Svart Records Roundup: Soundtracks, Space Rock, Acid Indie & Black Noises
“Well love can make amends
But the svartness never ends
You’re still alone
So drive home”*
Kaukolampi & Puranen – Maria’s Paradise OST
Zaida Bergroth’s Maria’s Paradise was released to lukewarm reception sometime last year. Something of a trend in domestic cinema, it featured an interesting concept that it failed to delve into, or rather refused to. Supposedly based on the cult leader Maria Åkerblom, who initially influenced in Kokkola, but later moved to Helsinki, in which the majority of the movie takes place quickly sets the cult and the leader aside for another tale of forbidden love. Riddled with stereotypical, one-dimensional characters and a predictable script, both its faults and triumphs were loudly dissected, but before the release of this OST, talk of its soundtrack was quiet, even among such music publications that can usually be relied on focusing on such matters.
“The Angel Will Guide Us” uses elements from Kaukolampi’s Station to Station to Station and features the voice of Mira Kautto, for whose dance performance it was composed. It consists of a couple Finnish sung hymns and takes from Åkerblom’s sermons. The majority of it is spent with the dark, even post-apocalyptic ambience of Timo Kaukolampi & Tuomo Puranen (the K and P of K-X-P), interspersed with scant moments of pulsing synth-bass. It’s always difficult to judge a soundtrack as an independent piece of work, and never has it rung more true than with Maria’s Paradise. The clash of the soundtrack with the setting of 1920’s Helsinki is one of the movie’s finer details, while the hymns and sermons strip away from the already disjointed experience of the music on its own. With tracks ranging from 40 seconds to 4 minutes, the best and most interesting moments rarely last, and even the longer tracks leave arcs building for other tunes, leaving their quickly shifting tones entirely at the mercy of the scenes. Kaukolampi and Puranen previously worked together on a few soundtracks, including the award winning score for Euthanizer, but Maria’s Paradise doesn’t similarly lend itself to prolonged sessions without the picture, despite its good ideas.
Telepathy – Burn Embrace
A Polish post-metal band describing themselves a cinematic sludge, Telepathy has all the hallmarks of the genre: driving percussion that doesn’t stop at following metal’s or sludge’s archetypal beats or lines, a heavy, dynamic arrangement of sound and lushly layered melodies that could fill an entire room with their presence, even brief blasts. But few, if any of those melodies are memorable and little, if anything, heard on Burn Embrace is outside the box. In fact, it’s the dictionary definition of post-metal kind of album. That doesn’t make it bad though; it’s a very fine, pleasant, pretty and powerful record that just unfortunately happens to adhere to a very overcrowded style. Because Burn Embrace offers not only nothing new, but also nothing that could even theoretically be described as “Telepathy”, it is unlikely to make any bigger waves. But if you’re up for some regular post metal, you should at least give Burn Embrace a chance. You could do much worse.
Ghost World – Altar
Ghost World used to play a regular kind of indie rock, or so I’ve been told. I’ve also been told that Altar is a jump into the unknown for the band. With only the knowledge of these two sentences prior to listening to their third album, I have arrived at the conclusion that one of them cannot be true. Altar is washed in nostalgia, a self-described mixtape for a long lost lover, all the lonely ones and high school sweethearts. It reaches for as many directions as its members have limbs, but ties them all together under the banner of a mildly acidic, naive guitar indie. I don’t know if it’s ever felt anything but obnoxious to describe someone’s music as “indie”, but Ghost World is the exact kind of band I always think of when I hear the word. Its bubbling melancholia contrasted with bright compositions does make for a few fun spins, but I don’t see myself coming back to it nearly enough for all of its quirks to adjust into their rightful places, and hooks to surface from its crust.
E-Musikgruppe Lux Ohr – Non Plus Ultra
Kimi Kärki’s career is a vivid one. From the doom metal of Reverend Bizarre and Lord Vicar, through the airy progressive rock of Orne, to the archaic folk of his solo albums, he’s covered and mastered a vast arrangement of styles. I’ve enjoyed much of his work, and eagerly followed it all, so it’s no surprise his involvement was my introduction to the electro-acoustic kraut rock inspired largely by the Berlin school (but also informed by the modern age) of E-Musikgruppe Lux Ohr, in which he plays guitar and e-bow. The majority of the compositions, however, always came from the pens of Pentti Grönholm (synths, sequencers, samplers & percussion) and Jaakko Penttilä, who departed after their previous full-length, 2016’s Totenwald, but who nevertheless contributed three songs for Non Plus Ultra, versions from two of which have been available on the band’s Roadburn live album recorded in 2014. Each member of the now trio, rounded out by memotronist/guitarist Ismo Virta, has contributed music for the band’s albums, but the group’s vision and focus have been so tight, consistency has never been an issue, nor is it on Non Plus Ultra.
With 8 lengthy songs clocking almost at 80 minutes, Non Plus Ultra is a demanding album in terms of sheer time alone, and its slow-moving, at times ambient-like, compositions aren’t the most instantly gripping of their career, making it no less difficult to absorb. On the other hand, its half scifi, half noir soundtrack is some of the most carefully arranged music the trio has ever produced and in a way, makes for a more approachable experience. “Der ewige Wanderer’s” eastern-tinged melodies and acoustic percussions, as well as “Aus dem Kollaps geboren’s” rhythmic journey through techno-beats and memotron flutes make for the most memorable single moments, but Non Plus Ultra definitely needs to be enjoyed as a whole.
Vesperith – Vesperith
For whatever reason, the first I heard of Vesperith was as a “one-woman black metal band”, a moniker that should quickly prove extremely inaccurate to anyone willing to listen to the album. Certainly some songs carry a black metal influence; take “Fractal Flesh” for instance—two-and-a-half minutes into the song, programmed-sounding drums appear with blast beats, and harsh vocals bring ill tidings over a fuzz that is most likely borne by distorted guitars. But besides this moment, only “Quintessence” bears the markings, and even there, the atmosphere that pervades the majority of the record is better felt. The much freer and less programmed-sounding drumming, ethereal, choral vocals and use of ambiance wouldn’t be out of place on any post-metal or sludge record either, and yet it never feels like either. Apart from the burst of free percussion in “Valohämärä,” the remainder of the album is spent surrounded by a harrowing atmosphere, dark ambient, noise and the aforementioned choral vocals. Because of its several appendages, Vesperith’s cosmic ambiance fits poorly into any pre-existing category, and because of this, it would be futile to try and approach it from any particular angle. You’ll have to allow it to wash over yourself, grabbing anything you can, marveling at the rest.
PH – Osiris Hayden
You could never hear the same Mr. Peter Hayden show twice, never get the same set you had before, because the band never played any of their recorded material live. Their shows were, in a sense, an extension of their rehearsals, featuring whatever material the band was currently working on. Once they were finished with a piece, it would be recorded and allowed to fade from muscle memory, a new piece taking its place. This approach no doubt played a significant role in their compositions eventually becoming less songs and more opuses. Their final album, Archdimension Now, was a double-album consisting of only two hour-long pieces, presenting as much walls of (r)evolving sound as the wild space rock they had more easily been associated with in the past.
At the hour of their death, they were born anew as PH, or officially, as their logo-symbol uniting the two letters, commonly referred to as PH. Their debut, Eternal Hayden, looked back towards their roots in spacedoom and trip rock, but from a more song-based standpoint. With Osiris Hayden, they’re taking a step or two towards something altogether new. Still keeping their expression as heavy as they can, the role of guitars has been diminished, allowing masses of synthesizers to swathe the surging, hypnotic waves of sound and take over. Guitars haven’t been done away with though, they’re mixed to the backbone of the rhythm, creating an amalgamation of sound that’s neither rock nor electronic music in the traditional sense. Still building with the same basic blocks they were using before shortening their name, PH has finally arrived at the threshold. Their skin is not quite yet shed, but it is now only a matter of will.
Alvaro, Koivistoinen & Tuomarila – Alma
After witnessing the tango singer Martin Alvarado live, Eero Koivistoinen, a well-known and respected Finnish saxophonist, decided to woo him into a collaboration. Pianist Alexi Tuomarila agreed to round up the trio and the resulting Alma is a mixture of new, original compositions and classics of both Argentinian and Finnish tango, all filtered through the basics and ideals of free improvisation. The mood remains calm and tranquil throughout, but the trio gyrates into hypnotic streams and daring surges, while Alvarado’s vocals often steer the outcome towards some kind of avant-balladry. Koivistoinen’s solo work is the icing on the cake here, and he proves himself both relevant and important as an artist, more than 50 years into his career, as well as his boldness to collaborate out-of-the-box, something that the younger generation of the domestic folks sorely seem to lack.
The Deathtrip – Demon Solar Totem
The Deathtrip was founded well over a decade ago by Host and Khvost, but the latter quickly retreated from the fold, and in a bout of irony, Aldrahn was brought in to replace him. A couple of demos and a full-length slowly but steadily followed, with the intention to evoke a cold, minimalist atmosphere. It was well received, but a follow-up didn’t seem to materialize. Eventually Aldrahn (again) swore off black metal, though he has since performed with his own Urarv, and Khvost returned to his throne, although the initial announcements sounded like the two were intending to split the vocal parts. With an all-new line-up behind him, Dan Mullins on drums and Thomas Eriksen on bass, Host brought forth his intentions to take The Deathtrip towards new waters as well.
Demon Solar Totem isn’t something entirely new, thought it mostly follows the trail set by Deep Drone Master, only introducing enough new to keep itself from being a carbon copy of its predecessor. Still cold and minimalist, though perhaps with more abundant leadwork, Demon Solar Totem’s thin-sounding guitars and leisurely pace uphold a thick, entrancing atmosphere throughout. The clean vocals, used here and there throughout, sometimes sound oddly placed in the mix, and the band struggles with consistency, especially with a few songs running longer than they’ve got the fuel for (title track, “Vintage Telepathy”, “Awaiting a New Maker”), but there’s magic in it that won’t let go.
*Preferably with a large quantity of fresh-bought records.
All these titles and more are available at Svart Records’ website, and this still definitely wasn’t a paid ad.