The 2021 edition comes with some quirks. Namely that this transmission has surfaced during a brief period of dormancy, and its presentation on a new website. All the classic pieces from Discipline Mag 1.0 are here, but the website is not finished. The website will be completed and operating at full capacity in early 2022, so for the interim, please watch this space and keep up to date on the socials. Big things are coming…
But how about 2021, eh? Anyone get locked down? I sure know I did. The White House got invaded. Dogecoin made some teenagers rich. There was the unstoppable rise of China being a jerk. And the emergence of more COVID variants than you could shake a stick at.
Musically, plenty happened too. Some classic artists cemented their legacies. Ambitious concepts emerged. And in the spirit of togetherness, collaborations have very much been in vogue.
We will never forget 2021, so to celebrate the sounds that accompanied it, Discipline Mag presents…
21 Albums Of 2021
(A Discipline Mag end of year list)
Pan Daijing – Jade
My first experience of Beijing-cum-Berlin-based artist, Pan Daijing, was live, alongside William Basinski and Merzbow at the 2018 Dark Mofo event, Borderlands (curated by Lawrence English, no less). Barely a week later, I found myself again watching Pan Daijing. This time, in the much more intimate setting of a Church in Melbourne’s Northcote.
From these two experiences, a couple of things struck me. Initially, the boisterous personality that featured so heavily as a prelude to the set, but secondly, it was the journey from abrasive noise textures, through to rhythmic ambience.
On Jade, Pan Daijing has reverse engineered this flow somewhat. The explosive introduction quickly dissipates into brooding atmospheres that consist of spatial throbs, textures, and lyrics of hopeless dependence (best heard on The Goat).
The use of space and minimalism contributes to a creepiness that rarely subsides. But, a more seismic dose of intensity plugs this open space as Jade progresses. Tracks like Ran and Metal fulfill these duties well, both followed by some of the stranger lyrics on the album. A fine addition to the slowly growing catalogue of Pan Daijing.
Xiu Xiu – OH NO
Forever enigmatic, Jamie Stewart’s Xiu Xiu presents OH NO, an album which digs deep (very deep) into a wide variety of collaborators. In fact, every track enjoys collaboration with a different artist. Notable guests include Sharon Van Etten, Drab Majesty, Liars, Chelsea Wolfe, and many more over the album’s 15 tracks.
Compared to the manic freak-out that was 2019’s painfully enjoyable Girl With Basket Of Fruit, the eclecticism found on OH NO instead comes from its sheer volume of collaborators. With a more subdued sound overall, considering the logistics of so many contributors, it makes practical sense that things would be slightly more moderated.
Some key tenets of Xiu Xiu are of course, still there. Goodbye For Good contains desperate, emotionally unhinged ramblings, ensuring Stewart’s mournfulness remains intact. Recreational abandon is energetically explored through Rumpus Room in collaboration with Liars. Throw in a cover of The Cure with Chelsea Wolfe, and this is one ambitious contribution from Xiu Xiu.
Lawrence English – Observation Of Breath
PHD, Room40 label owner, and esteemed Australian ambient musician, Lawrence English, has a new solo release, Observation Of Breath.
For 40 minutes across 4 tracks, English places emphasis on tense, ringing drones and vampiristic organs. Outwardly radiating sounds drift into invisible space (or breath), ultimately weaving and lingering until their eventual fade.
Observation Of Breath sits on the darker end of the scale for Lawrence English. This is music from the void, the sound of soundless atmospheres, and a reminder that English’s ambient authority is a badge well-deserved.
Merzbow + Prurient – Black Crows Cyborg
The long-standing union between noise king Masami Akita and Hospital Productions leader Dominic Fernow (aka Merzbow and Prurient) finally generated a collaborative album in 2021. One of the more obvious collaborations out there, the real surprise is how long it took to come to fruition. Released without warning, Black Crows Cyborg is jarring, but also familiar in the way it spotlights the contemporary sounds of either artist.
Track 1, Part 1: City Barbarism Melancholy, strongly exudes the cover. The image of chicken wire, a circuit board and stray wires is the kind of nasty mechanical conundrum that this record spills forth. While doom electronics set the foundations, junk metal and harsh abrasive loops clunk, clatter and swirl throughout. Much like the clean and presumably functioning circuit board, these arrangements are not arbitrary, but serve purpose in the overarching narrative of technological dominance.
Second and final track, Part 2: Cylinders Raven, takes a much noisier turn. The cacophonous drenching steps into the messy and erratic cyborg psyche. We get vocals for the first time, but Fernow’s words are so washed in static they remain inaudible to any IQ subordinate to a super-computer. Echoed noise and chaos conclude this collaboration, one which discerning fans of either artist could feel would take some form sooner or later.
Body/Dilloway/Head – Body/Dilloway/Head
Body/Dilloway/Head is a three piece experimental supergroup consisting of Kim Gordon, Bill Nace, and Aaron Dilloway. Body/Head being Gordon’s original post-Sonic Youth music endeavour with Nace, the former Wolf Eyes member, Aaron Dilloway, has joined their anatomy for this most recent offering.
In a year where collaborations have gone full YOLO, this meeting ranks among the top of this list. But as the dust of its initial surprise settles, the pairing makes sense. With Dilloway in-tow, Wolf Eyes took gradual steps from noise, to noise rock (somewhat reminiscent of early Sonic Youth), and it’s not the first time Dilloway and Nace have collaborated.
Here, Dilloway’s inclusion feels arterial, providing a passageway for blood and oxygen between Gordon and Nace (or the body and head). Unlike the guitar feedback of Body/Head’s 2013 debut Coming Apart, Dilloway brings a cut and slice mentality to the record. Electronic snippets, looped pieces of static, and atmospheric ambience are the name of the game here.
HTRK – Rhinestones
Melbourne’s HTRK have stripped their sound down to its bare bones on their latest release, Rhinestones. The noise rock dirge of Nostalgia and forays into electronica on Psychic 9-5 Club are relics of the past as minimalism now takes centre stage.
What remains are the lyrical hooks that always manage to get right under your skin. 26 minutes of acoustic guitar, faintly ever-present electronics, and dreamily repetitive lyrics that speak straight to your messy inner psyche.
Tone Generator – Normalisation Of Response
Discipline Mag reviewed Tone Generator’s most recent album in full earlier this year.
“Although the album is sonically removed from previous work… the ideas and commitment to mental illness feel like the natural next step that SPK never took after the release of Leichenschrei.”
Follow this link to read the full review of Normalisation Of Response by Tone Generator.
Eyehategod – A History Of Nomadic Behavior
By any measure, Eyehategod’s continued existence is nothing short of miraculous. Their existence should have ended at least a half-dozen times by now. But instead of succumbing to death, incarceration, and overwhelmingly poor odds, EHG continue to drag themselves through scum to further cement their grimy opiate stained legacy.
A History Of Nomadic Behavior spotlights their signature sludge drone feedback, hardcore sensibilities, and destitute lyrics. It also does this with a cleaner production sound than OG fans would remember from their ’90s output.
While the classic albums were pure pain, A History Of Nomadic Behavior is the result of an enhanced coping mechanism. This newfound ability to keep it together has been demonstrated through consistent Eyehategod tours and a healthy 2 albums released in the past 7 years. What A History Of Nomadic Behavior provides is a slightly catchier, marginally cleaner sound from a band who have learnt to stand upright in filth as opposed to just being buried in it.
Darkthrone – Eternal Hails
Many years ago, Darkthrone signed a social contract with its fans. The trade-off for their “too kvlt to perform live” mantra is more and more albums, and I’m fine with that. The latest offering, Eternal Hails, provides a not so thinly veiled reference to Darkthrone’s embrace of all things metal. All very much in step with Fenriz’s adoration and seemingly encyclopaedic knowledge of the metal.
Buzzing with lo-fi production and some of their strongest riffs this side of the millennium, Eternal Hails carries a heavy dose of doom crossed with NWOBHM. From blackened foundations arise triumphant riffs, the occasional solo, and the classic trope of track fade outs.
After dabbling in their fair share of adjacent genres on recent albums (especially crust punk), it seems natural trad doom would get a feature. Beginning and ending very strongly (especially the synth doom outro of Lost Arcane City of Uppakra), it’s not Transylvanian Hunger or A Blaze In The Northern Sky, but it’s contemporary Darkthrone holding the fort with their take on the classics.
Portal – Avow
It was a busy year for Brisbane based extreme death / black / experimental metal band, Portal. In absence of touring and other distractions, Portal released two albums, Avow and the complimentary exercise in noise worship, Hagbulbia.
Being from Queensland, Australia, it’s the barren heat, rather than Nordic iciness, that fuels their extremity. Dense, muggy atmospheres populate the grooves of this record. Instrumentation and vocals work collectively for the purpose of saturation. Drums provide more texture than they do rhythm. Rhythm guitar plugs the holes left open by the lead. And the vocals, a dark cloud that overhangs it all. On Avow, Portal spills forth density, grimness, and overwhelming darkness, all in the name of extremity.
Alan Vega – Mutator
Alan Vega’s 2016 passing was a sad one. A cultural icon and frontman of iconic synth-punk duo Suicide, Vega’s legacy will never be lived down. Thankfully, it appears that there’s a treasure chest of old and never released material just sitting around in storage. This has resulted in this posthumous album titled Mutator.
Recorded between 1995 – 97, Mutator is supposed to be the first release in a series of upcoming albums of never before heard material. What’s uncovered in this first instalment is 8 tracks of looped punchy synth lines beneath Vega’s incessant commentary. Throw in some tenderness, abrasion, and infectious rhythms and we have a solid little reminder of just how important Alan Vega, and indeed Suicide, truly were.
RIP ALAN VEGA.
Scopophilia – Violent For Being Sexually Desired
For Scopophilia, voyeuristic perversion and subjugation web together on a filth-stained mattress of psychedelic death industrial and power electronics. A collaborative project between Harriet K. Morgan and Ester Kärkkäinen (aka Military Position and Himukalt), Violent For Being Sexually Desired exhibits the griminess of a sexualised existence in all of its inglorious depravity.
Pulsating with deviant electronics and weeping with loaded submission, Scopophilia prominently features the female perspective and themes of subordination. After crawling out from the gutter and begging for approval, Violent… watches and waits… biding it’s time until the opportune moment to sink a knife into your back.
Despite the limitations of a cross-continental collaboration between America and Australia, this is a cohesive effort between Kärkkäinen and Morgan. The continuous beat and electronic eruptions flow with a well-crafted sense of linearity. Both complementing and elevating one another, it’s clear the two are making music from very similar places.
Cut Hands – Sixteen Ways Out
From the proverbial shit-shovelling of Essential Logic, to the naivety of youthful ambition in Come, through the bludgeoned obscenity of Whitehouse, and out the other end with a huge burst of voodoo-affected energy in Cut Hands, there’s never been a dull moment in the musical output of William Bennett. In continuing this tradition, the latest release by Cut Hands marks one hell of a left turn.
Leaving the African-inspired intensity behind, Sixteen Ways Out shows a side of Bennett that has possibly been pent up for some time. In fact, this project was first presented to the public as a sound exhibition at London’s Tate Britain in 2010. Now, in 2021, it’s been compiled into an album.
Delicate keys, ambience, and echoed verses, as if announcements from an empty airport, prevail. The monotone voice calls numbers like tickets to death, and reads cold verses with a “staring into the centre of your soul” type of sadism. If Whitehouse were a violent gang bashing, consider this a prolonged form of water torture and exercise in psychological destruction.
Whitehorse – Death Weight
From Melbourne’s unholiest of beasts, Whitehorse have released a brick of an album, Death Weight. Over their 17 years of existence, the band have been more inclined to splits, collaborations, and live releases. Point being, as only their third album, the scarcity of full lengths makes Death Weight an incredibly monumental and overdue affair.
Like the collapse of a tall building, Whitehorse pummel, doom, and destroy everything in their path. Waves of thunderous noise, seismic crashes, and inhuman growls develop into a brutality-induced psychedelia that ravages those willing to succumb to Death Weight’s catastrophic destruction.
The weight of death lurks on every corner. Don’t get caught out being alive.
Full Of Hell – Garden Of Burning Apparitions
Every couple of years or so we’re graced with a new album from Full Of Hell. These 20 something minute albums squeeze intense bursts of raw power and noise-stricken power violence into their teeny-tiny packages. At less than 21 minutes in length, Garden Of Burning Apparitions is FoH’s shortest package yet. With no moment spared, blast beats, ferocious vocals, and relentless power-grinding ensue.
As much as this formula works, Full Of Hell have never cared too much about genre limitations and there’s plenty to love about the curve balls they throw. Listen closely and you’ll catch brief free jazz segments. All Bells Ringing sounds like Full Of Hell covering The Strokes. And the final track, Celestial Hierarch blissfully moves from its onslaught of grinding madness into a cool-off zone of breakdowns and screeching electronics.
Bastard Noise – The Skull Scriptures
“IT IS IMPERATIVE WE SELF ASSASSINATE”
Long standing purveyor of noise and sonic violence, Eric Wood and his Bastard Noise moniker has released its most recent full length, The Skull Scriptures, on Deathbed Tapes. As hinted at in the title, this scripture serves as an overarching manifesto to Wood’s work. With Man Is The Bastard being the foundations of his antihuman world view, The Skull Scriptures signals things have only gotten worse in 2021.
On track 1, Obligatory Mortal Obsolescence, ominous tones develop into broken static and dread-inducing sirens. The animosity for our species could not be fiercer as Wood’s deep growls announce an intent to diminish fertility rates, and emphasize humanity’s plague-like impact against our earth. Followed by waves of static and alarms, these sounds could very well be the soundtrack to a forced sterilisation program from an intergalactic species.
Visions of Global Restitution follows, a track which moves beyond reproductive sabotage to a more active pursuit of mass human extinction. As the track settles from its chaotic opening, the laser-like sounds that remain scan the perimeter, as if inspecting smouldering rubble for more humans to exterminate. Mocking the necessity of our existence, it’s suggested the best thing for our planet would be switching fates with the dinosaurs.
Discipline Mag spoke to Eric Wood earlier this year in the lead-up to The Skull Scriptures. We discussed a wide range of topics about Wood’s history, environmental ideals, and his sonic mission. Embrace the alien pregnancy testing electronics of Bastard Noise and learn more about the project here.
Godspeed You Black Emperor! – G_d’s Pee At State’s End!
OK so first, the title. We get it, you’re an instrumental band. But are you actively trying to make talking hard??
Godspeed You Black Emperor!’s 2017 album, Luciferian Towers, was among their more immediate works. This record finds itself at the centre of a venn diagram between the accessibility of Luciferian Towers and the long, vast sounds they are more usually known for on the classic albums like F♯ A♯ ∞ and Lift Your Skinny Fists Like Antennas To Heaven.
The build and release model still features heavily, as do some epic highs and sombre lows. Given the band’s history of advocating for humanist causes (yes, some of us noticed the frequency of your tours to Hong Kong), the lower moods of the record feel like a sonic recognition of the 18 months that preceded the record.
The Body – I’ve Seen All I Need To See
The first of two releases by The Body this year (the other being a collaboration with BIG|BRAVE), I’ve Seen All I need To See is a stand alone effort, something of a rarity these days.
Keeping up with their brand of crushing experimental doom, the power emanated from this two piece rarely fails to impress. And that’s partly because, well, labelling them a “two piece” is a bit misleading. The incessant collaborations are the most obvious example why, but the guest appearances that litter the album being the other clue that the duo are far from alone.
Opening with a recitation of Douglas Dunn’s poem, Kaleidoscope, a tribute to his deceased wife, the theme of death runs strong in I’ve Seen All I Need To See Here. However, there is buoyancy in its drabness. A distorted echo lingering in every corner, notably captured on The City Is Shelled with its rumbling drone in support of its connotations of architectural destruction.
The Body has always incorporated depressive overtones and feelings of hopelessness into its extremity (No One Deserves Happiness, anyone?). I’ve Seen All I Need To See develops on this further, matching its excessively dour demeanour with an equally brutal range of sounds.
Archgoat – Worship The Eternal Darkness
Finnish black metal rules and Archgoat play a leading role in keeping it that way. Having begun in the late 80s, Archgoat’s decade of dormancy through most of the ‘90s has preserved their commitment to second wave black metal, carrying the era into 2021.
Worship The Eternal Darkness has its foot slightly more in the black metal corner than the usual overlap of war/black/death. This is in no small part due to its sharp riffs and cleaner production value. Without murky production to hide behind, the band sound tighter than usual, effectively taking them away from the ambiguous middle ground between death and black metal that war metal tends to operate within.
With track titles like Blessed In The Light Of Lucifer, All Christianity Ends, and Heavens Ablaze, the blasphemy of this record runs deep. Put on your bullet belt, sacrifice a goat, and be consumed by the vile croaks of satan as produced by Archgoat.
Nurse With Wound – Opium Cabaret
Steven Stapleton’s decades-old Nurse With Wound project lives on, and does so with as much glory as it’s ever had. Though this isn’t a triumphant fist pumping glory, but more “if I were to die now, I’d be ok with that” level of achievement.
From collaborations with fellow boundary pushers like Sunn O))), Faust, and Whitehouse, Nurse With Wound has maintained its place at the cutting edge and Opium Cabaret stands as a reaffirmation of exactly that.
Over two drone-afflicted tracks, this album harkens back to the moods explored and perfected in the drone masterpiece, Soliluquoy For Lilith. But rather than falling further down the endless spiral of Lilith, Opium Cabaret functions as a distorted simulation of a familiar experience.
The loud, colourful, and psychedelic album cover (with NWW’s signature collage work) seems fitting enough to represent a cabaret themed event. Although, a step inside reveals that the sounds present are a distant inebriated haze from any kind of conventional performance.
This is a record that moves in slow motion. It unfolds into a floating nothingness to appease broken minds so drenched in opiates, time and place are but frivolous footnotes in a wider narrative of distorted reality.
More than his other recent works, Stapleton’s latest effort hits a similar note to that of his ‘80s output. Speaking of this era, as the surviving acts from England’s esoteric underground of industrial stalwarts get fewer and fewer, the importance of new Nurse With Wound music cannot be understated.
Senyawa – Alkisah
At the top of the list for 2021 comes the Indonesian duo of Rully Shabara and Wukir Suryadi, aka the Indonesian tour de force formally known as Senyawa.
Since forming in 2010, Senyawa have been impossible to pigeonhole. Moving from tribalistic doom & drone on Sujud, meditative minimalism on Brønshøj (Puncak), and everything in between, Senyawa’s enigmatic output has not gone unnoticed. They’ve attracted accolades and accomplices in the likes of Sunn O)))’s Stephen O’ Malley (resulting in their 2020 collaborative affair, Bima Sakti), Melt Banana, Keiji Haino, and Lightning Bolt, ultimately cementing their growing presence amongst a peer group of outsider experimentalists in the process.
On Alkisah, Senyawa mixes tradition with technology. It’s a record where heavy electronics are bookended by stringed bamboo instruments, more native to Indonesian jungles than processed corruption in a music studio. Deep surges of charged industrialism pave the way for strings and manic vocals. But despite this diversity, the sounds of Alkisah have a common thread, the pervasive feeling of jittered intensity.
Ahead of Alkisah’s release, Senyawa made a declaration: “Decentralisation should be the future”. Not one for empty words, Alkisah has since been released on 44 labels, each with their own artwork and remixes. This exercise in extreme democratisation being among the most compelling concepts of the year, and setting a strong example for those fixated with “internet outrage”.
The evolution of Senyawa is in perpetual motion. Their boisterous live shows, pursuit of sonic intensity, and principled commitment to action-led change deem Senyawa the deserving recipients of this publication’s most prestigious honour – the number one spot on Discipline Mag’s 21 Albums Of 2021.