When ‘hardcore’ becomes an understatement

A couple of years ago I found the most extreme band I had ever heard. It was 2010, I was just starting high school, and I constantly wanted to push the limits of my musical taste. Upon the first listens, I recall thinking to myself: this record is so extreme, its borderline laughable. In fact, I did laugh because of the extremity and sometimes I still do. And not only that, I really thought the music would remain a joke and it would just fade away with time.
Now, four years on, I still give Agorapocalypse (2009) by american grindcore outfit Agoraphobic Nosebleed a spin throughout from time to time. And recently, I began wondering what it is about this record that has made it stand out and retain its relevance, and not least its shock value?

Well, for one, they don’t have a person to man the drums. All the drum sounds you hear on this record are completely sample-based and programmed. Now that does a couple of things to the overall sound; the pace of the drums is inhumanly fast, pummeling you in the face at over 1000 beats per minute. The sound of the drums is also kind of polished – not that I mind, but it really emphasizes the inhuman aspect. Another thing are the hysterical, screeching vocals of Katherine Katz combined with growls from the two other vocalists – Jay Randall and Richard Johnson – that just add a completely new layer of insanity onto the already chaotic sound. One could fear that this could result in a drowning pool of fast instruments and screams, but its really well executed overall.

The album’s running length ticks in at just 28 minutes, and to this day I still get lost in the last part of it, simply because I can’t keep up with the ridiculous tempo. Although I enjoy listening to the album as a whole, I really need to be in the mood for the grind-bombardement.
Not to forget, I personally weight variation in music as a very important attribute, which is not a tag you can put on this record. So it might seem contradictory that a record like this appeals to me, since some of the songs just blend a little too much together. But one probably also has to realize that variation is not something one should go look for in a grindcore record.

Get blown away:

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Unique & Urban: Burial

Today I want to talk about Burial, which might sound like some death metal band (actually I think there is one by that name), but that’s not the kind of music I will be featuring in this post. I would rather talk about the London based electronic musician & dubstep ghost William Bevan, who remained anonymous until sometime back in 2008. That was about a year after the release of his 2nd full length album, Untrue. He stated in an interview that “only five people know I make tunes“, which to me evokes a great deal of astonishment; releasing 2 full length albums with critical acclaim and still remaining anonymous is to me remarkable in the age of individualism and self promotion. As an artist he is very elusive, and this also tells us a lot about Bevan as a person. He is a loner, introvert and thoughtful person, and he does not seek fame or fortune. I think this is a great feat, and it is definitely mirrored in his music.

Burial – Untrue

Genre-wise it is being described as dubstep, among other things; a tag that is for the wide majority associated with the ‘wobbling’ sound that has been popularized by artists such as Skrillex and Rusko. However, this is not a sound that can be found in any of Burial’s tracks, nor do you find any of that explosive energy. What you are going to find, on the other hand, is atmosphere, emotion and melancholy. There is no doubt that Bevan is very connected to his music on many levels, and that solidifies his integrity as an artist.

There is also this urban sound to his music, which I personally find very interesting. In fact, it inspired me to write a short story that plays out in a big city, which I wrote while listening to almost nothing but Burial. When describing his music, one can not get around without mentioning his signature clink-clank, organic sounding beats, which has spawned a wide range of imitators. Few to none have had success in imitating Burial’s sound completely, yet there’s an attempt worth mentioning.
Since the release of Untrue, Burial has moved from the full length format and started to experiment with the EP format. Subsequently to Untrue, he has released 5 EPs, the first of these being the EP Moth / Wolf Cub, which he did together with Four Tet. Following this, there was the Street Halo EP and Paradise Circus / Four Walls EP, which was a remix of two Massive Attack songs. The remixes are very atmospheric, ghostly and almost dream like, with very little percussion/beats used. The most recent EP releases from Burial are the Kindred and Truant / Rough Sleeper EPs, of which I mostly enjoyed the former. The Kindred EP, which I also featured in my 2012-end-year list, contains three tracks: Kindred, Loner and Ashtray Wasp. The first and last of these go past the 10 minute mark, with the 2nd track being about 7 minutes long, making the whole EP clock in at half an hour. Have a listen:

Out of the three, I enjoyed the first two tracks the most. On the first one, Burial weaves his signature beat together with a beautiful female vocal sample creating a harmony that is simply chilling. I especially love how he ‘bends’ the sample to make it fit into the progression of the synth chords.
Loner is of a bit different nature, as it has a more standard, forward-going beat, with some great synths aswell. The atmosphere of the song is dark, and the synth chords are arranged in a way so that they almost sound alerting, indicating that something bad might happen soon. It was recently featured in the movie Elysium, a pleasant surprise in an otherwise predictable and bland movie (however it fit really well into the scene). Have another listen:

Antlers Mulm – a sonic journey into the dark

Some music has the ability to bring back memories of places. Places that hold experiences or impressions. Music can remind one of people and relationsships. And some music can mystify you, create images in your head of places you’ve been or never been before. Places that don’t necessarily exist, but are comprised of dozens of visual impressions you’ve encountered earlier in life. Don’t know what I’m talking about? Read along, take a listen, and you might just find out.

Antlers Mulm is a dark electronic, ambient & spoken word music project whose sole member is Hans Johm. He is hailing from Germany, and is also running a record label known as Sonderübertragung.

The three ‘tags’ mentioned above (genres, if you will) are fairly good as guidelines for what to expect from a Mulm release – yet there is still a lot between these that is not easy to put tags on.

A thing that seperates Johm from other ambient projects is the use of clear, bleak keyboard melodies, that sound like they are pulled out of a machine from the 70s; they have this “fake” feel to them. This, together with subtle samples and Johm’s calm, almost preach-like vocals creates a surreal atmosphere.

This being said, there are some points where I think that the vocals don’t work very well together with the melodies – this is typically when Johm’s lyrics goes from being spoken to almost sung – however, this is a rarity, seeing as Johm does not have the abilities of a singer. But this fact is something that I at the same time admire a lot: despite his lack of this particular feat, he is still the man behind the microphone; the man with the ideas – and it simply works.

He has released over a dozen of full length records throughout the years along with a couple of EPs, and done some minor touring (mainly in Russia; the ambient scene there seems to be quite extensive). The latest full length I’ve had the pleasure of enjoying (Weihnachtsfunk 4 has since been released) is the Age of Efficiency – an album that was a little different from the other releases I’ve heard by Mr. Mulm. It’s a bit difficult to put my finger on what it is, but I think that this release might be a bit more beat-oriented, yet it still retains the mystical atmosphere that Johm is a pure guru at creating. There also appears to be a bit more focus on the lyrics here, although they seem to be quite cryptic in meaning – but my guess is that there is a certain critical approach against modern society inbetween the lines.

One of my favourite tracks by Antlers Mulm is the track Untruth (Restructured), which is featured on the Lone Songs EP. I find this to be a very appropriate title; seldom have I experienced a similar feeling of loneliness while listening to some of these songs, or any other songs by a different artist for that matter. Have a (lonely) listen:

Bad Sector – the soundscape genius from Italy

Bad Sector can perhaps mostly be characterized by his unique sound made through his homemade/or heavily modified instruments and his light googles that he wears when he perfoms live.
Bad Sector is the pseudonym of italian Massimo Magrini, who’s been making electronic music for the past 20 years. His musical style could be described as (dark) ambient, noise and drone. Or as he describes it himself, deeply emotional dark ambient noise.
He has studied at the University of Pisa and has a degree in Computer Science. After his study he did some work for an italian company, constructing hardware and creating software for musical purposes.

Bad Sector’s music acts for me as some sort of a thought/feeling atomizer. That’s because his music has this weird, mystical and special feeling to it. When I listen to it, it doesn’t remind me of anything I know. It just frees my mind – you could say that the slate gets wiped completely clean. Everything that could have bugged me, anything that I could have concerns about, can simply be washed away (at least as long as the music is playing) by a single second of Bad Sectors music, which I think is fantastic. It puts me in such a relaxed mood, and I find the music very inspiring. That is probably one of the main reasons why I enjoy his music so much.
Another thing I like about Bad Sector is the diversity between his records: he has released well over 10 albums, but the originality since Ampos doesn’t fade. Every single record has something special, something new. None of the records resemble each other, yet this touch of Bad Sector magic still remains.

Since I first got acquainted with Bad Sectors music a couple of years ago, I have been diligently returning to a wide selection of his albums from time to time, but one album in particular has really been sticking out for me. This is the Dolmen Factory album from 1998, which is his fifth release. The album has a very thick and dense sound throughout, with layers of noise and beautiful harmonies. It features sounds that one would associate with those of an old factory, yet it is brilliantly blended together with something less familiar; I can’t help but think that it sounds like something from outer space. For example, on the track Pierre 1902, it opens up with a quiet hum that builds up to a huge sound, while strange machines produce a hissing, almost chant-like sound.
The space-theme is supported on the opening track, Alex 1964, with a short sample from Ridley Scott’s 1982 sci-fi movie Blade Runner. The sample is of some of the very first lines in the movie; even before Holden says anything, a voice over the intercom briefly describes Leon Kowalski’s background. I think this is a very interesting detail, because I feel that the mood of the album can be found in the movie as well. I still remember making this connection between the sample and the movie when I first saw it, and getting that mind=blown kind of feeling.
 On Dolmen Factory, Magrini takes the listener on an audible journey to the depths of his imagination, manifested in mystical sounds and noises.

If we take a look at the title and the cover, these start mystifying us and raise questions right away: what is a ‘Dolmen’? What is this factory actually producing? And what is the cover depicting? It does look like an ultraviolet scan, but I do not see anything resembling a fetus in there. Perhaps we’ll discover some of the answers to these questions as we start our dwell into this magnificent Bad Sector soundscape.
There’s also something strange about the track titles. The titles seem to follow a certain pattern – Name + Year. Except for two specific tracks, which happen to follow another pattern: halfways through the album there’s an Exit A and the closer track is Exit B. These “exit” tracks support the idea of the factory-theme. As to the significance of the names, I recall Magrini mentioning this in an interview: they symbolize people who have died over the years, people whose names are lost in time and whose deaths didn’t mean anything in the bigger picture.

Overall I think this album is overwhelming in its entirety, and as any other Bad Sector release I enjoy listening to it when I feel like zooming out and forgetting about everyday problems, just falling into the endless depths of the music.

The Grand Survivor

Music trends come and go. Artists come and go, too. Some stay for a while, some stay for months. And some stay… well, for a very long time. I recently had to ask myself which self-discovered artist I had kept in my music library for the longest period. By self-discovered, I exclude artists which have been following me since forever, artists such as Pink Floyd and Rammstein.
So, speaking of an artist that is indisputably the best survivor of my self-discovered artists thus far; the only one who is still holding the fort, I can only think of one man.

Grand survivor, dweller of cells; I present to you, the multi-instrumentalist, genre-crosser, kick ass musician: Klayton aka Celldweller.

Detroit-based musician Klayton has been making music since the nineties and adopted the Celldweller moniker at the end of the previous century. He has a self-titled debut album out, and just recently released his sophomore record, entitled “Wish Upon A Blackstar” – which I am blasting out of my speakers in this very moment. Other than that, he has tonnes of remix albums and two collection albums consisting of short, instrumental tracks.

Klayton is the only member of the multi-genre project Celldweller.

But how long has it been since I first fell in love with Klaytons sound?
It was back then when I was playing the Most Wanted installment of the Need for Speed series (Amazing soundtrack in that game overall). As I remember, Klayton had two songs featured in that game, these being Shapeshifter and One Good Reason. These songs were real headbangers, and I went on the internet to see if I could find more. I found, to my great delight, the track Switchback. Those of you who know the song will probably know why this cemented me as a new fan of Celldweller. And now, 7 years later, Klayton still maintains a high position on my own charts which has seen the rise and fall of countless artists.

How to describe Klaytons sound? Well, since Klayton incorporates so many different styles and instruments into his music, I wouldn’t say that there is a specific sound attached to his music. There is, however, another thing to note about his music: his passion for details. I would say that this is strongly connected to his style in the big picture, because Klayton certainly has the characteristics of a perfectionist. While writing this I am listening to a song from his newly released album, and it has probably been in the making for at least a year. At least I could imagine so, since he dropped the first track off Wish Upon A Blackstar back in 2009. Hell, I was only starting in high school back then, now I am a few weeks from graduation!
Klayton could definitely be labeled as a fine digital craftsman with a sense for beautiful details. Moreover, I also really enjoy the energetic feel to his music, and at times it can also appeal catchy. A pre-Blackstar track of his that I was going nuts about was actually a remix of Morgan Page’s The Longest Road, which was featured in his “Klash-Up” (full title is “Klash-Up Cinco de Mayo 2009 – Cellmate Mix”). Another great track was actually not by Klayton, but by the artist Drop and his remix of Celldweller’s track Eon, featured on the Groupees Exclusive Unreleased EP. That track is a real bone crusher!

But Celldweller also has more calm and down tempo tracks, and among these I have an all-time favourite. The song is the closing track from his debut album, entitled Welcome to the End. It is without doubt one of the best down tempo/ambient/calm/relaxing songs I have heard. This also proves that Klayton can do both killer tracks loaded with energy, but also turn to the more smooth and relaxing styles. Variety is an attribute that I value a lot in a musician. An attribute that Klayton possesses, no doubt.

I am getting towards the end of the new album, and so far I like what I am hearing. I might write a post about the album if I feel like, if I can find the time and creativity.