It feels like it’s been forever since we last heard from The Sun Through a Telescope, but in reality it was just last year that the ultra-demented Canadian drone/metal entity unleashed the fascinatingly bizarre Summer Darkyard EP across a variety of outlets; you might even recall that I interviewed TSTAT mastermind Lee Neutron extensively following its release. The YouTube clip above is for “Mr. Yawning Infinity Chasm/Superinfinity,” the first taste of TSTAT’s forthcoming new full length I Die Smiling, to be released digitally via Bandcamp, as well as on cassette through Dwyer Records and on CD through Mutants of the Monster Records.
As I continue to sift through the stack of releases the good folks at Sygil Records sent me a while back, I continue to be thoroughly impressed. After tackling the excellent Avakr cassette, I decided to turn my attention to the lone CD format release the label sent my way, Charnel House’s Contagion. I’m not sure when this album was originally released, and information about the Indiana(?) duo is pretty scarce, but given that they seem to have successfully tapped into a sound that takes elements of the familiar and twists them into something stunningly unique, I can’t imagine them staying a secret for much longer.
No band in existence conjures the musical equivalent of Lovecraftian dread quite like Australia’s Portal. It’s one thing to simply study Lovecraft and then regurgitate the Cthulhu Mythos stories in lyrics and artwork accompanied by pedestrian extreme metal songs, but Portal take things far beyond the conventions of worshiping at the altar the great author; the blood of Yog-Sothoth flows through the veins of these men, allowing them to create an alchemical miasma of eldritch horror through music. Never has death metal sounded so alien, so extra-dimensional.
I must admit, I was late to the party on Brown Jenkins; I didn’t hear them until the inimitable Nathan T. Birk sent me a copy of Death Obsession while he was doing PR work for the once prominent black metal label Moribund Cult. I fell instantly in love with the band’s spellbinding attack, which blended elements of black metal, doom and gothic rock with an appropriately Lovecraftian sense of dread and crumbling sanity. I gave the album a glowing review for the now-defunct Sonic Frontiers(dot)net and subsequently came into contact with band mastermind Umesh Amtey. That correspondence blossomed into a friendship that I’ve had the pleasure of enjoying for several years now; although Amtey and I have never met in person, I consider him a close comrade and look forward to the day when we can raise our glasses together in the same room.
As a result of our friendship, I’ve had the distinct privilege of watching the next phase of Amtey’s musical journey come into being. The Ash Eaters shares some traits with Brown Jenkins, but is an all together different beast. The guitar-work is more complex, the arrangements are more frantic, attacking the listener from every direction, while at the same time remaining catchy and memorable; Amtey has drawn from a wide range of influences and pushed them forward in every way imaginable.
I’ve been waiting for my chance to interview Mr. Amtey, so when he finally gave Ruining You, the debut Ash Eaters full length, to the world after a string of shorter releases, I knew the time had finally come. While I’ve had many private conversations with him regarding his musical history, motivations, influences, etc, I wanted to afford my readers the same opportunity to learn more about this truly unique individual and the excellent music he’s been releasing over the past several years. I contacted Mr. Amtey via e-mail for the following interrogation.
Aluk Todolo’s Occult Rock is one of the best albums you’ll hear this year; a monolithic double LP of blackened experimentation of the highest order. With help from the incomparable Nathan T. Birk, I contacted the band via e-mail to gain some insight into their instrumental alchemy. The following interrogation transpired…
Way back when I first started talking about Bandcamp, I highlighted a selection of stellar bands that were using the site as a platform to promote their music. One of those bands was The Sun Through a Telescope, a one-man drone/doom/experimental outfit creating eerie, unsettling tunes emanating from somewhere within Canada’s frozen wastes. I was recently contacted by TSTAT mastermind, drone overlord and all-around awesome dude Lee Neutron regarding TSTAT’s new EP, the excellent Summer Darkyard, which is out now digitally via Handshake Inc, Grindcore Karaoke and of course plain ol’ Bandcamp. Intrigued by his latest release, I decided the time was ripe to harass Neutron for some answers via e-mail, and the following interrogation transpired.
What occurs to me now, while listening to Angels of Darkness, Demons of Light I (henceforth AoDDoLI) is how much of Carlson’s personality is reflected in Earth’s music. It is thoughtful and patient, like its creator. It unfolds with a subtlety of nuance that is all too rare in this world of preening rock musicians bent on hitting us over the head with only the most blunt and easily digestible of expressions. AoDDoLI might appear simple on the surface, but there is a complexity at work that slowly reveals itself upon repeat listens. Carlson is able to paint pictures without words, rendering the pop music convention of lyrical hooks utterly unnecessary, using only the age-old tools of tone, timbre, dynamics and improvisation.
And what pictures these are. If you close your eyes while listening to tracks such as “Old Black” and “Father Midnight” for instance, it’s easy to imagine dusk settling over a wind-blown desert vista, a lone gunman in the distance, slowly riding towards you atop a pale horse. Much like 2005′s Hex: Or Printing in the Infernal Method, AoDDoLI is drenched in Old West-style Americana, evoking images of slow-motion gunfights and The Man With No Name. Carlson’s music has long possessed cinematic qualities, the exquisite sense of pacing and minimalist approach to building and releasing tension is on full display here. It is truly a wonder that no one has ever asked Carlson to score a film (at least not to my knowledge), ala Ry Cooder’s gritty and unorthodox guitar-based soundtrack work for Last Man Standing. The movie I imagine for Angels of Darkness, Demons of Light I is something like a cross between one of Leone’s spaghetti Westerns and a Kurosawa samurai film. Like Leone and Kurosawa, Carlson is a master storyteller.
Carlson’s primary storytelling tool, the guitar, is a powerful one. The man can wring more soul out of three notes than the average tech death shredder can conjure with a thousand sweep-picks. His style is instantly recognizable; a jam session between Luther Perkins and Dick Dale slowed down to a glacial pace, the spaces between notes nearly as important as the notes themselves. Guitarists struggle their whole lives to find that unique “voice”, but for Carlson it seems to be innate. ”Slow and low” is part of his DNA.
Of course I’d be remiss if I didn’t talk about Carlson’s supporting cast. Lori Goldston, who most famously served as Nirvana’s cellist, brings a whole other level of depth to AoDDoLI with her skillful playing; the musical dialogue between her and Carlson that ebbs and flows throughout the album is a pure joy to listen to. Longtime Earth member Adrienne Davies is probably one of the most tasteful drummers in all of rock music; her gentle, jazzy approach pushes each composition slowly forward and provides the foundation. Bassist Karl Blau supplies the subtle (there’s that word again) low end, bridging the gap between the rumbling tectonic sound exploration of Earth’s early albums and their current minimalist take on drone. The way these musicians are able to play around, against and off of each other is truly phenomenal.
What all this means is that even though Angels of Darkness, Demons of Light I is not a metal album, that doesn’t mean it isn’t heavy. The album is steeped in a gravitas that corpse-painted yahoos and pimple-faced tech death geeks will scarcely be able to comprehend. Behind the facade of simplicity lie multitudes. My unhealthy Dylan Carlson obsession continues.
There is a tradition throughout popular culture of romanticizing the car crash. David Cronenberg’s controversial 1996 film Crash (based on JG Ballard‘s novel) centered around a group of people who became sexually aroused by automobile accidents. Quentin Tarantino’s Death Proof tells the tale of a stunt man who kills women by crashing his car into them. KISS immortalized a fan who died while driving to a concert with “Detroit Rock City”. The 1960s were rife with songs detailing crash-related teenage tragedies, such as “Dead Man’s Curve” (Jan and Dean) and “Last Kiss” (Wayne Cochran, later covered by Pearl Jam). Like birth, sex and death, the auto wreck is a jarring, traumatic, life-altering/threatening event.
It is no surprise then, that after roughly fifty years floating around in our collective consciousness, this phenomenon of car crash as fetish object would find its way from the mainstream down into the depths of the metal underground. Virginia-based black metal practitioner Wrnlrd’s Death Drive is the latest, not to mention one of the more intriguing takes on the mythology surrounding shattered glass and twisted metal on the open road.
Before we get fully into Death Drive, it should be noted that Wrnlrd has provided listeners with an accompanying “operator’s guide”, which can be viewed HERE. This guide is a carefully crafted supplement to the ep, containing graphics, lyrics and various notes/anecdotes from Wrnlrd, as well as the other musicians that helped him bring Death Drive into being. Therein, Wrnlrd defines the death drive by referencing “The Freudian impulse towards self-destruction and death” and “the seminal American pop music motif of the automobile crash as a ritual of escape from impending adulthood – a tragedy that looms as the end result of the adolescent’s blossoming sex drive”, echoing the concepts of the aforementioned Crash, ”Dead Man’s Curve” etc. The guide may not be essential to your enjoyment of Death Drive, but it is for the purposes of understanding the EP’s intent.
At last, we come to the music itself. Death Drive‘s sound is best described as sludge-laden black metal with a predilection for experimentation. The atmosphere is pitch-black and eerie, with the super-saturated distortion of the guitars dominating the mix, while vocals, percussion and electronics/noise churn and bubble just under the surface. The type of driving Wrnlrd evokes isn’t that of speeding down a main thoroughfare. This is music for driving down a dusty, dead-end road in the middle of the night with the headlights off, possibly with a body in the trunk.
Death Drive sounds like a home recording, but that’s no bad thing. Although it might be the product of digital equipment, it is in no way clinical. There are layers upon layers of filth such as “Grave Dowser” and the title track to be sifted through here, with the one exception being “Luster” a piano and sound effects track that serves as a respite from the suffocating mire that is the rest of the ep. It must be said that the undeniable highlight of Death Drive has to be “Midnight Ride” which features the inimitable vocals of Integrity’s Dwid Hellion. Here Hellion’s trademark hellfire ‘n’ brimstone roar is altered and obscured by the malformed sounds that surround it, shedding a very different light on one of extreme music’s most distinctive vocalists.
At only five tracks and less than twenty minutes of music, it probably goes without saying that Death Drive is best experienced as a whole, especially given the conceptual nature of the piece. There is a gripping, cinematic flow to the ep that draws you in and holds you there, leaving you mesmerized and craving more when it’s all over. Indeed, if there is any fault to be found with Death Drive, it’s that the thing is too damn short. This is a concept that begs for further exploration. Here’s to hoping that there’s a Death Drive 2 lurking in Wrnlrd’s future.
In the interest of full-disclosure, let it be known that The Terrible Airplane vocalist/guitarist/bassist Mark Woolard used to write for me when I ran the now defunct Sonic Frontiers(dot)net. Out of respect for the man’s privacy, I will not disclose the pseudonym he wrote reviews under. I will say that his reviews were always thoughtful, well-written and a pleasure to read, and the same can be said for the music he creates with his brother Todd as The Terrible Airplane (just switch out “read” for “listen to”).
I first heard the band when Mark sent me their previous EP, Reconnaissance. While that release was a well-played slab of lurching post metal/hardcore, it in no way prepared me for the masterful performance displayed on 2013. The brothers Woolard have worked through their musical growing pains, resulting in a more complete, more diverse vision.
The first thing one notices about 2013 is The Terrible Airplane’s ability to expertly blend a diverse array of influences. Everything from crushing waves of post-metal to slithering, sleazy noise rock to rapid-fire hardcore shows up in the mix, often within the course of the same song. It is as if the Woolards studied everything great about the last two decades of heavy music and decided to incorporate snippets of all of it into one band. On paper, that description probably sounds like the makings of a disjointed mess. Fortunately, The Terrible Airplane are capable songwriters and masters of dynamics, conjuring up a sound that is anything but messy on tracks like “Projected Trajectory” and “Radio Song”. Imagine something like the Melvins and The Jesus Lizard jamming (or perhaps brawling) with Helmet and (early) Mastodon, with a guest appearance from the Pixies and you’re on the right track.
You’ll notice I mentioned a lot of bands that peaked during the 1990s in that last sentence. For all their diversity, The Terrible Airplane are especially indebted to that age of music when metal, hardcore, punk and alternative rock were all vying for the ears and souls of the fans. I discovered heavy music in the ’90s, so it’s a pleasure to hear a band so aptly taking those influences and updating them for a new audience. In listening to 2013, I would venture to guess that the Woolards and I are very close in age, which somehow makes listening to the album that much more intriguing.
Overall, 2013 is a snapshot of a young, hard-working band with a world of potential. It is also yet another excellent self-released album to come across my desk this year (along with the likes of The Sequence of Prime and Idolater), proving that promising bands don’t need a label’s backing in order to present a high quality, professional-level product. I’m looking forward to watching them continue to evolve and grow.
Black metal re-cast as demented dream/death-pop. Layers of nebulous guitar haze drawing you deep down into the bottomless well of despondency. Robert Smith and Kevin Shields in corpse paint. Indeed, the music of the sadly defunct Brown Jenkins evokes a wide arrray of seemingly contradictory images with a musical approach that encompasses not only extreme metal at it’s most suffocating and depressive, but a veritable pandora’s box of disparate genres. British shoe gaze, old school gothic rock (I’m talking Cure, Bauhaus, Sisters, et al here, for the record) and vintage psychedelia are just a few of the sounds that band visionary Umesh has successfully harnessed into Death Obsession, the final statement from Brown Jenkins.
With drums buried way down in the mix and fairly sparse vocals, Umesh wisely lets his penchant for layers upon layers of distorted nightmare guitar-swarm be the focal point of Death Obsession. The sound has a vintage 1960′s fuzztone feel, but this is fuzz buried by time and dust, infused with a creeping Lovecraftian malevolence that is positively mesmerizing. The guitars alone make this the type of recording that begs to be listened to in a pitch black room with a good set of headphones, so that the myriad details of the mix can be properly allowed to ever-so-slowly unfurl and seep into your brain.
But Death Obsession is about far more than just guitar tone. Brown Jenkins even further separates itself from the hordes of cookie cutter black metal bands out there by writing actual songs. Tracks like opener “Breathless”, “Lords of Suicide” and “Blue Bird” could be pop rock gems funneled into your speakers directly from the sub-basements of hell, such are the catchy, hypnotic qualities Umesh infuses them with. In fact, if it weren’t for the rough-around-the-edges production and Umesh’s Cthulhu-with-bronchitis vocal delivery, it wouldn’t be hard to imagine these songs showing up on modern rock radio. Of course, with most of the tracks clocking in around the 9 minute mark, Brown Jenkins demands more of the listener than the average 3:30 radio nugget, but there are enough change-ups in dynamics and pacing to keep each song compelling.
Unfortunately, a posthumous album like Death Obsession is an extremely bittersweet listening experience. One can’t help but wonder how far Umesh could have taken Brown Jenkins with this utterly enthralling mix of sounds, what dark dimensional doorways could have been opened through such esoteric distortion rituals. Indeed, followers of everything from Circle of Ouroborus to Slowdive are advised to seek out the epitaph of Brown Jenkins.
[Note: Brown Jenkins mastermind Umesh is working on material for a new project called The Ash Eaters. According to him, the new band will be a continuation and progression of the sound being explored on Death Obsession. THKD will continue to provide coverage as this develops.]