2019 and indeed the 2010s are over and effectively relegated to the traumatic depths of nostalgia. While feelings about the virtues and iniquities of the last decade will surely vary, there’s actually been a pretty good climate in support of the world of heavy and experimental music. Tastes over the decade have gradually shifted toward more immersive soundscapes, and I suppose with time we’ve just become a tad more adventurous. All this has aided to a bountiful 2019 harvest of insane outbursts, soul destroying heaviness and even wholesome pleasantness.
So, in celebration of the decade passed (and our shortened attention spans), this communication will be cut short to make way for the breakdown of releases that deserve the most recognition over the year just passed.
The 29 best albums of 2019
Operating for the best part of a decade now, Alberich’s latest effort, Quantized Angel sounds like it was made by a synth bearing neanderthal lurking in a lightless cave, but speaks to the dregs of a party within a disused factory space (i.e. the ones who won’t leave). Messy, static vocals compete with a bed of beat driven noisy techno which rides the wave rather than crashes in it. The stormy electronics and reliable beat carry enough to appease both clubbers and rhythm friendly noisists alike. Appropriately released on Dominic Fernow’s Hospital productions, this album is a welcome addition to the two’s long standing relationship and Hospital’s mission of blurring creative lines.
Alive, still kicking and without a single live show under their belt since 1996 (though Fenriz argues 1991 to be the last true live show), Darkthrone return with album number 18, Old Star. Darkthrone‘s departure from the trappings of traditional Black Metal over the last decade and a half have been both welcome and necessary. While the blackened crust punk of recent releases has taken a back seat, they lean heavily against an 80’s heavy metal influence.
Album opener I Muffle Your Inner Choir boasts a much cleaner, warmer sound than the wintry lo-fi sounds expected from Norway. 80s doom flows through the album’s veins with the slice of northern pride, The Hardship Of The Scots and the title track, Old Star which hosts some of Darkthrone’s more sombre moments.
Alp Man and Duke Of Gloat have a playfulness that wouldn’t put them out of place on a more adventurous party playlist. While The Key Is Inside The Wall draws on the traditional thematics of hopelessness and folklore, albeit from within a heavy metal shell.
By Black Metal standards, Old Star is a pretty fun listen. This album strays pretty far from Darkthrone‘s roots, but 18 albums of raw black metal would never have worked out in anybody’s favour. Also, don’t forget that they live off their album sales.
Watching the plight of Wellington’s doom-ridden psych duo, Earth Tongue, has been good viewing. In a matter of a couple of years, the band have grown from their fertile, yet limited stomping ground of Wellington to numerous venues across the ditch, Bristol Psych Fest, European tours and a place on Berlin’s Desert Fest 2020. With their continued passion, commitment and a good dose of elbow grease, they’ve released their debut album, Floating Being.
On Floating Being, the pair exploit their signature harmonisation of the female male vocals to dizzying psychedelic effect. Their relatively short, 2-3 minute, tracks bounce through bite sized pieces of fuzzed out guitars with occult, paranormal and psychedelic themes. The psych-rock duets of Astonishing Comets and Microscopic God wonderfully layer the male female vocals that complement, but never compete. Doomier moments such as Sentient Sediment and Portable Shrine capture their capacity for tripped out, fun, satisfying tunes that immerse, capture and demand your withered attention.
While it would be easy to make comparisons to say, Uncle Acid And The Deadbeats or The Oh Sees, Earth Tongue still manage to sound fresh, unique and original and are a definite live act recommendation.
ᛉᛦ – Algir; Eller Algir I Merkstave
The project of massive Swedish lad, Thomas Ekelund’s Trepaneringsritualen, has always been a little jarring. Previously, the project has taken Death Industrial, one of extreme music’s least approachable genres, and washed it with conventional song structure. While the comfort of a song chorus structure may add a layer of accessibility to TrP’s work, prepare to be jarred completely by the instrumental, ritual industrial album ᛉᛦ – Algir; Eller Algir I Merkstave.
While sonically miles away from previous albums, the atmosphere and sentiment isn’t entirely detached from its predecessors. Split into two, 19 minute segments, the two pieces are incredibly sparse and minimal with little more than a bell and chiming, atmospheric electronics making itself visible. The album sounds like it was conceived in your grandparents haunted, lightless cellar, and would be complemented nicely with candles and incense, already staples of the TrP live show and attempts at spiritual communication. Track 1, Algir, is monotoned and heavily atmospheric, only really being broken up by an unexpected crash mid way through. Track 2, Algir I Merkstave, while following a similar path, the cloudy synths incorporate a little more rise and fall, and feels like a natural continuation to an ungodly ritual.
Unsurprisingly, these tracks weren’t performed during the Trepaneringsritualen tour of Australia this year that saw Damian Coward’s (of Kollaps fame) drumming transform the solo performance into a duo. It’s unlikely this album will be translated into the live setting, but it does have its place, which is mostly in the background. Although a release for TrP die hards, it very successfully captures a dark, brooding atmosphere that is often attempted, but seldom effectively executed and could possibly be a stamp on Ekelund’s CV for future sound design endeavours.
Noise For Halloween
Dominic Fernow is the man who keeps on giving, and this latest offering, Noise For Halloween Night, from his main stay project, Prurient, is a gift, or homage to Halloween. With an online only release, this album is exclusively streamable on Amazon Prime, or available for purchase in mp3 format. As Amazon hold the rights to this one, a physical release on Hospital is unclear, but what is clear is that this was never intended to stick out in Prurient‘s discography, but rather exist under the surface, to maybe be revisited when the time calls for it.
For references sake, Noise For Halloween Night is a long way removed from the power electronics behemoth of Frozen Niagara Falls or the self-destructive themes of Bermuda Drain. The album is mostly dark, eerie, and pensive, communicated in a synth-wave shell. The Choir Of Vampires, with its shimmering jangles, choral passages and icy synths create a melancholic and almost joyful tone. Following track, Obituary Bright Moon, with its terrifying howls and percussive heart beat traps the listener within an inescapable, claustrophobic void.
As dark and brooding as these atmospheres can reach, there is something fun and relatable to this release. Fernow states “the curiosity of the unknown, about overcoming fear, which despite its frightful iconography is ultimately a positive celebration. Unlike other holidays Halloween doesn’t have much traditional music. It is mostly affiliated with films, characters, and overarching abstract atmosphere.” It seems as though Prurient has taken childhood anxiety and uncertainty and has repackaged it into a genuinely hair raising, yet playfully spooky outing. Listen carefully to the sounds of spontaneous screams, cries for help, knives sharpening and other sound effects that litter the album if you want to know what I mean.
Prolific ‘Japanoise’ artist Gomi Kōhei (aka Pain Jerk) begins his relationship with Hospital Productions with his latest offering, Mission Invisible. Mission Invisible is 5 tracks of metallic crashing, junk metal beats and uncontrollable sonic bursts, but still manages to avoid feeling overly dense and highlights its varying sounds.
Track 2, Blue Damon, sounds like a manufacturing plant claiming revenge on its workers, its swirling loops and sharp beat sounding like a mechanical nightmare. Other tracks are similarly cyclic and heavy on the loops, culminating with explosions of noise, crashes and laser-like sirens.
Rather diverse in this world, Pain Jerk has collaborated and worked with many ranging from Russel Haswell, Man is the Bastard, Endon amongst others. With a high profile slot at 2019’s Hospital Fest in NYC, Pain Jerk are enjoying a new round of appreciation, despite never stopping being active since the 90s.
Melbourne industrialists, Kollaps, have gone from strength to strength over the past couple of years. Two very successful European tours including a high-profile slot at Wroclaw Industrial Festival as well as their pairing with Cold Spring for their latest album, Mechanical Christ. Interest beyond the confines of Australia’s relatively small, post-industrial musical sphere has been key in their success, with the neurotic insanity and confrontational danger that plagues their shows being of great interest to international parties.
The time of Mechanical Christ’s release was a transitional period for the band, marking their debut on premier industrial label, Cold Spring, and also when vocalist, Wade Black, moved to the darker, colder pastures of Poland. It was an interesting decision, moving at a time when most bands’ inclination would be to tour the hell outta their new album. But it seems Black is keeping his hand in the pot for Kollaps as they are becoming no strangers to the European circuit.
Mechanical Christ opens with a sampled voice, “I’m lonely and it hurts me” which, admittedly, I find to be a little on the cheesy side, but bursts straight into Crucify, which has a mechanical throb ala mid-80s Swans. Fleshflower is a harsh, fast almost EBM type banger and as the shortest actual song on the record, does not let down for its entire duration. Traducer is perhaps the most tense moment of the album, with harshly processed wails from Black trapped under a blanket of monotonous percussion and electronic throbs. Title track, Mechanical Christ, leaves more space open than it fills, and is triumphantly dark, even if the almost 9 minute running time doesn’t yield and huge reward by its end. Album closer, Love Is A War, is a neofolk inspired track that sounds about as poetic as Kollaps have thus far.
And there it is. I wanted this album to place a little higher, but at 35 minutes, it isn’t quite the grand statement I’d been led to believe it was before its release. But it’s still a wonderfully disturbing listen.
The Origin Of My Depression
Melbourne noise queen, Xandra Metcalfe (aka Uboa), has returned with album number 5, titled The Origin Of My Depression. This album is one big 40 minute nod to, you guessed it, depression.
The Origin Of My Depression moves through melancholic lows, but has no issue blasting into absolutely manic sonic terror, being both utterly moving and simultaneously terrifying. Opening with the warm synths and ethereal vocals on Detransitioning, the track climbs a stairway to measured rumbles before leading to the title track which opens in a similar vain to its predecessor, but finally drops the dreamy, ethereal vocals for tortured screams. Epilation Joy is a clangy industrial track that works as a build-up for the noise explosion of Please Don’t Leave Me.
The Origin Of My Depression stands out as one of the stronger feats of Uboa‘s catalogue and received the honour of being reviewed by Anthony Fantano, aka TheNeedleDrops Youtube channel and received a well-deserved 8. This album has curiously been denied a physical release, but after the warm welcome it’s received this year, let’s see if that changes in 2020.
Gnaw Their Tongues
An Eternity Of Suffering, An Eternity Of Pain
Gnaw Their Tongues is the blackened industrial noise one man project of Maurice De Jong from the Netherlands. This album, An Eternity Of Suffering, An Eternity Of Pain, is apparently made up of off-cuts from an anticipated 2020 Gnaw Their Tongues release.
Once again, Gnaw Their Tongues captures the bleak, hopeless soundscapes that they have done for years, with some of these tracks being the most frightening stuff you’ll hear this year. The album sounds like De Jong is screaming from the bowels of a scrap metal yard while simultaneously fighting off rabid dogs. To say it’s grim is an understatement. The tortured vocals barely escape static noise and industrial rattles, while black metal riffs steer the tracks into their intended direction.
If this is what’s been cut, it’s fair to say that 2020 will be a good year for Gnaw Their Tongues.
Swirling, snarling, static drenched feedback – the album’s opening ring sets the tone for what sonic destruction is about to swallow the listener on Merzbow‘s Noise Mass album. This album is actually an updated version of the 1994 album, Hole, with Noise Mass splitting the track Noisematrix into two parts, leaving Krafft-Ebbings Dick mostly structurally untouched, adding two extra tracks Voicematrix Pt.1, Voicematrix Pt.2 and omitting Krautrock#1 altogether.
Right from the start Noise Mass evokes memories of Pulse Demon and Venereology, which isn’t surprising due to the proximity of their births, but more so for the static insanity and whipping electronics that are most memorable from the mid 90s era. Voicematrix Pt.1 opens the album with a dense slab of harsh noise, while the complementary Voicematrix Pt.2 that closes the album has some equally ferocious tendencies, but includes a small stairway that predictably collapses into a cacophony of brutal noise before ending.
While not entirely new material, Noise Mass has been given some rather impressive treatment by Lawrence English’s Room40 label. The CD only release includes a 28 page booklet which includes a long-form, career spanning interview, archival photos and collages.
American Flesh For Violence
Late 2019 saw the necropolitical Vatican Shadow project release American Flesh For Violence, an album which sits in a mounting pile of original music and re-releases in 2019 for the forever prolific, Dominic Fernow.
The album, which teeters the line between industrial and techno, is a dense, punchy affair. Opening with rhythmic bass thumps and occasional wails of synth, it melds the familiarity of a danceable beat with introspective, reflective synth hooks. Tracks like They Always Fight The Last War display Fernow’s deeply textured sounds that are dark, somber and deeply immersive but still delicate.
The album isn’t as memorable as say, some of the catchier hooks from Media In The Service Of Terror, and the song titles are slightly less evocative than say, Wahhabi Money Flows or Small Explosives And Blasting Caps Inside The Pages Of A Phonebook from previous releases. But the album does consist of unused material and off-cuts, and it’s also likely Fernow toned-down the titles in conjunction with Vatican Shadow‘s rising popularity (either that or their titles deemed them unusable in the first place).
There’s also 4 remixes of classic songs by Alessandro Cortini, Ancient Methods, JK Flesh and CUB to round out the end of the album.
More than ever, Mayhem‘s firey legacy, popularised in 2018 by Jonas Akerlund’s Lords Of Chaos film, is a major burden on their current selves. Mayhem have to work twice as hard to avoid being relegated by the harsh, unforgiving space of black metal to the loneliest corners of mediocrity and poser-dom. But thankfully, Mayhem have pulled up their socks and created one of their greatest albums since the early nineties.
All the elements seem to have come together, Attila Csihar’s vocals seamlessly flow from harsh, raspy growls to his operatic highs, complementing the harsh black metal riffage rather than countering it. Opening track, The Dying False King, comes in like a stab in the face, combining De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas style riffs with Hellhammer’s blast beats. With not a single interlude style track on the album, the opener very much sets the tone for the album that is stacked back to front with full scale intensity black metal tracks, and gives Hellhammer space to spread his wings.
Album single, Falsified And Hated, puts Hellhammer’s appropriately hazy, but tight and technical drumming on display and was also given the video clip treatment where you can watch satanic rituals, voodoo and the dissection of a heart unfold.
In short, Daemon combines harsh Black Metal soundscapes with fast riffs, slower moments of epic highs and wide ranging vocals from one of the genre’s best. Definitely not just for the tourists.
Some Beautiful Species Left
Exek are the kind of band who make me feel rather optimistic about the potential and ingenuity of Australian post-punk. Last year’s Ahead Of Two Thoughts album was a winner, combining bizarre social commentary with under-played, monotoned bass rhythms to stylish effect. 2019’s Some Beautiful Species Left jumps right over the abstract hurdle of 2018’s A Casual Assembly (a big 20 minute worship to John Cale’s The Gift on The Velvet Underground’s White Light/White Heat) and picks up right where Ahead Of Two Thoughts left off.
Track titles like Hobbyist, Lobbyist, Unetiquetted and Some Background give some immediate insights into the kind of trivial, deranged content this album explores through its monotonous undertones. Vocalist, frontman and band leader, Albert Wolski, has a rather impressive penchant for his clever use of homophones that distort his songs’ meanings. This excerpt from Iron Efficiency:
That I wear an iron cross
That is wear the Nazis lost
After successful but chaotic tours of America and Europe this year and last, Exek are working hard and slowly gaining some international recognition that they deserve.
Big riffs, fuzzy doom atmospheres and a whole lot of Sabbath worship, Monolord‘s No Comfort does the opposite, giving bloodshot eyes and mopped haircuts precisely the kind of heavy lathering they’re in desperate need of. The mesmerising haze of The Bastard Son reels you in with its hypnotic repetition and holds you down until Larvae lowers the mood. Enjoying the ebb and flow of big riffs and somber plucking, No Comfort is a well-balanced and pretty smooth ride right from the start.
Garden Of The Mutilated Paratroopers
After almost 10 years of Dominic Fernow’s Vatican Shadow project, it seems the frustration of communicating conspiracies through instrumental music has eventually lead to the spilling of themes into his mainstay outfit, Prurient. Garden Of The Mutilated Paratroopers is a move away from traditional themes of personal torment and anguish and introduces the project to a military inspired concept album.
While lyrically, the album explores expendability of life, torture as well as the chain of command, the most impressive feat of this record is Fernow’s skill in creating a sonic world that captures and emulates not only the atmosphere, but the sounds of war. Constructed entirely from feedback, effects, voices and telephone recorder (according to the liner notes), Fernow has rendered samples obsolete as he constructs battle ground racket and heavy machinery noise entirely from his equipment.
The chopping electronics of Overlord Meeting spins rhythmic patterns into cyclic helicopter noise. Muffled, mega phone styled announcements command “Give up your life to overlord / Give up your life with honour”. The shrill sounds of Die Continually conjure up images of scorched earth chemical warfare, while the continued loop of We Must Follow Where The War Goes emulates the sound of marching and a feeling of helpless submission.
Garden Of The Mutilated Paratroopers is a much smaller statement than Frozen Niagara Falls or Rainbow Mirror and I’d count that as a pretty smart move. Clocking in at 20 tracks over 39 minutes, this fresh, bite sized slab of harsh electronics is richly thematic, deeply textured and a sufficient addition to Prurient‘s ever growing body of work.
It’s always interesting to see what noise rock staples, Lightening Bolt, are up to and this newest release shows that even after 20 odd years of insane noise and boycotted stages, they still remain grounded.
Sonic Citadel dips its toes in a few different, but not entirely disparate ponds. Moving from the classic, chaotic bass + drum + vocals that sound like they were sung inside a shoe box, style noise rock one moment, to an almost alternative rock destination the next. Hüsker Dön’t feels almost like a summer indie rock anthem, fusing some very approachable verses with harmonised vocals that almost (almost) tricks you into thinking Lightning Bolt are a conventional rock band. But the relatively more wholesome Lightning Bolt is not Sonic Citadel’s main priority.
Van Halen 2049 is the relentless, messy jam that fills the album’s final 9 minutes. Throwing avant-garde drum patterns at sharp, swirling bass, it almost sounds like a Fantômas style burst of eclectic speed metal, albeit stretched out to 9 minutes that succinctly, if exhaustingly, rounds out Sonic Citadel.
Here we go, album #2 for 2019 by the duo in robes, none other than Stephen O’Malley and Greg Anderson of Sunn O))). This album, Pyroclasts, is the complementary sister album to the previous, full scale album, Life Metal, released earlier this year. These tracks supposedly being the result of their warm ups and warm downs before and after recording sessions.
Recorded by Steve Albini, its sound is successfully clear, managing to convey the heaped density of droning guitar, but also the psychedelic ambience of these clouded sounds.
With no vocals, 4 tracks and the easily digested run time of 43 minutes, this release is pretty immediate by Sunn O)))‘s standards, and probably a good place for newbies looking to dip their toes into the ominous soundscapes of drone metal.
Darkwave, synthwave and all round electronic homage to the 80s is pretty on trend at the moment. With no shortage of attempts at lustful synth ballads, some artists are having a slightly higher strike rate than others, and I’d undoubtedly put Boy Harsher into that category.
Augustus Miller lays down the synthetic backing, while Jae Matthews’s spooky vocals provide the narrative relief. Obsessive subject matter of dependence and deceit, sung through Matthews’s dead pan delivery stands on equal footing with Miller’s darkwave synth hooks.
Enough self-loathing for the goth crowd and enough beats for the dance floor, with only two albums and a significant extended play behind them, their minimal back catalogue is ripe for the taking before it drowns in splits, EPs, remixes and the like.
Cosey Fanni Tutti
“The eight soundscapes serve as an audio self-portrait comprising of manipulated sound recordings from my life, music and art, bringing all together – as one” – reads the back on Cosey Fanni Tutti‘s Tutti.
With or without the deeply personal and all encompassing assertions to this release, Tutti could be one of the years most criminally overlooked albums. The industrial pioneer’s first truly solo album since the early 80s is a drab, sonic reminder of what is, has been and will be.
Opening with a horn, and moving straight into a rhythmic, industrial techno beat, this album is a refreshingly experimental trip from start to finish. If the statement above is to be taken literally, then the croak of Sophic Ripple would have to be a sample of her pet frog. Cosey’s dreamy voice carries Heliy down the garden path toward the album’s bleakest moment in En whose barely audible beat escapes through deep, wavering synths.
This glitchy, occasionally ambient, and wildly dangerous affair takes you down the rabbit hole and spits you right back out at the end. Well worth your time.
Power Electronic’s first couple, Phillip Best and Sarah Froelich (aka Consumer Electronics) teamed up with long time collaborator, Russel Haswell for their latest venture into sonic abandon, Airless Space. Consumer Electronics have produced here, their most fully realised work to date; the lyrics are punchier, the delivery is more focused, and the electronics clearer while still managing to be as menacing as ever.
Haswell’s sparse, static, beat driven electronics sound only arms length from the dance floor, but are shattered into fragmented bursts of noise. Album highlight, Carnage Mechanics, carries a steady and relatively friendly beat, and harmonises with Best’s softly spoken monologue of confronting details; “Lately, I’ve begun modelling for a Saudi clothing company” he calmly claims. On the other end of the spectrum, Locust is peppered with cloudy electronics and the combination of Best and Froelich’s frighteningly violent vocal deliveries.
Sarah Froelich has noticeably stepped up her responsibilities on Airless Space. Opening the album with Body Mistakes, Froelich guides us through until she sufficiently screams herself into oblivion with the repeated line “drifting to the centre of the room”. She is the driving vocalist on most of the album’s 9 tracks, and appears on many more.
While Best will likely never rid himself of the Whitehouse brand, this solo-cum-team effort project is no less deserving of attention. Airless Space is one of the most uncomfortable and provocative experimental electronic releases this year.
Swans have returned and with an enigmatic new cast of stars to support Gira’s continued sonic visions. There’s cameos from Australian band The Necks, Iceland based Australian sound artist Ben Frost, Anna & Maria Von Hausswolff amongst plenty more.
So what has the mass acquisition of avant-garde’s most compelling contemporaries done for Swans with this latest release?
Well, what remains are the long-form song structures and dependence on repetition. It’s taken a small step down, with many songs finding themselves closer to the 10 minute mark rather than the 20 or 30 minute mark that the unholy trilogy of Swans‘ previous albums managed to maintain. Sunfucker’s shimmering synths and rolling verses based around a single lyric keep this tradition alive, as do Leaving Meaning and The Hanging Man.
The first real song, Annaline is a pretty affair, which can’t help but be compared to the opening track Evangeline from Angels Of Light album, How I Loved You. This comparison is not just due to similarities in title, but also their softly sung, woeful natures and indebtedness to a woman of importance.
By Swans‘ standards, this album sits on a scale of average to good, but by regular standards hovers somewhere around very good. A lot of these songs are quite memorable, but without the tectonic force of the previous three albums, I’m very interested to see how these songs will be translated into a live setting.
The Body & Uniform
Everything That Dies Someday Comes Back
No strangers to team work, The Body are once again involved in a collaborative affair with none other than their previous collaborators, Uniform. But this isn’t your average collab by the sludge/industrial/noise obsessed participants, Everything That Dies Someday Comes Back is a bold experiment into what I suspect are some of the participants’ background influences. This bad boy is a pop nightmare trapped within a sludgey industrial cage.
The track Vacancy sounds like new wave took a shot of speed, while Day of Atonement throws it all in and almost goes full trap. Patron Saint Of Regret, a significant track of disparate influences, is one of the most perplexing songs here. Opening with Uniform’s Michael Berdan shooting is signature lo-fi scream, it then breaks the fuck down into some kind of elegant pop nightmare, complete with ethereal female vocals courtesy of SRSQ.
This album surprised the hell out of me, for about 5 minutes before I remembered who we’re dealing with. The Body are known experimentalists, while I’m sure Uniform have been holding this in for quite some time now.
Full Of Hell
Grind and power violence are widely practiced genres, that have a particular capacity to lack in dynamic qualities, or even just plain seriousness. Where Full Of Hell place themselves a cut above the rest is with their shrill violence that never suffers from being juvenile or crossing over the lines into satire and Wheeping Choir continues this legacy.
Thundering Hammers does precisely what it says on the tin, Rainbow Coil is a harsh noiseXgrind nightmare, Armory Of Obsidian Glass shows off a bit of Melvins worship while Angels Gather Here is both unconventional, yet bizarrely catchy at the same time. At 25 minutes in length, this release has a lot packed in. If you need a hit of violent noise that won’t leave you fatigued after the first 5 minutes, here’s your album.
Drab Majesty have been making some pretty sound progress over the last couple of years. The duo of Deb Demure and Mona D spent most of 2018 touring extensively in support of 2017’s The Demonstration, and have gathered support in a lot of corners ranging from goth crowds, shoegaze enthusiasts and even amongst metal heads. Wondering where they would go next, that question was answered with Modern Mirror.
Modern Mirror is a pleasing and realised listen that harmonises dance worthy synth hooks and catchy choruses into a neat package. This album doesn’t reinvent the wheel and it is a less ambitious statement than a lot of what The Demonstration was striving for. But here, these factors support rather than sabotage the albums footing. The simplicity of ethereal synths washing over their duets and thoughtful contemporary lyrics is enough to hold water when executed well.
If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.
The one woman power electronics project of Margaret Chardiet, Pharmakon, is back, and once again creates a self-loathing industrial swamp for the listener to swallow. Mechanical thumps, murky electronics and gargled vocals guide Devour down the tortured road of self-abuse.
Similarly to Pharmakon‘s previous records, Devour trudges themes of sickness and physical self-removal from one’s body, with an added emphasis on the consumption and destruction of the physical form. Spat out through heavily processed vocals she screams “Caught in the spiral of cause and effect / Maybe self-destruction is a viable self-regulating system” in between visceral and pounding bursts of noise.
Chardiet’s screams reach such gut-wrenching intensity it almost sounds like a genuine attempt to spew her inner self from her conduit acting body. One of Pharmakon‘s most harrowing yet.
Sunn O)))‘s first album this year, their 2019 centrepiece, Life Metal, was one of the year’s most anticipated albums. With the knowledge of Steve Albini’s involvement and a lengthy 4 years since their previous studio album, Kannon, the world was more than ready for the next chapter of Sunn O)))‘s work. What was the result? Dense, thunderous, rumbling drone metal with a few sweeter moments thrown in the mix. One of Sunn O)))‘s most stripped back and primal releases.
Opening track, Between Sleipnir’s Breaths, throws medieval themed samples in with textured, sparse and rather epic droning guitars. The track also has a section of sharp female vocals that slice through the mix and take centre stage during their presence.
Other than track 1’s vocals, the album is entirely instrumental, with shadow member, Attila Csihar’s (current and legendary Mayhem vocalist) absence acknowledged in the thanks section of the liner notes: “Hails… Attila Csihar for his understanding”. Csihar, possibly busy with Mayhem tours and recording, wasn’t exactly missed as his contribution wasn’t entirely necessary for the stripped back, pure drone outcome Sunn O))) wanted with this album. A deeply rich, textured record.
Girl With Basket Of Fruit
Moving away from the avant-pop scapes of previous record, Forget, Xiu Xiu have taken a few distant steps into more abstract territories. Jamie Stewart’s now 17 year old project have never had an especially predictable formula and Girl With Basket of Fruit is no different. With the recruitment of Thor Harris of recent Swans fame for percussion duties the result is tribal like rhythms and clangs that hold the backbone of Stewart’s inane ramblings. For example:
“Every frog hops right up into her butthole
Every frog eats a single butthole flea on its way in
She brown box squeezes them all into froghost
A flock of erect dicks on bat wings
Pee-pees into her sleeping face
And pointlessly tries to fuck a blue sky”
The Great Unlearning
Ramleh have never been the most prolific group out there, but they’ve tended to keep their hands in the pot. Whether related to Ramleh or to founding member, Gary Mundy’s Broken Flag Records, there always seems to be something (usually an unannounced rerelease) simmering away. But they’ve delivered the goods with their first album in 4 years, The Great Unlearning.
Having jumped from the power electronics train long ago, Ramleh tend to stick with their noise rock output these days. But on The Great Unlearning they almost do neither, opting more toward dark, psychedelic post-punk songs supported by simmering background electronics.
The Great Unlearning’s opening track, Futureworld, the repelling 18 minute instrumental is possibly a parody of the album’s title. But regardless of whatever in-joke may or may not exist, it hacks the lid off the album with its brooding melody and pretty electronics that dizzy the listener into a near trance. Songs like The Twitch, No Music For These Times and Religious Attack stand as the most singable songs of Ramleh’s career, even if they do sound like the Croydon corner boys are shouting at you, rather than with you. These immediate numbers are balanced against longer, droning and/or psychedelic tracks of Blood Aurora, Futureworld or Racial Violence that dig deep into your skull and have a hard time leaving.
An accomplished album full of contempt for our future. The Great Unlearning is a dystopian envisionment through the filter of Gary Mundy and Anthony Di Franco’s grim world view.
Very few albums reach the kind of highs that Kristin Hayter manages to summit on her second album, Caligula, as Lingua Ignota. This album is frustratingly difficult to classify, drawing on influence from classical, industrial, noise, ballad and even black metal. Filled with delicate, mournful passages that are completely shattered by bone shaking moments of sheer intensity.
Having been classically trained since childhood, Hayter has no issue carrying her operatic voice up a stairway, to be met by some of the most crushing crescendos I’ve encountered. Do You Doubt Me Traitor captures this perfectly as her classically trained voice and warnings lead to one of the most crushing, mournful and neurotic vocal deliveries recorded in 2019.
May Failure Be Your Noose displays Hayter’s stoic lyricism through the tracks punitive, vengeful nature. “Let failure be a noose for which to hang you” she sings on loop with sinister intention.
The continual theme of revenge is rife, and at no point understated throughout the album’s 11 tracks. Her sinister declarations “If the poison won’t take you, my dogs will” / “If you sleep deep in hell / I have chains to bind you” – amongst many more, don’t sound like empty threats. Coming from a place of very real pain, this album directs the anguish of an abusive relationship at the hands of a former partner, and summons her inner darkness to absolutely destroy them. All the way through this album, it feels like Hayter is leading the listener up an ethereal path into a rickety building, only to knock it down with us inside in a direct act of premeditated murder.
Caligula is Lingua Ignota‘s magnum opus, thus far, and proudly sits atop this list for its shimmering beauty, vulnerability and unmatched chaos. If her troubled past ever made her feel small, this album makes Lingua Ignota seem gargantuan.