Satori – Contemptus Mundi

01/09/2009 § Leave a comment

Artist: Satori
Title: Contemptus Mundi
Label: Cold Spring Records
Genre: Dark Ambient

Track Listing:

01 Contemptus Mundi
02 Contemptus Mundi (Nameless Wrath mix)

Satori’s vehement dislike for the modern world could not be more relevant for those of us living in the UK. A lot of the time people over this side of the Northern Hemisphere like to think of themselves as living in a superior country to the USA, but that’s certainly not the case as far as social freedoms are concerned. The censorship sway that the UK holds over its citizens is some of the most restrictive that there is. We have every moment of our lives monitored in the interests of “national security” and there is not one stone left unturned when it comes to the state’s ability to pry into the recesses of peoples’ personal lives. The more I think about this, the more paranoid I have become. I’ve even started to convince myself that my garbage is being sorted through by law enforcement agents and I’m being covertly stalked by all manner of faceless authorities. My cursor may be being followed in its trajectory across the screen at this very moment. It would hardly be a shock.

Not only is nearly every street in the UK festooned with the “secure, watchful eye” of CCTV, but as of this year the government has begun documenting every website visited by domestic citizens. Logs of each email received and sent are also kept – though we’re told the content isn’t monitored. This is exactly the kind of material that Satori’s Contemptus Mundi addresses: effectively a dark ambient sermon against the suffocatingly restrictive practises of the modern world, delivered through a collaboration with Magus Peter H Gilmore, High Priest of the Church of Satan. The Church of Satan get a bad rap for seeming a ridiculous organisation of devil-worshippers, though they’ll tell you they’re anything but, and that the Church is based on atheism. They have taken ‘Satan’ as a representation of all forms of pleasure as well as the power of free thought and individual activism.

Contemptus Mundi consists of two tracks – the main title track which clocks in at 26 minutes, and a slightly shorter mix with no spoken vocals. Satori’s work on this album is very impressive, creating a lush, dark ambient background of distant chimes, drones and ghostly voices which underlay Gilmore’s words. Gilmore’s message is not delivered with a low, menacing growl as I was to expect from such an album but more an informative, affable tone, speaking of the smothering nature of censorship and the cowardice of the populous to break free from societal strictures. As much as I didn’t expect to find myself in acquiescence, Gilmore’s feelings that “mollycoddles abound” in the present day nanny state and “it has become a thought-crime to voice the opinion that you don’t embrace everyone in one sloppy hug of ‘brotherhood’” are rather similar to my own. His delivery is so straightforward, almost friendly in its tone, that Satori’s backing almost seems too dark in contrast.

Contemptus Mundi, meaning ‘contempt for the world’ isn’t necessarily one long complaint about the mundanity of modern existence offering no solutions. Gilmore suggests cultivating a “neo-Darwinian arena wherein opinions may clash in the bright glare of reason”, fostering the need for independent thought and action without governmental or religious bodies foisting sanctions onto us. Policing of laws is one thing, but policing of thoughts and opinions is quite another. Overall it’s an interesting and intriguing piece of work and at least if you don’t agree with Gilmore’s message, there’s another forty minutes of lavish dark ambience to get subdued in.

Ironically, in a time when censorship is supposed to abound in the UK more than ever, the British Board of Film Classification has upped its game considerably, waived cuts to a lot of old films and unbanned most of those that had been vaulted away for decades. Not only this, but many new horror films have found themselves released on these shores uncut whilst being slashed to ribbons by censors elsewhere. One of the most recent offerings to avoid the axe was Von Trier’s latest which, in spite of some particularity sadistic and gruesome scenes, left the cutting room with a floor free from stray celluloid. The film, Antichrist, got panned by the critics here who called for it to be banned, one even mentioning that it should be removed from cinemas in spite of the fact that he hadn’t seen it. At least expression of art seems to be freer than it once was here, and the aptly named Antichrist hopefully carries the standard for a new, more open-minded way of thinking as the authorities close other channels around us.

A couple of years ago I was advised of something on an internet image board, a tenet which has stuck with me ever since. “Always assume that everything you say and do is being recorded somewhere and can be used against you to your detriment”. This has always struck me as an unnerving and chilling idea, one which is particularly relevant to Gilmore’s notion of how frighteningly restrictive things have become. Though it may well be closer to the truth than I’d like presently to fathom, I’m not quite ready to be a Satanist just yet.

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June 11 – Matter is Alive

01/09/2009 § Leave a comment

Artist: June 11
Title: Matter is Alive
Label: EE Tapes
Genre: Ambient/ Experimental/ Jazz

Track Listing:

01 By This River
02 The Picture
03 I Know The Moonlight
04 Matter Is Alive
05 Lahore
06 The Luckiest Man
07 A Peaceful Vale
08 Harold Budd
09 You Pave The Way
10 Ta Bouche, Ta Peau

Unless you’re unfortunate enough to live in Croydon, most parts of London are devoid of trams. The 1950s heralded a new era of buses with pneumatic tyres that weren’t confined to the restrictions of rails. Apart from watching repeated clips in the 80s of Alan Bradley from Coronation Street dying in front of a Blackpool tram, my experiences of them were rather slim. Bradley’s death was hardly unrealistic since it’s bloody hard to hear the things coming. When I was dating a girl in Schiedam there were six different ways to get killed crossing the road from her house to the car park on the other side: the Eastbound bicycle/motorcycle lane; the main road; the tramline, and then the same three going West. More than a couple of times I was awoken from walking daydreams by the apathetic tinkling of tram bells only to watch the thing silently swoosh through the spot I had inhabited half a second earlier.

So when I was in Gent for the first time in 2004, I pretty much had to rely on my guide for anything from local bars to how to get about the town using the public transport system. On boarding the first and only tram of the evening I was told, “don’t worry about paying, there’s never once been an inspector on these”. The thing hadn’t lurched 100 feet down the road before it came to a stop and three ticket inspectors got on to harass everyone. Fortunately, playing the “I’m a foreigner and don’t know anything about your wonderful country” line worked perfectly and I only had to pay the standard €2 fare, unlike my friend who was unfortunately whacked with an uncompromising €50 fine. Needless to say, drinks were on our guide for the rest of the evening, and his extremely sheepish look of horror and shame as the inspectors boarded has gleefully remained with me for many years.

I dare say that June11’s Jan Van Den Broeke has by now well familiarised himself with how to get from Den Trollekelder and back without being taxed huge amounts by the Belgian transport authorities. I’ll admit I’m more than slightly jealous of him for hailing from Gent, a beautiful and historic town in the middle of Belgium, though somewhat overrun with tourists and corporate promotional events in the summer. Such a place surely must be a haven for inspiration, though not only for the musically-minded but for the rowdy, insulting teenage idiots who ruined my ex’s day after calling her a ‘Satanist’ in the local McDonald’s. That was a fun afternoon.

But it’s surely not only Gent itself that has provided inspiration for June11’s debut, but the works of Brian Eno. June11 is best described as an ambient project with a sprinkling of slow, experimental jazz. It’s all rather hazy, misty, mood music which is represented well by the packaging, with its grey, rainy artwork and blurry photography. June11 describe their project not only as an aural entity but a ‘place for music and images’, exploring – and exploiting – a fluid, slow, sensitive and righteous world. As nebulous as this initially sounds it’s actually a faithful description: a rare thing indeed when all too often bands describe their sound with pretentiously inaccurate adjectives.

June11 utilises a wide range of instrumentation from guitar and piano to saxophone and clarinet, the latter two rounding off the jazzy feel that a lot of the tracks have. But don’t let the ‘jazz’ element lead you into thinking you’re going to get a smoky, dark piece of 2am nightjazz to put on when your Bohren collection has run its course – June11 is more experimental than that, with the main focus being on light, dreamy ambient music with the odd experimental jazz section thrown in for atmosphere and variety. Such moments are at their most prevalent in songs such as Lahore, The Luckiest Man and the 11+ minute You Pave The Way, which does indeed have a tinge of Bohren to it in places, but it’s the only piece of the album that does. After all, according to June11, Matter is Alive takes most of its influences from Eno, Buckley, Holliday and the classical works of Glass, Satie and Grieg.

June11 do occasionally use vocal lines – which is a bit of a shame because the vocal work on the album is really quite poor. Both male and female singers don’t do the accompanying instrumentals any favours with their weak voices and in the case of The Picture, which has a wonderfully emotive piano track, they get sickly and embarrassing to listen to. The lyrics don’t really help much either with lines such as “what colour is happy? Is it black and white?” spoiling the intensity and seriousness of songs which are – musically at least – rather well-written.

Matter is Alive is an atmospheric and well put-together piece of work and it’s good to see an artist doing something slightly different on the ambient scene. All the playing and song-writing is generally of a high calibre and the experiential jazzy elements don’t feel too forced or unnatural. However, it’s yet another case of an ambient disc which would have been so much better without the vocals. I appreciate that Van Den Broeke et al have some emotional memories they want to cathartically share with us all, but maybe next time it would be better to express these entirely musically rather than haranguing our ears with poor vocals and absurd lyrics. I’ll be back in Gent in the next few months, so if Jan wants to take this up with me then, he’s more than welcome. Though I won’t be travelling by public transport.

Egoist – Ultra-Selfish Revolution

01/09/2009 § Leave a comment

Artist: Egoist
Title: Ultra-Selfish Revolution
Label: SelfMadeGod Records
Genre: Progressive/ Technical Metal

Track Listing:

01 The Rest Will Follow
02 Lifeless Love/Loveless Life
03 On
04 Just Ones
05 These Strange Things
06 Near Warm Fireplace
07 (Not) The End
08 Bright Shift

Stanislaw Wolonciej has had his finger in a number of musical pies since the end of the 1990s, but as much as I love to think myself marginally knowledgeable about progressive metal, Egoist didn’t fall within the scope of my radar. Not only has Stan been doing work with Egoist but also NeWBReeD, Angerpath, Dream System and Spacebrain, and he makes it clear in his rather lengthy and whingey biography that he could have been the drummer for C-187 too, but he didn’t quite make the final cut and Sean Reinhart [again] made it instead. Mind you, considering the dreadful reviews that C-187 got, maybe Stan’s now feeling slightly less peeved that his name didn’t appear in the CD’s linear notes.

Egoist, as its name mockingly hints, ditches the need for other band members and sees Wolonciej taking care of all instrumentation, recording and mastering. Guitars, drums, bass, vocals and synth are all his own work and if you go to his MySpace page you can even see videos of him in his sterile beech-walled studio bouncing time signatures off the walls. Egoist is more than just a progressive metal outfit – Wolonciej throws in a number of influences which make the music straddle a gulf between progressive, technical metal and avant-garde, funk and metalcore. It’s as if someone has thrown a number of genres into a musical mixing bowl and decided to pour them haphazardly into one album. It’s less cohesive than it should be in spite of being played note-perfectly with some beefy and nicely compressed sound production. It’s the kind of thing that would be left at the end of a Korn, Textures and SikTh focus group – bands that do perfectly well in their own rights, but mixing them together is far too dangerous and unstable a compound.

The album’s songs jump and writhe all over the pace, mixing in slow, groove-like sections with spidery riffs, funk and even psychedelic passages. The problem, as is often the way for this sort of stuff, is that it’s hard to put a suitable vocal line to the passages. Wolonciej does have a capable voice but most of the time it’s entirely without emotion so it’s easy to come away from repeated spins of the CD without one memorable line having stood out. In the end, the vocals don’t seem to lead the music as much as the guitars do, which are really the star of the show here, being prominent, up-front and far more interesting. Vocals are also provided by Partick Mameli [Pestilence] in a couple of tracks which adds a different tinge to Egoist’s sound but, once again, it’s nothing particularly memorable.

Egoist does come across as little more than a very personal exercise in experimentation for Wolonciej. Clearly inspired by many of the main, important progressive and death metal bands of the 90s, as well as more modern metalcore bands, Ultra-Selfish Revolution is Wolonciej’s own interpretation and contribution to the style. He’s certainly an impressive musician and Ultra-Selfish Revolution is an ambitious showcase for his many musical talents, but there’s a big hole somewhere in this album, a yawning chasm where no hooks, emotion or soul seem to lie. The canny and consistent danger with technical releases is the sacrifice of meaning for experimentation and individuality, and this is all too often where bands like Egoist seem to fall. However, given Wolonciej’s chosen name for this project, a simple showcasing is all that was ever intended.

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