Hair Police – Mercurial Rights

Hair Police - Mercurial Rites

In 2001, noise trio, Hair Police, made quite a racket within the experimental music scene and continued to do so for a number of years before going on an unannounced hiatus in which members pursued endeavors in their respective separate projects. It wasn’t until earlier this year that the group returned to the noise scene with their most complete effort in years and arguably their most intimidating release out of their entire catalogue. Featuring members of noise legends Wolf Eyes and Burning Star Core, Hair Police brings together aspects from these backgrounds, the frothing primal aggression of the former and mesh it with the sonically attentive subtleties of the latter. With ‘Mercurial Rites’ the group looks to strip the semi-polished sheen of noise music’s marriage with digitally processed sounds and the recent influence of dub music, instead, taking the genre back to the electronic medieval that seems to have been absent in recent years.

While in recent times the musicians most notable for their contributions to the early modern developments of the now thriving noise scene, the likes of Dominick Fernow of Prurient and  Vatican Shadow, Pete Swanson (ex-Yellow Swans), and Black Dice have been moving more toward exclusively structural variants of electronic music, implementing their once completely atonal noise compositions into the structural format of modern electronic music, namely the likes of dub and minimal techno, Hair Police have something entirely different in mind, devoid of any of the aforementioned electronic themes, thus harkening back to the primitive roots of electronic music. Hair Police revisits the confrontational aspects of noise that the genre was known for during its early developments recalling the hellish vocals evocative of the ear-aching noise pioneered by controversial power-electronics group, Whitehouse in the 80s and early 90s.

Hair Police’s sound actually reminds me a lot of the more abrasive works from Wolf Eyes, albeit, this form of corrosiveness is not of an immediate kind but  rather, long form, slow-burning, and reminiscent of the Wolf Eyes collaborative series of works with psychedelic noise collective, Black Dice. ‘Mercurial Rites’ is a record that knows when to be punishingly noisy and when to bring in a moodier atmosphere. It is this live aspect that adds layers of depth and uniqueness to an otherwise colorless, bleak vision. The vocals add yet another nightmarish quality to these dissonant tormented soundscapes. With this release the band has proven itself worthy of crafting a nicely balanced record, intermittently transitioning from the tortured analogue hell of ‘We Prepare’ to the  nightmarish dungeon-esque ambience of ‘Scythed Wide’. While Hair Police’s style has always included a strong atmospheric presence the band still manages to touch on a dark aspect of music that feels natural rather than intentional, even in the midst of a less noisy approach. In a genre of extremes  the group has created a sound that isn’t completely over-cooked, finding a middle ground between the unlistenable and the accessible, making this release a good jumping on point for those who are unfamiliar with the band to listen.

Although I’ve had a fondness for noise, drone, experimental, avant-garde; vanguard music as a whole, for some reason I never got around to listening to Hair Police up until this point but even with that said I can say without question that ‘Mercurial Rites’ is easily the bands most complete effort since 2008’s ‘Certainty of Swarms’ and one of the better harsh noise records I’ve heard this year thus far. It is a record that shows that the band hasn’t at all let up on the caustic sound in which they made a name for themselves with, even in the midst of noise music’s current transition toward something conclusively musical; a sound this record seems to be inherently opposed to. It is here that disturbing soundscapes fill the void between blasts of distortion-ridden noise and if that doesn’t sound unsettling enough the shrill disembodied vocals that haunt this record will likely give you nightmares, although these are nightmares that I wouldn’t mind revisiting often.

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Overall Rating: 8.0

Favorite Tracks: ‘We Prepare’

Recommended: Wolf Eyes, Burning Star Core, Black Dice

Released: January 2013

Links:

Stream the LP on Type Records

Buy the record on Boomkat

-Tyler Thompson

Qwertzuiop – Unending

Unending is the latest release from one man ambient black metal project Qwertzuiop. I became familiar with the project when I reviewed his full length, Dead Oak earlier this year.

Unending shows Qwertzuiop moving slowly away from the harsh black metal inspired dreariness and embracing more of the dark ambient attributes that were originally apparent with his first release; a natural transition given that black metal and ambient music hold firm ties with each other. With the raw louder elements of Dead Oak taking a back seat, much of the sonically extreme sections such as the distortion laden guitar are replaced with strings, textures, and generally a larger presence of atmospherics that forces the music to focus on composition resulting in an attempt to create something more organic than it’s predecessor.

Like many of these projects, the influence of black metal is not always apparent to the extent of openly wearing its inspirations on its sleeves but there are definitely pieces borrowed from the genre that are retained, although they are minor. The cold lumbering drums are still there, although oppressed and very low in the mix and some distortion makes it’s way into the songs every now and then. The orchestral arrangements are a vivid picture of the unending grey skies, heavy clouds, and dark forests that have become so associated with the imagery of black metal itself.

When compared to Dead Oak, ‘Unending’ is pretty quiet sonically, with the exception of the third track, ‘IX’, which is one of the more powerful moments on the album that features a sequence of uptempo drumming that sounds like it’s straight out of an early Burzum album. I love the intensity that builds up to the tracks conclusion; an enjoyable track that gives that does a good job of changing things up without compromising the grim impression of Qwertzuiop’s music.

As haunting as ‘Unending’ wants to be it can also be just as beautiful. On the fourth track ‘X’, the music is primarily made up of string swells that makes for a good contrasting piece bringing a little light into the dark picture that Qwertzuiop succeeds in producing. The final song continues the ambient style carried over from the previous track and utilizes field recordings of what sounds like rustling and twigs rubbing up against one another to create textures that give a bit of added depth to the song. I really enjoyed the last two tracks, they actually make me wonder what Qwertzuiop would be able to do with a longer track length. Being that these last two releases were rather short, all under 20 minutes in length I think that a larger track list or perhaps even longer songs times would open up possibilities.

Although this release sees Qwertzuiop progressing the same problems I had with Dead Oak are still present on this release. With many of the bedroom black metal projects and with these “bandcamp musicians” in general they have forced themselves into a niche where musicians mash together all of the popular attributes of different genres (i.e. shoegaze, ambient, black metal) in hopes of creating something new with the resulting output. Not only has this become formulaic but a lot of the time the result is a lackluster kitschy take on popular styles. Where as this would have been ok a few years ago with multi-genre projects like ‘Have A Nice Life’ gaining popularity in 2012 it just seems archaic and has become predictable. It isn’t a flaw that is going to make this album unlistenable by any means but I think it is a good sign that combining multiple genres together does not result in originality all of the time.

The recording quality on a few of the track could be better as well. On the first track the mixing on all of the instrumentation and textures sounds like they are at the exact volume and I know lo-fi music doesn’t have a great track record with equalization and proper recording techniques, which I would be ok with but when it gets to the point where it is detracting from the music it is time to take the initiative to tone it down and find other ways of incorporating an unrefined aesthetic into the music. I wouldn’t be this bothered by the mixing style if the music weren’t so linear; it isn’t nearly delicate or layered enough to where you would be able to revisit it and hear something new every time so I’m struggling to understand why the production is the way it is.

With this change in direction I’m intrigued to see were this project goes, the added orchestral sounds are a nice touch that add a lot to the mood but ‘Unending’ is pretty much more of the same that comes up a little short of with what it attempts to do.

Overall rating: 6.8

Favorite Track: ‘IX’

Recommended: Dark orchestral sounds with the attitude of Norwegian black metal.

Released: 13 January 2012

Links: Check out ‘Unending’ on Bandcamp

-Redntoothnclaw

The Pessimist Hangs the Optimist – You See All Kinds of Things When You Are The Only One Awake

The Pessimist Hangs the Optimist is the product of Anthony Ivosevich on drums and vocals  and Craig Smith contributing guitar and vocals. Together the duo makes a unique blend of crusty and sometimes melancholy punk. ‘You See All Kinds of Things When You Are The Only One Awake’ is the bands first EP and overall release.

Unlike their contemporaries, The Pessimist Hangs the Optimist aim for something much slower, focusing on brooding atmosphere over the fast grindcore-esque brand of hardcore that was pioneered by bands like Orchid. The tone of the guitar is thick and full bodied, at times it feels as though their music has actual density in a physical sense. One may even be so bold as to refer to the music here as ‘sludge’. A good deal of the sounds on this recording are unforgivingly heavy but You See All Kinds of Things When You Are The Only One Awake does have a fair amount of tastefully placed cleanish breaks.  A great example can be heard about half of the way through ‘We Bow Our Heads’, which begins with simple slow building chords that evolve into chugging heavy guitars and tortured screams. A clean section interrupts with a simple guitar melody and some great drumming to match before the band continues to elaborate on their dirge driven sound. Another strong example can be heard on ‘William Wilson’ which consists of spoken word-like vocals. These short but sweet let ups really allow the listener to breathe and I understand that sometimes for the sake of mood and consistency, especially with intentionally claustrophobic music such as this it may not always best to give the listener air but do not be fooled, these moments are not light hearted sing alongs; lyrically and atmospherically they are nearly as heavy as the band heard in full force, teeth showing, unrelenting and cathartic as ever.

Perhaps the most distinctive trait attributed to The Pessimist Hangs the Optimist is the cutthroat and downright brutal vocals. ‘Stay Awake’ is an intense affair that is full of some of the most biting vocals I’ve heard in a while, proving that the band’s music lives up to the name. I wouldn’t be surprised if these guys were spitting blood after recording these tracks. There are multiple layers of vocals; overlapping and interchanging, screaming over and slightly out of time with one another which creates a really nice sense of chaos without playing maniacally fast. For a band consisting of only two members they do a really great job of sounding louder than you would expect. It would be interesting to see how these guys hold up live, especially taking into account that they consist only of two members.

The Pessimist Hangs the Optimist sound mad as hell, and it is obvious that they want you to know that with every fiber of their being. Although there is only so much screaming and shouting that one can take before it becomes redundant, in their own right this release does a good job of knowing when to let up and let the listener breathe a little before sinking back into the insanely heavy music that they excel at producing.

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Overall Rating: 8.3

Favorite Track: ‘Buzzards’ ‘Stay Awake’ ‘We Bow Our Heads’

Recommended: Think Circle Takes the Square vs. Neurosis

-Redntoothnclaw