the talking, bare minimum instrumentation and tone, juxtaposed with highly crafted compositions. It’s really lovely just to sit back, close my eyes and allow the guitars to wash over you. Delightfully serene record. It feels like a narrative piece, a soundtrack to a movie in my mind, just close your eyes and let your imagination run wild.

Heaven in the Dark Earth is out on God Unknown on 22nd February 2019. You can also order some nice looking limited colour vinyl versions from their Bandcamp page

ROSETTA | Sower of Wind | EP REVIEW

ROSETTA | Sower of Wind | EP REVIEW

Rosetta | Sower of Wind | EP review

Review by: Jimmy Hutchinson

Rosetta – Sower of Wind

Formed in Philadelphia in 2003, Rosetta has released six full-length albums to date (and the band has made its more recent work available via Bandcamp). Their latest release is an exploration of some of the soundscapes that they developed while creating their 2017 concept album, Utopioid, which featured gradually building dynamics and complex time signatures. However, this release should not be viewed as a re-tread of the earlier album. Devoid of distorted guitars, vocals, drums and crescendos, Sower of Wind is comprised of four pieces named after the points of a compass. Each track consists of a delicate wash of minimalist piano, slowly building synths and sound effects. While each track incorporates similar elements, the melodies and atmospheres created are unique. Other layers, such as fragile acoustic guitars and barely audible speech samples, gradually appear in some of the pieces, only to be submerged in the mix once again.

An interesting departure for fans of their previous album, or for fans of atmospheric, ambient-flavoured music in general, Sower of Wind is a subtly constructed record. While regular followers of the band may miss the more aggressive elements, Rosetta may well find themselves a new audience with this release.

Sower of Wind has been available on Bandcamp for pay-what-you-wish download since 4th January 2019:

It will be available on vinyl from 22nd February: pelagic-records.com/product/rosetta-sower-of-wind-12-ep