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Posts Tagged ‘Industrial Metal’

I know I mentioned this last week when I first came across the news item that Norwegian industrial metallers Red Harvest had called it quits, but I’m still bumming pretty hard about it, so I thought it warranted a slightly lengthier response.

Cold Dark Metal

The posting on the band’s MySpace page reads simply: “Red Harvest has split up as per May 2010.  We want to thank all the people that have supported us through the years.  1989-2010 R.I.P.”

Generally speaking, I’m a sucker for industrial-tinged metal (especially on the blacker end of the spectrum – Axis Of Perdition, Aborym, Control Human Delete, Anaal Nathrakh, Blacklodge, Void, Reverence, The Amenta, Herrschaft, (late) Dodheimsgard, and so forth).  The thing is, it’s not all that difficult to slap a superficially industrial sheen on whatever bog-standard metal one might by plying, by either tossing in some mechanically-processed vocals, or chucking in a few samples of hammers clanking.

Red Harvest, though, were (ach, it still stings) the real deal.  The industrial elements of their sound never came across as an afterthought to these ears.  Instead, they seemed like the true, eerie, pulsating heart of their sound, a genuine reflection of rust and filth and urban decay.  Theirs was not the slickness (however satisfying) of the Moonfog aesthetic, nor the aural overload of early Axis Of Perdition.  Their music exuded a bleak patience, taking the time to survey and catalog the ruin before them, rather than shying away in a hurry, or over-stylizing the reaction to modernity’s underside into a coolly calculated but unconvincing disregard.

(Note: Red Harvest’s departure from the scene is a doubly-hurtful blow since V:28, who I had long considered the closest spiritual kin to Red Harvest, also split up a while back.)

To be fair, I only really followed their output from 1996’s HyBreed and beyond (mostly out of necessity, though, given that their first two records are insanely tough to track down), but damn, was that one hell of a run.  The band really seemed to get their shit together right around 2000’s Cold Dark Matter (tightening the album down to 39 minutes from the nearly 80 minutes of HyBreed was a crucial step), featuring Fenriz on the monster of a track “Absolute Dunkel:heit.”

For my money, though, 2002’s Sick Transit Gloria Mundi saw the band’s purest distillation of the rhythmic, maniacal undulation of equal parts industrial, noise, ambient, and furious metal.  The fact that the metallic components of the band’s sound are not easily reducible to death metal, black metal, thrash metal, or anything else, really, is a testament to the band’s unique vision and clarity of purpose.

Even on the band’s last full-length album, A Greater Darkness (which some saw as a step down), they were mining new depths of more focused, clenched-jaw grimness:

Their final release was a 2008 compilation called The Red Line Archives, which collected remixes, archived tracks, and selections from several of their albums.  The intention of the compilation seems to have been to highlight the more purely industrial elements of their sound; the fact that the album plays like an album, even though it seems to miss a crucial something (it is taking most of my energy to not be an asshole and type je ne sais quoi), I think illustrates just how much the industrial elements were not a gimmick.  That is, if the industrial elements were merely layered over the top of already finished songs, pulling them together on a compilation should have only highlighted how anemic they sound without a solid metallic support.  They are not, and therefore they did not.

All of this is to say, if you haven’t yet discovered the wide-eyed joys of Red Harvest, now’s as good a time as ever to explore, and if, like me, you’re mourning their departure, now’s a perfect time to reengage with their harrowing dystopian metal.

Here are videos of Red Harvest playing three songs live in 2009, at a 20th Anniversary party for themselves in Oslo:

“Beyond the End” (From Sick Transit Gloria Mundi):

“Omnipotent” (From Cold Dark Matter):

“The Cure” (From Nomindsland):

The live sound isn’t the greatest, but you can still feel their hypnotic wrath.  Sit back and get pulled in to this black hole metal.

A.A.V.

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Devin Townsend, Physicist (2000)

Finally, some decent cover art

Released two years after the phenomenal Infinity album, Physicist may rank as one of the most Strapping Young Lad-ish albums in Devin’s solo career, which really shouldn’t be a surprise, given that this album has the EXACT SAME LINE-UP as Strapping Young Lad (Devin, Gene Hoglan, Byron Stroud, and Jed Simon).  If one were so inclined, one might even suggest that this is a bit like a hidden Strapping Young Lad record, given that SYL released no official album’s between 1997’s City and 2003’s SYL.  Fancy that.  Anyway, as a whole, this album does a nice job of walking a middle path between the spaciousness of Ocean Machine – Biomech, the general What-the-fuck?-ness of Infinity‘s genre-splicing approach, and the more straight-ahead industrial metal aggression of Strapping Young Lad.  Oh, and it’s also awesome.

“Namaste” kicks things off with a great burst of punky aggression, which is maintained through “Victim.”  These two tracks, plus the mid-album ripper “Death,” are some of the most intensely METAL moments in Devin’s solo career thus far.  The latter track, in particular, rather in keeping with its title, is the most face-shredding piece here, kicking off with the, ahem, soothing tones of Gene Hoglan blast-beating the shit out of your ears.  The weightier tone of some of these songs picks up in a slightly different fashion on “The Complex,” with its very martial ambient/industrial-sounding synths which sound most like tiny hammers striking a xylophone made entirely of anvils.

It’s not all sputtering rage here, however.  “Material” is the earliest stab at Devin’s fantastically pop-oriented songcraft on this album; this one especially nails its perfectly evocative chorus in such a way that I really want the track to go on forever, but it does its business and gets straight on with things.  Make sure you don’t miss the background vocal arpeggios on the second run-through of the chorus: pure bliss.

The track immediately following “Material,” “Kingdom,” is also absolutely dynamite, but in this case it works so well precisely because of its greater use of open space to contrast with the density and faster pace of most of the album’s shorter numbers.  “Kingdom” also features some of Devin’s most intense howling, fittingly over the lines “I’m fiiiiiiiine!

To these ears, “Irish Maiden” may be one of the only missteps on the album.  I think the rather jig-ish opening is somewhat annoying, but the track eventually redeems itself somewhat with some fantastic kick drum work from Hoglan and an excellent melodic bridge with some nice, thick riffing.

Devin Townsend is often discussed in terms of virtuosity, which I think is absolutely correct, but it’s important to note that much of the virtuosity on display here is not so much sheer instrumental prowess (you won’t find any brain-melting solos here, for example), but rather songwriting prowess.  This shows up generally in the fluidity of the arrangements, and the often complex (yet still straightforward-sounding) rhythms which are achieved through syncopation, or, in a few places (like “Victim” and “Jupter”), through a rhythm that relies on pick-up notes to give a quick, juddering attack to the start of the measure.  While we’re on the subject, “Jupiter” also has some really great rhythmic riffing on a 3/4 rhythm set against the slower 4/4 meter in the drums; instead of drawing attention to itself, though, this counterpoint technique comes across as extremely natural and smooth.

As many others have mentioned, the closing track “Planet Rain” is one of the most astounding songs on here.  While the rest of the album mostly trades in short, mostly compact pieces, this song is the lengthy and mostly melancholic counterpart to the pairing of “Life is All Dynamics” and “Unity” (from Infinity) or “Funeral”/”Bastard”/”Death of Music” (from Ocean Machine – Biomech).

The careful listener will have noticed, I imagine, the continuation of the rain motif from Ocean Machine’s “Death of Music” track here, and it functions as a really nice conceptual hinge.  This whole song is extremely evocative of a world completely wiped out and covered with never-ending rains.  This kind of apocalyptic imagery (even if it is largely self-conjured) matches up very nicely with Devin’s grandiose, highly theatrical and melodramatic (in the best way possible) style of songwriting.

When Devin sings,
“It’s quiet now, quiet now –
’cause it’s the end of world!
Quiet now, quiet now;
’cause it’s the end of the world!
,”
it really sounds like he’s having a conversation with himself: In the first two lines, he’s telling us the reason why it’s quiet now, but in the second two lines, because the “It’s” is dropped from the lyrics, it sounds like an invitation, or even a command, to be quiet now, at the end of the world.  I know this all sounds a bit goofy, picking apart these small aspects, but there’s something about this dude’s music that cries out for this level of emotional investment.  The whole track is fantastic, and needs to be heard in its entirety, but a favorite passage is right around the four-minute mark, where we finally get a simple, searing guitar lead to cut through the dense bundle of sounds and textures.

Eventually, the track fades out into the (rather appropriate) sound of rain falling, which transitions into the hidden track, called “Forgotten,” which is actually just a bizarre re-recording of “Bad Devil.”  This utterly strange new version of the Beatles-quoting (“She’s just 17, if you know what I mean…”) track from the Infinity album, closes things out in a rather odd manner, with its acoustic guitars draped in alienating drones and cymbal noise.

More than anything else, this actually sounds like some weird goth/blues/country tune, like you might find on a 16 Horsepower or mid-period Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds album.  As is often the case with these hidden or bonus tracks on Devin’s solo albums, I usually listen to them all the way through, but since the album works so well as a holistic statement, I almost compartmentalize them in my mind, so that I don’t really think of this “Forgotten” song as belonging to the Physicist album.  Still, another brilliant entry into Devin’s solo discography, and a deeply emotive and powerful record.  Bang your head AND get the warm and fuzzies.

Overall rating: 93%.  Hear that truth again!

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