The thing is, Sontarans do love technology, almost as much as they enjoy incessant warfare. Field Marshall Styre would undoubtedly dig the abrasive electronics of TSE, although how he would receive the rest of this magnificent sonic stew remains a matter of speculation. To state that this album has been eagerly anticipated over the last year is quite the understatement. As TSE blew audiences away up and down the country, a big throbbing buzz was generated. Here was something of originality and artistry that had not been experienced before. That’s quite some claim considering that in the post modern world of music, almost everything has been done before, in some form or another.
TSE’s popularity has been boosted by the involvement of front man Paul Catten. As an anarchist (deep in my heart but not always in my head), I hasten to elevate individuals to cult status, no one human being should be regarded with such mindless and fawning respect, but… Catten is possibly one of the greatest bone-fide icons of the UK alternative hardcore/metal scene (for want of a better term) and deservedly so. The man has a vision and courage that sets him apart from others, plus his unique voice is simply devastating. Do not let my words detract from the contribution of the other members. Along with the crazed vocalist; Rooster, Seddon and Si are like outlandish cartoon characters, possessed of a power to take music to another level of experimentation, each of them an integral section of the machine.
This album is constructed in three parts. ‘Act I’ opens quietly, a faint whine of steady white noise and a heartbeat pulse for two and a half minutes then titanic down tuned heaviness, Paul’s familiar strained vocals reaching out in desperation over atmospheric synthesiser, and then we get excruciating screeching string scraping guitar noise. This is trademark TSE, a sound that is crushingly heavy and experimental yet soaked in bizarre electronics. Seven minutes in, the instruments stop and Si embarks on a military march whilst the noise gradually rises behind him. The sludge metal assault busts out again, grinding and lurching like an epileptic goliath. Seddon tortures his fret board and makes it bleed noise. Then silence…apart from a ticking clock, interspersed with blasts of furiously warped spastic hardcore. If you’ve seen TSE do this live then listening to this will put a grin on your ulcerous face. ‘Act I’ climaxes in a ponderously slow welter of histrionic sub-metal and Stuntcock electronics, Paul wailing and screaming “there was no hope for us” like he’s run out of largactyl.
‘Act II’ begins with a wild blur of indescribable hideousness and then gives way to big slow strokes of monstrous molten riffery and imperious cymbal crashes. Paul is screaming again. The storm ends quite suddenly and in its wake the band play out a disquietingly mellow groove, peppered with gentle piano. The track continues with segments of hardcore madness and mammoth heavy slow bits, ending with Rooster’s corpulent groaning bass ploughing a deep furrow through sparse hard hit drums.
And so ‘Act III’ closes this dark and combustible album. Again TSE return to grand and slow post-metal, comparable maybe to the majestically bleak sound that Neurosis pioneered over a decade ago. This final track brings to us the white noise and fragmented sound samples of Paul’s Stuntcock incarnation, plus eerily soothing minimalist piano (I could be listening to Philip Glass or Harold Budd) and warp spasm bass and drum passages, ending in a riot of quaking speeding sub-grindcore fury. Three acts that make up an hour long play, which is fitting because when seen live Paul Catten is quite the actor, playing the mad man possessed by the shamanic powers of pure noise.
TSE represents a project that seeks to reflect the schizophrenia inherent in us all. The sound that the band design is about fragmentation and unpredictability, about rage and about peace. This, their first and hopefully not last album, is quite remarkable. Every note is carefully placed and considered, and the attention to detail is obsessive. TSE really do have the guts and vision to transcend the limitations of musical scenes or genres and to place themselves amongst the greats of modern audio experimentation. Any band named after possibly my favourite and most fondly remembered Dr. Who episode had to be genuinely bloody good in order to match the magnificence of their name. Sounds here like they’ve done it.
Scribed by: Adam Stone