Wednesday, August 27, 2014

The Flenser Part Two: Have A Nice Life, White Suns & Planning For Burial

By Craig Hayes. In the first part of this Flenser Records feature, I looked at recent releases from avant-garde black metal band Mamaleek, and harbingers of electronic doom, Wreck and Reference. Both of those bands are based in California, and both are duos
By Craig Hayes.

In the first part of this Flenser Records feature, I looked at recent releases from avant-garde black metal band Mamaleek, and harbingers of electronic doom, Wreck and Reference. Both of those bands are based in California, and both are duos, but those aren't the only commonalities between the two bands. Mamaleek and Wreck and Reference also blend a lot of influences from well outside metal’s usual sphere of interests into their sound, and while the two bands are sonically dissimilar, they both take a similarly experimental approach in their songwriting.

In doing that, Mamaleek and Wreck and Reference both make innovative music, but they both also feature plenty of core metal references in their sound as well. Flenser also releases works by bands that don’t reference metal as directly, yet those bands are still making music that contains a lot of elements that would appeal to fans of dark rock and metal. There’s been three albums added to Flenser’s Bandcamp page of late that fall into that category, so let’s take a look at that trio of releases, and their creators.

Every band wants to make a good impression on debut, but when Have A Nice Life released their first full-length, Deathconsciousness, back in 2008, they delivered an outright underground classic. The band’s founding members, Dan Barrett and Tim Macuga, crafted a sprawling double album, where shoegaze, industrial rock, indie pop, and traces of metal were all twisted around the heavy presence of post-punk. Deathconsciousness’ reputation has only increased since its release, so six years later, Have A Nice Life’s second full-length album, The Unnatural World, has a lot to live up to.

Thankfully, Have A Nice Life have come up with an album that is just as rewarding as Deathconsciousness. The Unnatural World takes the band’s post-punk core, and adds in a heavier dose of death-and-gothic-rock, while the presence of murky shoegaze and industrial noise is still keenly felt. For any metalhead seeking music that is meditative and mysterious, the counterpointing of gorgeousness and grimness found on The Unnatural World is bound to be attractive. Certainly, The Unnatural World is as emotionally heavy as any release from the realms of doom or sludge metal, and with waves of fuzz, reverb, feedback, and distortion spilling from walls of guitar, there’s abundant crossover appeal lurking in the album’s depths.

Dark dirges off The Unnatural World, such as “Guggenheim Wax Museum”, “Burial Society” and the bass-heavy blast of “Defenestration Song”, see ice-cold vocals thread through despairing atmospheres – bringing all that wintery '80s post-punk chill. However, along with that, much of The Unnatural World finds that aforementioned shoegaze arising from shadowy drone too. There’s static and thunder on the album as well – particularly on “Cropsey”, where industrial beats erupt into blown-out percussion – and throughout The Unnatural World, as songs tumble through the aether, the ceaseless presence of distortion and echo means everything rides on a crest of dissolving into chaotic noise.

That brings tension to tracks like “Unholy” and “Emptiness Will Eat The Witch”, undercutting their grace with the presence of something unnerving and malevolent at work. That’s exactly what makes The Unnatural World such an enthralling album overall. It’s an undeniably haunting and hypnotic release, with plenty of passages to sink into, but there’s an ever-present sense of something waiting just out of view. Something biding its time, until its decided it’s the perfect moment to crush our hopes, and shatter our dreams.

You'd be hard pressed to come up with any clear set of descriptors to capture the mayhem found on White Sun’s latest album, Totem. You'll find large doses of some kind of post-hardcore, avant-jazz, and noise rock hybridisation lurking on tracks like “Priest In The Laboratory”, “Clairvoyant” and “Disjecta Membra”. However, forget any semblance of actual structure. I mean, there’s ear-piercing guitar and concussive percussion aplenty – and tracks like “Cathexis” and “World Lock” are pretty much heaven for fans of demented guitar abuse – but everything is ground up and spat out via some glorious no-wave head-fuckery.

“Fossil Record” takes a more ambient or synthesized route, and Totem’s last track, “Carrion”, isn't so much music, as just some kind of poetic final punishment. Really, overall, Totem is just ill-natured and utterly unfathomable. White Sun’s clearly aren't interested in catering to any comfort zones, but just see if you don't hit repeat straight away after Totem finishes. Music this bizarre and defiant demands repeated listens – if only to try and make sense of why it’s so damn enjoyable. For those who claim to be very open minded, Totem is still bound to be a head-scratching challenge. Still, I’d take that over safe and anodyne music any day of the week.

Thom Wasluck’s solo project, Planning for Burial, has a lengthy discography of splits, EPs, and cassettes to be found on Bandcamp, and Desideratum, the band’s second full-length recording, is the band’s debut for Flenser. Planning for Burial takes doom and post-metal and runs that through a melancholic slowcore filter – resulting in the kinds of ambient and gothic drone that would appeal to fans of Jesu or Nadja. Tracks off Desideratum, like “Where you Rest your Head at Night” and “29 August 2012”, bring waves of minimalist, feedbacking gloom. Yet, like all of Planning for Burial’s work, heavenliness plays just as an important role as heaviness.

The connection between lost love and an aching for physical contact saturates Desideratum, and there’s no finer example of that being rendered into musical form than on the album’s final track, the 16-minute “Golden”. Cold washes of guitar begin the song, but halfway through, all the droning feedback, synth, and death-march percussion takes on a brighter hue. For sure, “Golden” remains utterly heartbreaking, but, like the best mournful musical experiences, there comes a point where utter bliss arises from misery. There's a lot of ecstasy to be found in the fragility of Desideratum; that solace that always comes from sharing the beauty and emotional rawness of despair.

The Flenser Part One: Mamaleek & Wreck and Reference.

Tagged with 2014, ambient, black metal, Craig Hayes, deathrock, Flenser Records, Have a Nice Life, noise, Planning For Burial, post-hardcore, post-punk, shoegaze, White Suns
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