Zak Riles – S/T

15/05/2009 § Leave a comment

Title: Self-Titled
Label: Important Records
Genre: Instrumental / Post-rock

Track Listing:

01 Pacific Siren
02 Confluence
03 Sand / Silk Rd. Origian
04 Res Extensa
05 Before the Refuge
06 Slack Key
07 Chloe

Coincidently enough, in a couple of hours I’m supposed to be down in Elephant & Castle watching Grails, whom you may or may not recognise as guitarist Zak Riles’ main band. However, due to commitments such as finishing this review before I get thrown on the ‘unreliable’ pile with a horde of other journalists, the fact that I’m financially eating from my own deposit for my next property and that my score on Defence Grid desperately needs improving, I’ll have to catch them when I’m more inclined to trudge down to such a horrific area of South London. Corsica Studios, the chosen venue for tonight, is a ramshackle hovel filled to bursting with the more pretentious of the arty crowd. Weird clothing and people talking about Proust abound, though bar snacks don’t, so I can only hope that Zak has located one or two of the fetid kebab shops that pickle the streets round the destitute subways. Haute cuisine and Lambeth don’t mix.

It’s far from unusual for band musicians to veer off onto their own solo projects, though I’d hardly call this album a ‘project’. More than anything it feels like a showcasing of Mr Riles’ skills, or to put it more accurately, his understanding of the guitar and its abilities to create atmosphere. There’s a slight Middle Eastern vibe to the album’s sounds and to its artwork. The beige and white digipack comes with a picture of a shoreline headed by Zak’s name in an Arabesque font, whereas inside there is a more of a Christian feel with pictures of the Madonna and candlelit medieval paintings. Zak not only plays the guitar on the album but also the Saz and the Oud, so the middle Eastern theme is very much carried through on this level as well. I’m not so sure about the picture of a boot and circular saw for the on-body CD art, but I’ll try not to lose too much sleep over it.

Album opener “Pacific Siren”, with its jaunty folk guitar, may dupe you into thinking that this album will have quite a positive feel to it. But it’s a bit of a decoy – a curve ball – since the next track, “Confluence”, a contemplative Middle Eastern post-rock ballad, gives the album a far more introspective tone early on. “Sand / Silk Rd. Origian” and “Res Extensa” build on this feeling and take the album into darker territory, giving a doomy, dark ambient feel to the album befitting of the blackest film noir or even earlier Bohren. “Before the Refuge” is a lighter, airier piece of guitar-driven ambient with soaring, breezy melodies; “Slack Key” has a Grecian/Turkish feel to it whereas “Chloe”, the most melodic part of the album, introduces acoustic rhythm guitar and shimmering, clean leads of the finest post-rock instrumental quality.

Zak Riles’ self-titled album is far more varied and, in some places, sinister than the stuff you’d expect to find on a Grails album. Beginning positively and upbeat, it takes you through various atmospheric journeys, all played with style and sophistication. I was initially dubious that this work would turn into little else but wanky, ostentatious self-promotion, but Zak Riles proves he has a masterly understanding of exactly what it takes to create feeling and energy from all types of clean guitar. It’s not the most deep and poignant work of instrumental music, but as something fresh and potent for lighter relief, it fits the bill perfectly.

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Halo Manash – Am Kha Astrie

15/05/2009 § Leave a comment

Artist: Halo Manash
Title: Am Kha Astrie
Label: Aural Hypnox Productions
Genre: Ritual Ambient

Track Listing:

01 Spring Solar Semen
02 A Spiral Spine Ever Emanating
03 The Treefaced Trunk Arises – A Pillar Through All Worlds
04 In the Deepest Womb of MAA, the Skyshrouded is Born
05 At Ashen Shrines of the Seventh Sign Antlers Ascend
06 All Herald Its Shape and Shadow
07 The Dream That It Dreams – Awakened

Idly walking through the churches of Central London, I noticed that the statuettes had been enshrouded over Easter. In a time of year pertaining to penance and reflection, the veils between the worlds of light and dark can seem ever so thin. Now, in the dim dawning of Spring, Halo Manash’s latest work comes more fittingly into being. Their most recent offering, a seven-part convocation of sound, is an arrow to the heart of the orthodox, the pious and the enlightened. Am Kha Astrie, the second in their latest tripartite trilogy, is a beautifully harrowing invocation split into seven sections, each one perfectly fashioned as to be its own piece of chillingly effective ambient.

Once again Halo Manash have not disappointed in the visual department: the album’s packaging is a cruciform casing which opens outwards to reveal a depiction of a barren vista in which the CD sits. Halo Manash take more care over the presentation of their albums than possibly any band I have known – the special edition of The Language of Red Goats even coming with hand-pressed artwork and original parchment in a rope-tied box. The visual format is a perfect companion to the musical dark ambient rituals of Halo Manash.

Spring Solar Semen/A Spiral Spine Ever Emanating: As Spring brings awakenings, beginnings and new life, Halo Manash begins the start of its next cycle. A single, subtle animal horn ushers us into being and we get the feeling of being in a cavernous, large and empty space. A background drone underlies the notes of the horn, repeating ominously over and over. The sound of the horn creates a feeling of feralness, the desperate cry of a bestial being, eventually joined by indefinable human voices and subtle chants. The invocations end with the single cry of the horn, ever emanating and receding.

The Treefaced Trunk Arises – A Pillar Through All Worlds: One of Halo Manash’s more serene and calmer moments, we are greeted by the soft, low tapping of a gong while metal brushes against metal. Way in the distance we hear a prologued cry echoing and calling. This is one of the most atmospheric and ambient moments from Halo Manash. Mystifying, calming but also unsettling and unnerving. There is a sense that this is the beginning to something grander, the primer of the incantation, preparing us for the full force of something more authoritative and powerful to come.

In the Deepest Womb of MAA, the Skyshrouded is Born: As before, we feel the brush of metal on metal as the elemental drive of the wind rushes all around us, carrying us on. Then, with no warning, we hear the multiple tapping of bone on bone, speeding up while hollow voices chant in the background, interspersed with the rush of the wind. We are have never left the caverns and there is a sense of carrion, death, and the essence of control. Halo Manah becomes more powerful, more creative as we reach the active crest of Am Kha Astrie.

At Ashen Shrines of the Seventh Sign Antlers Ascend: There is a sense of calm, relief and recovery after the energy just passed. We get the feeling of rising or elevating beyond the caverns into a great, empty space. Stars boom and explode around us as we hear the soft chime of bells and single notes sung by the human voice, joining us on our journey upwards. There is an equal level of intensity to what went before, but deeper, emptier, and drainingly substantial.

All Herald Its Shape and Shadow: We continue our ascension and are aware of a great space we inhabit. Suddenly we hear the banging of metal drums. Occasional loud crashes assault our ears. The feeling of being free turns into one of entrapment and isolation. Like being in a building at night with some unseen force chasing us from room to room. Like being hunted. There is something unknown and threatening here. Soon we are joined by the melodic taunt of the horn receding into the distance and then rejoining us, ebbing back and forth. Eventually the horn recedes for the final time with just one drawn out bellow concluding the track, reminding us of its existence.

The Dream That It Dreams – Awakened: The longest and final section of the album is far more airy and ethereal than what has gone before. We are ushered out by relieving, subtle gongs and cymbals, quietly and cautiously played while ghostly voices echo softly in the background. There is a sense of permanence, relief and respect as Am Kha Astri comes to a perfect close.

As Halo Manash is in a constant form of metamorphosis, we come to this, possibly its most ambient in the series. Am Kha Astrie is the most vivid and emotive exposition so far, mixing together the industrial, the elemental, the tribal, the vocal and the darker sides of ambient rituals. Some parts are intense, full-on and authoritative; others are dreamlike, ambient and calming. There is no point at which Am Kha Astrie cannot be looked on as a perfectly dark work of depth and wonder. Out of all the blackening, ritualistic pleas and dedications to the darker realms of existence, none come so fine and complete as this.

Compulsive Shopping Disorder Interview; Attraction of Pain

01/05/2009 § Leave a comment

Heathen Harvest: Why did you choose the name Compulsive Shopping Disorder for the band? It’s quite an unusual name, especially with regard to industrial music.

Compuslive Shopping Disorder: It’s just a name and for us it’s not unusual, although there is a hidden meaning behind it. It reflects our mutinous natures and ultimately our disappointment with the psychological changes in Polish society during recent years. We and you are at the same point of multi-corporate capitalism now, but when the Communist system collapsed Polish society went this way, and not like your country in some decades. It was a shocking thing for people because it completely revalued life here. The Communist system concentrated on the ideological indoctrination and strengthening of the Communist party’s power. The methods were reminiscent of Orwell’s “1984” sometimes. Now we have a different system and another kind of control by the banks. When we listened to the early Swans’ records like “Greed ” or Holy Money” we didn’t understand them several years ago. The Western style of life, which they attacked, was our dream of the better life. Now we understand their message and the pure aggression in their music.

The conclusion of our times is that Compulsive Shopping Disorder is not only a disease, but it’s also moral damage to the public, and it’s more traumatic for us in Eastern Europe .

HH: The first thing to take my notice about the album was the artwork which was really quite striking and original in its execution. What does it signify and who is responsible for it?

CSD: We found the front cover photo on the internet. The second we saw it we knew we were looking at the perfect addition to our music. We paid the fee to the artist Eamonn Harnett for the right to use it.
The rest of artwork was made with our suggestion by the polish young designer Michal Karcz.

HH: What is the idea and main theme of the album In The Cube and what were the inspirations for it?

CSD: The main theme of our message is the isolation of the human being. The lyrics, music and our experiences are strictly connected. The most important theme is also love and the wish to be important for someone. We are still naive romantics and we still believe in pure feelings and emotions. Certainly it’s in opposition to the present world with its domination through sexual culture and violent behaviour in all aspects of activity. Everything becomes so trivial or has a profit-concealed meaning. This is the reason why the lyrics contain a lot of helplessness and despair.

HH: What was your writing and development process for creating the album and how many reworkings did the songs generally get before you were content with them?

CSD: The sounds are always the beginning. We create our original sounds on the synthesizers. We don’t work with PC applications. Then we arrange the drum and bass lines in appropriate tempo according to the atmosphere of the sounds. The lyrics are formed simultaneously. The sounds are created specially for one song and are not used in the other ones. It’s very hard working that way and achieving the coherence of the whole album but it’s the reason the songs are reworked many times. Besides this all the songs still grow together with us and our sensitivity. Please listen to the new versions of the two songs on Myspace and notice how they changed in just one year.

HH: Your stagewear is certainly quite different and unsettling when related to a lot of other similar acts in the genre. Why did you choose to depict yourselves in this way?

CSD: Yes we know, the current trend is showing visualizations on the stage. It’s too static for us. Video could be another performance medium for us. Now we play by our figures, the moves, the gestures, the mimes, the props and the interaction with the audience. We don’t want to treat the audience just only as passive listeners. Our main intention is to prepare a kind of ritual, the common attendance and participation. The situation you can watch on Myspace was not directed by us in our live video clip. It was pure improvisation and there was the man who became a part of the show by accident.
.

HH: Apparently you had little to no experience in making synth music before you started CSD. What made you want to get involved in the industrial scene and how were you able to pick it up so quickly?

CSD: It wasn’t that quickly. It lasted two years when we started to create something like what you can find on our first cdr. It was a very raw industrial act but we are still proud of it. Our first dark revelations. The samples you can find on our website http://www.c-s-d.pl.

HH: I notice that you have a big appreciation for Kirlian Camera. Which other bands and artists do you admire in the industrial scene and outside it?

CSD: Yes, they are very friendly people. We like them for their musical intelligence and for who they are. We admire the bands who follow their own way like Clock DVA, Coil, Dive, Swans, Attrition, Current 93, Cindytalk, Clair Obscure, Test Department, Skinny Puppy and many others. We feel the same emotions in their music. Their music gives us the strength and inspiration to find our own unique way .

HH: I notice that you guys are from Glubczyce in Poland. How hard is it to get recognition and notoriety in the industrial scene in a country like Poland?

CSD: There is no industrial scene in Poland, there is no Gothic scene in Poland and there is no electro scene in Poland. There are only some people who organize the concerts, and some bands and listeners divided into the hermetic group.

HH: I’ve been to Poland and was made aware of how popular bands like Closterkeller are, though others in the Gothic and Industrial scenes are really struggling. What’s the main kind of popular music in Poland and what are your views on it?

CSD: The most important thing is that you must sing in the Polish language. This is the first step to be known in Poland. The second is that you need to play on guitars and with a real drum set. And the best thing would be to add something with solo guitars and heavy metal riffs into your compositions.

HH: There seems to be a strong essence on the album relating to confinement and internal struggles in life. Which songs best represent this most effectively for you on the album?

CSD: “Mind-soul” is the essence of the album. It’s very specific and private for the author.

HH: A lot of the album revolves around the concept of mental entrapment. Is this something that you have found yourself subject to, and if so, what’s the best way that you find to break out from it?

CSD: In our opinion the world is not going a good way. There are more and more people frustrated and not satisfied with their life now. We think it will intensify and people will be searching for the way out of this situation. We described only the one possible aspect of it, and the isolation and confinement in ones’ own life, own cube.

HH: Of course everyone is aware of the problems artists are facing with piracy, peer to peer networks and music downloading these days. What do you think the future of the music industry is and what’s the best way to help overcome these problems?

CSD: The problem has two faces. The situation killed many good record labels and distributors and discouraged many people to so something on the scene, but the internet is also a chance for new bands. There is no chance to change it because things went too far. We must decide it in our souls.

HH: I imagine CSD is not your full-time work. What do you all do outside the band and what other interests do you have apart from music?

CSD: We struggle with everyday adversity.

HH: What future plans do you have from here with regard to writing new material? What future developments can we expect in the CSD camp?

CSD: The new material is almost ready. Now we must complete it and then record and produce it. Our dream is to release it at the end of this year, but….

HH: Before you go, do you have a final message for the discriminate, dedicated faithful of HH?

CSD: The antidote for this world is real love and friendship. Thank you

Tormenta – S/T

01/05/2009 § Leave a comment

Artist: Tormenta
Title: S/T
Label: Self Released
Genre: Progressive Metal

Track Listing:

01 Mirages
02 Collisions
03 Fievre et Calculs Morbides
04 Le Retour de la Noyee

Tormenta’s self-titled EP is a great starting block for any progressive metal group. The band formed in 2005 and it’s taken them three years to put something on CD that’s worth charging for. Visually they don’t give much about themselves away save for moody photos taken against rural French architecture and the odd piece of surrealistic sculpture thrown into their MySpace page for good measure. After all, what’s the point of being a progressive metal musician if you can’t confound at least some of your potential fanbase with clichés? Nevertheless, even though this might seem like a pretentious start, Tormenta’s music comes across as anything but. This four-track offering of instrumental progressive metal takes itself seriously but modestly, and it’s very clear from the first microtone that the band know what they’re doing.

The packaging of the EP is a little bit confounding – at first glance I thought this was some kind of EBM or industrial disc with it’s cyclical, swirling patterns and spacelike artwork. The concentric circles in the band’s logo hint at planetary rotations while the inside of the sleeve – a figure of the human anatomy beset with organs, cogs and belching fumes – looks like something David Lynch would have doodled in film studies. Taking the band’s Frenchness into consideration I should be thankful that the track titles are linguistically coherent with not too much ‘wacky’ wordplay, puns, in-jokes and recurring instances of the letter Z. In fact, the subtlety of the artwork seems to fit quite nicely with the band’s downplayed attitude.

There are no vocals on this EP – Tormenta have set themselves up as an entirely instrumental band, at this point anyway. There are two sets of lead guitars and backing drums with no bass or keys. The EP starts off with the melodic “Mirages” with its skipping, rollicking guitar lines, played confidently and deftly. The song changes from slow, staccato’d guitar to high, speed-metal solos. “Collisions” is a heavier piece putting more emphasis on lower-end power chords and alternating time signatures. “Fievre et Calculs Morbides” is quite possibly the most complex of the four songs, employing stoner-like doom sections with classic rock and faster progressive sections, whereas “Le Retour de la Noyee” is the slowest and most ambient of the four. This isn’t just any old Dream Theater or LTE worship album: there are heavier, more metalcore influenced frissons, and more than a couple of times I was able to detect the slightest nod towards bands like Sikth or Textures.

Tormenta’s EP is a great opener for a promising band. The playing isn’t first-rate and sometimes the drumming and timing is little bit sloppy, but not enough to detract from the overall feel of the music. Of course at this stage it’s not quite as accomplished as other bands like Spastic Ink or Sleep Terror but it’s definitely going in the right direction. Tormenta have shown themselves to be a serious and talented band with the potential to do something impressive in the years to come. A little more experimentation and a little less holding back should provide for some very absorbing releases indeed.

Wolfskin – O Ajuntar das Sombras

01/05/2009 § Leave a comment

Artist: Wolfskin
Title: O Ajuntar das Sombras
Label: Malignant Records
Genre Dark Ambient / Ritual Ambient

Track Listing:

01 The Body of Chaos
02 The Wild Hunt
03 Cart of Light
04 The Yew Colum
05 Rex Sacrorum
06 A World of Veils
07 O Ajuntar das Sombras
08 Iron Unfolded
09 Throne of Stillness
10 Head of Clarividence

“O Ajuntar das Sombras” is apparently the final work from Portugal’s Wolfskin, and it’s slightly odd to think that something so dark can come out of a country which is almost perpetually bathed in light. Almost a year ago I found myself in Lisbon, and though the people I met there were kind, accommodating and attractive, the city itself was in dire need of a facelift. It was like someone had managed to pick up Birmingham, stone by stone, and airlift the entire horror of the city – Barratt helicopter style – across the English channel. The main streets were generally grey and littered, the backstreets fetid and in disrepair, and the ghetto slums put City of God to shame. So maybe it’s not altogether surprising that some dark vibes throb in the historic ruins of Portugal. The climate may be warm but the heart of the place can beat with an emotionally glum cadence.

The visual presentation of the “O Ajuntar das Sombras” is pretty stark and, once again, bearing a heavy emphasis on trees. I know that these bands want their works to come across as dour, moody, atmospheric and thought-provoking, but please, can’t we have another theme? I’ll admit I love trees too, OK? So much. And I can’t wait to go outside after writing this, pick my favourite one and smear myself all over it in some ritualistic sexual frenzy as the boundaries between man and plant dissolve into one big chlorophilic miasma, but please, we all need a break from them. It’s getting as tiring as people using the word ‘soundscape’ to describe dark ambient records. “Oh, beautiful soundscapes”, “the soundscapes… they’re so lush” and “wow, intense and dark soundscapes” may as well be macros on every reviewer’s keyboard.

It’s a shame that “O Ajuntar das Sombras” is the final work of Wolfskin. Having not been familiar with any of their previous albums, I wonder exactly in which corner of the dark ambient world I’ve been living over the last few years. This album is a humbling and splendid work, mixing some of the glummest visions from the scene and stirring them together thickly into one viscous soup. There are drone elements and heavy incantations, as well as instrumental work done on bagpipes and flutes, which makes some of the album come across as the bastard child of Kammarheit and Daemonia Nymphe. The bagpipes, for their part, are not played in a tuneful style befitting of your average Scottish tattoo but whirring, disorganised wails punctuated by the odd line of melody. At first its unusual and unexpected, but on repeated listens it almost makes sense, breaking up some of the longer droning sections of the album and providing some spiked relief from the more sinister moments.

The album lets you in gently with the airy, atmospheric drones of “The Body of Chaos” and “The Wild Hunt” before the whispered incantations begin on “Cart of Light”. Wolfskin occasionally incorporate percussive sections, which, rather than giving the album a tribal or industrial flavour, are done with enough subtlety as to fit perfectly with the ritualistic theme, even mimicking some of the more sinister moments of The Moon Lay Hidden Beneath a Cloud. The album then takes a break from its ritualistic side, moving back into dark ambient territory with the background wails and airy rushes of the excellent “Rex Sacrorum” before the incantation proper begins once more. There are many times when “O Ajuntar das Sombras” feels like a perfect fusion of the some of the more minimal and disturbing dark ambient ensembles such as Blood Box and Troum but without any of the prolix self-indulgence.

“O Ajuntar das Sombras” pulls together some of the very best influences from the dark ambient scene and spreads them evenly over the musical smorgasbord with perfect depth and execution. The artwork may be a little misleading – smacking of small town American backwashes or the kind of moody landscapes that Agalloch like to exploit – when the album is about so much more than just that. “O Ajuntar das Sombras” has the ability to exploit every kind of sensation in the dark ambient subgenre and glibly pull it off with triumph. It may well be the last offering that Wolfskin plan on providing, but it’s an excellent one to go out on.

Helene Hørlyck – A Nordic Room

01/05/2009 § Leave a comment

Artist: Helene Hørlyck
Title: A Nordic Room
Label: BSC Music
Genre: Ambient / Pop

Track Listing:

01 Voices
02 What Is This
03 Beautiful Day
04 Still
05 Universe On Hold
06 Where Are You Now
07 He Said
08 Stonethrows Close To You
09 Round Mirrors
10 Service Star
11 I Begin

Helene Hørlyck’s name may sound like an unusually popular bedtime beverage, but don’t let this distract you from the seriousness of her music. Helene’s apparently been cooperating with Enigma co-producer Jens Gad for a number of years but now she’s decided to flee the nest, albeit temporarily, and to put her spirit into a solo effort. My knowledge of Ms Hørlyck’s work is non-existent, as is Last FM’s judging by her play count, but then she is “hailed among insiders” as one of “Europe’s most interesting vocalists”. As much as I would love to delve into the implications of these phrases, it’s safe to say that no-one outside the industry has heard of her, even though apparently she has done work for notorious artists such as Paul Oakenfold and Basement Jaxx.

So what happened? Helene decided to get herself a laptop and plonk some songs onto it during touring and then regurgitate them in a studio, even though she effectively makes an apology in the album’s linear notes that the choir sounds didn’t come out quite as she’d expected. However, clearly her label care enough to give her some nice digipak presentation [there goes her 20%], all coloured white and light blue in true Scandinavian clinicity, with a set of pictures of Helene playing with her sleeky blonde hair so all you frizzy girls can get jealous.

Her biography describes the music as “opera meets ambient meets pop” which is a pretty accurate description, though the concentration is more on pop with the operatic elements seemingly an afterthought. Helene has a soft, strong voice and experiments with clean and operatic singing, effortlessly traversing both styles. Whether her talents lie in this area rather than songwriting is a moot point: she’s able to write competent ambient pop tunes some of the time, while at others they’re so soporific they could put Genghis Khan to sleep after a platter of Viagra.

Don’t let that fool you into thinking that A Nordic Room is all miss and no hit, because it certainly isn’t. Album-opener “Voices” is a fantastic mix of ambient and operatic, “He Said” is one of her better pieces of ambient, whereas the album’s finest moments rest in songs such as “Universe On Hold”, “Where Are You Now” and “Stonethrows Close to You”, which are all effective and catchy works of pop with strong choruses, even touching on Madonna’s Ray of Light in places. It’s a shame that some of the other numbers – namely “What Is This” and “Beautiful Day”- aren’t as powerful, the latter especially being way too twee for any sane human to endure.

When “A Nordic Room” is good it’s a satisfying trip through some of the lighter pop elements that traverse the charts in Scandinavia, though at other times it’s way too easy to skip onto the next track than put up with the dreariness of numbers like “Round Mirrors” and “Still”. All in all it’s a promising piece of work, though one which I’m unable to visualise inhabiting many other places than your parents’ car CD player on weekend trips down to Stavanger.

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