Obsidian Kingdom – Torn & Burnt (2013)

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Progressive Metal meets Electronic Dance, now there’s a genre combination that I didnt expect to get with my breakfast. Torn & Burnt, I am lead to believe, is the follow up album of remixes proceeding the successful release of their previous sophomore album Mantiis. I must admit, I was somewhat hesitant in approaching this release but what I found surprised me quite a lot, and anyone interested in Industrial and, erm, “Deathstep”, might also find themselves with an interest here.

It’s been a long day, and all I want to do at this point is sit down with a huge pizza, a few bottles of cider and listen to some music really loud. Perfect really, since this album is not designed to be listened at any other volume level. “And Then It Was (Oktopus Remix)” was my introduction to this release and is one of the finer ones; it opens the album to heavy but submerged guitars and thick, distal basslines as it generates a driven but rather loose atmosphere. This playful riff seems to just bend and distort its way into the mix, supported by this dense bed of instrumentation, fading into this second phase of more intensive music where the drums pick up, the glitch begins to roll and disembodied, terrifying voices growl away. But it’s not overtly heavy or oppressive and it rolls into an even more accessible track “Last Of The Light (Subheim vs Poordream Remix)”, my favourite track of the album. It remains low-key for the large part, driven by powerful, Trance inspired but IDM lead synth lines and intoxicating bass pulses., while soft vocal coos warm the wet synth activity going on overhead and help really give this piece a sense of scale. The latter half almost wants us to dance but just increases its grittiness in a rising crescendo of texture and volume before bottoming out.

“Awake Until Dawn (Necro Deathmort Remix)” sounds like we’re going to fall back a little to the Metal roots and you wouldn’t be far wrong. Slow, heavy, Post-Rock-esque guitars and forceful percussion create this sweeping and thick soundscape that’s just so rich and slow, so powerful and majestic. But it revvs up strongly and the hidden depths of the alarming, screaming voices hover on the edge of tangibility, buried beneath the overwhelming instrumentation. But the heavy and scary parts fall away rapidly and dont comprise a large part of the track, especially in the more cerebral, dronier ending sequences. “Fingers In Anguish (Jr Morgue Remix)” comes in surprisingly quickly, flowing effortlessly from its precursor. It’s got a strong Massive Attack feel to it actually, and not the first time I’ve thought that listening to this album. There’s careful and precise vocals but they’re gone almost as quickly as they arrived after just over a minute of low-key, downtempo electronic shifts gears.

“Haunts Of The Underworld (Drumcorps Remix)” starts sparse, nothing more than a few synth notes and laid-back guitar, but it’s clear this is merely the precursor to something  altogether larger. It gains some momentum via textural attrition and then these big, thick guitars and glitched sequences flood the fore in this great rush. It falls away, knowing it’s overdone itself, but it’s temporary as it retreats to a tinnier and altogether more easygoing phase before coming back and rocking out full force in the closing moments. Loving the fierce processing on this, not to mention the great pacing. “The Nurse (Larvae Remix)” segues in, again flawlessly, and it’s not too far removed. Slow percussion and a sparse primary riff are all that keep the track going for the most part though; it feels like it’s going to rear up and bite the bait in a thick bassline dominated transitional sequence but it never happens, remaining content to cruise for the most part.

Closer “Answers Revealing (Mothboy Remix)” is the longest track of the album by, well, almost 3 minutes, but chooses not really to do anything much more with all that extra time. Admittedly, it is luxurious and takes the time to utilise the vocals pretty well; once more they’re ethereal and barely discernible amongst the thick electronic bass and shuddering electronica but they’re an interesting textural addition. Much like the previous track it remains content to sit in cruise mode, but it is much heavier than its precursor and manages to create a deeply compelling atmosphere throughout; it’s pretty hard to believe this originated from a Metal album at all.

It’s always difficult approaching remix albums I find; having not heard the original is probably a bonus so that I dont have a bias, but I can’t help but feel these tracks are all probably now completely new and discrete tracks of their own. Yes, much of this album is pretty heavy electronic but out of context it’s fairly unbelievable that these tracks came from an album dominated by Death and Progressive Metal. Kudos to all the artists involved to making this such a compelling and unique release, it must be said. I like it a lot; I think it could have done with perhaps a slightly stronger overprint one way or the other, since it feels a little caught in the middle, but there’s enough of both the raw, harsh material and the more mind bending stuff to keep it afloat in my mind.

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How To Disappear Completely – Arterial (2013)

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How To Disappear Completely, or HTDC for simplicity’s sake, are tricky to find online due to their relatively low profile and their namesake originating from a Radiohead song. Perhaps they should have taken a leaf out of CHVRCHES book, although I’m not sure how they would have worked it. Hailing themselves as a live Ambient collective from Poland, their latest LP Arterial is just one in a string  they’ve been churning out since last year, and warn the listener that “all audio deformations are intended”.

Brief opener “Under The Midnight Sun” casts what I imagine to be the same bleary light that falls on the boreal latitudes during the Summer months; a stark warm light hovering tentatively on the horizon, casting long shadows in the wake of its reverbed, distant, almost mournful drone in a single pulse of activity. The real album begins in “Gathering Dusk” however, as the backfield becomes littered with a noisy haze, the inefficient and lo-fi reel-to-reel process introducing its own unpredictable and organic incursions into the drone swells and slightly later on the faster paced synths that begin to rise through the mix. The onset of night always seems to happen so suddenly, and this track seems to emulate that sensation so well; the beautiful twilight tones quickly being ushered away as the light falls out of the sky and the stars appear in all their glittering majesty. This race to darkness ends as the synths finally die away and the silence of the blackness consumes everything.

“Arterial I” lives up to its namesake in its watery and echoic soundscape; rolling shudders of glitch accompany muffled waves of some throbbing electronica, all of it rising in a slow crescendo that begins to bring some semblance of rhythm to the dystopia, but it’s short lived as the blobs of suppressed synth are crushed under the dark drone overprint and the track slips away. This creepy interlude is juxtaposed against a rather more hopeful track on the other side, “Until The Night Burns Out”. In a vein not too dissimilar from Nuojova’s album from 2012, Otavaiset Otsakkaha, it spins a thin and multi-faceted array of low-fidelity textures across its rather luxurious 7 minute timespan. Delicately oscillating synth flutters are swept along by crests of softly buzzing drone glows, the predominant current that drives the track. It’s formed of the fading fragments of lots of little sonic textures, each of them smearing out as quickly as they arrive, adding their own part to the sonic background as they fall back into the shadows.

“Closer” is even more tentatively warmer, and I can get thoroughly behind it in its endeavour to be bold and optimistic. Waves can just be made out lapping the shore in the forbidden darkness, reworked and processed to a distant smudge of their former selves. The piece as a whole is driven by a propulsive yet gentle drum beat and some slowly turning synth riff, spun out into dreamy swirls of drone at its edges. It’s an entirely predictable piece and such a stereotypical Ambient Techno meets Lo-Fi Drone sound, one that I’ve heard a million times, but it doesn’t stop it from being compelling. All those textures just seem to suddenly melt away and the driving forces of the track just drop out in quite an abrupt ending though. “Vors” has something of a Boards of Canada vibe going on in its crackly backdrop and terse, alien synth shimmers. Slivers of distorted voice are just tangible through their thick processing and we get to sample them quite a few times as the track just keeps on turning around in its slow delerium, repeating itself endlessly in this once more dystopic time-slice.

At this point, would you believe, we’re only half way through the album. “In Half Light” chases up some of the more cerebral and lightweight drones the album seems to be angling towards. Actually it’s the best track of the album up to this point as it struggles through melancholic, wavering drones and flatter, more ponderous instrumentation across its gorgeously humming 8 minute duration, moving into the dense thickets of downbeat “Lowered”. It’s another sort of graceless interlude before we slip into “Even After Everything”, draped in wistful blankets of cushioned noise, stretched and mellowed acoustic sandpaper that’s been de-edged and softened into this barely moving glacial stunner, with only slight changes in pitch moving slowly through the drone fabric indicating the changing of phases and careful evolution of the piece.

“Near Far” matures quickly as it settles into a much darker atmosphere again, forging slow breaths of electronic noise in the regular and haunting primary rhythm. Shimmers of piercing electronic zip through the piece uncomfortably, not to mention the unsettling alien sounds and what seems like garbled voices adding to the intensity. The darkness is brooding and unrelenting, sowing fear and uncertainty into an already dubious mind. It’s the finest track of the album, without question, bowing out to a distinctly and uncomfortably electronic vibe not previously seen. “Arterial II” rests as a final, awkward segue before the closing track (and the longest) “Dawn Sequence” sets itself into motion. Initially it’s a sound that summarises the album quite well; a jumble of syncopated and incoherent textures, blots and fragments of noise and weird electronic snippets, except that sensation never really goes away. It remains content to meander and float effortlessly through the cacophony of semi-ordered chaos, on the cusp of falling into disorder and unwanted abrasion. Unfortunately it does outstay its welcome and it’s a relief that the end finally ushers in some much needed silence to aid digestion.

My biggest qualm with this release is that a number of the smaller interlude tracks add nothing other than unnecessary time to the release, which is frankly long enough already. Worse still is that there’s not a good sense of cohesion or logical flow throughout; they try to act as bridges between concepts but end up confusing the thread further, separating warm sequences from dark ones by creating a half-baked mid-way point that seems more of an afterthought to try and force good but juxtaposed concepts into the same package. While many of the tracks are unquestionably beautiful on their own, it smacks of the same relatively shallow but superficially rich lo-fi ambient that seems to be quite popular at the moment. I like it but it’s too much too messy for me to really love.

You can check out the release in full for free at their Bandcamp.

Notice: Technical Problems

Just a very brief announcement; my laptop finally shook itself to death last night and I’m currently between systems. It’s unlikely I’ll have a new one before next Friday and even more unlikely that I’ll get my music library off the old one. The long and short is, those people whom I’ve promised reviews for will probably have to hold on a little while longer while I get my affairs in order and try and ride this unwelcome shitstorm out. On top of this I’ve got massive congestion in my ears and am finding it difficult to hear at times, thus confounding matters further.

Thanks for everyone’s patience. I’ll try and assemble my 2013 albums list in the meantime for release on December 1st regardless, but I’ll try to put something out in the next few days if I can.

RIP in pieces