What to say about 2021? To misquote Mr. Dickens, ‘it was not the best of times, it was not the worst of time’. After 2020 it couldn’t help but be better, however, forgive me if I found it, well, a bit of a drag, making art – and for me, music in particular – is so important. A Ray of light in an overcast sky.
And there was some cracking stuff about, with Industrial Coast, Art As Catharsis, and Trepanation Recordings in particular keeping me on my toes with some quality releases. One great thing that I would like to draw your gaze upon was the way that some of the music made last year was presented. Cassettes are still happening, thank the Gods, as is vinyl, and this has sometimes led to their contents being delivered in the form of beautiful physical artifacts. As an Old Geezer, I still long for the days of box sets, gatefolds, and reams of liner notes.
Digital is a wonderful, democratic way of producing and distributing music, but I still love a physical thing, something that I can hold and look at, and know that its design and construction is part of the artist’s realisation of their vision. Some of the packaging concepts artists are wrapping around their work are works of art in their own right.
And so, to all those listed below, I thank you for your work, your artistry, and for bringing forth something new and beautiful, brightening a corner of the world. Play on…
10. Primitive Knot ‘A New Ontology Of Evil’
This is one that keeps pulling me back in. I don’t know what it is about it that, for me, just gives it a sleazy feeling – in the best possible way. Scuzzy, fuzzy guitar, plus muffled, growling vocals, and an insistent drum track gives A New Ontology Of Evil an industrial feel ala the best bits of Ministry. Primitive Knot also has a fine aesthetic in black and white artwork that hints at something deeply unsettling inside. In this, A New Ontology Of Evil doesn’t disappoint.
Label: Deathbed Tapes
9. Charlie Butler ‘Analog Funeral’
Prolific doesn’t even begin to adequately describe the output of the Reading based Charlie Butler. To my knowledge (and that of my bank balance) six or seven collections of textured loops and drones have been sent forth into the world from Butler’s Berkshire bolthole. I opted for Analog Funeral over Wogan Skull just because I can lose myself so easily in its sumptuous layers of guitar, and sedimentary drones and riffs that suffocate so efficaciously and hypnotically.
Label: The Weird Beard Records
8. Blackfold ‘Solarus’
The Shaman sent Blackfold’s Solarus to me for perusal and review back in September (I think). This is what I had to say about it then: This is heart-rending stuff, as deeply emotional/emotive as music without lyrics can be, certainly as capable as any in this genre in its ability to encapsulate a soul in turmoil and effectively articulate it for the listener to connect with. By turns desperate, solipsistic, insistent, melancholic, and hopeful this is a piece of music to open yourself to and experience emotionally. Allow Blackfold to take you on a journey that condenses four years into a little over an hour and walk a mile in their sonic shoes.’ I’m not just being lazy; my view hasn’t changed. This is Heavy in all senses, in the best ways possible.
Label: Trepanation Recordings
7. Johan Zetterquist ‘XXII – XXVIII’
I got my pre-order in for this one from Industrial Coast as soon as I could! Back at the beginning of 2019 Johan Zetterquist released the magnificent drone behemoth A Study for A Monument XIV as a download with two further live versions on the accompanying cassette. This year has seen the release of XXII – XXVIII which manages to be something of Schrödinger’s drone by being of a type, whilst entirely different to XIV. In many ways this one feels perhaps more of a living, breathing noise-entity, responding to its immediate environment, as well as the pokes and prods of its creator. Another intriguing piece of work. Drone on brother Johan.
Label: Industrial Coast
6. Lucy Adlington ‘Wedding As A Funeral’ EP
I have absolutely no idea whatsoever how I came across Lucy Adlington and her work. I appear to follow her on Bandcamp and find myself going back to this intriguing EP (do those even exist anymore?) again and again. Recorded all the way back in 2015 in a village church and Adlington’s home, this lo-fi, Polly Jean Harvey-esque outing is dripping with atmosphere, brilliant guitar, and voice buried under tons of cavernous natural reverb. Adlington herself describes this as ‘A broken heart of a record with the auditory summonings of the abyss’. I can’t improve on that as a description.
5. PAK40 ‘Bunker’
I’ve tried to write something about PAK40 without lazily mentioning OM. Alas, I have failed. Bass and drums duos are fairly few and far between, so to provide a way marker of style for the PAK40 uninitiated, it’s difficult not to mention Mr. Cisneros and his band mate(s) as a point of reference. Not that PAK40 is just an OM-alike, oh no. So, what’ve we got then? Riffs? Check. Huge, crashing drums? Yup. Spacey, wobbly, proclamatory vocals? Indeed we do. Something that sounds more like it came from the desert of New Mexico than York (no offence to York btw)? Yes. Enough low end to make your bowels quake? Yea, yea and thrice yea! Feedback? Stop asking questions and buy it already.
4. Stonecirclesampler ‘Save The Stones/Erode The Stones’
This is a bit of a departure from the rest of the list. Released on the consistently grand Industrial Coast cassette label (I don’t like everything on the label by any means but give thanks on a fortnightly basis that it exists) Save The Stones/Erode The Stones from Stonecirclesampler is a two-volume compilation of ‘psychedelic junglist hardcore’ – firstly, the original tracks, the second a wobbly atmospheric dub trip. It ain’t jungle as I remember it, no siree, but there are amen breaks in here as well as nostalgia inducing 90s metalheadz synths ‘n’ strings lines. Perfect for watching the sunrise and setting over your local megalithic site.
Label: Industrial Coast
3. Black Sun Void ‘On The Borders Of Qliphoth’
Hailing from that drone metal Mecca São Paulo in Brazil, Black Sun Void has been producing some of my favourite doom soaked, guitar-only, sonic stodge for years, peaking (IMHO obvs) with 2018s Sleep Meditations which I found perfect for inducing edge of oblivion, hypnagogic states. 2021 saw Mateus Henrique step up production with no fewer than four discrete releases. Comprising seven slabs of crushing drone, tone, and riffs, sometimes glacial, and often heroically repetitive, On The Borders Of Qliphoth was the standout for me. Most of Black Sun Void’s work is Name Your Price on Bandcamp. There is no excuse. Go get some now. You can come back to this article later.
2. GNOD ‘Easy To Build, Hard To Destroy’
And speaking of prolific, Paddy Shine’s troupe of minstrels GNOD continued to evolve and revolute this year with the rifftastic, guitar-laden La Mort Du Sens released just last month and promoted with some religiously absorbing, sensation jangling shows. Released in May, Easy To Build, Hard To Destroy was billed as a compilation of ‘tricky to find, obscure, and unreleased material’. Very often these kinds of collections are for purists only – there’s usually a reason why material is unreleased. Not this one. This is a fine trip through the work of the band as they jammed and evolved, tearing styles apart and reassembling them into something infinitely more interesting and arresting than most of what was going on around them at the time.
Label: Rocket Recordings
1. Kowa Axis ‘Ones And Threes’
Be in no doubt, there is some fine creative work here from Kowa Axis and is a testament to what a man with a vision can achieve with a guitar, amps, and effects. There is no ‘Look At Me!’ six-string onanism here. This is not a display of technical proficiency designed to win envious plaudits from creatively moribund technicians, no. This is the sound of a man who knows how best to make use of the tools at his disposal in order to most effectively express himself. The sound of a guitar at the limit of its creative envelope, an artist making full use of every crackle, thrum, vibration, and squeal that can be wrung out of the instrument in order to best bring his vision to life. Not always an easy listen, but worth every second.
Label: Trepanation Recordings
Scribed by: George Green