Soundtrack To Your Annihilation IV: Toilet Ov Power Electronixxx (Deliver Us Unto Evil)
Hello, and welcome back to Soundtrack To Your Annihilation. Boys and girls, this is the moment you have been waiting for. For those just tuning in, this series began with a simple concept. Take an average fan of heavy metal music. Subject him to records that get progressively weirder, darker, more brutal, and more difficult to listen to. Many of you had doubts. Starting with None So Vile, progressing through Guiltless and Swarth, heading further down through a variety of black metal, we have arrived to that initial promise of a stunning and shocking conclusion. This is the penultimate chapter. I said at the beginning of Soundtrack To Your Annihilation that I would be going on a journey; that journey has led me here. This is the capstone. This is the pinnacle. This is where we stand, at the brink, staring down into bloody hell. This is the precipice, past this point lies only the Void.
What is today’s topic? Noise “music”, and more specifically, power electronics. I have found power electronics to be the most oppressive, corrosive, oppositional, and violent genre of music I have yet to experience. Power electronics bleed hatred through whatever device you choose to consume it with. To say that it is “difficult” would be a radical understatement. Information about the genre is limited, even on the internet, where casual searching will reveal little. Just compare the wiki of power electronics to the wiki of black metal. This is the heart of darkness. This is the “rabbit hole of what the fvckery” mentioned in the first installment. This place is reserved for only the bravest and the most foolhardy. This edition will feature a preliminary introduction to noise, cover a variety of harsh noise and power electronics, and move beyond power electronics to the reigning despot of harsh noise wall. Today, everything you thought about brutality goes out the window.
The internet defines power electronics as “screeching waves of feedback, analogue synthesizers making sub-bass pulses or high frequency squealing sounds, and screamed, distorted, often hateful and offensive lyrics. Deeply atonal, there are no conventional melodies or rhythms”. My co-conspirator explained to me that the goal of power electronics is to “alienate the listener as much as humanly possible”. A brief disclaimer: I am not *the* ultimate authority on power electronics nor harsh noise. You could likely find 7,257 people on Facebook that are more well versed in these genres of noise than I, and may very well write me off as a poser neophyte who has only scratched the surface of these bizarre and sometimes wonderful genres of “music”… or maybe not.
Premature Ejaculation: A Precursor To Noise
Premature Ejaculation was formed in 1981, as a side project of Rozz Williams of Christian Death. The project released three cassette tapes and put on a handful of live shows during this initial phase of the band’s development. Premature Ejaculation were known for their bizarre and offensive live shows, which included mock crucifixions and a member eating and vomiting up a dead cat they found on the side of the road. I am remiss to tell you despite my best efforts, I was unable to find a video of that performance. It has been documented, however, in a book called Hardcore California if that’s something you choose to seek out. Premature Ejaculation’s second phase began in 1985. Rozz Williams had left Christian Death to pursue more experimental, less guitar and drums driven music with Premature Ejaculation. The group continued to use taboo imagery in their live performances, most notably a Nazi swastika with a dollar sign inside. Were they Nazis? It seems not. Premature Ejaculation attempted to point out the parallels between American society at the time and Nazi Germany. Their live performances also continued to include meat and dead animals, and shocking imagery like projectors showing patients undergoing facial surgery. Premature Ejaculation would continue to release music up to Rozz William’s death in 1998, and released one album posthumously (per Williams), 6 in 2001.
Premature Ejaculation would be credited as innovators and influences on later noise acts. Their sound has been labeled as noise, industrial, or dark ambient, but it is difficult to pin down. They were different than many of the underground trends of the era they started in. In the spirit of this series, I will say that their music is not more difficult than any of the albums we have covered (keep reading, don’t worry your pretty little heads). They are worth investigating as an early experimental and noise act, and fit well in this series based on their well documented obscene live performances. I would encourage you to learn about them if any of this strikes your interest. I am choosing to include excerpts from two of their later albums, Estimating the Time of Death (1994), and Wound of Exit (1998).
Prurient: Harsh Noise
To call Dominick Fernow “prolific” would be putting it lightly. As the man behind projects including, but not limited to, Vatican Shadow, Exploring Jezebel, Ash Pool, Christian Cosmos, Mitochondrial DNA, Rainforest Spiritual Enslavement, Roman Cross, Vegas Martyrs, a former member of Cold Cave, and the owner of label and record store Hospital Productions, Fernow has been credited in one form or another on well over one hundred albums and cassettes. The focus of Fernow here is his perhaps best known, longest running noise project, Prurient. Prurient has released a variety of noise focused projects to date. Since the beginning of the project in 1998, Prurient has released albums as harsh noise (The History of Aids, 2002), muffled electronics in a vaguely black metal slant (Cocaine Death, 2007), and more recently a much more accessible mixture of noise with dance music (Bermuda Drain, 2011 and Through the Window, 2013). Prurient has done splits with Kevin Drumm, Mikko Aspa’s power electronics project Grunt (of which I am a new fan of), Sutcliffe Jugend, Justin Broadrick of Godflesh’s JK Flesh, and many others. Personally, I have listened to a tremendous amount of these projects without being close to complete. It would be impossible to cover Fernow’s (or Prurient’s) career in this space, so this section will focus on a few difficult excerpts. A note: I don’t consider Prurient to be power electronics. He is sometimes labeled as such, and I mentioned he has collaborated with several power electronics artists, but I feel safer placing him in the broader category of “noise”.
An excerpt from Prurient’s 2002 album History of Aids. Not exactly harsh noise wall, due to the fluctuations throughout this track (and the album), The History of Aids is, however, forty five minutes of harsh noise.
What better way than to open his 2005 album Black Vase than with nigh sixteen minutes of high pitched, squealing feedback? Spoiler: Prurient works some static noise in with the feedback at around the fourteen minute mark.
From his 2008 album And Still, Wanting, Lust End features more cathartic noise blasts than seen earlier on The History Of Aids “Precious Love”, and also features Fernow’s maniacal vocal performance. Vocals have become more prominent in Prurient’s later career; the marriage of Prurient’s noise and shouts is my favorite part of his work. This particular track descends into a chaos of feedback, static, and howled vocals by its end.
“Mask Of The Boys”, from The Black Post Society (also 2008), opens with more menace but less catharsis than “Lust End”. It begins with a wobbly synth but shortly descends into a mixture of static, feedback, and calm spoken word. The spoken word becomes more and less distorted as the track progresses, this track shifts and mutates over its near ten minute run time. Spoken word becomes hostile shouts, the title “Mask of the Boys” is used over and over. The track returns to a menacing synth and spoken word by its conclusion. I hoped to include something from Prurient’s album Palm Tree Corpse (2011); this last Prurient track is somewhat similar in its sounds and themes.
Sutcliffe Jugend: My Introduction To Power Electronics
Friday, July 18th, 2014. It’s a bit before midnight. I am up late, my (then) girlfriend is sleeping. I am checking out some of the earliest stories on the Toilet Ov Hell and catching up on some Disqus comments and replies. I’m having a conversation with the Toilet Ov Hell’s own Max Duncan, who offered me a musical recommendation. The recommendation was Sutcliffe Jugend’s When Pornography Is No Longer Enough. Sounds interesting, right? I thought so too. With no prior knowledge of Sutcliffe Jugend, I put on my giant, oversized headphones and eagerly pushed play.
When Pornography Is No Longer Enough’s is an apt descriptor for the concept of this album, pointing to the much more virulent fantasy of committing murder. The lyrics on this album are maniacal shouts and obscenities. The narrator orders his victim around and walks us through acts of violence and sexual assault, all through a soundtrack of harsh noise, feedback, squealing electronics, buzzing, bass, and a bit that sounds vaguely like a fog horn, among other offensive sounds. I have read that this is the definitive power electronics album. There may be better albums in the genre, but this is *the* example of what power electronics is. It has no remorse. It is highly offensive. This particular album acts as performance art over the electronic soundtrack, but it does not strike me as pretentious or humorous. After my initial listen, I will say that I gave this a lot of thought for a couple of weeks after I listened to it. It left an indelible impression. Perhaps a Youtube comment posed the question best, “You ever question your sanity listening to stuff like this?”
Sutcliffe Jugend shared members with pioneering power electronics act Whitehouse. Both groups have released an extensive amount of albums, and have been the subject of great controversy. Power electronics is a sketchy scene at best, and sometimes something far worse. This is partially due to the fascination with topics that are not socially acceptable, and the desire of such bands to provoke negative emotions in the recipient. Check out the history of either band for examples; check out the history of former Whitehouse member Peter Sotos for a grim look at taking these interests too far.
Swallowing Bile: Power Electronixxx / The Apex
Noisey just ran a story entitled Revisiting The Most Terrifying Album Of All Time, which was about Stalaggh’s Projekt Misanthropia. Only problem is, that’s not the most terrifying album of all time. Why? I will say it is a terrifying listen, but they neglected to think of Swallowing Bile. You have already been introduced to Swallowing Bile via the Toilet Ov Hell. Swallowing Bile has consistently released music more terrifying than Projekt Misanthropia. Swallowing Bile is the end result of Soundtrack To Your Annihilation. This is the goal I had in mind from the beginning; this is the apex. Swallowing Bile is hatred packaged in an aerosol can sprayed directly into your fvcking face. Swallowing Bile is darkness incarnate. Swallowing Bile is top tier musical violence. In what I have already described as the most oppressive, corrosive, oppositional, and violent genre of music, Swallowing Bile is its twisted champion. There is none more sinister.
Swallowing Bile’s music lends itself to a certain kind of immediacy, a strange form of present moment awareness, based on its urgency and explosiveness. With any amount of volume, this is not background music, it is absolutely apparent. Swallowing Bile generally plays a version of high intensity harsh noise wall or his rage soaked, filthy brand of power electronics. As with Prurient, I tend to prefer his music with vocals. I have included his first full length album, Wojtek (2012), and his 2013 album Obsession. The first two tracks on Obsession, “My Obsession” and “Pissing In Your IV” are a good example of each half of this artist. Check out both! A relative newcomer, Swallowing Bile has been very active and released a full length album, a number of shorter albums, and has also done many splits and features. His 2014 album, Secluded, would likely make my Best of 2014 List if it were available digitally, solely based on the strength of the one track available, “Never Again”.
Vomir: Harsh Noise Wall / The Void
“no ideas, no change, no development, no entertainment, no remorse”. This is the mantra of France’s Vomir, one of the reigning producers of harsh noise wall, or HNW, in the entire world. Harsh noise wall is as far as sound can move away from music. It’s descriptor is accurate, it is simply unchanging, imposing, impenetrable walls of static. There are no traditional instruments or melodies whatsoever. While many acts labeled as harsh noise wall (of which there are countless artists) feature fluctuations to their “walls”, Vomir does not. He has described his sound as having “no evolution”, and he has also said “a wall can never be described as a ‘success’ in the way you mean”.
I was somewhat surprised to learn that Justin Broadrick of Godflesh is a big fan of Vomir; Broadrick was recently profiled about his favorite albums and had this to say about Vomir.
“I’ve always been very obsessive with noise music – early industrial music and what lead to the power electronics thing. I’m fairly well versed in and excited by, still, extreme noise. I have a very select taste for it, believe it or not, and Vomir is the finest exponent of what’s called ‘HNW’ which is harsh noise wall, and the whole concept is that it’s one huge, monolithic, static wall of noise and that’s it. And its function is however you wish to approach it. I have used it in a number of ways – if you play it at a low enough volume, it’s ambient, I can write with it, it’s a good trigger for thought. At a louder volume it’s about being consumed because it’s an unwavering static wall of noise but for me there’s absolutely beauty in such uncompromising singularity – I can’t help but admire something so fucking monolithic. It’s like a never-ending brick wall. It is the ultimate black hole, it is the fucking void of birth and death right before you, you know what I mean? I love this dude, I love this shit. Like I said, it’s a movement in itself. People say, “Well anyone can do that” and I often say: “Try it then”. And usually it doesn’t have the finesse or create the same sense of void”.
Vomir is the polar opposite to anything that can be considered music, and moves past other noise genres by stripping away everything that makes up those genres. He has been noted for his live performances as well, performing with a plastic bag over his head, and often standing motionless or laying down on the floor. He has explained his motivations, but the whole thing has a touch of humor, the absurd, and a surrealism not often matched by other musicians or noise artists. He is the modern descendant of Anti-Art. I have included two Vomir albums/tracks; I selected these based on their length. I have had disagreements with my co-conspirator of this series about Vomir. I find his noise to be unflinchingly brutal. You may have the same experience, and I doubt any of you will be able to go the distance on either of these tracks. You may choose to accept this as I do, use it to drown out your obnoxious neighbors, use it to write music like Justin Broadrick, or achieve some form of enlightenment through harsh noise wall as meditation.
In yet another example of stalwart Toilet Ov Hell journalism, I would like to retract a statement I made on a previous Toilet Ov Hell article. I ran a story about a song premier for New York based artist Pharmakon prior to the release of her new album, Bestial Burden. In said article, I labeled Pharmakon as a power electronics artist, as she is commonly labeled by popular media outlets. I count myself as a Pharmakon fan, but I no longer believe she produces power electronics. Death industrial is probably a closer fit. I discovered this by listening to Abandon and Bestial Burden many times, and also by listening to artists like the ones profiled in this article. Granted, I have not heard her whole cassette catalog and I am basing this off of her two most recent releases, but I am not sure why this misappropriation of labeling has occurred with such consistency.
That about wraps things up for this edition of Soundtrack To Your Annihilation. I hope you have learned a great deal about noise and power electronics and enjoyed the series to date. Keep on the lookout for a special edition of this series coming in the near future, affectionately labeled with a working title of “the lolbuttz edition”.
Stay Void, Toilet.
You can check out some great additional reading on Premature Ejaculation and Vomir as well.
Thanks to Christian Molenaar for the assist in the conception, planning, and execution of this series.