Many moons ago Relapse Records introduced me to noise. That’s probably a bit hard to imagine for younger folks that only know the label as the beard metal stronghold it is today, but trust me, way back when Relapse was releasing some seriously bonkers shit. You see, Relapse used to have a sub-label called Release Entertainment and it was to noise, dark ambient and experimental music what Relapse once was to death metal, grindcore and the like.
Few bands have captured my attention in 2014 quite like Full of Hell. I had the pleasure of witnessing the quartet’s devastating, show-stealing live set back in August and was blown away by their combination of relentless intensity and determination to push the envelope of grind/hardcore deep into the realms of harsh noise. It was like someone had thrown Jane Doe-era Converge in a blender with Release Records-era Merzbow and set that motherfucker to liquefy; easily one of the most simultaneously challenging and exhilarating live experiences ever. Needless to say, when I caught wind of the announcement that they had signed a deal with Profound Lore and their debut for the venerable label would be a collaboration with the aforementioned Japanese God of Noise himself, anticipation was through the roof and then some.
Confession time: I had no idea who Scott Walker was prior to the announcement of Soused. As those of you who read this here blog on the regular might have guessed, I’m not particularly hip to the avant-garde scene. Furthermore, I was a tad apprehensive about another Sunn O))) collab being released this year after experiencing Terrestrials, their underwhelming team-up with Norway’s terminally overrated Ulver. If you’re in the same boat as I, fear not; one doesn’t have to be familiar with Herr Walker’s work to enjoy Soused, and it blows Terrestrials out of the goddamn water.
Universal Consciousness, the label run by Andorkappen of Lord Time (aka Sandor GF of Harassor), is home to some seriously “out there” metal acts. Voci dal Passato, the debut full-length from Italy’s Tony Tears, might be the label’s weirdest release yet and a fine example of an outsider take on an established form within the metal paradigm. Originally released independently back in 2009 and finally getting the vinyl treatment here, it’s forty minutes of quasi-psychedelic traditional doom that’ll likely leave you scratching your head for the first few listens, yet will quickly endear itself to you due to its naive charm.
2014 will be remembered as the year that actually got me excited about extreme music again. I haven’t exactly been bored, but it seems like this year I’m finding so many exciting young bands that are doing something truly interesting within the genre paradigm. One such band is Austin’s Street Sects, who are releasing the second part of their “serial album” in the form of Broken Windows, Sunken Ceilings. The duo creates what can best be described as electronic hardcore; violent, jarring and noisy as hell, like a factory full of automated machinery going haywire and collapsing on itself, the machines still trying desperately to function however imperfectly amidst the burning wreckage.
At thirty-five, I don’t often have epiphanic moments while listening to music anymore. It’s typically more along the lines of “been there, done that, no alarms, no surprises, etc, etc.” But when I stumbled upon the UK’s Sleeping Peonies during one of my increasingly frequent trawls through the depths of Bandcamp, it happened. This was music I had been waiting my whole life to hear. I realize this is already sounding like hyperbole to the nth degree, but the band’s mix of black metal, shoegaze, synthpop and noise really is as close to perfect as these ears have heard in what seems like forever.
I’ve spent a lot of time covering cassettes here at THKD, not just because I dig them, but because I truly believe that some of the best and most interesting heavy music today is being released by smaller labels who have embraced the format as an affordable way to bring the underground to the masses. As such, my relationship with several of these labels has become far more personal than just receiving an e-mail blast from some faceless PR company; their owners have proven to be incredibly personable and genuinely appreciative of the coverage I’ve given them. But, as deeply as I’ve delved into cassettes and as much as I’ve chatted with those who are in the business of releasing them, I still had many unanswered questions. What motivates them? What brought them to the format? At the end of the day, does the format even matter? In an attempt to answer these and many other questions, I gathered the gents behind the labels for a virtual round table discussion of all things tape-related.